Across the country people have seen their retirement funds halved. Companies have tightened their belts as they sought to rein in spending and remain profitable. As a result, many workers have lost their jobs and unemployment is bumping 9 percent, the highest rate in years.
Salary reductions, reduced shift lengths, forced vacations and job cuts have forced families to cut back on their spending. Even those who have not yet lost jobs or faced cutbacks on their paychecks are spending less and saving more, hoping to set up a buffer against the news that another job is lost.
Yet as the personal (individual families) and private (businesses) sectors cut their spending, increase their savings and pay down their debt and cut their workforce the government—at least on the Federal level—is doing just the opposite.
In April, private sector employment fell by 611,000 jobs, according to the United States Department of Labor (DOL). That leaves 13.7 million people in the country unemployed. But, Federal government jobs increased by 66,000 the same month.
And spending? A new budget more than $3 trillion; stimulus package $787 billion; Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) $700 billion; and it all adds up to more spending this year than all the previous years combined spending in U.S. history.
And what about those people who are voting to spend this money—your money—while you struggle to make ends meet and look toward the possibility of working an additional 10 years just to recover your lost retirement? Have their retirement funds taken a similar hit?
Not on your life. You see, the pensions of the president, senators and congressmen don’t work like yours and mine.
Rather than going into an IRA or 401(k), theirs is managed by the government. They are backed by the full faith and credit of the U.S. Participants (senators and representatives) put in their contributions and the federal government makes an employer contribution to cover any balances, according to Pete Sepp, vice president for Policy and Communications of the National Taxpayers Union.
The operations of those retirement funds are overseen by federally funded boards, Sepp said.
So, is it any wonder that politicians on the Federal level seem unconcerned about the state of the economy beyond the political ramifications on the next election cycle?
Now you know why Federal-level politicians aren’t showing the same angst as most people over the state of the economy. “The fundamentals of the economy are strong,” Senator John McCain said during the presidential election. Now President Barack Obama says the same thing.
And it is if you work for the Federal government where when you need a little cash all you have to do is fire up the printing press for another run.
But on Main Street, auto dealers, coffee shop owners, gift shop owners, restaurateurs, blue collar workers and white collar workers all have a different take. And it shows once again that there is a standard for “them” and one for the rest of us.
A California scientist has been arguing there is a good reason to conduct more in-depth research on the possible causative link between vitamin D levels and the development of Alzheimer’s disease.
Dr. William B. Grant of the Sunlight, Nutrition and Health Research Center, writing in the current issue of the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, analyzes a growing body of evidence linking the development of Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia to vitamin D deficiency.
The key piece of the puzzle, in his view, is that low serum levels of vitamin D have been associated with increased risk for cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, depression, cavities, osteoporosis and periodontal disease.
These conditions, in turn, are considered either a risk factor for dementia or may precede its onset.
Scientists also believe the vitamin plays a role in inflammation reduction as well as brain development and function.
Grant says the elderly tend to be vitamin D deficient, and those over the age of 60 should consider having their serum vitamin D tested and aim to maintain it at the level of at least 30 ng/mL but preferably over 40 ng/mL.
Recent studies have found that the average blood levels of vitamin D have decreased in the U.S. between 1994 and 2004, and American teenagers are at a particular risk for the deficiency.
As a result, health practitioners have suggested increasing the daily recommended doses of the vitamin to as much as 2,000 IUD.
President Obama’s decision to close the Guantanamo Bay prison has put the future of its detainees in the spotlight, and a political battle is on the horizon over the issue of bringing some of the terrorist suspects to the U.S. for trial.
Earlier this month, the media reported on plans to bring a group of Chinese Muslims, known as Uyghurs, to a prison in Fairfax County, Virginia, sparking a great deal of controversy.
A Republican congressman from Virginia, Frank Wolf, has been explicit in his opposition.
"[The Uyghurs are] one group that … should be released somewhere abroad," he said, quoted by CBS.
"There is potential radicalization … having been at Guantanamo for seven years," he added.
However, his Democratic counterpart Jim Moran has said it makes sense to settle the men in Uyghurs communities, such as the one in northern Virginia.
"To just detain somebody to rot in prison for the rest of their lives, who is in there because they oppose the policies of a nation that we also oppose, is not a sufficient plan of action," Moran added, quoted by the AP.
Moran is referring to the fact that Uyghurs are persecuted in China for their opposition to the communist government, and there have been speculations their presence in Afghanistan may have been linked to their domestic political activities rather than links to international terrorism.
In the days since President Obama has announced Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court, a variety of conservative groups have expressed their reservations.
Calling her "a radical pick," Americans United for Life has criticized the judge’s allegedly activist record and expressed concern that her appointment will perpetuate what it calls the Supreme Court’s role as a "national abortion control board."
"This appointment would provide a pedestal for an avowed judicial activist to impose her personal policy and beliefs onto others … at a time when the courts are at a crossroad and critical abortion regulations like partial-birth abortion and informed consent laws lie in the balance," it said.
Meanwhile, Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms has said the nomination validates the concerns of millions of American citizens who fear their Second Amendment rights are in jeopardy under the current administration.
It has pointed to the fact that Sotomayor was part of a Second Circuit Court panel that ruled in Maloney v. Cuomo in January that the Second Amendment does not apply to the states, which is in conflict with a Ninth Circuit opinion this spring in Nordyke v. King that it is incorporated to the states, and therefore places limits on their ability to regulate the right to bear arms.
Commentators across the board are expecting partisan confirmation hearings for the 54-year-old Sotomayor.
The Illinois CPA Society has provided advice on how to stay out of debt during challenging economic times.
It has issued its 10 Strokes to Stay Afloat to help Americans navigate through the turbulent economic waters. They include common sense advice such as the need to tread carefully with spending and creating a budget to ensure that it does not exceed disposable income.
The Society also stresses the importance of taking care of big savings projects such as retirement or college.
Even those who sustained serious losses due to the stock market collapse may recover by making well-considered decisions or consulting a trusted financial advisor to devise a strategy based on how close the individual is to retirement.
Meanwhile, parents of college-bound children should not worry if they have not saved enough to cover the expenses, the Society says.
There is a plethora of tuition assistance options, starting from the Free Application for Federal Student Aid form that should be submitted on time to open doors to government funding.
Moreover, it is wise to explore local or national private grants and scholarships which can save families thousands of dollars in educational expenses.
The Illinois CPA Society also reminds readers that with record low mortgage rates, large inventories of unsold homes and an $8,000 new homebuyer’s credit for 2009 now is a great time to buy or refinance a house.
A new study has suggested women who take folic acid for at least one year before they become pregnant may reduce their risk of having a premature baby by half.
The results are significant given the serious human and economic costs of premature births as preemies are at an increased risk of complications such as cerebral palsy, mental retardation, chronic lung disease and blindness.
The study, conducted by scientists from the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston analyzed folate supplementation of 38,033 participants in an earlier trial sponsored by the National Institutes of Health.
The effect holds regardless of age, race or other health factors, they say.
Dr. Alan R. Fleischman, senior vice president and medical director of the March of Dimes, says it has been known for a long time that folic acid supplementation beginning before pregnancy and continuing into the first trimester helps prevent serious birth defects of the brain and spinal cord.
"[The new] research reinforces our message that every woman of childbearing age should consume 400 micrograms of folic acid daily," he adds.
The study was published online in the journal PLoS Medicine.
As Texas lawmakers passed a bill which allows concealed weapons on state college campuses, a coalition of Louisiana higher education institutions has vowed to push back against similar laws in their state.
Seven Louisiana state universities, including Louisiana Tech University, University of Louisiana-Lafayette and Southern University A&M College, have signed resolutions opposing efforts to arm students.
"America’s college campuses are among the safest environments for students because they do not permit guns on their premises," says Andy Pelosi, president of GunFreeKids.org, which launched the Campaign to Keep Guns Off Campus last December.
"If the gun [lobby succeeds] our universities will become less safe and prone to more violence. And if lawmakers truly believe in creating a safe learning environment for students, they will oppose [their] extremist legislation," he adds.
Anti-gun groups have also accused the gun lobby of using the Virginia tech tragedy as a cover to promote their agenda of pushing guns "into every nook and cranny of our society, including our schools," in the words of John Johnson, outreach coordinator for the campaign.
In Louisiana legislature, the pending House Bill 27 would allow students, professors and staff who have weapons licenses to carry hidden and loaded handguns onto campuses as well as in classrooms and at sporting events.
The Internal Revenue Service has said it is expanding its audit efforts among rich individuals and companies with foreign operations in an effort to enhance its enforcement.
According to Reuters, the statement came in response to one congressmen citing data which suggests the IRS audit rate for millionaires fell 19 percent between 2007 and 2008, while for big corporations it allegedly declined by 9 percent from 2005 to 2008.
"Our long-term investment is to have a trend where wealthy individuals, large corporations, [and all those] who have benefited from being in the U.S. … pay their taxes," said IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman, quoted by the news source.
Shulman has also urged House lawmakers to enact President Obama’s proposals to fight offshore tax evasion, which include a $400 million increase in the IRS enforcement budget over fiscal year 2009 funding levels.
Earlier this year, the IRS announced a six-month amnesty program to encourage individuals and companies holding assets in offshore accounts to voluntarily declare them in exchange for lower penalties and avoidance of criminal prosecution as long as the assets were acquired legally.
A partnership that has been announced between scientific research centers from Mexico and China aims to explore a role of herbal medicines in containing the outbreak of the H1N1 flu.
The agreement between Mexico’s National Polytechnic Institute (IPN) and China Medical University in Beijing is expected to be signed in July, according to Xinhua News Agency.
It quoted Javier Grandini Gonzalez, director of the IPN’s National Medicine and Homeopathy School, as praising both countries’ "excellent" record in herbal medicine study.
Herbal therapies, along with acupuncture, exercise Qi Gong and massage have been the cornerstones of Chinese medicine dating back more than 2,000 years.
"We are seeking to find in the herbal traditions [of the two countries] plants that serve as anti-virals," said Guillermo Perez Ishiwara, the IPN’s head of postgraduate studies and research, quoted by the agency.
"Some of the components of herbal formulas may stimulate the immune response, which means they could become an alternative in preventing any outbreak that may come in winter," he added.
The current outbreak of the H1N1 influenza, also known as the swine flu, originated in Mexico in early April of this year. To date, it has killed more than 100 while infecting some 4,500 people in the country.