Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Today's Links

1--Most US Workers Ill-Prepared To Retire, Survey Finds, IBT

Fifty-seven percent of U.S. workers surveyed reported less than $25,000 in total household savings and investments aside from their homes, EBRI reports. Only 49 percent reported having so little money saved in 2008.
Furthermore, 28 percent of Americans have no confidence they will have enough money to retire comfortably -- the highest figure in the study's 23-year history. Still, a majority express some level of confidence (13 percent are very confident and 38 percent are somewhat confident).

2---More Americans delaying retirement until their 80s, CNN

As they struggle to save for retirement, a growing number of middle-class Americans plan to postpone their golden years until they are in their 80's.
Nearly one-third, or 30%, now plan to work until they are 80 or older -- up from 25% a year ago, according to a Wells Fargo survey of 1,000 adults with income less than $100,000.

3--Americans Are $6.8 Trillion Short On Retirement Savings , AP

4---Japan Consumer Prices Seen Rising Five Times as Fast as Wages, Bloomberg
(Workers get schumpted, but stocks head for the moon. Nikkei up 57% on the year.)

Japanese employers will fail in the next fiscal year to heed Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s goal of wage increases that outpace inflation, highlighting risks that the nation’s recovery will stall, surveys of economists show.

Labor cash earnings, the benchmark for wages, will increase 0.6 percent in the year starting April 1, according to the median forecast in a poll of 16 economists by Bloomberg News. Consumer prices will climb five times faster, increasing 3 percent, as Japan raises a sales tax for the first time since 1997, a separate Bloomberg survey shows.

The squeeze on consumers from higher prices risks undermining public support for Abenomics and dragging on retail spending, unless Abe can convince companies to boost wages to cushion the blow.

“Wage increases will be slower than the rise in prices at least until 2015, dealing a blow to Prime Minister Abe,” said Yoshimasa Maruyama, chief economist at Itochu Corp. in Tokyo. “It will take a while for companies to change their mind-set, which is still mired in deflation.”

5---US mortgage applications tumble to a 13-year low, NYT

The number of Americans applying for mortgages has fallen 63 percent since a May peak, reflecting a cooling housing market and higher borrowing rates
More working Americans are lining up at emergency food banks and going hungry, as cuts to those programmes take effect...
Deep cuts to the US food stamps programme, designed to keep low-income Americans out of hunger in the aftermath of the economic recession, have forced increasing numbers of families such as theirs to rely on food banks and community organisations to stave off hunger.
An expansion of the programme, put in place when the recession was biting deepest, was allowed to expire in November, cutting benefits for an estimated 48 million people, including 22 million children, by an average of 7%. 
As these cuts begin to bite, even harsher reductions are in prospect. Republicans in the House of Representatives have proposed $38bn cuts over 10 years, in their latest version of a long-delayed farm bill that would also require new work requirements and drug tests for food stamp recipients.
The cuts have forced poor families to make tough choices. The Guardian spoke to beneficiaries of the food stamps scheme, known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programme (Snap), in San Antonio, Texas. As the second most populous US state after California, Texas suffered the second-biggest cut to its Snap programme, affecting 4 million recipients
The ACA is not a government health insurance program and it has absolutely nothing in common with socialized medicine. The central component of the law—the “individual mandate”—requires individuals and families without insurance to purchase coverage from private insurance companies on the “marketplaces” set up under the law, or pay a penalty.
The more information that comes to light about the plans being offered through Obamacare demonstrates that, in their rapacious drive to increase profits, private insurance companies are not only charging steep premiums—some 30 percent higher than in the present individual market—but are peddling cut-rate policies with staggering out-of-pocket costs, which also limit access to doctors and hospitals. Despite Obama’s claim that the legislation heralds a new era in access to “near universal, quality health care,” the plans people are mandated by law to purchase will actually have the effect of rationing access to medical care.
A recent Kaiser Health News (KHN) story exposes one of the shocks awaiting people who have purchased one of the least expensive “bronze” plans on the Obamacare exchanges. It turns out that many of these plans require the full deductible to be paid before it will cover many doctor visits. As the majority of these “affordable” plans carry deductibles in excess of $5,000, this means that this amount must be spent out of pocket before any coverage even kicks in. As KHN notes, “Experts worry that some enrollees will be discouraged from seeing doctors if they have to pay the full charge, rather than simply a copayment.”...
Some of the most important features of the Affordable Care Act revealed since its passage include:
  • By the government’s own estimate, legislation that pledged “near universal coverage” will leave an estimated 31 million Americans uninsured by 2016, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).
  • Obamacare is undermining employer-sponsored health coverage. The CBO estimates that 6 million fewer people will receive employer-sponsored health insurance in 2016 compared to 2013. Employers are increasingly shifting to high-deductible, “consumer driven” coverage.
  • The Affordable Care Act will slash more than $700 billion from the Medicare program for seniors and the disabled over the next decade. Politicians of both big business parties look to Obamacare as a model for the gutting and privatization of Medicare and Social Security.
8---Snowden exposed a genuine totalitarian surveillance system, wsws

One of the presentation slides states that a critical TAO goal is to “subvert endpoint devices.” These include the many main devices that make up modern communication technologies including “servers, workstations, firewalls, routers, handsets, phone switches, SCADA systems, etc.”

Der Spiegel explains, “SCADAs are industrial control systems used in factories, as well as in power plants” and notes that the “most well-known and notorious use of this type of attack was the development of Stuxnet, the computer worm whose existence was discovered in June 2010. The virus was developed jointly by American and Israeli intelligence agencies to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program, and successfully so.”

The TAO has developed various means to gain access to the PCs of Internet users. One slide reveals that TAO is able to gain “passive access” to a machine via Microsoft’s automated PC crash reports. Der Spiegel notes, “even this passive access to error messages provides valuable insights into problems with a targeted person’s computer and, thus, information on security holes that might be exploitable for planting malware or spyware on the unwitting victim’s computer.”

9---Banks as Payday Lenders, NYT (archive)

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