Politics and Legislation
Policymakers must be cautious in formulating plans to streamline care for some low-income elderly and disabled patients, according to an analysis published in the journal Health Affairs.
Estimates about savings from new plans and demonstration projects must also be approached with skepticism, the authors wrote.
The report emphasized that “one size will not fit all” and that specific subgroups of dual eligibles — people enrolled in both Medicare and Medicaid — will need programs specifically designed for them.
“Some of the most successful programs work well because they are targeted to subgroups of dual-eligible beneficiaries who face similar challenges,” the authors noted.
They cited the “Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly,” which is designed for people at risk of entering nursing homes.
“It has been successful in reducing hospitalization rates and preventing nursing home admissions for this population. However, enrollment is relatively low. … It remains to be seen whether or how this model can be adapted to other beneficiaries with different needs and circumstances,” the authors wrote.
The average cost of care for a dual eligible is five times higher than that of a regular Medicare beneficiary, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. There are an estimated 9 million such patients in the Medicare system.
Legal cloud gathers over Scott Walker as recall election approaches
With the recall election less than two days away, federal prosecutors are closing in on Governor Scott Walker, according to veteran political reporter David Shuster, former Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager, and former district attorney Bob Jambois.
In a conference call organized by state Democrats on Saturday evening, June 2, Shuster, Lautenschlager, and Jambois laid out evidence that Walker is a target of a federal investigation.
Wisconsin Democratic Party Communications Director Graeme Zielinski added that there is evidence of wrongdoing after Walker’s time as Milwaukee County Executive, and that the investigation includes criminal activity during his time as governor.
Based on conversations with a lawyer who has knowledge of the investigation, “We believe that Scott Walker set up a secret computer network in the governor’s office and Department of Administration offices, and that the John Doe investigation is seeking evidence of crimes he committed in Madison,” Zielinski said.
Walker denied the allegations. At a campaign event on Saturday, Walker answered “absolutely not” to reporters’ questions — raised by David Shuster’s reporting for Take Action News — about whether he had been informed, either formally or informally, that he might be a target of federal prosecution. “I’ve never heard a single thing about that, other than spin from the left,” Walker said. He described the allegations as “just more of the liberal scare tactics out there desperately trying to get the campaign off target.”
“I stand by my reporting 100 percent,” Shuster said in the conference call. “It’s clear to me that he is, in fact, a target in a federal investigation.”
Despite copious reporting, especially in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, about the Milwaukee County district attorney’s probe of alleged violations when Walker was county executive — including a secret email network maintained by his staff for the purpose of conducting illegal campaign activity on county time, the theft of funds intended for the widows and orphans of Iraq War veterans, and possible favorable treatment of campaign donors seeking public contracts, not much has been written about the FBI probe.
“The Wisconsin press has only reported about the John Doe — the state component,” said Zielinski. “They have not reported on the federal component of this.”
“I’ve been reporting on federal grand juries for twenty years” — including Justice Department probes of former Arkansas Governor Jim Guy Tucker, Monica Lewinsky, Washington, D.C. Mayor Marion Barry, and Jack Abramoff — said David Shuster, a former reporter for Fox News and anchor for MSNBC, who now works with Take Action News and as a host on Current TV.
U.S. N.R.C. Considering Giving 80-year Operating Licenses to Nuclear Power Plants
By Karl Grossman
The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission will be holding a meeting this week to consider having nuclear power plants run 80 years—although they were never seen as running for more than 40 years because of radioactivity embrittling metal parts and otherwise causing safety problems.
“The idea of keeping these reactors going for 80 years is crazy!” declares Robert Alvarez, senior scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies and former senior policy advisor at the U.S, Department of Energy and a U.S. Senate senior investigator. He is also an author of the book Killing Our Own: The Disaster of America’s Experience with Atomic Radiation. “To double the design life of these plants—which operate under high-pressure, high heat conditions and are subject to radiation fatigue—is an example of out-of-control hubris, of believing your own lies.”
“In a post-Fukushima world, the NRC has no case to renew life-spans of old, danger-prone nuke plants. Rather, they must be shut down,” says Priscilla Star, director of the Coalition Against Nukes.
“This is an absurdity and shows the extent to which the NRC is captured,” says Jim Riccio, nuclear policy analyst at Greenpeace. “Nuclear regulators know that embrittlement of the reactor vessels limits nuclear plant life but are willing to expose the public to greater risks from decrepit, old and leaking reactors. As we learned from Fukushima, the nuclear industry is willing to expose the public to catastrophic risks.”
Nevertheless, on Thursday at its headquarters in Rockville, Maryland, the NRC is to hold a meeting with the Department of Energy’s Office of Nuclear Energy and the Electric Power Research Institute, which does studies for the nuclear industry, “to discuss and coordinate long-term operability research programs,” says the NRC, which could lead to it letting nuclear plants run for 80 years.
For more than a decade, the NRC has been extending the operating licenses of nuclear plants from 40 years to 60 years. And just as the NRC has never denied a construction or operating license for a nuclear plant anywhere, anytime in the U.S., it has rubber-stamped every application that has come before it for a 20-year extension of the plant’s original 40-year license. It has now approved 60-year operating licenses for 73 of the 104 nuclear power plants in the U.S.
When the NRC in 2009 OK’d extending the operating license to 60 years of the oldest nuclear plant in the U.S., Oyster Creek in New Jersey, Jeff Titel, president of the New Jersey Sierra Club, declared: “This decision is radioactive. To keep open the nation’s oldest nuclear power plant for another 20 years is just going to lead to a disaster. We could easily replace the plant with 200 windmills that will not pose a danger.” With the same General Electric design as the six Fukushima nuclear power plants, the plant is 60 miles south of New York City.
The first nuclear plants given permission by the NRC to operate for 60 years were the two Calvert Cliffs plants located on the western shore of Chesapeake Bay near Lusby, Maryland, 45 miles southeast of Washington, D.C. That came in 1999. The NRC license extension program is “blind to how these machines are breaking apart at the molecular level…they embrittle, crack and corrode,” said Paul Gunter, then with the Nuclear Information and Resource Service and now director of the Reactor Oversight Project of the organization Beyond Nuclear. The NRC in its “rigged game” is driving the nation toward a nuclear disaster, said Gunter. “The term ‘nuclear safety’ is an oxymoron. It’s an inherently dangerous process and an inherently dangerous industry that has been aging.”
Mubarak Sentenced to Life Term in Egypt; Protests Erupt as Sons, Aides Avoid Convictions
Published on Jun 4, 2012 by democracynow
DemocracyNow.org – Protests have erupted across Egypt following the sentencing of ousted Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and other former regime officials. On Saturday, an Egyptian court gave Mubarak and his former interior minister, Habib al-Adly, life in prison for failing to stop the killing of unarmed demonstrators during the protests that ended Mubarak’s nearly 30-year rule. However, the court dismissed corruption charges against Mubarak and his sons, Alaa and Gamal, on technical grounds. The court also acquitted six former police chiefs for their roles during the uprising when 840 protesters were killed and more than 6,000 injured. No one was found guilty of actually ordering the killing of protesters. The verdicts sparked demonstrations across the country, with tens of thousands rallying in Cairo’s Tahrir Square and in other cities. We go to Cairo to speak with Heba Morayef, a Middle East and North Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch who closely monitored the Mubarark trial.
To watch the complete weekday independent news hour, read the transcript, download the podcast, search our vast archive, or to find more information about Democracy Now! and Amy Goodman, visit http://www.democracynow.org/
Wisconsin Recall Breaks Record Thanks to Outside Cash
By Paul Abowd
Tuesday’s recall election of Republican Gov. Scott Walker is the most expensive in Wisconsin history. More than $63.5 million has been spent by candidates and independent groups, the overwhelming majority underwritten by out-of-state sources
The record spending total was made possible thanks to the Citizens UnitedU.S. Supreme Court decision — which had the effect of invalidating Wisconsin’s century-old ban on independent expenditures by corporations and unions — and a state law that allows unlimited contributions to the incumbent in recall elections.
The amount spent since November 2011 trounces the state’s previous record of $37.4 million, set during the 2010 gubernatorial campaign.\
The election has become a national referendum on the future of public sector unions, which have been a major force within the Democratic Party for decades.
In the first of two debates, Walker vowed to “stand up and take on the powerful special interests,” suggesting that national unions have propped up his Democratic challenger, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.
While Barrett has received about 26 percent of his $4 million in campaign donations from outside the Badger State, Walker has drawn nearly two-thirds of his $30.5 million contributions from out of state, according to campaign filings released May 29. Walker has outraised Barrett 7 ½ to 1 since late 2011, though Barrett didn’t enter the race until late March.
“It’s big time,” said Mike McCabe, director of the campaign finance watchdog Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, which compiled the numbers. “We have a level of outside interference in this election that the state has never been seen before.”
Quebec Student Strike Gathers Wide Support
Published on Jun 4, 2012 by TheRealNews
Worldwide marches held in solidarity with striking Quebec students
(Reuters) – When Jean-Claude Trichet called last June for the creation of a European finance ministry with power over national budgets, the idea seemed fanciful, a distant dream that would take years or even decades to realize, if it ever came to be.
One year later, with the euro zone’s debt crisis threatening to tear the bloc apart, Germany is pushing its partners for precisely the kind of giant leap forward in fiscal integration that the now-departed European Central Bank president had in mind.
After falling short with her “fiscal compact” on budget discipline, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is pressing for much more ambitious measures, including a central authority to manage euro area finances, and major new powers for the European Commission, European Parliament and European Court of Justice.
She is also seeking a coordinated European approach to reforming labor markets, social security systems and tax policies, German officials say.
Until states agree to these steps and the unprecedented loss of sovereignty they involve, the officials say Berlin will refuse to consider other initiatives like joint euro zone bonds or a “banking union” with cross-border deposit guarantees – steps Berlin says could only come in a second wave.
The goal is for EU leaders to agree to develop a road map to “fiscal union” at a June 28-29 EU summit, where top European officials including European Council President Herman Van Rompuy will present a set of initial proposals.
European countries would then put the meat on the bones of the plan in the second half of 2012, several European sources have told Reuters, including a timetable for overhauling EU treaties, a step Berlin sees as vital for setting closer integration in stone.
“The fundamental question is relatively simple. Do our partners really want more Europe, or do they just want more German money?” a government official in Berlin said.
If European countries go ahead, the steps would represent the most significant policy leap since they agreed to give up their national currencies and cede control over monetary policy 13 years ago. But the hurdles are daunting.
“The world is not coming to an end; rather, it feels as if we are on the doorstep to another major European integration move,” said Erik Neilsen, chief economist at Unicredit. “But why do these initiatives only come when we are on the edge of the cliff where the risk of an accident is so much higher?”
Desperate Greeks heard Friday that public hospitals of the country are lacking in medicine.
As a result, people struggling with serious deseases and illnesses are helpless, since the companies providing their medicine announced that they stop transactions with the Greek state if they are not paid in cash.
Some Greek fund officials announced that people belonging to specific funds will have the chance -especially cancer patients – to order their medicine and take them after two days.
But this only a temporary solution and unfortunately, patients belonging to funds not included in Greek EOPYY organization will be excluded from this provision.
According to Keep Talking Greece, Zoi Grammatoglou, head of the Cancer Sufferers Volunteer Organization, said some patients have cancelled their chemotherapy as unable to afford the costs of treatment.
Only Medics reported “approximately 163 critical drugs are now unobtainable from pharmacies in Greece.” Hospitals are also running out of funds to restock vital drugs and patients are left scrambling to source their own prescriptions.
The Panhellenic Pharmaceutical Association issued a statement saying “Already we have cancer sufferers going from hospital to hospital to try and find drugs because no one can afford to stock them. If the shortages get worse, God knows what we will see.”
Cypriot officials over the weekend openly said that their country may be the fourth eurozone state in line for a bail-out due to exposure to Greece.
Meanwhile, Germany is reportedly pressing Spain to accept a euro-bail-out for its banks.
Cyprus central bank governor Panicos Demetriades told the Financial Times on Sunday (3 June) that a bail-out is getting “less unlikely” by the end of the month, when a €1.8 billion deadline for saving the country’s second largest bank falls due.
Similar comments were made on Friday by Cypriot president Demetrias Christofias, during a press conference: “I don’t take as a given that we will negotiate entry to a support mechanism, [but] I don’t want to absolutely exclude it.”
Until now Cyprus maintained it did not need any EU funding as it took a €2.5 billion loan from Russia last year when its rating was downgraded to “junk,” meaning it cannot borrow from the markets at sustainable rates.
The country’s banks were hit badly by the Greek crisis, as they lost more than €3 billion in the “voluntary” debt write-down for Greece. Cypriot banks still have another €22 billion in outstanding loans to Greek customers. Cyprus’ own GDP, by comparison, is just €18 billion.
If Cyprus asks for a full-blown bail-out like Greece, Portugal and Ireland, it would become the first eurozone country to lead the EU presidency under a considerable loss of sovereignty, with troika inspectors due in Nicosia every few weeks to monitor the implementation of an austerity programme that would accompany the rescue package.
Wars and Rumors of War
Chossudovsky: US Seeks Militarization of Strategic Asian Waterways
Published on Jun 4, 2012 by GlobalResearchTV
As the United States is preparing to shift its military focus to Asia in a few years time, a university professor says he believes America is pursuing the “militarization of strategic waterways” in the region.
In an interview with the U.S. Desk on Saturday, Michel Chossudovsky, director of the Centre for Research on Globalization and professor of economics at the University of Ottawa, said that east Asia is a strategic region for the U.S. and the military shift towards Asia “is essentially directed against China.”
The United States will move the majority of its warships to the Asia-Pacific in coming years and keep six aircraft carriers in the region, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said on Saturday in Singapore, giving the first details of a new U.S. military strategy.
Chinese officials have been critical of the U.S. shift of military emphasis to Asia, seeing it as an attempt to fence in the country and frustrate Beijing’s territorial claims.
Originally aired on PressTV, June 2, 2012
Britain is reportedly planning to set up refugee camps inside Syria under the pretext of saving civilian lives but in reality to help armed rebels fighting against the government.
According to a report published in Daily Star, British Special Forces would set up camps along Syria’s borders with Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon and that Special Air Service (SAS) troops and MI6 agents will help the rebels if civil war breaks out in the country.
They also have hi-tech satellite computers and radios that can instantly send back photos and details of events unfolding in Syria.
”There are guys in the communications unit who are signalers that can go right up front and get involved in close-quarter fighting,” Daily Star quoted a senior Whitehall source as saying.
The British troops would be part of an international force including French and Turkish soldiers and possibly Americans. A senior Whitehall source said that London is preparing for the move with the full knowledge that setting up camps inside Syria would be an invasion of the country.
The camps are expected to be set up around areas that are easily accessible and even within walking distance of trouble spots. Among them is Krak des Chevaliers, a medieval castle about 25 miles west of Homs close to the Lebanon border, Al-Suwayda, near the border with Jordan and Jisr al-Shughour near the Turkish border.
The British claim that Syrian forces would not dare to come that close to the border.
Israeli intelligence news agency, Debkafile, had earlier reported that British troops are already in Syria leading armed groups in the crisis-hit city of Homs and that the MI6 has established four centers of operation in the city.
Syria has been experiencing unrest since mid-March 2011 and many people, including hundreds of security forces, have been killed in the country over the past 15 months.
While the West and the Syrian opposition say the government is responsible for the killings, Damascus blames “outlaws, saboteurs and armed terrorist groups” for the unrest, insisting that it is being orchestrated from abroad.
The United States has allowed South Korea to extend its missile ranges up to 550 kilometers from the current maximum range of 300 km, enabling missile launchers in northern areas of South Korea to strike any targets in North Korea, a Seoul daily reported on Monday.
“(At bilateral talks) The US held up its position South Korea should maintain the current maximum range, but the US agreed on extending the range to 550 km to better cope with North Korea’s improving missile capabilities,” a senior South Korean official told the Joong Ang Ilbo.
At the talks with the United States, South Korea demanded its missile range be extended up to 1,000 km, but the two sides eventually agreed on the range of 550 km, the official said.
The United States had shown a lukewarm response to a South Korean request its missile range be extended to 1,000 km, citing a possible negative reaction from China and Russia because some targets in those countries would fall within South Korea’s strike range.
The agreement on South Korea’s missile range will be made public at a high-level meeting involving chiefs of foreign and defense ministries from both sides set for mid-June in Washington, the official said. Meanwhile, a South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman declined to confirm the newspaper report.
“South Korea and the US have been holding talks on better responding to North Korea’s missile threats. Nothing has been fixed yet and also the issue has not been taken up as an agenda for the upcoming two-plus-two meeting,” spokesman Kim Min Seok said in a press briefing. (Kyodo)
A secret chapter in the Rudd government’s 2009 defence white paper detailed a plan to fight a war with China, in which the navy’s submarines would help blockade its trade routes, and raised the prospect of China firing missiles at targets in Australia in retaliation.
A new book, The Kingdom and the Quarry: China, Australia, Fear and Greed, reveals how Force 2030 set out in the white paper – to include 12 big conventional submarines with missiles, revolutionary Joint Strike Fighters, air warfare destroyers and giant landing ships – was being prepared for a possible war with Australia’s main trading partner.
In the lead-up to the release of the paper in May 2009, The Australian reported extensively on the debate among Australia’s security and intelligence agencies over whether China was likely to pose a threat as it increased investment in its armed forces.
The public version of the paper stopped short of declaring that war with China was what the authors feared. To avoid offending the Chinese, and to create a degree of deniability, discussion of possible future conflict relied on euphemisms such as a “major power adversary”.
As well, the new book’s author, The Australian’s economics editor David Uren, reveals that Treasury came under intense pressure to prepare detailed costings for a mass of new equipment but most of that information also disappeared from the public version of the white paper.
The book describes the fierce debate between key figures in the ADF, who argued that Australia needed to be prepared for a conflict with China, and intelligence agencies that said China was not expansionist and was unlikely to pose such a threat.
The public version of the white paper outlined the strategic environment and the military equipment to be acquired. “But it did not include a top-secret chapter examining in detail the anticipated threats and the structure of the defence force Australia needed to deal with them,” it says.
The missing chapter focused on Australia’s ability to fight an air-sea battle alongside the US against China. The plan was for blockades distant from China but designed to control its sea routes and stop the flow of natural resources on which its industrial engine depended.
“A major power adversary would be expected to respond to these blockades by mining and attacking ports,” the paper said.
“Part of the Defence thinking is that in the event of a conflict with the US, China would attempt to destroy Pine Gap, the US-Australia signals facility near Alice Springs, which is crucial for guiding US military operations in Asia … the paper envisages a very different world in which Australian naval operations alongside the US in, say, the South China Sea, could lead to direct Chinese attack on Australia …
Israel fitting nuclear arms on German-supplied subs: report
Israel is arming submarines supplied and largely financed by Germany with nuclear-tipped cruise missiles, influential German news weekly Der Spiegel reports in its issue to be published on Monday.
The magazine said in a cover story that Berlin had until now denied any knowledge that German submarines were being used as part of an Israeli atomic arsenal.
But former high-ranking officials of the German defence ministry told Der Spiegel that the government always assumed Israel was putting nuclear warheads on the Dolphin-class vessels.
The article, based on a months-long probe, cited files from the foreign ministry in Berlin indicating the West German state was aware of the practice as early as 1961.
In Israel, foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said only: “I can confirm that we have German submarines. It’s no secret.
“As for the rest, I am not in a position to talk about their capacity,” he told AFP.
Israel is the Middle East’s sole if undeclared nuclear-armed power.
Germany has already supplied Israel with three of the submarines in question, footing most of the bill, and another three are to be delivered by 2017 under a recently signed contract.
Meanwhile Israel is weighing whether to order three more, according to the report.
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