Gallup: In U.S. Private Sector, Older Workers Better Utilized

WASHINGTON (UPI) — In the U.S. non-federal sector, older workers are more likely than  younger counterparts to report being able to put their best skills to use, a survey says.

The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index involving 115,000 U.S. adults — including 8,000 who identified themselves as federal workers — was conducted Jan. 2-Dec. 30, 2012.

About 85 percent of full-time federal government workers age 18-29 said they get to use their strengths at work every day to do what they do best — versus 77 percent of federal workers age 65 and older.

For other U.S. workers, 82 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds said they use their strengths in their work compared with 86 percent of those age 65 and older, the survey said.

The federal government could do more to help its older workers use their strengths at work, Gallup said. It could structure positions and train supervisors to get the most out of their employees by discovering and maximizing their employees’ strengths, the polling firm suggested.

Gallup research has shown that if a supervisor focuses on employees’ strengths, only 1 percent of employees are actively disengaged at work. Otherwise, if a manager focuses on weaknesses, 22 percent, on average, are actively disengaged. Underutilized employees not only hurt work outcomes, but have have significant financial implications, Gallup said.

The survey has a margin of error of 1 percentage point.

U.S. Only Advanced Economy With No Guaranteed Paid Vacation

WASHINGTON (UPI) — The United States is the only country among advanced economies that does not require employers to provide paid vacation time, a non-profit group says.

A report by the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington reviewed data from a range of national and international sources on the legal requirements for paid vacations and paid holidays in 21 rich countries — 16 European countries, Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand and the United States.

The group found European countries require private companies to give at least 20 days of paid vacation per year, with legal requirements of 25 and even 30 or more days in some countries.

Australia and New Zealand both require employers to grant at least 20 vacation days per year; Canada and Japan mandate at least 10 paid days off.

In addition, most of the rest of the world’s rich countries offer at least six paid holidays per year. Since the United States requires no paid vacation or paid holidays almost one in four Americans — 23 percent — don’t get any.

The average worker in the private sector in the United States receives only about 10 days of paid vacation and about six paid holidays per year, which is less than the minimum legal standard set in the rest of world’s rich economies excluding Japan, which guarantees only 10 paid vacation days and requires no paid holidays.

Several foreign countries offer additional time off for younger and older workers, shift workers and those engaged in community service, including jury duty.

Five countries even mandate employers pay vacationing workers a small premium above their standard pay in order to help pay for vacation-related expenses, the report said.

U.S. Postal Service Finances Remain Wobbly

WASHINGTON (UPI) — Two lawmakers — an independent and a Democrat — are sponsoring bills to eliminate a financial mandate that some say is threatening the U.S. Postal Service.

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, Ind-Vt., and U.S. Rep. Peter A. Defazio, D-Ore., are attempting to reverse a mandate passed into law in 2006 that requires the Postal Service to pay billions of dollars in retirement healthcare costs 50 years in advance.

The Postal Service lost $5.6 billion the year the mandate began, $5.1 billion of which was due to the pre-payment requirement, the Los Angeles Times reported Tuesday.

With the Internet stealing business from the agency and with the funding mandate in place, the Postal Service is losing $25 million each day, which added up to a $1.9 billion loss in the first quarter of the year and a loss of $15.9 billion in all of 2012, the newspaper said.

The service is a business that is controlled by Congress. As such, lawmakers are aiming to change the fundamental structure of the relationship between the service and Congress to give it more flexibility on how it runs its operation.

With the current set up, proposals that would have saved the service $6.5 billion a year and efforts to consolidate have been shot down by Congress.

“The Postal Service has far too little flexibility when it needs to adjust and it’s really in handcuffs because of all the requirements Congress puts on it,” said Mike Schuyler, an expert on the Postal Service at the Tax Foundation, a Washington think tank.

The 238-year-old agency has survived other technological advancements in communication, including the telegram, the telephone and the television but the current crisis is considered dire.

“We are in real trouble, and we need comprehensive postal reform yesterday,” Mickey Barnett, the chairman of the service’s board of governors, told a congressional panel in April.

Home Prices Hit Double-Digit Annual Increases

NEW YORK (UPI) — U.S. home prices in the first quarter posted double-digit gains over the same quarter of 2012, a closely watched private report said Tuesday.

The Standard and Poor’s/Case-Shiller home price report said its 10-city index rose 10.3 percent from January through March of 2012. Over the same period, the report’s 20-city index rose 10.9 percent.

The national composite index rose 10.2 percent over the same time period, the report said.

All 20 of the report’s monitored cities posted increases year-over-year.

From February to March, the 10-city index and the 20-city index rose 1.4 percent with five cities — Charlotte, N.C.; Los Angeles; Portland, Ore.; Seattle; and Tampa, Fla. — posting their largest month-over-month gains in five years.

“Home prices continued to climb. Home prices in all 20 cities posted annual gains for the third month in a row. Twelve of the 20 saw prices rise at double-digit annual growth. The National Index and the 10- and 20-City Composites posted their highest annual returns since 2006,” said David Blitzer, chairman of the Index Committee at S&P Dow Jones Indices, said in a statement.

In March, Phoenix posted the largest annual gain with prices up 22.5 percent. The second sharpest gain was in San Francisco at 22.2 percent, followed by Las Vegas at 20.6 percent.

Atlanta posted a gain of 19.1 percent and Detroit a gain of 18.5 percent.

The lowest gains were in New York at 2.6 percent, Cleveland at 4.8 percent and Boston at 6.7 percent.

Consumer Confidence Improved In May

NEW YORK (UPI) — U.S. consumer confidence rose for the second consecutive month in May, the Conference Board said Tuesday.

The index had been trending lower, but May’s gain is third increase in the past seven months.

The index is a comparison from 1985, which was assigned the value of 100.

In May, the index rose to 76.2, up from 69 in April.

In the most recent confidence survey, 18.8 percent of respondents to a survey that involves more than 5,000 households indicated they believed business conditions were “good,” up from 17.5 percent in April.

Responses indicating a belief that business conditions were “bad” fell from 27.6 to 26 in the month.

The percentage of respondents indicating jobs were “plentiful,” rose from 9.7 percent to 10.8 percent, while those indicating jobs were difficult to get fell from 36.9 percent to 36.1.

“Consumer confidence posted another gain this month and is now at a five-year high. Consumers’ assessment of current business and labor-market conditions was more positive and they were considerably more upbeat about future economic and job prospects,” said Conference Board Director of Economic Indicators Lynn Franco in a statement.

Professor Who Once Had To Work At Subway Makes Math Breakthrough

DURHAM, N.H. (UPI) — A virtually unknown U.S. professor has taken a major step in solving a numerical problem that has baffled mathematicians for centuries, experts said.

Yitang Zhang, a researcher at the University of New Hampshire who once took a job a Subway because he couldn’t secure an academic appointment, has made a significant step towards settling a long-standing question about prime numbers — numbers that can only be divided by themselves and by one.

An oddity among prime numbers is that they often come as pairs known as “twin primes” separated by only two, like three and five, 11 and 13 or 18,383,549 and 18,383,551.

Mathematicians have long suspected there is an infinite number of twin primes — expressed in a theory known as the “twin prime conjecture” — but no one has ever been able to prove it.

Zhang has demonstrated no matter how large a twin prime is, there will always be another pair of primes separated from them by less than 70 million.

While not proving an infinite number of twin primes, Zhang’s work effectively proves the distance between prime pairs does not keep on increasing to an infinite size.

Members of the editorial board of the Annals of Mathematics journal, which published the work, said Zhang had published “hardly anything” before and was not regarded as a “big name” in mathematics circles.

“It’s a steady stream of papers which tends to get you jobs,” board member Richar Taylor told The Daily Telegraph. “Maybe [Zhang] likes to think about the big problems — and you don’t solve those very often.”

Working at the sandwich shop while seeking a university position “wasn’t bad,” Zhang said, but “whenever I was doing it I was thinking about maths.”

Dutch Scientists Say Food Supplement Helps With Heart Disease

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (UPI) — Scientists in Denmark said an inexpensive food supplement helped reduce heart death among patients who had previously suffered heart attacks.

The supplement, known as Coenzyme Q10, or CoQ10, plays a role in helping convert food into sugars that cells need to function. It is found in high levels in healthy heart tissue but studies have shown it decreases in patients who have suffered a heart attack, the Daily Telegraph said Friday.

The study, conducted by researchers at the Heart Center at Copenhagen University Hospital, said of the 420 patients included, after two years, fewer had been hospitalized for another heart-related incident after taking CoQ10 and more of those patients were alive.

“CoQ10 should be considered as a part of the maintenance therapy of patients with chronic heart failure,” said Professor Svend Mortensen, who led the study.

Original Apple-1 Computer Goes For Record $671,000 At Auction

COLOGNE, Germany (UPI) — An Apple-1 computer, which sold for $666 when it debuted in 1976, sold for a record $671,400 Saturday at auction in German, the auctioneer said.

The sale, including fees and taxes, beat the previous high mark of $640,000 paid for an Apple-1 last November at the same auction house, Auction Team Breker, The New York Times reported.

Breker said the buyer, whose name was being kept secret, was a wealthy entrepreneur from the Far East.

“This really confirms the value of Apple-1’s,” auctioneer Uwe Breker told the Times.

“It is a superb symbol of the American dream. You have two college dropouts from California who pursued an idea and a dream, and that dream becomes one of the most admired, successful and valuable companies in the world.”

There were an estimated 175-200 of the computers built in a garage by Steven Jobs and Stephen Wozniak in the first run and 46 survive, said Mike Willegal, who keeps track of them on an online registry.

The one sold at auction Saturday was originally owned by Fred Hatfield, 84, a retired electrical engineer living in New Orleans, the Times said.

Hatfield said he sold the computer, which wasn’t working at the time, to a man from Texas this year for $40,000. The newspaper said it was a working model when auctioned.

Hatfield expressed surprise at the sale price but congratulated the man who bought it from him.

“Best to him. He’s the one who fixed it up and figured the best way to sell it for all that money. Evidently, he’s very good at this,” Hatfield said.

House Judiciary Committee Investigates Whether AG Holder Lied Under Oath

The Hill is reporting that the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee is investigating testimony Attorney General Eric gave May 15 concerning his Department’s role in the Associated Press secret surveillance scandal.

Specifically, the committee is looking into the veracity of Holder’s claim, under oath, that he’s “never been involved in, heard of, or would think would be a wise policy” for the Department of Justice to target any member of the press who refuses to disclose sources.

But the report notes:

However, NBC News reported last week that Holder personally approved a search warrant that labeled Fox News chief Washington correspondent James Rosen a co-conspirator in a national security leaks case.

The panel is investigating whether NBC’s report contradicts Holder’s claim that he had not looked into or been involved with a possible prosecution of the press in a leaks case.

Interestingly, news of the DOJ’s targeting of Rosen (and even his parents) hadn’t broken at the time Holder gave his AP testimony, highlighting another seemingly recurring characteristic of the Administration of President Barack Obama: the time to be sorry about lying to cover your tracks should come only once you get caught doing it.

In New Children’s Show: Little Boy Dresses Like Little Girl, Saves World

The gender-bending main character of a new children’s show on the Hub network — co-owned by Hasbro and Discovery — is both a prepubescent boy who, at times, is magically transformed into a female superhero by placing a ring on his, err her, finger.

“When I first heard about the show, my reaction was ‘Are you out of your minds?'” Margaret Loesch, chief executive of the Hub told the Los Angeles Times. “Then I looked at it and I thought, ‘This is just funny.'”

Network executives hope the seemingly transsexual crime fighter depicted in “SheZow” will not only save the world in each episode, but will also save the networks ratings.

From the Los Angeles Times:

Launched in October 2010, the Hub has barely registered a blip in the highly competitive kids’ TV marketplace. It has a few minor successes including “My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic” and “Transformers,” but overall its ratings are tiny. Among kids 2 to 11, the Hub’s primary target, it averages 56,000 viewers a day, according to Nielsen. Disney and Nickelodeon each average 934,000 kids in that group.

Here’s a promo for the show:
 

 
It looks like the dress may become the new cape.

Court Won’t Review Planned Parenthood Case

WASHINGTON (UPI) — The U.S. Supreme Court Tuesday let stand a lower court ruling that struck down Indiana’s ban on Medicaid funds going to Planned Parenthood.

A state law says, ” An agency of the state may not: (1) enter into a contract with; or (2) make a grant to; any entity that performs abortions or maintains or operates a facility where abortions are performed that involves the expenditure of state funds or federal funds administered by the state.”

Medicaid is a joint state-federal program. A federal judge issued an injunction against the implementation of the law.

Eventually, a U.S. appeals court ruled that Indiana’s restriction “violates the federal law guarantee that Medicaid enrollees be given their free choice of provider.”

The high court rejected review of the case in a one line order without comment.

Several states have the same restriction on the dispersal of Medicaid funds, but the Supreme Court’s rejection sets no precedent and may not affect those laws by itself.

Judge Limits Evidence Zimmerman’s Lawyers Can Present

ORLANDO, Fla. (UPI) — A Florida judge ruled Tuesday that lawyers for George Zimmerman cannot tell the jury Trayvon Martin had a history of fighting and had marijuana in his system.

Circuit Court Judge Debra Nelson also refused a request by Zimmerman’s lawyers to postpone the trial, now scheduled to begin June 10, the Orlando Sentinel reported.

Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, is charged with allegedly killing Martin, 17, in a gated community in Sanford, Fla. Martin, who was unarmed, was walking to a relative’s house after a trip to the store in February 2012.

Prosecutors say Zimmerman continued to follow Martin, who was black, after a 911 operator suggested he back off. Zimmerman’s lawyers say Martin attacked him and the killing was self-defense.

In addition to blocking the defense from telling the jury a toxicology test found the active ingredient for marijuana in Martin’s system, Nelson said they cannot use evidence that Martin had been suspended from school and had a history of fighting.

Some critical issues have yet to be decided. Prosecutors want to use the testimony of Alan Reich, an expert who prepared a report on recordings of 911 calls.

Reich said he could hear Martin screaming and saying “I’m begging you” as background in a call made by a neighbor, while Zimmerman said “These shall be.” FBI analysts said they could not identify the person screaming.

During Tuesday’s two-hour hearing, Nelson ruled Zimmerman’s wife, Shellie, can be compelled to give a deposition. But the judge said Shellie Zimmerman, who is charged with perjury, can invoke her Fifth Amendment right to avoid incriminating herself.

Bipartisan Congressional Panel Seeks Overhaul Of Federal Criminal Law

WASHINGTON (UPI) — A bipartisan congressional task force says it wants to reduce federal criminal laws that have packed prisons and branded too many people as criminals.

The 10-member task force, headed by U.S. Reps. Bobby Scott, D-Va., and Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., is addressing what it calls the “overcriminalization” of America, The Virginian-Pilot newspaper in Norfolk, Va., reported Tuesday.

The co-chairmen argue that federal criminal laws need to be condensed and in some cases handed back to state authorities. They are considering whether to end mandatory-minimum sentences and make it harder to convict people who say they didn’t know they were breaking federal law.

Scott notes that Congress has passed 50 new criminal laws each year for the 13 years.

The project is supported by organizations as diverse as the Heritage Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union, which has said current statutes reflect “an addition to incarceration.”

Scott says conservative groups feel that sentences imposed for violating federal law “violated common sense.”

He and Sensenbrenner want “mens rea” — the legal concept that someone must know they were breaking the law — to be given more importance when prosecuting someone.

During a recent hearing, Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., said the task force should “make sure Americans who make innocent mistakes are not charged with criminal offenses.”

Police: ‘Thong Cape Scooter Man’ Not Breaking Laws

MADISON, Wis. (UPI) — Police in Wisconsin said a local man known as “Thong Cape Scooter Man” is not breaking any laws by riding his motorized scooter wearing only a thong and a cape.

Madison police said they were called by staff at John F. Kennedy Elementary School Thursday when the scantily clad “Thong Cape Scooter Man” was seen riding past the facility while students were present, the Wisconsin State Journal reported Monday.

Police spokesman Joel DeSpain said a sergeant visited the 56-year-old man’s home and spoke with him.

“He said he exercised poor judgment by going by the school at that time of day, it was unintentional and he just happened to be traveling through the area,” DeSpain said.

The man, whose name was not released by police, did not break any laws and was not arrested or cited, DeSpain said.

“The sergeant told the school staff Thong Cape Scooter Man was free to ride on,” DeSpain said.

Cat Spends Two Weeks Under Hood Of Car

KINOULTON, England (UPI) — A British woman said she was driving around looking for her cat, which had been missing for two weeks, and found the kitty was hiding under the hood of her car.

Julie Tansley of Kinoulton, England, said Princess the cat was apparently under the hood of the car for two weeks before she noticed a dashboard warning light while out for a drive to search for the feline, The Mirror reported Monday.

Tansley said she lifted the hood to discover Princess was cowering near the engine and had apparently chewed through a coolant hose.

I have absolutely no idea how she managed to get there,” Tansley said. “It’s just ¬unbelievable — I mean we’ve driven to and from school, work, even through the jet wash with her in there. If the warning light hadn’t come on I dread to think what could have happened.”

She said a mechanic friend spent 45 minutes dismantling the engine to free the cat, which was malnourished and covered in coolant fluid but otherwise uninjured.

Burger King Worker Hides Suspects’ Getaway Car

STOCKTON, Calif. (UPI) — Police in California said two Burger King robbery suspects were arrested when a worker made off with their getaway car.

Stockton, Calif., police said two gun-wielding men walked into the fast-food restaurant Thursday and demanded cash from a clerk, KOVR-TV, Sacramento, reported Tuesday.

A second Burger King employee snuck out the restaurant’s back door and saw the suspects had left their getaway car running, police said.

Police said the worker jumped into the car and drove it around the corner.

“I haven’t heard of any employee actually leaving a business, getting inside the suspect vehicle and trying to hide it,” Stockton Officer Joe Silva said.

Silva said the suspects, identified as Gabriel Gonzalez and Jeremy Lovitt, fled to a nearby field, where they were arrested.

“The quick action from this employee did allow our officers to get on scene and arrest the suspects,” Silva said.

Army Major Sets Jump Rope Record In Afghanistan

KABUL, Afghanistan (UPI) — A U.S. Army major serving in Afghanistan set a world record by jumping rope 12,405 times in 60 minutes.

She said she was aiming to inspire Afghan women.

Maj. Leticia Walpole, whose feat has been submitted to Guinness World Records for confirmation as a record, said she jumped rope 12,405 times consecutively in 60 minutes — 3.45 jumps per second — in the International Security Assistance Force gymnasium May 16 to show Afghan women they can do anything if they set their minds to it.

“I also wanted to encourage and motivate other military personnel serving in Afghanistan on the importance of staying in shape,” Walpole said.

Walpole said she previously attempted to break the record, which currently stands at 11,527 skips and was set by a Florida woman, last year at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., but she fell short with only 8,238 rope jumps.

“I knew one day the opportunity would come again,” she said.

Swedish School Skipped Required Course For Seniors

GOTHENBURG, Sweden (UPI) — Seniors at a Swedish high school said they were shocked to discover days before graduation they must complete a course the school apparently forgot to offer.

The students at Aniaragymnasiet high school in Gothenburg said they were outraged to be told only four days before this week’s scheduled graduation ceremony that the school had neglected to teach them a required course on religion, The Local.se reported Tuesday.

“We’re supposed to graduate in four days and I’m meant to complete a course that is actually supposed to last the whole year. That’s impossible,” student Patricia Kjellby said.

Christel Berver, the school’s principal, said the problem came from a misinterpretation of the country’s required curriculum.

“When you read the law, it can be interpreted that you can switch religion with social science,” Berver said.

However, officials recently discovered that is not the case and the students must either now complete the course’s requirements before graduation or accept a failing grade for the class and make it up in the fall.

IRS Attack Ads, Russia Arms Syria For Peace, Texas Slashes Business Taxes, D.C. Scamming Motorists, Drones In Deutschland, Fear The Chair: Tuesday Morning News Roundup 5-28-2013

Here is a collection of some of the stories that Personal Liberty staffers will be keeping an eye on throughout the day. Click the links for the full stories.

  • A group of House Republicans is prepared to launch an ad campaign against four incumbent Democrats this week tying the lawmakers to the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of conservative groups applying for nonprofit status.
  • Russia is going to deliver anti-aircraft missiles to the Syrian government in order to deter “hotheads” from getting involved in the country’s civil war.
  • Look out, liberals. Texas, already the Nation’s strongest State economy, just made it easier for businesses to profit in the Lone Star State. The Legislature passed more than $1 billion in tax cuts before recessing for the summer.
  • “Three golden miles” in Washington, D.C., have reaped the city an average of $30,500 per day in speeding and red light camera fines — $28 million since the start of 2011. The “offenders” are mostly unsuspecting motorists from Maryland and Virginia. New York Avenue is the hot spot, so beware.
  • A German railway is set to roll out miniature drones at night in order to catch people defacing trains with graffiti.
  • Doctors at the University of California at Los Angeles and Ohio State are launching a big PR campaign to declare war on… sitting down. “Sitting is the new smoking,” says Anup Kanodia of Ohio State’s Wexner Medical Center.

Check back for updates, news and analysis throughout the day. Like us on Facebook. And follow our improved Twitter feed.

–Staff writer Sam Rolley contributed to this report.

The Last Man Standing

Last week, as I slogged my way through the reams of scandal-related material flowing out of President Barack Obama’s funhouse like a tsunami of sewage, a sudden realization interrupted my research. With the scandals Obama and his henchmen have created polluting the national discourse, it is becoming increasingly apparent that a special prosecutor will be appointed soon. In fact, with even members of the Democratic Party demanding Obama appoint someone untainted by the stench of White House shame, a special prosecutor may well be unpacking his gear in some K-Street office even as we speak. Hooray for us; within 12 years, we managed to not only elect but re-elect Presidents who were so decency-averse that scandal defined them to the point of potential impeachment.

Whether the linchpin turns out to be the lies about Benghazi, the Internal Revenue Service or wiretapping the media (or some combination of the three), it would seem likely that the least transparent President since the days of Warren Harding and the Teapot Dome is headed for the kind of limelight that doesn’t include photo-ops with Jay-Z and Steven Spielberg. There’s a better chance of Administration officials seeing the inside of a prison cell than the inside of George Soros’ private jet.

I would hardly complain. The disgraces with which Obama and his minions have saddled the Nation will take years to undo. In some cases, the damage may well be permanent. And I’d rather see the President and some of his more sinister sidekicks do time than see them continue to wage their full-frontal assault on the Bill of Rights. If we learned anything from the tribulations of the Richard Nixon Administration, we learned that the Constitution — and by extension, America — can withstand the slings and arrows of executive arrogance.

However, a caveat lurks behind the curtain of comeuppance. Let’s presume that someone in Obama’s gang will follow I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby — who certainly didn’t kill anyone — into the clutches of the Federal penal system. What if that newest resident at the least recommended bed and breakfast in either Petersburg, Va., or Danbury, Conn., turns out to be Attorney General Eric “Guns” Holder? What if Holder doesn’t take his perp walk solo? What if former IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman joins him? What if former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gets Martha Stewart’s old cot at the Alderson, W.V., prison camp for wayward women?

The answer to all of the above: not much. Perhaps fewer bodies will pile up in Mexico and Benghazi, Libya. It’s likely that educating people about their Constitutional rights will lose its place on the list of “things that will earn a proctological exam from the taxman” list. But no one of any consequence would miss any of Obama’s backup dancers.

But here’s the thought that ought to keep you awake tonight: What if Obama himself ends up facing the pokey? Although even Nixon escaped with an “unindicted co-conspirator” nametag, he didn’t actually join his minions in prison. Nixon’s lies and cover-ups didn’t involve letting the phone ring off the hook while a U.S. ambassador and his colleagues died alone in the desert, and he never sent IRS goon squads after any liberal organization. (Unlike the Tea Party and similar groups, liberal groups during Nixon’s time built and used bombs against Americans; just ask Bill Ayers.) Nonetheless, if Obama’s lease on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is terminated by the landlords (that would be we, the people) and his accomplices in his Administration also get the bum’s rush, then the Presidency would be assumed by the next person in the Presidential order of succession who remains unsullied by Obama’s misdeeds. Not only would that person have to be clear of any wrongdoing, but he would have to have been unaware of said crimes.

That person is Vice President Joe Biden. Go ahead and take a belt straight from the whiskey bottle. You read that right. To the best of my knowledge, Ol’ Pluggsy really didn’t know. Granted, that ignorance was likely a result of his inability to keep his mouth shut, in combination with the fact that Biden makes former Vice President Dan “Potatoe” Quayle look like Marcus Tullius Cicero. But the Constitution doesn’t specify the President must be intellectually capable of handling the duties of the Oval Office, only that he be eligible.

Biden may well be the last man standing. Of all the frights flung at us by Obama and his circus, that’s the scariest of all.

–Ben Crystal

Patient Consent At Risk As Genome Sequencing Breakthroughs Divide Medical Community

A forthcoming report in Science magazine argues that patient consent and confidentiality are under fire, after the American College of Medical Genetics and Genomics (ACMG) recently adjusted its formal recommendations to doctors that, for the most part, now leave the patient out of the decision-making process over how much data researchers can mine from their unique genetic codes.

According to a summary prepared in advance of the report:

Informed consent is the backbone of patient care. Genetic testing has long required patient consent and patients have had a “right not to know” the results. However, as 21st century medicine now begins to use the tools of genome sequencing, an enormous debate has erupted over whether patients’ rights will continue in an era of medical genomics.

Recent recommendations from the American College of Medical Genetics and Genomics (ACMG) suggest no. On March 22, the ACMG released recommendations stating that when clinical sequencing is undertaken for any medical reason, laboratories must examine 57 other specific genes to look for incidental findings. These findings must then be reported to the clinician and the patient. In an April 25 “clarification,” ACMG said that failure to report these findings would be considered “unethical.” The patient has no opportunity to opt-out of the testing of the 57 genes, except to decline all sequencing. The recommendations also apply to children.

The study, a joint effort by Susan M. Wolf of the University of Minnesota, George J. Annas of Boston University and Sherman Elias of Northwestern University, argues that the all-or-nothing sequencing of a patient’s genetic code would be beneficial, if only the patient could have a say over the “all-or-nothing” part.

“The ACMG’s ‘minimum list [of 57 genes]’ includes mutations in genes that patients have long been able to refuse testing for, including cancer risk mutations (such as BRCA1) and cardiovascular risk mutations,” the authors argue. But, they add, there are myriad practical, medical reasons — as well as principled ones — why the control over the reach of genetic sequencing — and the information it yields — should rest solely in patients’ hands.

The patient may already be battling another disease, such as advanced cancer, or be late in life and see more burden than benefit in added genetic information. The patient may also fear that ‘extra’ results in their medical record will invite risk of discrimination.

Ominously, the “minimum list” of 57 genes currently on the table for data mining is expected to grow significantly, according to the ACMG. That, the report warns, places even greater urgency upon lawmakers to craft new legislation, or enforce existing law, if applicable, that strongly favors patients’ rights.

Fitness Is Key To Preparedness

Preparedness is not just about what you can buy or grow, or what you can hoard. It’s not just about how many guns and rounds of ammo you’ve saved up, how finely tailored your bug-out bag is or how many weeks’ worth of food you’ve stored.

It’s about surviving. And if the day comes when you and the people around you can’t rely on technology and the sophisticated infrastructure that supplies the food and comfort to which we’ve become accustomed, you’ll have to rely on yourself — and that means work.

Hard work — a lot harder than most of us are used to — demands that you be in adequate physical shape.

Fitness is something many Americans tend to view as a consumer luxury. People buy gym memberships out of vanity, to socialize or to burn off steam. Often, those gym memberships are abandoned after the thrill of novelty wears off.

But whether you go to a gym, exercise at home or do something active outdoors, it’s important that you don’t neglect your own fitness — because it’s one of the most important parts of any survival strategy.

In fact, it’s arguable that sound physical fitness, anchored by a mind ready to adapt and to lead, is more important than any amount of anticipatory preparedness. What good is four weeks’ worth of freeze-dried food if you aren’t up the challenge of fighting off those who’d seek to take it from you?

You are at the center of whatever contingency plan you’ll enact if things in your world — locally, regionally or nationally — go bad. And that means that your body and mind will be more crucial than any amount of critical consumer goods to your, and your family’s, well-being or survival in the event of a catastrophe that forces a change in the way you live.

Most of us aren’t very physically fit. We live among the world’s most affluent Nations, and consumer culture — despite its benefits as a driver of civilized economic prosperity — has left most Americans bereft of any true understanding of the nasty, brutish and short quality of human life and the default competitiveness of human beings pitted against each other in the hope of acquiring the very finite resources necessary for survival.

That sounds a bit philosophical; and, in your otium, you can intellectually engage the human condition at your leisure. But if something happens that forces you and your family into a new mode of living — one that demands only the cultureless and the necessary, that has no place for leisure and its ephemera — you’re going to be living in a reality that never feels abstract. You’re going to have to be up to the task of coping.

If you’re serious about preparing for the worst, you have to maintain a body that affords you, perhaps literally, a fighting chance. If you’re currently free from chronic maladies, it’s especially crucial that you take seriously your role in whatever prepper plan you’re devising, because you are likely to be one of the linchpins of others’ fortunes. Children, the elderly, the ill, the weak and the physically compromised are not capable of what you’re capable of.

This isn’t a story about how to get in shape. People are physically different, and some bodies respond differently to different stimuli. There are a lot of ways to get in shape and stay that way; and there’s no shortage of good information, and opinions, on the topic. It’s important to note that you don’t have to spend any money or buy a ton of fancy equipment or join a health club to be physically fit — so long as you have the mental discipline to devise and follow an exercise routine. Your body, along with a sound understanding of how to condition it through applying different forms of physical stress, are all that’s required.

So if you’re out of shape and unable to physically defend yourself; walk a long distance and help others travel with you; row a boat; or take point on the cycle of gardening, constructing, all-hours watching, leading and even thinking (which itself exacts a physical, calorie-burning price) on your own — and others’ — behalf, it’s time to regard your body and your mind as the most essential and sacred components of any preparedness plan you’ll ever set in motion. There’s little point in building fences or learning tactical firearms defense if you’re unable to cover ground on your own two feet. Conflict inevitably will come to that, if, as they say, the SHTF.

Besides, being physically fit enriches your life in the here and now — regardless of whether you live to see the Apocalypse.

How do you and your family stay in shape? Let us know what works for you and what doesn’t. And be sure to share any stories about the simple, free and maybe even fun things you do that keep you and your loved ones physically fit.

When Cash Is King

When I lived and worked in Spain under the regime of Generalissimo Francisco Franco, cash was king. When I later moved back to North America, I continued to use cash whenever possible. You will not find me downtown with less than $500 on my person; and if I’m on a flight overseas, I’ll have much more. Here are a few advantages to paying cash:

  • Temptation avoidance: You will not make impulse purchases that you cannot afford. (It is much more difficult to make an “impulse” buy if you have to take cash out of your pocket to pay for it.)
  • Savings: You will pay no monthly payments on loans, no credit card interest and no overdraft fees from your bank.
  • Lower prices: You’d be surprised at how much you can save by asking for a discount in return for paying with cash. For example, the next time a self-employed mechanic, plumber or electrician quotes you a price of, say, $1,200 plus sales tax, make a counter offer of $1,000 cash. More often than not, you’ll get that discount.
  • Protection against identity theft: Obviously, if you don’t use a credit or debit card, you won’t be asked for a driver’s license that may (horror of horrors!) display your home address.

Furthermore, here are five reasons to secretly (repeat: secretly) keep major amounts of cash on hand:

  1. When the banks in your area eventually shut down due to a power outage, terrorist attack, catastrophic computer malfunction or any other reason, you’ll be like the one-eyed man in the Kingdom of the Blind.
  2. If you spot the used car of your dreams at night or on a weekend, you’ll be able to beat out any other prospective buyers by offering cash on the spot.
  3. Should you be caught far from home when all airports shut down (as they did on 9/11), rent-a-car agencies will run out of vehicles in a flash. But with cash you can pay a taxi driver whatever it takes to get to your destination, or you can even buy a used car and get there on your own.
  4. If your former or current live-in lover turns against you (yes, Virginia, this has been known to happen), he won’t be able to go after your cash when there is no clue that it exists.
  5. Suppose you get a heads-up call from a friend at 2 a.m., telling you that someone is out to get you. Time to get outta Dodge! You grab your passport, all the cash you’ll need, laptop, cellphone and hit the road. (Don’t forget to either remove the cellphone’s battery or wrap it in aluminum foil that so it cannot be pinged.)

As long as you can maintain silence, you should keep some major cash at home for any coming emergency. There is, of course, no such thing as a burglar-proof home, nor is there a security system that cannot be bypassed. However, the average burglar is inside a house for less than 10 minutes. Your goal will be to prevent your cash from being found for more — much more — than that length of time. Burglars will almost invariably head straight for the master bedroom, so I suggest you keep a small amount of cash there, perhaps hidden beneath some underclothes in the bottom of a chest of drawers. Leave enough to pay for a drug fix or to make the intruder think that he’s already found whatever cash you keep in the house.

Burglars aside, your goal should be to hide money from anyone who might be after it — whether visiting relatives, party guests, repairmen, babysitters, a kleptomaniac parent, a teenage son or daughter on drugs, or a spouse who attempts to exercise iron control over every dollar you spend. Can safes are a great way to hide money from all such persons.

Can safes, also called diversion safes, are for sale all over the Internet. They are manufactured from actual cans of such items as Yuban coffee, Heinz Baked Beans, Bon Ami, Ajax, VP Spray Starch, Scotch Guard, Pledge, STP Oil Treatment and JB Radiator Stop-Leak. The bottom of each can unscrews.

In addition, if you have a tightly-packed three-drawer file cabinet, use one or more of the file folders for holding cash. Title them with dull names such as “old tax receipts” or “travel brochures.” Or if you have a lot of books, use a box cutter or a single-edge razor blade to cut the center out of some dull book you no longer want. (Outdated computer books or AAA travel books are ideal for this.) Mix them in with others in your bookcase, or store them in a box of books kept out in the garage.

For smaller amounts of money, bills can just be scattered among the pages of a heavy and uninteresting book. Here’s an interesting example provided by Ellen who is 88 and lives in Kalispell, Mont.

“I have a grandson who used to come and visit me in my apartment sometimes, but I couldn’t trust him because he’d once stolen some money from me. I had a very old Bible, one of those big ones that take up half a coffee table. I knew my grandson would never open a Bible, so I hid a dozen $100 bills in the pages of Psalms, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. One night, some crazy old coot in the building fell asleep while smoking and the whole building caught fire. By the time the fire was put out, everything was damaged by fire or water. My old Bible was scorched around the edges and waterlogged, but my money was still OK.”

If you have a freezer, another great way to protect your cash is to open a bag of frozen vegetables. Stuff the empty container with rolled-up bills, glue the opening shut and put it in the bottom of the freezer.

You can also hide bills inside window shades, water hoses, fuse boxes, fire-alarm bells, dog houses, abandoned plumbing fixtures, ironing board covers, plastic rolling pins, wall clocks, paper towel tubes, clothes hampers, kitchen containers, wall phones, clothespin bags, bed posts, upholstery, golf bags, toys, stuffed animals, board game boxes, false-bottom baby carriages, Christmas decorations boxes, trophies or even hollowed-out stairway posts.

All of the foregoing assumes, of course, that you have some cash to hide. If you normally live from paycheck to paycheck, something is terribly wrong. But that’s a subject for another day.

–J.J. Luna