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Health Safety

Better gun control will make little difference
if actual mental health care needs aren’t met


AR-15 rifleWe can’t go on this way in America, with people meeting their congresswoman in a parking lot, attending a Sikh temple, seeing a movie in a theater, shopping at a mall, or young people in a college or elementary school classroom being gunned down by homicidal maniacs.

We Americans send our best, brightest and bravest to dangerous places around the world to keep us safe, spending hundreds of billions a year on national security — more than all other advanced industrial nations combined. We spend billions more on law enforcement at all levels of government.

What good is all that risk, sacrifice and expense if we — innocent men, women and even children — are so clearly vulnerable to individuals in our society who are so mentally ill or emotionally damaged they can become mass murderers at any time?

Now, in the aftermath of a horrific massacre at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school, there is serious talk among congressional Democrats of banning semiautomatic weapons like the Bushmaster AR-15 rifle Adam Lanza, 20, used to murder his mother at her home, then 20 children and six adults at the school. President Obama has spoken twice in three days of seeking tighter gun control and addressing mental health problems.

Both measures are long overdue and absolutely necessary — especially meeting mental health care needs. For the fact is, no amount of gun control will prevent these tragedies if people like Jared Loughner and Adam Lanza aren’t identified as needing help, and given the help they need, before they go completely haywire and start killing.

Sure, guns are these killers’ weapons of choice. But someone with Lanza’s reported intelligence can easily commit mass murder with a few bottles, rags, some gasoline and matches.

This inescapable conclusion about meeting mental health care needs isn’t something public officials want to deal with. That’s especially so now, given the state of our economy and current obsession with debt reduction. We’ve cheapskated mental health care needs for a long time. Short-term, lick-and-a-promise outpatient mental health care is hard to come by and afford for most Americans. Longterm, definitive outpatient care is beyond the reach of most. That goes double where full-time and perhaps longterm hospitalization is required.

Providing necessary mental health services to all in need of it is an expensive undertaking. But even if officials were suddenly prepared to fund adequate care and taxpayers were willing to pay the tab, it would take years to make this happen.

A study of national needs vs. resources, if done, will show we don’t begin to have enough mental health care professionals, clinics and hospitals.

As a result, America’s jails and prisons are obliged to take up the slack. A huge percentage of the incarcerated are where they are due to substance abuse and crimes committed under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol. But behind that fact lies a rarely discussed reality: many of them become drug users and alcoholics because of serious unaddressed or inadequately treated mental and emotional problems.

America entered World War II with a woefully inadequate military. In four short years America had the strongest, best-trained and equipped military the world had ever seen. And our enemies, Germany and Japan, lay vanquished and in ruins. That happened because of total commitment to meeting a mortal threat.

In 1961, President John F. Kennedy called for an all-out effort to put a man on the moon. Again, our full commitment made that happen, in 1969.

Now, we need an all-out commitment to make America safe from an enemy within. Yes, we need more and better control of guns. But most of all we need to identify those with serious mental and emotional illnesses and deficits, and see to it they get the care they need, whatever it takes. For some, that will mean expensive longterm care as outpatients or in hospitals.

If we refuse to make this commitment and pay its cost we will have ourselves to blame as the number and severity of mass killings grows. There is no quick, cheap, easy way out.

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Walmart raising cost of its ‘always low prices’
by sticking taxpayers with health care bills

screwWalmart, the nation’s largest retailer, is at it again, transferring the cost of necessities for its always low-wage workers onto taxpayers.

A Huffington Post report says Walmart plans to start cutting the hours of some unspecified number of its 1.2 million U.S. employees to less than 30 per week, starting in January.

Walmart isn’t going to reduce work hours of people struggling to get by on already low incomes just to give them more time with their families. This move is all about shifting the health care cost of those workers to taxpayers — a backdoor form of corporate welfare.

An Obamacare provision excuses employers from providing health care benefits to workers regularly on the job less than 30 hours a week. At the same time, the American Affordable Care Act is making more Medicaid money available to states, in a good-faith effort to ensure more low-income and no-income Americans have access to health care.

By reducing work hours of its employees, Walmart clearly intends to shift their health care costs to Medicaid, a program intended for the poorest Americans, including those unable to work at all.

This isn’t a new maneuver for Walmart. A 2011 New York Times story details how the retail giant instituted cuts in eligibility while limiting coverage and drastically raising premiums prices and deductibles.

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Citing rising costs, Wal-Mart, the nation’s largest private employer, told its employees this week that all future part-time employees who work less than 24 hours a week on average will no longer qualify for any of the company’s health insurance plans.

In addition, any new employees who average 24 hours to 33 hours a week will no longer be able to include a spouse as part of their health care plan, although children can still be covered.

This is a big shift from just a few years ago when Wal-Mart expanded coverage for employees and their families after facing criticism because so many of its 1.4 million workers could not afford or did not qualify for coverage — rendering many of them eligible for Medicaid.

. . .In Wal-Mart’s 2012 health offerings, premiums will increase for some plans by more than 40 percent, although many of their workers pay relatively low premiums in comparison to more generous plans offered by other employers. But many Wal-Mart employees complain that their low premiums are accompanied by high deductibles that sometimes exceed 20 percent of their annual pay.

. . . Barbara Collins, a sales associate at the Wal-Mart in Placerville, Calif., said that the premiums for the H.M.O. plan for herself and her 5-year-old son would rise to $18 every two weeks from $10. Her big concern, she said, was that her deductible would jump to $5,000 a year, from $1,000 — a daunting amount considering she earns $19,000 a year. “I don’t know how I’ll be able to afford it if I go to a doctor or to physical therapy,” she said.

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The story notes Walmart also cut by half the $1,000 it had been putting into employee health care savings accounts, alternative plans that help some employees with costs not covered by inurance. The company had encouraged use of the health savings program, which is cheaper for it than health insurance.

Last July, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., tweeted that the Walton family has more wealth — $102.7 billion in 2010 — than the bottom 40 percent of American families. Politifact checked that out and judged the statement to be true. Here’s what that looks like per the six Walton heirs to make the Forbes 400 list (all amounts in billions):

Christy Walton, $25.3; Jim Walton, $23.7; Alice Walton, $23.3; S. Robson Walton, $23.1; Ann Walton Kroenke, $3.9 billion; and Nancy Walton Laurie, $3.4 billion.

From Wikipedia’s Walmart entry: “For the fiscal year ending January 31, 2011, Wal-Mart reported a net income of $15.4 billion on $422 billion of revenue with a 24.7% gross profit margin.”

Walmart CEO Michael Duke’s 2011 total compensation was $18.7 million, according to Marketwatch.

Our bottom-line impression: Walmart can well afford to provide high-quality, affordable health insurance to all its employees, without cutting the payroll or workers’ hours. And after doing that, the Walton clan would still have more wealth than needed to live in splendor for 100 lifetimes each. The company’s CEO and executives would be in no danger of impoverishment either.

There’s only one way to describe Walmart’s treatment of workers and shifting of costs to taxpayers: raw greed.

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Suddenly moderate Mitt still has Ryan plan
for the 47% ‘who will never vote for me’

Here are two very important factoids for everyone to keep in mind right through the time they vote, and to warn others about.

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  • No fewer than 14 million of America’s most needy and vulnerable people would lose access to medical care if Mitt Romney becomes president and Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget plan becomes a reality. Ryan’s budget would slash $770 billion from Medicaid over the next 10 years. Adopting Ryan’s Ayn Rand-inspired budget is something Romney has indicated he will do and exactly what Republican tea party extremists will demand of him.
  • The Congressional Budget Office estimates 1.7 million children will lose health insurance by 2016 if Ryan’s budget is adopted.

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Don’t be lulled into thinking Romney wouldn’t really implement Ryan’s scorched-earth, economic Darwinism budget or that a Republican-controlled Congress would never pass it. As surely as Romney will want to keep the radical Republican political base happy so he can get re-elected in 2016, he will do it.

H/t to Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., America’s Senator.

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Poll shows seniors forsaking economic Darwinists

From the time he won his party’s presidential nomination to a couple of weeks ago, Mitt Romney, R-1 percent, struggled to get his poll numbers above 47 percent. Now, Romney must strain to get his numbers to 47 percent.

Thanks to a near wholesale abandonment by senior citizens of the ticket that intends to replace Medicare with vouchers and leave Medicaid to any states that want to fund medical care for the destitute, Romney’s goal is becoming harder to reach by the day.

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New polling by Reuters/Ipsos indicates that during the past two weeks – since just after the Democratic National Convention – support for Romney among Americans age 60 and older has crumbled, from a 20-point lead over Democratic President Barack Obama to less than 4 points.

Romney’s double-digit advantages among older voters on the issues of healthcare and Medicare – the nation’s health insurance program for those over 65 and the disabled – also have evaporated, and Obama has begun to build an advantage in both areas.

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We don’t post on every twist and twitch in pre-election opinion polls. This one is different because it portends certain victory for President Obama Nov. 6. The over-60 set and white Southern males have made up the solid, unwavering core of Romney’s support throughout the year, with percentages high enough to appear insurmountable for the president.

Romney has managed to lose the backing of a powerful voting bloc made up of the demographic most likely to cast ballots. What’s more, many seniors are better able to make campaign contributions than their younger counterparts, albeit not always large ones.

From the same Reuters story:

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Analysts say that if Romney cannot reverse the trend among older voters, he won’t win on November 6.

“If Romney loses seniors, he loses this election, period,” said Jonathan Oberlander, a health policy specialist at the University of North Carolina. “A bad showing nationally (among older voters) does not bode well for Florida and other states with big senior populations.”

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It’s possible, although unlikely, that Romney could win back many older voters in the last pre-election weeks. However, to do that he would have to renounce key features of the budget plan of his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-19th century England. Those provisions would effectively end Medicare and gut Medicaid.

Then, Romney would face the seemingly impossible task, given all his flip-flops and about faces, of convincing seniors he means what he says about rejecting Ryan’s plans for ending Medicare and Medicaid. Of course, doing that would cost him the support of many in the GOP’s extremist/tea party base.

If this seniors poll holds true, along with others showing waning support in key states like Iowa, Ohio and Florida, Romney and Ryan will go down to defeat with the sound of booing AARP members ringing in their ears.

That would be a fitting rejection for this pair of selfish, self-serving pols and rich economic Darwinists.

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Missouri Republican claims ‘biological defenses’
protect ‘legitimate rape’ victims from pregnancy

Rep. Todd Akin, R-Mo.

Rep. Todd Akin, R-Mo.

“We’ve grown accustomed to Republican politicians making outlandish statements that reveal their appalling ignorance about many things, but there’s no getting used to, or accepting, their idiocy and irresponsibility where health, safety and personal autonomy are concerned.

The latest to shoot off his big mouth with reckless ignorance sure to be hurtful and fiendishly demeaning to a segment of society that already has enough grief to deal with is U.S. Rep. Todd Akin, R-Mo., who said during a TV interview Sunday (Aug. 19) that women victims of “legitimate rape” aren’t likely to be impregnated because of “biological defenses.”

Such biological defenses are unknown to medical science, but have long circulated in high school locker rooms and low-class bars in seedy neighborhoods. The notion is of a piece with myths that girls can’t get pregnant the first time they have intercourse or during their period.

Akin’s bloviating has roots in a Neanderthal belief of certain moronic men that a woman clubbed over the head, dragged into a cave and forced to submit will at some point be overcome with lust thanks to having been dominated by a virile he-man. And so, having been brought to a state of lustful pleasure in spite of herself, the woman is likely to bear the fruit of her he-man’s loins.

Akin should sit down in front of a TV camera to discuss his perverse insights with a half-dozen of the estimated 32,101 adult women who become pregnant each year as a result of being raped. There’s no guarantee, but he might learn something.

It should come as no surprise this self-appointed OB-GYN expert who doesn’t know his butt from his bunion is a loyal foot soldier in the GOP war against women’s right to choose whether they should have an abortion. From Mother Jones:

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This isn’t the first time Akin has expressed fringe views about rape in the context of the abortion debate. Last year, Akin, vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), and most of the House GOP co-sponsored a bill that would have narrowed the already-narrow exceptions to the laws banning federal funding for abortion—from all cases of rape to cases of “forcible rape.”

After I reported on the “forcible rape” language in January 2011, a wave of outcry from abortion-rights, progressive, and women’s groups led the Republicans to remove it. But a few months later, in a congressional committee report, Republicans wrote that they believed the bill would continue to have the same effect despite the absence of the “forcible” language.

So why was the “forcible” language so important? Pro-life advocates believed they needed to include the word “forcible” in the law to pre-empt what National Right to Life Committee lobbyist Doug Johnson called a “brazen” effort by Planned Parenthood and other groups to obtain federal funding for abortions for any teenager by (falsely) claiming statutory rape.

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The writer goes on to explain that Planned Parenthood disavowed any intention of exploiting what anti-abortion-rights activists and Republicans claim is a giant loophole in current law.

Akin is running for the Senate against moderate Democratic incumbent Claire McCaskill. Recent polls put him as much as six points ahead.

That’s not surprising. Once a fairly progressive state, Missouri has become a bastion of Bible Belt backwardness. Akin is exhibit-A as to how backward.

It also comes as no surprise that this anti-abortion Republican who’s voted to make every pregnancy result in a birth, lashed out last week against federal funding that provides free school lunches for children from poor families. Typical of today’s conservatives, his compassion for fertilized eggs doesn’t extend to live children.

Like Minnesota’s Rep. Michelle Bachmann, who last September irresponsibly claimed in a primary debate that human papillomavirus immunizations can cause mental retardation, Akin is a clod whose insufferable ignorance should disqualify him from being a lawmaker anywhere. Under no circumstances should he be elevated to a Senate seat.

FWIW, Akin reportedly spent much of Sunday trying to backpedal, albeit without apologizing or saying something as honest as, “I had no business opening my big, fat mouth about something when I didn’t begin to know what I was talking about.”

No surprise there either. Akin is a Republican politician, after all.

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Related wingnut idiocy: You’ve got to see this to believe it: CNN’s Dana Loesch Excuses GOP Rep. Akin’s “Legitimate Rape” Remarks

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Republican warriors against women stage
group hissy fit over birth conrol reform

Rep. Mike Kelly

Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Pa.

“I know in your mind, you can think of the times America was attacked. One is Dec. 7; that’s Pearl Harbor Day. The other is Sept. 11, and that’s the day the terrorists attacked. I want you to remember Aug. 1, 2012, the attack on our religious freedom. That is a day that will live in infamy, along with those other dates.”

“Today is the day religious freedom died in America.”

—Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Pa., during a Capitol Hill presss conference
in which he and several conservative Republicans
delivered tirades against a health care reform provision
taking effect today that requires insurers to cover
birth control for women, without co-pay or other charges.

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All that because insurance coverage for birth control at no additional charge becomes available today to students and employees at some religion-affiliated institutions that disapprove of birth control. Mind you, this Affordable Care Act reform doesn’t require those institutions to offer or pay for the insurance; it’s available directly to those who need or want it.

The reform isn’t just about contraception. The news story on this explains what else is included.

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In addition to the contraception mandate, health insurance plans must now cover additional screenings and services for women without passing on any of the cost to the patient.

“These include services that are essential to helping women stay healthy — such as domestic violence screening, FDA-approved contraception, breastfeeding support and supplies, gestational diabetes screening, HPV testing, sexually transmitted infection counseling, and HIV screening,” Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) wrote in a USA Today op-ed published Tuesday.

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Not that it will matter to Kelly and his fellow religious conservatives, but birth control isn’t just about freeing the wanton and wicked to misbehave in the way their fellow Republicans, Sens. David Vitter and John Ensign, and Gov. Mark Sanford, did, free of stork-drawn consequences.

Some women are told by their doctor they mustn’t become pregnant. Some learn that if they do become pregnant it could come down to a choice of having an abortion or losing their own life and maybe the baby’s as well.

It’s also true that birth control pills are prescribed for valid medical reasons that have nothing to do with preventing pregnancy.

But even in situations where women want birth control so they can engage in activities that could result in an unwanted pregnancy, Kelly and his ilk should pull up their big-boy breeches and let it be, thinking of birth control as abortion prevention.

We say that because House Republicans have wasted the past year and a half doing little legislatively besides two perverse things. One was holding various segments of the population hostage to ensure the richest Americans keep their Bush tax cuts. The other was passing some 35 bills intended to make abortion virtually impossible to obtain, even in cases of rape, incest and to save the woman’s life — all those bills guaranteed to go nowhere in the Senate.

Presumably, Kelly et al are even more vehemently opposed to abortion than they are to all women having access to affordable birth control. Presumably, there is some limit to their ignorance and sense of entitlement to impose their religious beliefs on everyone else.

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Ryan: And now for my next trick

paul ryanYou might think Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., would keep a low profile and shut mouth after his plan to destroy Medicare, forcing millions of retired Americans to seek medical insurance individually from the health insurance industry, bombed not long ago.

But no, the millionaire chairman of the House Budget Committee on Tuesday unveiled a new assault on nonwealthy Americans with a scheme to force 170 million to leave employer-sponsored health insurance plans to seek individual policies from the health insurance industry

Ryan argued it would give consumers the needed incentive to demand better value out of their healthcare.

“Giving patients and consumers control over health care resources would make all Americans less dependent on big business and big government for our health security; give us more control over the care we get; and force health care providers to compete for our business,” Ryan said.

This is pure, unadulterated bunk.

First, consumers typically have no control over “health care resources.” When an accident victim with a fractured hip is being rushed to the hospital, he’s in no position to go comparison shopping for the cheapest emergency room in the vicinity. When the doctor tells him he needs surgery to fix his hip, he can’t go through the Yellow Pages listing of orthopedic surgeons, calling around to get the lowest price on a pin job.

Ryan is a radical-conservative ideologue who cares a lot about wealth and power. He’s all about pushing money and advantage to big corporations and wealthy individuals that fund Republican political campaigns. As for doing anything helpful for middle-class and working-class Americans, forget it .

The whole rationale behind insurance is that at any given time, a relatively small percentage of policyholders require payouts. Most of the time, most policyholders pay premiums without collecting anything. The larger the pool of policyholders, the less each need be charged for the insurance company to be able to cover claims and operating costs, and still make a profit.

Buying insurance, businesses with anywhere from a few to tens of thousands of employees have leverage based on their numbers so they can bargain down the cost. Individuals have no leverage at all.

Ryan knows all this but would rather see each consumer be a pool of one — the absolute most expensive way there is to buy insurance.

That’s because Ryan cares more about insurance company profits and campaign donations than he does about 170 million working people.

What a piece of work.

Bachmann selfishly demagogues issue
that could cost women their lives

Michelle Bachmann

Rep. Michelle Bachmann

An ugly dustup among Republican presidential primary candidates this week offers proof aplenty why none of them belongs in the White House, except on a visitor’s pass.

The row began at Monday’s candidate debate in Tampa, with Rep. Michelle Bachmann of Minnesota ripping into Texas Gov. Rick Perry for his 2007 decision to approve mandatory immunization of girls 8 to 12 years old against human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted pathogen that causes cervical cancer.

The HPV immunization, Gardasil, is produced by drug maker Merck, whose political action committee has injected $28,500 into Perry’s campaign coffers since 2001. Noting Merck donated $5,000 to Perry in 2006, Bachmann charged him with crony capitalism for approving a lucrative program for the drug maker one year later.

Perry disingenuously countered that he couldn’t be bought for (only) $5,000, eliciting audience laughter.

Of course, being a conflict among radical-conservative Republicans, this wasn’t just about how Perry’s a sold-out politician repaying his corporate sugar daddies.

The fight over requiring vaccinations for young girls . . . involved government prerogatives and cancer. But it also had a strong moral subtext: Bachmann and other social conservatives objected to forcible inoculations against a disease spread by sexual activity, while Perry defended himself with the language of the antiabortion movement.

“I am always going to err on the side of life. And that’s what this was really all about for me,” he said Monday night.

Indeed, Perry’s decision, however rooted in corrupt motivation, is defensible on lifesaving grounds. But among fundamentalist Christians, it’s not uncommon for ostentatious righteousness to trump mundane considerations like life and death. It also bears mentioning that Perry’s commitment to erring on the side of life slipped off the radar after righteous ( and woefully ignorant) Texans prompted state lawmakers to kill enabling legislation for the Gardasil program.

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Our ‘world’s best’ health care system
a few live babies short of the mark

pointing to graphHere’s a question for conservative Republicans who insist the U.S. has the best health care system in the world: What do the U.S., Croatia, Qatar and United Arab Emirates have in common?

Answer: they’re all in 41st place when it comes to infant mortality — babies in Cuba, Lithuania, Malaysia and South Korea are at less risk of dying in their first year.

The rankings arise from a World Health Organization study of 200 countries over 20 years. WHO researchers found infant death rates declining slowly, with the U.S. reducing deaths 26 percent in that period, which was less than average for the countries studied.

You might suspect most infant deaths result from severe birth defects or contagions, but that’s not the case.

Newborn deaths could be reduced by as much as a third with simple preventive measures. And measures taken within hospitals, including providing antibiotics and implementing resuscitation techniques, could reduce deaths by two-thirds, the researchers said.

Problems associated with premature birth are a significant cause of infant deaths in the U.S. The incidence of premature births here is twice that of the countries of Europe and North Africa. As the article notes, those problems can be more difficult and costly to treat than the causes of death in many other countries. But the key to combating those problems is preventive care — an area where America’s system lags behind many other countries because of costs and lack of access for too many families (emphasis ours):

Babies who are born preterm need extra care that is often expensive. While there are few things that can reduce preterm birth, (WHO researcher Joy Lawn) noted that disadvantaged people in the United States may be less likely to receive proper care for preterm infants.

In fact, there’s no “may be” about it.

Health care reform legislation enacted last year will help many more young American families get vitally important prenatal and postnatal care. That includes preventive care that should reduce the incidence of premature births and increase preemie survival.

But “many more” is not enough. The ultimate remedy for what ails U.S. health care is universal, single-payer health care insurance administrated much as Medicare is today. We look forward to the day when Americans demand and get that system.

We’re sure that day is coming. Not long after, we expect to learn that the U.S. has pulled ahead of Croatia, Qatar and most other countries in keeping babies alive.

Germans, Swiss turn away from nuclear energy;
U.S. and France won’t act until disaster strikes

nuke symbolMindful of past nuclear power plant debacles and shocked by the current one in Japan, two European nations, Germany and Switzerland, are charting a nuclear-free energy future.

Germany, with Europe’s biggest economy, will phase out its 17 nuclear plants by 2022, if Chancellor Angela Merkel has her way, creating momentum for other European Union nations to follow suit.

“We believe that we can show those countries who decide to abandon nuclear power — or not to start using it — how it is possible to achieve growth, creating jobs and economic prosperity while shifting the energy supply toward renewable energies,” Merkel said.

. . .The plan sets Germany apart from most of the other major industrialized nations. Among the other Group of Eight countries, only Italy has abandoned nuclear power, which was voted down in a referendum after the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.

The decision represents a remarkable about-face for Merkel’s center-right government, which only late last year pushed through a plan to extend the life span of the country’s reactors, with the last scheduled to go offline around 2036. But Merkel, who holds a Ph.D. in physics, said industrialized, technologically advanced Japan’s “helplessness” in the face of the Fukushima disaster made her rethink the technology’s risks.

Switzerland’s Energy Ministry had already suspended approval of three planned nuclear plants for further review in the wake of the Fukushima Daiichi disaster in Northern Japan when the government decided the risk is too great.

On Wednesday — days after an anti-nuclear rally in Switzerland drew a large crowd of 20,000 people — the Cabinet said it had decided to make the ban permanent.

The country’s five existing reactors — which supply about 40 percent of the country’s power — would be allowed to continue operating, but would not be replaced at the end of their life span, it said. The last would go offline in 2034.

In a statement, the Cabinet said it was responding to the desires of the Swiss people to reduce risks “in the face of the severe damage that the earthquake and tsunami in Fukushima caused.”

France generates 80 percent of its electricity at nuclear power plants. France’s government intends to watch European Union-mandated stress testing of nuclear plants closely but has no plans to reduce or end reliance on the technology.

What, me worry? The United States should — but won’t — follow Germany’s example, thanks to the power of massive lobbying and generous, widely spread campaign contributions by the nuclear power industry.

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