Thursday, October 31, 2013

POLITICS - Secretary Sebelius Before U.S. House Committee

"Sebelius apologizes over website launch 'debacle' but contends it is secure" PBS Newshour 10/30/2013


KWAME HOLMAN (Newshour):  For Secretary Sebelius, the first order of business before the Energy and Commerce Committee was mea culpa.

KATHLEEN SEBELIUS, U.S. Health and Human Services:  I am as frustrated and angry as anyone with the flawed launch of  So, let me say directly to these Americans:  You deserve better.  I apologize.  I am accountable to you for fixing these problems, and I'm committed to earning your confidence back by fixing the site.

KWAME HOLMAN:  But Sebelius faced new questions that go beyond technical problems on the website.  They involve a government memo showing, before the site launched on October 1, Medicare officials worried inadequate testing left it vulnerable to security breaches.

REP. MIKE ROGERS, R-Mich.:  You allowed the system to go forward with no encryption on backup systems.  They had no encryption on certain boundary crossings.

You accepted a risk on behalf of every user of this computer that put their personal financial information at risk because you didn't even have the most basic end-to-end tests on security of the system.  Amazon would never do this.  ProFlowers would never do this.  Kayak would never do this.  This is completely an unacceptable level of security.

COMMENT:  Before I fully retired I worked for two companies (9yrs & 5yrs) where the companies change health insurers twice.  Which meant I had to choose new doctors, etc.  So having health coverage canceled for those who buy on there own should not be a surprise, especially with the new minimums on what is covered, and more coverage would mean higher premiums.

The mistake Obama made is the choice of words.  He should have said, "If you like your health insurance provider, you can keep them," which does not imply the same plan at the same price.

"President Obama defends ACA benefits, confronts cancellation claims" PBS Newshour 10/30/2013


SUMMARY:  President Obama told a crowd in Boston that he is "not happy" about the rocky rollout, but assured Americans the site would be fixed as soon as possible.  The president also touted the benefits of the ACA and disputed claims that health care reform has caused some insurance plans to be cancelled.

POLITICS - Congressional Budget Committee First Formal Meeting

And in 'fat-chance' land....

"Budget committee begins to air differences on spending and taxes" PBS Newshour 10/30/2013


SUMMARY:  Since 2010, Congress has operated under continuing resolutions rather than one-term budgets.  As part of the solution that ended the shutdown, a bipartisan committee has begun talks to negotiate political differences on funding.  Judy Woodruff and NewsHour political editor Christina Bellantoni discuss prospects for compromise.

JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour):  Today's talks between lawmakers from both chambers and parties marked the group's first formal meeting to negotiate differences on funding the government over the long term.

The conference committee was formed in the agreement ending the 16-day partial government shutdown.  Today's session served to underline that stark differences on taxes, spending and the debt remain.

For more, NewsHour political editor Christina Bellantoni joins me now.

POLITICS - Future of the GOP, Sen. Mitch McConnell

More from the Gopians in the alternate universe....

"Sen. Mitch McConnell:  I don't think anybody can make the health reform law work" PBS Newshour 10/30/2013


SUMMARY:  Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., believes the problems with the Affordable Care Act implementation extends beyond the website's technical troubles.  Gwen Ifill sits down with Sen. McConnell to discuss his criticism of the ACA, his take on NSA spying allegations and which common causes unite the GOP factions.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

NSA - Why Can't They Keep Their Own Secrets?

WRONG!  IMO Snowden is a TRAITOR not a whistleblower.

"Why has NSA failed to keep its own secrets?" by Mark Urban, BBC News

WASHINGTON:  The past week has been a wretched one for the US National Security Agency (NSA), with revelations of large-scale trawling of phone call data in France and Spain, as well as of eavesdropping on German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

During these months, since thousands of files copied by former NSA contractor turned whistleblower Edward Snowden started leaking into the public domain, the US has been compared to an Orwellian Big Brother state.

But I cannot help wondering, if the NSA is as powerful as its critics have claimed, why has it been so useless at protecting its secrets?

Where are the worm viruses unleashed into the computer systems of newspapers that have published US secrets?  The court orders to prevent additional disclosures?  And, if you enjoy spy fiction, the deniable operators climbing over balconies in Brazil or Hong Kong to steal laptops or indeed terminate their owners?

The American system of official secrecy has for years operated on the basis of targeting the leaker "pour decourager les autres".

In August, the trial of Private Bradley Manning ended with a 35 year sentence for passing classified material to Wikileaks.

As for this latest bout of revelation, involving information about phone and internet spying that is much more highly classified than anything Pte Manning had access to, on the surface it seems only the British authorities have acted in an attempt to stop further publication.

British intelligence officers have watched journalists destroying some computers at the Guardian newspapers.

'Aspects of incompetence'

And David Miranda, the partner of one of the journalists holding the largest amount of Snowden files, was also stopped in August as he changed planes at Heathrow airport, questioned and had memory devices confiscated.

Indeed, the Miranda episode is pretty much the only one since the publication of the Snowden stories that suggests some kind of joined up response aimed at frustrating further publication.

It had the hint, with its foreknowledge of Mr Miranda's travel plans and the fact that he was carrying these files, of an operation based on precisely the kind of intelligence gathering that Mr Snowden has warned of.

In the US though there has been pretty much nothing.  And this is despite the fact that it is common journalistic knowledge that the Guardian journalists sitting on a great many more files, drip feeding them into the public domain, have been operating in New York.

There are aspects of incompetence to it.

Mr Snowden was part of an army of more than 800,000 people with clearance to access such damaging material, and was able to get it again when working with a contractor despite concerns having been expressed at the CIA about his motives.

Some "lessons learned" studies have been launched within the intelligence community, but not yet with any result in terms of cutting the numbers given access to such secrets, or barring from similar work the contractor that employed him.

As for the media, well this crisis should put to bed the idea that that a call from the White House to the editor of the Washington Post or New York Times can simply squash a story like this.

There have been no US legal attempts to force journalists to destroy or turn over what they have, and in the UK a DA Notice on the subject has been widely ignored.

Even the PR response has been limited and ill co-ordinates.  Monday's New York Times comments that "the administration has seemed uncertain about how to handle the reports", concerned the interception of the German leader's mobile phone.  Last week, the attempts of one former NSA director to fight back turned into farce when his briefings to journalists by phone were overheard by a fellow passenger on a train who started tweeting updates.

Spying allegations

The latest revelations, about tapping world leaders phone calls, also leave one wondering what use the content of Ms Merkel's calls were to US policy makers?

The White House has tied itself in knots over whether to admit the president was actually briefed on what she was saying, but it can hardly be said that it gave the US some amazing advantage in the bilateral relationship with Germany.

Some in Washington have detected in the President's unwillingness to take stronger action in defence of the NSA, a desire to see the vast intelligence bureaucracies that grew up after 9/11 cut down to size.

Whether or not that is the case, any attempt to halt the revelations by legal action would inevitably have brought accusations of an assault on cherished constitutional freedoms.

So the leaks continue and today we discover that the NSA recorded the call data (i.e. the numbers dialed and duration, rather than the actual content) of 60m Spanish calls during one month.

Perhaps Kafka rather than Orwell provides the better literary template for this ongoing story.

The NSA has grown into a huge data-mining bureaucracy driven by its own organizational imperatives.

It pursues ever greater coverage, storage of data, staff and budget.

In many cases it does things because it can, rather than because somebody has asked whether the information is useful, whether it is worth the potential price if discovered, or whether the activity can actually be prevented from coming into the public domain.

HEALTH CARE - Obama’s Old Comments Come Back to Haunt Him

"‘If you like your health insurance, you can keep it’" by Jon Greenberg, Angie Drobnic Holan, Louis Jacobson, Amy Sherman; 10/30/2013

It’s the question-du-jour about the new health care law:  Are people going to be able to keep their health insurance if they like it?

President Barack Obama has several times said yes.  We’ve been skeptical of that claim (along with a few other claims from the law’s supporters).  Last year, we rated his statement Half True.

Obama’s statement had a reasonable point:  His health care law does take pains to allow Americans to keep their health plan, especially people who get their insurance through work.

But most people have never been able to keep their insurance through thick and thin.  Even before the law took effect, a substantial number of policyholders were forced to switch plans every year.  Figures from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office suggested that the law could increase that rate, not reduce it, even if Americans on balance benefit from the law’s provisions mandating comprehensive coverage.

That complicated reality hasn’t stopped the law’s critics from attacking Obama for breaking a promise.

David Axelrod, an Obama adviser, and U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., debated just that issue on MSNBC’s Morning Joe.

Coburn focused on people who have to buy insurance on their own (it’s called the individual market) who have been receiving cancellation letters in recent days.  "You're no longer eligible to buy your own plan, which was the No. 1 promise that the president made to the American people," Coburn said.

Axelrod’s response:  "The majority of people in this country, the vast majority of people in this country, are keeping their plan.  People who are uninsured are going to have choices they never had before."

We ran through the numbers and found that the individual market accounts for about 6 percent of Americans who now have health care.  The health care law requires those policies to offer comprehensive coverage, and that means some of the old policies are no longer allowed.

Experts told us there is no precise data to determine how many people will be forced to change health care plans, but they generally agreed the number will be small this year.  We rated Axelrod’s statement Mostly True.

Finally, some of the law’s critics have talked about the cancellation notices together with the fact that, the federal government’s online insurance marketplace, is plagued by problems and isn’t working properly.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said on Fox News that when you put those two things together, people getting cancellation notices from their insurers won’t be able to buy health insurance.

"On this very day in Florida, it was announced that 300,000 people are going to lose their individual coverage because of Obamacare," Rubio said.  "Now those people next year, they don’t have health insurance.  They are going to owe the IRS money in the form of a fine.  Where are they supposed to go now and buy that health insurance if the website isn’t working, if Consumer Reports is telling people to avoid the website?"

Rubio is right about the people getting cancellation letters, but the letters also state that consumers will have "continuous health care coverage" and assigned them a particular plan, or gave them the option to contact Florida Blue and choose another plan.

So their coverage is not dependent on being able to buy insurance through, the government’s online marketplace.  We rated his statement Mostly False.

HEALTH EXCHANGES - Spin From Medicare Chief Marilyn Tavenner

"Congress grills Medicare head as some insurance holders get cancellation notices" PBS Newshour 10/29/2013


SUMMARY:  Medicare chief Marilyn Tavenner faced questions on Capitol Hill about the rocky rollout of and the administration's proposed timeline for fixes.  Kwame Holman reports.  Jonathan Gruber of MIT and industry consultant Robert Laszewski join Gwen Ifill for more on Americans whose insurance policies are being canceled.

MARILYN TAVENNER, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services:  To the millions of Americans who have attempted to use to shop and enroll in health care coverage, I want to apologize to you that the website has not worked as well as it should.

KWAME HOLMAN (Newshour):  At the outset, health program administrator Marilyn Tavenner acknowledged the myriad problems with the federal exchange website that launched Oct. 1.

But she ran into Republican skeptics over the administration's new timeline to fix the computer access roadblocks by the end of November.

REP. KEVIN BRADY, R-Tex.:  You had nearly four years to get it ready.  Now you're saying, in four weeks more, it will be great.  So what's different?  Why should anyone believe these claims?

MARILYN TAVENNER:  Because I think we have identified two major problems.  One had to do with the initial volume.  And despite our best volume projections, we underestimated the volume, the interest in the site.  The second thing is, we have found some what I will call functional or glitches, as we call them in the public term, in the actual application itself, which we're repairing.

Like I said, spin.

LOWLANDS - Lessons From The Netherlands

"What the lowlands can teach the U.S. about warding off high water" PBS Newshour 10/29/2013


SUMMARY:  Superstorm Sandy showed U.S. coastal cities the damage water can do -- a threat the Dutch have lived with for centuries.  Their system of dams and dikes, locks and levees is keeping the Netherlands safe in a world with rising seas.  Miles O'Brien reports on what Americans can learn from the Dutch model of flood management.

GWEN IFILL (Newshour):  Now to the second installment of our look at what has and has not changed one year after superstorm Sandy blew ashore, taking 181 lives and damaging 650,000 homes.

Many of those affected are still trying to rebuild and to answer the question, are we doing enough to protect ourselves from floods?

In conjunction with NOVA, NewsHour science correspondent Miles O'Brien traveled to the Netherlands for one answer.

MILES O’BRIEN (Newshour):  The Netherlands, the name says it all, the lowlands, built on a swampy delta.  Much of the country lies below sea level.  American Tracy Metz is an author and water management expert living in Amsterdam.

TRACY METZ, water management expert:  You really wonder why people settled here at all.  This must have been such an uninhabitable, inhospitable place.  It's a very soggy delta.

MILES O’BRIEN:  That's what these are for.  Windmills are essentially pumps.

U.S. SPYING - House Committee Hearing

"U.S. intel officials defend surveillance of foreign intentions as 'fundamental'" (Part-1) PBS Newshour 10/29/2013


SUMMARY:  Intelligence officials defended the NSA's spying programs in a House committee hearing, insisting that monitoring the intentions of foreign leaders is "fundamental" and that surveillance helped to protect American citizens.  But some lawmakers underscored concerns that spying on allies has going too far.  Judy Woodruff reports.

"Rep. Sensenbrenner: Mass data collection makes it harder to prevent attacks" (Part-2) PBS Newshour 10/29/2013


SUMMARY:  A bipartisan group of lawmakers are calling for an end to most of the NSA's phone and email surveillance.  Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., says he believes the president "ought to draw a line" that NSA shouldn't cross.  He joins Judy Woodruff to discuss why he believes there should be reform of the scope of U.S. spying programs.

COMMENTS:  Rep. Sensenbrenner is just showing his ignorance on what it takes to "find out who's involved in a terrorist operation and then use a target by going after that person and that person's phone records and the people that he's conspiring with" as he stated.

You cannot FIND a terrorist without information, and looking at phone numbers calling out of, or into, the U.S. is just one tool.  The other is archiving data about phone calls within the U.S. so once you do identify a supecious overseas call you can identify calls between  potential terrorist cells.  It is impossible to do this after the fact.  You need to be able to have a history of calls you can look back to.

Now is the system perfect, no, but it's better than guessing which would be the result of the NSA NOT having the phone metadata to look back on.  Why, phone metadata is not archived by the phone system, it gets purged after each phone company reads the data for billing purposes. I know, I worked for 9 years for a company that made the equipment that collects metadata on phone systems.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

DETROIT - Michigan Governor Testifies on City's Bankruptcy

"Mich. Gov. Snyder testifies under oath that Detroit bankruptcy was last resort" PBS Newshour 10/28/2013


SUMMARY:  Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder took the stand in bankruptcy court to testify about the decision-making process the city went through before filing in order to prove that Detroit is insolvent.  Jeffrey Brown gets an update on the city's struggle to right its teetering finances from Christy McDonald of Detroit Public Television.

NEW YORK CITY - Using Lessons From Superstorm Sandy

"New York uses lessons learned from Sandy to build defenses against super-storms" PBS Newshour 10/28/2013


GWEN IFILL (Newshour):  This week marks a year since superstorm Sandy struck.  More than 70 people were killed along the Eastern Seaboard.  Damage totaled more than $65 billion, and it pounded New Jersey and New York City hard.  It also prompted a reexamination -- a reexamination about how to prepare for future disasters.

The NewsHour’s science correspondent, Miles O'Brien, has the first of two reports for us, this on changes in New York.

MILES O’BRIEN (Newshour):  Hurricane Sandy brought mighty Gotham to its knees.  And one year later, the people who keep this city running are scrambling to figure out how to keep it dry as storms worsen and the sea level rises.

The Consolidated Edison power substation that sits at the end of 14th street right next to the East River is about six feet above sea level.

ROBERT SCHIMMENTI, Consolidated Edison:  The water and electricity doesn't mix, obviously.

MILES O’BRIEN:  Most of the electricity for Lower Manhattan flows through these transformers and relays, as long as they're not underwater.  For over 50 years, the 11-foot-high flood walls worked just fine, until Sandy's storm surge pushed 14 feet of water over the banks of the East River.

AMERICA - Is Spying on Friends Acceptable? EU View

"Uproar over U.S. surveillance scope raises question of what spying is acceptable" PBS Newshour 10/28/2013


SUMMARY:  European governments lodged new complaints about U.S. surveillance after learning of new disclosures that the NSA tracked millions of phone calls in Spain, reports Kwame Holman.  For more on the continuing fallout, Gwen Ifill speaks with former CIA official John McLaughlin and Charles Kupchan of the Council on Foreign Relations.

GWEN IFILL (Newshour):  European governments lodged new complaints on both sides of the Atlantic today over U.S. surveillance.  They followed more disclosures linked to the National Security Agency.

NewsHour correspondent Kwame Holman begins our coverage.

KWAME HOLMAN (Newshour):  In Madrid, the U.S. ambassador to Spain, James Costos, ignored shouted questions about how his meeting at the Foreign Ministry went.  He had been summoned after the newspaper El Mundo reported the NSA tracked more than 60 million phone calls in Spain just from December 2012 to January 2013.

Meanwhile, in Washington, members of the European Parliament met with the House Intelligence Committee on U.S. surveillance.

CLAUDE MORAES, European Parliament Delegation:  This is just a knock in trust.  And there's a real appetite in the European Union to try and restore this trust, to make sense of why this NSA surveillance was necessary, why it was so disproportionate.

HEALTH - Voyager Space Program and Lessons For Long-Term Care

"What the Voyager space program can teach you about preparing for long-term care" PBS Newshour 10/28/2013

At first glance, comparing a 36-year-old, one-ton spacecraft hurtling through interstellar space at about 37,075 miles per hour to the realities of planning for our long-term care needs seems ... odd.  But the more we thought about it, it made sense.

We brought together the wisdom of NASA scientists and health experts to highlight 10 9 lessons the Voyager spacecraft can teach us about planning for long-term care.

1. Be prepared to adapt to changing situations

NASA didn't know what Voyager was going to find

As Voyager 1 left the "comfort of the heliosphere" (our solar system) and entered much-denser interstellar space, it was like leaving a warm pool and jumping into a vat of cold pudding.  Voyager is the farthest man-made object from Earth, and the first to reach interstellar space -- completely unexplored territory, said Ed Stone, chief scientist of the Voyager mission.  When the agency planned for Voyager's mission, NASA tried to keep the ‘unknown’ in mind, realizing they couldn’t anticipate everything that might happen.

Plan for the unexpected as you get older

Even if your home isn't ideal for growing older, some simple adjustments can help you stay there longer than you originally expected.  These could include things like installing motion sensor lighting in dark corners and tub bars in the bathroom to prevent falls.  Check to see if your community is one of more than 400 in the U.S. that has established villages offering seniors support to live independently in their own homes and communities.  The map (see full article) above lists locations and information on established "villages" that offer seniors support to live independently in their own homes and communities.  Many governments are realizing they are unprepared to help their populations age gracefully and are therefore developing new transportation options and civic services for seniors.  Others are cutting these services back.  Check with your local government to see what's happening in your community and make your voice heard about what's needed.

Just as importantly, plan ahead for a time when it may no longer be possible for you to live at home.  Alternative housing arrangements for older Americans, including assisted living and nursing homes, are often expensive and are usually not covered by Medicare.  Don't get left out in the cold pudding.

2. Build in redundancy as a back-up plan

Voyager has backups of its backups' backups

The engineers who designed Voyager didn't want the space probe to be sidelined by a simple computer failure or a small mechanical problem, so they built in multiple layers of redundancy.  The probe carries three dual-redundant computers on board, and seven fault protection routines.  Voyager can go into "safe mode" in a matter of minutes, which is crucial to saving data and power while waiting for almost a day to receive messages from Earth.  NASA has used Voyager's redundant systems as the primary systems fail, to extend the tiny probe's mission into deep space.

Social Security Might Not Be Enough

Like the Voyager engineers, make sure your plans have fallback options in case your intended future doesn't materialize.  Consider a long-term care insurance policy in case investments and Social Security are not enough to cover your medical needs after you retire.  Understand the availability and kinds of care options your state and local government provides, and make plans should you need additional support.

3. Be flexible and consider new goals as time goes on

Voyager completed its original mission, but continues making discoveries

Originally, the Voyager 1 mission was to study Jupiter and Saturn.  After that was completed, the spacecraft was still functional so it went on to explore further reaches of the solar system, aiming for Neptune and finally interstellar space.  The Voyager mission continues to make scientific breakthroughs that are rewriting astronomy books.

Successful aging is defined by continued activity and engagement

Many seniors find that part-time jobs, volunteer activities or social clubs can help sustain psychological, financial and health-related benefits that are sometimes easily lost after retirement.  As Paul H. Irving, president of the think tank the Milken Institute, put it, "Successful aging is defined by physical activity, work, learning, and social contribution, as opposed to withdrawal and disengagement.  For individuals, this brings better health, improved financial opportunities, a sense of purpose and personal happiness.  For our society, successful aging brings innovations and economic growth, intergenerational collaboration, and the mitigation of public burdens associated with chronic disease, inadequate retirement resources and the like."

For more, see our indepth interactive New Adventures for Older Workers.

4. Build a support network

Voyager's team continues to support the probe after 41 years

There are still 12 engineers and 20 scientists dedicated to working with Voyager, many of whom have been on the project since it began in 1972.

Build your own health-care tools

We are living longer than ever, meaning that as we age, we're faced with increased daily and health needs.  Yet most agree that the U.S. government lacks a comprehensive system of care and support that enables aging with dignity, independence and choice.  How are Americans responding to that reality?  Nearly a third said they "would rather not think about getting older at all," according to a recent poll.

"Sadly, there really aren’t that many tools out there for American families," said Bruce Chernof, president and CEO of the SCAN Foundation, which focuses on senior issues.  "That’s why we think this discussion is so important."

Talk to your family, friends and neighbors about your needs and what might help you live independently longer.  Consider your social network before deciding to move to a new locale for retirement and, if you decide to change locations, do so with a plan of how to build supportive and fulfilling relationships in your new community.

5. Keep checking in with home

Voyager regularly sends transmissions back to Earth

The information NASA receives from Voyager tells them, among other things, that the spacecraft is still alive and working.  Ed Stone, chief scientist on Voyager, said the team regularly checks in with the spacecraft, listening to hours of data and readings and tracking its journey through our galaxy.  It takes more than 24 hours for the scientists to send a message to Voyager and receive a reply.

Check in regularly with family and friends

Routinely checking in with family or friends as you get older, especially if you live alone, can reassure your loved ones you're OK.  Missing a check-in at an appointed time can alert them that something may be wrong.

6. Budget wisely

Voyager has squeezed years of science out of its budget

The total cost of the Voyager’s planetary expedition was $865 million.  That’s about 8 cents per U.S. resident per year from the program’s beginning in 1972 until 17 years later when Voyager 2 reached Neptune in 1989.  That sum may sound like a lot, but in return, both Voyager spacecraft have sent more than 5 trillion bits of scientific data.  Enough to fill more than 7,000 music CDs, and the data is still coming.  NASA estimates that Voyager will continue delivering data until 2025.

Make sure you're financially prepared for what lies ahead

70 percent of Americans over the age 65 can expect to use some form of long-term care during their lives, yet many wrongly believe their medical insurance or Medicare will pay for all or much of their long-term care needs.  In general, health insurance covers only very limited and specific types of long-term care, and disability policies don't cover any.  Furthermore, you will not be able to access Medicaid benefits until you spend down most of your assets.  The average nursing home today costs about $81,000 per year and part-time help at home or in the community typically costs about $21,000 per year.  For some people, purchasing long-term care insurance is the best option even though price tags can be high.  Others will need to rely on other resources or savings.

7. Keep good records

Voyager's mission is all about data collection

Both Voyagers are equipped with Golden Records, phonograph records that contain sounds and images representing the diversity of life and culture on Earth, and intended for intelligent extraterrestrial life form or future humans who may find them.  Voyager 1 was also built with a tape recorder on board to play back data for scientists on Earth, and it was built to last.  Imagine playing a two-hour VHS tape once a day for 33 years without fail -- it's that good.  The scientific instruments on board can hit their target with accuracy of one-tenth of a degree, whether for navigation or taking a photo.  The television cameras aboard are good enough to read a newspaper headline half a mile away.  To get good images in the darkness of space, it needs to be this accurate.

Your records could be your lifeline

Gather a list of important contacts including professionals, family members, friends, and loved ones who can provide support in a time of need.  Keep this information in an accessible place, such as near the refrigerator or telephone.  Also keep your medical records up-to-date.

8. Get help when you need it

Voyager got an extra boost along the way

To speed up the trip from one planet to the next, the Voyagers piggybacked on Jupiter's gravity to slingshot towards Saturn, increasing Voyager 1’s speed by 35,700 mph.  The gravity-assist from Saturn hurled Voyager 1 out of the solar system, and gave Voyager 2 the power to reach Uranus.  And Uranus’ gravitational pull hurled it toward Neptune, and Neptune gave it the extra push it needed to reach the edge of the heliosphere.

Anticipate needing some assistance

More than 12 million Americans need long-term care to assist them with daily activities.  The government estimates that someone who is 65 today will need some type of long-term care services for three years (and if you're a woman, you can expect to need care longer than men -- 3.7 years compared to 2.2 years for men, on average).  Reach out to your neighbors, form a community support group, and most importantly, talk to your family early about the type of support you prefer when the time comes for more assistance.

9. Plan to live longer than you expect and have an end-of-life plan

Voyager's systems slowly shut down as it ages

No one thought Voyager would still be working and sending data this long.  But as Voyager's plutonium reactor runs out of power, the vessel will lose contact with scientists.  While Voyager will likely be able to sustain its functions for another decade, the plan is to turn off instruments one by one, trying to make the most of the ones still functioning.  These decisions will be based on energy-efficiency, keeping Voyager as productive as possible.

Make a plan – just in case

Make an aging and end-of-life plan with your family that includes where and how you will live as you grow older.  Choose someone you trust to be a surrogate decision-maker who will honor your health care wishes if there comes a point where you cannot make decisions for yourself.  Don’t wait until an emergency or major event to start the conversation -- that may be too late.

Some things to consider:  What kind of care do you want, and what do you not want?  Do you want a "do not resuscitate" order? If you must face a terminal illness, at what point do you want to stop life-support or treatment?  If you’re starting these discussions early, what health concerns should your family or providers plan for so you can continue to live at home?  But most importantly, get out and enjoy life.  You never know what you may discover.

Monday, October 28, 2013

ART - Carly Paige, Face Artist

Carly Page is a makeup artist who uses her own face to produce amazing "Transformations".

Carly Paige Makeup
My favorite 4 'Transformations'

SATIRE - Tea Party and the GOP

Humor Times
Political Cartoons

NONPROFITS - Story of Unauthorized Use of Funds

"Washington Post report finds fraud, embezzlement at more than 1,000 non-profits" PBS Newshour 10/27/2013


HARI SREENIVASAN (Newshour):  A startling report in today’s Washington Post, the newspaper says more than a thousand of the nation’s non-profits have each acknowledged losses of a quarter million dollars or more, because of theft, investment fraud, embezzlement or other unauthorized use of funds.  The report is based on tax filings by the non-profits during the past five years.  Each non-profit disclosed the problem by checking a box on the tax form indicating what’s called a significant diversion of funds.  For more about all this, we’re joined from Washington by Joe Stevens, he’s an investigative reporter for the Post and the co-author of today’s piece.

CYBERSECURITY - Secret Weapon Against Hacking

"Secret weapon against hacking:  College students" PBS Newshour 10/26/2013


SUMMARY:  Inside the high-tech criminal mind. It's no secret that cybercriminals are stealing personal information and credit card numbers by hacking into corporate and government computers.  One school in Pittsburgh is training the next generation of cybersecurity experts to fight off the bad guys by teaching them to think the same way.

RICK KARR:  The bad guys stole more than three million Social Security numbers from the State of South Carolina.  As many as seventy million credit card numbers from Sony PlayStation.  They got access to all of the personal details of some customers of a nationwide mortgage lending firm.  But cybercriminals aren’t just looking to steal personal information and credit card numbers when they break into corporate computers -- they’re looking for other valuable information.
RICK KARR:  All those flaws that Carnegie Mellon’s undergrads find every semester ... don’t necessarily mean that the software on your P-C or your bank’s web site is badly written.  Almost every piece of software, every computer system has vulnerabilities that can be exploited -- it’s virtually impossible to make anything that’s connected to the internet perfectly secure.  And today -- compared to 10 or 20 years ago, all of us have just so many more computers and smartphones and tablets -- all of them connected and vulnerable.  So we’re vulnerable, too.

Carnegie Mellon’s students are so good at exploiting those vulnerabilities ... that the NSA enlisted them to create a game that teaches hacking skills to high-school-aged students -- and paid for the job.  Cylab, the university’s cybersecurity institute, is home to the to-ranked competitive hacking team in the world: the Plaid Parliament of Pwning -- “pwn” is hacker-speak for “own”, as in the hacker takes a computer over and owns it.  For third straight year, the team won top honors at international contests that pit teams of hackers against one another ... and utterly demolished the competition at a prestigious contest in Las Vegas.

SPYING - More Fallout From Traitor Snowden's Actions

"Fallout from NSA leaks threaten trust at home, damage relationships abroad" PBS Newshour 10/25/2013


SUMMARY:  The controversy unleashed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden began in June when The Guardian newspaper first reported on leaks about U.S. monitoring of phone calls.  Since then, information about the NSA's surveillance have threatened trust at home and relationships with U.S. allies abroad.  Ray Suarez recaps the revelations.

"EU leaders Merkel, Hollande call for 'no spying' agreement with U.S." PBS Newshour 10/25/2013


SUMMARY:  German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande called for a "no spying" agreement with the U.S. after reports that the NSA monitored and collected phone data from their countries.  A State Department spokeswoman said the Obama administration is ready to discuss the issue.  Kwame Holman reports.

"What are the diplomatic costs of the NSA surveillance revelations for the U.S.?" PBS Newshour 10/25/2013


SUMMARY:  Revelations that the NSA has collected phone and email data from our European allies has created a "serious and awkward diplomatic problem" for the U.S. Former CIA official Philip Mudd and P.J. Crowley, former assistant secretary of state, join Ray Suarez to discuss the diplomatic ramifications.

CALIFORNIA - Dark Money Groups Get Hammered

"Dark Money Groups Pay $1 Million in Fines in California Case" by Kim Barker, ProPublica 10/24/2013

Two dark money groups linked to conservative billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch have paid a record $1 million in fines to California to settle allegations that the combined $15 million they spent on two ballot proposals in the state was not properly disclosed.

The civil settlement, announced Thursday afternoon in Sacramento, caps a year of investigation into the activities of the two Arizona groups, Americans for Responsible Leadership and the Center to Protect Patient Rights.

The settlement disclosed new details in the case, including how the money was raised and how the Center to Protect Patient Rights disguised its two contributions to two California political committees.  As part of the settlement, the Center to Protect Patient Rights conceded it was responsible for funneling $11 million through Americans for Responsible Leadership to a political committee spending money to fight a tax-hike measure and to support a proposition restricting unions’ political power.

The Center to Protect Patient Rights also gave an additional $4 million to another dark money group, the American Future Fund, which gave the money to another political committee spending on the anti-union measure.

“What is the takeaway from this trail of dark money?” asked Ann Ravel, the outgoing head of California’s Fair Political Practices Commission, which investigated the groups along with the state attorney general’s office.  “This is a nationwide issue.  These groups exploit loopholes in the law to undermine the clear purpose of the law, to give essential information to the public.”

The state assessed one $500,000 fine to the Center to Protect Patient Rights only, and another $500,000 fine to the two groups jointly.  The state is also demanding that the two political committees “disgorge,” or hand over, the $15 million they received in improper donations through the Center to Protect Patient Rights before the end of November.  All of the money would go to California’s general fund.

In an interview, Gary Winuk, the chief of enforcement for the California Fair Political Practices Commission, acknowledged that the state may have to go to court to recover that $15 million.  One of the political committees has already closed down.

The settlement says California authorities determined that the Center to Protect Patient Rights “inadvertently, or at worst negligently,” did not report itself as a donor to the American Future Fund.  A similar decision was made on the group’s lack of disclosure to Americans for Responsible Leadership.

In a statement sent through its lawyer, the Center to Protect Patient Rights said the commission recognized it erred largely because it had never before made contributions in California and that it had no intention to violate campaign reporting rules.

“Also, the California Attorney General conducted a complete and thorough investigation and agreed that the conduct was unintentional and inadvertent,” said the lawyer, Malcolm Segal.

Americans for Responsible Leadership did not return a message seeking comment.

Anonymous money funneled through social welfare nonprofits and trade associations has become a major factor in federal elections since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in early 2010 opened up the door to unlimited corporate and union spending on outside ads, as documented by ProPublica.  In the past two election cycles, social welfare nonprofits have spent more than $350 million, mostly from unknown donors, on election ads telling people to vote for or against federal candidates.

Some national groups have also started playing on the state level, particularly with ballot proposals.

The California agreement, reached on Oct. 17, underscored how some states, such as California, Idaho and Montana, have actually done more to identify anonymous donors than the Federal Election Commission.  In June, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman imposed regulations attempting to require disclosure for money spent on state elections.  A new disclosure bill has been introduced in California.  This month, after a push by California’s Ravel, regulators from 10 states announced the launch of a nationwide effort to encourage the disclosure of donors.

But the settlement also highlights the limitations of investigations into who’s behind dark money groups: Instead of unmasking some reclusive billionaire or shy corporation, regulators often uncover yet another nonprofit, like a set of Russian nesting dolls.  The original sources of the money spent in California were not publicly identified, nor will they be.

“A number of donors did not want to be identified,” said Winuk, the enforcement chief for California’s campaign finance regulator, who received only a redacted list of donors for the original contributions.

And while the groups have been linked to the Koch brothers, it’s not clear how exactly they’re connected.  The Center to Protect Patient Rights, which operates out of a post office box in Arizona and doesn’t even have a website, has been described practically like an ATM machine for various groups affiliated with the Koch brothers.  The press release issued by California authorities says the Center and Americans for Responsible Leadership “operated as part of the ‘Koch Brothers Network’ of dark money political nonprofit corporations.”

The Kochs have long been known for spending millions to influence elections behind the scenes, through a complex network of groups that critics have nicknamed “the Kochtopus.”  The Kochs themselves have remained determinedly in the background.

One link between these two groups and the Koch network is Sean Noble, a GOP strategist who runs two political consulting firms and is the sole employee of the Center to Protect Patient Rights, which was launched in 2009.  In 2010, he spoke on a panel at a Koch brothers’ secretive retreat, small semiannual affairs that are invitation-only and closed to the media.  In 2010 and 2011, the Center to Protect Patient Rights handed out almost $60 million to conservative groups that spent tens of millions on election ads.  The Huffington Post recently quoted a GOP operative describing Noble as “the wizard behind the screen” for the Koch network’s election efforts in 2012.

Noble did not return a call for comment.

Another link is Wayne Gable, a former top official at Koch Industries who has also served in leadership roles in several nonprofits formed by the Kochs.  In 2011, Gable launched a new trade association that gave almost $115 million to the Center to Protect Patient Rights over the following year.  It’s not yet clear how the Center doled out its money, as its tax return for 2012 isn’t yet available.

The leader of Americans for Responsible Leadership has close ties to Noble.  Republican Kirk Adams hired Noble’s firm in 2011 and 2012 to help run his failed campaign to replace outgoing U.S. Rep. Jeff Flake in Arizona.  Adams lost in the primary in August 2012; the next month, he was named president of Americans for Responsible Leadership.

According to the settlement, some $24.5 million of the money distributed by the Center to Protect Patient Rights was raised by GOP strategist Tony Russo for another organization, Americans for Job Security, a Virginia-based trade association. (Russo didn’t return calls for comment.)

Americans for Job Security gave the money to the Center to Protect Patient Rights.  Then the Center gave about $7 million to the Iowa dark money powerhouse American Future Fund on Sept. 11, 2012; of that, the American Future Fund gave about $4 million to a new California committee, the California Future Fund for Free Markets, which supported the anti-union measure. That committee has since closed down.

The Center also gave $18 million to Americans for Responsible Leadership in October 2012, recommending that the group “should use the funds to support common social interests, including support” for the Small Business Action Committee PAC, a committee that Russo was also raising money for, the settlement said. Americans for Responsible Leadership then gave $11 million to the Small Business Action Committee PAC to spend on the two ballot proposals.

That $11 million contribution sparked a complaint, an investigation and a court battle.  Just before the election, Americans for Responsible Leadership admitted that it got its money from the Center to Protect Patient Rights, which in turn got the money from Americans for Job Security.

The fine is the largest in California history in a campaign-finance case.

The manner in which the groups paid it speaks volumes about how dark their money really is.

They paid by cashier’s check, sent by a Sacramento lawyer’s office Thursday morning, betraying no clue to the money’s origin.

POLITICS - Cruz to Distortion on ACA

"Cruz Distorts ACA Impact on Seniors, Children" by Eugene Kiely and Brooks Jackson, 10/21/2013

Sen. Ted Cruz says his “fight against Obamacare must continue,” and so must our fact-checking of claims about the law.

Cruz distorted the impact of the Affordable Care Act on two vulnerable populations — the elderly and special needs children:

  • Cruz said seniors “right now” are being notified that they are “losing their health insurance” during the enrollment period that began Oct. 15.  In fact, the number of seniors enrolled in the Medicare Advantage plans to which he’s referring has increased 30 percent since the law took effect in 2010 — and enrollment is expected to increase again next year.
  • He also claimed seniors “are facing higher prescription drug costs” next year.  In fact, seniors to date have received $7 billion in rebates and prescription discounts under the Affordable Care Act, and the average senior will have the choice of more prescription drug plans for 2014.
  • Cruz said “families of special needs children will face a new penalty for using savings” to pay for medical expenses.  He’s referring to a $2,500 cap on pre-tax contributions to flexible spending accounts.  Actually, advocates for special needs children say that provision hasn’t had much of an impact, and other provisions of the new law “greatly benefit people with disabilities.”

Medicare Advantage

On Oct. 16, when Senate leaders announced a bipartisan deal that would end the partial government shutdown, Cruz held a media availability and issued a press release to say he opposed — but would not block — the agreement.

He said he would oppose the Senate compromise because it does nothing to help “the millions of Americans who are being harmed by Obamacare,” singling out some of the nation’s most vulnerable populations.

Here’s what he said about the Senate bill in a press availability with reporters on Capitol Hill (at about the 48 second mark):

Cruz, Oct. 16:  And it provides no relief to all the seniors, to all the people with disabilities who are right now getting in-the-mail notifications from their health insurance companies that they’re losing their health insurance because of Obamacare.

And this is what he said in a written statement issued that same day:
Cruz, Oct. 16:  As a result of Obamacare, families of special needs children will face a new penalty for using savings to pay for medical therapies and health-related expenses.  That’s not part of the discussion.  Seniors who are facing higher prescription drug costs as a result of this law won’t be given any consideration, either.

We asked the senator’s office for information on the statements he made about the impact of the law on seniors and special needs children.  Let’s start with senior citizens, beginning with the claim that seniors are “losing their health insurance.”

The senator’s office referred us to a recent analysis by the consulting company Avalere of Medicare Advantage plans that will be available to seniors for 2014.  The consulting firm’s report found that the number of plans available to seniors in 2014 would “dip modestly” from 2,664 to 2,522, a decline of 5.3 percent.  The open enrollment period began on Oct. 15 and ends Dec. 7, so Cruz is no doubt right that some seniors have been told that their insurance plan is no longer part of the Medicare Advantage program.

However, a drop in the number of plans does not mean a drop in the number of persons covered.

In fact, the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation reports that the number of persons enrolled in MA plans rose by nearly 10 percent this year, compared with 2012.  A total of 14.4 million persons now are covered by MA plans, more than ever before.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services says that trend will continue.  In a Sept. 19 press release, the CMS said “for the fourth straight year enrollment is projected to increase” in 2014.  CMS spokesman Raymond Thorn told us in an email that enrollment “is projected to grow to 14.995 million in 2014,” an increase of 4.7 percent over this year.

This is exactly contrary to the predictions at the time of the law’s enactment.  KFF notes: “Since 2010, enrollment in Medicare Advantage plans has grown by 30 percent in spite of concerns that the payment changes enacted in the 2010 Affordable Care Act would lead to significant reductions in enrollment.”

In fact, as Affordable Care Act critic Alyene Senger of the conservative Heritage Foundation wrote recently, “It is not yet known how MA plans will react to Obamacare’s significant reductions or how beneficiaries will respond to any changes made by MA plans.”  But that hasn’t stopped Cruz from saying seniors are losing coverage.  His office even cites Senger’s article as supporting that claim, perhaps hoping that we would not actually read it.

Allyson Funk, a spokeswoman for the AARP, did not express concern about the slight dip in MA plans.  She said there “will remain broad penetration and availability of MA plans” in 2014.  Funk also noted that Medicare Advantage premiums have gone down, “while quality has improved,” since the passage of the Affordable Care Act.  CMS says the average premiums for Medicare Advantage plans are down by 9.8 percent since the health care legislation became law.

Disabled Seniors

In his criticism of the law’s impact on seniors, Cruz also made reference to seniors with disabilities when he expressed concern about “all the people with disabilities” who “right now” are “losing their health insurance.”

This time, the senator’s office referred us to a Sept. 16 opinion piece written by Scott Gottlieb of the conservative American Enterprise Institute about 9 million low-income people who are eligible for both Medicaid and Medicare.  Gottlieb wrote that many of these people “will be forcibly moved into Medicaid HMOs once another long-delayed element of the bill starts to get implemented this fall.”

But they are not “losing” coverage “right now” — in fact, most of the 9 million will be unaffected now and for at least three years.

Here’s what’s happening: In April, CMS announced that it would provide funding and technical assistance to 15 states to develop demonstration programs designed to provide better, more cost-effective services to low-income people (elderly and non-elderly) who are eligible for both Medicaid and Medicare.   In a recent report, KFF says the demonstration project is limited to no more than 2 million dual-eligible beneficiaries, and, so far, CMS has approved specific plans in eight states covering 1.1 million beneficiaries.

The demonstration programs, which will last for three years, target both the elderly and non-elderly. In fact, Massachusetts’ program will include only non-elderly, dual-eligible beneficiaries, according to KFF’s report.  Five of the eight states (and the county of Los Angeles) will seek volunteers for the demonstration programs before automatically assigning beneficiaries to managed care plans.  In one state, Minnesota, the demonstration program will be strictly voluntary.  Six states will allow beneficiaries assigned to HMOs to opt-out.

According to CMS: “[I]n each Demonstration beneficiaries will receive all the current services and benefits they receive today from Medicare and Medicaid with added care coordination, protections and access to enhanced services.”

In other words, the coverage they are getting is supposed to be better than the coverage Cruz says they are “losing.” Whether it works out that way or not, we can’t say, and at this point neither can he.

‘Higher Prescription Drug Costs’?

Cruz also said that seniors “are facing higher prescription drug costs,” and his office again referred us to the Avalere analysis.

In addition to its analysis of Medicare Advantage, Avalere also reviewed the costs of Medicare Part D standalone Prescription Drug Plans (PDPs) for the 2014 coverage plans that seniors are now signing up to join.  The analysis concluded: “On average, PDP premiums will increase by 5.1 percent overall.”

The Kaiser Family Foundation, in its own analysis, says that the average increase for these plans will be a little less than 5 percent — from $38.14 per month to $39.90 — “unless many new or current enrollees select lower-priced plans.”  That is entirely possible.  KFF notes that Medicare beneficiaries in 2014 “will have a choice of 35 stand-alone PDPs, on average, up by four from 2013.”

KFF also illustrates in Exhibit 3 of its report that average premium increases are nothing new for Medicare Part D standalone plans.  Since 2006, the average premium has gone up about 54 percent — including a high growth rate of 17 percent in 2009, which was before the Affordable Care Act took effect.  The only year the average premium did not go up was in 2012, when the law was in effect.

But seniors — and about two out of three seniors are in standalone prescription drug plans — should be warned that averages are just that.  What any individual will pay will vary — sometimes greatly — as KFF’s study points out.

KFF says: “Enrollees in two of the most popular PDPs will experience 50-percent premium increases if they stay in the same plans in 2014, while enrollees in three other popular PDPs will see lower premiums.”  Exhibit 4 provides this breakdown: Forty-four percent will see an increase of $1 to $10 per month, and 14 percent will see an increase of more than $10 per month.  Thirty-one percent will see a decrease of $1 to $10 per month, and 4 percent will see a decrease of more than $10. About 7 percent will see a minimal change.

As is the case with most insurance coverage, the actual change in premiums will depend upon an individual’s personal situation and the decisions that he or she makes.

“We encourage our members to carefully evaluate their Part D plan options each open enrollment period by comparison shopping,” the AARP’s Funk said.

It’s also true that premiums are just one component of the prescription drug insurance coverage.

KFF notes that a little more than half of the PDPs — about 53 percent — require a deductible.  For those that do, the deductible will fall next year from $325 to $310 — a $15 savings that would help offset the average premium increase for some seniors.

Also, the Affordable Care Act has provided 6.6 million seniors with $7 billion in rebates and discounts on prescription drugs to help them pay for costs that fall into a gap in coverage known as the “doughnut hole.”  In 2014, the plans will pay most drug costs (minus a deductible and co-pays) up to a certain level (after a beneficiary incurs $2,850 in total costs).  But then beneficiaries will have to pay all of their prescription costs until they reach a “catastrophic level” of $4,550 out-of-pocket expenses “(or $6,691 in total drug costs under the standard benefit),” KFF says in its report.  About 82 percent of PDPs offer no or very limited gap coverage, the report says.

However, the Affordable Care Act provided a one-time $250 rebate to seniors who have Medicare Part D drug coverage in 2010 to help cover some of the costs of the doughnut hole.  In addition, the law provides discounts each year and eventually (by 2020) phases out the doughnut hole entirely.  In 2014, for example, that means that seniors who reach the coverage gap will receive a 50 percent discount on brand-name drugs and the insurance plan will pay 2.5 percent of the cost, leaving seniors to pay 47.5 percent during that gap period.

Special Needs Children

Cruz also said “families of special needs children will face a new penalty for using savings to pay for medical therapies and health-related expenses.”  Some may, but advocates for these families say Cruz overstates the impact and ignores the benefits these families will receive from the Affordable Care Act.

Cruz’s office told us the senator was referring to the $2,500 cap the new law places on annual contributions to Flexible Spending Arrangements (FSAs).  These accounts allow an estimated 33 million Americans to contribute pre-tax dollars from their pay checks for future medical expenses. Until January of this year, the IRS did not limit how much employees could contribute — although employers could.

The senator’s office referred us to a Sept. 25 blog post on the website of Americans for Tax Reform, a conservative group that is opposed to the law.  ATR says the cap “will be particularly cruel and onerous” on special needs children, because these families use the accounts not only for medical expenses but also to pay tuition for special needs education.

This is not the first time that Republicans have cited the cap as being particularly onerous for special needs families who use FSAs for education costs.  The Republican National Committee has claimed that the cap will result in a “$13 billion tax increase on families with special needs.”  The RNC also says special needs families use these accounts “to pay for fees at special needs schools, transportation costs associated with their child’s education, Braille books, and guide dogs for the visually impaired.”

It is simply not true that the special needs families will have to pay $13 billion in additional taxes.  That’s the total amount that the cap is expected to generate in new revenues over a 10-year period, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation.  It isn’t known how much of that would be paid by the families of special needs children, but the ARC — one of the nation’s leading advocates for children with developmental disabilities — tells us that it hasn’t seen any evidence of the cap having much of an impact on families with special needs children.

“We do not know how many people may be using FSAs to pay for private school tuition or other expenses — we have tried to research it but found no information,” the ARC said in a statement provided to us by spokeswoman Kristen McKiernan.  “We know it can be expensive to have a special needs child but we have not seen any evidence that the ACA change [on FSAs] is very impactful.”

Wendy Fournier, president of the National Autism Association, said her organization hasn’t fielded any questions or complaints about the cap on FSAs for either tuition payments or medical expenses.  “We haven’t had any of our members say it is an issue for them,” she said.  It may be an issue for some, but she’s not heard that it is.  “This is the first I heard of it,” she said.

The ARC statement noted that the IRS still allows special needs families to deduct medical expenses and health-related expenses, including for special education.  IRS rules say such families can deduct certain educational expenses for “children who have learning disabilities caused by mental or physical impairments,” including tuition, meals and lodging.  The deduction, of course, does not provide the same benefits as pre-tax contributions to an FSA.

The ARC and the United Cerebral Palsy websites say the Affordable Care Act “contains numerous provisions that greatly benefit people with disabilities.”

The ARC and the United Cerebral Palsy:  The most important changes that the ACA will bring about are: Prohibiting pre-existing condition exclusions; Eliminating annual and lifetime caps; Prohibiting discrimination based on health status and disability (prevents insurers from dropping individuals when they get sick); Requiring insurers to issue and renew insurance to employers and individuals; Expanding Medicaid eligibility to cover individuals with incomes up to 133 percent of the federal poverty line (approximately $29,000 per year for a family of four); and making a number of improvements to the Medicaid program.

The ARC statement summed it up by saying, “We expect that the ACA will benefit people with disabilities because of the health insurance reforms.”

FDA - Regulations to Curb Prescription Drug Abuse

"F.D.A. Shift on Painkillers Was Years in the Making" by BARRY MEIER and ERIC LIPTON, New York Times 10/27/2013


When Heather Dougherty heard the news last week that the Food and Drug Administration had recommended tightening how doctors prescribed the most commonly used narcotic painkillers, she was overjoyed.  Fourteen years earlier, her father, Dr. Ronald J. Dougherty, had filed a formal petition urging federal officials to crack down on the drugs.

Dr. Dougherty told officials in 1999 that more of the patients turning up at his clinic near Syracuse were addicted to legal narcotics like Vicodin and Lortab that contain the drug hydrocodone than to illegal narcotics like heroin.

Since then, narcotic painkillers, or opioids, have become the most frequently prescribed drugs in the United States and have set off a wave of misuse, abuse and addiction.  Experts estimate that more than 100,000 people have died in the last decade from overdoses involving the drugs.  For his part, Dr. Dougherty, who foresaw the problem, retired in 2007 and is now 81 and living in a nursing home.

“Too many lives have been ruined,” his daughter said.

The story behind the F.D.A.’s turnaround on the pain pills, last Thursday, involved a rare victory by lawmakers from states hard hit by prescription drug abuse over well-financed lobbyists for business and patient groups, one that came during a continuing public health crisis.

Just last year, Representative Fred Upton, Republican of Michigan — the House’s biggest recipient during the last election cycle of drug industry campaign contributions, with nearly $300,000 — blocked a measure that would have imposed the restrictions the F.D.A. backed last week.

Among the provisions in the bill, pushed by Senator Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia, was one that is central to the new F.D.A. recommendations: reducing to 90 days the length of time in which a patient could obtain refills for painkillers containing hydrocodone without a doctor visit.  The drugs are now widely sold by generic producers.

Mr. Upton, who is the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, argued that imposing new limits would harm patients who needed the drugs, which are used to treat pain from injuries, arthritis, dental extractions and other problems.  That stance was echoed by patient groups, lobbyists representing drug makers, pharmacy chains like Walgreens and CVS, local drugstores and physicians groups like the American Medical Association.

The F.D.A.’s long resistance to added restrictions on the drugs underscores what critics say is its continuing struggle to address the complexities of the painkiller problem in its often conflicting roles — one as a regulator that approves drugs and the other as a drug safety watchdog.

On Friday, public health advocates who had cheered the agency’s decision the day before were dismayed when the F.D.A. approved a new, high-potency painkiller despite an 11-2 vote by an expert panel of its own advisers not to do so.  The panel concluded in December that the long-acting opioid, called Zohydro, could lead to the same type of abuse and addiction as OxyContin.

"FDA plan to limit painkiller abuse may have impact for patients who need them" PBS Newshour 10/25/2013


SUMMARY:  While millions of people use prescription painkillers for relief, their abuse has reached epidemic levels in some places.  To combat rising addiction rates, the FDA has a new plan to limit the distribution of pain meds, specifically containing hydrocodone.  Hari Sreenivasan gets more from Barry Meier of The New York Times.

Friday, October 25, 2013

POLITICS - Future of the GOP, RNC chair Ed Gillespie

And now a message from the Alternate Universe....

"GOP can gain strength and the Senate by 'adhering to principles,' says Gillespie" PBS Newshour 10/24/2013


SUMMARY:  Despite the political hit Republicans took from the shutdown, former RNC chair Ed Gillespie is optimistic his party can make headway on issues like immigration reform and entitlements, and win back the majority if they can reduce friction in their coalition.  Gwen Ifill talks to Gillespie about the outlook for the next election.

CHINA - Protests Over Non-Consensual Land Grabs

"Why Chinese protesters have resorted to self-immolation over urban construction" PBS Newshour 10/24/2013


JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour):  The country's urban population has swelled in recent decades, bringing hundreds of millions of people out of rural areas and into cities.  That migration has led to a surge in construction and the demolition of millions of homes to make way for developments, sometimes without the consent of residents.  Protesters attempting to stop the destruction have blocked heavy machinery, fought with officials, and even set themselves on fire.

Hari Sreenivasan takes a closer look at that practice.  He spoke with Frank Langfitt from NPR's Shanghai bureau earlier today via Skype.

And a warning: Some viewers may find the report disturbing.

Hay... what are they worried about?  Maybe having a major city with pollution that shut it down is another indicator.  Government not working for them.

EDUCATION - What Parents Can Do to Help Their Children

"Parents study up on how to improve college prospects for their children" PBS Newshour 10/24/2013


SUMMARY:  While their elementary school-aged kids are being taught the basics of reading and math, some parents are learning how to prioritize their prospects for higher education.  The NewsHour's April Brown reports on the "Parent College" program that is working to improve graduation rates for underprivileged students in Los Angeles.

This is more on just how important parents are for their children's education starting at an early age.  We who had the advantage of parents that emphasized education know how true this is.

ENVIRONMENT - New EPA Chief Gina McCarthy

"EPA chief Gina McCarthy on maintaining a 'diverse energy mix' for America" PBS Newshour 10/24/2013


SUMMARY:  In June, the Obama administration called for new pollution standards for power plants, and the new EPA administrator, Gina McCarthy, has followed through with a proposal for new rules.  Ray Suarez reports on pushback from the coal industry, while Judy Woodruff talks to McCarthy about pollution and energy priorities.

FEDERAL HEALTH EXCHANGE - The Blame Finger Pointing Starts

" contractors testify they warned of glitch risks before launch" PBS Newshour 10/24/2013


ANDREW SLAVITT, OPTUM/QSSI:  We did fully talk about the risks that we saw, and we passed those along all along the way.

HARI SREENIVASAN (Newshour):  Contractors who developed insisted today that they warned the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services about not fully testing the system before it went live October 1.  Andrew Slavitt with QSSI and Cheryl Campbell of CGI Federal told Republican Greg Walden of Oregon that they were pressed for time.

REP. GREG WALDEN, R-Ore.:  What's the standard protocol?  What's the recommended industry standard for end-to-end tests before rolling up a major website like this?

ANDREW SLAVITT:  Months would be nice.

GREG WALDEN:  Months would be nice.

Ms. Campbell, is that accurate for your company as well?

CHERYL CAMPBELL, CGI Federal:  That's correct.

GREG WALDEN:  And you were given two weeks, and yet months would have been nice?
HARI SREENIVASAN:  Campbell said that CMS made the ultimate call to go ahead.

CHERYL CAMPBELL:  We're there to support our client.  It is not our position to tell our client whether they should go live or not go live.

BS - If software is not ready, a responsible company DOES say no, an irresponsible company says yes.

DIPLOMACY - The 'Outrage Theater' About U.S. Spying on Friends

First, lets be realistic all nations spy on each other.  Been that way for ages.  The only thing that happened here is we (U.S.) got outed by traitor Edward Snowden.

"Will fallout of 'spying on friends' allegations help change U.S. surveillance?" PBS Newshour 10/24/2013


SUMMARY:  At a European Union summit, German Chancellor Angela Merkel characterized the reported American monitoring of her cellphone as a "severe breach of trust."  Jeffrey Brown gets background from Margaret Warner and Luke Baker of Reuters about how European leaders are responding to U.S. spying allegations.

MARGARET WARNER (Newshour):  And they believe it's explained by the fact that every country knows that even friendly countries spy on one another's leaders, but the fact that it is so very public.  That said, it has been embarrassing to the White House.  The President has had to spend this time making phone calls to Hollande, President Hollande, to President Merkel, promising this review of the way intelligence is collected.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

DETROIT - Is There Proof the City Met All Requirements For Bankruptcy?

"Detroit bankruptcy eligibility case goes to trial" PBS Newshour 10/23/2013


SUMMARY:  The city of Detroit filed for bankruptcy in July, and now it must prove to a judge that the conditions necessitate that protection.  But some pension funds, unions and retirees are fighting the filing.  Jeffrey Brown gets an update from Matthew Dolan of The Wall Street Journal on Detroit's finances.

HARI SREENIVASAN (Newshour):   Next: a pair of dispatches from Detroit at an important moment, starting with a key trial over the city's bankruptcy filing.  Detroit's leaders say the city is $18 billion in debt, forcing a move to Chapter 9.  But they also must persuade a judge the city has met all of the requirements to do so.  And opponents say that's not the case.

Jeffrey Brown has more.

AFFORDABLE CARE ACT - Federal Health Insurance Exchange Web Site Fix?

Being a retired Computer Specialist and IT Technician, with some experience in programming, weather or not a 'fix' adds more complication has to do with WHO actually does the fix.

One potential problem I can see today is putting a political manager in charge of fixing Obama Care.  A person with experience in computer and system ENGINEERING should be in charge.

A manager is NOT what is needed.

PS:  The type of testing in the discussions is called Beta-Testing, so consumers are Beta-Testers.

"Will the rush to correct the health care website problems add more complication?" PBS Newshour 10/23/2013


SUMMARY:  The Obama administration has said it is making efforts to improve the health care website, but tech experts warn the problems are far from fixed.  For more on what contributed to the flawed launch and the challenges ahead, Hari Sreenivasan speaks with John Engates of RackSpace and Bill Curtis of CAST Software.

HUMOR - Thought for Food - KFC's Go Cup & Powerful Yogurt

Colbert Nation

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

BOOK - Dissident Gardens

"Novelist Jonathan Lethem offers look at the personal side of American radicalism" PBS Newshour 10/22/2013


SUMMARY:  Set in the mid-20th century, Jonathan Lethem's novel "Dissident Gardens" explores the private lives of American communists and the "radical tradition" that has become part of the fabric of our nation.  Jeffrey Brown talks to the author about his inspiration and the intersection of political ideology and personal experience.

HEALTH - Hunting the Nightmare Bacteria

"How societal, economic factors play into rise of drug-resistant bacteria" PBS Newshour 10/22/2013


SUMMARY:  Has the age of antibiotics come to an end?  New strains of bacteria are on the rise, landing normally healthy people in the hospital with life-threatening, drug-resistant infections.  Ray Suarez talks to David Hoffman, the journalist who led the investigation for Frontline's "Hunting the Nightmare Bacteria (53:41 full show video)."

JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour):  Next: the mounting worries and public health concerns over the rise of drug-resistant bacteria.  That's the subject of tonight's episode of FRONTLINE.

To tell the story, the program examines three notable cases, including that of Addie Rerecich, an 11-year-old girl in Tucson.  After complaining of a nagging pain in her hip, she ended up fighting for her life in the hospital in 2011.

Here's an excerpt, beginning with her mother's recollection.

POLITICS - Future of the GOP, From Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan)

"Rep. Huelskamp:  Tea party GOP lost the shutdown battle, but not the wider debate" PBS Newshour 10/22/2013


SUMMARY:  Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., believes that Americans are disappointed with the "status quo" deal Congress passed to end the shutdown.  Judy Woodruff talks to the congressman about Republican strategy and rhetoric, another conversation in our series on the future direction of the GOP.

WRONG!  Most Americans are disappointed with a party whose policies lead to non-governance.  Putting party dogma before actually doing the nation's business.

MILITARY - The Drone Strike Issue

Being retired U.S. military, and as I've said before, it is really dumb to think that ANY military strike (especially involving explosives) can NOT have civilian/collateral damage.  The best you can do is to minimize such damage.  Also, there WILL be mistakes by drone operators.  Still the question being asked is legitimate.

"Is U.S. being transparent enough about civilian deaths from drone strikes?" PBS Newshour 10/22/2013


GWEN IFILL (Newshour):  Now we return to what two human rights groups are reporting about U.S. strikes abroad.

Even the names attached to the unmanned planes known as drones are fearsome, Predators, Reapers.  Operated remotely in skies high above their targets, drones have become a critical tool in the U.S. war on al-Qaida.  This is especially true in the North Waziristan region of Pakistan, which lies along its border with Afghanistan.

There, in the village of Ghundi Kala, Amnesty International says 68-year-old Mamana Bibi was killed a year ago as she harvested vegetables.  Her family said she was targeted by two Hellfire missiles fired by an invisible drone.

According to Amnesty, it's one of many such incidents.