FILE - In this April 18, 2018, file photo, Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts speaks at the legislature, in Lincoln, Neb. Pope Francis' decree that the death penalty is

FILE – In this April 18, 2018, file photo, Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts speaks at the legislature, in Lincoln, Neb. Pope Francis’ decree that the death penalty is “inadmissible” in all cases could pose a dilemma for Roman Catholic politicians and judges in the United States. Ricketts, a Republican and Catholic who worked to reinstate capital punishment in his state after lawmakers abolished it in 2015, said the pope’s decree doesn’t change his stance. (Gwyneth Roberts/Lincoln Journal Star via AP, File)

FILE – In this Aug. 5, 2018, file photo Pope Francis delivers a blessing from his studio window overlooking St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican. Pope Francis’ decree that the death penalty is “inadmissible” in all cases could pose a dilemma for Roman Catholic politicians and judges in the United States. Some Catholic leaders in death penalty states have said they’ll continue to support capital punishment, despite the change in church teaching. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia File)

Death penalty decree could be quandary for US politicians


Associated Press

Monday, August 6

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Pope Francis’ decree that the death penalty is “inadmissible” in all cases could pose a dilemma for Roman Catholic politicians and judges in the United States who are faced with whether to strictly follow the tenets of their faith or the rule of law.

Some Catholic leaders in death penalty states have said they’ll continue to support capital punishment. But experts say Francis’ change could shift political debates, loom over Supreme Court confirmation hearings, and make it difficult for devout Catholic judges to uphold the law as written.

The question of whether or not Catholic political and judicial leaders would be sinning if they continue to support the death penalty is up for interpretation.

“It’s going to be a matter of conscience,” said the Rev. Peter Clark, director of the Institute of Clinical Bioethics at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. “Judges may have to recuse themselves from many cases, if they truly think it’s in conflict with their conscience.”

As with abortion, many Catholic political leaders and judges have been grappling with the death penalty for some time.

Previous church teachings said capital punishment was allowed in some cases if it was the “only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.” That gave politicians a way to honor their faith and the law.

But on Thursday, the Vatican said Francis changed church teaching to say capital punishment can never be sanctioned because it constitutes an “attack” on human dignity.

“In the past, it was acceptable to say that the Catholic church had a position that the death penalty was acceptable in some circumstances. That’s no longer true now,” said Marci Hamilton, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Program for Research on Religion. “I think it’s going to make it difficult for Catholic jurists to uphold the law as written.”

Thirty-one states in the U.S. allow the death penalty, including Nebraska, where the issue could soon become front-and-center: The state is scheduled to carry out an execution on Aug. 14, its first in more than two decades.

Sister Helen Prejean, the anti-death penalty campaigner whose ministry to a death row inmate inspired the book and film, “Dead Man Walking,” asked on Twitter if Gov. Pete Ricketts, who she said has “pro-life values,” would heed the pope’s direction.

“If we say we are for dignity of all life, that includes innocent and guilty as well,” she told The Associated Press.

Ricketts, a Republican and Catholic, worked to reinstate capital punishment in his state after lawmakers abolished it in 2015. He said the pope’s decree doesn’t change his stance.

“While I respect the Pope’s perspective, capital punishment remains the will of the people and the law of the State of Nebraska,” Ricketts said in a statement. “It is an important tool to protect our corrections officers and public safety.”

The decree is also unlikely to slow the nation’s busiest death chamber in Texas, where Republican Gov. Greg Abbott — a devout Catholic — has previously said there was no conflict between his faith and support for the death penalty. His spokeswoman did not return messages about whether the pope’s statement might shift Abbott’s view. The next execution in Texas is set for Sept. 12.

The church’s new teaching will likely feature prominently in the confirmation process for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, who, if confirmed, would bring the total number of Catholics on the bench to five. One former Catholic justice, the late Justice Antonin Scalia, famously said he didn’t find the death penalty immoral, and that any judge who did should resign.

Hamilton, the University of Pennsylvania professor, said the pope’s decree could be difficult for the devout — especially in a climate where evangelicals and Catholics are increasingly arguing that their faith controls everything they do.

“The difficulty in that kind of reasoning by a judge should be obvious in that they are supposed to interpret the law as given to them,” said Hamilton, who clerked for former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.

There might be more leeway for politicians, who craft public policy according to what they think is right. Still, she said, it would be inappropriate for a governor to block all death row penalty cases based on his or her faith.

Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry, a Catholic and a Republican, said his support for the death penalty hasn’t wavered. He criticized the Pope’s leadership, saying Francis has a “socialist bent” and his statement doesn’t change church doctrine.

“He wants to comment on the United States’ judicial system, a system that is by far the best, while ignoring the problems of all the other judicial systems around the world,” Landry said.

A spokesman for Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards did not return messages seeking comment. Edwards is also Catholic, and Landry has speculated that the governor has deliberately dragged his feet on executions: A judge recently barred Louisiana from carrying out any death sentences until mid-2019, at Edwards’ request, after the governor cited trouble obtaining lethal drugs.

The issue could also create interesting political shifts. Robert Vischer, dean of the University of St. Thomas School of Law in Minneapolis, noted that Republicans almost uniformly support the death penalty and Democrats almost uniformly support the legal right to abortion.

“Previously more conservative leaders have been able to call out Catholic politicians for not abiding by their own church’s teaching,” he said. “Now it’s going to go in both directions.”

Associated Press writers Nicole Winfield in Rome; Paul J. Weber in Houston; Melinda Deslatte in Baton Rouge, Louisiana; and Grant Schulte in Lincoln, Nebraska, contributed to this report.

Argentina rejects legal abortion — and not all Catholics are celebrating

August 9, 2018


Verónica Giménez Béliveau

Religion and Society Professor, Universidad de Buenos Aires

Disclosure statement

Verónica Giménez Béliveau receives funding from Argentina’s National Scientific and Technical Research Council, where she works as a researcher.

Unswayed by the estimated 2 million abortion rights activists gathered outside its doors, Argentina’s conservative-leaning Senate on August 9 rejected a bill that would have made abortion legal up to 14 weeks of pregnancy.

The 38-31 vote keeps Argentina in the majority of Latin American countries. In this heavily Catholic region, all but two countries – Uruguay and Cuba, both secular – ban or severely restrict abortion access.

Since 1921 Argentine law has allowed women to end a pregnancy only if it is the product of rape or is a danger to the woman’s life or health. An illegal abortion is punishable with one to four years in prison for both the woman and her doctor.

Argentina’s abortion bill, which narrowly passed the lower Chamber of Deputies in June, arose from a grassroots effort to acknowledge that criminalizing the procedure has simply pushed abortion dangerously underground. Up to 450,000 illegal abortions happen in Argentina each year, and botched abortions kill between 50 and 94 women each year.

“If I knew with certainty that after voting [against the bill] there would be no more abortions in Argentina, I wouldn’t hesitate to raise my hand,” said Sen. Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, Argentina’s former president, when the vote finally happened after a 16-hour debate.

But, she added, “We are rejecting a bill without proposing any alternative, so the situation will stay the same.”

A public health problem, not a religious one

Kirchner, who is Catholic, voted for abortion. She said her view on the issue changed after “thousands and thousands of girls took to the street” and reframed abortion as women’s rights and a public health issue. “The future will be … feminist,” she said.

Other senators agreed that faith was not the topic at hand.

“I am a religious man,” said Sen. Luis Naidenoff, from the province of Formosa. “But one’s personal life should not decide state matters.”

Naidoff was one of the 17 men and 14 women who voted to legalize abortion. Twenty-four men and 14 women opposed the bill.

Many anti-abortion lawmakers put their religion squarely at the center of their abortion stance. Sen. Esteban Bullrich, a former education minister, said that “as a practicing Catholic” his aim was to defend life.

The tension between women’s rights and Catholic orthodoxy has for months put Argentina’s Catholic Church – the subject of my academic research – in an awkward but familiar position. It is morally, theologically and doctrinally opposed to an incredibly popular social reform.

Argentina has no official religion. But the Catholic Church is a powerful social and political force in the South American country, where almost 80 percent of its 43 million people identify as Catholic. Pope Francis is from Argentina.

The Argentine Catholic Church’s official stance is that abortion is murder, the position espoused by the most conservative faction of the Vatican.

The church has staunchly defended other conservative values in Argentina. It defines marriage as an indissoluble bond between a man and a woman, opposing the legalization of divorce in 1987 and of gay marriage in 2010.

The Catholic Church also fought laws that, in 2002, mandated sex education in schools and the distribution of contraception in public hospitals, even halting contraception distribution entirely in some provinces.

A groundswell of popular support for abortion

But the persistence and popularity of the Campaign for the Right to Legal, Safe and Free Abortion, which began in 2003, forced the church to rethink its approach – somewhat.

Abortion support has grown exponentially in Argentina, including among active Catholics. Many young women who are active churchgoers insist on their right to make decisions about their sexuality and when and how to become mothers.

On March 10, at least 500,000 people – mostly women and young people – rallied outside Congress in Buenos Aires, waving green bandannas, the symbol of their movement. Nationwide, an estimated 1 million marched to demand women’s reproductive rights.

The overwhelming show of support evidently convinced some undecided congressional representatives to vote yes in June. The abortion bill eventually passed 129 to 125.

Catholicism is a diverse universe

Catholic leadership also took note of its members’ stance.

Catholicism, generally speaking, is a more diverse religion than it often appears.

In Argentina, its members includes both anti-abortion factions and groups like Catholics for the Right to Decide. Most Catholics, in Argentina as across the world, increasingly seek the autonomy to make intimate life choices.

And, increasingly, they’re finding priests – including, often, the pope himself – who hear and understand their demands.

In a statement on April 20, after the Chamber of Deputies announced it would draft an abortion bill, the Argentine Episcopal Conference clearly affirmed the Catholic Church’s “defense of all life.”

However, it continued, “it is not our way to condemn anyone, but to enter into a reasonable dialogue about the question of life. We have done little to protect women who find themselves in this situation.”

The anti-abortion movement

A virulent anti-abortion movement did arise in Argentina in recent months. Protesters united under the color blue and the motto “Let’s save both lives” have marched daily since March 25, brandishing a giant papier-mache fetus.

Argentina’s pro-abortion demonstrations outside Congress, left, were far larger than pro-life protests, right. AP Photo/Jorge Saenz

While Argentine church officials congratulated the “Catholics who fight for both lives,” the anti-abortion groups had stronger support from Argentina’s evangelical churches than from the Catholic Church, which did not institutionally endorse their marches.

Some within the church also took a harder line on abortion, though. At Mass in April, the bishop of Argentina’s Tucuman province mentioned by name each of the province’s congressional representatives, urging them to vote against the abortion bill.

Catholics for and against abortion

Catholic opposition to legal abortion grew stronger in the months leading up to the Senate vote.

A “sacred mass for life” was celebrated in the historic Metropolitan Cathedral of Buenos Aires, a short walk from Congress, as lawmakers debated. After the vote, the Episcopal Conference celebrated the bill’s demise, calling for Argentina to focus on “responsible sexual education.”

Abortion activists, for their part, say they will continue to fight for Argentine women’s right to choose. For the first time ever, abortion will be an issue in the general election next year.

With abortion, the Catholic Church now confronts the same dilemma it faced with divorce, gay marriage, trans rights and other major social changes in Argentina. If it continues to espouse the extreme stance of its conservative leadership, it will alienate Argentina’s increasingly moderate Catholic churchgoers.

Despite the Senate’s recent vote, in my analysis, it’s only a matter of time until Argentina legalizes abortion. And the Catholic Church, for its part, has been evolving to avoid obsolescence for over 20 centuries.

The Conversation

An Unhappy Birthday for Medicare and Medicaid

As the iconic health programs turn 53, the GOP is advancing plans to privatize one and gut the other.

By Martha Burk | Jul 25, 2018 | Economy / Business|Environment / Health|HP Subfeatured|Rights / Democracy

July 30 marks a very important anniversary in our modern political history.

Fifty-three years ago in 1965, President Lyndon Johnson signed Medicare and Medicaid into law, creating two programs that would disproportionately improve the lives of older and low-income Americans — especially women.

Fast-forward to 2018, and both programs are very much under siege. Nowhere is the struggle starker than in the House Republican budget — titled “A Brighter American Future” — now on Capitol Hill.

The importance of Medicare as a source of women’s health coverage can’t be over-emphasized.

Older and disabled women make up more than half the total beneficiaries, and two-thirds of those 85 and over. This budget from hell takes a giant step toward privatizing the program by allowing insurance companies into the Medicare marketplace, which means benefits could be caught in a race to the bottom and become too paltry to cover all but the barest of medical needs.

Medicaid is the joint federal-state program that provides low-income people with health care. The proposed Republican budget repeals the Medicaid expansion that came with Obamacare, which will cause 14 to 17 million people to lose coverage.

The Medicaid remnants that survive would be turned into block grants, allowing states to pick and choose who gets covered and what kind of benefits they get — no doubt with little or no federal oversight. That approach makes it easier to cut the program without saying how many people would be dropped, or how much benefits would be lowered.

Since poor women under retirement age and their children are the biggest group of beneficiaries, it stands to reason they’d also be the biggest losers.

But there’s more. Because women have more chronic health conditions like arthritis, hypertension, and osteoporosis, they’re more likely to need institutional care. Since Medicare generally doesn’t cover nursing home care, Medicaid provides such care for those with disabilities and/or very low incomes — and 60 percent of those folks are women.

What’s not in the budget? Long gone is the Obama-era effort close the Gingrich-Edwards tax loophole that allows some high-income individuals (possibly including Donald Trump) to avoid Medicare and Social Security payroll taxes altogether, resulting in billions of lost revenue for both programs.

The House Republican budget probably won’t pass in its present form. But with Republican majorities in both houses of Congress, even compromises are sure to favor more cuts.

“A Brighter American Future?” Hardly. This summer’s 53rd anniversary of Medicare and Medicaid looks like a less than happy one for those that depend on them most — namely women, but really anyone counting on growing older.

Martha Burk is the director of the Corporate Accountability Project for the National Council of Women’s Organizations (NCWO) and the author of the book Your Voice, Your Vote. Follow Martha on Twitter @MarthaBurk. Distributed by

I’m a Small Farmer from Iowa. Why Does Trump Want to Take My Health Care?

Republicans want to bring back “pre-existing conditions” as a reason to deny you care.

By Chris Petersen | Jul 20, 2018 | Environment / Health|Food / Farming|HP Subfeatured|Rights / Democracy

For my family, “pre-existing conditions” are more than a technicality. They’re a matter of life or death, of sickness or health.

My wife and I are Iowa family farmers. I have diabetes, and Kristi has a heart murmur. Without the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and its guarantees for people with pre-existing conditions, there’d be nothing standing between us and the insurance corporations.

We know firsthand what happens when insurance corporations can discriminate based on a pre-existing condition. Years ago, I had health coverage through an outside job and was diagnosed with a nickel-sized hernia that didn’t require immediate surgery.

When farming started looking up, I began to farm full-time and applied for my own insurance. My wife and I disclosed our health conditions and were approved. Each month we religiously paid the $700 premium.

After about a year, I decided to fix the hernia and was pre-approved for surgery. Then the bills started. After months of back-and-forth, my insurer denied the claim, citing a pre-existing condition. They dropped me.

Then my wife had pre-approved tests for her heart, and the insurer dropped her, too. They cited “discrepancies” between medical records and the insurance forms we’d filled out two years earlier.

The discrepancies? A one-inch difference in her height and the fact that she’d gained 12 pounds!

It took us 14 years to pay those medical bills with no help from the insurer. After years of us sending them monthly premium payments, they’d left us holding the bag.

Then came the ACA. Kristi and I finally got quality, affordable health care, like many other small-business owners. The law isn’t perfect, but it provided a measure of stability we needed to keep our business going strong.

Now the Trump administration and some Republicans in Congress are attacking the ACA again. They want to let insurance corporations discriminate against people with pre-existing conditions, like my wife and me.

This comes after Republicans in Congress voted to pass the new tax bill — a huge giveaway to giant corporations that did nothing for farmers like us.

This tax bill doesn’t just funnel billions in preferential tax treatment to mega-corporations. It also eliminates the ACA’s penalty for not having health insurance. Trump is using that as an excuse to ask a judge to throw out the ACA’s pre-existing condition protections, too. A new Trump-appointed Supreme Court justice like Brett Kavanaugh just might help him do it.

Meanwhile, Republicans in Congress are advancing a budget that cuts health care and raises prices for all of us enrolled in Medicare, Medicaid, and the ACA.

Let’s not go backwards.

Any politician who believes in thriving family farms and small businesses should protect people with pre-existing conditions and support universal health care.

Any politician who believes in us should reverse the Republican corporate tax giveaways and adopt fair taxes that fund public investments and help fuel small business development.

And any politician who supports us should reject the finger-pointing. No more blaming our hard times on immigrants, people of color, or on those who seem “different.” Our strength comes from working together — on health care and all the other things that matter in our lives.

Last year, the GOP Congress tried to repeal our health care. People of all walks of life stopped them. Believe me, like my friends and neighbors, this family farmer is persistent. We’re not done fighting for everyone to get the health care they need.

By Chris Petersen

Chris Petersen is an independent family farmer near Clear Lake, Iowa. He’s a leader with the Main Street Alliance, a national small business network. Distributed by

The Two Chicken Checkup: Bartering for Health Care

Instead of expanding Medicaid to cover 300,000 uninsured residents, Tennessee has proposed letting them barter for their care.

By Andy Spears | Jul 20, 2018 | Editors Picks|Environment / Health|Rights / Democracy

My state, Tennessee, has the highest rate of hospital closures per capita of any state in the nation. Meanwhile, neighboring Arkansas — which has expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act — has experienced zero hospital closures since expansion.

Those were the findings of a recent University of North Carolina study.

The Tennessee Justice Center reports that some 300,000 Tennesseans would benefit from access to affordable health coverage through Medicaid expansion. Yet Tennessee remains one of about 16 states holding out on accessing these federal funds.

Because of a commitment from the Tennessee Hospital Association, expanding Medicaid would cost Tennessee taxpayers exactly $0 — while actually returning federal tax dollars to the state.

The state’s House of Representatives created a task force on health care in 2016 and determined that the state did need to improve access to care. Governor Bill Haslam even proposed a Medicaid expansion plan back in 2015 and made at least some effort to advance it in subsequent years.

Free federal money. A Republican governor pushing expansion. A House task force that finds the state needs to do more. A plan that provides expanded access to coverage at no cost to the state’s general fund… Surely, Tennessee is now on the verge of passing Medicaid expansion, right?

No. Instead, lawmakers passed legislation that took effect on July 1 allowing uninsured patients to barter goods or services in exchange for health care.

So, if you’re famous for the tomatoes in your home garden, you can ask your doctor if she’ll accept them in exchange for a routine office visit. Need a minor surgical procedure? Maybe you can barter your social media skills with the surgeon and see if that’ll cover the cost.

Of course, if you need treatment for cancer or heart surgery, you could end up offering the doctor your house or small business in exchange for the life-saving treatment you need.

After calling several physicians in locations around our state, I’ve yet to find any that plan to accept bartered goods or services as payment.

The Tennessee plan for health care access is far from healthy. We can do better than offering an 1800s solution to a 2018 challenge.

The Tennessee plan highlights the importance of holding legislators accountable everywhere — and advocating for Medicare for All, to make sure no other states return to the days of bartering for something as important as health care.

Even as Arkansas and Kentucky experience huge successes with expanded Medicaid, our state continues to leave dollars on the table and hundreds of thousands of people without access to affordable coverage.

While 10 rural hospitals have closed in our state in recent years, legislators are busy suggesting citizens offer chickens to providers to get the health care they need. Ironically, these same legislators all have access to taxpayer-funded insurance. They certainly don’t have to barter for the care they and their families require.

Perhaps the new legislative health plan should be based on bartering for care — let’s say lawmakers should trade good laws for their health coverage. Since Tennessee legislators seemingly lack the ability to pass effective legislation, such a plan would leave most of them with no care at all.

Sadly, that’s exactly the situation nearly 300,000 Tennesseans — and millions of Americans — face every single day.

By Andy Spears

Andy Spears is the executive director of Tennessee Citizen Action, the state’s leading consumer advocacy organization and an affiliate of People’s Action. Distributed by

Llewellyn King: The Monster Disease Medical Schools Don’t Mention

By Llewellyn King

For 10 long years, I’ve been writing and broadcasting about Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, now called Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME).

Like all chronic diseases, it’s brutally unfair to the afflicted. But ME also can claim to have been unfairly treated by doctors and medical researchers, the pharmaceutical giants, and the politicians who control the flow of funding to the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control, the nation’s medical research and health protection agencies.

Research into ME has been grossly underfunded for years. By government standards for other diseases, research funding for ME has been microscopic: It’s received $16 million this year, doubling the 2016 funding. Lyme disease, for example, has received roughly three times the federal funding.

ME is a lifetime affliction. I’ve now spent enough time with clinicians, patients and their families to know just how cruel it is. I’m most pained by the young who will suffer so long, missing all the joys of youth and the fulfillment that is life’s expectation.

Estimates vary on the number of sufferers, starting at 1 million in the United States and 17 million worldwide. However many there are, I can tell you that they suffer terribly.

Getting the disease is a life sentence without parole, commutation or pardon. One of the leading research doctors told me he would rather get cancer than ME. “With cancer, you have a chance of a cure or you die. With ME, you’re hopelessly sick,” he said.

I’ve received many emails from patients who wish for death. Some bring it about.

ME suppresses the immune system, and its most common manifestation is exercise intolerance. Fatigue is the most pervasive symptom, with sleep that doesn’t refresh.

In the most severe cases, patients are bedridden with extreme intolerance of light or sound. Others ride a rollercoaster of feeling slightly better or worse. Migraines and excruciating joint pain are other symptoms.

I was able to have one patient travel to Washington to appear on a television program and do a short radio broadcast. She paid the price she knew she’d have to pay: three days of bed rest.

Some suffers can manage very limited daily activity. But the ever-present cloud of fatigue is there: the dark truth that they’re in a different place than the rest of us.

In the last five years, advocacy groups have generated more interest in the disease in the medical research community, including the NIH, and the public. These vital volunteer groups include the Solve ME/CFS Initiative, the Open Medicine Foundation and #MEAction, created by Jennifer Brea, star of the movie “Unrest,” and PANDORAorg. There are also diligent state organizations, like the Massachusetts Cfids Association.

Yet a cure still eludes, as does any large understanding of ME among doctors and researchers in related fields. The first struggle for the afflicted is to find a doctor who knows what it is and can render a diagnosis. Many visit a dozen or more doctors before they find one who might know the cause of their suffering. There’s no biological marker.

Medical schools don’t include ME in their curricula: not even one lecture in most.

From clinicians in the field, like Dr. David Systrom of the Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital and his colleague Michael VanElzakker of the Massachusetts General Hospital, the cry is going out to medical schools to inform students about the disease.

Finding a cure is of prime importance. But until that day, getting the word out is also hugely important.

Searching for a cure takes talent, genius and money. For medical schools to advise a new generation of doctors that there’s a monster out there who will one day come through the doors of their practices, is just good medical citizenship.

Hello, there, medical schools.


Llewellyn King is executive producer and host of “White House Chronicle” on PBS. His email is He wrote this for

Opinion: Senate Bickering Will Aid Opioid Pushers

By Paul Steidler

The U.S. Senate has an opportunity to enact a common sense, bipartisan measure that will cut the supply of deadly opioids entering America. And it should do so before it embroils itself over the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh.

For years, law enforcement agencies, public health officials and others have warned that large amounts of Chinese opioids are flooding into the country via international mail delivered by the U.S. Postal Service. The Fraternal Order of Police, the Homeland Security Department and the U.S. Food & Drug Administration are among those making clarion calls.

In 2016, the latest year for available statistics, more than 42,000 died of opioids. This is 116 people a day and a 27 percent increase from 33,000 in 2015. Experts predict the figures will continue to rise.

Fentanyl, the core component in opioids, is powerful and compact. According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration it is at least 50 times more potent that morphine and used in a wide range of synthetic opioids. Just two milligrams of fentanyl will kill most people.

A January bipartisan report by the U.S. Senate’s Permanent Committee on Investigations found that the Postal Service is the preferred method of shipping by overseas drug dealers. This is because the risk of seizure by Customs & Border Protection is small and delivery basically guaranteed.

We already have a solution for this problem. It is to require advanced electronic data (AED) on all in-bound international mail. AED information includes sender, declared contents and destination. With AED and advanced data analytics, law enforcement can locate better which mail to search for drugs. More fentanyl would be confiscated quicker.

Private carriers have used AED technology for 15 years on international shipments. It is also expected to be standard on all incoming mail from developed nations in a few years.

The STOP Act would require AED on all inbound mail from China by the end of this year. This is critical because China is the hub for illicit opioid and fentanyl production.

On June 14, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the bill 353-52, just two days after the Trump administration gave its unequivocal support.

Introduced by Senator Rob Portman (R-Ohio), the STOP Act already has 34 Senate co-sponsors from Elizabeth Warren and Tim Kaine to Marco Rubio and Lindsey Graham.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer should join in co-sponsorship and push for a vote as soon as possible. McConnell’s home state of Kentucky has one of the top 10 rates of opioid abuse in the country. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that Kentucky’s death rate from opioids is twice the national average.

Schumer has often spoken in New York about the need to address the crisis. In a January 10 press release he said, “It can’t be said enough: the opioid crisis in Upstate New York and every corner of our country is a national emergency, that has taken the lives of far too many Americans. The situation is urgent and it requires an urgent and substantial response from Congress.”

The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that New York’s death rate from opioids is 13 percent above the national average. New York deaths from synthetic opioids also increased 10-fold from 2012 to 2016.

By expediting the STOP Act, the Senate also sends a clear message to the Postal Service to get its AED inspection regimen ready quickly.

Unfortunately, the Postal Service wants to have it both ways. It says it is troubled by the opioids epidemic and it recognizes and wants to use AED but it does not want AED to be required. For drug lords the end around is simple: Send mail without AED.

As of March, AED was used on 40 percent of inbound Postal Service packages. The need to rapidly expand the program is clear and in the nation’s interest. Though challenging, it is doable.

Given the national emergency on opioids, the Postal Service should get on board and serve the public by supporting and preparing for the STOP Act.

The Senate can do its part by passing act soon and ideally before the August recess.


Paul Steidler is a senior fellow with the Lexington Institute, a public policy think tank based in Arlington, Virginia. He wrote this for


Trump-Supporting Soybean Farmers Say They’ll Gladly Suffer ‘To The Death’ For His Trade War

FILE – In this April 18, 2018, file photo, Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts speaks at the legislature, in Lincoln, Neb. Pope Francis’ decree that the death penalty is “inadmissible” in all cases could pose a dilemma for Roman Catholic politicians and judges in the United States. Ricketts, a Republican and Catholic who worked to reinstate capital punishment in his state after lawmakers abolished it in 2015, said the pope’s decree doesn’t change his stance. (Gwyneth Roberts/Lincoln Journal Star via AP, File)

FILE – In this Aug. 5, 2018, file photo Pope Francis delivers a blessing from his studio window overlooking St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican. Pope Francis’ decree that the death penalty is “inadmissible” in all cases could pose a dilemma for Roman Catholic politicians and judges in the United States. Some Catholic leaders in death penalty states have said they’ll continue to support capital punishment, despite the change in church teaching. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia File)

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