Thursday, January 6, 2011

European Governments Rob Their Citizens' Pensions, Retirement Savings

And you guys thought the concept of government-mandated Treasurys in our 401(k)s was a bad idea. Just think, it could always be worse. You could be from Hungary!

Via The Adam Smith Institute Blog:

The most striking example is Hungary, where last month the government made the citizens an offer they could not refuse. They could either remit their individual retirement savings to the state, or lose the right to the basic state pension (but still have an obligation to pay contributions for it). In this extortionate way, the government wants to gain control over $14bn of individual retirement savings.

It gets worse. Head to the CS link for four more examples and here's to hoping you've got your mattress stuffed for retirement, kids!

Good thing we live in America where our government doesn't do things like that. Instead, they keep interest rates artificially low so the bankers can eat gold-plated turkey sandwiches while Grandma is eating Alpo. God bless America!!

What to Look for From FDA in 2011

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is one of those federal agencies that everyone loves to hate. Sometimes I think the FDA is more vilified than the Internal Revenue Service! Nevertheless, FDA’s mission is to provide the American public with safe and efficacious foods, medicines and cosmetics. And, despite some highly publicized missteps like Vioxx and Avandia in recent years, the agency has done a great job since it was created in 1930.
Mark Senak, who writes the always interesting and incisive EyeonFDA blog, published a piece outlining what consumer may expect from FDA this year. The highlights on his list include:
  • Draft guidance regarding the Internet and the use of social media
  • Increased enforcement of social media in the life sciences industry
  • Renewed interest on divining a legal, regulatory approval pathway for biosimilars
While none of these items is new, one can only hope that the agency can finally deliver on implementing these policies.
Until next time...
Good Luck and Good Job Hunting!!!!!

British Medical Journal details Andrew Wakefield's vaccine/autism fraud

In the British Medical Journal, Brian Deer provides extraordinary detail of the extent of fraud in Andrew Wakefield's paper, which, at the behest of trial lawyers, created a gigantic anti-vaccine scare that persists to this day, with untold numbers of measles cases resulting. Can you imagine the fuss if a doctor paid by a pharmaceutical company falsified study results for the profit of that corporation with adverse health effects? No signs of any class actions against trial lawyers or Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., though.
The Lancet paper was a case series of 12 child patients; it reported a proposed "new syndrome" of enterocolitis and regressive autism and associated this with MMR as an "apparent precipitating event." But in fact:

  • Three of nine children reported with regressive autism did not have autism diagnosed at all. Only one child clearly had regressive autism
  • Despite the paper claiming that all 12 children were "previously normal," five had documented pre-existing developmental concerns
  • Some children were reported to have experienced first behavioural symptoms within days of MMR, but the records documented these as starting some months after vaccination
  • In nine cases, unremarkable colonic histopathology results--noting no or minimal fluctuations in inflammatory cell populations--were changed after a medical school "research review" to "non-specific colitis"
  • The parents of eight children were reported as blaming MMR, but 11 families made this allegation at the hospital. The exclusion of three allegations--all giving times to onset of problems in months--helped to create the appearance of a 14 day temporal link
  • Patients were recruited through anti-MMR campaigners, and the study was commissioned and funded for planned litigation.
Posted by Ted Frank

Is Your Boyfriend Behind Bars?

I don’t buy into all the “there are no good black men” drama. I know several upstanding brothers out here. However, when a friend sent me this article about how the mass incarceration of black men hurts black women, I couldn’t deny that there are also quite a few “good” black men behind bars.

Did that raise an eyebrow? How could a brother be both “good” and incarcerated? Granted, he may not be  a “good catch” — at least not anymore — but I wholeheartedly believe there are men in jail who might have been productive members of society if they hadn’t made dumb decisions in their youth. And who isn’t guilty of that?

When I read the article, my mind went straight to my relatives. I have three male cousins, just around my age, who have been locked up for the majority of their lives. They went into jail as teenagers. They haven’t come out.

Yes, they made some wrong choices, but could they have been great assets to their communities, great husbands and great fathers? I think they could have. Maybe I’m biased, but I remember funny, charming, handsome, intelligent adolescents who had promising futures.

Then, I remember hearing they were imprisoned.

As much as that’s a personal tragedy for my family, I think it most definitely affects society as a whole. To bring it to the SIS perspective, maybe one of my cousins – had he the opportunity – would have been introduced to one of my girlfriends at a family function and fallen madly in love with her. Maybe they’d be off somewhere making a home and raising future generations.

Hey, it could have happened. We’ll never know.

Is there an actual correlation between the number of men in jail and the number of single women? If so, does it have more to do with the absence of available men to date or the fact that incarcerated fathers aren’t around to be good examples of manhood for their daughters?

Again, I have mostly questions and no answers, but it’s a topic my many single, female cousins and I discuss when we’re gathered at a family function lacking male companionship in a way that’s much deeper than not having a date.

By Tracy L. Scott

Is Single Motherhood a Wise Option?

I stumbled upon this article today, and several things came to mind. Not the least of which was, “Really? Haven’t I been seeing articles like this since second grade when I was using the newspaper as my finger painting canvas?” Sigh.

The article, like many before it, offers statistics on how poorly many blacks are doing achieving the “American Dream.” According to a study done by a Harvard professor, male incarceration, lack of educational opportunities and single-parent households are factors that have led to or are a result of our community’s troubles. According to the scholar, 70% of black children are born to single mothers.
A second study, this one from the Educational Testing Services’ “Black-White Achievement Gap,” is quoted in the article and suggests that “increasing marriage rates and getting fathers back into the business of nurturing children” is one way to improve the chances of young people in our communities.

The studies’ findings made me wonder: for the SIS who is more interested in Baby Right than Mr. Right, is planning to have a child out of wedlock a wise choice?

I am not “over the hill,” but even at my youthful age, I’ve been asked whether I’ve considered having children on my own. Just last year my younger cousin, an HBCU undergraduate, not-so-subtly hinted that it was time for me to pop him out some new kinfolk. I responded that I’d like to be married first. His comeback: “That’s antiquated.”

I know several successful and healthy adults who are products of single-parent homes. So, while the study results included in the aforementioned article are depressing, there is living proof that one person – especially with the help of extended family – can do a fantastic job rearing a child.

However, as one close friend of mine consistently tells me, “It’s hard.” She remembers her mom’s struggles and doesn’t recommend it.

So, there you have the SIS’s dilemma.

Should she miss out on motherhood just because there’s no marriage? Does she forge ahead and have a child on her own when she’s ready, or is that the selfish decision, realizing that her child might face more struggles and disadvantages being raised in a single-parent home?

Some suggest adoption is the answer for the SIS, but this option doesn’t solve for the single-parent household issue. If both parents raising a child is the Holy Grail, then adoption still falls short of that ideal.
Honestly, my biological clock is ticking very softly. Having children is not something I spend lots of time thinking about, but I don’t doubt there will come a time when the alarm sounds, and I think I’ll hear the bells loud and clear whether I’m married or still single.

By Tracy L. Scott

Journal: Israel Demands Bribes for Access to Gaza


The Associated Press Thursday, January 6, 2011; 7:29 AM

JERUSALEM — A U.S. diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks on Thursday quoted American officials as saying a key Israeli cargo crossing for goods entering the Gaza Strip was rife with corruption.

The June 14, 2006, cable, published Thursday by Norway’s Aftenposten daily, says major American companies told U.S. diplomats they were forced to pay hefty bribes to get goods into Gaza. It was unclear whether the practice still continues.

Tight security for Egypt’s Copts

Workers erect a ceremonial tent outside a cathedral in CairoCeremonial tents are being set up outside some Coptic churches for the celebrations
Related stories
Coptic Christians are preparing to celebrate Christmas Eve amid tight security after a bomb attack on a church in Egypt in which 21 died.

Armed Egyptian police have been ordered to protect churches where Copts are expected to gather in large numbers.

There have been calls for Muslims to hold vigils outside Coptic churches in a gesture of solidarity.

But some radical Islamist websites have urged more attacks, publishing church addresses in Egypt and Europe.

The bombing of the church in Alexandria on New Year's Day was the worst act of sectarian violence in Egypt in a decade.

It triggered days of protests and riots by Christians blaming the government for encouraging discrimination and not doing enough to protect them.

In response, Egyptian authorities have stepped up security around many churches, with explosives experts on hand.

Armoured vehicles have also been stationed in key areas.

Egyptian activists have called for Muslims to form human shields around churches during Thursday's Christmas Eve celebrations as a gesture of solidarity with Christians.

However, radical Islamist websites have been circulating lists of Coptic churches in Egypt and Europe with instructions on how to attack them.

"Blow up the churches while they are celebrating Christmas or any other time when the churches are packed," the statement read.

Copts celebrate Christmas on 7 January, according to the Julian calendar. Some European governments have also announced security measures at churches.

The BBC's Jon Leyne in Cairo says suspicion and fear between Christians and Muslims has been growing in Egypt for some time, made worse by tough economic conditions and a discredited political system.
It was during Coptic Christmas Eve celebrations in southern Egypt in 2009 that six Christians and a Muslim security guard were killed in a drive-by shooting.

The country's Coptic Christian minority makes up 10% of Egypt's 80 million people.

This article is from the BBC News website. © British Broadcasting Corporation, The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.

World food prices reach record high

Back in 2008, when food prices reached record levels people died from rioting over the issue. The food prices have returned to those records set a couple of years ago, and the United Nations warns that they still could go higher.

From the Guardian, writer Jill Treanor takes a look at the latest survey of food prices around the world.

An index compiled monthly by the United Nations surpassed its previous monthly high – June 2008 – in December to reach the highest level since records began in 1990. Published by the Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the index tracks the prices of a basket of cereals, oilseeds, dairy, meat and sugar, and has risen for six consecutive months.

Abdolreza Abbassian, FAO economist, told the Guardian: "We are entering a danger territory." But he stressed that the situation was not yet as bad as 2008.

Sugar and meat prices are at record levels, while cereal prices are back at the levels last seen in 2008, when riots in Haiti killed four people and riots in Cameroon left 40 dead.

Abbassian warned prices could rise higher still, amid fears of droughts in Argentina and floods in Australia and cold weather killing plants in the northern hemisphere.

"There is still room for prices to go up much higher, if for example the dry conditions in Argentina tend to become a drought, and if we start having problems with winterkill in the northern hemisphere for the wheat crops," Abbassian said.

Prices have been rising steadily but Abbassian said that by now he had been expecting food prices to start to fall because many poorer countries had good harvests last year.

Armageddon Moves To Maryland: Two Million Dead Fish Found In Chesapeake Bay

And, so, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse continued their fun tour of the United States. They’ve left the midwest and have now headed to the East Coast as folks in Maryland discovered two million dead fish floating in the Chesapeake Bay. Of course, experts are positing some plausible explanations for the phenomenon, but they’re mostly boring so, naturally, we’re going to connect it to all the other dead animals and remind everyone that WE ARE ALL GOING TO DIE!!!!

Oh, fine. I guess you want to know what the scientists have to say. Fiiiiiiine…
From Sky News:
“Maryland Department of the Environment spokeswoman Dawn Stoltzfus told Sky News Online that at the moment it does not look like pollution is to blame.
She said: “The dead fish are mainly juvenile spot fish, and they can’t survive very cold water temperatures. Typically they should have left the bay by now.
‘Our working theory, that looks pretty strong, is that it’s been caused by cold water stress.’”
Ugh. So a bunch of fish just got caught in the bay and couldn’t make it out to other areas before the water chilled? That is sooooo dull. And scientists are also trying to explain the other deaths away with power lines and fire works? Could that be any more boring? It totally doesn’t make my life sound like the beginning of a Steven Spielberg movie and therefore it’s stupid and I hate it.

Those scientist buzz kills can continue to try and ruin everything but don’t worry. We in the media promise to continue to bravely connect these events and hope for an apocalyptic even that will kill us all. It’s just so much more fun that way.

Watch the news report on the latest mass kill from Sky News below:

"Unkillable" cow puts elderly man in hospital

An elderly Fort Pierce man's run-in with an apparently unkillable cow on New Year's Day sent him to the hospital in critical condition. The drama unfolded on Saturday when 70-year-old Oscar Wilcox was working on a fence at his St. Lucie County ranch.

When Wilcox's wife heard him scream, she drove to the pasture and saw the cow attacking him. The cow, which had already been shot at least once by Wilcox with a .22 caliber pistol, wasn't going down without a fight.

To get it off her husband, Wilcox's wife began ramming it repeatedly with her truck. When that didn't work, she opened fire with the pistol that Wilcox had dropped in the encounter. The crossbred cow, which sported 12 to 18-inch horns, was shot several times in the face. It was finally contained in the pasture.

"(Wilcox’s wife) stated that the cow has always been nasty and had attacked her about a week ago causing bruises," according to a police report. Wilcox was flown to a nearby hospital where he was listed in a critical condition.

Millard South High School Shooter was Robert Butler

ST LOUIS (LALATE) – Robert Butler Jr (photo above) is identified as the Millard South High School shooter. Robert Butler shot and injured Vicki Kaspar and Principal Curtis Chase during a violent rampage today. But why?

Butler was the son of Omaha Police Detective Robert Butler Sr. Robert Jr. transferred to Millard South just last October. Today, he shot two employees of the school, one identified as Millard South Principal Curtis Chase.

Butler’s former Principal, Principal Rob Slauson of Lincoln Southwest High School, said Butler was a normal and popular student. Tonight, parents and fellow students have few answers as to what went wrong for Butler.

Slauson told news late today that he and members of his faculty are shocked. Slauson said no one saw any warning signs from Butler. Tonight Kaspar is in critical condition; Case is in stable but serious condition.

As broke earlier on LALATE, the terror erupted during midday Wednesday. Case came running into the school cafeteria screaming for students to get into the kitchen and lock the doors. It remains unclear if Case was shot before or after that warning.

The school went onto lockdown. Emergency voice mail recordings were dispatched to parents. Soon after, Case and Kaspar were shot.

Butler fled the scene in a red Honda. He later parked and killed himself. Butler’s family has yet to comment about the matter.

How to Become A Better Citizen in 2011

By Richard A. Lee

Having worked in and around politics for most of my career, I have always found it refreshing to start off the new year at a municipal or county reorganization meeting.

The experience doesn’t match Times Square for excitement, but if you are cynical about government (and who isn’t these days), these sessions are feel-good events. Smiles, handshakes, hugs, and promises of working cooperatively toward common goals are the order of the day. It’s a bit like the coin toss before the start of a football game – a few moments of courtesy and civility between opponents before they start trash talking and beating out each other’s brains.

It’s unlikely that the ugly side of politics will disappear in 2011, but there are a few things we can do as citizens to become better New Jerseyans and hopefully help move government in the right direction:

Go to the Show: Go to a town council, school board or freeholder meeting, or trek to Trenton to watch the Senate and Assembly in action. You won’t turn into an expert overnight, but by taking a firsthand look at the process of making laws, you’ll be better equipped to form knowledgeable opinions. As Bob Dylan put it back in 1964: “Don’t criticize what you can’t understand.”

Learn the Players: Do you know the name of your Congressman? Your representatives in the State Assembly and Senate? Your local officials? If you’re reading this column on an internet news or political site, you’re probably already well-acquainted with your elected officials.  Unfortunately, not everyone is as well-informed. But beyond names, we all should take a little more time to learn about the men and women who represent us. Learn their priorities, their accomplishments and goals. Read their bios and you may discover you share something in common – your alma mater, your profession, your kids’ soccer league.

Go Back to School: Wherever you live in New Jersey, a college or university is nearby. They offer lectures, concerts, theater performances and special events and programs. Most are open to the general public. Prices are affordable, sometimes free. Going out to hear a leading newsmaker or some other high-profile public figure at a college will do a lot more to make you a better citizen than staying home and watching American Idol or Dancing With the Stars (or for that matter Fox or MSNBC).

Vote Early and Vote Often: This advice usually is given in jest (hopefully) about voter fraud and corruption, but at least half of its message is a good one. We should vote often – not in the same election of course, but in primaries, school board elections, fire district elections and other contests in which turnout traditionally is low. The stakes may not be as high as in a presidential or gubernatorial campaign, but the results do have impacts, often on our taxes.

Don’t Make it Personal: Debate is a key element of democracy and ideally produces better candidates, better leaders and better government. But debate should stay on the issues. That’s a tough challenge, given the polarization and partisanship that characterizes politics today. Politicians know what they sign up for when they enter the public arena, but they’re people too – people who have spouses, sons, daughters and parents, all of whom can’t help but be hurt by comments that focus on personal issues that have no bearing on how well or poorly one performs in office.

Give A Compliment or Two: It’s human nature that we fire off angry letters or nasty posts when we are upset about something our elected officials do. We should indeed keep holding politicians accountable. But by the same token, let them know when they cast votes or take stands that means a lot to us.

Don’t Forget the Media: Journalists get criticized every day – from the left and from the right, often by people who have no concept of how a newsroom works. Reporters are big boys and girls who know that criticism comes with the territory. But we also should be willing to let journalists know when they write stories that are well-researched and well-written and make a difference in our lives. Journalists value feedback – and today feedback is as easy as clicking a link at the end of an article.

With property taxes, pension reform, redistricting and other major challenges on the horizon, 2011 will be another challenging year for state government in New Jersey. The simple steps outlined here won’t be enough to solve any of these problems, but they can help us find the path we need to follow to get there.

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Richard A. Lee is Communications Director of the Hall Institute of Public Policy – New Jersey.  A former State House  reporter and Deputy Communications Director for the Governor, he also teaches courses in media and government at Rutgers University, where he is completing work on a Ph.D. in media studies.