Romney Campaign Pushing 3/4 Trillion Dollars In Medicare Cuts

Obama-Romney-Ryan Medicare debate takes surprising turn

By David Jackson, USA TODAY

It’s no surprise that Medicare has become a big campaign issue — it is somewhat surprising that the Republicans are pushing it.

GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, running mate Paul Ryan, and other Republicans are stressing $716 billion in cuts to Medicare that are part of President Obama’s health care plan.

That attack has forced Obama and company to play defense, even as they emphasize that Romney and Ryan want to turn Medicare into a voucher program that will cost seniors thousands of dollars a year.

The $716 billion in cuts are aimed not at Medicare recipients, but at health care providers, such as hospitals and medical device makers; they also target what the administration calls waste and inefficiency in Medicare.

“We made reforms that extended the life of the program,” Obama said Saturday in New Hampshire, adding that his health care plan has reduced the costs of prescription drugs, and provides preventive services like cancer screenings.

As for Republican idea of Medicare vouchers — to be used in the private insurance market — Obama cited studies estimating “that this could force seniors to pay as much as an extra $6,400 a year for their health care.”

 

By AP

Meanwhile, speaking in Florida — where the Medicare issue is particularly resonant — Ryan told a group of senior citizens that Obama’s plan “raids $716 billion from the Medicare program to pay for the Obama care program.”

 

Ryan said the cuts are hurting nursing homes and Medicare Advantage insurance plans, and that “Medicare should not be used as a piggy bank for Obama care.”

The Republican plan would not affect Americans who are already 55 or over, say Ryan, Romney, and other Republicans. But changes must be made for future beneficiaries or the program will go insolvent.

Speaking to a crowd that included his 78-year-old mother, Ryan said: “Mitt Romney and I will protect and strengthen Medicare so that the promises that were made that people organize their retirements around, like my mom, will be promises that are kept.”

Obama aides quickly point out that Ryan included the $716 billion in Medicare reductions in his own budget, though Romney has not; the Republican candidate has vowed to repeal Obamacare in its entirety.

Republicans, who many analysts consider to be vulnerable on the Medicare issue, say they welcome the debate over the program’s future. Said Ryan: “We want this debate, we need this debate, and we are going to win this debate.”

Obama and aides are equally confident about the Medicare issue.

“My plan has extended the life of Medicare by nearly a decade,” Obama said. “Their plan would shorten the life of Medicare and end Medicare as we know it, because they’d turn it into a voucher system.”

Afghan training mission losing ground

Afghan training mission losing ground

Joel Brinkley

  • Afghan army soldiers relax after a training session in Khost province. The U.S. military admits none of the Afghan forces are ready to fight on their own. Photo: Jose Cabezas, AFP/Getty Images / SF
    Afghan army soldiers relax after a training session in Khost province. The U.S. military admits none of the Afghan forces are ready to fight on their own. Photo: Jose Cabezas, AFP/Getty Images / SF

In its most recent semiannual report to Congress on the Afghan war, the Pentagon expressed ebullient enthusiasm for the Afghan Defense Ministry‘s battle against “widespread corruption.”

Minister of Defense Abdul Rahim Wardak, the report boasted, “has personally taken ownership of anticorruption reforms within the Ministry of Defense and is fighting to make” his ministry “an example for the rest of Afghanistan.”

That was in the spring. This month, Wardak was forced to resign after the Afghan parliament voted to dismiss him because of widespread corruption in his ministry.

The U.S. military is packing to leave Afghanistan – pulling up airfields, tearing down bases, disassembling Humvees for transport. Over the next few weeks, 23,000 troops will fly home, leaving 68,000 troops who will stay until 2014.

The looming question, though, is: After 11 years, more than 2,000 U.S. military fatalities and at least $1 trillion in expenses, what are the United States and NATO leaving behind?

The answer is bleak: Afghan security forces totally incapable of operating on their own, as the U.S. military quietly acknowledges. And a government so corrupt and ineffectual that, as the Army said in that report to Congress, it “bolsters insurgent messaging.” In others words, great PR for the Taliban.

Since 2002, the United States has spent $43 billion to train the Afghan military and police. It plans to spend $11.2 billion more this year, and the military has requested another $5.8 billion for 2013.

Meantime, military trainers, almost on the sly, changed the rules. Since training began, they have measured their success by counting the number of newly trained Afghan units capable of fighting without any assistance from NATO forces.

Well, now the training mission acknowledges that none of the Afghan forces are ready to fight on their own. The highest rating for trained Afghan forces today is “independent – with advisers.” In other words, Afghan units that can fight effectively only if U.S. or other NATO troops come along. And today, the military reports, only 7 percent of Afghan army units are capable even of that.

That’s just one in a nest of problems. Another big one is illiteracy. More than two years ago, just after Lt. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV took command of the NATO training mission, he noted that “overall literacy” among Afghan military and police stood “at about 14 percent.”

Why is that important? How can an illiterate policeman read a license plate, the general asked. How can a soldier fill out a form, read an equipment manual or “calculate trajectory for field artillery?”

Two years later, the special inspector general for Afghan reconstruction, in a recent report, said the literacy rate of Afghan security forces “as a whole is 11 percent.”

In almost every measurable way, the training mission is losing ground. In a 2010 status report, the mission said it lacked trained, competent men to serve as noncommissioned officers – an essential need for any military. The report cited “a shortage of approximately 10,500 noncommissioned officers.”

But in its report to Congress this spring, the Pentagon said the Afghan army is now short 10,600 NCOs.

And then there’s the so-called attrition problem, soldiers who simply don’t show up. Most are deserters. That has forced NATO trainers to change the rules once again. Previously, if 85 percent of a unit’s personnel showed up for duty, that was deemed sufficient. Now, the military says, it’s willing to accept “not less than 75 percent” of authorized levels.

What does all of this mean?

During the early 1980s, when the Soviet Union occupied Afghanistan, “significant Soviet funding went” to train Afghan soldiers and police fighting antigovernment forces, the International Crisis Group reported. Just like now, however, Russians “were unable to stem desertions in the military,” forcing Moscow to send 105,000 more of its own troops. Eventually, of course, the Soviet Union was forced to withdraw, and the Afghan military immediately began to dissolve.

I wonder, though, if the Soviet Union encountered still another serious problem that NATO faces now. A few days ago, an Afghan police officer invited three U.S. Marines to share a predawn Ramadan meal. After they sat down, he pulled out a pistol and shot them, the third so-called green-on-blue killing in a week. So far this year, Afghan trainees have killed 34 Western troops in 25 attacks. In all of 2011, 35 NATO soldiers died in 21 attacks.

Aren’t we in the same position as the Soviet Union 30 years ago – pursuing a Sisyphean task, inescapably destined to fail?

© 2012 Joel Brinkley Joel Brinkley, a professor of journalism at Stanford University, is a Pulitzer Prize-winning former foreign correspondent for the New York Times. Send your feedback to us through our online form at sfgate.com/chronicle/submissions/#1

Russia Upholds 100% Success Rate for American Launches, Near 100% Failure Rate for Russian Launches

 

[Eight failures–all of them Russian missions.  Eight successes–all of them were American or ISS (International Space Station)-related.  The fact that Russia has had a higher success rate in launching American spacecraft  than it has had in launching its own craft has to be more than obvious to the Kremlin.  The odds against this are astronomical.  It is impossible to write this off as “coincidence.”  It demonstrates what an ultra-fine line that American spy bosses are walking in the dangerous game of brinksmanship that they are playing with Russian leaders.  If the deadly string of Russian airplane crashes over the past year (culminating in the Sukhoi Superjet -100 crash, on May 9th) was also tallied-up, you would have a list which would hold up in court.  On at least two occasions (three times, counting Superjet), Russian officials have suggested that the United States may have had a hand in sabotaging some of them.  The real danger starts whenever Putin and associates finally make their suspicions official.]    

Russia says foreign power may have caused spy satellite loss–wrong orbit–Feb 1, 2011

Proton Places $300M Russian Telecom Satellite in Bad Orbit–19 August, 2011

Russian Space Station Cargo Ship Crashes in Failed Rocket Launch–24 August 2011 

Russian space ship fails to reach orbit–September 24, 2011

 

U.S.-Russian Crew Blasts Off for Space StationNovember 14, 2011

Failed Russian space mission shows difficulty of exploring Mars Nov. 9, 2011 

New Crew Launches on Russian Soyuz Rocket to International …–Dec 21, 2011

Russian Satellite Crashes in Latest Failed Rocket Launch–23 December 2011–making it the fifth failed space mission for Russia in 2011.

Russia Hints US May Be Behind Recent Satellite Failures–Jan 10, 2012

Nov. 9, 2011 rocket failure leads to Phobos-Grunt Probe falls into sea–January 15, 2012

Russia Launches Robot Cargo Ship to Space Station–25 January 2012

Russians successfully launch space station resupply ship–April 20, 2012

S0yuz Rocket Launch: U.S., Russian Crew Blast Off For International Space Station–May 15, 2012

Russia Launches U.S. Satellite from Floating Pad— 2012-06-01

Russian booster rocket fails to put 2 communications satellite in orbit Jul 8, 2012

Russian Soyuz rocket launches American, Russian, Japanese to space station–Jul 15th 2012

Russian Proton Rocket Fails During 2-Satellite Launch–07 August 2012

Russian Booster Rocket Lifts U.S. Satellite in Seaborne Launch

Odyssey mobile spacecraft launch platform. Files

Odyssey mobile spacecraft launch platform. Files

© Photo S.P. Korolev Rocket and Space Corporation Energia

11:29 19/08/2012

MOSCOW REGION, August 19 (RIA Novosti)

A Russian booster rocket has blasted off from the Odyssey launch pad in the Pacific Ocean as part of the Sea Launch project to deliver a U.S. satellite into orbit, a spokesman for Energiya space corporation said on Sunday.

“The launch took place at 10:55 a.m. Moscow time [06:55 GMT]. The designated time for the spacecraft’s separation from the DM-SL acceleration unit is 11:25 a.m. Moscow time [07:25 GMT],” the spokesman said.

Odyssey, positioned on the equator, is a converted oil rig operated by the Swiss-based rocket company Sea Launch.

The initial launch of the spacecraft was scheduled for August 15 but it was postponed several times due to various reasons.

The 5,980 kilogram Intelsat 21 is a geostationary communications satellite built by Space Systems Loral to provide telecoms services to high-growth markets around the Pacific Rim, including Southeast Asia, Australia, New Zealand, and U.S. West Coast.

Rumours sourced from Pakistan

Rumours sourced from Pakistan

New Delhi/ Bangalore

Exodus from B’lore down; sites blocked

 

The Centre said on Saturday that SMSes and MMSes, which triggered panic and led to exodus of people from Bangalore and other southern cities to North-Eastern states, were originated from Pakistan. 

“A total of 76 websites have been identified where morphed images were found and bulk of these were uploaded in Pakistan,” Union Home Secretary R K Singh told news channels in the national capital.
He said all these websites had since been blocked. To stem rumours from spreading further, the government has banned SMSes and MMSes for 15 days.

Director-General and Inspector General of Police L R Pachau announced in Bangalore that the police had smashed a ring that was spreading malicious and panic-creating SMSes in the city.

The police had raided a mobile shop in the city’s Koramangala area and arrested three men, identified as Anees Pasha (26), his brother Thaseen Nawaz (32) and Shahid Salman Khan (22). Four mobile phones, two computers and a laptop used for sending text messages and uploading videos on social-networking sites have been seized.

In New Delhi, Karnataka Chief Minister Jagadish Shettar met Union Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde and informed him that threatening calls made to the people of the North-East originated from Assam. The Karnataka Police are now working closely with their Assam counterparts to zero in on the culprits, sources told Deccan Herald.

In Uttar Pradesh, a day after members of a minority community went on the rampage to protest against communal clashes in Assam, the government tightened security and urged the people to ignore misguiding SMSes.
The government sounded a high alert after law and order was disrupted on Friday, as an irate mob damaged vehicles and shops and also manhandled media persons. It was found that inflammatory SMSes about the recent ethnic clashes in Assam were being widely circulated in the sensitive areas of the states.

Singh said bodies of victims of cyclones and earthquakes in different part of the world were shown as victims of violence in Myanmar in the morphed images.

He said Pakistan was trying to foment trouble in India by spreading false rumours by uploading morphed MMS and false SMSes. Indian Investigative agencies have definite clue about Pakistan’s role in the entire issue and the government would take up the matter with neighbouring country.

“We believe it is highly reprehensible. I think it needs to be made known to everybody that this is something that is being done from Pakistan. The bulk of it has been done from Pakistan,” he said.

In Bangalore, the mass exodus of North-East community members went down and no Guwahati-bound special trains plied. About 800 people boarded regular trains to the North-East. Three persons have been arrested by the police for spreading the rumours and sending messages.

As a confidence-building exercise, the state government has deployed about 1,000 personnel from Rapid Action Force and CRPF along with 600 home guards and 1,500 trainee police personnel. This is in addition to the 17,000 police personnel of the City. T Suneel Kumar, Additional Commissioner (Law and Order), said: “We have identified sensitive areas with the inputs from the North-East community and deployed our force in these areas. We have formed pickets in these areas.”

With only about 300 passengers bound for the North-East at the City railway station till 6 pm, the South Western Railway shifted them to Yeshwantpur station to board the Howrah Express. Eventually, 800 of them left by the Express, which had an additional coach. Many left to Chennai and Hyderabad to catch direct trains to Guwahati from there.

Deputy Chief Minister and Home Minister R Ashoka said the police would conduct peace meetings in every police station limits and monitor the movement of rowdy sheeters.
The Manipur energy minister will arrive in Bangalore on Sunday, Ashoka said.

Lull after storm

Syrian Air Assault Upon So-Called “Free Syrian Army Enclave” Near Aleppo

GORAN TOMASEVIC, REUTERS / August 9, 2012 )

A Syrian Air Force fighter plane fires a rocket during an air strike in the village of Tel Rafat, some 37 km (23 miles) north of Aleppo. Syrian troops and rebels fought over the country’s biggest city Aleppo as President Bashar al-Assad‘s key foreign backer Iran gathered ministers from like-minded states for talks about how to end the conflict.

[Assad must read Bloomberg News.  After the following story about a Free Syrian Army enclave appeared, Assad’s aircraft began to bomb the three towns named in the article (SEE Google map insert below.  Area marked in blue).]

Rebels carve out large enclave in north Syria

Azaz, al-Bab and Manbaj

The area extends about 50 kilometers (30 miles) south of the Turkish border and from the edge of Idlib province in the west to the cities of al-Bab and Manbaj some 130 kilometers (80 miles) east.

Syria air strike destroys hope in border town
AZAZ, Syria (Reuters)  That all changed in a few minutes on Wednesday when Assad’s air force unleashed a bombardment that killed at least 35 people

Syrian Rebels Outgunned but Unbroken in Fight for Aleppo

More than six bombs fell on Al Bab within 48 hours and government planes continued to fly over the city Friday.

Airstrike kills 8 in Syria town near Turkey border

The airstrike on the town of Manbej in the Jarablous area came hours after a government announcement