Bill aims to protect travelers’ privacy

Law is focused on protecting laptop privacyLegislation introduced by three lawmakers this week aims to create stronger measures to protect the privacy of those who are traveling across borders.

The Travelers’ Privacy Protection Act states would require agents to be able to prove they have reasonable suspicion of illegal activity before they search people’s laptops, smartphones and documents.

Recently, the Department of Homeland Security published its guidance on the matter, raising concerns among many who support civil liberties. Currently, border inspectors do not need to have a reason to inspect and copy a traveler’s electronic and paper documents.

Representative Russ Feingold, who co-wrote the new bill, said that "most Americans would be shocked" if they knew what powers the government had to search and copy their personal emails, documents and photographs.

"Focusing our limited law enforcement resources on law-abiding Americans who present no basis for suspicion does not make us any safer and is a gross violation of privacy," he commented.

The bill would also place limits on the length of time that an electronic device can be separated from its owner.
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Dan Fuss to investors: Buy bonds

Investment expert recommends bondsDan Fuss of Boston-based Loomis Sayles has advised investors that U.S. investment-grade corporate bonds currently offer an outstanding opportunity that should not be missed by those looking to grow their wealth, Reuters reports.

He told the news provider in an interview that these bonds provide "the best buying opportunity" he has noted in 34 years. In September 1974, equities and bonds were both in bear markets, Fuss said.

The vice president of Loomis Sayles explained that he has been paying an average price that ranges in the low 70 cents on the dollar to purchase long-maturing "AA"-rated corporate bonds.

Merrill Lynch data cited by Reuters indicates that corporate bonds with this rating currently average a yield of around 7 percent.

The current uncertainty in the U.S. economy has had a tumultuous effect on the stock market, which has seen record falls in recent days. Many people have been moving their money away from what they perceive to be risky investments.

Fuss has 50 years of investing experience and was named to the Fixed Income Analysts Society’s Hall of Fame in 2000.
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Schwarzenegger says hospitals can be fined for privacy breaches

Patient records should remain private, governor saysCalifornia governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has signed legislation that gives a state office the right to fine hospitals that do not adequately protect patient privacy.

One bill approved by the governor creates an office to oversee the privacy of patient records, while the other specifies the potential for issuing fines up to $250,000.

"Repeated violations of patient confidentiality are potentially harmful to Californians, which is why financial penalties are needed to ensure employees and facilities do not breach confidential medical information," Schwarzenegger said, according to the LA Times.

Dave Jones, who authored one of the bills, said that "private medical information shouldn’t be flapping in the breeze like an open hospital gown."

The legislation also increases the amount that hospitals may be fined for medical mistakes that imply other patients may also be harmed.

Earlier this year, an employee at UCLA Medical Center was discovered to have breached security rules by accessing dozens of patient records without permission, including those of Schwarzenegger’s wife, Maria Shriver.
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Detoxify your life

Toxins may exist in common household productsRecent news about toxins in plastic bottles, the water supply and common household cleaning products may cause people to feel a bit helpless about how to protect themselves against dangerous chemicals.

Nena Baker – author of The Body Toxic – gave Newsweek some suggestions for easy ways to limit your contact with toxins.

Filtering your water can help remove the small quantities of pollutants such as lead, arsenic and pesticides that make it into some communities’ water supplies, she says.

In the home, people should avoid paint that is made with volatile organic compounds that are linked with breathing problems, as well as steering clear of electronics that include flame retardants known as PBDEs, Baker advises.

She explains that shampoos and make-up products may also contain some toxic ingredients, while canned foods and some plastic containers could have been made with BPA – which has been linked with heart disease.

In some cases, it is simply a matter of going back to the basics. When seeking to control the amount of toxic substances that are present in your house, the article recommends that "it’s best to keep your house clean through regular dusting and vacuuming."
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House prices continue to fall

Falling house prices can affect wealthThose who were counting on the equity in their homes to provide them with wealth in their later years may be watching the housing market with a careful eye.

New figures from Standard & Poor/Case-Shiller reveal that house prices in 20 major American cities increased their pace of decline in July, falling by 16.3 percent compared with the same period in 2007.

This represents the greatest drop in the eight-year history of the 20-city index. Meanwhile, the 10-city index also saw its largest fall since it was created 1988, decreasing by 17.5 percent.

David M. Blitzer, chairman of the Index Committee at Standard & Poor’s, said that the figures suggest there is "no evidence of a bottom" to house price decline.

"While some cities did show some marginal improvement over last month’s data, there is still very little evidence of any particular region experiencing an absolute turnaround," he commented.

Las Vegas, Phoenix and Miami suffered the worst drops, with house prices in the three cities declining by nearly 30 percent over the past year.

In 2004, Las Vegas was at the heart of a housing investment boom, with property values rising by 44 percent in the third quarter of that year, Bloomberg reported.
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Maryland police involved in civil liberties issue

Maryland police are accused of unwarranted surveillanceA probe has begun to investigate the full extent of surveillance practiced by Maryland state police, who have already admitted to tracking certain activist groups.

David Rocah, attorney for the Maryland American Civil Liberties Union, said that the state’s reasons for spying on the groups were "baseless," the Associated Press reports.

He said he has filed public information requests covering 32 groups that are involved in a variety of causes, including death penalty, animal rights and abortion issues.

The initial ACLU complaint began when it was discovered that the police had begun monitoring two activist groups, prompted by a pending execution. The surveillance ended in 2006, when the execution was delayed.

Responding to previous allegations of unwarranted surveillance made by the ACLU, state police superintendent Colonel Terrence B. Sheridan said that the state police’s homeland security division was responsible for the decision.

The news comes after the Electronic Frontier Foundation filed a lawsuit against the National Security Agency and members of the Bush administration, claiming that their surveillance practices were illegal.
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Report: Nursing homes may not be adequately protecting health

Most nursing homes violated federal standards in 2007More than 90 percent of nursing homes were cited for at least one violation of federal standards last year, according to a Health and Human Services Department report.

And a typical facility received an average of seven citations for health and safety deficiencies in 2007, federal investigators said.

Quality of care was the subject of many of the problems, a category that includes issues such as treatment for common health conditions.

Problems with the storage and distribution of food were also commonly mentioned, as were maintenance problems such as accident hazards.

It is the third year in a row in which more than 90 percent of nursing homes were judged to have deficiencies.

"The addition of stronger inspections and enforcement of quality-of-care requirements means that more of the serious deficiencies are being identified, even though many nursing homes also made improvements in their care," Jeff Nelligan, spokesperson for the HHS, told Bloomberg.

There are approximately 18,000 nursing homes in the U.S., offering some 1.9 million beds, according to the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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