Report: Counterterrorism schemes should ensure privacy protection

Counterterrorist schemes need oversightU.S. government agencies should be obligated to assess the impact of counterterrorism initiatives on people’s privacy before they begin, a new report claims.

The National Research Council looked at the methodology, effectiveness and privacy implications of a variety of surveillance techniques used by the government.

In the report, the council noted that data on members of the public is regularly recorded in a number of ways – for example, through telephone calls, credit card usage and taxes – and that the government has access to a great deal of this information.

Former U.S. secretary of defense William Perry, co-chair of the committee that wrote the report, said that although technology should be used to prevent potential terrorist attacks, there should be a structure in place to protect privacy.

"The threat [of terrorism] does not justify government activities that violate the law, or fundamental changes in the level of privacy protection to which Americans are entitled," he commented.

In addition to preliminary evaluation of privacy concerns, a framework for regular oversight should be established, the report said.

The National Research Council has a mission to inform and improve the policies and actions of the U.S. government, according to its website.

New FBI guidelines prompt civil liberty concerns

Under Bush, the FBI has introduced new guidelinesSome people are not convinced that new guidelines introduced by the FBI in the final weeks of the Bush administration will adequately protect American’s civil liberties.

The standards set out what agents can and cannot do when starting an investigation, including rules about conducting surveillance, utilizing informants and including race or ethnicity as a factor for suspicion.

"These guidelines support the FBI’s mission, emphasizing early detection, prevention and interagency cooperation," an FBI press release stated. The new rules consolidate and replace five previous sets of guidelines for issues such as criminal investigations and foreign intelligence.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union, the new guidelines are overly broad and leave too much room for abuse by authorities.

"The FBI has shown time and time again that it is incapable of policing itself and there is good reason to believe that these guidelines will lead to more abuse," ACLU executive director Anthony D. Romero said in a statement.

And some lawmakers raised concerns about the FBI’s ability to access the private information of average citizens as part of an investigation.

New study claims FDR’s policies prevented recovery

Could we be headed for a new depression?President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s "misguided policies" led to the Great Depression lasting far longer than it should have, according to two UCLA economists.

Harold L. Cole and Lee E. Ohanian analyzed the economic recovery of the U.S. following the depression and concluded that New Deal measures interfered with the market’s ability to self-correct, Newsmax reports.

Roosevelt was wrong to blame "excessive competition" for economic problems, Cole explained. He said that this mistake led to the president allowing workers to demand inflated wages and businesses to collude to inflate prices.

"The economy was poised for a beautiful recovery, but that recovery was stalled by these misguided policies," Cole told the news provider.

He suggested that a central assumption many economists have held since the end of the Great Depression – that government intervention is necessary to heal wounds created by capitalism run amok – is thrown into question by this research.

A recent CNN Money poll revealed that 60 percent of Americans believe the current credit crunch will lead to an economic depression.

Credit crunch hits Americans’ retirement plans

Many people have put retirement plans on holdThe credit crunch has sent Americans of all ages scrambling to reassess their personal economic situation – including baby boomers who may have assumed they were on the cusp of enjoying their golden years in relative wealth.

Around one-third of middle-aged workers have considered putting off their retirement due to financial concerns, according to research from AARP.

The survey findings, reported in the Wall Street Journal, also reveal that 20 percent have stopped contributing to their retirement plans during the past year.

More than a quarter of respondents said they were struggling to pay rent or their mortgage, while 13 percent admitted they had prematurely withdrawn funds from their retirement savings, despite the fact that this decision carries a tax penalty.

Commenting on the findings, Jean Setzfand of the AARP said that many people have been sacrificing longer-term financial goals to cover more pressing "basic expenses like food, gas and utilities."

"People are trying to get through the day, and worry about the future later," she explained, according to the news provider.

There are around 78 million baby boomers in the U.S., according to census statistics.

Hospital disinfectants could create resistant bacteria

Biocides should not be used at low dosesWe expect hospitals to use disinfectants and other cleaning products to kill germs and protect us, but new researchers suggest this practice – if administered incorrectly – could have dangerous consequences.

Published in the journal Microbiology, the study looked at biocides, chemicals that are used by hospitals to sterilize equipment and clean surfaces.

It found that if used at optimum levels, biocides can effectively destroy bacteria. However, if the dosages used for cleaning are too low, the microbes can survive and grow even stronger.

According to the research, conducted at the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, bacteria have protein pumps that eliminate various toxic substances, such as antibiotics, making them resistant to drugs.

When weak biocides allow some bugs to survive, the number of these protein pumps increased.

"We found that exposure to low concentrations of a variety of biocides and dyes resulted in the appearance of resistant mutants," explained study leader Dr. Glenn Kaatz.

MRSA is one notorious "superbug" that has become resistant to antibiotics. This type of infection may result in serious illness and even death.

Melamine OK in small doses, FDA says

Melamine has made tens of thousands of babies ill in ChinaDespite a health scare in which tens of thousands of Chinese babies have fallen ill due to melamine in their formula, the Food and Drug Administration has said that products containing small amounts of the chemical are not dangerous for adults.

The FDA explained that its safety experts believe that people who consume a very low amount of melamine, calculated as 2.5 parts per million, would not suffer health problems.

However, the agency concluded that no amount of the chemical could be considered safe in infant formula, because there is not enough information on how children are affected by exposure.

According to the FDA, its safety assessment is aimed at situations in which melamine is accidentally incorporated into food, rather than deliberate attempts to add it.

"If products are adulterated because they contain melamine, (authorities) will take appropriate actions to prevent the products from entering commerce," the agency stated.

In September, a worldwide health alert broke out after it emerged that Chinese children were getting sick from melamine that had been deliberately added to dairy products to boost protein levels.

More banks will fail, analysts predict

Bank failures have consumers and businesses worriedCongress’ approval of a $700 billion rescue package for financial institutions will not prevent more banks from failing in the coming year, analysts have suggested.

An Associated Press report suggests that the coming months could bring the most uncertainty that banks have seen since the savings and loan crisis of the 1990s.

Stanford Financial analyst Jeret Seiberg told the news agency that many banks are carrying construction loans and other deteriorating assets that will not be relieved by the bailout.

In addition, the AP points out that banks have grown larger in the past couple of decades, which could mean that even if fewer banks fail, the financial consequences could be just as great.

Joseph Mason, an economist who teaches at Louisiana State University, said that lenders are set to pay for their risky behavior.

"We just had a big party where people and businesses overborrowed," he commented. "We had a bubble and now we want to get back to normal. Is it going to be painless? No."

Last month, Washington Mutual was seized by the FDIC in what has been described as the largest bank failure in U.S. history. It seems that more casualties could be on the way.

Government proceeds with spy satellite program

A satellite willl provide images of the U.S. to authoritiesThe government now has the green light to begin a limited version of a satellite surveillance program that provides imagery of the U.S. to federal, state and local authorities.

Known as the National Applications Office, the initiative is aimed at helping officials with emergency response and domestic security, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal.

However, some have raised concerns about the civil liberties and privacy issues at stake.

For example, an unpublished Government Accountability Office report suggested that the Department of Homeland Security has not provided adequate assurance that it will be able to oversee procedures and prevent information from being misused.

In response to these concerns, Congress placed some temporary funding restrictions on the program, but an initial phase has already begun.

California representative Jane Harman told the publication that she will fight the expansion of the scheme, having taken on board lessons learned from previous government surveillance initiatives.

"I don’t want to go there again until the legal framework for the entire program is entirely spelled out," she said.

In other civil liberties news, lawmakers recently proposed legislation to limit how border officials monitor and copy electronic and paper documents carried by travelers.

Thomas Jefferson

“I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies. If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of their currency, first by inflation, then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around will deprive the people of all property until their children wake-up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered. The issuing power should be taken from the banks and restored to the people, to whom it properly belongs.”

Thomas Jefferson, Letter to the Secretary of the Treasury Albert Gallatin (1802)
3rd president of US (1743 – 1826)

A bailout full of waste?

The bailout bill now has added porkFollowing the passage of a revised $700 billion bailout package by Congress, some people may be wondering what made certain representatives change their vote.

The answer is the addition of various political "sweeteners," which are also labeled "pork" by critics. Jim Popkin, NBC News senior investigative producer, explained that the small print of the bailout proposal contains billions of dollars of tax breaks that are unlikely to benefit the average taxpayer.

These provisions range from tax breaks for businesses that encourage bicycle use among staff to write-offs for facilities that produce cellulosic biofuel.

Keith Ashdown of Taxpayers for Common Sense, told that "this is unfortunately how Washington works."

"Lawmakers piled billions of dollars of pork into the bailout bill and dared detractors to vote against it," he explained, adding that several provisions "benefit narrow interests."

Meanwhile, Rush Limbaugh worried on a recent radio show that the added pork in the bailout bill would raise its cost in real terms.

"So a $700 billion bailout bill becomes $850 billion in the Senate. This is going to end up being a trillion dollars before it’s all said and done," he said.