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January 19th, 2011
By: Charles Hugh Smith
For years, politicians and policymakers have reassured the American public that the Social Security system, which sends monthly checks out to 53 million beneficiaries, is safely solvent — and will be for decades to come. But federal spending and income data from the Treasury Department reveal that the Social Security program is already deep in the red, with outlays exceeding payroll tax revenues by $76 billion in 2010 alone.
This stunning shortfall calls into question the rosy fiscal forecasts made by the Social Security Administration (SSA) about the program’s future solvency.
The annual report of the Social Security Trustees, published in August 2010, forecast that the primary Social Security program, the Old Age and Survivors Insurance Trust Fund (OASI), would not exceed its tax receipts until 2018. Unfortunately, it happened in fiscal 2010, which ended in October. That year’s outlays for the OASI fund were about $580 billion, while receipts came to only $540 billion — a whopping $40 billion shortfall.
Add in the deficit from the second Social Security fund, Disability Insurance (DI), and the gap between total SSA outlays ($707 billion in 2010, according to the Treasury) and tax receipts ($631 billion) grows to $76 billion — more than 10% of the program’s expenses.
Short-Term Estimates Were Way Off the Mark
The SSA trustees had estimated a $41 billion deficit (excluding interest income), but the final deficit came to $76 billion — almost twice what they had guessed. Just as troubling, their estimate for total SSA income in 2010 (which included both Social Security payroll taxes and interest paid by the Treasury on the Social Security Trust Funds) was $791 billion — a number that overshot the actual total income of $741 billion (tax receipts of $631 billion plus interest income of about $110 billion) by $50 billion.
That the trustees could miss estimates only a few months into the future by such huge margins calls into question the accuracy of their long-term projections, which are stated in the report:
“Social Security expenditures are expected to exceed tax receipts this year for the first time since 1983. The projected deficit of $41 billion this year (excluding interest income) is attributable to the recession. This deficit is expected to shrink substantially for 2011 and to return to small surpluses for years 2012-2014 due to the improving economy. After 2014 deficits are expected to grow rapidly as the baby boom generation’s retirement causes the number of beneficiaries to grow substantially more rapidly than the number of covered workers. The annual deficits will be made up by redeeming trust fund assets in amounts less than interest earnings through 2024, and then by redeeming trust fund assets until reserves are exhausted in 2037.”
SSA’s estimate for total income in 2011 is $855 billion — fully $114 billion more than the program’s actual income in 2010 ($741 billion). With employment stagnant, is a 15% jump in payroll taxes remotely plausible?
January 19th, 2011
By: Theunis Bates
Not content with riling the U.S. government and military, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange warns that he has a stash of potentially damaging secret documents on the world’s most powerful media mogul: Fox News owner Rupert Murdoch.
In an interview in this week’s issue of Britain’s left-leaning New Statesman magazine — carried out by veteran war journalist and outspoken Assange supporter, John Pilger — the anti-secrecy campaigner said he had “504 U.S. embassy cables on one broadcasting organization” and “cables on Murdoch and News Corp.,” his multinational media company.
Assange didn’t specify what might be in the documents, but said they were part of an “insurance” package that would be released “if something happens to me or to WikiLeaks.”
Assange is fighting an attempt to extradite him from the U.K. to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning over sex crimes allegations. The WikiLeaks boss has denied the accusations, and his lawyers argue that their client could be handed over to U.S. authorities after arriving in Sweden. Once in American custody, they claim, Assange could be imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay, or even sentenced to death.
The 39-year-old Australian has already attempted to deter the U.S. from taking such a step by making a digitally locked “insurance” file available to anybody who wants to download it. In the event of anything ill happening to Assange or his website, a code would be released that would open the presumably damaging files. His British lawyer, Mark Stephens, has previously referred to the batch of documents as a “thermonuclear device” for the “electronic age.”
That information bomb is primarily intended to scare off U.S. authorities who have been angered by WikiLeaks’ release of thousands of secret diplomatic and military papers, but Assange might also be using it to settle some personal grudges. Murdoch’s Fox News is one of his fiercest critics, and WikiLeaks noted in a press release earlier this week that one of the station’s commentators — Bob Beckel — had called for people to “illegally shoot the son of a bitch [Assange].” Assange said that public figures who make such inflammatory statements “should be charged with incitement to murder.”
Click here for the full report from AOL News
January 19th, 2011
By: Deborah Huso
Twenty-six-year-old Adam Martin (pictured left) is confined to a place no young person wants to be — a nursing home.
Martin is a quadriplegic who lost the use of his legs and arms after being accidentally shot in the neck. He now lives at the Sarasota Health and Rehabilitation Center. “It’s lonely here,” he told the Associated Press.
In the past eight years, the number of nursing home residents under the age of 65 has increased about 22 percent, according to AP.
“Nursing homes are not prepared in any way shape or form for young people,” Jamie Huysman told AOL Health. Huysman is a social worker and spokesman for the International Human Rights Campaign for Caregivers and a member of the National Association of Social Workers.
About one in seven nursing homes residents is younger than 65, according to statistics from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
There are some health-care establishments that provide more specific care to young people and are able to offer designated wings of the building to their younger residents. But since the population under 65 is usually low in most homes, these accommodations can’t always be provided.
Most younger patients have to share a room with someone who exceeds their age by 20 years or more, and generational gaps can cause tension. Older residents don’t like the louder music of the younger residents, and the younger residents can’t be healthy, emotionally and mentally, when they are faced with death everyday.
“It’s a depressing place to live,” explained Martin to the AP. “People die around you all the time. It starts to really get depressing because all you’re seeing is negative, negative, negative.”
Not all younger residents are in for the long haul. Some are just there to recover from an injury since it is a cheaper method for their insurance companies.
Either way, for those younger people who find themselves disabled, recovering and in a nursing home, sometimes the hardest part of the battle can be psychological.
“It is a real challenge for young people,” Dr. James Campbell, Geriatric Center director and executive director of Post Acute and Extended Care at The MetroHealth System in Cleveland, told AOL Health.
Many young residents can slip into depression from their physical limitations, lack of socializing and dreary and sad surroundings. According to Campbell, social perks, such as activities, game nights and social outings, are “critical” and can sometimes make or break the mental and emotional health of a younger resident. “The risk is without that they will be become isolated and depressed.”
January 19th, 2011
By: Charles Wallace
Anyone who has been to a supermarket lately knows that food prices are spiraling higher. In the coffee aisle, prices are up 30% in the last couple of months alone, and chocolate, beef and chicken also have grown more costly. Sugar is at a 30-year high. Wheat prices have shot up 47%, thanks to droughts in Russia and floods in Queensland, Australia. And corn keeps surging, not only because of its use as food and feed, but also because of its role as part of the burgeoning biofuels industry.
Food-price inflation doesn’t always get much attention in the U.S. because food accounts for such a small part of our overall household budgets, usually 10% to 15%. But those prices play a far bigger role elsewhere, making up as much as 90% of household spending in Africa and 30% in China and other developing countries.
The U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization this week reported that world food prices have reached a record high, surpassing the food crisis of 2007. In December, the FAO’s food basket of meat, sugar, diary and cereals was up 4% from November.
But you can also find some profit in this pain: When a commodity’s price climbs, it generally signals an investment opportunity. That holds true for food as well.
Why Ag May Is Poised for Growth
John Stephenson, an asset-management expert who has written a new guide called The Little Book of Commodity Investing, expects agricultural commodities to grow in value because “the world has more people in it, and people are changing their diets as they become more affluent and now eat more protein.” That means high demand for meat and for animal feed such as corn.
Want to get in on the booming agricultural market? One way to invest in it is to buy futures on the Chicago Board of Trade. But for small investors, futures often can be confusing and difficult to trade. Instead, Stephenson recommends other methods, including investing in exchange-traded funds. Unlike ETFs for gold and silver, agricultural ETFs don’t actually own the commodity, but instead buy futures contracts, saving investors the trouble.
Two of the most popular agricultural ETFs include the Agribusiness ETF (MOO), which is based on the DAXglobal agribusiness index and has grown 50% in the last six months, and the PowerShares DB Agriculture Fund (DBA), which is based on the Deutsche Bank Liquid Commodity Index Diversified Agriculture Excess Return and is up 32% from six months ago. Both ETFs invest in a basket of agricultural commodities, which can shift quickly, making it difficult for investors to know how much they’re betting on corn, for example, or soybeans at any specific time.
For more specific commodity investments, Stephenson recommends ETF Securities, a U.K.-based firm. It has specific ETFs for coffee (COFF), corn (CORN), leanhogs (HOGS), soybeans (SOYB), sugar (SUGA) and wheat (WEAT), all of which are traded on the London Stock Exchange.
January 19th, 2011
By: Sarah Crow
Things Kirk Cameron will be remembered as: Mike Seaver, philanthropist, evangelist.
Things Kirk Cameron will not be remembered as: a theology scholar, a foreseer of the apocalypse, a man who takes kindly to subtle mockery from Anderson Cooper.
Following the mysterious death of close to 2,000 red-winged blackbirds in Beebe, Ark., earlier this week, Anderson Cooper reached out to the former ‘Growing Pains’ star in an attempt to have him address reports that the event is a sign of the impending apocalypse.
Cameron, who stars in the popular ‘Left Behind’ films, which take place following the Rapture, was not amused by Cooper’s implication that his religious beliefs were the same as end-of-days zealotry. The actor told the Silver Fox, “You know, I’m not the religious-conspiracy theorist go-to guy, particularly. But I think it’s really kind of silly to try to equate birds falling from the sky with some kind of an end-times theory.”
January 19th, 2011
By: Christopher Weber
Ashley Turton, wife of the Obama administration’s House of Representatives liaison, Dan Turton, was found dead in a burning car Monday morning, Roll Call and other news outlets are reporting.
Fire officials said it appeared the car crashed as it was pulling in or out of the garage behind a rowhouse in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Washington, D.C., at about 5 a.m. Neighbors dialed 911 after spotting the fire.
The body was discovered after fire crews doused the blaze. The fire also charred part of the garage. Nobody in the house was injured, fire officials said.
Ashley Turton worked as a lobbyist for the utility giant Progress Energy, according to Politico. She was a former staffer for U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn.
Metropolitan Police Lt. Nicholas Breul told Roll Call a joint investigation is underway. Homicide detectives were called to the scene.
“This could be just a tragic freak accident,” Breul said, adding there was no indication that there was a crime committed.
The White House had no immediate comment on the incident.
January 19th, 2011
By: Abigail Field
When New Jersey tightened its rules for foreclosures in response to the crisis over false loan documents, it took the unprecedented step of ordering the six largest servicers — Ally Bank/GMAC, Bank of America (BAC), Citibank (C), JPMorgan Chase (JPM), Wells Fargo (WFC) and OneWest — to explain why they should be allowed to continue with their foreclosures. If any of them couldn’t adequately justify itself, New Jersey would suspend all the foreclosure actions by that bank in the state and appoint a special master to investigate its past and proposed processes.
On Jan. 5, the banks responded, and in essence each said: Look judge, we’re good guys committed to keeping people in their homes whenever possible, and while we admit that in the past we had problems — teeny-tiny problems — we’ve fixed them already.
Most of the banks’ briefs then argued, with varying degrees of aggressiveness, that the court doesn’t have the power to impose a foreclosure moratorium or appoint a special master because that would break court rules, violate New Jersey’s Constitution and the U.S. Constitution — including the banks’ due process rights — and overstep the judiciary’s role. They also claimed it was generally wrong because the banks were regulated federally. Only Chase declined to challenge the court’s authority to impose the moratorium or appoint a special master.
However strong these challenges to a potential moratorium and special master may be, the irony of banks arguing that halting foreclosures would break court rules and violate their due process rights is richer than New York cheesecake. After all, the banks’ actions in the foreclosure process have systematically involved documents that break court rules and violate homeowners’ due process rights, which is what led New Jersey to act in the first place. Irony aside, the banks are essentially saying: If you suspend our foreclosures or appoint a special master to investigate us, we’ll sue to stop you.
Although the banks vigorously assert that their document problems never led them to foreclose wrongly and that their records are in impeccable shape, they do admit to errors in their documents, at least to some degree.
January 19th, 2011
Alliance for Natural Health
The FDA has just notified one pharmacy that it will no longer be allowed to manufacture or distribute injectable vitamin C—despite its remarkable power to heal conditions that conventional medicine can’t touch. Please help reverse this outrageous decision!
Let’s get this straight. The government acknowledges the risk of a worldwide flu pandemic. It acknowledges that conventional drugs cannot cure big viruses-like the mononucleosis and hepatitis viruses, many influenza viruses, and many others. It acknowledges that many bacteria have become resistant to antibiotics and are killing increasing thousands. It acknowledges the risk of a worldwide drug-resistant TB pandemic.
Despite acknowledging all this, it now insists on wiping out one of the best potential treatments for these conditions and for certain cancers as well. And why is this being done? What possible rationale is offered? Because it’s dangerous? No. Because it can’t be patented and therefore won’t be taken through the standard FDA approval process. No matter that vitamin C is one of the least toxic components of our food supply and liquid forms of it have been used safely for decades.
By the way, here is what is not safe. Don’t substitute home-made vitamin C solution for pharmaceutical grade liquid. That is not safe for injection. If the FDA action leads someone to do that, the FDA should be held responsible for the results.
The government, instead of banning intravenous vitamin C, should instead be supporting research into it. Even though IV C is being used in burn units around the world, including in the US, and has been adopted by the military for this purpose, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) refuses to fund any studies using intravenous C in patients. There are privately funded studies currently underway, but of course these cannot continue if the FDA bans the substance.
With this pharmacy, the FDA also banned injectable magnesium chloride and injectable vitamin B-complex 100. These two substances are routinely added to intravenous C to make the “Myers Cocktail,” used especially for conditions such as chronic fatigue syndrome, and infectious diseases such as hepatitis, AIDS, mononucleosis, and flu. The FDA is not going after the Myers Cocktail directly, but is rather attacking each individual substance used to make the cocktail, and may conceivably be going after injectable vitamins and minerals in general, despite such injections being given under the care of a qualified physician.
Please contact the FDA right away, and tell them to stop this foolish war on intravenous vitamin C!
Each of us reading this should think, “Intravenous C could someday save my life.” Dr. Jonathan Collin, editor of the Townsend Letter, discusses the case of a man in New Zealand who nearly died from swine flu. After developing a severe fever and upper respiratory infection, his condition deteriorated and he became comatose. Eventually even a ventilator was insufficient to keep him breathing because his lungs were so compromised by pulmonary edema. After weeks of heroic intervention, doctors decided there was no chance of survival and nothing further should be done for him.
The family asked the hospital to administer intravenous vitamin C. After much disagreement, the hospital gave him 25 grams of vitamin C every 6 hours. There was so much improvement over the next two days that the hospital decided to reinstate his intensive care—but they discontinued the vitamin C, saying that he had improved only because they had rolled him onto his side or his stomach instead of keeping him on his back! Not surprisingly, his condition once again deteriorated.