Unstable markets could pay off for Roth investors

A Roth IRA could help guard your wealthOngoing 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. ADNFCR-1961-ID-18861478-ADNFCR

New Google browser raises privacy concerns

Can Google respect people's privacy?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.
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1,800 banks could line up for bailout funds

The Fed is doling out money to thousands of banksMore 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.
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Govt ordered to release wiretapping documents

Bush must release documents related to a civil liberties lawsuitThe 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.
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U.S. kids taking more meds than ever

Today's kids are highly medicatedA 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.
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AARP calls for retirement account withdrawals rule change

AARP has called for a freeze on mandatory withdrawalsOlder 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.
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Student privacy suit settled

Students' data was sold to marketersA 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.
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Citizen group find plenty of financial nightmares in Washington

Congress' money management can be frightening, group saysAs another year of Halloween-inspired frights has just passed by, Citizens Against Government Waste has used the opportunity to point out some scary government behavior that has taken place over the past few months.

CAGW calls the $700 bailout bill "the worst trick perpetrated on taxpayers this year," claiming that it is a significant step towards creating a socialist mentality in Washington.

It points to government intervention in the cases of Bear Stearns, AIG, and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac as additional examples of how taxpayers are forced to foot the bill for Wall Street’s missteps.

CAGW is also highly critical of the way that Congress is managing (or mismanaging) the federal budget, which reached $455 billion in the fiscal year 2008.

The group says that spending over the course of the year has risen by 9.1 percent, which is the highest increase seen since 1990, while revenue fell by 1.2 percent.

"Congress’ reaction to the bad news is to propose spending increases and a $400 billion stimulus bill instead of taking a Texas-sized chainsaw to the plethora of federal government programs that are outdated and wasteful," CAGW states.

Meanwhile, in related news, Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke has recently called for indefinite government backing of consumer mortgages.
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Strong concerns raised about diabetes drug risk

Avandia has been linked to liver and heart problemsAn advocacy group has called for the Food and Drug Administration to immediately ban the diabetes drug Avandia, due to serious health concerns.

According to Public Citizen, the drug – manufactured by pharmaceutical company Glaxo-SmithKline – can cause liver failure and other life-threatening conditions.

The group has published a statement in Diabetes Care which cites 14 cases of liver failure that can apparently be linked to Avandia. In 12 instances, the condition resulted in death.

In addition to liver toxicity, the group warns that the medication has been linked to an increased risk of heart attacks, heart failure, bone fractures and complications from vision problems.

"The scientific consensus against Avandia is overwhelming," commented Public Citizen’s Dr. Sidney Wolfe.

"The timing of these findings should give the FDA the momentum it needs to act swiftly to prevent further needless deaths and health damage by banning this drug."

In May 2007, the FDA issued an alert about the heart attack risks associated with Avandia, saying that it would continue to assess its potential dangers.ADNFCR-1961-ID-18856655-ADNFCR

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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