October 5th, 2010
By: Alan Bjerga
The number of Americans receiving food stamps rose to a record 41.8 million in July as the jobless rate hovered near a 27-year high, the government said.
Recipients of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program subsidies for food purchases jumped 18 percent from a year earlier and increased 1.4 percent from June, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said today in a statement on its website. Participation has set records for 20 straight months.
Unemployment in September may have reached 9.7 percent, according to a Bloomberg News survey of analysts in advance of the release of last month’s rate on Oct. 8. Unemployment was 9.6 percent in July, near levels last seen in 1983.
An average of 43.3 million people, more than an eighth of the population, will get food stamps each month in the year that began Oct. 1, according to White House estimates.
October 7th, 2010
By: Alex Spillius
According to figures from the new United States census, in 2009 one in 18 women earned more than $100,000 (£63,000) per year, a rise of 14 per cent over two years. In the same period the number of men earning over that amount rose by just four per cent.
The census showed that there are now three women for every two men at undergraduate and postgraduate level, while a majority of law students are female and almost half of medical students.
“We’re finally bearing the fruit from women getting so much higher education,” said Robert Drago, head of research at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. “It’s the result of women entering into professional managerial careers.”
Women’s advocacy groups however cautioned that a substantial wage differential still remains between men and women, while the “glass ceiling” that prevents women from reaching the highest echelons of companies of professions remains firmly in place.
The area with the highest average wage for women was Washington with £34,000. The capital’s educated labour force is dominated by lawyers, civil servants and academics, all fields with a strong female presence.
October 5th, 2010
By: Andrew Levy
It could make the time-honoured tradition of taking the school register a thing of the past.
Cutting-edge cameras are being used to scan children’s faces as they enter school.
The face-recognition technology makes sure they have turned up, records whether they were on time or late and keeps an accurate roll call.
It can also deliver messages to pupils as they sign in. Ten schools have started using the system, which is likely to be introduced elsewhere if considered a success.
But privacy campaigners reacted angrily yesterday, warning that the technology was another ‘encroachment on civil liberties’. Britons are already subjected to the greatest level of electronic surveillance in the world, with our movements said to be recorded in some way about 3,000 times a week.
Facial recognition systems are in use in airports to catch those using fake passports.
The faceREGISTER systems that are being installed in schools take 3D digital images of faces and infra-red scans.
Pupils must face a box which is the size of an A3 piece of paper while their image is taken.
They then punch in their four-digit pin on a number pad to confirm their identity.
The technology, made by Northamptonshire firm Aurora Computer Services, is said to be so accurate that there is no chance of pupils signing in for their friends.
The system is being used in schools in Northamptonshire, Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire. Sir Christopher Hatton School, a comprehensive in Wellingborough, Northamptonshire, started testing it on A-level pupils last month.
The technology has been installed in reception and the sixth-form block at a cost of £9,000.
Head of sixth form Kelli Foster said: ‘The technology is just incredible. Before, each pupil had to sign in and out of the reception by filling in a form but now it takes under ten seconds to gather so much more information.’
But Big Brother Watch campaign director Daniel Hamilton said: ‘This is another worrying development in the expansion of the surveillance state.
‘There is no need for schools to hold such sensitive information about their pupils. Such systems have limited benefits yet are wide open to abuse – from the risk of data theft to misuse by unscrupulous individuals.
‘Rather than spend money on gimmicks like this, schools should focus on educating their pupils. Both parents and pupils should resist this encroachment on civil liberties.’
October 6th, 2010
By: Jonathan Berr
In June, the Center for Science and the Public Interest (CSPI) threatened to sue McDonald’s (MCD) over the use of toys to promote Happy Meals. Now, it looks like it will finally happen.
CSPI had originally threatened to file suit against the world’s largest restaurant chain by July. That timeline proved too optimistic to given the complexities of the case, according to Stephen Gardner, the organization’s litigation director.
“Everything takes longer than I think because I am an optimist,” he says in an interview. “It could be next week (when it will be filed), but it’s more likely to be the week after.”
The conflict between McDonald’s and CSPI centers around childhood obesity rates, which have more than tripled over the past 30 years, Some argue that McDonald’s and other purveyors of cheap, calorie-rich food bear some of the blame, an argument the fast-food chain rejects.
A Matter of Rights
McDonald’s, which is fighting an effort in San Francisco to ban Happy Meal toys, has said that CSPI’s claims are without merit. Chief Executive Jim Skinner wrote to the advocacy group in July saying that most consumers have no problems with how Happy Meals are marketed. “Parents, in particular, strongly believe that they have the right and responsibility to decide what’s best for their children, not CSPI,” he writes. “It’s that simple.”
According to Gardner, McDonald’s is using the Happy Meal toys, which often promote movies, to deceptively market unhealthy food to children, who in turn beg their parents to take them to the restaurant. CSPI, he says, is trying to assist parents, not usurp their authority.
“Kids under the age of eight do not understand that they are being advertised to,” Gardner says.”It’s without question that it’s detrimental to kids.”
The home of the Golden Arches is fighting against Happy Meal critics in California as well. Officials in Santa Clara voted in April to ban McDonald’s and other fast-food restaurants from providing promotional toys. A similar measure is pending before the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, which would prevent chains from “putting toys in children’s meals unless they include fruits and vegetables and don’t have too many unhealthy calories,” according to the Associated Press.
No surprisingly, McDonald’s sees things differently.
“As we have previously stated, we will continue to work with city officials to identify a solution to the very important topic of childhood obesity,” says Danya Proud, a company spokesperson, in a statement. “Even with the amendments the supervisors have made, this proposal is not what our customers want, nor is it something they asked for.”
Investors don’t appear to be too worried about the controversy. Shares of McDonald’s are up more than 21% this year. Gardener says he isn’t aware of other local governments demanding action on Happy Meal toys.
October 5th, 2010
By: Michelle Fay Cortez
People who work amid constant noise have twice the risk of heart disease as those with quieter jobs. Men younger than age 50 and smokers are the most vulnerable, U.S. government data shows.
Researchers tracked 6,307 Americans who took part in the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, undergoing medical and blood tests and answering questions about their health, lifestyle and work. Those with the noisiest workplaces were more likely to suffer chest pain, a heart attack, heart disease or high blood pressure, the report said.
The industries with the greatest risk were mining, agriculture, construction and manufacturing, said lead researcher Wen Qi Gan, from the University of British Columbia’s school of environmental health in Vancouver. White-collar workers, such as those on loud trading floors, may also be vulnerable, he said. The investigators defined a loud workplace as any environment where people had to raise their voices to be heard, with one in five participants in the noisy category.
“People believe that heart disease belongs to older people,” Gan said in a telephone interview. “We found that young workers, those under 50, are most vulnerable to occupational noise. For them, there is a three- to four-fold increased prevalence in heart disease.”
The study was published in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine, based in London.
Ear Plugs Important
Ear plugs and other personal form of protection are important, but offer only limited help, Gan said. Companies and administrators in charge of loud environments should offer some type of noise control, he said.
Previous investigations into heart risk and noisy workplaces yielded mixed results. A Canadian study found high rates of heart attacks and deaths in sawmill workers, while another that involved men working in the nuclear power industry in England found no ties to heart disease.
The latest study offers a large, nationally representative sample that includes in-depth patient information, the researchers said. The authors controlled for known heart risks such as alcohol use and exercise and physical characteristics in assessing the data. The results show constant exposure to excess noise is an important workplace issue and deserves special attention, they concluded.
The research was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.
October 7th, 2010
By: Simon Tisdall and Richard Norton-Taylor
A US terror alert issued this week about al-Qaida plots to attack targets in western Europe was politically motivated and not based on credible new information, senior Pakistani diplomats and European intelligence officials have told the Guardian.
The non-specific US warning, which despite its vagueness led Britain, France and other countries to raise their overseas terror alert levels, was an attempt to justify a recent escalation in US drone and helicopter attacks inside Pakistan that have “set the country on fire”, said Wajid Shamsul Hasan, the high commissioner to Britain.
Hasan, a veteran diplomat who is close to Pakistan’s president, suggested the Obama administration was playing politics with the terror threat before next month’s mid-term congressional elections, in which the Republicans are expected to make big gains.
He also claimed President Obama was reacting to pressure to demonstrate that his Afghan war strategy and this year’s troop surge, which are unpopular with the American public, were necessary.
“I will not deny the fact that there may be internal political dynamics, including the forthcoming mid-term American elections. If the Americans have definite information about terrorists and al-Qaida people, we should be provided [with] that and we could go after them ourselves,” Hasan said.
“Such reports are a mixture of frustrations, ineptitude and lack of appreciation of ground realities. Any attempt to infringe the sovereignty of Pakistan would not bring about stability in Afghanistan, which is presumably the primary objective of the American and Nato forces.”
Dismissing claims of a developed, co-ordinated plot aimed at Britain, France and Germany, European intelligence officials also pointed the finger at the US, and specifically at the White House. “To stitch together [the terror plot claims] in a seamless narrative is nonsensical,” said one well-placed official.
While Abdul Jabbar, a Briton, and others killed by an American drone strike on 8 September in North Waziristan, in Pakistan’s tribal areas, were heard discussing co-ordinated plots, including possible “commando-style” attacks on prominent buildings and tourist sites in European capitals, security and intelligence officials said the plots were nowhere near fruition.
The officials did not deny the men, and other foreign-born jihadi recruits who travel to the tribal areas for indoctrination and training, represented a potentially serious threat. “You have discussions about all sorts of things – that does not necessarily mean there is anything concrete. It is not easy to set up groups,” said one counter-terrorism official.
By making it clear that the US drone strikes were pre-emptive, and were not in any way combating an imminent threat, European officials raised fresh questions – this time directly involving a British national – about the legality of the attacks, which could be viewed as assassinations.
They said Washington was the “driver” behind claims about a series of “commando-style” plots and that the CIA – perhaps because it was worried about provoking unwelcome attention to its drone strikes – was also extremely annoyed by the publicity given to them.
The plot claims, which western intelligence agencies were aware of for months, were leaked last week to the American media.
They were followed by a spate of what security and intelligence officials said were exaggerated claims in the British media, a US state department warning to American citizens to be vigilant when visiting Britain, France, and Germany, a “tit for tat” warning by France to its citizens visiting the UK, and alerts issued by the Swedish and Japanese governments.
Thomas de Maizière, Germany’s interior minister, publicly expressed his scepticism about the US terror warning, saying he saw no sign of an imminent attack on Germany. He described the danger to Germany as “hypothetical”.
The sharp rise in US unmanned drone attacks in Pakistan’s tribal areas, coupled with several cross-border raids by American helicopter gunships that culminated in the killing of two Frontier Corps soldiers last week, was destabilising Pakistan, Hasan said.
“Why are they putting so much pressure on us? It is a threat to the democratic system … But people in Pakistan feel Washington does not care.” American actions were “obviously” linked to Obama’s decision to set a timetable for leaving Afghanistan. The US leader had “jumped the gun” and now “the Americans are in a hurry”.
He said fears were growing in Pakistan that the US was planning a bombing campaign using fixed-wing aircraft as well as drones in North Waziristan.
Hasan said Washington politicians failed to understand how much the US needed Pakistan in the “war on terror”. Nor did they realise that public anger over repeated US infringements of Pakistani sovereignty could boil over into attacks on American personnel and interests that the government might not be able to control.
“The government does not want to go down this road,” he said. “But people feel abused. If they [the Americans] kill someone again, they will react. There is a figure that there are 3,000 American personnel in Pakistan. They would be very easy targets.”
Hasan said American personnel stationed at the Pakistani air force base at Jacobabad, on the border between Sindh and Baluchistan provinces, could be vulnerable if the situation deteriorated further. The US requested the use of Jacobabad, and other bases at Dalbandin and Pasni, after the 9/11 attacks, and has maintained a military presence there ever since.
Another Pakistani diplomat said Jacobabad was the main centre of operations for CIA and US army drones, which are ultimately controlled from America. “They have hangars there. That’s where they fly from and that’s where they return.”
The drone operations began in June 2004 with the tacit, reluctant agreement and involvement of the Pakistani authorities but were now in effect running beyond Pakistan’s control, the diplomat suggested. “We have always denied it in the past. But everybody knows this is happening. We need to wake up,” the official said.
A US official said: “Our allies have been briefed on the nature of the threat and the intelligence that led to the travel alert and everyone understands this cannot be taken lightly.
“To try to ascribe any political motivation is misguided and irresponsible.”
October 7th, 2010
The Raw Story
By: Muriel Kane
A report in Wednesday’s New York Times that the Obama administration has been issuing waivers to allow many businesses to evade the provisions of the new health care reform law is arousing widespread debate.
“As Obama administration officials put into place the first major wave of changes under the health care legislation,” the Times explains, “they have tried to defuse stiffening resistance — from companies like McDonald’s and some insurers — by granting dozens of waivers to maintain even minimal coverage far below the new law’s standards.”
According to USA Today, the Obama administration has already granted waivers to 30 companies, including McDonalds, meaning that “nearly a million workers won’t get a consumer protection in the U.S. health reform law meant to cap insurance costs.”
Last week, the Wall Street Journal reported that McDonald’s had warned federal regulators “it could drop its health insurance plan for nearly 30,000 hourly restaurant workers unless regulators waive a new requirement of the U.S. health overhaul.”
McDonald’s provides a “mini-med” plan for its workers, under which they can pay $14 a week for a “basic plan” that offers maximum annual benefits of $2000 or about $32 for a somewhat higher limit. The company and trade groups argue that plans of this kind have high administrative costs which prevent them from meeting the new requirement that insurance providers must spend at least 80% to 85% of premiums on medical care.
The details of the “mini-med” plan — which would barely begin to cover any significant medical emergency and which one news site dubbed “junk insurance” — have already drawn the attention of Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WY), a member of the Senate Commerce Committee, who wrote to the CEO of McDonald’s insurer asking him to “help the Committee understand the costs and benefits of the insurance products you are selling to McDonald’s employees.”
As soon as McDonald had threatened it might drop coverage altogether if it did not receive a waiver, however, the Obama administration announced that Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius did have the discretion to provide such waivers, although any decision might not come until December.
It now appears, however, that the waivers were already in the process of being issued even as the administration indicated it was still considering the matter. USA Today notes that “The Department of Health and Human Services, which provided a list of exemptions, said it granted waivers in late September so workers with such plans wouldn’t lose coverage from employers who might choose instead to drop health insurance altogether.”
Political considerations appear to be central to much of the process. According to the Times, “How much the administration can, or should, compromise in ways that could dilute the effect of the new law in the next few years is a subject of much debate. … Nancy-Ann DeParle, the director of the Office of Health Reform at the White House, acknowledged that the concessions given to companies and insurers reflected attempts to avoid having people lose their current coverage before the full law goes into effect [in 2014] while meeting the aim of improving that coverage.”
“It is a balancing act,” DeParle told the Times. “The president wants to have a smooth glide path to 2014.”
October 7th, 2010
By: Eva von Schaper
Novartis AG agreed to use technology from Synthetic Genomics Vaccines Inc., a company run by genome pioneer Craig Venter, in an effort to cut the time needed to develop influenza shots.
Novartis and San Diego-based Synthetic Genomic Vaccines will work together to create so-called seed viruses, templates from which large amounts of vaccine are created, Novartis said in a statement today. Novartis hopes to reduce the time needed to start vaccine output by two months, which is critical in the case of a flu pandemic, the company said.
“There is always the risk a of pandemic,” Rino Rappuoli, who heads vaccine research at Basel, Switzerland-based Novartis, said in a telephone interview today. The company produced enough vaccine only after the peak of the flu pandemic was over last year, Rappuoli said.
The companies agreed to a three-year collaboration, according to the statement. The work is supported by the U.S. Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, the government agency that oversees vaccine and drug development for public-health emergencies.
Vaccine manufacturers rely on the World Health Organization to identify and distribute live reference viruses to create seasonal or pandemic shots. Novartis and Synthetic Genomics will work to develop a bank of synthetically constructed seed viruses ready to go into production as soon as WHO identifies a new flu strain, the company said.
“We will have all the pieces ready to go, and on the day we will just push the button,” Rappuoli said.
The bank could be ready as early as next year, Rappuoli said. While Novartis is concentrating on a pandemic flu shot, the collaboration may also benefit its seasonal flu program, according to Siena-based Rappuoli.
Venter is best known for his privately backed race in 2000 against the publicly funded Human Genome Project to decode the entire human genetic blueprint. The teams shared credit for the milestone. This year, researchers at the J. Craig Venter Institute in Rockville, Maryland, reported that they made a copy of a bacterium’s entire genome and then transplanted it into a related organism, where it functioned normally.
Synthetic Genomics Vaccines was created by the not-for- profit Venter institute and Synthetic Genomics Inc., a company Venter founded in 2005. Investors in Synthetic Genomics Inc. include BP Plc and the venture-capital firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson.
October 7th, 2010
By: Neal Armstrong
The dollar’s downtrend gathered pace on Thursday as it slid to a 15-year low versus the Japanese yen and an all-time low against the Swiss franc on the prospect of more money-printing by the U.S. Federal Reserve.
The Australian dollar surged to a 27-year high against its U.S. counterpart after surprisingly strong jobs data revived talk of a Reserve Bank rate hike, while broad dollar selling pushed the euro to an eight-month high.
The Bank of England and the European Central Bank both stood pat on their monetary policies on Thursday, underlining the possibility that the Fed may lead the way into more aggressive quantitative easing, which is seen knocking the dollar lower.
Traders waited to see whether ECB President Jean-Claude Trichet makes any reference to currencies at a news conference around 1230 GMT. They also awaited clues to whether the central bank would scale back extraordinary funding measures soon.
The dollar’s latest decline made traders nervous, as the U.S. currency traded below levels where Tokyo intervened for the first time in six years on Sept. 15.
Direct currency intervention and talk of monetary loosening by central banks has ignited the issue of global imbalances ahead of a Group of Seven (G7) finance ministers’ and central bankers’ meeting this weekend, where the threat of a “currency war” is likely to dominate discussion.
“The only story out there at the moment is what the implications of another massive surge of QE means for the dollar and global imbalances,” said Maurice Pomery, managing director of Strategic Alpha.
He added the meetings were unlikely to produce an agreement on how to fix trade imbalances as countries act independently to boost economic growth, which would likely push the dollar lower.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said on Wednesday that countries must persuade their emerging counterparts such as China to let their currencies rise or risk competitive depreciations that would hurt the world economy.
October 7th, 2010
Since too often financial articles consist of some stooge blathering on and on with opinions instead of facts, I thought today we’d simply focus on some FACTS about our current financial system which few if any want to acknowledge.
#1: The US Fed is now the second largest owner of US Treasuries.
That’s right, this week we overtook Japan, leaving China as the only country with greater ownership of US Debt. And we’re printing money to buy it. Setting aside the fact that this is abject lunacy, this policy is trashing our currency which has fallen 13% since June… as in four months ago. Want an explanation for why stocks, commodities, and Gold are exploding higher? Here it is.
#2: “There are only about $550 billion of Treasuries outstanding with a remaining maturity of greater than 10 years.”
This horrifying fact comes courtesy of Morgan Stanley analyst David Greenlaw. And it confirms what I’ve been saying since the end of 2009, that the US has entered a debt spiral: a time in which fewer and fewer investors are willing to lend to us for any long period of time… at the exact same time that we must roll over trillions in old debt and issue an additional $100-150 billion in NEW debt per month in order to finance our massive deficit.
And only $550 billion of the debt we’ve got to roll over has a maturity greater than 10 years!?!?
So we’re talking about TRILLIONS of old debt coming due in the next decade. The below chart depicting the debt coming due between 2009 and 2039 comes courtesy of the US Treasury itself. In plain terms, we’ve got some much debt that needs to be rolled over that you can’t even fit it on one page and still read it.
#3: The US will Default on its Debt
… either that or experience hyperinflation. There is simply no other option. We can NEVER pay off our debts. To do so would require every US family to pay $31,000 a year for 75 years.
Bear in mind, I’m completely ignoring the debt we took on with the nationalization of Fannie and Freddie, AIG, and the slew of other garbage we nationalized or shifted onto the Fed’s balance sheet. And yet we’re STILL talking about every US family making $31,000 in debt payments per year for 75 years to pay off our national debt.
Obviously that ain’t going to happen.
So default is in the cards. Either that or hyperinflation (which occurs when investors flee a currency). Either of these will be massively US Dollar negative and horrible for the quality of life in the US. But they’re our only options, so get ready.