Thursday, November 28, 2013

10 weirdest sites in South Korea

1. The toilet themepark

Just an hour outside Seoul at the “home of Samsung Electronics” – Suwon, is the world’s first (and possibly only) theme park dedicated to the ubiquitous restroom. At the centre of the estate is a toilet seat-shaped museum, which was once the home of Sim Jae-duck, the founder and first president of the World Toilet Association. Also at the Restroom Cultural Park are displays of loos of all kinds, bedpans, sculptures and lots of fun facts about poo!

2. The flying man

The N Seoul Tower, also known as Namsan Tower or Seoul Tower, is one of the most visited observation decks in Seoul, with its stunning panoramic views of the city. It is also known for its sea of “love locks”, where many an amorous couple has come to pledge their undying devotion to each other. Our favourite part of the Tower, however, is the wire mesh sculpture of a flying man that hangs by the tower. Whimsical and charming, this was created by French artist, Cedric le Borgne.

3. The teddy bear museums

South Koreans seem to have a thing about teddy bears, as seen by the number of teddy bear museums in the country. The establishment at N Seoul Tower uses these soft toys to chronicle scenes from both past and present day life in Seoul. The Teddy Bear Museum and Gyeongju, Gyeonsangbuk, is a more modern attraction that uses the figurines to depict the history of mankind, going as far back as the Age of Dinosaurs. And at the Jeju Teddy Bear Museum, the world’s largest of its kind, visitors get to see teddys as old as 100 years, some of the world’s most famous and luxury bears and even have a picnic with some colourful sculptures.

4. The medicine theme park

‘Medicine’ and ‘theme park’ are two rarely coupled items, but that’s exactly what happens at the Sancheong Oriental Medicine theme park. Opened in 2010, the free attraction is dedicated to traditional oriental medicine and is an eco-friendly facility that features natural hiking trails through forests and valleys, a medicinal herb garden and an Oriental Medicine Museum.

5. The mushroom hotel

The province of Gyeongsangnam-do is lauded for its non-commercialised, natural surroundings and home to the annual Herbal Medicine Festival. Keeping with the theme, the Sancheong Hangbang Resort built all its units in the shape of mushrooms, fashioned out of local clay and wood! It also features several ‘hangbang jjimjilbang’, local public saunas with herbal baths and sauna rooms made of pine firewood.

6. The cruise ship hotel

You’ve heard of a cruise to nowhere; well, this is one cruise ship that’s definitely not going anywhere. Perched atop a cliff, the Sun Cruise Resort & Yacht in Jeongdongjin looks like a ship that’s run aground, or a decommissioned vessel that’s been turned into a hotel. But it’s neither. The hotel was actually built to look like a ship and boasts the most stunning view of the sun rising in the country.

7. The penis park

According to the “Legend of Auebawi and Haesindang”, a woman was once left on a rock in the sea by her man, while he worked. When a storm blew in and the man was unable to save her, she drowned. From that day, villagers could not catch fish, and some believed it to be a curse of the dead woman. To soothe her spirit, they made several phallic-shaped carvings and held religious ceremonies for her. Things soon returned to normal and the site is now known as Haesindang Park, or Penis Park. Located in Sinnam, there are around 50 statues here, ranging from the real to the cartoonish, said to celebrate joy, spirituality and sexuality.

8. The biscuit bench

Entitled “Eating a Biscuit Together”, this sculpture doubles as a bench outside the Bukchon Art Museum in Seoul. Featuring the ends of two men eating either end of a long biscuit, it’s a fascinating piece of work created by Korean artist, Ku Bom Ju.

9. The chicken art museum

Kim Chogang established the Seoul Museum of Chicken Art in 2006 to promote the significance of the fowl in human history and cultures around the world. Located in Bukchon, Hanok Village, it houses paintings, furniture, ornaments, sculptures and all manner of artistic expression dedicated to the chook. There’s even a special exhibition space that hosts seasonal works from around the world.

10. The cave of funny names

At 6.5km long, Hwanseongul Cave in Gangwon is the largest lime stone cave in Korea and definitely not to be missed during your visit. Fantastic stalagmites, stalactites (including one that looks like the Great Wall of China), lakes and waterfalls will have you gasping in awe, but it's the funny named sections that’ll have you chuckling through out. There’s the “Pledge of Love (Corroded Hole)”, “Bridge of Repentance”, “Cave Popcorn” and for the ultimate photo opp – an LED rainbow!

Check out great deals on winter holidays in Korea here!

Trader shoots dead son he thought was robber – Bernama

A food seller fatally shot his son who he mistook as an intruder trying to rob his house in an incident in Kampung Baru Balakong, Kuala Lumpur, last night.
Kajang district police chief, ACP Ab Rashid Ab Wahab said in the 10.16pm incident, the 76-year-old trader heard cries for help from his Myanmar worker staying in a hut behind his house.
He said the elderly man woke up his 51-year-old son and immediately reached for a semi-automatic gun, before both headed for the worker's hut.
"In the darkness, the son who was armed with a parang had dashed forward towards the hut without the father realising it. The father then fired three shots, thinking that the figure he saw in the darkness was the intruder.
"One of the three shots hit his son on the head and the victim died at the scene," he told a news conference at the district police headquarters.
Ab Rashid said the trader was detained to assist police in the investigation but was released on police bail today.
The case is being investigated under Section 302 of the Penal Code for murder. - Bernama,

3 Times You Should Never Use Olive Oil

By Marygrace Taylor, Prevention
From olive to coconut to flax, it's no secret that oils are having a major culinary moment. Good thing, too, since most of them are rich in unsaturated fats that'll help keep your heart in tip-top shape, says Stephanie Hoban, RD, a Houston-based natural foods chef. But what's the smartest way to fit all of these different lipids into your kitchen repertoire? And which oils hold up to each kind of cooking? Read on to learn the best (and worst) oils for eight everyday cooking methods.
Sign up for our Recipe of the Day newsletter for even more quick and easy recipe ideas!
You can't go wrong with safflower or canola oil. But if you're looking to add an Asian-inspired flavor, try toasted sesame oil. All stand up to stir-frying's hot temperatures because of their high smoke point, the temperature at which an oil starts to burn and emit (you guessed it!) smoke. "When oil smokes, it's actually oxidizing and turning rancid, and oxidized oils are carcinogens," Hoban says. If you opt for canola, make sure it's organic and certified non-GMO: In the US, nearly 90% of canola is genetically engineered.
What not to use: Olive oil. With a smoke point that tops out at around 325 degrees, it can't stand up to the high temps required for stir-frying.
Rich in heart-healthy fats, olive oil of any kind works well for this medium-heat, stove top cooking method (pair it with one of these other 25 heart-healthy superfoods). Refined or light olive oil is paler in color and more neutral in flavor than its extra virgin cousin, making it a good choice for all-purpose sautéing. Go for the greener, grassier (and often more expensive) extra virgin stuff in dishes where you want a more pronounced olive oil flavor, like marinara sauce.
What not to use: Steer clear of oils that break down in the presence of heat, like flaxseed or wheat germ.

Dips, sauces, and dressings

When making uncooked items like hummus, pesto, or vinaigrette, reach for rich, flavorful extra virgin olive oil. Looking for something a little different? Try avocado oil. Though you can cook with it at high temperatures, its buttery essence really shines when used raw.
What not to use: Canola or safflower oil. Though perfectly safe, the neutral flavor will leave your food tasting lackluster. (Want to know what isn't safe? Check out these 7 Foods That Should Never Cross Your Lips.)


Refined coconut, organic canola, or safflower all fare well in medium temperatures typically used for baking, says Hoban. Among those, the one you pick depends on the taste you're looking for: Coconut oil's distinct, nutty flavor will stand out in baked goods, while canola or safflower will fade into the background.
What not to use: Flaxseed or wheat germ oils. Though you might think they'll give muffins and quick breads an extra boost of omega-3s, "these oils are fragile and break down in the presence of heat," Hoban says.
Your oil here depends on the temperature at which you'll be cooking. If you're roasting higher than 325 degrees, pick a heat-stable oil, like organic canola. Cooking low and slow? Regular olive oil is a good choice, Hoban says. (Try it out on these turkey drumsticks and eat for a week!)

What not to use:
Just like you'd skip flaxseed or wheat germ oil for baking, avoid them for roasting, too.


Consider organic canola or safflower oil your kings of the grill. Able to withstand temperatures reaching close to 500 degrees, these sturdy fats are the least likely to oxidize in the presence of flames or hot coals.
What not to use: Olive oil. Even though tons of recipes call for brushing proteins and veggies with the stuff before slapping them on the grill, the heart-healthy fat can't take the heat.

More from Prevention: 5 Reasons To Never Eat Shrimp Again

A high oil temperature is key to turning out fried fare that's crisp--not soggy--which means the food has absorbed too much fat. With smoke points of up to 450 degrees, peanut, safflower, and soybean oils get the job done. If you choose soybean oil, though, be sure to pick an organic variety to avoid GMOs.
What not to use: Olive oil. Tempted though you might be to make your fried foods feel slightly more virtuous, its smoke point is too low for this type of cooking.
Flavoring or finishing
For extra nutrition and depth of flavor, try nutty flaxseed or wheat germ oil in smoothies or drizzled over cooked dishes (like whole grains or roasted vegetables) right before serving. Toasted sesame oil, too, can make a finished dish even more delicious. (Check out 5 MORE Ways To Make Vegetables Taste Amazing!)
What not to use: Canola, safflower, or regular olive oil. They won't do anything except make your food taste oily!

Do Not Let the Money Junkies Ruin Your Thanksgiving Day Putting a Strain on Your Family Ruining Your Marriage.

For many people. It is hard to be thankful. Many families will have to go down to the local soup kitchen for a turkey dinner because they are living in their car because they lost their job and was evicted because they could not pay the rent. Many families are a paycheck away from being homeless who will go to the soup kitchen because they are broke thanks to inflation making the cost of food expensive. They can barely afford to feed their kids with macaroni and cheese dinners. They maybe lucky to have enough gas in the tank to make to the soup kitchen and back home.
There are others who still have a home and can barely afford to have a turkey dinner in the comfort of their own home. There are those to who have a home with no electric service and no phone. Regardless of what lot a family and a married couple is in. The day after Thanksgiving signals the coming of Christmas. Many families with young children have it very hard. The parents want so much to give their kids a good Christmas. The last thing a parent wants to do is disappointment their Children if they do not get any presents. Especially when the kids are well behaved, helping Mom and Dad when they can and have made the best out of it all.
It is not going to be an easy day for many. I know many parents and married couple are already starting to feel the stress of it all. These hard times every one is feeling does put a strain on the family. Married couples will fight because lack of finances, especially when the holidays start. These hard times are not no ones fault at all. This economy was caused by greed and those hungry for power. They have no regard for no one who has less than they do. They have no gratitude for what they have and have no compassion for anyone. The money junkies enriched themselves at the poor people’s expense which are many for no reason at all.
What I say to you in advice is simple, but not easy. That is do not let the Money Junkies ruin your Thanksgiving no matter if you are homeless, almost living on the streets, struggling or still doing well but still concerned. Do not give the pleasure of letting the oligarchs see you fight and living miserable. The nation is struggling because bankers have stolen the wealth we worked so hard for. So stop blaming each other for things both have no control over. Just because Christmas is coming up with all the stress and headaches compounded with further financial troubles. Please do not take it out on your spouse and children. Try to communicate and vent frustrations with spouse.
This thanksgiving holiday we call all give thanks this Thanksgiving is we have something the money junkies do not have that all the wealth of the world can not obtain. That is many of these Elite families have no love in their homes. Their ill gotten wealth is the only thing holding them together. If they become poor tomorrow, the family would no know how to stick together. They would starve to death on a deserted island with crate of unopened canned goods and a can-opener.
What we have the Money Junkies don’t .We have regard for our fellow man. We have compassion for the less fortunate. Many of will give the shirts off our backs for a stranger. We have generosity willing to give even if we can not afford it. We will give hospitality to a stranger to share the dinner table this Thanksgiving dinner and have them stay over for pies and watch the football game. We still have a sense of right and wrong. We still have ethics in our everyday lives. This why the money junkies are miserable is because they do not give, they take and steal. They are sociopaths who could care less if they make a single mom poor of no fault of her own freezing to death on the streets with her kids. The money junkies are people without remorse for her disposition.
I say do not let the money junkies ruin this thanksgiving for us. They maybe smoking cigars drinking brandy laughing how they screwed us over. What goes around comes around. They will reap what they sow.
Families need to stick together more than ever. Do not let finances strain your marriage and bring strife in the family. If Families stick together through the darkest of times. The money Junkies lose and we win.

The Cookie Man Story

Wally AmosWally Amos is “The Cookie Man.” He’s the man who made cookies famous. He’s also one of the most inspirational Americans alive today. Using his aunt’s recipe, Wally Amos opened the world’s first chocolate chip cookie store in the world in 1975 on the Sunset Strip in Hollywood.
Amos became the “face that launched a thousand chips.” He paved the way for others, such as Mrs. Fields .
Demand was so great, Wally opened several more stores. Customers flocked to the stores and he opened even more locations. To raise money to do that, he sold shares in his company, but one day, Wally found he no longer owned a controlling interest.
One day, the new owners terminated Wally, and to make matters worse, he found he became the man without a name. Many would be stopped by that, but not Amos. He turned lemons into lemonade, which was the subtitle of one of his ten books. Losing his company and name put him on a spiritual path. It taught him lessons he never would have learned otherwise, and for that he is grateful.

Now he lectures and write about Recipes for Life. His books extol the virtues of perseverance and laughing in the face of adversity.
“I bounce back. I don’t roll over,” Wally says. “When we change our attitudes, everything else changes too. It’s impossible to stay in a funk. My mom, Ruby, used to say ‘I’m down but not out. You can always come back.’”
Wally and Aunt DellaHere are some things you might not know about Wally Amos.
  • His Panama hat and shirt became the first such items from a major food company to be enshrined in the Smithsonian Museum. They are part of Americana.
  • The Cookie Man uses the original Wally Amos recipe, created by his aunt Della. The company he once owned no longer does.
  • Wally is passionate about literacy for children and adults and has created the Read it Loud! Foundation to support it. He also sits on the Board of Directors and is a founding member of Read To Me International in Honolulu, HI.
  • The company he founded in 1975 is now worth over $60 million.
  • Wally Amos has been on many TV shows, including: Oprah, Merv Griffin, The Jeffersons, Steve Allen, The Office, and Taxi.
  • Wally has spoken to tens of thousands and touched millions of lives.
  • Now, with The Cookie Man, Wally proves you can always bounce back.

Demand for holiday food boxes remains high as food stamps cuts take toll

phil virgin shannon hardman.JPG
Phil Virgin, a volunteer with St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Vancouver, helps load a Thanksgiving food box into Shannon Hardman's vehicle. Hardman, an Orchards resident, was laid off from her job as an office manager in August. (Yuxing Zheng/The Oregonian)

VANCOUVER -- About 10 people huddled in the 35-degree chill Tuesday morning in Vancouver, half an hour before the doors were set to open.
They weren’t queueing for the latest video game console or Black Friday sale. They were waiting for eggs, milk, carrots, potatoes, apples, a turkey and other ingredients for a Thanksgiving meal. Each of the prized 2½-by-1½ foot cardboard boxes handed out by St. Vincent de Paul of Brush Prairie contained everything that 105 local families will be gathering around Thursday evening.
“It would be depressing and very broke without this. We wouldn’t have anything,” said Orchards resident Shannon Hardman, who picked up a food box for her husband and 14-year-old daughter at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church. “With this, we have the basics.”
Help for Thanksgiving
Most agencies have handed out their food boxes. To find a free Thanksgiving Day meal and other holiday options, go to Search the Entertainment Listings on the right-hand side for "Thanksgiving."
Despite encouraging employment statistics touted by optimistic public officials, there is little -- if any -- trickle-down of the slow economic recovery that area residents living on the margins feel this holiday season. Many remain jobless, work less than full-time or earn less than they did five years ago. Many remain hungry. The federal government’s cuts to food stamps that went into effect this month, combined with the lateness of Thanksgiving this year, contributed to heavy demand for holiday food boxes, Portland area food bank officials said. More than one in five Oregonians still relies on government food aid, including many whose benefits ran out more than a week ago.
Hardman’s hours as an office manager at a recycling depot were cut for a year before she was laid off in August. Her husband is also working fewer hours as a grounds manager. Meanwhile, her family’s food stamps were reduced from $37 in October to $14 in November.
“It’s enough to buy milk, a loaf of bread, eggs and a bag of potatoes,” she said. “This year, it’s been really hard.”
On Tuesday, about a dozen volunteers with the local conference of St. Vincent De Paul gathered at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church to hand out food, toiletries and a much-needed dose of holiday cheer to a steady stream of their hungry neighbors.
“Have a Happy Thanksgiving!” volunteer Ted Holcombe said as he hoisted a turkey into a recipient’s cart. By 10 a.m., half the boxes were gone.
allyn rapcinski kathy venhuis.JPGView full sizeAllyn Rapcinski (left, at table) and Kathy Venhuis, both volunteers with St. Vincent de Paul of Brush Prairie, catch up during a brief lull during a busy morning handing out Thanksgiving food boxes.
St. Vincent de Paul at St. John’s began offering the food boxes in mid-October, and they were all spoken for within two weeks, said Kathy Venhuis, the self-proclaimed “turkey lady” who has organized the Thanksgiving food boxes for about a decade. A year ago, about 25 families would visit the church’s food pantry each day, but 37 families showed up Friday and another 41 families showed up Monday, she said.
“There’s so much more poverty and need out there,” she said. “Us private agencies are trying to pick up the slack for what the government isn’t doing.”
Savannah Hickok of Vancouver used to receive $900 a month for food stamps for a household of six, including three children. The $600 she received this month, after the cuts, ran out last Friday, two and a half weeks before she receives the next installment. She’s considering borrowing money from her mother, she said as she picked up a food box.
Plenty of those picking up boxes declined to be interviewed.
“I don’t want people to know how bad off I am,” one man said.
“I work for the school district. I don’t want people knowing,” one woman said.
The continuing high demand for food worries pantry officials who find increasingly empty shelves and dwindling reserves. Holiday food drive contributions usually last through the spring at SnowCap, a Gresham agency that serves Multnomah County residents east of 82nd Avenue, but that might not last this year, said Judy Alley, executive director.
“If we have to use them all up at this higher rate of consumption, we’re not going to have enough,” she said. “People rarely think of doing food drives in April.”
The food pantry helped about 120 families a day this month, compared to about 100 families a day last November, she said.
Those who receive charitable food aid say they’re appreciative of the help they receive to pull together a holiday meal. Tamisha Mallon of Hazel Dell said she and her six children ran through their $700 in food stamps in the middle of the month.
“My kids love celebrating the holidays,” she said. “If they didn’t have the help here, a lot of people would be suffering.”
-- Yuxing Zheng

Petrus Romanus: Pope Advocates Global Wealth Redistribution, Renounces Free Market Economics as “Crude and Naive”

Since his coronation, Pope Francis has made waves throughout the Catholic community, often shunning generally accepted Papal tradition for a more modern and progressive world. He is, for lack of a better term, a reformer. From refusing the luxurious living quarters traditionally reserved for the head of the Church in the Vatican, to turning Catholic dogma on its head by suggesting it’s OK to be gay when headdressed the issue by asking, “Who am I to judge?” Francis is unlike any popes who have come before him.
By some accounts, he has been a positive influence, as evidenced by a growing interest in Catholicism since he took the reigns of the Church. For others, especially those who have followed the centuries old prophecies of Saint Malachy, his message is being approached with caution and skepticism.
Now, in his first encyclical, a Papal letter sent to Bishops of the Roman Catholic Church, Francis has once again caused an uproar by claiming free market capitalism and trickle-down economics are unproven theories not backed with facts.
“It is no longer simply about exploitation and oppression, but something new,” the pontiff wrote in the 85-page document. “Exclusion ultimately has to do with what it means to be a part of the society in which we live; those excluded are no longer society’s underside or its fringes or its disenfranchised – they are no longer even a part of it. The excluded are not the ‘exploited’ but the outcast, the ‘leftovers’.
The pope also denounced “trickle-down” theories of economics promoted by many conservatives and politicians who espouse an unregulated free market.
“In this context, some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world,” he said. “This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting.”
“In addition to restating opposition by the Catholic Church to abortion, the new Pope criticized free market capitalism and advocated wealth redistribution,” notes Kurt Nimmo of Infowars about the Pope’s latest ideas.
While the free market system as it exists today is certainly not ideal, especially considering the elite political machinations taking place behind the scenes on a global scale (including within the halls of the Vatican itself), Pope Francis seems to indicate in his encyclical that the solution is wealth redistribution – on a global scale.
Helping the poor and destitute has always been a tenet of Christianity and Catholicism, but the Pope’s statements become suspect for a variety of reasons, with one of the keys being the notion that he is the fulfillment of a prophecy that claims Francis will be the Pope that ushers in an era right out of the Book of Revelations.
The hesitation for many in subscribing to Francis’ message of reformation is attributed to a document referred to as the Prophecy of the Popes, which was hidden in the vaults of the Vatican for nearly 900 years, but followed closely by insiders:
In 1139 A.D. the Catholic Saint Malachy was said to have experienced visions during a trip to Rome. He subsequently put these visions to paper and penned a document containing 112 short phrases purporting to describe all future popes that would head the Catholic Church. Though not a part of official Catholic dogma or church teachings, this Prophecy of the Popes is well known by Vatican officials and church scholars because it has been remarkably accurate about naming the last 111 heads of one of the world’s oldest and most widespread religions.
According to researchers, theologians and evangelical scholars, the phrases Malachy scribed in his writings offer up the “nature, name, destiny or coat of arms” of every pope in succession and culminate with the naming of the 112th pope.
Now, according to prophecy, the 112th Pope will step up to head the Church, and he will be named Petrus Romanus, or Peter the Roman.
Here’s the scary part, and one that has given Catholics and other theologians pause, because according to Malachy’s prophecy, Petrus Romanus is to be the final pope, who will oversee not only the destruction of the Catholic Church, but the world as we know it:
“In  extreme persecution the seat of the Holy Roman Church will be occupied by Peter the Roman…”
“Who will pasture his sheep in many tribulations and when these things are finished, the city of seven hills will be destroyed, and the terrible or fearsome judge will judge his people.
The End.”
Prophecy of the Popes – Attributed to St. Malachy circa  1139 A.D.
Tom Horn of Raiders News Update and one of the world’s foremost experts on the subject published a book in 2012 with theologian Chris Putnam titled Petrus Romanus: The Final Pope Is Here. In their book, the researches claim that the 111th Pope, Benedict, would resign from his position, something that had not happened for 600 years. Benedict did, in fact, resign less than a year later and was replaced by current Pope Francis.
According to Horn, though Francis’ name does not directly match that of “Petrus Romanus,” he may well be fulfilling the age-old prophecy of Malachy:
Horn has said a pope of Italian descent would fulfill the prophecy, noting Bergoglio is the son of Italian parents and a Jesuit.
“Being a Jesuit is a very important aspect of our prediction in our book,” Horn told WND in an email.
He also sees significance in Bergoglio naming himself after Francis of Assisi, an Italian, or Roman, priest whose original name was Francesco di Pietro (Peter) di Bernardone, “literally, Peter the Roman.”
What’s more, in a recent interview Tom Horn tied together Malachy’s writings with the research of other Vatican scholars and theologians which indicate that, while Francis himself may not be the biblical anti-christ, he may be the world leader who introduces him, supports his ideas and helps to convince unwitting followers to put their trust in him.
Something big is coming… it does involve the war of wars… and I believe that we’re on the precipice of it right now.
I want to talk about the strategems that I believe will be used to initiate it…
It is a war between good and evil… but on the surface it might not appear to be because it’s also going to include believers against believers… and I’m talking about some of the biggest ministries in the world…
Tom Horn Full Interview with Steve Quayle on the Hagmann and Hagmann Report:
*Note: This is a 3 hour interview and worth listening to in full. For those with limited time, we suggest forwarding to about 1:03:00 into the interview where Tom Horn details his research.
Stepping outside of Church dogma by attacking the concept of free market capitalism may soon be revealed to be a politically motivated move by the Pope with much deeper implications.
At this point, while we should not necessarily ignore Malachy’s prophecy or the Pope’s enyclical, some skepticism is certainly understandable.
Until Francis begins to put his support behind world leaders or political movements, it remains difficult, if not impossible, to confirm the Pope has ulterior motives and is, in fact, fulfillment of prophecy. However, the goings on in the world suggest that Tom Horn is on target with his assessment that something big is coming. And the fact that there are over one billion Catholics globally indicates that whatever happens will also involve the Church as well as this pope.
History proves that the Roman Catholic Church has been directly involved in confrontations since its very inception, so its involvement now would not be without precedent.
Please Spread The Word And Share This Post

TSA Spent $900 Million on Behavior Detection Officers Who Detected 0 Terrorists

( – The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) spent approximately $900 million over the last 5 years for behavior detection officers to identify high-risk passengers but, so far, according to the General Accountability Office (GAO), only 0.59% of the passengers flagged were arrested and among those not one was charged with terrorism – zero.
 TSA Spent $900 Million on Behavior Detection Officers Who Detected 0 Terrorists
TSA officer. (AP)
- See more at:
In 2003, the TSA started testing its Screening of Passengers by Observation Technique (SPOT) program, which was then fully deployed in 2007. About 3,000 behavior detection officers (BDO) “had been deployed to 176 of the more than 450 TSA-regulated airports in the United States” by fiscal year 2012 (Oct. 1, 2011 – Sept. 30, 2012), according to the GAO.
Those BDO officers are trained to “identify passenger behaviors indicative of stress, fear, or deception and refer passengers” and their baggage for additional screening, reported the GAO in its Nov. 8, 2013 report, Aviation Security: TSA Should Limit Future Funding for Behavior Detection Activities.
Since 2007, the TSA has spent approximately $900 million on the SPOT program, said the GAO.
TSA Spent $900 Million on Behavior Detection Officers Who Detected 0 Terrorists
TSA security point check. (AP)
During the SPOT screening, the TSA’s behavior detection officers are supposed to look for and identify “high-risk passengers based on behavioral indicators that indicate mal-intent,” said the GAO.  The BDOs can refer the passengers to a law enforcement officer (LEO) for further investigation. From there, if warranted, a passenger (or passengers) can be arrested.
In a statement for the Subcommittee on Transportation Security, Stephen M. Lord, the director of homeland security and justice issues at the GAO, said that in fiscal years 2011 and 2012, for the 49 airports the GAO analyzed, there were 61,000 SPOT referrals, meaning that many passengers apparently displayed “behavioral indicators that indicate mal-intent.”
From that number, 8,700 (13.6%) were referred to a LEO. And from those LEO referrals, 365 (4%) “resulted in an arrest,” said the GAO.
That 4% of 61,000 SPOT referrals is 0.59%. In other words, for the SPOT referrals, 99.41% were not arrested. For the 0.59%, none were arrested for “terrorism.”
(AP Photo)
For that 0.59% arrested, the GAO stated the following in a footnote: “The SPOT database identifies six reasons for arrest, including (1) fraudulent documents, (2) illegal alien, (3) other, (4) outstanding warrants, (5) suspected drugs, and (6) undeclared currency.” asked Director Lord if it were accurate to report that of those 365 persons arrested, not one was arrested for “terrorism”?   Lord answered by e-mail: “This is accurate for the arrests but please see footnote 98 and 99 on page 45 of the full report (GAO-14-159)  as TSA believes that some of these referrals to law enforcement might be related to terrorism but has no supporting documentation or system to track the basis for these referrals.”
Footnote 98 says: “TSA was unable to provide documentation to support the number of  referrals that were forwarded to law enforcement for further  investigation for potential ties to terrorism.”
In his statement, Director Lord said, as explained in the November 2013 report, “TSA cannot demonstrate the effectiveness of its behavior detection activities, and available evidence does not support whether behavioral indicators can be used to identify threats to aviation security.”
The report concluded by recommending that “TSA limit future funding for its behavior detection activities,” but “DHS did not concur with our recommendation.”

As Homeless Line Up for Food, Los Angeles Weighs Restrictions

Monica Almeida/The New York Times
A security guard from the Business Improvement District keeping an eye on a food truck operated by the Greater West Hollywood Food Coalition.

LOS ANGELES — They began showing up at dusk last week, wandering the streets, slumped in wheelchairs and sitting on sidewalks, paper plates perched on their knees. By 6:30 p.m., more than 100 homeless people had lined up at a barren corner in Hollywood, drawn by free meals handed out from the back of a truck every night by volunteers.
But these days, 27 years after the Greater West Hollywood Food Coalition began feeding people in a county that has one of the worst homeless problems in the nation, the charity is under fire, a flashpoint in the national debate over the homeless and the programs that serve them.
Facing an uproar from homeowners, two members of the Los Angeles City Council have called for the city to follow the lead of dozens of other communities and ban the feeding of homeless people in public spaces.
“If you give out free food on the street with no other services to deal with the collateral damage, you get hundreds of people beginning to squat,” said Alexander Polinsky, an actor who lives two blocks from the bread line. “They are living in my bushes and they are living in my next door neighbor’s crawl spaces. We have a neighborhood which now seems like a mental ward.”
Should Los Angeles enact such an ordinance, it would join a roster of more than 30 cities, including Philadelphia, Raleigh, N.C., Seattle and Orlando, Fla., that have adopted or debated some form of legislation intended to restrict the public feeding of the homeless, according to the National Coalition of the Homeless.
“Dozens of cities in recent years,” said Jerry Jones, the coalition’s executive director. “It’s a common but misguided tactic to drive homeless people out of downtown areas.”
“This is an attempt to make difficult problems disappear,” he said, adding, “It’s both callous and ineffective.”
The notion that Los Angeles might join this roster is striking given the breadth of the problem here. Encampments of homeless can be found from downtown to West Hollywood, from the streets of Brentwood to the beaches of Venice. The situation that has stirred no small amount of frustration and embarrassment among civic leaders, now amplified by fears of the hungry and mostly homeless people, who have come to count on these meals.
“They are helping human beings,” said Debra Morris, seated in a wheelchair as she ate the evening’s offering of pasta with tomato sauce. “I can barely pay my own rent.”
There are now about 53,800 homeless people in Los Angeles County, according to the 2013 Annual Homeless Assessment Report released by the Department of Housing and Urban Development last week, a 27 percent increase over last year. Only New York had a higher homeless population.
The problem is particularly severe here because of the temperate climate that makes it easier to live outdoors, cuts in federal spending on the homeless, and a court-ordered effort by California to shrink its prison population, said Mike Arnold, the executive director of the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, an agency created by the city and county in 1993.
All told, about $82 million in government funds is spent each year on helping homeless here, Mr. Arnold said.
Tom LaBonge, one of the two City Council members who introduced the resolution (the other, also a Democrat, was Mitch O’Farrell), said food lines should be moved indoors, out of consideration to the homeless and neighborhoods. “There are well-intentioned people on both sides,” Mr. LaBonge said.
But, he added: “This has overwhelmed what is a residential neighborhood. When dinner is served, everybody comes and it’s kind of a free-for-all.”
Ted Landreth, the founder of the food coalition, said his group had fought back community opposition before — it moved to this corner after being ordered out of Plummer Park in West Hollywood in 1990 because of similar complaints — and would do so again.
“The people who want to get rid of us see dollar signs, property values, ahead of pretty much everything else,” he said.
”We have stood our ground,” he added. “We are not breaking any law.”
Communities that have sought to implement feeding restriction laws have faced strong resistance. In Philadelphia, advocates for the homeless won an injunction in federal court blocking a law there that would have banned food lines in public parks. Even before the court action, religious groups had moved in and began setting up indoor food lines.
In many ways the agonies of the national battle over dealing with homelessness are etched into this four-block-square section of Hollywood, where industrial buildings, including the Cemex cement factory, film production facilities and the stately former headquarters of Howard Hughes’s enterprises, sit two blocks up North Sycamore Avenue away from a middle-class neighborhood of Spanish Mission homes. Construction in the area is bustling, reflecting the gentrification that is taking place across this city.
The coalition’s truck, a Grumman Kurbmaster, arrives every night at 6:15, drawing as many as 200 people from across the region.
The other night, men and women lined up for firsts and, if desired, seconds. Some were quiet and grateful, and a few were loud and agitated. “You all right?” Mr. Landreth asked one man who was shouting to himself.
Just up the street, 75 people filled a living room, anxiously exchanging stories about what many described as a neighborhood under siege, and demanding help from local officials.
“You guys have had your fill here — we know that,” Officer Dave Cordova of the Los Angeles Police Department told them. “And the food coalition doesn’t help. Where do all these guys go after they get something to eat?”
Peter Nichols, the founder of the Melrose Action Neighborhood Watch, which helped organize the meeting, said there has been a steady increase in complaints about petty crime, loitering, public defecation and people sleeping on sidewalks.
“While it sounds good in concept — I’m going to pull up to a curb, I’m going to feed people, I’m going to clean up and I’m going to leave — well, there are not restrooms,” he said. “Can these people get a place to sleep? To clean up? We want there to be after-care provided every day they do the program. But they don’t and they can’t.”
What Mr. Landreth described as the most serious threat in its existence — a powerful combination of opposition from homeowners, businesses and city officials — is stirring deep concern among the people who come here to eat most nights.
“I know because of the long lines, a lot of times we have trouble and confusion,” said Emerson Tenner, 46, as he waited for a meal. “But there are people here who really need this. A few people act a little crazy. Don’t mess it up for everyone else.”
Aaron Lewis, who said he makes his home on the sidewalk by a 7-Eleven on Sunset Boulevard, chalked up opposition to what he described as rising callousness to people in need.
“That’s how it is everywhere,” Mr. Lewis said. “People here — it’s their only way to eat. The community doesn’t help us eat.”

Matt Hamilton contributed reporting.

Greenspan Admits The Federal Reserve Is Above The Law & Answers To No One

Defense Department gives local police equipment designed for a war zone

  • MRAP.jpg
    March 12: Attendees look at the Lenco MRAP Bear SWAT Team vehicle at the 7th annual Border Security Expo in Phoenix, Arizona. (Reuters)

From war zones to city streets, some military vehicles are getting a new life -- and not everyone is happy about the recycling.
The Defense Department recently announced it would be giving domestic law enforcement forces hulking vehicles designed to efficiently maneuver in a war zone for use in thwarting any potential high-scale activity.
This did not sit well with those who see a troubling trend: the militarization of local police departments, including the American Civil Liberties Union, which has criticized the Defense Department for giving 18-ton, $500,000 armor-protected military fighting vehicles to local forces.
ACLU affiliates have been collecting 2012 records to determine the extent of military hardware and tactics sent to police and plan to issue a report early next year.
"One of our concerns with this is it has a tendency to escalate violence," said ACLU Center for Justice senior counsel Kara Dansky.
An Associated Press investigation of the Defense Department military surplus program this year found that a disproportionate share of the $4.2 billion worth of property distributed since 1990 — everything from blankets to bayonets and Humvees — has been obtained by police and sheriff's departments in rural areas with few officers and little crime.
Ohio State University campus police got one vehicle, saying they would use it in large-scale emergencies and to provide a police presence on football game days. Others went to police in High Springs, Fla., and the sheriff's office in Dallas County, Texas.
In New York, the Albany County sheriff's department already had four smaller military-surplus Humvees, which have been used for storm evacuations and to pull trees out of roadways. Their new Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected vehicle will go into service after technicians remove the gun turret and change the paint from military sand to civilian black.
Sheriff Craig Apple rejected the idea that the nation's police forces are becoming too militaristic.
"Nothing could be further from the truth," he said. "Our problem is we have to make sure we are prepared to respond to every type of crisis."
To be sure, there has been some concerns raised in the past.
Radley Balko, the author of "The Rise of the Warrior Cop," argues that the police mind set in the country is to be like a soldier.
"Instead of bringing soldiers in to do domestic law enforcement, we have allowed, and even encouraged, police officers to basically be armed like, police like, use the tactics of, be dressed like and adopt the mind set of these soldiers," he said at a CSPAN forum last summer. "And the outcome is just as troubling, I think, as if the military were actually doing domestic police themselves."
In October, Reuters ran a column by Michael Shank and Elizabeth Beavers called "The Militarization of U.S. Police Forces" in which the authors called for Congress to permanently ban the transfer of all military-grade equipment to U.S. cities.
The column noted the Pentagon's 1033 Program that allows the Defense Department to donate its surplus equipment. It pointed out allegations of fraud and abuse and called some of the machinery donated "impractical."
"Shocking, almost comical, examples of abuse have been well-documented — from the officer who sold his weapons on eBay, to the one who lent his weapons to unauthorized friends and the police departments that lost the military weapons or tried to auction them off," the column said.
For police and sheriff's departments, which have scooped up 165 of the mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles, or MRAPS, since they became available this summer, the price and the ability to deliver shock and awe while serving warrants or dealing with hostage standoffs was, however, just too good to pass up.
"It's armored. It's heavy. It's intimidating. And it's free," said Apple.
Fox News' Edmund DeMarche and The Associated Press contributed to this report

California teachers’ pensions sink further into debt

A new report released by the California Public Policy Center on November 12 reported that the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS) added $4 billion to its unfunded pension obligations for the 2012 fiscal year.
CalSTRS, the largest teachers’ pension fund in the United States, collected $5.8 billion from employees and employers last year. Of this, $4.7 billion was considered a “normal contribution,” while $1.1 billion was used to pay unfunded liabilities, which by 2012 were estimated to be $71 billion in debt. As a result, plans to dismantle the pension fund in the name of fiscal solvency are being aggressively developed.
The study shows that the so-called “catch up” payment should have been 7 times higher based on unfunded liability payback terms recommended by Moody’s Investor Services in April. The study also shows that if the rate of return projection drops to 6.2 percent, the unfunded liabilities recalculate to $107.8 billion and the catch-up payment increases to $9.6 billion, assuming a rate of return of 6.2 percent. Because of overly optimistic forecasts, the study estimates that CalSTRS actually increased its debt in 2012 by $4 billion.
Should CalSTRS lower its rate of return projections, its funded ratio of 67 percent will fall dramatically. The dependency on stock market profits thus sets the stage for volatility, even more indebtedness and, ultimately, privatization. While in Detroit, with President Obama‘s backing, banks are using the bankruptcy courts to tear up pensions and privatize city services, California’s Democratic Governor Jerry Brown has pursued similar results by signing a pension “reform” last year which demands workers pay more toward their own pensions and work many more years before they collect it.
The corporate media is supporting the argument that there will be no money to fund pensions in another 30 years. This is the same strategy used to argue for the dismantling of Social Security and other basic entitlements. The claim is being made that pension enhancements from 1999 are responsible for the unsustainable obligations, when in actuality calculations were based on optimistic Wall Street investment projections. Now, in the aftermath of the 2008 economic crash, these same financial forces are trying to justify a “take back” of benefits.
In San Jose, Democratic Mayor Chuck Reed is being touted for his work on pension “reform.” After a referendum was passed last year, the city will now force current employees to contribute up to 16 percent toward their pensions or switch over to an even more expensive private plan, and new workers will have a pension that pays even less, while they are required to contribute half toward their pensions.
Plans for the dismantling of these funds are clearly well advanced. In addition to Governor Brown’s “reform” and various municipal initiatives, powerful lobbyists are pursuing similar plans which would ensure workers’ loss of hard-fought, essential survival benefits.
One such initiative is the so-called Pension Reform Act of 2014, proposed by the Coalition for Fair and Sustainable Pensions, made up of a group of mayors from cities with similar problems (San Jose, Vallejo, San Bernardino). Based on San Jose Mayor Reed’s brutal attack on municipal workers’ retirement, the plan, according to its web site, “would amend the California Constitution to give government agencies clear authority to negotiate changes to existing employees’ pension or retiree healthcare benefits on a strictly going-forward basis.” In essence, it’s open season for the demolition of pension benefits.
The premise that these funds, including CalSTRS, are going bankrupt, is a lie. First of all, workers have paid their whole lives into these funds, making it their money and no else’s. Secondly, while the banks and major corporations were bailed out during the crash and continue to be supported to the tune of $85 billion a month, no one in the political establishment is arguing for pensions to be rescued, although these funds have also invested billions in the same “free market.”
Lastly, there is plenty of money to be found. California is home to more billionaires than anywhere else in the world. One out of nine of the world’s billionaires reside there. The total combined wealth of California’s billionaires amounts to $1 trillion, nearly the total GDP of countries like South Korea or Mexico.
While in the post-war era the US economy was based on industrial production and pension fund operations were regulated in order to ensure a degree of stability, now the economy has been financialized and pension fund portfolios rise and fall with the gyrations of the stock market. Not only are they exposed to financial crises in the US, but to international fluctuations as well, such as the European debt crisis or derivatives markets. According to CalSTRS’s website, the portfolio invests over 56 percent of its assets into global equity, 12 percent into real estate, and another 12 percent into private equity funds.
The situation for workers is now so desperate that many have to work until they are elderly to get a decent pension. According to a recent poll by Harris Interactive, 48 percent of middle-class Americans don’t think they have enough money saved for a comfortable retirement and a full one-third think they will work “until at least 80.”
The poll also found that more than half of the people said that paying monthly bills comes before saving for retirement. More than 4 out of 10 Americans say that saving for retirement and paying their bills at the same time is not possible.
For their part, the California Teachers Association (CTA) has been instrumental in the implementation of the pension “reform.” It has been complicit with the Democrats in supporting these initiatives to dismantle pension funds. All it asks for is a seat at the table.
On the CTA website, under the headline, “Where we stand on Teachers’ Retirement,” they write on the estimated $56 billion shortfall that “this does not have to be paid overnight. Like a mortgage, this is an amount that will need to be closed over a 30-year period.” The CTA does not bother to explain how, because, in essence, it agrees that teachers will have to pay for the shortfall by increasing their contributions to the pension fund.
Moreover, the CTA supported Prop. 30, which promised to restore funding to education at the expense of thousands of teachers being laid off and no budget cuts rescinded. The CTA also supports Common Core, which tailors school curriculum to the demands of big business.
In related developments, the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) is also reporting $340 billion in liabilities with only $260 billion in assets as of September 2013. A 2011 study by Joe Nation, a former Democratic state legislator and professor at Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research, estimated that the real number is closer to $170 billion in unfunded pension obligations, not $80 billion as previously assumed.
According to Nation, CalPERS uses an overly optimistic formula to calculate returns on investments averaging 7.5 percent annual growth. A more realistic figure would be 5 to 6 percent. Even with this model, both CalSTRS and CalPERS are expected to run out of funds by 2043.
CalPERS, like its CalSTRS counterpart, is intimately involved in Wall Street investments. As of April, the $263 billion fund was 65 percent invested into “growth investment” (i.e. stocks), with 52 percent in public equity, 12 percent in private equity, and 8 percent in real estate. For every dollar paid to CalPERS, 66 cents comes from “investment earnings,” 21 cents from CalPERS employers, and 13 cents from CalPERS members. This last figure is likely to increase if the ruling class continues its policies unabated.
Published with permmission
Source: WSWS

Distributed by RINF Alternative News

Shiller – We Can’t Trust Momentum In The Housing Market Anymore. It Is Driven More By Psychology Than Any Careful Calculations Than Affordability. As Soon As It’s Weakening, They’ll Exit.

Tue 26 Nov 13 | 09:15 AM ET 
The following transcript has not been checked for accuracy.should i make anything of the fact that 19 cities had lower projections than in august? i wouldn’t make anything of it, it’s seasonal. there’s much more balance, similar to last month. we’re still kind of up and away, aren’t we? we are. it’s kind of remarkable. if you look at a plot, it looks like we’re off and running. i say looks like. i don’t know if we really are but right now we are. robert, i don’t know. i deal with a lot of real estate companies and we hit a wall last month and sales stopped in this country. i’d like to know whether you’re seeing anything ahead of these numbers which indicate the incredible decline in transactions that has occurred during the month of october? well, i don’t know. i don’t have any explanation. i do a survey — i’ve done a questionnaire survey about home buyer attitudes and i don’t find that they’re as excited about the housing market as the price increases seem to suggest. it may be more of an unusual demand from investors that’s driving the market now or it’s the pullback from the large number of foreclosures we’ve had before. i just don’t see a lot of home buyer excitement, expectations. affordability kind of fell off a cliff. we have a lot of housing people on the show. and they tend to be as positive as they’ve been for the last five years, but to me, that affordability did get out of control. has historically affordability been a good indicator of the dropoff in sales? i’d have to check. i haven’t done the analysis. i would suspect not. i tend to think that the market is driven more by psychology than any careful calculations than affordability. how do you measure excitement? is that a subjective measurement? i try to measure it. i do it can questionnaire surveys. there are other people doing them, too. i just don’t see evidence that people think we’re launching out on some great new era. that’s what people thought in the early 20s. now they’re looking at the problems in congress and the fact that fannie and freddie are propping up the market and we have bills to wipe them out. people are not so excited or sure about the future. i might be actually happy they’re not feeling like they were in 2005. we don’t want to go back to that, you’re absolutely right. it would lift the economy but — of course we know how the story ends. professor, you mention the presence of institutions. we know the blackstones, the colonies and others that have been buying up a lot of individual homes. they may be at the end of that or certainly at the tail end of a lot of that buying. is that going to affect prices? the word seems to be from them that they’re long-term investors, but i suspect they’re not. i think what they’ve learned, i’m guessing, not from any direct information, they’ve learned therehort-term momentum in the market. but as soon as it’s weakening, they’ll exit. we can’t trust momentum in the housing market anymore. these guys will say it’s a brave new world and the rental market could last for years. maybe perhaps they are rationalizing the purchases like many people who bought stocks at 4,000 and 5,000 in the nasdaq in 2000? yeah, i think so. it’s true the rental market does seem to be coming back and a role for people who will convert owner-occupied to rental. but there’s also a speculative component. how can they not notice how fast home prices have been going up and the fact that historically momentum is a much better play in housing than it’s been in the stock market. so i’m pretty sure it’s on their minds. they’re not going to say this, i guess. they’re not going to say that we’re ready to dump them.finally, professor, real quickly on the markets, dow 16,000, nasdaq 4,000. what’s your reaction? well, it looks like we’re a little bubbly in the stock market. my cape ratio, real price divided by en-year average of real earnings. that’s pretty high. if it keeps going up like this, the expected return on the stock market will fall below the tips yield. that might be happening. i don’t know when it will end.
This transcript is generated by automated closed captioning, has not been edited, and may not be entirely accurate.
Original source

World’s 100 richest earned enough in 2012 to end global poverty 4 times over

AFP Photo / Ahmad Al-Rubaye
AFP Photo / Ahmad Al-Rubaye

The world's 100 richest people earned a stunning total of $240 billion in 2012 – enough money to end extreme poverty worldwide four times over, Oxfam has revealed, adding that the global economic crisis is further enriching the super-rich.
“The richest 1 percent has increased its income by 60 percent in the last 20 years with the financial crisis accelerating rather than slowing the process,” while the income of the top 0.01 percent has seen even greater growth, a new Oxfam report said.
For example, the luxury goods market has seen double-digit growth every year since the crisis hit, the report stated. And while the world's 100 richest people earned $240 billion last year, people in "extreme poverty" lived on less than $1.25 a day.
Oxfam is a leading international philanthropy organization. Its new report, ‘The Cost of Inequality: How Wealth and Income Extremes Hurt us All,’ argues that the extreme concentration of wealth actually hinders the world’s ability to reduce poverty.
The report was published before the World Economic Forum in Davos next week, and calls on world leaders to “end extreme wealth by 2025, and reverse the rapid increase in inequality seen in the majority of countries in the last 20 years.”
Oxfam's report argues that extreme wealth is unethical, economically inefficient, politically corrosive, socially divisive and environmentally destructive.
The report proposes a new global deal to world leaders to curb extreme poverty to 1990s levels by:
- closing tax havens, yielding $189bn in additional tax revenues
- reversing regressive forms of taxation
- introducing a global minimum corporation tax rate
- boosting wages proportional to capital returns
- increasing investment in free public services
The problem is a global one, Oxfam said: "In the UK inequality is rapidly returning to levels not seen since the time of Charles Dickens. In China the top 10 percent now take home nearly 60 percent of the income. Chinese inequality levels are now similar to those in South Africa, which is now the most unequal country on Earth and significantly more [inequality] than at the end of apartheid."
In the US, the richest 1 percent's share of income has doubled since 1980 from 10 to 20 percent, according to the report. For the top 0.01 percent, their share of national income quadrupled, reaching levels never seen before.
“We can no longer pretend that the creation of wealth for a few will inevitably benefit the many – too often the reverse is true,” Executive Director of Oxfam International Jeremy Hobbs said.
Hobbs explained that concentration of wealth in the hands of the top few minimizes economic activity, making it harder for others to participate: “From tax havens to weak employment laws, the richest benefit from a global economic system which is rigged in their favor.”
The report highlights that even politics has become controlled by the super-wealthy, which leads to policies “benefitting the richest few and not the poor majority, even in democracies.”
“It is time our leaders reformed the system so that it works in the interests of the whole of humanity rather than a global elite,” the report said.
The four-day World Economic Forum will be held in Davos starting next Wednesday. World financial leaders will gather for an annual meeting that will focus on reviving the global economy, the eurozone crisis and the conflicts in Syria and Mali.

NSA Contractors Are Literally Paying Off the Senators in Charge Of Keeping Them in Check

After passing through the Senate’s Intelligence Committee, the so-called “FISA Improvements Act” is poised to actually do the complete opposite of what its title implies. Instead of being an improvement to the bill that allows the NSA to spy on American citizens, the bill advocates the very unacceptable practices that threaten the privacy rights of American. Even worse, it weakens one of the few effective and powerful checks to the abuse of such programs, diminishing the accountability of government to their people.
Sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the bill aims to effectively legitimize the controversial data-collection programs used by the NSA. Seen as completely unconstitutional by many, those data-collection programs collect records of online data — both domestic and foreign. Feinstein herself claims the complete opposite, saying that the bill would prohibit mass data collection, but the Electronic Frontier Foundation says otherwise, stating the bill is “designed to bolster some of the worst NSA surveillance programs and grant new authority to the NSA to engage in surveillance.”
Indeed, after reading a little of the bill myself, it became clear that while the bill doesn’t allow the content of communications may not be collected (which was supposedly the case before), it still allows the NSA to continue collecting the related metadata, which was the very reason why the programs were controversial in the first place.
Read more

Obamacare: Employers to cancel plans for millions, shift costs to workers

As the fallout continues over the cancelation notices sent to millions of people covered by health plans in the individual insurance market, it is becoming clear that millions more workers and their families are expected to lose their employer-based coverage as the Affordable Care Act is implemented.
According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), 156 million Americans—more than half the population—currently receive employer-sponsored health insurance. By 2016, the CBO projects that 6 million fewer people will receive employer-based health insurance compared to 2013.
Other business surveys place the number losing coverage much higher. A recent survey of 400 mid-size firms by the US Chamber of Commerce and the International Franchise Association found that 28 percent planned to drop their coverage due to the ACA.
In tandem with the legislation commonly known as Obamacare, a seismic shift is taking place in the employer-sponsored health care market, the means by which the majority of Americans who are not insured under a government-sponsored program like Medicare or Medicaid receive coverage. For those workers who have not seen their coverage canceled outright, companies are already shifting greater costs for coverage to their employees.
Workers and their families who are dropped from employer coverage will be forced to purchase coverage on the Obamacare exchanges. Under the so-called individual mandate of the health care law, workers without some form of insurance must purchase coverage from private insurers on the insurance exchanges set up under the ACA, or pay a penalty.
The debacle at the web site, where consumers can shop for coverage, may actually be temporarily delaying some employers from terminating health coverage for their workers. When and if the technical difficulties are resolved at the federal site, more companies may opt to dump their workers onto the Obamacare exchange.
Beginning in 2015, the ACA will also require employers with 50 workers or more to provide “affordable” coverage to full-time workers—those working 30 hours a week or more—or face a penalty. But it is likely that a significant number of businesses will simply pay the fine and drop their employee coverage. The Hill quotes Neil Trautwein, vice president and employee benefits policy council at the National Retail Federation, who said, “It will definitely be less expensive to pay penalties than to provide coverage.”
Other companies are expected to cut employee hours below the 30-hour minimum to avoid having to provide insurance coverage. The Chamber of Commerce survey found that about a third of businesses have already reduced employee hours as a result of the health care law’s requirements, and 27 percent have already replaced some full-time employees with part-time workers.
Employers are also raising the costs for covering family members on their workers’ policies. The ACA defines affordability of employer-sponsored coverage as costing no more than 9.5 percent of a worker’s income. But this is the cost of coverage for the individual employee only, not his or her dependents. Companies can get around the law by either raising costs for family coverage, or by dropping coverage for family members altogether.
According to Mercer, a benefits consulting unit of Marsh & McLennan Cos., about 6 percent of employers presently ban coverage for spouses who can get it elsewhere. Last August, United Parcel Service announced that it was barring spouses from its nonunion health plan if they could get coverage at their own jobs. It is estimated the move affects about half of the 33,000 spouses of white-collar employees at UPS.
Companies are also radically restructuring their health care plans in advance of Obamacare’s “Cadillac” tax. Beginning in 2018, companies with health plans that have total costs of more than an annual limit of $10,200 for an individual and $27,500 for a family will pay a 40 percent levy on the amount exceeding these limits. White House officials say that the tax is aimed at making employers and workers more “cost-conscious.” In other words, it is deliberately designed to get more companies to adopt high-deductible plans that discourage people from seeking medical treatment due to cost, thereby rationing care.
A survey by the International Foundation of Employees Benefits Plans (IFEB) released in August found that 16.8 percent of those businesses responding had already begun to restructure their health plans to avoid the “Cadillac” tax, and 40 percent were considering such action. A survey of Fortune 1000 companies by benefits consulting firm Towers Watson found that 60 percent of these major companies, employing about 20 million workers, said the impending tax was already having a “moderate” or “significant” influence on decisions regarding benefits for 2014 and 2015.
While employers have been shifting health care costs onto their workforces since at least the late 1980s, the Affordable Care Act is providing the framework and impetus for making even more dramatic changes. The main methods employed are increasing employees’ share of premium costs, and increasing deductibles and other cost-sharing mechanisms.
The Wall Street Journal reports that Gannett Co., owners of more than 80 newspapers and 23 television stations, has replaced its two family plans at the Indianapolis Star with a single high-deductible plan that requires workers to pay the first $3,000 of medical costs each year. Those with individual plans are responsible for the first $1,500 of costs. Trucking company Ryder System Inc. has also replaced one of its two insurance options with a high-deductible plan, and hiked the cost of the remaining option.
President Obama‘s top economic adviser, Jason Furman, commented cynically to NBC News, “There’s nothing in the law that tells you you need to raise copayments or deductibles.” But there is nothing in the law that stops companies from raising the costs that workers must bear for health insurance, all the while receiving reduced benefits and inferior medical care.
These radical shifts in the way employer-sponsored health care is being delivered are another indication of the regressive character of the Affordable Care Act. Touted as a plan that would promote “affordable,” “near universal” heath care, in reality, the legislation is tailored to the profit interests of employers and the health care industry, while reducing and rationing care for the vast maority of workers and their families.
Published with permission
Source: WSWS

Distributed by RINF Alternative News