Tag Archive: Blue Cross Plan Offerings


 

 

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The federal government, along with state regulators have halted the demolition of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation until a safe plan can be developed after the discovery that dozens of demolition workers have inhaled or ingested radioactive particles in the past year.  The Hanford site is a plutonium processing plant from the 1940s located Richland, Washington that took liquid plutonium and shaped it into hockey puck-sized disks for use in nuclear warheads.  The plant helped create the nation’s nuclear arsenal and made key portions of the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan that ended WWII.

Plutonium production ended in the 1980s and by 1989, the site switched its focus to cleanup of nuclear wastes.  The contamination is a discouraging delay in a massive $2 billion a year cleanup effort that started in 2016.  Hanford is the nation’s most polluted nuclear weapons production site. The Energy Department, which owns Hanford, has launched an independent investigation into the spread of radiation at the plant.

Hanford officials issued a report in late March that said a total of 42 Hanford workers inhaled or ingested radioactive particles from demolition of the Plutonium Finishing Plant when they were exposed during contamination events in June and December of last year.  Radioactive contamination was also found outside plant offices and inside two dozen vehicles, the report said.  Seven workers’ homes were checked for radioactive contamination, with none found, the report said.  The report concluded Hanford officials placed too much reliance on air-monitoring systems that failed to pick up the spread of radioactive particles.

According to the report, managers of the private contractor performing the demolition work for the federal government were caught between maintaining safety and trying to make progress toward project deadlines.  The risk escalated as walls of the plutonium plant were knocked down and the rubble was stored in piles. The report stated that fixatives sprayed on the rubble to keep radioactive particles from blowing away may not have been effective.  This theory seems to be backed up by the the state Health Department’s findings of very small amounts of airborne radioactive contamination near Highway 240 in the past year that is believed to have come from the plant demolition 10 miles away.

The amount of radiation involved was reportedly low, lower than naturally occurring levels of radiation people are exposed to in everyday life.  The amounts of radiation that have escaped are considered too small by state experts to pose a health risk.   All the contamination was found on lands that are closed to the public.  The project was not supposed to exposed workers to any contamination but in June radioactive particles escaped and traces were found inside 31 workers.   In December, eleven more workers were found to be contaminated which prompted the government to shut down demolition.

The state Health Department said there is presently no threat to public health from the releases.  “However, we are concerned if work resumes without better controls, a risk to the public may develop,” the agency said in a recent letter to Hanford managers.

 

 

 

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Three people were shot Tuesday at the Silicon Valley headquarters of YouTube when a woman opened fire before turning the gun on herself. The violence broke out just after noon in a courtyard outside YouTube’s main building in the San Francisco suburb of San Bruno. Police have identified the shooter as 39 year old Nasim Najafi Aghdam.

Aghdam was a frequent uploader to YouTube who’d had videos banned from the streaming service for “multiple or severe violations” of its policy. Beginning in 2010, she posted more than 500 videos, a total of 17 hours about fitness, veganism and animal rights. About a year ago she started expressing her anger with YouTube’s censorship.  “My new videos hardly get views … so this is because I’m being filtered,” Aghdam said in one video.

In one online video, Aghdam accused YouTube of censoring her and depriving her of income from advertising. The woman’s grievances against YouTube appear to focus on censorship and revenue.  “There is no equal growth opportunity on YOUTUBE or any other video sharing site, your channel will grow if they want to!!!!!” one post reads. “Youtube filtered my channels to keep them from getting views!”  Another post accuses “close-minded” YouTube employees of putting an age restriction on videos, saying it’s aimed at reducing views and discouraging the woman from making new videos.

On April 2, 2018, Aghdam was reported missing by her family.  On April 3rd at 1:40 AM, police officers found her sleeping in her car in a Walmart parking lot in Mountain View, 25 miles south of YouTube’s headquarters.  After speaking with her for 20 minutes they did not identify her as a threat or have any reason to detain her.  They notified her family that she had been found.

Later that morning Aghdam practiced shooting her legally purchased 9 MM Smith & Wesson at a gun range in San Bruno.  She then parked near YouTube headquarters and entered the campus on foot.  After walking through a parking garage into a courtyard she opened fire with a handgun, wounding three people before killing herself.  Police say she had no connection to her victims her motive was apparently a grievance with YouTube’s practices and policies.  Two of her victims have been released from the hospital and one was listed in serious condition.

More than 1,100 people work at the YouTube campus in San Bruno, south of San Francisco. Employees there include engineers for the site and sales teams that work with advertisers and content creators.  The company said Wednesday it will increase security at its headquarters and offices around the world.

 

 

 

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On the evening of March 18, 2018, 23-year old Stephon Clark was shot and killed in his grandmother’s backyard where he lived, by two officers of the Sacramento Police Department.  When the officers confronted Clark, they were looking for a suspect who, according to the 911 call, was breaking car windows in the Meadowview neighborhood and was running through backyards.

Footage of the shooting, which was captured by the two officers’ body cameras and a police helicopter-was released to the public three days after the shooting.  It shows the two officers pursuing a man who hopped a fence into the grandmother’s property.  The body camera videos show the brief encounter between police and Clark, lasting less than a minute, from the moment one of the officers yelled: “Hey, show me your hands. Stop. Stop.”

Police said the officers entered the front yard and saw the suspect along the side of the home. The man “turned and advanced toward the officers while holding an object” extended in front of him, according to the police account.  “Show me your hands!” one of the officers yelled. “Gun, gun, gun.”  Seconds later, officers opened fire as they took cover near a wall.  The officers fired 20 shots, hitting Clark multiple times but no weapon was found, only a cell phone.  Police said they found at least three vehicles with damage they believe Clark caused, as well as an adjacent residence with a shattered sliding glass door. Deputies in the helicopter witnessed him shatter the door, police said.

The two officers have been placed on paid administrative leave amid a use of force investigation.  The shooting has sparked protests on the streets of Sacramento.  The family of Stephon Clark is demanding criminal charges for the Sacramento police officers responsible for the fatal shooting.  Stephon Clark’s grandmother, Sequita Thompson, spoke at a news conference “My grandson was 23 years old. And then, now my great-grandbabies don’t have their daddy, because they didn’t even stop. Why didn’t you just shoot him in the arm, shoot him in the leg, send the dogs, send a taser? Why? Why? You all didn’t have to do that. You all didn’t have to—over a cellphone. I just want justice for my grandson, for my daughter, my poor babies. They’re in so much pain. She’s in pain, and the brothers. He’s got two brothers. Justice. I want justice for my baby! I want justice for Stephon Clark! Please, give us justice!”

An independent autopsy — commissioned Clark’s family and conducted by Dr. Bennet Omalu, a private medical examiner — showed that Clark was shot eight times.  He was shot three times in his lower back, twice near his right shoulder, once in his neck and once under an armpit. He was also shot in the leg. The neck wound was from the side, the doctor found, and he said that while the shot to the leg hit Mr. Clark in the front, it appeared to have been fired after he was already falling.

His relatives have hired civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who represented the families of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and others.  “The shooting death of Stephon Clark is an all-too-common tragedy,” Crump said in a statement. “It is yet another troubling example of a young, unarmed black man being shot by police under highly questionable circumstances.”

 

 

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President Xi Jinping of China is set to rule the country indefinitely after Chinese lawmakers passed changes to the country’s constitution abolishing presidential term limits. The National People’s Congress voted 2,958 in favor of the amendment, two opposed and three abstained. Xi assumed leadership of China’s Communist Party in 2012 and has consolidated power to levels not seen since the era of Mao Zedong. The change in presidency now aligns with other posts Xi holds, as head of the Communist Party and head of the military, neither of which have term limits.
After becoming president in 2013, Mr. Xi fought corruption, punishing more than a million party members. Critics say he has used the anti-corruption purge to sideline political rivals. At the same time, China has clamped down on many emerging freedoms, increasing its state surveillance and censorship programs which critics attain was a move to silence opposition.
The constitutional change officially allows him to remain in office after the end of his second term in 2023. Many believe that now that the constitution has been altered- that Xi Jinping intends to rule for the rest of his life unchallenged. There has been no national debate as to whether a leader should be allowed to stay on for as long as they choose.
The two-consecutive-term limit to China’s presidency was put in place by Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping in 1982 in order to avoid the kind of chaos and tumult that can sometimes happen when you have a single authoritarian leader, as China had with Mao Zedong. Among many campaigns launched by Zedong were “The Great Leap Forward” in 1957 that aimed to rapidly transform China’s economy from an agrarian economy to an industrial one. This campaign led to the deadliest famine in history and the deaths of more than 45 million Chinese people between 1958 and 1962.
Zedong also initiated the Cultural Revolution in 1966, a program to remove “counter-revolutionary” elements of Chinese society that lasted 10 years and was marked by violent class struggle and widespread destruction of cultural artifacts. It has officially been regarded as a “severe setback” for the Peoples Republic of China.
The National People’s Congress is also likely to confirm China’s new government line-up for the next five years, kicking off Xi Jinping’s second term as president, ratify a law to set up a new powerful anti-corruption agency and ratify the inclusion of the president’s political philosophy in the constitution. His philosophy is officially called “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for the New Era”. Schoolchildren, college students and staff at state factories will have to study the political ideology, which the Communist Party is trying to portray as a new chapter for modern China.

 

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An investigation into internal New York City Police Department files show that hundreds of officers have been allowed to keep their jobs and pensions despite having committed an array of offenses. According to hundreds of pages of internal police files, offenses committed from 2011 to 2015 by over 300 NYPD officers include excessive force against civilians, driving under the influence of alcohol, selling drugs, sexually harassing fellow officers, assault, threatening and stealing.
At least fifty officers lied on official reports, under oath, or during an internal affairs investigation. Thirty-eight were found guilty by a police tribunal of excessive force, getting into a fight, or firing their gun unnecessarily. Fifty-seven were guilty of driving under the influence. Seventy-one were guilty of ticket-fixing. One officer threatened to kill someone while some were guilty of lesser offenses, like mouthing off to a supervisor.
In every instance, the police commissioner, who has final authority in disciplinary decisions, assigned these officers to “dismissal probation” which is a penalty with few consequences. The officer continues to do their job at their usual salary but they may get less overtime and won’t be promoted during that period, which usually lasts a year. They continue to patrol the streets, arrest people and testify in criminal prosecutions. When the year is over, their probation period ends.
The probation files covered in the investigation do not include all officers who received dismissal probation during the 2011 to 2015 period. According to the NYPD, of the more than 50,000 people who work for the department, at least 777 officers and an untold number of other employees received the dismissal probation penalty during the five years in question. During that same period, 463 additional officers were forced to leave or resigned while a disciplinary charge was pending. Sources have said that dismissal probation is also used to punish some officers for reporting misconduct or just for getting on their supervisors’ bad sides. Still, many officers continue to patrol the streets making over $100,000 a year while the city has paid millions of dollars in civil settlements for offenses committed between 2011 and 2015, such as excessive force or unlawful arrest. These settlements are reached without the department or officer admitting any wrongdoing.
New York is one of three states, along with Delaware and California that has a law specifically shielding police misconduct records from the public. As police departments around the country face growing pressure to be more transparent about police misconduct, NYPD has doubled down on its stringent legal interpretation of those laws. Civil Rights Law Section 50-a is the law that hides New York police officers’ misconduct from public view and it’s one of the strictest in the nation.
The Department Advocate’s Office determines which officers to charge and prosecute at the NYPD’s internal disciplinary trials. Kevin Richardson, the deputy commissioner said the law prevented him from commenting on specific officers’ cases but that dismissal probation serves a valuable purpose. “The department is not interested in terminating officers that don’t need to be terminated. We’re interested in keeping employees and making our employees obey the rules and do the right thing, but where there are failings that we realize this person should be separated from the department, this police commissioner and the prior police commissioner have shown a willingness to do that.”

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In Dalton, Georgia, students and faculty were plunged into a lockdown and subsequent evacuation after a well-liked social studies teacher barricaded himself in a classroom and fired a handgun at Dalton High School. Police arrested 53-year-old social studies teacher Jesse Randall Davidson after he barricaded himself alone inside a classroom and fired shots from a pistol as a principal tried to enter. The incident began at about 11:30 a.m. when Davidson refused to let students into his classroom while he was in his planning period. When the principal put a key in the door in an attempt to enter, Davidson fired a shot from a handgun through an exterior window of the classroom. The school went into lockdown and police quickly arrived and evacuated the immediate area around his classroom. After about 30 to 45 minutes, Davidson agreed to surrender and was taken into custody without further incident. Dalton police spokesman Bruce Frazier said there is no evidence Davidson was trying to fire at anyone.
Dalton police said the school resource officer, who has a close relationship with school staff, was at the junior high school when the incident began and then came to Davidson’s classroom. The officer was able to speak to the teacher and persuade him to leave his room without harming anyone. “We’re very, very proud of this officer and everything that he did to render this horrible situation safe as quick as what he did,” Dalton police Assistant Chief Cliff Cason said.
No students were in the classroom and the only injury was to a student who hurt her ankle while running away. Police confirmed that the teacher was Jesse Randal Davidson, 53. He taught social studies, and served as play-by-play voice of the school’s football team. Davidson had been at the school since 2004 and was recognized as the school’s “top teacher” in 2012. Davidson has been charged with “aggravated assault, carrying weapon on school grounds, terroristic threats, reckless conduct, possession of gun during commission of a crime, and disrupting public school,” according to Dalton Police. Police did not release any explanation for what motivated the incident. Principal Steve Bartoo said Davidson was an “excellent teacher” who was “well thought of in our building.”
According to a sheriff’s report obtained by The Associated Press, deputies in Dade County-where Davidson lives, had three rifles taken away after setting the family car ablaze at his home two years ago. Authorities seized the rifles for safe-keeping and took him to a hospital for a mental evaluation after he torched the Mitsubishi Outlander on Aug. 13, 2016. In that incident, a deputy arrived to find heavy smoke and flames pouring from the Mitsubishi. The deputy told Davidson’s wife Lisa and their daughter Megan to seek safety in his patrol car. Davidson’s adult son, Johnny, told the deputy that his father “was not acting like himself and was sitting down with a rifle in the back yard watching the vehicle on fire.” Johnny Davidson was eventually able to talk his father into giving up the gun. Davidson’s wife told the deputy they had argued about financial troubles that morning and had filed for bankruptcy in late 2015.
Two other reports from Dalton Police in Whitfield County show Davidson has been hospitalized at least three times in recent years as people worried about his state of mind. In March 2016, Davidson walked into the Dalton Police headquarters lobby and told a wild story including his suspicions that someone had been murdered. Detectives couldn’t verify any truth to the story and Davidson was taken to the hospital after expressing thoughts of hurting himself. In January 2017, school employees and a police officer began searching for Davidson after he went missing. He was later found sitting on a curb a few blocks from campus, being propped up by two school staff members.

 

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A new study finds that roughly half of all U.S. veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan don’t get the mental healthcare they need. According to the congressionally mandated report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, while many veterans receive good mental health care through the VA, it’s inconsistent across the system. The report recommends changes to improve the care offered by the Veterans Affairs health system.
Roughly half of those veterans surveyed who showed a need for mental health care said they do not currently receive any such care, either through VA or private physicians. That group includes many veterans with prior diagnoses of post-traumatic stress disorder, depression or related challenges.
The assessment, which was ordered by Congress in 2013 found that veterans who seek help for post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse, depression and other mental health conditions are unable to find treatment because of the VA’s bureaucracy or staffing shortages at clinics and hospitals. The report shows that other factors such as lack of social support, distance and fear of revealing a mental health issue may discourage veterans from seeking care at all.
According to the report, the majority of those who could use these services don’t know whether they are eligible, don’t know how to get the services and don’t even know that the VA provides mental health care while others- frustrated with red tape or long waits-stop pursuing care. The study found that those who do get care encounter “tremendous mental health care expertise” and that the system can deliver care in a “truly integrated and strategic manner.” But the report added that chronic staffing challenges and confusing procedures and policies continue to be a challenge. Researchers said more work needs to be done to improve outreach to veterans in need and public awareness of resources available.
Veterans are often confused as to how to get benefits, unsure of eligibility or frustrated by the red tape and long waits. The VA has had consistent problems with providing care for the more than 4 million service members who have left active duty since the start of the 16 year war in Afghanistan. The report shows that many who served in Iraq and Afghanistan often did multiple tours, served longer deployments and had less time at home compared with earlier conflicts.
In 2014, the stresses of such deployments became hard to ignore when the suicide rate among veterans rose 22% higher than those who had not served in the military. The Department of Veterans Affairs recently reported about 20 U.S. veterans commit suicide each day. An estimated 265,000 service members transition out each year, adding to the pool of veterans who may need mental health care.
The report recommends that the VA develop a plan to deliver quality mental health care throughout its system in three to five years. On Jan. 9th, an executive order was signed, giving military and VA officials 60 days to develop a plan to give people leaving military service seamless access to mental health treatment and suicide prevention in the year following their service. Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin has pledged to seek major reform of the VA.

 

 

 

 

opioid epidemic.jpgNew York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has announced the city is suing major pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors over their role in the opioid crisis.   The lawsuit filed in state Supreme Court seeks $500 million in damages for current and future costs from what the mayor described as “corporate drug pushers.”  Among the companies being sued are Purdue Pharma, which is the maker of OxyContin, Teva Pharmaceuticals USA Inc., Johnson & Johnson, and Janssen Pharmaceuticals.

The lawsuit alleges opioid manufacturers used deceptive marketing to flood the city with prescription painkillers, creating “a substantial burden on the city through increased substance use treatment services, ambulatory services, emergency department services, inpatient hospital services, medical examiner costs, criminal justice costs and law enforcement costs.”

John Puskar, director of public affairs at Purdue, issued a statement saying the company “vigorously” denies the charges leveled by the city.  “We are deeply troubled by the prescription and illicit opioid abuse crisis, and are dedicated to being part of the solution. As a company grounded in science, we must balance patient access to FDA-approved medicines, while working collaboratively to solve this public health challenge. Although our products account for approximately 2% of the total opioid prescriptions, as a company, we’ve distributed the CDC Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain, developed three of the first four FDA-approved opioid medications with abuse-deterrent properties and partner with law enforcement to ensure access to naloxone. We vigorously deny these allegations and look forward to the opportunity to present our defense.”

The opioid crisis killed nearly 64,000 Americans in 2016 and provisional data for 2017 from the CDC show no signs of the epidemic abating, with an estimate of more than 66,000 overdose deaths for the year.   While overdose rates increased in all age groups, rises were most significant in those between the ages of 25 and 54.  Overdoses are now the leading cause of death of Americans under the age of 50.  “Based on what we’re seeing, it doesn’t look like it’s getting any better,” said Bob Anderson, chief of the mortality statistics branch at the National Center for Health Statistics.

 

 

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Alaskans were left panicked after they were jolted awake overnight Tuesday by a powerful earthquake in the Gulf of Alaska – then by sirens that warned of a possible tsunami.  A magnitude 7.9 earthquake struck at 12:32 a.m. off the Alaska coast. The quake itself was far enough away not to cause major damage but occurred in an area that triggered a potential tsunami.

Evacuation sirens blared “Attention, a tsunami warning has been issued for this area,” officials warned over loudspeakers.  “The National Weather Service’s Tsunami Warning Center has advised that widespread hazardous tsunami waves are possible.”  That warning covered not only most of coastal Alaska, but also the entire coast of British Columbia. Tsunami watches were posted from Washington state to California — and even Hawaii and as far away as American Samoa.

Within minutes, the roads in the seaside town of Kodiak, Alaska, were filled cars heading to higher ground.  Residents of Kodiak were asked by police to move at least 100 feet above ground as a precaution.  For two hours, many braced for the worst but by 4 a.m. — less than four hours after the quake hit — all warnings were lifted. The only tsunami was an 8-inch wave in Kodiak.

Around 4 a.m. local time, officials canceled tsunami warnings for coastal areas of South Alaska, the Alaska Peninsula and the Aleutian Islands. Warnings were also called off for Hawaii and the Oregon, Washington, British Columbia and California coasts.  Tsunami warnings were later canceled in other parts of South Alaska and the Alaska Peninsula, specifically the coastal areas from Hinchinbrook Island, about 90 miles east of Seward, to Chignik, Alaska.

The US Geological Survey (USGA) said the earthquake was located in an area south of where the Pacific tectonic plate converges with the North America plate and at a depth of about 12 miles.  Research geophysicist for USGA Will Yeck said the quake occurred on a fault within the Pacific plate that had not been previously charted and the area that ruptured is approximately 140-by-30 miles.  Yeck said there have been at least 30 aftershocks from the initial quake, the largest being a magnitude 5.3.

From Indonesia, to Japan, to Hawaii and Alaska, the entire region sits in what is known as the Pacific Ring of Fire – an extremely volatile chain of active volcanoes, tectonic plates and earthquake zones. Most of the world’s earthquakes happen in this region.  That’s the same spot which saw the second largest earthquake ever recorded: A 9.2 magnitude in March 1964 that caused widespread destruction and death in Alaska.  That earthquake occurred over an area measuring 155 miles wide by 500 miles long. The epicenter was about 12 miles north of Prince William Sound, and 75 miles from Anchorage, the state’s largest city.

 

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The Pentagon is quietly preparing for a potential war with North Korea, with The U.S. military is launching a series of war games and exercises across the US and a planned deployment of additional special operations troops to the Korean Peninsula during the Winter Olympics in South Korea next month. The ongoing tensions between the US and North Korea have spurred precautionary planning for a potential nuclear war.

News outlets have reported that there are also plans to develop two new sea-based nuclear weapons. The new Defense Department nuclear strategy review says the proposed new nuclear weapons would be to counter Russia and China. Widening the permissible use of nuclear weapons to include responding to cyberattacks and other non-nuclear attacks to U.S. infrastructure has also been proposed.

The Pentagon has already outlined this expanded nuclear strategy in a draft document sent to the president for approval.  Current US policy requires a lawful order by the President to use nuclear weapons.  A lawful order is generally understood by the US military to mean any counterattack would have to be proportional to the threat in terms of damage and casualties of that attack against the US.

US Defense officials have said that the final draft is expected to be unveiled just after Trump’s State of the Union address on January 30.  They said it will likely focus on deterrence and reflect the greater threat from North Korea, which has stepped up its testing of missiles and nuclear devices over the last year.

The review is looking at current needs and capabilities across the US nuclear enterprise, including nuclear laboratories, stockpiles and manufacturing facilities. It is also studying future needs for modernizing aging nuclear weapons, including missiles, submarines and bomber aircraft.  The review will require increased spending or the government will be unable to produce and maintain a stockpile for land, sea, and air-launched nuclear weapons. Operations, interim upgrades and full modernization could cost $1.2 trillion, according the Congressional Budget Office report.

Defense officials have said the president is not expected to call for increases or modernization of the nuclear arsenal that would take the US beyond current arms control agreements.  Many worry that if the review recommends deployment of small nuclear bombs abroad closer to anticipated conflict or the development of lower-yield nuclear weapons-that could lead to it being easier for the president to use nuclear weapons.