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puerto_rico_usda_flickr.jpgThe White House requested Congress approve $44 billion in disaster relief in what would be the largest single round of disaster aid to address the widespread damage inflicted by hurricanes and wildfires over the last three months.  It is the third request since hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria slammed the Gulf Coast and Caribbean.  The new request would add another $24 billion to the disaster relief this fall and bring the total close to $100 billion.  It would also establish a new $12 billion grant program for flood risk mitigation projects. Smaller amounts would go to small business loans and to aid farmers suffering crop losses.

The White House is proposing the increased funding be offset by cuts to federal programs in hopes to deter members from Congress who might not vote for a disaster assistance package that adds to the deficit.  Two previous disaster relief bills totaling nearly $51.8 billion that Congress approved earlier this year had no such offsets.

And that’s before most of the money to rebuild Puerto Rico’s devastated housing stock and electric grid is added in.  Puerto Rican Gov. Ricardo Rosselló has asked the federal government for $94.3 billion in disaster relief funds to help repair critical infrastructure and rebuild housing following Hurricane Maria.  He said the sum will help the U.S. territory adequately recover from Hurricane Maria.  Over half of Puerto Rico is still without power almost two months after Hurricane Maria made landfall.  More than 10 percent of the island is still without running water.

The largest chunk of Rosselló’s request, $31 billion, goes to housing assistance with $17.7 billion to rebuild the island’s power grid and $14.9 billion for health care.  “This is a critical step forward in the rebuilding of Puerto Rico where we’re not only looking to rebuild as was before but we want to make it much stronger and much more resilient and make Puerto Rico a model for the rest of the Caribbean,” Rosselló said.  Ricardo Rosello also urged Congress to adopt a tax overhaul plan that addresses the territory’s specific needs to avoid an exodus of the companies that currently generate 42% of the island’s gross domestic product.

The relief request is over $30 billion more than a $61 billion relief request from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott after Hurricane Harvey flooded parts of metro Houston and East Texas.  The Florida congressional delegation has asked for $27 billion.  It is likely that Congress will pare down the amount as they did after Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

 

 

 

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Keystone Pipeline Oil Leak

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A total of 210,000 gallons of oil leaked Thursday from the Keystone Pipeline in South Dakota, the pipeline’s operator, TransCanada, said.  Crews shut down the pipeline within minutes of discovering an irregularity and officials are investigating the cause of the leak, which occurred about three miles southeast of the town of Amherst.  The spill has been controlled, the company said, with no further environmental impacts observed and no threat to public safety.

Brian Walsh, a spokesman for the state’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources said  “ This is the largest Keystone oil spill to date in South Dakota.  In April 2016, there was a 400-barrel release — or 16,800 gallons — with the majority of the oil cleanup completed in two months, Walsh said. About 5,000 barrels of oil spilled Thursday.  “It is a below-ground pipeline, but some oil has surfaced above ground to the grass,” Walsh said. “It will be a few days until they can excavate and get in borings to see if there is groundwater contamination.”  “There were no initial reports of the oil spill affecting waterways, water systems or wildlife” he said.

According to the South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ website, this is the third pipeline spill in the state this year. Another 84 gallons of crude oil leaked from the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline in Spink County  in April.  That pipeline, which runs through both Dakotas and two other states, drew fierce resistance from the Standing Rock Sioux tribe in North Dakota, the tribe’s allies and environmentalists.

The leak comes just days before Nebraska officials announce a decision on whether the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline, a sister project, can move forward.  The Keystone Pipeline system stretches more than 2,600 miles, from Hardisty, Alberta, east into Manitoba and then south to Texas, according to TransCanada. The pipeline transports crude oil from Canada.  The sections of pipeline affected stretch from Hardisty to Cushing, Oklahoma, and to Wood River, Illinois.

The proposed Keystone XL Pipeline, which would stretch from Hardisty to Steele City, Nebraska, would complete the proposed system by cutting through Montana and South Dakota.  TransCanada said it was working with state and federal agencies.  “The safety of the public and environment are our top priorities and we will continue to provide updates as they become available,” the company said.  Environmental activist group Greenpeace said the spill shows the new pipeline in Nebraska should not be approved.

In March, the Trump administration officially issued a permit that approved construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline.  The approval followed years of intense debate over the pipeline amid hefty opposition from environmental groups, who argued the pipeline supports the extraction of crude oil from oil sands, which pumps about 17% more greenhouse gases than standard crude oil extraction. Tar sands oil is also much thicker and stickier than traditional oil, significantly complicating cleanup efforts. Since it’s thicker, it needs to be combined with other hazardous materials to allow it to be transported in pipelines.

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The Department of Defense (DOD) is planning to send 3,000 more troops to its Afghanistan operations in early 2018.  The NATO contribution would boost the training mission, called Resolute Support, to around 16,000 US troops.  About half of the additional troops would come from the United States and the rest from NATO allies and partner countries.  The additional personnel will not have a combat role but the alliance hopes more soldiers can train the Afghan army and air force.

In August a new strategy in Afghanistan was unveiled which includes providing more troops, a stronger Afghan army, support from regional allies such as India and a harder line with Pakistan.  The latest announcement of 3,000 more troops is in addition to the September announcement that another 6,000-plus ground troops from Fort Carson are slated for a future deployment to the country.

NATO allies have already promised almost $3 billion to help the United States fund the Afghan military until 2020, which is developing an air force to complement its ground forces.  NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told a news conference “We have decided to increase the number of troops to help the Afghans break the stalemate, to send a message to the Taliban, to the insurgents that they will not win on the battleground.” Stoltenberg said an attack on a television station in Kabul underlined the importance of fighting militants and supporting Afghan security forces. Islamic State claimed responsibility for the assault, without giving evidence.

Gen. John Nicholson, the top U.S. commander for Afghanistan, told reporters “My plan is to have U.S. forces focused on the things that only U.S. forces can do, so I would not like to have to divert U.S. forces to do things that allies could perform.”  “We have made it very clear to the allies that we really need their help in filling these billets that we’ve identified.”

Hundreds of soldiers with the U.S. Army’s first security force assistance brigade are expected to deploy to Afghanistan in early 2018 as part of that ANDSF training mission. The Army intends to have a total of six brigades by 2022 with the primary mission is to train and advise foreign troops.  In Afghanistan, the focus will be bolstering government forces, which have sustained heavy losses and huge swaths of territory to the Taliban since the U.S. combat mission ended in 2014.

 

The Paradise Papers

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On Nov. 5, one of the largest data leaks in history revealed the offshore endeavors of some of the world’s richest and most influential people.  Shocking new revelations expose how companies and individuals avoid taxes through imaginative bookkeeping maneuvers as well as investments or purchases in countries with lower or no taxes.  The leak, known as the Paradise Papers, came in 13.4 million leaked documents revealing how a Bermudan law firm Appleby, helps corporations and the world’s wealthiest people evade taxes and obscure their ownership of everything from private planes to whole companies.

The documents expose the offshore assets of some of the world’s biggest companies such as Facebook, Twitter, Apple, Disney, Uber, Nike, Walmart, Allianz, Siemens, McDonald’s, and Yahoo! are among the corporations that own offshore companies,as well as Allergan, the manufacturer of Botox.  The documents also detail the offshore assets of many high-profile figures, including Queen Elizabeth II, singers Madonna and Shakira, and Secretary of Commerce and billionaire Wilbur Ross.

Most of the leaked files come from an offshore legal firm called Appleby, which was founded in Bermuda but has offices in Hong Kong, the Cayman Islands, Shanghai, and other locations. The firm is a part of an informal group of the world’s leading offshore law practices.  After media outlets started reporting on the documents, the company said that there was “no evidence of wrongdoing”, that they “are a law firm which advises clients on legitimate and lawful ways to conduct their business”.  They also issued a series of public statements insisting that the firm was not the subject of a leak but of a serious criminal act- an illegal computer hack. Our systems were accessed by an intruder who deployed the tactics of a professional hacker”.

While offshoring is controversial, it’s typically not illegal and allows businesses and wealthy people to avoid paying taxes, creditors, trade sanctions, and more all without technically breaking the laws.  When someone’s assets are in question regarding lawsuit and divorce settlements or child support, offshore assets are typically well hidden so they are not included.  The main issue is that when wealthy people have offshore assets, it has many economic and political repercussions for everyday citizens — like putting a heavier burden on “honest taxpayers.”  The IRS once estimated that U.S. taxpayers have to pay an extra 15 percent because of the offshoring industry.

Some examples of what the Paradise Papers have exposed are how four-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton avoided paying more than $4 million in taxes for a private jet.  Hugh Grosvenor, the Duke of Westminster, is named in the papers in relation to two offshore trusts set up by the Grosvenor estate in the 1960s and 1970s, long before his birth.  Grosvenor, who inherited the estate after the death of his father in 2016, reportedly managed, thanks to careful planning from his family’s estate, to avoid paying 40% “death duties” usually levied when assets pass from one generation to another.  The documents detail how Nike boosted its after-tax profits by, transferring ownership of its Swoosh trademark to a Bermudan subsidiary, Nike International Ltd. This transfer allowed the subsidiary to charge royalties to its European headquarters in Hilversum, Netherlands, effectively converting taxable company profits to an account payable in tax-free Bermuda.  Although the subsidiary was effectively run by executives at Nike’s main offices in Beaverton, Oregon, for tax purposes the subsidiary was treated as based in Bermuda.   This maneuver earned them tax free royalties in 2010, 2011 and 2012 totaling $3.86 billion.

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A gunman in Texas opened fire Sunday morning church service in the small town of Sutherland Springs, killing 26 people and wounding at least 20 others. Witnesses say a man dressed in black wearing tactical gear and a ballistic vest began firing outside the church before entering the building, shooting dozens of people inside.  The suspected shooter has been identified as a 26-year-old Devin Patrick Kelley from New Braunfels, Texas.  Kelley was found dead in his car shortly after the shooting.

Survivors of the attack said they heard what sounded like firecrackers outside the church and realized someone was shooting at the tiny wood-frame building.  Congregants began screaming and dropped to the floor after getting hit.  The gunman then entered the church and shot the people in charge of the camera and audio of the service.  He quickly moved down the center aisle shooting congregants.  The shooting stopped, leaving worshippers to think it was over but the gunman entered the church again yelling “Everybody die!” as he checked each aisle for more victims, including babies who cried out amid the chaos, shooting helpless families at point blank range.

Stephen Willeford, who had run out of his house near the church barefoot, shot at Kelley, hitting him twice and forcing him to flee.  Willeford, ran toward a truck that was stopped at the stop sign outside the church and quickly told the driver, Johnnie Langendorff what had transpired.  The two followed Kelley in the truck for 11 miles at speeds reaching 90 mph before Kelley lost control of his vehicle and crashed into a ditch.  Willeford and Langendorff kept a safe distance while Willeford aimed his rifle at Kelley’s car and Langendorff directed the police to the location of the shooter.  Authorities believe Kelley shot himself in the head shortly after the crash.  Authorities also said Kelley appears to have carried out the massacre because of a domestic dispute he had with a former mother-in-law, who was a member of the First Baptist Church but was not present on Sunday.

Kelley enlisted in the U.S. Air Force in 2010 but was court-martialed for assaulting his then wife, Tessa and his stepson-who suffered a fractured skull during the assault.  Kelley was demoted and underwent a year-long imprisonment where he once escaped from a psychiatric hospital, threatened to kill his superiors in the U.S. Air Force and tried to smuggle firearms onto his base.  His first wife divorced him during his confinement and he received a “bad conduct” discharge in 2014, a dismissal that usually precludes ex-servicemen from buying firearms.   The Air Force has admitted it failed to report Kelley’s domestic violence court-martial to a federal database, which would have prohibited Kelley from legally buying the rifle that he used in the shooting.

Kelley married his second wife, Danielle Shields in 2014 but they became estranged sometime in 2016. Kelley had sent threatening text messages to Shields mother, Michelle who was a member of the church but was not present during the shooting.  Authorities say nearly half of those shot in the church were children and many were from the same families.  Those killed in the shooting were Michelle Shields mother, Lula Woicinski White, 71; Robert Scott Marshall and his wife, Karen, both 56, Peggy Lynn Warden, 56; Keith Allen Braden, 62; Robert and Shani Corrigan, both 51; Dennis Johnson, 77 and his wife Sara, 68; Haley Krueger, 16, Tara McNulty, 33; Ricardo Rodriguez, 64, and his wife Therese, 66; Annabelle Pomeroy, 14; Joann Ward, 30; Emily Ward, 7; Brooke Ward, 5; Bryan Holcombe, 60; Karla Holcombe, 58; Marc Daniel Holcombe, 36; Noah Holcombe, 17 months; Greg Holcombe, 13; Emily Holcomb, 11; Megan Holcombe, 9; Crystal Holcombe, 36 and her unborn child Carlin.

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In the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, men across the world are continuing to resign, be fired or face intense criticism over a slew of allegations of sexual harassment and assault that have surfaced.  Accusations against those in Hollywood, the media industry, universities, restaurants and the highest reaches of government have revealed inappropriate conduct from many notable men.  The list of those accused of sexual harassment or misconduct continues to grow each day and is sweeping many industries.  Let’s take a look at some of those recently accused.

Producer and director Brett Ratner was accused of sexually harassing six women, including actresses Olivia Munn and Natasha Henstridge.  Director James Toback was accused of sexually harassing over 300 women over several decades, including Julianne Moore, Selma Blaire and Rachel McAdams.  Chris Savino, 46, an animator and writer best known for creating The Loud House, was fired from Nickelodeon after multiple women lodged complaints against him, the network confirmed in a statement.

Actor Kevin Spacey has been accused of sexual harassment by actor Anthony Rapp, who claims he was 14 when Spacey made advances towards him in 1986. Spacey apologized to Rapp via Twitter.  The actor also came out as gay in the statement which drew criticism as an attempt at distracting from disturbing claims against a child.   Several other accusers have come forward against Spacey, including a former House of Cards crew member, filmmaker Tony Montana and actor Rob Cavazos.  On Oct. 31, Netflix announced it would shut down production of the sixth and final season of Cards “until further notice.”  In addition, the International Academy of Television Arts and Sciences said it would no longer honor Spacey with the 2017 Emmy Founders Award.

In the media industry, Michael Oreskes, NPR’s senior vice president for news, has resigned after multiple women accused him of kissing them without their consent during meetings for possible employment.  At least a dozen women have accused journalist Mark Halperin of sexually harassment or assault, with at least some of the incidents during his time as political director at ABC News.  Lockhart Steele, the editorial director for Vox Media, was fired after engaging in several incidents of sexual misconduct.  Roy Price, the head of Amazon Studios, quit five days after being put on leave after a producer accused him of sexual harassment.

Celebrity chef John Besh stepped down from the company he founded after about two dozen current and former female employees accused him and other male workers of sexual harassment in what they described as a hostile corporate culture where sexual harassment flourished.  The New Republic’s publisher, Hamilton Fish, has been placed on leave, after a slew of allegations of sexual harassment when he was the president of The Nation Institute.  The New Republic’s most prominent longtime editors, Leon Wieseltier, was also fired over sexual harassment allegations.

Meanwhile, two top staff members at the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), have been ousted over sexual harassment allegations.  National leader Kendall Fells has resigned and Detroit leader Mark Raleigh has been fired.   Three Dartmouth professors, Todd Heatherton, Paul Whalen and William Kelley from the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences- have been put on paid leave amid a criminal investigation into accusations of sexual harassment and misconduct.

Utah Nurse Wins Settlement

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Utah Nurse Alex Wubbels has won a $500,000 settlement after being violently arrested by police at The  Utah University Hospital for refusing a police officer’s demand that she draw a blood sample from an unconscious car crash patient.  Police body cam video shows an officer grab Wubbels, dragging her out of the hospital and into an unmarked car.  The incident happened on July 26 but the story went viral when bodycam footage was released weeks later.

In the video, Salt Lake City Detective Jeff Payne is seen arguing with Utah nurse Alex Wubbels, the charge nurse working the night shift on the burn unit at Utah University Hospital.   Wubbels was following hospital protocol and the law when she calmly refused to allow a blood draw on an unconscious patient without consent or a warrant.   She presented the officers with a printout of hospital policy on drawing blood and said their request did not meet the criteria.  Hospital policy specified police needed either a judge’s order or the patient’s consent, or the patient needed to be under arrest, before obtaining a blood sample.

The dispute ended with Payne handcuffing Wubbels and dragging her outside while she screamed that she’d done nothing wrong.  She was detained for 20 minutes and later released without charge.  Salt Lake City police detective Jeff Payne insisted on drawing the blood, maintaining in his report that he wanted the sample to protect the man rather than prosecute him. He was supported by his supervisor, Lt. James Tracy, who said the nurse could be arrested if she didn’t agree.

After the footage surfaced, the hospital said police would no longer be permitted in patient care areas, such as the burn unit where Wubbels was working that day.  Payne had 20 years on the force at the time.  He and a second officer, Lt. James Tracy, were put on full paid administrative leave by Salt Lake City police during an investigation involving the FBI.  On Oct. 11th, the Salt Lake City Police Department announced that Payne had been fired and Lt. James Tracy was demoted over the incident.

The patient in question, William Gray, was a reserve police officer with the Rigby, Idaho police department.  He worked as a truck driver and had been severely burned following a fiery head-on crash caused by a man in a pickup truck who was fleeing the Utah State Highway Patrol.  He spent two months in the University of Utah burn center before he passed away on September 25th.

Karra Porter, Wubbels’ attorney said her client has met the five goals she set when this incident occurred.  She wanted changes to policy, accountability from those who were involved in the incident, to start a public discussion about the urgent need for body cameras, to be compensated and to help other people who have a need for evidence obtained on body cam videos when these types of situations happen to them.  Wubbels said she plans to use a portion of the settlement toward a new initiative to help others pay for access to police body camera video clips.  “We all deserve to know the truth and the truth comes when you see the actual raw footage and that’s what happened in my case,” Wubbels said.  “Any person in the State of Utah who wishes to obtain body cam footage of an incident involving them will be able to do so, no charge to them.  Our law firm, Christensen & Jensen, will provide any legal services necessary to accomplish that,” Porter said. “Thanks to Alex, there will be more transparency.”

New York City Truck Attack

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In New York City, eight people were killed and 11 injured when a man intentionally drove a rented Home Depot pickup truck 12 blocks down a bike path along Manhattan’s Hudson River on Halloween.  The attacker, 29-year-old Sayfullo Saipov drove the truck down the bicycle lane, killing multiple people before crashing into a school bus.  He then reportedly jumped out of the car, waving a pellet gun and a paintball gun. Police say he yelled “Allahu Akbar” which means “God is Great” in Arabic before being shot  in the stomach by police.  He survived the shooting and is in custody.

Authorities say they uncovered handwritten notes near the truck that suggest Saipov had declared allegiance to ISIS and that he had planned the attack for weeks.   There is not yet any evidence that Saipov had direct connections to or support from terrorist groups.  Prosecutors say he waived his Miranda rights and confessed during a hospital interview to having carried out the attack after being inspired by ISIS videos he watched on his cellphone.  During the interview, he requested to display the black flag of ISIS in his room at Bellevue Hospital, where he is recovering from the gunshot wound in the abdomen.

Saipov made a court appearance shackled and in a wheelchair where did not ask to be released on bail.  A criminal complaint filed by federal prosecutors accuses Sayfullo Saipov of carrying out the truck attack that killed 8 and injured 12 others.  In the document, he is charged with providing material support to a foreign terrorist organization.   A second count charges him with violence and destruction of a truck that was used in interstate and foreign commerce.  He faces up to life in prison if convicted of the charges.

Saipov is originally from Tashkent, Uzbekistan and immigrated to the United States in March 2010 and has lived in Florida, Ohio and is believed to have been most recently living in Patterson, New Jersey with his wife and three children.  He is a green card holder with a “diversity immigrant visa,” meaning he arrived in the country through a lottery program.  Authorities say he worked as a commercial truck driver in the US but had been struggling to find work.  They believe that he was radicalized by information he saw on the internet about a year after arriving in the US.

Saipov worked as an Uber driver for more than six months and recorded more than 1,400 trips for the service, an Uber spokesperson said.  Saipov was subsequently banned from the app but Uber did not immediately specify why Saipov was banned from the service.  The company is now aggressively reviewing Saipov’s Uber history, but had not found any concerning safety reports, so far.   Uber says it is cooperating with the FBI as the investigation continues.  A media outlet reported that Saipov has received four previous traffic violations.

The eight people killed in the attack were two young Americans, a Belgian mother and five Argentine tourists visiting New York City to celebrate the 30th anniversary of their high school graduation.  Police identified the victims as Darren Drake, 32, of New Milford, NJ; Nicholas Cleves, 23, of New York, NY;  Ann-Laure Decadt, 31, of Belgium; Hernan Diego Mendoza-Espino, 47, of Argentina; Alejandro Damian Pagrucco, 47, of Argentina; Herman Ferruchi, 47, of Argentina; Diego Enrique Angelini, 47, of Argentina and Ariel Erlis, 48, of Argentina.

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The blackout in Puerto Rico is now the worst in US history with at least 80 percent of Puerto Rico still without electricity, and about a quarter of the island still lacking clean drinking water.  Experts say the entire power grid needs to be rebuilt and that could take at least six months.  Congress recently approved a $36.5 billion emergency spending plan to fund the recovery from Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria. The spending plan gives Puerto Rico access to $4.9 billion in loans. The plan also gives billions to FEMA and the National Flood Insurance Program.  A contract with the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) is in place to restore parts of Puerto Rico’s devastated electrical power grid.

CEO of Tesla, Elon Musk, donated a quarter million dollars of his own money to relief efforts in Puerto Rico.  He also sent a few hundred Powerwall battery packs to the island where the electric grid was destroyed by hurricanes last month.  Tesla’s Powerwall can bring individual rooftop solar installations back online for homes and small businesses.

The Powerwall battery packs were sent to help restore power to areas most needed like hospitals that have been running on unreliable generators since the storms hit.  The company also provided certified employees to help install the batteries, and Musk pledged that even more qualified workers would be sent from the mainland to train local installers and combat opportunistic price gougers on the island.  The Powerpacks are on loan for free during the crisis, paving the way for the possibility of a deal that could make that donation permanent.  The Powerpacks can serve as grid storage during Puerto Rico’s transitional period and is helpful in remote locations like Puerto Rico, where all fuel has to be brought in by cargo ship.

Musk recently held talks with Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello on ways for Tesla Energy to help rebuild the power grid destroyed by the hurricanes.  Soon after the talks, shipments of another of Tesla’s products were seen at the San Juan airport.   Tesla’s Powerpack units can store large amounts of energy generated by the sun and other means, to the island.  They have the potential to bring larger parts of the grid online by working with the electric utilities and combining the energy storage systems with solar farms or other renewable energy sources.  A single Powerpack 2 battery pack has the same energy capacity (210 kWh) as almost 16 Powerwall 2 battery packs combined (each 13.5 kWh).

The 3,575-pound Powerpacks have been used in Tesla’s projects on the Hawaiian island of Kauai and American Samoa’s Ta’u to create sustainable power grids. The units could conceivably be pressed into service in Puerto Rico to help rebuild the grid using what power can be produced.  Building a brand-new energy grid based on Tesla’s tech would take far longer than a few months and would require a large number of Powerpacks.  The Kauai project, which is on a much smaller scale, depends on a network of more than 270 units.  Still, Musk has helped restore power to more than a few of Puerto Rico’s hospitals in a time of crisis.

 

 

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President Trump has declared the opioid crisis- which killed 64,000 Americans last year- a public health emergency.  The order will last 90 days and can be renewed every 90 days until the President believes it is no longer needed.  President Donald Trump said “Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of unintentional death in the United States by far. More people are dying from drug overdoses today than from gun homicides and motor vehicles combined.”

The administration will work with Congress to fund the Public Health Emergency fund and to increase federal funding in year-end budget deals currently being negotiated in Congress.  Trump has directed agency and department heads to use all appropriate emergency authorities to reduce the number of deaths caused by the opioid crisis.  The administration will also launch an ad campaign so that young people can see the devastation that drugs cause on people and their lives.

The administration’s opioid plan will allow expanded access to telemedicine services, giving doctors the ability to prescribe medications to treat addiction to those in remote locations.  It also speeds the hiring process for medical professionals working on opioids and allows funds in programs for dislocated workers and people with HIV/AIDS to be used to treat their addictions.  The designation gives the administration access to the Public Health Emergency Fund, but that fund is nearly empty.

In August, Trump said that he would declare the opioid epidemic a national emergency but later said the White House had determined that declaring a public health emergency was more appropriate than a national emergency.  Many have criticized the decision to declare a public health emergency rather than a national emergency as not enough.  A commission created by the administration and headed by Gov. Chris Christie called on the president to declare a national emergency under either the Public Health Service Act or the Stafford Act. Doing so, the commission said, could free up funds for treatment, ensure wider access to the anti-overdose drug naloxone and improve monitoring of opioid prescriptions to prevent abuse.

Congress is currently spending $500 million a year on addiction treatment programs, but that money runs out next year. The administration says it will work with Congress in the budgeting process to find new money to fund addiction treatment programs. A group of senators introduced a bill that would provide more than $45 billion for opioid abuse prevention, surveillance and treatment.

From 2000 to 2015, more than 500,000 people died of drug overdoses, and opioids account for the majority of those. Recently released numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that around 64,000 people died from drug overdoses in 2016.  More than 140 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  Roughly 80 percent of the world’s opioids are consumed in the US.  A report published earlier this year found that 94 percent of heroin entering the United States came from Mexico.  A large portion of the country’s fentanyl – a prescribed painkiller thought by many to be driving the opioid epidemic – derives from China and arrives in the States through US mail.