Bob Barr criticizes McCain, Obama over liberties

Obama has not protected liberties, Barr saysNeither of the two major candidates for U.S. president – Republican John McCain nor Democrat Barack Obama – has successfully protected citizens’ personal liberties, Libertarian candidate Bob Barr has claimed.

Barr told an audience in Durham, South Carolina that placing support behind either man on November 4th is the equivalent of "a wasted vote," the Duke Chronicle reports.

The former Republican congressman from Georgia criticized McCain and Obama for supporting amendments to the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).

These amendments have been the subject of much controversy among civil liberties groups, who claim that they violate Americans’ rights by allowing warrantless domestic wiretapping.

"It is the job of the president to protect our liberty," Barr said, according to the news provider.

He then suggested that the two candidates have allowed the government to overextend its reach, saying that "both of the two major parties have an institutional interest in not diminishing the power of the president."

Throughout his political career, Barr has supported shrinking government, combating government violations of personal privacy and reducing – or eliminating – taxes on U.S. citizens.
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Survey: Patients think hospitals can do better

Survey reveals room for improvement at hospitalsPatients asked to rate hospitals across the country believe that the healthcare facilities had room for improvement, a new survey reveals.

As part of the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems survey, people filled out customer satisfaction surveys on 2,400 hospitals across the U.S.

The findings indicate that although many people are happy with the general level of care they received, areas such as pain management and hospital discharge instructions were found lacking.

Nearly one out of three respondents said that pain management was not handled well at their hospital, while around 20 percent gave communication about discharge instructions low marks.

Dr. Ashish Jha of Harvard explained that collecting the opinions of patients at healthcare facilities is not a common practice.

"It’s shocking that given the $2.1 trillion spent on health care that we have not had this kind of information before," he commented, according to Reuters.

The questionnaire covered six areas, including communication with doctors, communication with nurses, quality of nursing services, pain management, communication about medications and discharge information.

The study appears in the New England Journal of Medicine.
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Fed slashes interest rates due to recession fears

The Fed slashed in the interest rate to 1%The slowing economy and concerns about the availability of credit were at the heart of the Federal Open Market Committee’s unanimous decision to cut the federal funds rate by half of a percentage point on Wednesday.

Following the action, the key lending interest rate has been set at 1 percent. It is the second reduction seen this month, after a similar half-point cut was made on October 8th.

"The intensification of financial market turmoil is likely to exert additional restraint on spending, partly by further reducing the ability of households and businesses to obtain credit," the Fed wrote in a statement.

The committee also promised to "monitor economic and financial developments carefully" with regard to future decisions.

Analysts are divided on whether the Fed is likely to reduce rates even further.

California State University economist Sung Won Sohn told the Associated Press that he thinks the committee will make the "momentous decision" to slash the funds rate to zero if such an action is warranted by global events.

The federal funds rate reflects the interest rate at which banks lend immediately available funds to other banks overnight.
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Panel: FDA failed in BPA assessment

BPA is found in a range of plastic packagingThe Food and Drug Administration did not adequately address the potential risks of bisphenol A when assessing its safety, an independent panel of scientific experts has said.

Earlier this year, the FDA released a statement assuring Americans that the controversial chemical – used in plastic packaging and bottles – was safe at low levels, even for babies and children.

However, the panel of scientific experts has determined that the group’s judgment was flawed and did not take into account a number of studies that found evidence suggesting BPA was harmful.

For example, research conducted by the National Toxicology Program – part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services – suggested that BPA could pose a risk to children.

"The margins of safety defined by FDA as ‘adequate’ are, in fact, inadequate," the report stated, according to the Association Press.

In a statement, the FDA said it was "moving forward" with a plan to conduct additional research into BPA, adding that it would "carefully evaluate the findings of these studies."

Earlier this month, Canada became the first country to ban BPA from baby bottles. Commenting on the decision, the FDA said it was made due to an "abundance of caution."
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The safety of I Bonds

I Bonds are linked to inflationInvestors who are looking for a low-risk and high-yield place to store their wealth may be interested in exploring opportunities offered by inflation-linked savings bonds (I Bonds).

An article in the Wall Street Journal describes how yields for these bonds are expected to increase from 4.84 percent to 4.92 percent beginning in November, due to the increase in inflation seen over the past six months.

I Bond yields are based on both a fixed rate – currently set at 0 percent by the Treasury – and an adjustment based on inflation.

The fixed rate is maintained over the life of the bond, which is 30 years. Meanwhile, the inflation adjustment is adjusted every six months.

According to the Wall Street Journal, investors who buy I Bonds before November 1st will be able to guarantee the 4.84 percent rate for the October-March period, followed by a 4.92 percent rate for the following six months.

Although savers will be penalized if they cash in their bonds before the first five-year period is up, investors who maintain their money for one year could still enjoy a yield of 3.86 percent once the penalty has been taken into account, the publication explains.

Each individual may purchase up to $5,000 in I Bonds.
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BPA ‘reduces effect of cancer drugs’

BPA interferes with chemotherapy, scientists sayAnother health risk connected to bisphenol A (BPA) has been uncovered and described in the most recent issue of Environmental Health Perspectives.

According to researchers from the University of Cincinnati, BPA can reduce the effectiveness of chemotherapy treatments.

Dr. Nira Ben-Jonathan and colleagues exposed human breast cancer cells to BPA at levels that reflect those typically found in a person’s bloodstream.

They discovered that the chemical helped protect the cancer cells from dying when confronted by chemotherapy medications.

BPA has been in the spotlight in recent months due to a growing body of research that has linked it to health problems ranging from problems with sexual development in babies to heart problems in adults.

Canada recently became the first country to ban the chemical from being used in the manufacture of baby bottles.

According to the University of Cincinnati researchers, understanding BPA’s health risks helps increase their understanding of chemotherapy resistance.

"These data provide considerable support to the accumulating evidence that BPA is hazardous to human health," the authors wrote.

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Scientists modify tomato to fight cancer

Scientists have developed a purple cancer-fighting tomatoScience has taken its efforts at developing genetically modified foods one step further, creating a type of tomato that is hoped to help combat cancer.

The purple tomatoes were created by British researchers by incorporating genes from the snapdragon flower, a plant that contains an antioxidant called anthocyanin.

Anthocyanin is already naturally found in blackberries, cranberries and chokeberries, but scientists sought a way to make it easier to incorporate into the diet.

After developing the tomato, the team fed it to rats that had been engineered to develop cancer and compared the effects to mice that ate a normal diet.

The animals that ate purple tomatoes lived around 182 days on average, compared with the 142-day lifespan of the control group.

Although the health benefits of the new tomato may be welcomed by some, others have raised concerns about the safety of eating so-called Frankenfoods created in a laboratory rather than those which grow naturally without the intervention of science.

Last month, the FDA released guidelines on how it plans to regulate genetically modified meats. Some experts were surprised that these foods would not necessarily have to be labeled as such.

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Arizona to vote on freedom of choice in healthcare

Healthcare choice is on Arizona's ballotThe freedom of Arizonans to make decisions about their own healthcare without consulting with the state is at stake on the November ballot.

In an editorial written for the Washington Post, George Will describes the situation as a decision that would either "arrest or accelerate the nation’s slide into statism."

Proposition 101 is a measure that aims to add language to Arizona’s constitution that prohibits any law from being passed that would interfere with residents’ right to choose, pay for or opt out of any healthcare system or plan.

According to Will, this measure would guarantee more flexibility for Arizonans and protect their civil liberties from third-party infringement.

"Proposition 101 would protect Arizonans not only against abridgements of their liberties by their state government, but also perhaps against comparable actions by the federal government," Will writes.

He explains that the proposition recognizes the valuable role of the market in being able to allocate resources better than the state and federal government.

Writing in favor of Proposition 101, Phoenix doctor Anthony K. Hedley raises concerns that state-controlled healthcare could mean that Americans have to wait longer to receive important life-saving procedures.
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Did the bailout increase market volatility?

The stock market was unsettled after the bailoutPresident Bush and Congress may have attempted to quell the volatility of the stock market by approving the $700 billion bank bailout, but some experts are suggesting the move has had the opposite effect.

A report on Newsmax raises concerns about how the rescue package and related measures have affected issues of value and risk.

"Now that deposits are guaranteed, basically I as an investor have no incentive to hold equities, so I sell them and put my money in bank deposits," financial author Marc Faber explained to CNBC, according to the news provider.

He claimed that government interventions have made it "impossible to forecast market movements."

And Chris Whalen of Institutional Risk Analytics suggested in a recent newsletter that the bailout has led to a situation in which price and value are no longer linked and investors have lost confidence.

"No wonder the entire stock market is having an extended nervous breakdown," he added.

Meanwhile, ABC News reports that despite the current financial uncertainty on Wall Street and the bailout, many CEOs and senior-level executives will still receive higher-than-expected bonuses this year.
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Is gold still a safe investment?

Should you still invest in gold?Gold is traditionally viewed as a safe investment in troubled economic times. However, the price has been falling lately – a trend which has left many experts confused.

This behavior suggests that the credit crunch may be forcing investors’ hands. Mark Hansen of commodities research firm CPM Group told Fox News that people have been making a "mad dash for cash," which has included selling their more valuable assets such as gold.

In a research report released Thursday, the World Gold Council agreed with this sentiment, explaining that funds have been forced to sell precious metals to meet margin calls.

"The fact that gold did not head higher during the current leg of the crisis seems to reflect a combination of the rise in the dollar, deleveraging of commodity positions, sales to meet margin calls and the unwinding of the long gold, short dollar trade," the report states.

Meanwhile, some experts have argued that it is actually a good time to buy gold, because it is a good investment during times of inflation.

Gold Stock Analyst newsletter’s John Doody told the news provider that the recent bank bailout will help prevent deflation and create a good environment for gold investment.

The commodity recently fell to below $700 for the first time in more than a year.
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Study: Unsuspecting patients prescribed placebos

Is your doctor giving a real drug or a placebo?The majority of American doctors responding to a new survey said they see no ethical problem with the practice of prescribing placebos to patients without their knowledge.

In this study, published in the British Medical Journal, a placebo is defined as a treatment not specifically aimed at helping a particular condition.

Around half of the internists and rheumatologists surveyed said that they have prescribed placebos several times a month. Only 5 percent of respondents said they specifically told their patients it was a placebo.

Painkillers, vitamins, antibiotics, sedatives, saline injections and sugar pills were the most common placebos prescribed – in that order.

"It’s a disturbing finding. There is an element of deception here which is contrary to the principle of informed consent," co-author Franklin G. Miller of the U.S. National Institutes of Health told the Associated Press.

The authors suggest that doctors may reason that prescribing a placebo – which may potentially provide benefits – is preferable to not doing anything. These drugs also help raise a patient’s expectations for improvement, also known as "the placebo effect."

Placebos are often used in medical trials so that researchers can compare their effects with those of active medications.
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Greenspan admits surprise, dismay at market crisis

Greenspan said he was shocked by the credit crisisFormer chairman of the Federal Reserve Alan Greenspan told Congress on Thursday that he was shocked that self-regulation in the financial markets had not functioned the way he anticipated.

At one time, Greenspan – who left the Fed in 2006 after running it for nearly 20 years – was praised for enacting policies that helped stoke the property boom seen earlier this decade.

However, more recently some people have been laying part of the blame for the credit crisis on the chairman’s opposition to regulating the financial markets.

"I made a mistake in presuming that the self-interests of organizations, specifically banks and others, were such as that they were best capable of protecting their own shareholders and their equity in the firms," Greenspan told the House Committee of Government Oversight and Reform.

However, he explained that his decisions not to regulate risky practices such as credit default swaps was based on a philosophy that had previously worked "exceptionally well."

Other financial leaders testifying before Congress included Christopher Cox, chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission.
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Chertoff defends no-fly list

The no-fly list has often been controversialDirector of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff has challenged claims made by civil liberties groups about the number of people not allowed to fly on U.S. airlines.

Instead of the figure of 1 million which has been quoted by the American Civil Liberties Union, the actual number barred from flying totals only 2,500, with 90 percent of these non-U.S. citizens, he said.

In addition, there are around 16,000 people whose names are on a selectee list, which means they may be inspected but not prohibited from boarding a plane.

However, some have raised concerns about the incidents of mistaken identity, in which an innocent member of the public shares a name or other identification with someone on the list.

Some names may even be on the list as the result of an error. Earlier this year, a court of appeals in San Francisco ruled that passengers can bring cases regarding their status on the no-fly list to a judge and jury for consideration.

It made its decision after a Malaysian student at Stanford University was detained and handcuffed at an airport in 2005, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.
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Dim forecast for U.S. recovery

The economy may not pick up until mid-2009Investors who have been hoping that the U.S. economy will be given a clean bill of health in the near future may want to think again.

New predictions from the International Monetary Fund provide a gloomy picture for the next six months, suggesting that most countries in the western hemisphere will face near-zero or negative growth until mid-2009.

And, once the U.S. does begin to get back on its feet, the IMF said that recovery will happen more slowly than in previous downturns because of the "exceptional nature of the asset price adjustments taking place."

Other countries in the region are also set to face challenges, the group predicted.

"The outlook points to a major downturn for the global economy, with growth falling to its slowest pace since the 2001-02 recession," the report states.

However, the IMF suggested that the coordinated efforts taken by governments around the globe would eventually lead to a successful recovery for the global economy.

Meanwhile, in related news, CNN Money reported on Wednesday that although there some signs of a credit thaw have been observed, investors continue to behave warily due to warnings about a long recession.
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Does anesthesia cause developmental problems?

Questions about anesthesia and behavioral problemsParents may be careful to protect their children from a number of threats to their health, including toxic chemicals and potentially harmful medications.

Now, new research raises questions about the effect of general anesthesia on a child’s developing brain.

Findings reported at the American Society of Anesthesiologists annual meeting reveal that children who were exposed to anesthesia could double their risk of being diagnosed with a behavior or developmental disorder.

Scientists analyzed data from 625 children who had been given anesthesia for a hernia operation and compared it with a sample of 5,000 kids who had not had anesthesia. All participants were covered by the New York State Medicaid program.

They found that 4.8 of the children exposed to anesthesia had later been diagnosed with a developmental or behavioral disorder, compared with 1.5 percent of the control group.

Researcher Dr. Lena Sun told Reuters Health that although the results are provocative, more investigation needs to be done.

"This study basically suggests that we really need to do a more rigorous study to look at this question," she said.

Around 2 million children in the U.S. have been diagnosed with the behavioral problem ADHD, according to the National Institute of Medical Health.
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Spending on Medicaid could outpace economic growth

Medicaid spending is set to riseThe amount of money spent on Medicaid could place significant stress on federal and state budgets over the next decade, according to forecasts from the U.S. Department and Health and Human Services.

In fact, spending is expected to rise by an average of 7.9 percent each year over the next 10 years, a rate of growth which is larger than that of the overall economy, the report indicates.

Medicaid is a joint state and federal program that provides insurance for low-income households. It cost approximately $333.2 billion to fund in 2007, with the federal government paying 57 percent of that cost.

HHS predicts that the total cost could reach $647 billion by 2017, with enrollment in the program expected to hit 55.1 million by that year.

"This report should serve as an urgent reminder that the current path of Medicaid spending is unsustainable for both federal and state governments," commented HHS secretary Mike Leavitt.

He urged action to make sure the program remains "fiscally sound."

Last month, a Kaiser Family Foundation and Health Research & Education Trust report found that U.S. health insurance premiums rose by an average of 5 percent last year.
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Ron Paul: Government should leave the economy alone

Paul is calling for a significant tax cutThe U.S. government is mistaken if it thinks that it can help the American people by interfering with the free market, according to Texas Representative Ron Paul.

He told CNN’s American Morning program that the bailout will lead to inflation and will end up doing "no good whatsoever" for the country’s economic situation.

In addition, he criticized the idea that creating new money and encouraging spending provide the keys to boosting the economy.

Paul characterized these measures as typifying the "arrogant" belief of politicians and bureaucrats that they can regulate the free market.

Instead, the congressman from Texas called for a "drastic" tax cut that would allow Americans to "keep the money they earn."

When questioned about the future of the country, Paul replied that he finds weaknesses in the economic policies of both John McCain and Barack Obama.

However, when asked to differentiate, he said that the Republican’s healthcare plan offers "a better approach" but that the Democrat’s ideas about withdrawing from Iraq will save the U.S. billions of dollars.

Paul’s comments come as chairman of the Federal Reserve Ben Bernanke has suggested that another economic stimulus package is needed to help heal the ailing economy.
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BPA baby bottles banned in Canada

In Canada, BPA is not permitted in baby bottlesThe U.S. Food and Drug Administration may have decided that the chemical bisphenol A (BPA) is safe, but the Canadian government has made it clear it thinks otherwise.

Canada has become the first country in the world to take action against BPA in baby bottles.

The chemical – which is also used in plastic packaging – has been linked to a number of health problems in various studies, but some experts do not find the evidence to be strong enough to support a ban.

For example, in the U.S., the FDA has said that BPA is safe for human use. Earlier this year, spokesperson Laura Tarantino said the FDA was not "recommending any change in habits" in regard to the chemical.

After declaring BPA a toxic chemical on Saturday, Canada said it is working on draft regulations to limit its importation and sale.

Some U.S. states have said they are considering similar bans, with surgeon generals from Delaware, Connecticut and New Jersey calling on the government to act to protect children’s health.
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Bernanke calls for further stimulus

The Fed is seeking a new stimulus packageIt was several months ago that President Bush signed a $170 billion stimulus package that he said could help prevent the U.S. from slipping into recession – now, there is talk of introducing another, similar measure.

Speaking before Congress, Ben Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve, suggested that a second government stimulus package could provide a boost to the economy, as consumers cut back on spending.

September retail figures fell by 1.2 percent, which caused stocks to plummet and many financial experts to suggest that the country will definitely enter a recession period.

"With the economy likely to be weak for several quarters and with some risk of a protracted slowdown, consideration of a fiscal package by the Congress at this juncture seems appropriate," Bernanke said, explaining the reasoning behind his suggestion to the House Budget Committee.

He added that any plan should be designed so that it would "limit longer-term effects" on the government’s budget deficit.

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Pittsburgh GPS case prompts privacy concerns

Does GPS surveillance violate privacy? A court case that is currently in the federal courts in Pittsburgh could help set a precedent for how law enforcement officials handle global positioning system data.

The issue centers on whether or not police officers should be required to demonstrate probable cause and obtain search warrants before they track suspects using GPS, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports.

Federal prosecutors and law enforcement officials are seeking permission to obtain information on a suspect’s location using data stored by their cell phone – either in real time or via historic records.

They say that electronic surveillance is less expensive and more effective than following someone in a vehicle.

However, some privacy advocates have raised concerns about the possibility that this technology violates the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which protects against unreasonable searches and seizures.

Some of the legal questions about the use of GPS concern whether or not a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy when their vehicle is driving on a public road.

"The government and police say they are trying to keep people safe, but our rights do come into question. It’s a balancing act," civil rights attorney Sam Cordes told the news provider.

Developed by the U.S. Department of Defense, GPS uses satellites and monitoring stations to provide 3D location information, along with the time.
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Social security boost for retirees

Social security is rising by 5.8%Retirees who have been fretting over the state of the stock market and their nest egg have a bit of good news to look forward to – social security benefits are rising by 5.8 percent in 2009.

According to the Social Security Administration, this increase – the largest since 1982 – will mean an average of $63 extra in a retiree’s monthly check.

This year’s jump is a marked departure from the cost of living increases of the past decade, which are tied to inflation. However, recent rises in costs such as food and fuel seem to have pushed the decision.

However, some suggest that despite the increase many seniors will still struggle to maintain their standard of living – or even make ends meet.

"Right now many senior citizens are feeling depressed because things seem out of control," California State economics professor Sung Won Sohn told the Associated Press.

If anything, many people are feeling uncertain about their financial future. The Congressional Budget Office recently estimated that Americans lost a total of $2 trillion from their retirement accounts over the past 15 months, due to fluctuations in the stock market.
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