The protection of civil liberties and the fight against terrorism should be able to exist comfortably side-by-side under a new administration, an expert has suggested.
Lanny Davis, who served as a member of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board for two years, wrote on a Fox News blog that President-elect Barack Obama’s national security transition team should assess the effectiveness of the presidentially appointed panel before his inauguration.
The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board was created by the 2004 Intelligence Reform Act, after the idea was recommended by the Sept. 11 commission.
Davis describes how civil liberties and privacy concerns were a daily matter for those who served on the board, in contrast with public perceptions about how the government views these issues.
However, he also raises issue with the fact that the panel was initially organized so that it reported the office of the president – which he claims undermines its independence.
"I was very troubled by what I believed to be the absence of serious legal and constitutional authority, judicial review and congressional oversight over the program," Davis wrote.
In the run-up to the election, Obama’s views regarding warrantless government surveillance of suspected terrorists briefly created controversy among his supporters.
Taxpayers and lawmakers alike remain dismayed by large compensation packages for executives, particularly in light of last month’s unpopular $700 billion economic bailout bill.
Representative Henry Waxman recently asked nine major banks that are set to receive a combined $125 billion in federal aid for information about employee and executive compensation from 2006 to 2008.
"While I understand the need to pay the salaries of employees, I question the appropriateness of depleting the capital that taxpayers just injected into the banks," wrote Waxman in a letter to Bank of America CEO Kenneth Lewis.
This week, Bloomberg also spoke with a number of taxpayers who remain outraged at some of the executive salaries that have made news in recent months, especially now that their money is being used to prop these companies up. For example, the report noted that Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein had received a $67.9 million bonus in 2007, before this year’s economic crisis set in.
"Even really sober people are saying this is the worst financial crisis since the Depression and they’re saying bonuses are just going to be reduced? You read that and your jaw drops," Seattle resident Patrick Amo told the news organization.
Global Positioning System (GPS) technology is causing growing concern among privacy advocates who fear that cell phones and other items could end up playing a "Big Brother" role.
The seeds of this privacy debate were planted earlier this decade as emergency responders struggled to locate people who called 911 from their cell phones. This led to enactment of the federal "enhanced" 911 law in 2005 requiring that all new cell phones be equipped with GPS technology.
With this technology, consumers can take advantage of services such as driving directions and potentially, highly targeted marketing. For example, the San Francisco Chronicle recently cited a free software project from Nokia and the University of California at Berkeley that helps drivers avoid traffic with real-time data.
Still, the technology potentially has many privacy drawbacks if it ends up in the wrong hands. One way around such concerns at this point is to simply turn off your cell phone when privacy is desired.
Some of the current debate focuses on law enforcement using GPS to track crime suspects. In September a federal judge ruled that law enforcement must have a warrant based on probable cause to compel providers to turn over customer location records.
However, in 2005, another federal judge ruled that authorities were justified in attaching a GPS device to a drug suspect’s car without a warrant, claiming that the suspect had no reasonable expectation of privacy while operating on public roads.
More hospital patients than previously thought have been sickened by a drug-resistant bacteria, according to a new report.
Clostridium difficile (C. diff) has infected or colonized around 13 out of every 1,000 patients, according to surveys conducted by the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology.
Previous estimates were much lower – between 6.5 and 20 times less than the new figures.
C. diff is a bacterium that can cause diarrhea and intestinal conditions. In recent years, a virulent and antibiotic-resistant strain has arisen and is growing more common.
People are at a higher risk of contracting C. diff if they are older, have a weakened immune system, have been hospitalized for long periods or have recently taken antibiotics, according to the Mayo Clinic.
The APIC study confirmed the fact that most C. diff infections are picked up in a hospital, with 72 percent confirmed to have been acquired in a healthcare setting.
"This study shows that C. difficile infection is an escalating issue in our nation’s healthcare facilities," commented lead investigator Dr. William Jarvis.
APIC has published a set of guidelines aimed at helping hospitals prevent the transmission of C. diff.
The wonders of vitamin D as a health supplement have already been recognized by numerous studies, with many experts pointing out that most people take in too little of the so-called "sunshine vitamin."
Now, another novel use for vitamin D has been uncovered. A health expert suggests that a form of vitamin D may protect the body from radiation, which could be used to shield people from a low-level nuclear incident.
Daniel Hayes, Ph.D., of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene says in the International Journal of Low Radiation that calcitrol, a form of vitamin D, might be useful as an effective agent to protect people against an accidental nuclear incident or terrorist attack.
Hayes believes that calcitrol, the biologically active form of Vitamin D, could be used to prevent cancer caused by radiation.
"Our general understanding and appreciation of the multifaceted protective actions of vitamin D have recently entered a new era," writes Hayes.
Currently potassium iodide (KI) is used following a radiological or nuclear event. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, KI may cause thyroid problems.
Taxpayers could get a break on their 2009 tax returns due to inflation adjustments recently announced by the IRS.
The adjustments comply with a federal law requiring several dozen parts of the tax code to be annually adjusted for inflation.
Among the provisions are a $150 increase in personal and dependent exemptions and a modest increase in standard deductions for both married and single taxpayers, plus a boost in the maximum earned income tax credit.
There will also be a small increase in tax bracket thresholds between the 15 and 25 percent brackets. The IRS notes that the threshold between those two tax rates will increase from $65,100 to $67,900.
The annual gift exclusion will also be increased by $1,000, up to $13,000.
Still, any gains felt by taxpayers in the spring of 2010 could easily be offset by other factors. For example, wsj.com columnist Tom Herman warns that on top of uncertainty about what will happen on the tax front, "millions of high-income workers will get hit by higher Social Security taxes."
Herman cites data from the Social Security Administration predicting that 11 million out of about 164 million workers will end up paying more when the maximum amount of earnings subject to Social Security tax rises from $102,000 to $106,800.
Fenfluramine, a diet drug banned in 1997 because of links to possible heart conditions is still causing problems to people who took the drug, according to researchers.
A study published in the journal BMC Medicine says that people who stopped taking the drug 11 years ago were showing signs of damaged heart valves up to seven years later.
Heart valves ensure that blood flows in the proper direction in the heart. If those valves are damaged, blood may flow in the wrong direction which can cause heart failure and may result in the use of additional health resources such as heart valve surgery.
The study followed 5,743 former users of fenfluramine and found that valve problems were common, especially in females, and related to the length of time exposed to the drug according to Charles Dahl from the Central Utah Clinic, leader of the research.
Fenfluramine was often prescribed with phentermine as part of the fen/phen combination used to fight obesity in the early 1990s. Links to heart problems caused the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to pull the drug from the market in 1997.
The FDA points out that fenfluramine is no longer marketed in the U.S.
An increasingly disturbing employment outlook is contributing to concerns about the long-term prospects for economic recovery.
New statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicate that national unemployment stands at 6.5 percent, up from 6.1 percent in September.
This represents a loss of 240,000 jobs in October, and follows 284,000 lost jobs in September and 127,000 in August. Many of these losses took place in industries like construction, manufacturing and service, while the BLS noted that health care and mining continued to grow. A total of 1.2 million jobs have vanished nationwide in 2008.
Labor Secretary Elaine Chao was optimistic for the long term, saying that "it will take time" for the recent $700 billion stimulus package to positively impact the labor market.
President Bush tried to emphasize long term recovery prospects in light of the new figures. "The market for lending between banks has loosened considerably, and the Federal Reserve’s efforts to stabilize the commercial paper market have provided businesses with an urgently needed source of financing," said Bush.
The Associated Press also noted that House Democrats are likely to soon call for an additional $100 billion stimulus plan that could include public works funds to aid job creation.
Taxpayers could find themselves footing the bill for much more than just bad mortgage and investment decisions, amid reports that some executives involved in the situation may be entitled to recover millions of dollars in legal costs from the government.
According to the Associated Press, executives at Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae had contract stipulations that would pay their legal bills if needed. The report notes that following the government’s $200 billion bailout of the two mortgage entities, many former executives are now hiring defense lawyers – and could still face shareholder lawsuits.
Meanwhile, the housing crash and mortgage problems did not come as a surprise to everyone. Five years ago, Congressman and former presidential candidate Ron Paul introduced legislation to remove government subsidies from the two entities, warning of a situation similar to what is happening today.
"Ironically, by transferring the risk of a widespread mortgage default, the government increases the likelihood of a painful crash in the housing market," said Paul in September of 2003 as he introduced his Free Housing Market Enhancement Act.
He added that "the special privileges granted to Fannie and Freddie" and "distorted the housing market by allowing them to attract capital they could not attract under pure market conditions."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is reporting that new diabetes cases have sharply increased over the last decade, particularly in southern states.
Many experts have suggested that the poor Western diet is to blame, along with an increasingly sedentary lifestyle.
The latest data finds that new diabetes cases increased from 4.8 per 1,000 people in the mid 1990s to 9.1 per 1,000 as of 2007. Minnesota had the lowest rate at 5 per 1,000 people, while West Virginia and Puerto Rico had the highest with a respective 12.7 and 12.8 per 1,000 people.
"We must step up efforts to prevent and control diabetes, particularly in the Southern U.S. region where we see higher rates of diabetes, obesity and physical inactivity," said Karen Kirtland, Ph.D., the lead author of the study.
Other states leading the way in age-adjusted new diabetes cases per 1,000 people included South Carolina (11.5), Arkansas (11.3), Georgia (11.2), and Texas (11.1). Idaho, Texas, and Florida all saw increases of over 200 percent in their age-adjusted diabetes rates. And even though Minnesota had the lowest rate of increase, the state still saw its figures go up by 67 percent over the last decade.
Other states with low diabetes rates per 1,000 include Hawaii (5.9), Wyoming (6.1), and Colorado (6.2).
Supporters of reforming the nation’s marijuana laws enjoyed a successful campaign season, seeing several of their initiatives win in various states.
The most noteworthy victory came in Massachusetts, where 65 percent of voters supported decriminalizing less than one ounce of marijuana. Also at the state level, 63 percent of Michigan voters supported legalizing medical marijuana. Massachusetts is now the thirteenth state to decriminalize marijuana, while Michigan is the thirteenth state to allow medical marijuana.
"The people were ahead of the politicians on this issue. They recognize and want a more sensible approach to our marijuana policy," Whitney Taylor, chairwoman of the Committee for Sensible Marijuana Policy, told the Boston Globe.
Some local marijuana initiatives also enjoyed success on election night. Fayetteville, Arkansas and Hawaii County both voted to instruct local law enforcement to make crimes involving possession of less than one ounce of marijuana their lowest priority. Four state legislative districts in Massachusetts also voted to instruct their representatives to vote in favor of medical marijuana legislation.
The primary setback for supporters of drug law reform was in California, where a measure to decriminalize possession of up to an ounce of marijuana fell by a 60-40 percent margin.
The issue of privacy is currently being debated in both the U.S. and the UK, among governments and technology companies alike.
In Britain, privacy advocates are wary of plans by the government to monitor all email, phone and Internet traffic in the country with "black box" style technology.
British Information Commissioner Richard Thomas was quoted in the UK newspaper The Independent as saying the proposed Communications Data Bill went a "step too far" and was "awful." Still, British security agencies hope to use the information to fight terrorism and other significant crimes.
The Independent notes that the proposal has created "a huge public outcry," with plans for a formal consultation of the UK public on the matter in 2009.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic this week, a coalition including yahoo.com and google.com unveiled a proposal called the Global Network Initiative to try to protect consumer privacy on the web. This plan would require various commitments from participating companies, such as providing greater transparency to users, challenging human rights violations, and advocating laws that respect privacy and the freedom of expression.
"Through this initiative, we take a crucial first step in advancing free expression and privacy, at a time when government interference with these basic human rights is on the rise," said Human Rights First President Mike Posner.
On Monday, attorneys for the Bush administration argued in front of the Supreme Court that drug companies should be shielded from consumer lawsuits even if they fail to warn patients about risks which could have long reaching effects on their health.
The case involves Diana Levine, a Vermont woman who had her arm amputated after an IV push of the anti-nausea medication Phenergan struck an artery, causing gangrene.
A jury awarded Levine $6.7 million in her suit against Wyeth, the drug’s maker, which the company appealed claiming the federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act prevents state lawsuits that conflict with federal drug regulations like warning labels approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Levine’s lawyer, David Frederick, argued that Wyeth didn’t do everything in its power to warn of the potential dangers.
"The manufacturer has a duty of due care, a duty to analyze new information on risk and to make appropriate change in the warning to reflect that," said Frederick. "It didn’t live up to that duty."
According to Wyeth’s website, Phenergan has been on the market since 1951 and is typically used to treat the effects of inhaled allergens or food allergies.
A new study indicates that child autism rates may be higher in areas that have more precipitation.
The study, which appears in November’s Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, examined autism rates for children in selected counties in Washington, Oregon, and California, as well as precipitation rates for those areas from 1987 to 2001.
"These results are consistent with the existence of an environmental trigger for autism among genetically vulnerable children that is positively associated with precipitation," wrote Michael Waldman of Cornell University and his colleagues.
The researchers estimated that the presence of an environmental trigger had increased 2005 autism rates in the studied counties by as much as 43 percent. They also suggested their findings "could potentially be explained by any environmental exposure associated with indoor activities."
In 2007, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention determined that about 1 in 150 8-year-olds in selected areas of the United States suffer from an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The CDC estimates that this would amount to approximately 560,000 Americans aged 1 to 21 suffering from an ASD.
The credibility of field drug test kits is under fire following the arrest of a Canadian couple on erroneous drug charges, raising concern about the violation of their civil liberties.
On September 11, Ron Obadia and Nadine Artemis crossed the U.S. border with their infant son. The two were checked for drugs and a field test was administered on beauty products and organic chocolate produced by their company, Living Libations.
After the NIK field test produced a false positive, the couple were arrested and charged with exporting a controlled substance. Under separate interrogation, each was told by officers that the other had confessed to smuggling hashish.
The couple faced a similar incident on August 3 in Toronto after another false positive drug test. They were arrested, interrogated, and later visited by child welfare authorities.
The two were exonerated after more tests. Before the September incident, the two had notified border authorities of their travel plans and were accompanied by an attorney, but were still arrested.
"I thought somebody must have planted drugs in our bag. We didn’t know the tests could be faulty," Obadia told USA Today.
Along with worrying about their civil liberties, Obadia and Artemis are concerned about their rights to market and transport organic products.
The National Association for Business Economics is predicting that the economy will rebound in 2009 – but not before continuing to struggle in the short term.
NABE President-elect Chris Varvares said that if current economic conditions do not undergo a rapid recovery, prospects could decline further.
"Still, the NABE panel expects that lower oil prices, a bottoming out in home prices, and a better functioning of financial markets should enable the economy to resume trend-like growth by the second half of 2009," he added.
Meanwhile, the economy is showing few signs of recovery in the short term. The Bureau of Economic Analysis reported that the gross domestic product had decreased at an annual rate of 0.3 percent during the third quarter of 2008, down from a second quarter increase of 2.8 percent.
Varvares added that NABE economists "see virtually no economic growth in the fourth quarter" and predicted that the GDP would only grow by 1.3 percent in the first quarter of 2009, but would reach 3 percent by the end of 2009.
He also notes that two out of three economists believe that a recession has already begun or will be underway by the end of 2008.
Ongoing instability in the stock market may offer a silver lining to those saving for retirement.
Some financial observers suggest switching from a traditional retirement account to a Roth IRA now because so many stock portfolios have posted significant drops.
This presents a potentially lower tax burden to those who switch. Assuming those portfolios return to their previous levels over time, some investors could realize considerable financial gains.
Writing on ABCnews.com, financial columnist David McPherson offers another reason to convert now to a Roth IRA.
"Twenty years from now, federal income taxes are going to be higher than they are today," he predicts, citing unchecked federal deficits and the pending retirement of the Baby Boom generation.
McPherson, converting now to a Roth IRA would amount to "paying lower taxes now than at higher rates later."
A Roth IRA works differently from a traditional IRA in that it does not tax an individual’s savings upon retirement. Traditional IRAs offer tax breaks as money is placed into an account, but then income tax is collected on those earnings at retirement.
According to the IRS website, workers can invest up to $5,000 a year in a Roth IRA, or $6,000 if they are over age 50. Roth contributions are not reported on one’s tax return.
The group Consumer Watchdog is calling on the Justice Department and state attorneys general to protect consumer privacy amid concerns about Google’s new Chrome browser.
It has raised a red flag about the danger of Google selling information about people’s web usage to third parties, saying that the company has "a financial interest in knowing ever more about who we are" online.
Chrome’s features include easier access to bookmarked pages, desktop shortcuts to web applications, and warnings if surfers are about to access an unsafe website. Chrome also includes an "Incognito" mode that allows surfers to prevent pages from showing up in their browsing history.
However, Consumer Watchdog urges Google to "ensure that Incognito mode has the full meaning the word implies when users opt for it." The group wants Google to protect consumer privacy with a single, instant Incognito button that remains in default mode and keeps information from outside servers.
"If Google won’t solve its own privacy problems, the company must be prepared for regulators to put the brakes on its unprecedented growth," said Consumer Watchdog President Jamie Court.
More banks could apply for their share of the government’s $700 billion rescue package than was originally estimated, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal.
Although some financial institutions have claimed they are strong enough to survive without asking for money, the publication says that Treasury and banking regulators have suggested that as many as 1,800 publicly held banks could join the line for funding in the next few weeks.
Additionally, it has been suggested that thousands of private banks could also apply for financial relief as well.
Current figures indicate that nine large banks are on track to be supplied with $125 billion, while 16 regional institutions are set to receive $33 billion under the Troubled Asset Relief Program, Reuters reports.
Dividend.com has suggested that some lenders may feel pressure to sign up for capital from the government or risk falling behind others who take the money.
The TARP program has a November 14th deadline for application and reports have estimated that there is around $125 billion left for smaller banks to claim before that point.
The Bush administration has been ordered by a U.S. district judge to release documents relating to its warrantless wiretapping program.
Following the September 11th 2001 attacks, the government gave the National Security Agency permission to engage in telephone surveillance of suspected terrorists without first obtaining a warrant.
Civil liberties groups have since filed a lawsuit against the NSA, Bush and other members of his administration related to the program.
On Friday, Judge Henry Kennedy said that the government must hand over the documents by November 17th, after which he will review them to determine whether they could be made public without endangering national security.
Commenting on the decision, the Electronic Privacy Information Center’s Marc Rotenberg told the Associated Press that the prospect of making the papers public was "a common sense matter."
"It’s an important decision because up to this point the judge has relied on the government’s assertion that it has done everything properly under the law and that it has disclosed everything it needs to disclose," he added.
Last month, the National Research Council released a report calling for the government to ensure it is takes measures to protect privacy and civil liberties before implementing any surveillance program.
A new study confirms a growing body of evidence suggesting that today’s children are more medicated than any past generation.
The findings indicate that it is increasingly common for American children to be prescribed drugs to address a number of health conditions, from asthma to diabetes.
Research published in the journal Pediatrics show an increase in prescription medications given to children over the years stretching from 2002-05, compared with previous three-year periods.
Dr. Emily R. Rox and colleagues found that prescriptions for medications to treat type 2 diabetes among children aged five to 19 doubled during this period, while those aimed at asthma rose by 46 percent.
Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, depression and high cholesterol were among the other conditions that saw an increase regarding their treatment with prescription drugs.
"Most people who would look at these numbers would indicate that these are worrisome trends" Cox told HealthDay News. "We need to understand what is driving this increase."
Previous research published in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health found that American children are approximately three times more likely than their European counterparts to be prescribed psychotropic drugs.
Older Americans could be financially penalized unless the rules governing mandatory retirement account withdrawals are amended, the AARP has warned.
The retiree advocacy group has called for a temporary freeze on these withdrawals, due to the recent state of the U.S. economy.
Under current rules, those who are aged 70 ½ and older must take distributions from their account based on the fair market value of this account on the final day of the previous year.
In a letter to treasury secretary Henry Paulson, AARP CEO Bill Novelli said that many people would find themselves choosing between taking a withdrawal based on higher values than those currently seen or paying a tax penalty of 50 percent for not taking a withdrawal.
"The sudden decline in the economy and plunging stock markets has jeopardized the retirement savings of millions of retired workers," Novelli wrote.
"In addition to steps that are already being taken to stabilize the financial markets, we believe it is also critical to help stabilize individual finances."
Last month, the AARP released a statement supporting Paulson’s proposal of a second economic stimulus package, aimed at providing a boost to Main Street instead of Wall Street.
A New Jersey-based company that operates by collecting information from students will have to allow participants to opt out of their service, following the settlement of a privacy lawsuit.
The settlement, announced by the state’s attorney general Anne Milgram, includes a $200,000 fine for Educational Research Center of America.
ERCA provided surveys to teachers in dozens of U.S. states, offering educators $40 gift cards as an incentive for participation.
Questions about ethnicity, religion, sports, hobbies and school activities were included in the surveys. The firm then sold the junior and senior high school students’ data to third parties to be used for marketing purposes.
The multistate settlement says that the company will be required to clearly show how students can choose to opt out of the survey. It also prohibits the organization from giving out monetary gifts to teachers.
Previously Iowa attorney general Tom Miller – who led the suit – pursued a similar company in 2006 for not letting children or teachers know that it was selling their information, the Des Moines Register reports.