June 21, 2010
By Terence P. Jeffrey
Middle-class Americans–not the rich or the poor–pay the majority of annual tax revenues taken in by the federal government, according to data released in a new Congressional Budget Office study. Households earning less than $34,300 per year, meanwhile, actually pay a negative average federal income tax rate.
Middle-class households that earned between $34,300 and $141,900 paid 50.5 percent of all federal tax revenues in 2007 (the most recent year analyzed), according to the CBO study released Thursday, and households that earned between $34,300 and $352,900 paid 66.7 percent of all federal taxes.
Households in the top 1 percent for annual income (those earning more than $352,900) paid a healthy 28.1 percent of all federal taxes, but households in the lower income brackets paid relatively little. Those earning less than $34,300 paid only 5.2 percent of all federal taxes, and those earning less than $20,500 carried almost none of the federal tax burden (just 0.8 percent of the total) in 2007.
The average overall federal tax rate (including income, Social Security, Medicare, excise and other taxes) for all American households was 20.4 percent in 2007. But the average rate rose dramatically as household income rose. Households earning less than $34,300 paid an average overall federal tax rate of 10.6 percent, while households earning more than $74,700 paid an average overall federal tax rate of almost two and half times that much–25.1 percent.
When it comes to the federal income tax alone (as opposed to Social Security, Medicare, excise and other taxes) the lower income brackets actually paid a negative rate, thanks to programs such as the Earned Income Tax Credit that paid people a “credit” for income taxes they never paid. The average federal income tax rate for households earning less than $34,300, according to the CBO, was -0.4 percent in 2007, and the average federal income tax rate for households earning less than $20,500 was -6.8 percent.
Over the past three decades, according to the CBO data, taxation has been getting more progressive, as the tax burden has lightened on lower income households while increasing on higher income households. During those three decades, Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush signed laws cutting the top marginal income tax rates, but Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton signed laws increasing the rates.
The CBO divided the 116.9 million American households of 2007 into five roughly equal parts (quintiles) graded by income. The income range for the lowest quintile was $0 to $20,500; the second quintile, $20,500 to $34,300; the third quintile, $34,300 to $50,000; the fourth quintile, $50,000 to $74,700; and the fifth quintile, $74,700 and above. The share of overall federal taxes paid by each of the first four quintiles decreased from 1979 to 2007, while the share of overall federal taxes paid by the highest-income quintile increased, meaning the overall tax burden was shifting away from that class of Americans making less than $74,700 per year in 2007 toward those earning more.
June 21, 2010
The Associated Press
By: Rob Gillies
Canada thinks it can teach the world a thing or two about dodging financial meltdowns.
The 20 world leaders at an economic summit in Toronto next weekend will find themselves in a country that has avoided a banking crisis where others have floundered, and whose economy grew at a 6.1 percent annual rate in the first three months of this year. The housing market is hot and three-quarters of the 400,000 jobs lost during the recession have been recovered.
World leaders have noticed: President Barack Obama says the U.S. should take note of Canada’s banking system, and Britain’s Treasury chief is looking to emulate the Ottawa way on cutting deficits.
The land of a thousand stereotypes — from Mounties and ice hockey to language wars and lousy weather — is feeling entitled to do a bit of crowing as it hosts the G-20 summit of wealthy and developing nations.
“We should be proud of the performance of our financial system during the crisis,” said Finance Minister Jim Flaherty in an interview with The Associated Press.
He recalled visiting China in 2007 and hearing suggestions “that the Canadian banks were perhaps boring and too risk-adverse. And when I was there two weeks ago some of my same counterparts were saying to me, ‘You have a very solid, stable banking system in Canada,’ and emphasizing that. There wasn’t anything about being sufficiently risk-oriented.”
The banks are stable because, in part, they’re more regulated. As the U.S. and Europe loosened regulations on their financial industries over the last 15 years, Canada refused to do so. The banks also aren’t as leveraged as their U.S. or European peers.
There was no mortgage meltdown or subprime crisis in Canada. Banks don’t package mortgages and sell them to the private market, so they need to be sure their borrowers can pay back the loans.
In Canada’s concentrated banking system, five major banks dominate the market and regulators know each of the top bank executives personally.
“Our banks were just better managed and we had better regulation,” says former Prime Minister Paul Martin, the man credited with killing off a massive government deficit in the 1990s when he was finance minister, leading to 12 straight years of budget surpluses.
“I was absolutely amazed at senior bankers in the United States and Europe who didn’t know the extent of the problem or they didn’t know that people in some far-flung division were doing these kinds of things. It’s just beyond belief,” he told the AP.
The Conservative Party government of Stephen Harper that took over from Martin’s Liberals in 2006 broadly stuck to his predecessor’s approach, though he cut taxes and, when recession struck, pumped stimulus money into the economy, with the result that Canada again has a large deficit.
But it is recovering from the recession faster than others, and although its deficit is currently at a record high, the International Monetary Fund expects Canada to be the only one of the seven major industrialized democracies to return to surplus by 2015.
This month Canada became the first among them to raise interest rates since the global financial crisis began.
George Osborne, Britain’s Treasury chief, has vowed to follow Canada’s example on deficit reduction.
“They brought together the best brains both inside and outside government to carry out a fundamental reassessment of the role of the state,” Osborne said in a speech.
It’s a remarkable turnaround from 1993, when the Liberals took office facing a $30 billion deficit. Moody’s downgraded Canada’s credit rating twice. About 36 percent of the government’s revenue went toward servicing debt.
“Our situation was dire. Canada was in a lot of trouble at that point,” Martin said. “If we were going to preserve our health care and our education system we had to do it.”
As finance minister, he slashed spending. A weak currency and a booming U.S. economy also helped Martin balance the books. In the 1998 budget the government estimated that about 55 percent of the deficit reduction came from economic growth and 35 percent from spending cuts.
“The rest of the world certainly thinks we’re the model to follow,” said Martin, who was prime minister from 2003 to 2006. “I’ve been asked by a lot of countries as to how to go about it.”
Don Drummond, Martin’s budget chief at the time, says the U.S. and Europe won’t have it that easy, because the economic climate was better in the late 1990s than it is now, with large trade gains and falling interest rates.
“There’s a lot to learn from Canada but their starting conditions are worse,” he said. “Even though we were on the precipice of a crisis we weren’t in as bad a shape as many of them are.”
June 21, 2010
by: Ethan A. Huff
Australian courts recently ruled that Vioxx, a popular prescription painkiller, should never have been approved and allowed on the market. The case represents the world’s first successful class action lawsuit against a drug company for damage caused by its drugs.
Merck, the drug giant that produced Vioxx, was deemed by the courts as negligent for failing to properly inform doctors who were prescribing the drug about the dangers and health risks associated with the drug. As a result, thousands of patients around the world have suffered severe injury or death because of Vioxx.
Graeme Peterson, a 59-year-old man represented in the case, was awarded the equivalent of about $266,000 for injuries inflicted upon him by Vioxx. He suffered a heart attack from the drug in 2003 that has left him unable to work since. He took the drug for more than four years, and still keeps a Vioxx tablet with him as a reminder of what almost killed him.
Though great for Australians, injured patients in the U.K. have not had the same success. Norman Lamb, a member of the British Parliament, explained that he and others have been trying to convince Merck for years that it should compensate the many British citizens who were injured by the drug. But Merck continues to deny liability and the British government has failed to successfully negotiate a settlement.
“Ministers made promising noises then after a meeting between the Government and the company they weakened their position. I believe that the ministers came under pressure from the company and their own civil servants to shut up,” explained Lamb in a U.K. article.
Unfortunately, this is typically the case with most drug company lawsuits. The Australian case is a landmark victory that should typify how class action lawsuits against drug companies are handled and hopefully a similar victory will one day be achieved for the many British cases of Vioxx injuries.
One such case involves Raymond Eaton, whose wife died from heart problems that were likely caused by Vioxx. Mrs. Eaton, who had been suffering from a severely debilitating form of rheumatoid arthritis, was immediately prescribed Vioxx upon its release. The drug helped her pain, but four years later, she suffered a coronary from which she never recovered. Since she never had any heart problems prior to taking Vioxx, Raymond is convinced that the drug was responsible.
Over 80 million people around the world were taking Vioxx prior to its being pulled from the market, and many lawyers from other countries have been awaiting the outcome of the Australian litigation. The success of the case established a precedence for Merck’s liability due to negligence, providing a way for the thousands, if not millions, of injured patients around the world to receive restitution for damages caused by Vioxx.
June 21, 2010
by: David Gutierrez
A painless alternative to dental drills is already on the market in some parts of Europe, suggesting that drills may become altogether obsolete within the next few years.
Dentists currently use drills to grind away at sections of a tooth where decay-promoting bacteria have taken hold, then patch up these holes with a dental filling. Yet drills can cause mental distress to patients, and also have to remove significant portions of healthy tooth to get at the diseased portion.
Enter the new Icon dental syringe, produced by DMG Dental Products, in conjunction with the University of Kiel, Germany and the Charite Medical University in Berlin. To use the syringe, dentists first place a rubber collar around the diseased tooth to prevent nearby teeth from acid damage. The syringe then applies an acid gel to just the diseased portion of the tooth. Within minutes, the acid has eaten away all the infesting bacteria and is washed off. The tooth is dried with ethanol, and the small hole is patched with a dental resin. A high-energy blue light is then applied to make the resin dry quickly.
According to the manufacturers, the Icon syringe is especially good at treating small caries before they develop into more serious dental problems.
Icon is already on sale in several parts of Europe, and will soon be available in the United Kingdom.
Another technique, currently under development, has been forecast to make dental drills obsolete within three years. In this procedure, dentists use a small, blowtorch-like machine to spray decaying sections of teeth with a high-powered beam of purple plasma (a gas so hot that its electrons have been removed). The plasma is not hot enough to damage the mouth, but effectively disinfects dental caries for filling.
Like Icon, the plasma beam could be used on small cavities and would cause less damage to the structure of the tooth.
June 21, 2010
by: David Gutierrez
A growing body of evidence, dating back to the 1960s, suggests that brain tumors may be only one of the many health problems produced by our new wireless society will produce.
Cell-phone technology “could lead to a health crisis similar to those caused by asbestos, smoking, and lead in petrol,” warned the European Union’s environmental watchdog agency in 2007.
The most ambitious attempt to catalogue the health risks of cell phones to date is the industry-funded Interphone study, carried out by researchers from 13 different countries (not including the United States). Although the study has been criticized for selecting data in a way designed to play down the risks of cell phone use, it continues to turn up alarming findings nonetheless. Among the findings so far are a 40 percent increase in brain tumor risk among adults who use a cell phone for 10 years (especially on the side of the head where the phone is held); a 300 percent increased risk of acoustic nerve tumors; and an increased risk of tumors of the parotid gland. The risk of a brain tumor increases by 400 percent in people who start using a cell phone before the age of 20.
Other studies, mostly out of Europe, have linked mobile phone and personal digital assistant (PDA) use to DNA damage, sperm death, and brain damage including early-onset dementia. These findings regularly make big news in the international press, but are by and large played down in U.S. media.
The United States has a long history of hostility toward the claim that the microwave radiation used by microwave ovens, cell phones, cell phone towers and wireless internet (Wi-Fi) can be harmful to human health. U.S. law prohibits challenging the placement of cell phone towers on health grounds, and an industry group (the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) is highly influential in setting exposure standards.
The first research on the risks of microwave radiation was actually uncovered by a U.S. researcher, Allan Frey, in the 1960s. Frey discovered that “nonionizing” electromagnetic radiation — previously thought to be harmless — could still produce biological effects. For example, radar waves can produce “sound” even in the absence of actual sound waves by interfering with the brain’s own electromagnetic signals. Frey found that microwaves could damage the organs of lab animals, even stopping their hearts completely.
Yet when Frey published a paper showing that microwave radiation could disrupt the functioning of the blood-brain barrier, the Office of Naval Research ordered him to conceal the work or lose funding. Pentagon-funded scientists claimed they had refuted his work, but refused to share any information on their data or methods.
Frey found that while the primary (or “carrier”) wave of microwave radiation can cause health problems, the secondary wave that carries the actual data — whether sound, text, pictures or other information transmitted via cell phones or Wi-Fi connections — is far more dangerous. The more data streams carried, the higher the danger.
Modern research supports these early findings, with 75 percent of independently funded studies showing health risks from cell phone radiation (in contrast with only 25 percent of industry funded studies). Researchers have also documented dramatic rises in the rate of numerous health problems immediately following the introduction of widespread Wi-Fi and cell phone networks across Europe.
Such concerns have led European governments to consider banning Wi-Fi in government facilities, and to the Austrian Medical Association’s call for a ban on Wi-Fi in schools. The national library of France has already removed all Wi-Fi connections due to health concerns.
In certain segments of the U.S. population, awareness is also growing. According to an anonymous investment banker speaking to a GQ reporter, rates of brain tumors among financial executives are shockingly high, a fact more and more people are attributing to constant cell phone use.
“I knew four or five people just at my firm who got tumors,” the banker said. “Each time, people ask the question. I hear it in the hallways.”
June 20, 2010
by Hugh Collins
Newly proposed legislation would give the federal government authority to seize and even switch off the Internet during a national crisis.
The bill, put forward Thursday by Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., would allow the Department of Homeland Security to issue emergency orders to companies providing services such as search engines, software and broadband Internet, according to CBS. Companies that didn’t comply would face a fine.
“The Internet can also be a dangerous place, with electronic pipelines that run directly into everything from our personal bank accounts to key infrastructure to government and industrial secrets,” Lieberman said. “Our economic security, national security and public safety are now all at risk from new kinds of enemies: cyberwarriors, cyberspies, cyberterrorists and cybercriminals.”
Governments worldwide are increasingly aware of the threat posed by cyberattacks. In 2007, the Baltic state of Estonia was paralyzed by a cyberattack that froze the websites of businesses and government agencies for days. Estonia now hosts NATO’s Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence.
Lieberman’s bill also calls for the creation of a National Center for Cybersecurity and Communications within the Department of Homeland Security, CBS reported. The center would monitor the “security status” of websites and broadband providers to provide “situational awareness of the security status” of Internet within the United States.
The National Center for Cybersecurity and Communications would also be able to require certain Internet companies to share information with the federal government.
There’s something in the proposed legislation for the private sector, too: Companies would have immunity from civil lawsuits for compensation related to actions they took on orders from the federal government.
However, the bill has been fiercely criticized online by Internet freedom advocates.
“This legislation should be met with resistance until it fails,” journalist blogger Jamie DeLoma wrote. “Implementing the proposed plan would do nothing more than cause chaos and limit the information available.”
The ideas in the proposal are not entirely new. In August, technology website CNET obtained a pair of draft Senate proposals that would have allowed the president to declare a “cybersecurity emergency” and “order the disconnection” of certain networks and websites.
June 21, 2010
by Mike Adams
It did not even occur to me that people thought frozen yogurt was a “health food” until I spent some time in the USA. There, people line up in droves at frozen yogurt stores to buy a junk food that they’re convinced is good for them. And why is it good for them, in their own minds? Because it’s “yogurt.”
I actually went to the trouble of visiting a line of people at a frozen yogurt store and asking several people there if they could name the ingredients in the frozen yogurt they were buying. Not one of them could. Most just said, “Yogurt.” (Are you detecting a pattern here?)
Upon further investigation, I found that frozen yogurt retailers don’t make it very easy for you to find out what’s actually in their products in the first place. They don’t print ingredients on the products they sell, and even their websites make it virtually impossible to find this information.
After some digging, I was able to find the ingredients of the vanilla yogurt powder that’s used in one of the nation’s most famous frozen yogurt chains. Here’s what’s in it:
Pure Crystalline Fructose, Dextrose, Maltodextrin, Non-fat Milk, Yogurt Powder, Micro-encapsulated Probiotic (Lactobacillus Sporogenes)
Did you catch all that? The first three ingredients are all sugars, followed by processed cow’s milk. Maltodextrin, in particular, has a glycemic index so high that it’s practically poison to diabetics. It’s often derived from genetically-modified corn, by the way.
As you can see from the ingredients list, frozen yogurt is basically just ice cream with some yogurt powder thrown in. It’s ice cream with probiotics.
That doesn’t make it healthy food. It’s still junk food, but with probiotic powder.
The illusion of healthy food
If I throw probiotics on a pizza, it doesn’t turn the pizza into healthy cuisine. If I slap probiotics on a cheeseburger, it doesn’t make it a healthy cheeseburger. So why do so many people believe that mixing in a little probiotic powder with ice cream suddenly makes it a “health food?”
The answer? Because they want to.
Frozen yogurt shops don’t deliver healthy food, but they do deliver the illusion of healthy food. And in America today, where illusion dominates reality, that’s good enough!
People aren’t really interested in what they’re eating, you see. They just want to be convincingly persuaded that whatever they’re swallowing is somehow good for them. That’s sufficient evidence in their minds to go ahead and start chowing down.
It’s much the same with popular religion in the USA today. Few people really believe in God even if they claim to, because if they did, they wouldn’t go out and destroy their God-given bodies with alcohol, cigarettes, booze, drugs and junk food. They don’t really want to authentically believe in God, you see, because that would require a whole different level of personal discipline to act in a way that honored their beliefs (and honored their body as a temple). If you destroy your health with junk food, your actions scream to the universe that you really don’t follow God’s will at all.
What was that part in the Bible about gluttony? I don’t often quote scripture, but it’s relevant here: Proverbs 23:20-21 “Be not among winebibbers; among riotous eaters of flesh: For the drunkard and the glutton shall come to poverty: and drowsiness shall clothe a man with rags.”
What people want in America today is junk food, junk news, junk knowledge and junk beliefs. They don’t really believe much of anything except those simple spoon-fed beliefs that happen to coincide with the self-destructive lifestyle they wanted to pursue anyway. Life is an all-you-can-eat, all-you-can-smoke, all-you-can-drink orgy! So let’s call it “reduced-calorie” dessert and get on with it, shall we?
People pick their beliefs, in other words, to try to justify their actions. Any belief that contradicts their short-term desires will be modified, pushed aside or simply overwritten with some other belief that allows them the excuse to pursue immediate satisfaction. The false belief that “frozen yogurt is health food” serves this purpose nicely.
Why would you swallow something if you don’t know what’s in it?
Most people, by the way, don’t even examine what they eat in the first place. They just shovel it down without a thought.
It was the Greek philosopher Socrates who famously said, “An unexamined life is not worth living.” My modern version of this quote in the realm of health is, “An unexamined diet is not worth eating.”
And yet people almost never examine what they eat. They chew and swallow blindly, giving less thought to what they put inside their bodies than the clothes they wear outside their bodies.
Actually, they choose their foods from the perspective of entertainment. What taste and texture will be entertaining right now? What will give my taste buds pleasure in this instant, regardless of the lifelong effects of this substance on my body?
What sugars, fats or chemical taste enhancers can I place on my tongue in this instant that will provide some level of sensory experience to my brain and remind me that I’m still alive?
That’s the real essence of it, you see. People are sleepwalking through our world half dead, and what they really seek is just stimulation to remind them that they aren’t dead yet. Almost any stimulation will do: The loud blaring of speakers at a rock concert, the sexual foreplay with a new partner, the rush of an abused prescription drug, the thrill of a horror movie, the sensory engrossment of a violent video game, the stimulant kick of a Coca-Cola… it hardly matters as long as something is being felt through the numbness of emotional trauma that typifies human experience in our modern world.
The numbed-up, dumbed-down metrosexual seeker of experience is actually a biological stimulation machine with a tiny unit of consciousness tacked on top that’s seeking a heavy hit of just about anything to remind himself that he still exists. “I feel, therefore I am,” to bastardize Descartes’ famous utterance.
But what do we really feel when we pursue a life of delusional junk foods and other false stimulation? We only feel further numbed from reality; numbed from our own bodies, numbed to our spirituality and numbed to the consciousness that would give our lives purpose rather than processed probiotic powder.
In pursuing a life of junk consumption, what becomes frozen is not merely our yogurt but our entire experience of life. Frozen yogurt is perhaps the perfect food metaphor for what’s happening in American culture today: The mass consumption of a self-destructive lie that offers a brief moment of satisfaction followed by a lifetime of disease.
June 21, 2010
By: Paul Schemm
CAIRO – Al-Qaida’s U.S.-born spokesman warned President Barack Obama Sunday that the militant group may launch new attacks that would kill more Americans than previous ones.
In a taunting, 24 minute message that dwelled on Obama’s setbacks, including the loss of Massachusetts Senate seat to the Republicans, Adam Gadahn set out al-Qaida’s conditions for peace with the U.S., including cutting support for Israel and withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan.
Gadahn said that if you compared the number of dead Muslims “with the relatively small number of Americans we have killed so far, it becomes crystal-clear that we haven’t even begun to even the score,” he said, dressed in a white robe and turban.
“That’s why next time, we might not show the restraint and self-control we have shown up until now,” he said. Even if al-Qaida was defeated, “hundreds of millions of Muslims” would still fight the U.S., he added.
Al-Qaida offered the same conditions for an end to hostilities to then President George W. Bush in 2007, including the release of all Muslim prisoners and cutting off aid to Middle East governments.
Gadahn’s statement was notable for its mocking tone, in which he described Obama as “a devious, evasive and serpentine American president with a Muslim name,” and seemed to delight in his setbacks.
“You’re no longer the popular man you once were, a year ago or so,” he crowed, ascribing his drop in popularity to the escalation of the U.S. wars abroad.
At the time of Obama’s election, many analysts said al-Qaida was worried that his race and Muslim family connections would make him more appealing to Muslims and Arabs angry at Bush’s foreign policy.
In its statements since his election, al-Qaida has taken pains to show the continuity between Obama’s foreign policy and that of his predecessor.
Gadahn is wanted by the FBI since 2004 with a $1 million reward for information leading to his arrest or conviction. He is also known as Azzam al-Amriki, Arabic for the American.
June 21, 2010
By: Catherine Belton
Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian president, said Moscow was bidding to help lead efforts to build a new world economic order after the old system collapsed in the global financial crisis.
Opening Russia’s annual economic forum in St Petersburg where hundreds of global chief executives have flocked, Mr Medvedev said the renewed interest in Russia this year was a sign of a changing world in which the institutions of the western-dominated world order had had their day amid thousands of corporate defaults and the threat of sovereign defaults.
June 21, 2010
By: Robin Hindery
California drivers may soon come bumper to bumper with the latest product of the digital age: ad-blaring license plates.
State lawmakers are considering a bill allowing the state to begin researching the use of electronic license plates for vehicles.
The device would mimic a standard license plate when the vehicle is moving but would switch to digital messages when it is stopped for more than four seconds in traffic or at a red light.
In emergencies, the plates could be used to broadcast Amber Alerts or traffic information.
The author of SB1453 says California would be the first state to implement such technology if it decides to adopt the plates on a large scale.
Supporters say license-plate advertising could generate much-needed revenue in a state facing a $19 billion deficit.