Political Opportunism And Sandy

As Hurricane Sandy threatened much of the United States’ Eastern seaboard, political pundits took the opportunity to shout back and forth about which Presidential candidate would cut the most funding to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The Huffington Post dug up a Mitt Romney quote from during the Republican primary. The candidate was discussing the possibility of doing away with FEMA and making emergency management the responsibility of the States.

“Every time you have an occasion to take something from the federal government and send it back to the states, that’s the right direction. And if you can go even further, and send it back to the private sector, that’s even better. Instead of thinking, in the federal budget, what we should cut, we should ask the opposite question, what should we keep?” Romney said of the agency.

Headlines from various other news organizations ran with the theme touting things like Salon’s “Mitt’s Frankenstorm economics.” That article claimed that Romney has a vision of an America where free enterprise takes advantage of people in helpless situations as a result of privatization.

Conservative publication Breitbart swung back at the Barack Obama apologist media by pointing out that the President’s proposal for the upcoming budget sequester also calls for cuts to FEMA.

The source reports:

Obama’s proposed cuts to FEMA include the following (emphasis added):

  • Flood Hazard Mapping and Risk Analysis Program – $8 million
  • State and Local Emergency Programs (non-defense) – $183 million
  • State and Local Emergency Programs (defense) – $5 million
  • United States Fire Administration and Training – $4 million
  • Salaries and Expenses (non-defense) – $75 million
  • Salaries and Expenses (defense) – $7 million
  • Disaster Relief – $580 million
  • Emergency Food and Shelter – $10 million
  • Radiological Emergency Preparedness Program – $3 million
  • National Pre-disaster Mitigation Fund – $3 million

Are The Foods In Your Pantry Contaminated?

There have been hundreds of food product recalls in the last few years for everything from tomatoes to peanuts. But consumers don’t always heed the news. According to a survey released by Rutgers University in New Jersey, only 60 percent of Americans check for recalled foods in their home.

William Hallman, professor of human ecology and lead researcher, said he hopes to get more consumers not only to pay attention to the recalls, but to take active steps to rid the products from their homes. Currently, Hallman said only about 25 percent of those surveyed threw out food after hearing about a recall.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and The Associated Press estimate that about 87 million people get sick from food every year. About 371,000 of those are sick enough for a hospital visit. About 5,700 people die from food poisoning.

In fact, the peanut-related Salmonella outbreak that began in 2008 sickened more than 700 people in 46 States and was linked to nine deaths. The Salmonella outbreak in 2009 linked to hot peppers and tomatoes sickened more than 1,400 people. And a Trader Joe’s peanut butter recall is still ongoing. The CDC reports there are 30 illnesses in 19 States from salmonella-contaminated peanut products.

For more information, visit the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s website and sign up for email alerts for the latest news about recalls and contaminated products. You can also use Recall Owl to follow food recall information.

Chevrolet And Mattel Create A Muscle Car

LAS VEGAS (UPI) — U.S. toymaker Mattel Inc. and automaker General Motors Co. are promoting a special edition Camaro as a Hot Wheels car for grownups.

For the first time in 44 years of producing Hot Wheels toys, Mattel is working with a car company to produce a special edition vehicle. The cost for the life-sized, special edition muscle car will be $44,000 for an eight-cylinder version and $37,000 for a six-cylinder model.

The Los Angeles Times reported Saturday that the car — which is a marriage of an iconic toy and an iconic automobile — will be featured next week at the Specialty Equipment Manufacturers Association trade show in Las Vegas.

The car features the Hot Wheels logo of red flames and the racing stripe that has been a constant in the Hot Wheels Camaro since it was first produced as a toy in 1968.

That’s only one year younger than the real Camaro, which made its first appearance in 1967, the Detroit News pointed out.

“Who wouldn’t want to grow up and drive a Hot Wheels car?” said John Fitzpatrick, marketing manager for Chevrolet Performance cars.

The companies expect fans of both Hot Wheels and Camaro will be attracted to the special edition vehicle, Fitzpatrick said.

Most Don’t Know They Don’t Save Enough

BOSTON (UPI) — Most people say saving for retirement is their top financial priority, but most don’t save enough and behavioral economics may explain why, a U.S. expert said.

A survey sponsored by the mutual fund company T. Rowe Price found about 72 percent of U.S. adults said saving for retirement was their top financial goal, while 42 percent said a contribution of at least 15 percent of their pay was “ideal.”

However, the survey found 68 percent said they were saving 10 percent or less, which Stuart Ritter, a senior financial planner for T. Rowe Price, described as “not very much.”

The average contribution was about 8 percent of pay, calculated Fidelity Investments, which tracks client contributions to the 401(K)s it manages.

The U.S. Internal Revenue Service recently increased the limit on contributions to 401(K) and 403(B) retirement plans from $17,000 to $17,500 and the so-called catch-up contribution available to people who are age 50 or older remained unchanged at $5,500.

Ritter said behavioral economics research has shown employers unfortunately send the message to their workers that about 3 percent is sufficient for the employee to put aside for retirement because that is how much the employer usually matches.

Ritter told Squared Away, a Financial Security Project at Boston College, in an interview the financial industry is partially to blame.

“We have done a really good job of conveying to people how important saving for retirement is, but what we haven’t done as good a job of is telling them how much to save,” Ritter said.

The Center for Retirement Research at Boston College found typical U.S. baby boomer households had $42,000 in their retirement plans at work in 2010.

Consumer Spending Rose In September

WASHINGTON (UPI) — U.S. consumer spending rose 0.8 percent in September, twice the rate of incomes, the U.S. Commerce Department said Monday.

For the second consecutive month, spending, which climbed 0.5 percent in August, gained at its fastest pace since February. For the three months prior to August, spending rose an average of less than 0.2 percent per month.

Incomes rose 0.4 percent — $48.1 billion — and disposable income gained 0.4 percent or $43 billion. But when adjusted for inflation, disposable incomes was flat after dropping 0.3 percent in August, the Bureau of Economic Analysis said.

Private wages and salaries rose by $19.1 billion after rising by $4.1 billion in August and $9.3 billion in July.

With spending rising faster than incomes, the savings rate declined from 3.7 percent to 3.3 percent.

Consumers were also squeezed by rising prices, but the squeeze was relatively mild with prices up 0.4 percent for the second consecutive month in September.

Core prices, which exclude energy and food prices, rose 0.1 percent, the department said.

Stock markets were closed in New York Monday as the city braced for Hurricane Sandy, leaving investors a day to contemplate how to adjust to Monday’s report.

Economist had expected incomes to rise 0.4 percent and spending to rise 0.6 percent.

Deal Could Merge Penguin And Random House

LONDON (UPI) — Two companies in Europe that run brand name book publishers Penguin and Random House said they would merge their consumer publishing assets.

The companies, Bertelsmann and Pearson, would make the largest English-language consumer book publishing house in the world — Random House — even bigger, The New York Times reported Monday.

“Together, the two publishers will be able to share a large part of their costs, to invest more for their author and reader constituencies and to be more adventurous in trying new models in this exciting, fast-moving world of digital books and digital readers, Marjorie Scardino, chief executive officer of Pearson, said.

Bertelsmann CEO Thomas Rabe also said the merger of divisions would consolidate costs and help the firms compete in a publishing world dealing with new digital options.

“With this planned combination, Bertelsmann and Pearson create the best course for new growth for our world-renowned trade-book publishers, to enable them to publish even more effectively across traditional and emerging formats and distribution channels,” Rabe said.

The deal includes a new arrangement for management and sidesteps the difficulty created when Bertelsmann merged its music publishing business with Sony of Japan in a 50-50 deal that resulted in so much conflict that Bertelsmann later sold its shares.

The current deal would give Random House 53 percent of the merged company, but allow Random House CEO Markus Dohle to become the top executive of the merged company. Penguin’s chief executive, John Makinson, would become chairman.

Some literary agents have already said the deal would not be good for authors, who would see competition for their work decline. The merger could also run up against regulator opposition, given the new company would control one-quarter of the U.S. consumer book publishing business.

Industry Rallies To Defeat Sweet-Drink Tax

EL MONTE, Calif. (UPI) — The mayor of El Monte, Calif., said soda companies came out of their corner swinging to oppose a ballot initiative to tax sugary beverages.

Originally believing the tax on soft drinks would be met with voter approval and provide an easy $7 million for the city’s budget, soft drink companies came out in force to oppose the ballot referendum, spending $1.3 million to lobby against the measure while the city spent $57,000 to promote it, the Los Angeles Times reported Monday.

The city’s sales pitch is based on the obesity and diabetes that are associated with sugary drinks.

But the city is now blanketed with “No on Measure H” signs as the industry has brought in seasoned consultants who are out to convince residents the cost of hundreds of drinks would jump if the tax was to pass.

There are 500 drinks — everything from chocolate milk to Red Bull — listed on a Web site promoting opposition to the tax, which would add a penny to every ounce of “sugar-sweetened” drinks.

Opposition groups have targeted various cultures specifically, showing a Latino woman complaining about the added cost to chocolate milk while an Asian woman complains of the price for “boba milk tea,” that would go up.

Mayor Andre Quintero said he thought he had a referendum that couldn’t fail, but now believes it will fail at the polls.

“What they’re trying to do is not just defeat this measure, they’re trying to obliterate it, so that no elected official ever again considers putting something like this on the ballot,” Quintero said.

That defeat includes the city spends promoting the referendum, which could end up as money they cannot recoup and the simple risk to politicians.

“A lot of people are saying to me, ‘You know this will be the end of your political career,'” Quintero said.

Doctors, Patients Use Massage As Therapy

EVANSTON, Ill. (UPI) — Seventy-five percent of U.S. adults say their main reason for getting a massage in the past 12 months was either medical- or stress-related, a survey indicates.

The survey by the American Massage Therapy Association indicated 87 percent of individuals view massage as being beneficial to overall health and wellness.

Association President Cynthia Ribeiro said medical reasons included pain relief, soreness, stiffness or spasms, injury recovery, migraines and general well-being.

“The findings from this year’s survey display a growing sense of awareness among consumers about massage being an effective tool for a variety of health conditions,” Ribeiro said in a statement. “Physicians are recommending massage therapy to their patients for stress-related tension, pain relief and injuries, as well as to help maintain overall health and wellness.”

Fifty percent said their doctor either strongly recommended or encouraged them to get a massage.

This suggested consumers and healthcare professionals regard massage as a viable option to address health concerns, Ribeiro said.

“A growing body of evidence shows that massage therapy can be effective for a variety of health conditions and massage is rapidly becoming recognized as an important part of health and wellness,” said Dr. Keri Peterson, a board certified internal medicine physician. “Many of my patients come to me with chronic pain including back and knee pain, as well as migraines and injuries after exercise. I am now referring more people than ever to meet with massage therapists as an alternative, before considering surgery or prescribing prescriptions.”

Eighty-nine percent of those surveyed said massage was effective in reducing pain, while almost 30 percent have used massage the therapy at some time for pain relief.

No survey details were provided.

Genes, Not Family, Up Breast Cancer Link

DALLAS (UPI) — Five percent to 10 percent of breast cancers are thought to be hereditary, but women with these gene abnormalities have higher cancer risk, a U.S. surgeon said.

Dr. David Euhus, a surgeon at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, said women with the BRCA genes might have as much as an 80 percent risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer during their lifetimes.

“Knowing that you carry a mutation in one of the BRCA genes opens up numerous options for early diagnosis and cancer prevention,” Euhus said in a statement. “If you have been diagnosed with breast cancer recently, this information is critical for making treatment decisions.”

Euhus offered a checklist to help individuals decide whether they should consider genetic testing for breast cancer:

— Three or more blood relatives on the same side of the family diagnosed with breast cancer.

— A family history of ovarian cancer.

— A relative on either side of the family diagnosed with breast cancer before age 45.

— Being of Ashkenazi Jewish heritage.

— A family member who had triple negative breast cancer before age 60.

— Any male in the family who has had breast cancer.

— Female relatives who have had cancer in both breasts.

Osteoporosis, A Symptom-Free Disease

DALLAS (UPI) — Osteoporosis is a “silent” bone disease because most people — the disease affects 10 million U.S. adults — are unaware of it until a fracture, an expert said.

Dr. Khashayar Sakhaee, chief of the mineral metabolism division at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, said most often osteoporosis affects postmenopausal women who undergo a dramatic drop in estrogen — a hormone that assists in the absorption of calcium and prevents calcium loss from the bone. However, the disease can affect anyone with a hormone imbalance, including men who have been treated for prostate cancer.

Proven osteoporosis risk factors include: race — Caucasians have 50 percent to 60 percent more risk — a family history of the disease, lack of exercise, low body weight and smoking. Patients who take high dosages of corticosteroids are also more susceptible to fragile bones, Sakhaee said.

To help prevent development of the disease, Sakhaee advised to:

— Exercise and eat a healthy diet rich with vegetables, fruits and sources of dairy.

— Postmenopausal women and everyone older than 70 should get 1,200 milligrams of calcium every day through diet or supplements. The best source of calcium is always dairy products; one 8-ounce glass of milk includes 800 milligrams of calcium, and one slice of cheese or a single serving of yogurt both have about 200 to 300 milligrams of calcium.

— Postmenopausal women and people over 70 years of age should get 1,000 units of vitamin D each day.

— At age 50, all women should ask their physicians for a bone-density test.