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Could The Police Have Saved Philando Castile’s Life?

At a rally following the fatal shooting of Philando Castile, someone in the crowd shouted: “If police had helped him, he would have survived.”

Diamond Reynolds, Philando’s girlfriend, told the crowd that police did not even take his pulse, but rushed their colleague off to the side.

The disturbing footage, posted live to Facebook by Reynolds, initially shows the blood-stained Castile sitting upright, groaning at least once. He is then seen slumping to the left. The footage runs just over 90 seconds before Reynolds is ordered out of the car.

During that minute and a half, while Reynolds is broadcasting via her phone, there is sporadic back and forth between her and a police officer. There is brief glimpse of the officer holding a gun, still pointed at the vehicle.

Reynolds is told at one point to keep her hands where they can be seen.

This is a live situation, a shooting has just happened. There is a gravely injured individual in the driver’s seat, a second adult, and a child who witnessed the whole thing.

Other footage, from a witness, shows Castile lying on the ground just outside the vehicle, with officers around him. It is not known yet exactly how long after Reynolds was ordered from the car that this was filmed.

Police officers are not required to give medical assistance in an emergency. They do not, as a rule, have the training. They are required to “render” assistance, which means calling for paramedics as soon as possible.

Witnesses describe a scene of pandemonium within minutes of shots being fired, with multiple squad cars, and an ambulance arriving.

A black man being pulled over for a broken tail light, in what is an overwhelmingly white and Asian suburb, seems vaguely like some dangerous cliche.

He is asked for his drivers’ license and identification, by an officer described, variously at the rally and in the footage by Reynolds, as nervous and Chinese.

Castile reaches down to his side, and as he does, according to Reynolds, he tells the officer he has a concealed carry gun.

Then, the police officer has the safety catch off his holster, and his gun out, and he is shouting “don’t move,” and he is firing multiple rounds into the car, within what must have been seconds..

One of the speakers at the rally, held outside the Minnesota governor’s office, strongly suggested mental health evaluations should be standard for police officers.

There was madness, indeed, on the street in the suburbs of Minneapolis Wednesday, but you can be sure it is not confined to the state of Minnesota, that evening or this.

The Brexit: What Just Happened?!

It was only in the last 24 hours before the Brexit vote that it began to hit home just how massive, and maybe insane, it would be if the United Kingdom decided to leave the European Union.

The result was in doubt, not least because of the relatively large and growing numbers of undecided voters in those last few days. It is clear now where most of those undecided voters decided to go.

The results are in. The UK, or at least England and Wales, has decided decisively it no longer wants to be part of a huge, free market, free trade, free travel bloc.

A great deal of the international debate and analysis centered on the economic impact of leaving: On the UK, on other European countries, on the “market”, even on the United States. Rampant confusion has reigned.

But there are other elements to consider: nationalism, borders, sovereignty, and the question of whether the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland may even crack under the strain of leaving.

The debate, in England at least, was simply put. Those on the Leave side believed the country can stand alone, make its own, better deals on trade, and stay financially afloat.

And leaving will help keep those bloody immigrants out with nice, sturdy border controls, they said. They won’t even need a Trumpian wall; no-one has yet suggested, at least publicly, building one along what will be the country’s only land border with the EU, in Ireland.

Those on the Remain side believed this would be a complete disaster, including financially (they were right), while many were appalled at the idea of going it alone with such a large rump of jingoistic, nationalistic, anti-immigrant fellow countrymen and women.

But it is a fact that many feel betrayed at how the European Union has developed, and not just the Conservative Eurosceptics, or nasty far right nationalists. And not just in the UK, but across the EU.

This vote will encourage many others across the continent, both those of that often dark nationalist, deeply anti-immigrant, bent, but also those that believe there is a super elite running and rigging the game, caught in the thrall of the financial markets. Think a Trump-Sanders ticket: This is an anti-establishment vote, and nothing is more establishment, in the minds of Leave voters, than Brussels.

There is a real feeling among voters that countries have truly suborned much of their sovereignty, and much of their decision making, to Brussels, and that decisions are largely being made not by the European Parliament, but by the entirely unelected European Commission, and the European Central Bank, seen as the water carrier for the big European financial institutions.

Take Ireland, where the ECB, and particularly its former chairman, Jean-Claude Trichet, are reviled by many in the country.

In essence, taxpayers in the country were saddled with billions in extra debt after the Irish government — which had bailed out the country’s banks — was bullied and threatened into not burning bondholders. And the bondholders deserved to be burned, as many of them were big European financial institutions which had lent recklessly to Irish banks, allowing them in turn to carry out a manic lending spree of truly epic proportions.

Austerity, and lots of misery, followed. Then Trichet gave the metaphorical finger to a banking inquiry set up to look at the mess, by refusing to attend and answer its questions.

It is only one example, and Ireland will never exit the EU, minus a complete break up, but Europe is a deeply unhappy family.

Yet it is incredibly hard to believe that the UK will now leave it altogether, not least because the consequences are  unknown — financially, on trade, on its citizens not being able to travel freely through the EU, and on the country itself.

A tradesman in Boston, East Midlands — which posted a 75 percent Leave vote, the highest in the country — will find out somewhere down the line that his work options severely limited. He just voted to not be able to work freely in 27 other countries. He arguably voted against his own interests.

Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s SNP First Minister, who urged Scots to vote Remain, which they did with a large majority, has made clear her party will pursue independence. Further, she suggested that if Scotland became independent the party would enter “decisions and discussions” to join the Euro.

And then there is Northern Ireland, where it has been somewhat strange to follow what was an incredibly muted debate. It voted to remain, but not by a large majority. It and the Republic of Ireland are so meshed together now — through trade, travel, and otherwise — there will be consequences to this vote.

In the end, this was an English row. And it was England, with its Welsh appendage, that voted to leave, decisively.

Photo: A British flag flutters in front of a window in London, Britain, June 24, 2016 after Britain voted to leave the European Union in the EU BREXIT referendum.       REUTERS/Reinhard Krause

Sanders Defiant: ‘Our Vision Will Be The Future Of America’

When Bernie Sanders took the stage at approaching 11 o’clock last night, to a crowd of roaring thousands in Santa Monica, California, he was defiant.

“I want to thank the people of California for their incredible hospitality,” Sanders began. “It has been one of the most moving moments of my life to be out in this state in beautiful evenings and seeing thousands and thousands of people coming out, people who are prepared to stand up and fight for real change in this country.”

When the Vermont senator announced that he would be campaigning in Washington, D.C. ahead of its primary next week, “to fight for every vote and every delegate we can get,” the crowd erupted. Sanders stood back and smiled.

Still, he acknowledged his substantial loss to Hillary Clinton in California, and said he had called the presumptive nominee to congratulate her on her victories in California, New Jersey, and South Dakota.

A delicate dance will take place over the next two days, as Bernie Sanders comes under more pressure from the highest levels of the party.

Sanders will spend Wednesday in his home state of Vermont. He plans to hold a rally in Washington, D.C. Thursday. “With the DC primary coming up on June 14, we need everyone to join the political revolution,” read an email sent out by his campaign late Tuesday.

President Obama will meet with Sanders on Thursday. Sanders, according to White House press secretary Josh Earnest, asked for the meeting. “The President thanked Senator Sanders for energizing millions of Americans with his commitment to issues like fighting economic inequality and special interests’ influence on our politics,” Earnest said.

The two will discuss “how to build on the extraordinary work he has done to engage millions of Democratic voters, and to build on that enthusiasm in the weeks and months ahead.”

Obama also spoke to Clinton, and congratulated her on “securing the delegates necessary to clinch the Democratic Nomination for President.” The president, according to multiple reports, is eager to enter the fray, and it appears he wants to do it sooner rather than later.

Clinton last night did not urge Sanders to step aside, and will not do so today. She was effusive in her praise for the candidate.

Sanders wants to force his agenda, one that has energized more than 10 million voters and a vast army of small donors, front and center at the Democratic National Convention.

He is reported to be poised to lay off a large chunk of his campaign staff. The speech was gracefully elusive in this regard: pledges to continue until the convention were couched in broader rhetoric about sustaining policy goals and playing a part in the future of American politics.

Now, it’s up to Sanders, and his supporters, many of them distrustful of and hostile to Hillary Clinton, to ensure that their “revolution” will not end with his candidacy, lest the relatively radical platform espoused by a most unlikely candidate be buried under the weight of an anti-Trump campaign.

Photo: Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Bernie Sanders speaks during a campaign rally in Santa Cruz, California May 31, 2016.  REUTERS/Stephen Lam

Planned Parenthood Is Fighting Back

Planned Parenthood is battling on multiple legal fronts across the country, close to a year after the airing of several heavily edited videos that purported to show staff selling fetal tissue.

The organization has filed 15 lawsuits challenging states that want to defund or otherwise curtail its activities.

Kansas and Ohio are the latest states to announce the pulling of federal funds from the organization and its affiliates. Both are being sued.

Planned Parenthood is also suing the Center for Medical Progress, the anti-choice group behind the production of misleading videos.

In a statement made when the lawsuit was filed in January, Dawn Laguens, Executive Vice President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said, “This lawsuit exposes the elaborate, illegal conspiracy designed to block women’s access to safe and legal abortion, and we filed the case to hold them accountable.”

A House panel, heavily Republican, is investigating the transfer of fetal tissue. It claimed last week to have evidence a company involved violated federal privacy laws and committed other ethics violations.

Yet the fallout from the Center for Medical Progress’s videos stems from a practice that has gone on for decades. Research on fetal tissue led to the very first polio vaccine. It was also crucial for the development of vaccines for hepatitis, rubella, chicken pox, shingles, and rabies, and today is used for research into such conditions as Alzheimers and Parkinson’s disease.

“Fetal tissue donation is entirely legal and plays a vital role in medical research,” Planned Parenthood wrote in its suit against the Center for Medical Progress. “Virtually every person in the United States has benefited from research that relies on fetal tissue.”

And the videos in question, far from showing the Planned Parenthood staff were angling to make a profit from the practice, revealed almost the exact opposite. The amount discussed on camera was so small it would have hardly covered expenses.

It is illegal to profit from the transfer of fetal tissue. In law, profit is described as “valuable consideration” but that does not include reasonable payments associated with the “transportation, implantation, processing, preservation, quality control, or storage of human fetal tissue.”

The American Medical Association states: “Fetal tissue is not provided in exchange for financial remuneration above that which is necessary to cover reasonable expenses.”

Investigations in 12 states, including Kansas and Ohio, found no evidence that Planned Parenthood tried to profit from the transfer of fetal tissues for medical research.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn) is leading the House investigative panel established as a result of the edited videos.

She claimed last week to have uncovered evidence of privacy and ethics violations, evidence described by Democrats on the panel as “unverified ‘documents and testimony’ from so called ‘informants’ to allege wrongdoing by StemExpress.” Some of that evidence came from the Center for Medical Progress. StemExpress denies any wrongdoing.

In a statement, Blackburn said the company and abortion clinics “make a profit from the baby body parts inside the young woman’s womb.”

Blackburn’s language echoes that of Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, who stated that he wanted to defund Planned Parenthood because it is involved in the “trafficking of baby body parts.”

But a representative for Gov. Brownback was very clear last month, saying the governor defunded the organization “in order to protect the unborn and support a culture of life in Kansas.”

The videos had other real world consequences, according to the Planned Parenthood lawsuit against the Center for Medical Progress, which described the group and its key members being involved in a “complex criminal enterprise.”

“Millions of people who view the manipulated videos and inflammatory accusations were made to believe that Planned Parenthood had violated the law and acted improperly,” the lawsuit reads.

“There was a dramatic increase in the threats, harassment, and criminal activities targeting abortion providers and their supporters and, in particular, Planned Parenthood health center after the release of defendants.”

In November, Robert Dear shot up a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, killing three and injuring nine more, he shouted “No more baby parts!”

The express aim of the enterprise had the ultimate goal of interfering with women’s access to legal abortion, the lawsuit states.

Photo: A member of the New York Police Department stands outside a Planned Parenthood clinic in the Manhattan borough of New York, November 28, 2015. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

Feingold Faces Koch Smears In Wisconsin Senate Race

A report into the scandal of over prescribing opioids and other drugs to veterans at a facility in Wisconsin will be published Tuesday.

Three veterans, and possibly more, may have died as a result of the overprescribing of drugs at the Tomah VA Medical Center, dubbed ‘Candy Land’ by patients. Its acting medical director, who has since stepped down, went by the moniker ‘Dr. Candy.”

The report will be published by the U.S. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, chaired by Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson, currently involved in a deeply fractious and tight race for re-election against former Sen. Russ Feingold.

Whatever the conclusions of the report, the Tomah affair is front and center in the crucially important Wisconsin senate race, which has already seen a flood of outside cash, most of it in support of Johnson.

Or more accurately, against Feingold.

In a television ad that aired earlier this month quoting a whistle blower who helped bring attention to the scandal — and who is an admitted Johnson supporter — Feingold was essentially accused of killing veterans.

“I found out that Russ Feingold got a memo in 2009 that outlined veteran harm and nothing was done,” Ryan Honl says in the ad. “All those veterans who’ve come back wounded, and they die at the hands of politicians who look the other way.”

The ad was released by Freedom Works, the super PAC funded largely by the Koch brothers and hedge fund billionaire Kenneth Griffin, often described as Illinois’ richest person.

Feingold, the ad claims, received a hand-delivered memo written by a union official at the facility, which highlighted the over prescription of drugs, and concluded veterans likely were being harmed. It was written in 2008, when Feingold was senator.

While the notation on the memo stated it was to be hand delivered to certain members of Congress, including Feingold, there is no evidence he received or saw the memo.

And its author, union official Lin Ellinghuysen, said the accusation that Feingold got the memo and failed to act was a “lie.” Indeed, she was told that it was not delivered.

Freedom Works walked back their claims some — perhaps because three television stations in the state refused to air the original ad — with a modified spot that did not claim Feingold actually received the memo.

Nevertheless, the incident is a good indication of the months ahead. This race, one of five Senate seats Democrats believe they can win in November, is not going to get any less nasty.

And it’s also likely to be one of the most expensive Senate fights in history. Already, the two campaigns have spent $11 million, while the outside groups spent $4 million. And that’s just counting through the end of March.

The Koch brothers have signaled their intention to put their money into state races and avoid the presidential election. Wisconsin is likely to see much, much, more of Freedom Works.

Not content with simply receiving all that outside money, Johnson’s campaign has additionally accused Feingold of hypocrisy for taking bundled contributions from that “dark-money heavyweight” — the League of Conservation Voters.

“Senator Feingold continues to say one thing and do another,” Johnson spokesman Brian Reisinger told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinal.

“After repeatedly railing against ‘dark money’ he’s gladly showing his face with a group whose dark money arm is fueling his bid to claw his way back to Washington.”

Indeed, some $125,000 of the $10.7 million that Feingold’s campaign raised through the end of March came from contributions bundled by the league, which the Democratic candidate says he has worked with for 20 years.

Meanwhile, seven outside groups have already spent a combined $4 million against Feingold on Johnson’s behalf.

Feingold did receive a huge boost over the weekend, as Bernie Sanders’ team sent an email to the Vermont senator’s vast army of supporters, encouraging them to donate money to Feingold’s campaign.

Hedge Funds Have Taken Puerto Rico Hostage

In February 2014, Puerto Rico’s bonds were declared junk by Standard & Poor’s — that’s the technical term. The following month, the territory sold $3.5 billion of them, mostly to U.S. hedge funds.

It was the final deal in a selling frenzy: $126.6 billion worth of bonds were issued by the central government, various utility companies and other agencies, and the island’s sales tax-based finance corporation, created with the help of investment banks. Wall Street has netted an estimated $900 million in underwriting fees since 2000.

And it was a terrible deal, with interest rates on the tax exempt bonds reaching just south of nine percent, constitutionally guaranteed to be paid back first and in full. Crucially, any litigation related to repayment would take place in New York.

Investors knew exactly what they were buying. Indeed, the prospectus stated that the island would likely need to restructure its debts. It was vastly oversubscribed.

For the hedge funds, described now as “vultures” by Puerto Rico’s governor, Alejandro Garcia Padilla, it was a very good deal. When it was was struck, Garcia Padilla said it was just one step toward bettering the island’s finances. In fact, it was Puerto Rico’s last roll.

Despite deep cuts to services and layoffs of thousands of government workers, the cash infusion didn’t provide the expected stimulus effect. Puerto Rico is $73 billion in the hole, and this month Padilla had to choose between paying for basic services or defaulting on the debt. Puerto Rico defaulted May 1 on $367 million in interest and principal owed.

A congressional panel led by ranking members of the House Natural Resources Committee met late Wednesday evening to try and craft a bill to allow Puerto Rico to restructure its debts and finances, overseen by a fiscal control board.

The island is barred from declaring bankruptcy, and a majority of lawmakers are not willing to back a bail out. But just about everyone agrees something drastic must be done, including a majority of the municipal and mutual funds that hold a huge amount of the debt.

“What we are seeing in Puerto Rico is if you push it off, the situation gets worse, the debt gets worse, the humanitarian crisis gets worse,” the committee’s chairman, Utah Republican Rob Bishop, told Reuters Wednesday.

Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, on a recent visit to the island, said a bailout may eventually be necessary in order to pay police officers and firefighters.

“What we can only look forward to, if Congress does not act, is things will get worse and worse,” Lew said. “It can’t stay where it is.”

The supplier of gas for ambulances, police cars, and fire engines in Puerto Rico has threatened to cut of supplies for non-payment of bills.

Septic tanks, a breeding ground for Zika-carrying mosquitoes, are overflowing because there is no money to pay contractors to empty them

The territory has shuttered 150 schools in recent years, a number estimated to grow to 600 over the next five years.

Young, working age Puerto Ricans are fleeing. So are doctors, with one leaving every day, according to one study. In 2015, 85,000 people left the island, 2.5 percent of its population.

The unemployment rate is 12 percent and rising, as is the poverty rate, now close to 50 percent.

Puerto Rico’s next repayment date is July 1, when close to $2 billion is due. Crucially, this includes $805 million in general obligation debt, which, under the constitution, must be paid before any other expenses, including services.

It was general obligation debt that the hedge funds, including Aurelius Capital, Brigade Capital Management LP; Perry Capital LLC, Fir Tree Partners and Centerbridge Partners LP, incorporated into the deal in March 2014. Now they want their money.

Some of these hedge funds are believed to be behind a campaign decrying the restructuring deal as a “bailout” — though we can’t be certain, as the “dark money” group behind the ads doesn’t have to disclose its donors.

In a position paper, the Center for Individual Freedom, a conservative think tank, acknowledged that restructuring Puerto Rico’s debt wouldn’t constitute a bailout by the federal government. But it does claim that action by Congress would take place “directly on the backs of individual investors and retirees in Puerto Rico and across the United States who own Puerto Rican bonds in mutual funds or other investment accounts.”

Yet those managing other funds are largely in favor of a restructuring deal.

Oppenheimer, which runs various funds that bought billions in Puerto Rican bonds, said it “believes a strong fiscal control board, which should be beneficial for bondholders, should be included by any action Congress takes.”

“The control board should have the power to require Puerto Rico to balance its budget, address pension liabilities and file restructuring petitions,” it added in a statement on its website.

But Oppenheimer is opposed to a stay on litigation, which has been proposed by, among others, President Obama. It is designed to give the island at least some breathing room.

The hedge funds absolutely do not want a stay on litigation. In fact, that point is probably their highest priority. They have signaled their intention to immediately sue if Puerto Rico defaults on that $805 million.

And Argentina is their template: After the country defaulted on its debt in the early 2000s, most creditors agreed to deals, except a small number of hedge funds.

Fifteen years of litigation followed, in a court in New York, at the end of which the hedge funds emerged with huge profits from their investments. It was only finally resolved in February. It caused enormous problems for Argentina, which only managed to return to capital markets last month.

It will be clear soon whether this is how at least some of those hedge funds want to play the game again.

 

The Fort McMurray Wildfire Shows The Future Of Climate Change

Temperatures in Fort McMurray, the epicenter of an epic wildfire sweeping through Alberta province in Canada, topped 90 degrees earlier this week.

Fort McMurray isn’t all that far, relatively speaking, from the Arctic Circle. This is May. This is insane.

Temperatures have never topped 90 degrees in this part of the world at this time of year. That’s 40 degrees above average.

The city’s entire population of 88,000 is being evacuated as Canada declares a state of emergency. Images of the blazing fire reveal an apocalyptic landscape, with parts of the city resembling “a war-torn corner of the world,” according to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Wildfires are a normal part of life in Alberta. They happen every year, and indeed needed to sustain the forest. But there were real warning signs this year was different, there were more, and they started earlier, according to local reports.

A warm, dry winter, coupled with a warm, dry spring and temperatures that broke records even before this week left the ground bone dry early in the wildfire season. El Niño is to blame for some of the warm weather as well, this year and last.

To make matters worse, Fort McMurray, until recently a boomtown at the center of the tar sands oil industry — and, incidentally, where the Keystone XL pipeline was set to begin — is surrounded by forest.

The disaster has led some to suggest, if carefully, that we might finally be witnessing a catastrophic event in a western country that can be linked directly to climate change. At the very least, events like the Fort McMurray wildfire will happen more regularly in the future, and will be more fierce.

In an article published online by Scientific American Wednesday, author Brian Kahn writes: “What’s happening in Fort McMurray is a perfect encapsulation of the wicked ways that climate change is impacting wildfire season.”

Kahn also quotes Mike Flannigan, an expert on wildfires at the University of Alberta. “This [fire] is consistent with what we expect from human-caused climate change affecting our fire regime,” Flannigan said.

Canada’s Green Party leader, Elizabeth May was quoted as saying that this is “a disaster that is very related to the global climate crisis,” but after receiving some criticism, she walked back those remarks, a measure of how even those in the green movement have been moved to temper their thoughts.

“Some reports have suggested that the wildfires are directly caused by climate change,” May said. “No credible climate scientist would make this claim, and neither do I make this claim.”

But it’s beginning to feel like that point in a disaster movie, maybe a quarter way through, when the characters all realize that really bad things are actually really starting to happen, and they know it will only get worse.

At least a few characters in this movie seem to know what’s going on. Pew Research released Thursday its latest polling results that show fully 81 percent of liberal Democrats view global climate change as a major threat to the U.S., compared to 18 percent of conservative Republicans.

The Day the Earth Caught Fire is a superb — a classic — London-set, near-future sci-fi disaster movie from the early 1960s.

The film’s premise, daft on its face but reflective of the fears of its time, is that the two superpowers set off two huge nuclear weapons simultaneously. This knocks the world slightly off its axis, out of its orbit, causing cataclysmic climate change that affects different regions of the earth in unique ways.

London swelters, burns, and then begins to melt. It’s global warming on steroids and speed.

When told that the cataclysmic climate changes to the planet are man made, a veteran newspaperman, played by Leo McKern, delivers this denunciation: “The stupid, crazy, irresponsible, bastards — they have finally done it.”

Such a singular, shining, realization is unlikely in Planet Earth: The Movie — run time about 100 more years.

Photo: Officers look on as smoke from Fort McMurray’s raging wildfires billow into the air after their city was evacuated, May 4, 2016. REUTERS/Topher Seguin

Fentanyl, The Opioid Crisis You’ve Never Heard Of

Users of a lethal drug 30 to 50 times more potent than heroin are dying in far greater numbers than those reported by some federal agencies, a study of medical examiner reports in those states hardest hit by the epidemic reveals.

The most widely quoted figure for deaths linked to the use of fentanyl is from a nationwide alert issued March 2015 by the Drug Enforcement Agency, which estimated the number, between the end of 2013 through 2014, at 700.

But a study of medical examiner and other reports from eight of ten states where the largest number of seizures of fentanyl were reported reveals much larger and more frightening numbers.

More than 2000 fentanyl-linked deaths were reported in 2014 by medical examiners in those states, which include Ohio, Florida and Massachusetts.

In Ohio, in 2014, 502 died from fentanyl-linked overdoses, up from 92 the previous year, while 397 perished in Florida that same year, up from 185.

And in the small state of New Hampshire, where ahead of the state’s primary the presidential candidates were moved to raise the issue of opioid abuse but failed to specifically mention fentanyl, the 2014 death toll stood at 261, up from 19 the previous year.

Massachusetts reported 336 in the year up to the end of September, 2015.

The U.S. Senate has passed a bill to tackle the opioid abuse crisis, but it does not include specific language addressing fentanyl. The House Judiciary Committee is this week considering its own version of the bill.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports an 80 percent increase in the number of fentanyl-linked deaths between 2013 and 2014, meaning it is a key driver of what health professionals and addiction experts are describing as a health emergency linked to opioid and heroin use.

In total, some 28,000 people died from opioid or heroin overdoses in 2014, up from 22,000 the previous year, and compared to 7,000 in 2001, according to the CDC. The centers, in a warning issued February, said the number of fentanyl seizures increased from 618 to 4,585 between 2012 and 2014, the majority in ten states in the east and midwest.

But the full extent of the fentanyl crisis may not yet have fully emerged, as many medical examiners across the country did not test for the drug until recently, marking the death as a heroin overdose.

The overall death toll would be even greater but for the wider availability of a drug called naloxone, also known as Narcan, which reverses the effects of an overdose, Even then, multiple doses are need to counter the effects of fentanyl.

Originally designed as pain medication for stage four cancer patients and severe burn victims, fentanyl is often prescribed to those suffering from much lesser pain, which made it easier for some to leak on to the black market.

Now, Mexican drug cartels are in the game, with chemists hired to make illicit fentanyl, which is then either mixed in with heroin or packed by itself and marketed as heroin. It is also mixed with cocaine and is now appearing in tablet form.

The demographic of those dying from fentanyl is mixed, though a high proportion are young, white, and male, often from suburban or rural areas, according to the CDC. Many progressed from pain killers to heroin, then often unwittingly to taking fentanyl.

Erin Artigiana, deputy director for policy at the University of Maryland’s Drug Policy, said fentanyl, both legal and illicit, is marketed and distributed as heroin.

On the numbers of deaths, Artigiana said, “The short answer is it’s probably more than 700. States have got better at identifying fentanyl as they realize the situation they have to address.”

“It’s easy to have a bad reaction especially if you do not know what you are taking.”

Michelle Hillman, interim director of communications at the Massachusetts Department of Health and Human Services, described it as a “serious problem” in the state.

“In 2014 alone, 1099 people died from unintentional overdoses. Opioids, including powerful combinations such as heroin cut with fentanyl, are taking almost four lives a day in the Commonwealth,” Hillman said.

Gov. Charlie Baker and Attorney General Maura Healy have moved to tighten criminal sanctions against those caught with more a certain amount of fentanyl, making it a trafficking offense.

In a briefing, Healy’s office said fentanyl is a major contributing factor to the opioid and heroin epidemic, and to the sharp increase in overdoses.

Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, whose state has been badly hit by the crisis, introduced — along with Democratic colleague Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse — a bill to combat the health emergency.

The bipartisan bill was passed by the Senate 85-1 last month. It does not have any measures to specifically address the issue of fentanyl.

And Sen. Portman, a Republican, fears the bill now being considered by the House contains major changes to that passed by the Senate, specifically that it reduces the number of grants and allows states more control over what should be funded.

The House Judiciary Committee began considering its version of the bill Wednesday.

Photo: Fentanyl. Wikimedia Commons/ Alcibiades.

John Boehner Calling Ted Cruz ‘Lucifer In The Flesh’ Is Hardly The Worst Thing Someone Has Said About Ted Cruz

Former House Speaker John Boehner called Ted Cruz “Lucifer in the flesh” Wednesday, and made clear he would never vote for the presidential candidate in a general election.

Boehner has never hidden his deep dislike of Cruz, but his comments at a Stanford University gathering went farther than any he has made before about the Texas Senator.

“Lucifer in the flesh,” Boehner said, according to an article in the Stanford Daily. “I have Democrat friends and Republican friends. I get along with almost anyone, but I have never worked with a more miserable son of a bitch in my life.”

In response, Cruz told reporters Thursday Boehner “allowed his inner Trump to come out.”

“The interesting thing is I’ve never worked with John Boehner, I don’t know the man,” Cruz said. “Indeed, during the government shut down, I reached out to John Boehner, to work with him to get something meaningful done. He said, ‘I have no interest in talking to you.'”

The former speaker is only one of many, ranging from his congressional colleagues to former Princeton roommates, who have spoken ill of Cruz, widely regarded as one of the most disliked members of Congress.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, said in a televised broadcast earlier this year that if “you killed Ted Cruz on the floor of the Senate, and the trial was in the Senate, nobody would convict you.”

Rep. Peter King of New York said Thursday on CNN that maybe Boehner “gives Lucifer a bad name by comparing him to Ted Cruz.”

“Listen, what John Boehner was most concerned about was Ted Cruz perpetrated a fraud and a hoax when he brought about the shutdown of the government on some kind of a vague promise that he was gonna be able to take Obamacare out of the budget or to end Obamacare,” Rep. King said.

Cruz’s former Princeton roommate, screenwriter Craig Mazin, regularly tweets about the year he shared a room with Cruz, none of it flattering. One tweet described Cruz as a “nightmare of a human being.

Mazin told the Daily Beast in 2013 he would “rather have anybody else be the President of the United States.”

Boehner’s dislike, even hatred, of Cruz can be traced to the Texas Senator’s two attempts to shut down the government, first in 2013 over Obamacare, then again last year over cutting off federal funding for Planned Parenthood.

Cruz led those pushing for a shutdown, mostly members of the Tea Party-oriented House Freedom Caucus. Boehner described them in his talk with history professor David M. Kennedy as “knuckleheads” and “goofballs.” Boehner’s office confirmed the authenticity of the report and quotes.

Boehner was encouraged to speak frankly as he was assured the talk was not going to be filmed or broadcast.

The former speaker vowed he would not vote for Cruz in November, and that he will vote for Trump if he is the Republican nominee.

During the talk, hosted by Stanford in Government (SIG) and the Stanford Speakers Bureau, Boehner also spoke of Hillary Clinton, initially in somewhat disparaging terms.

Boehner is reported to have mimicked Clinton and is quoted as saying, “Oh I’m a woman, vote for me.” He then praised her as accomplished and smart.

He told the crowd not to be shocked if they saw “Joe Biden parachuting in” should Clinton’s emails became a larger scandal ahead of the Democratic National Convention.

“Don’t be shocked … if two weeks before the convention, here comes Joe Biden parachuting in and Barack Obama fanning the flames to make it all happen,” Boehner said.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and House Majority leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) (not pictured) speak to reporters at a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington October 7, 2015. REUTERS/Gary Cameron 

Pennsylvania’s Senate Democratic Primary Pitts The Party Against Itself

Joe Sestak is a former three star admiral, a two term congressman, and a one time Senate candidate who came within two points of defeating Sen. Pat Toomey in 2010, a tough, tough year for Democrats.

Yet his own party and aligned outside groups are spending millions of dollars to derail his bid to be the Democratic nominee for Senate in Pennsylvania.

Voters in the state are heading to the polls today in a fiercely contested Senate primary race. Pennsylvania is one of six key states — along with New Hampshire, Illinois, Ohio, Florida and Wisconsin — for Democrats as the party plots to take back the Senate.

The Democratic establishment wants Pennsylvanians behind Katie McGinty, a former chief of staff to Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf who hasn’t held elected office herself. She’s received support from the party’s Senate campaign committee and an endorsement from the president.

“D.C. Democratic money is now used without asking donors whether it can be contrary to the original purpose of the contribution: not against Republicans, but against another Democrat,” Sestak wrote in an email to supporters last week.

This all started in 2010. That’s when 64-year-old then-Congressman Sestak, after two victories in the normally Republican-leaning 7th Congressional District, ran his first race for the Senate Democratic nomination. After Sestak began his campaign, incumbent Republican senator Arland Specter switched parties, running for re-election as a Democrat and quickly earning the support of the state party infrastructure.

Sestak, mostly thanks to a top-notch ground game, managed to win the nomination without the support of the Democratic establishment. He narrowly lost to Pat Toomey in the general election, a seat the party believed could have been won had Specter been their candidate.

Sestak, pro-choice, F-rated by the National Rifle Association, top rated by environmentalists, anti-Citizens United, and a one time national security adviser to Hillary Clinton, announced early last year he was running again for the Senate. Politico reported that he had refused to hire a party-approved campaign manager. The DSCC unsuccessfully attempted to recruit five other candidates before finally landing on McGinty.

Sestak is popular in Pennsylvania and led the polls by double digits as late as a month ago. His campaign has pulled in more than $4 million, and a supportive super PAC has a million more.

But McGinty, helped by outside spending totaling close to $4 million, much of it from the DSCC and EMILY’s List, has drawn even according to the latest polls. Monmouth University have the pair dead even at 39 percent, while the Republican-leaning Harper Polling put McGinty six points ahead.

There is a third candidate: Braddock, PA mayor John Fetterman. Most often profiled as the 6’8, tattooed, bald-headed, bushy-bearded Harvard graduate, the Bernie Sanders supporter is expected to pick up a respectable 10 percent of the vote.

Sestak’s supporters worry that Fetterman will pick off independent, anti-establishment voters that may have otherwise voted for the former admiral.

Meanwhile, incumbent Republican Sen. Pat Toomey watches on, cradling a $9.1 million general election war chest that will grow with time.

If Sestak wins the primary, the party establishment will have to park their dislike of the candidate in some dark D.C corner. No matter their nominee, Democrats need Pennsylvania, along with another four of the six target states, if they are to take back the Senate.

Photo: Joe Sestak in 2009. Wikimedia Commons.

What Is John Kasich Doing??

John Kasich’s number crunchers must be hard at work. The Ohio governor genuinely believes Donald Trump will fall short of picking up a sufficient number of delegates ahead of the Republican convention.

In the face of deep skepticism, and with key figures in the Republican establishment siding with Ted Cruz, Gov. Kasich is doubling down on his ever more confusing choice to stay in the Republican presidential primary. This week, he asked two seasoned political operatives to prepare for the convention.

On Monday, on Fox News, Kasich said of Trump: “He’s not going to get to 1,237. That’s like saying ‘What if a spaceman lands tonight?’ We’re going to a convention.”

Kasich was also buoyed by polls stating he is the most likely candidate to defeat Hillary Clinton. He referenced the Quinnipac poll at many of his events this past week in Wisconsin, which votes April 5.

It could come down to money, and whether or not a handful of major donors continue to fund his primary super PAC, New Day for America. Funds are running low despite big cash injections in the first two months of this year.

Boich Industries, an Ohio coal marketing company that has backed Gov. Kasich before, pumped in $1 million into New Day in January. At the end of February, billionaire hedge fund owner Julian Robertson gave the group $500,000. Others donated between $100,000 and $300,000.

Kasich’s campaign committee had just $1.25 million in cash on hand at the end of February. But it did manage to pull in a respectable $3.4 million during the month, and Kasich’s campaign has been incredibly low cost, relatively speaking.

In addition, Kasich wants to stay alive long enough for New York and Pennsylvania’s primaries, later in April. Those are states where he believes he will poll well, according to Dan Birdsong, a lecturer in political science at the University of Dayton, Ohio.

Wisconsin will prove crucial for Kasich’s ability to keep raising just enough money to stay in the race, and to persuade his supporters a convention floor fight is at least possible.

While some analysts suggest Kasich is running a distant third in Wisconsin, most recent numbers suggest otherwise. The figures are good, and Wisconsin could host a tight three-way race, with Kasich set to pick at least some delegates.

The latest Optima poll of more than 7,000 likely voters puts Donald Trump in the lead at 29 percent, Kasich at 27, and Cruz at 25. Kasich is leading, according to the poll, in two congressional districts: those covering the counties surrounding the state capital, Madison, and suburbs and towns to the north of Milwaukee.

Wisconsin has a winner-takes-most Republican primary. The overall state-wide winner picks up 18 delegates, but three delegates are available in each of the state’s eight congressional districts.

Birdsong, who has followed Kasich’s political and private career for many years, said Kasich is more than a hanger-on.

“Every move he has made is what you to do to make a serious run for the presidency,” said Birdsong. “First Washington as a congressman, then some time in the private sector, then the next move, the typical path through the governorship.”

Birdsong also believes the Republican National Convention, which will take place in Cleveland in July, may have also played a part in Kasich’s decision to stay in the race when “most people would have gotten out by now.”

He is also motivated, said Birdsong, by his belief that Donald Trump is dangerous, and that Ted Cruz has no chance of breaking beyond his conservative base and winning in November.

As a spokesman for Mr. Kasich, Mike Schrimpf, said Monday, as the convention draws closer, “more and more of the delegates are going to focus on who can actually win in November.” 

Photo: Republican presidential candidate John Kasich addresses the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) afternoon general session in Washington March 21, 2016.      REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

Campaign Consultants And Media Companies Are Cashing In On Our Corrupt Elections

Four days before Ben Carson finally wrapped up his failed candidacy, his campaign paid $348,141 to a direct mail company. The same amount was paid at the start of the month to Pennsylvania-based Action Mailers, bringing the company’s February total close to $1 million.

That same day, a web service provider for Carson’s campaign (run by the candidate’s chief marketing officer) was paid $59,000. In February, as the campaign limped to an end, checks totaling $651,000 were sent to Eleventy for web services.

Carson, in an interview with CNN after he announced that he would be dropping out of the race, said “We had people who didn’t really seem to understand finances, or maybe they did—maybe they were doing it on purpose.”

In total, through the end of February, Carson’s campaign raised $63 million and spent $58 million, according to FEC filings.

Much of that money came from small individual donations, and much of it was spent on a handful of companies tasked with raising money from those individual donors. There are many links between companies paid money by his campaign and the individuals who surrounded Carson.

Eleventy, whose president, Ken Dawson, was the campaign’s marketing chief, received close to $6 million over the course of the campaign. Action Mailers received over $5 million. Carson spent just over $5 million on television buys, less even than Donald Trump, whose “free media” campaign has kept his ad expenses incredibly low. Just as important, Carson spent little on developing a ground game.

“There’s a lot of people who love me, they just won’t vote for me,” Carson said as he bowed out. Hundreds of thousands loved him enough to give money to what they thought was an actual campaign.

The rise of super PACs in the aftermath of the Citizens United Supreme Court decision has often dominated the discussion over money in politics in recent election cycles. There is much more to the tale. It’s not just about who is spending the cash, but where it’s going.

Harpers Magazine, in its April cover story, delves into the world of “strategists, pollsters, TV-ad makers, media buyers, direct-mail specialists, broadcasters, and other subcategories of what we should properly call the election-industrial complex.” Its conclusion leaves the reader feeling, if only for a moment, somewhat sorry for the billionaires and multi-millionaires pumping money into elections. It’s all wasted extremely efficiently, mostly on advertising buys.

Exhibit A: Jeb Bush, whose campaign and supportive PACs spent close to $150 million on his failed candidacy, with nothing to show for it but… well, actually, there’s just nothing to show for it.

The big winners are consultants and television companies.

Les Moonves, chairman of CBS, made it clear, twice, that what may be bad for America is very good for his company. “Super PACs may be bad for America,” Moonves said following the 2012 election, “but they’re very good for CBS.” That year, CBS made $180 million out of the election.

This election cycle, not only are broadcasters pulling in cash from advertising, they also have Donald Trump to thank for an unprecedented ratings spike.

“It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS,” Moonves told a media conference in San Francisco in December. “Man, who would have expected the ride we’re all having right now? … The money’s rolling in and this is fun,” Moonves said.

“I’ve never seen anything like this, and this going to be a very good year for us. Sorry. It’s a terrible thing to say. But, bring it on, Donald. Keep going.”

Photo: Supporters of Dr. Ben Carson congregate near Dr. Carson’s book tour bus after a book signing in Ames, Iowa.

GOP Senators Begin To Budge On Obama’s Supreme Court Nominee

Republican Sen. Susan Collins responded simply when asked about Mitch McConnel’s stance on President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland.

“I believe that we should follow the regular order in considering this nominee,” she said.

But the Maine senator’s point marks what could be a shift away from McConnel’s — and Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley’s — hardline opposition to holding hearings for Garland.

“The Constitution’s very clear that the president has every right to make the nomination, and then the Senate can either consent or withhold its consent.” The only way to do that is to thoroughly vet the nominee, Collins said, by having personal meetings — and holding public hearings.

McConnell has asserted — starting an hour after Antonin Scalia’s death was confirmed — that he has a right under the Constitution to completely ignore the president’s nomination, arguing that it is part of the separation of powers.

“It is a president’s constitutional right to nominate a Supreme Court justice, and it is the Senate’s constitutional right to act as a check on a president and withhold its consent,” McConnell said on the Senate floor Wednesday.

Apart from the fact he is denying the Senate the opportunity to withhold consent, McConnell did not even mention the “advise” part of the appointments clause.

McConnell spoke to Garland by phone Wednesday evening to inform him they would not meet. Garland is making the rounds on Capitol Hill today, initially to talk to Democrats.

Republican senators are starting to move beyond McConnell’s position, agreeing they will meet Garland. This includes Sen. Jeff Flake, a member of the Judiciary Committee, who still insists no consideration of the nomination will be made.

Others have gone further, including Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois, who is facing a tough re-election battle against Rep. Tammy Duckworth in November.

Kirk, in a statement issued just hours after President Obama announced the nomination, said: “The Senate’s constitutionally defined role to provide advice and consent is as important as the president’s role in proposing a nominee, and I will assess Judge Merrick Garland based on his record and qualifications.”

New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte, also facing a tough re-election fight this fall against Gov. Maggie Hassan, said she will meet with Garland but still opposes consideration of the nomination.

Her state has already seen a rash of ads, for and against considering the nomination, a measure of how large a part the issue will play in the election.

But, elsewhere, though national polls suggest 66 percent of voters believe the nominee should be considered, Republican senators are betting that it’s not a big enough issue to make a difference in most races.

Either way, Obama couldn’t have picked a better nominee than Garland, who is by all accounts a centrist jurist with impeccable credentials and a solid record, for the uphill battle. Obama resisted advice to appoint him earlier — Garland has been up for consideration twice before — instead nominating Elena Kagan and Sonya Sotomayor.

Many Republicans admit he is a good nominee, while maintaing that the decision must be left to the next president.

Or not left to the next president, if one somewhat confusing proposal is acted upon.

It goes like this: wait until after November election results, and then the nomination process can begin, with Garland being confirmed before the next president is inaugurated. Sen. Orrin Hatch, whose past praise of Garland has been widely broadcast, said Thursday that scenario is possible because “we would like to treat him fairly.”

Here’s another reading: It’s not clear if Republicans are more worried about Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump naming the next Supreme Court justice.

Photo: Mitch McConnell (R-KY) adjusts his glasses while taking questions on the upcoming budget battle on Capitol Hill in Washington September 29, 2015.   REUTERS/Gary Cameron    

Clinton and Trump Had Great Nights. Now What?

A closed door meeting to decide on a strategy to stop Donald Trump is set to take place in Washington DC Thursday. And, according to reports, the high-level Republican operatives organizing the meeting will also discuss running a third-party conservative challenger, should Trump win the nomination.

It’s dawning on the Republican establishment that it is “increasingly necessary” to look at Trump as the party’s nominee in the November election, as pollster Ed Goeas wrote in a recent memo to the anti-Trump Our Principles PAC.

In that same memo, Goeas argues Trump has no chance of winning the general election in a match up against Hillary Clinton. It was written before Trump decisively defeated Marco Rubio in Florida, leading to the senator announcing the end of his campaign.

The delegate math is beginning to add up, and it shows that Trump is now likely to hit the 1,237 delegate target, though this might not happen until June. There’s a chance Rubio’s supporters will move en bloc to the other candidates, and that Trump wouldn’t earn any of his votes, but there is no certainty that will happen.

What else is there? A deal, brokered by GOP leaders, to bring the almost equally-disliked Ted Cruz and the sainted John Kasich together as a ticket. If not that, by the time either one or the other bows out it may be too late, and that would leave party elders praying for a Hail Mary — that is, Trump falls short and there is a brokered convention.

If Trump hits his delegate target, it’s almost certain a third party “conservative” candidate will stand, Stuart Stevens, Mitt Romney’s former political strategist, stated last night on NPR. Stevens said he will never vote for Trump.

“I think in a lot of states there will be a third party candidate,” said Stevens, adding that it is essential voters turned off by Trump come out in November and vote for down ticket Republicans. The party leadership is prepared to give up on the presidency.

It is worth digging into some numbers from Tuesday’s primary, not so much in Florida, but in Illinois.

This is a state where Cruz was predicted to do well — where he had spent most of the the preceding week, and where Trump’s campaign was supposed to be in a disarray after his state campaign chief stepped down.

There was some suggestion Trump’s numbers might be hurt by the scenes of scuffles and some fist fights at Friday’s canceled rally in Chicago. That, it seems, was not a problem for his voters, and in fact may have brought more out.

Taking into account that Kasich polled well, thereby cutting in to Cruz’s numbers, Trump swept up across the state, winning 52 of the 69 delegates.

It was clear from early voting there was going to be a big bump in the number of Republicans voting, particularly in Chicago, the rest of Cook County and its collar counties.

It was more than a bump – a full 100,000 more people voted in this Republican primary, in Cook County alone, than 2012. While some may have voted against Trump, a lot more backed him.  It is not known how many, but there is no doubt he received votes from Democrats in this open primary.

Hillary Clinton can also thank Cook County for delivering the narrowest of wins in her home state. The eight percent margin in the county was enough to win the state overall.

Delegates, both the 102 at congressional district and the 54 at state level, are pledged proportionally, meaning both Clinton and Sanders will have a close to equal share.

Likewise in Missouri, where the pair remained in a too close to call dead heat late into last evening. The 71 delegates will be split, likely 35 to 36.

With her wins in Florida, Ohio and North Carolina, Clinton was ahead 1,097 to 774 in pledged delegates as of late last night.

But Sanders is not going home any time soon. His energized supporters would never allow it, and he is far from finished hammering home a message that is resonating deeply.

Senior Sanders strategist Tad Devine spoke last night about making up the delegate advantage, and carving out a path to the nomination.

We’re only half way though primary season, he said, and Arizona, Idaho, Utah, Washington and Wisconsin are all ahead, important states for Sanders. Then New York at the end of April.

But Clinton, who won the popular vote in all five states yesterday, appeared confident.

“I want to congratulate Bernie Sanders for the vigorous campaign,” Clinton told her supporters, a seeming nod to his eventual dropping out of the race — though that might happen months from now.

But her point was well-taken: “Because of all of you, and our supporters across the country, our campaign has earned more votes than any other candidate, Democrat or Republican.”

Photo: Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton shakes hands as she speaks to supporters at a campaign rally in West Palm Beach, Florida March 15, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Barria