How does the Social Security Administration calculate inflation now?
Government officials know that rising consumer prices can erode the buying power of Social Security checks. So each year, they consider whether to provide a cost-of-living adjustment to keep incomes in line with consumer prices.
Their annual decision is based on any changes in prices, as measured by the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers, prepared by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. As this year began, the nearly 62 million Americans receiving Social Security and Supplemental Security Income benefits saw their checks go up by 1.7 percent to keep pace with the rise in the CPI.
Is the CPI a good measure of inflation?
Many economists say the CPI is not a good way to measure what people actually are spending at the store because it doesn’t take into account the common-sense decisions routinely made by shoppers.
For example, if the price of blueberries were to go up, you might not buy them. Instead, you’ll pick up the strawberries that are on sale. When the price of beef is high, you’ll get the pork roast. The thing that matters to your budget is the total cost you pay for all of your groceries when you get to the checkout register, not what any one item costs separately.
A judge on Friday rejected claims by the Mennonite owners of a Lancaster County furniture maker that new federal health-care mandates violate their free-speech and religion rights by making them pay for employees’ contraceptive services.
In a 34-page ruling, U.S. District Judge Mitchell S. Goldberg said the owners of Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. did not prove that complying with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act amounted to a “substantial burden” on their religious rights or that they qualified as a “religious employer” for an exemption.
The decision was the latest in a string of conflicting rulings across the country, but the first in the Third U.S. Judicial Circuit, which covers Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware. Lawyers say the issue could end up before the Supreme Court.
Conestoga, an East Earl-based furniture maker owned and operated by Norman Hahn and his family, had previously excluded contraceptive services such as the morning-after pill from the insurance coverage it offered its 950 employees.
Last month, the Hahns claimed in a lawsuit that the new law would unconstitutionally force them to offer such options, which they called a “sinful and immoral” affront to the Mennonite Christian beliefs on which they run their company. Violating the law, they said, would subject them to crippling fines - $95,000 a day, or $100 for each employee nationwide.
They also argued that the free-speech rights that the Supreme Court recognized for corporations in the 2010 Citizens United case should be extended to corporations’ religious rights.
Citing the potential for significant harm against the company, Goldberg issued a 14-day temporary restraining order late last month, and barred government officials from imposing the fines. Lawyers for both sides appeared before the judge last week.
Attorneys arguing on behalf of the Departments of Treasury and Health and Human Services countered that the claim was baseless because the new regulations apply to insurers and secular corporations, not their owners, and because the act gives workers options but does not force any to use them. The American Civil Liberties Union also filed an amicus brief siding with the government.
High-level officials at the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Justice Department were notified in the late summer that F.B.I. agents had uncovered what appeared to be an extramarital affair involving the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, David H. Petraeus, government officials said Sunday.
But law enforcement officials did not notify anyone outside the F.B.I. or the Justice Department until last week because the investigation was incomplete and initial concerns about possible security breaches, which would demand more immediate action, did not appear to be justified, the officials said.
The new accounts of the events that led to Mr. Petraeus’s sudden resignation on Friday shed light on the competing pressures facing F.B.I. agents who recognized the high stakes of any investigation involving the C.I.A. director but who were wary of exposing a private affair with no criminal or security implications. For the first time Sunday, the woman whose report of harassing e-mails led to the exposure of the affair was identified as Jill Kelley, 37, of Tampa, Fla.
Some members of Congress have protested the delay in being notified of the F.B.I.’s investigation of Mr. Petraeus until just after the presidential election. Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California and the chairwoman of the Intelligence Committee, said Sunday that her committee would “absolutely” demand an explanation. An F.B.I. case involving the C.I.A. director “could have had an effect on national security,” she said on “Fox News Sunday.” “I think we should have been told.”
Within hours of the eruption of violence in Egypt and Libya this week on the anniversary of 9/11, more than a dozen blog posts popped up asking, “Who is Sam Bacile?” It was a natural question to pose: “Sam Bacile” is the pseudonym of the filmmaker behind The Innocence of Muslims, an American-made video whose deliberately insulting depiction of the prophet Mohammed appears, at this point, to have incited anti-U.S. riots in Benghazi, Cairo, Tehran, and Sana’a, Yemen. What’s more, “Bacile” seemed, in those early hours, to have American blood on his hands: on Tuesday night in Libya, four Americans diplomats, including U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, were killed in a melee at the consulate in Benghazi.
But as week has progressed, the situation has clarified a little. It now appears that the lethal attack on the diplomatic mission in Benghazi was a planned assault by religious extremists armed with rocket-propelled grenades, who used the protests as cover to murder the four Americans. As truly awful as his film is, Sam Bacile appears to be at least something of a patsy. Moreover, that’s not the only way in which the American media and political classes, in their focus on The Innocence of Muslims, have missed the forest for the trees.
In cases of broad social unrest, catalytic incidents are important insofar as they take the measure of people’s passions and attach a vivid narrative—a shot heard ‘round the world—to a mass movement. Last year, the wildfire of the Arab Spring was touched off, by many accounts, when a Tunisian fruit and vegetable vendor named Muhammad Bouazizi had his food cart confiscated by government officials and set himself aflame in protest. Individual uprisings in other countries also had their inciting events.
The Taliban have killed 17 civilians - reportedly by cutting their throats - in a remote and violent corner of Afghanistan’s Helmand province that government officials admit is entirely beyond their control.
The reason for the slaughter was variously given as a fight between two Taliban commanders over women, Taliban anger over a music and dance party, or an insurgent crackdown on suspected government informers.
The group, which included two women, were killed early on Sunday afternoon but news of their deaths only reached government-held areas on Monday.
“This happened in a desert area known as Roshanabad, which is not under the control of the government,” said the Kajaki district governor, Mullah Sharafuddin, who said he did not know the motive behind the attack. “I am the governor but I don’t have full details because this land is under Taliban control.”
The Helmand police commander’s office said it had been told the 17 victims were targeted as government spies.. The provincial governor’s spokesman, Daoud Ahmadi, said the dead were probably caught up in a fight between two rival Taliban commanders for control of the dead women.
“There are two Taliban commanders, Mullah Wali Mohammad and Mullah Sayed Gul, that control the area near Kajaki, but they argued about the two women,” Ahmadi said. “We don’t know exactly what the differences are, but the killing was because of the difference between the two commanders over these women. Their throats were slit but their heads were not completely cut off.”
Skype, the online phone service long favored by political dissidents, criminals and others eager to communicate beyond the reach of governments, has expanded its cooperation with law enforcement authorities to make online chats and other user information available to police, said industry and government officials familiar with the changes.
Surveillance of the audio and video feeds remains impractical — even when courts issue warrants, say industry officials with direct knowledge of the matter. But that barrier could eventually vanish as Skype becomes one of the world’s most popular forms of telecommunication
For years, Apple has directly and indirectly promoted and inspired the rumor industry that envelops the company.
The changes to online chats, which are written messages conveyed almost instantaneously between users, result in part from technical upgrades to Skype that were instituted to address outages and other stability issues since Microsoft bought the company last year. Officials of the United States and other countries have long pushed to expand their access to newer forms of communications to resolve an issue that the FBI calls the “going dark” problem.
Microsoft has approached the issue with “tremendous sensitivity and a canny awareness of what the issues would be,” said an industry official familiar with Microsoft’s plans, who like several people interviewed for this story spoke on the condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss the issue publicly. The company has “a long track record of working successfully with law enforcement here and internationally,” he added.
The changes, which give the authorities access to addresses and credit card numbers, have drawn quiet applause in law enforcement circles but hostility from many activists and analysts.
Authorities had for years complained that Skype’s encryption and other features made tracking drug lords, pedophiles and terrorists more difficult. Jihadis recommended the service on online forums. Police listening to traditional wiretaps occasionally would hear wary suspects say to one another, “Hey, let’s talk on Skype.”
One of the great achievements of Western civilization is what we commonly call “the rule of law.” By this we mean the basic principles of fairness and due process that govern the application of power in both the public and the private spheres. The rule of law requires that all disputes — whether among private parties or among the state and private parties — be tried before neutral judges, under rules that are known and articulated in advance. Every party must have notice of the charge against him and an opportunity to be heard in response; each governing rule must be consistent with all the others, so that no person is forced to violate one legal requirement in order to satisfy a second. In the United States, our respect for such principles has made our economy the world’s strongest, and our citizens the world’s freest.
Though we may take it for granted, the rule of law is no easy thing to create and preserve. Dictators and petty despots of all sorts will rebel against these constraints in order to exercise dominion over the lives and fortunes of their subjects. But anyone, of any political persuasion, who thinks of government as the servant of its citizens — not their master — will recognize that compliance with the rule of law sets a minimum condition for a just legal order.
That, however, is precisely where the difficulties begin — for minimum conditions by themselves are not enough. Law is not just an idealized system of rules: It also involves the public administration of those rules by a wide range of elected and appointed officials in an endless array of particular circumstances. For those who would defend a just legal order, the basic challenge is to strike a proper balance — between limiting the discretion of these officials so that they do not undermine the rule of law, while also allowing them enough leeway to perform their essential roles.
Lately in America, we have done a poor job of preserving this balance. In practice — and, increasingly, in legal theory — government officials have been given unprecedented ability to make exceptions to the law, both in enforcing it and in respecting the rights granted under it. Indeed, the past year has seen two of the most enormous pieces of legislation in U.S. history — the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act — make the imbalance far worse. Both laws seek to dramatically transform vast swaths of the American economy; both give enormous power to the government to bring about these transformations. And yet both laws are stunningly silent on exactly how these overhauls are to take place. The vague language of these statutes delegates much blanket authority to government officials who will, effectively, make the rules up as they go along.
As regulators ramp up their global investigation into the manipulation of interest rates, the Justice Department has identified potential criminal wrongdoing by big banks and individuals at the center of the scandal.
The department’s criminal division is building cases against several financial institutions and their employees, including traders at Barclays, the British bank, according to government officials close to the case who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is continuing. The authorities expect to file charges against at least one bank later this year, one of the officials said.
The prospect of criminal cases is expected to rattle the banking world and provide a new impetus for financial institutions to settle with the authorities. The Justice Department investigation comes on top of private investor lawsuits and a sweeping regulatory inquiry led by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. Collectively, the civil and criminal actions could cost the banking industry tens of billions of dollars.
Authorities around the globe are examining whether financial firms manipulated interest rates before and after the financial crisis to improve their profits and deflect scrutiny about their health. Investigators in Washington and London sent a warning shot to the industry last month, striking a $450 million settlement with Barclays in a rate-rigging case. The deal does not shield Barclays employees from criminal prosecution.
The multiyear investigation has ensnared more than 10 big banks in the United States and abroad. With the prospects of criminal action, several firms, including at least two European institutions, are scrambling to arrange deals, according to lawyers close to the case. In part, they are trying to avoid the public outcry that stemmed from the Barclays case, which prompted the resignation of top executives.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton took a first-hand look Saturday at the way a warming climate is changing the Arctic, opening the region to competition for vast oil reserves.
Experts here estimate the value of the Arctic’s untapped oil alone — not including natural gas and minerals — at $900 trillion, making it a huge prize for the five countries that surround the Arctic if they can reach it.
And with climate warming opening up some 46,000 square kilometres (18,000 square miles) a year that had once been bound in ice, the region is expected to burst open, not just with oil exploration but with East-West trade along a more accessible northern route.
Returning from a tour of the Arctic coastline aboard a Norwegian research trawler with scientists and government officials, Clinton told reporters that she learned “many of the predictions about warming in the Arctic are being surpassed by the actual data.”
“That was not necessarily surprising but sobering,” she said.
The United States wants to see that change managed by the Arctic Council, an advisory group composed of the Arctic’s closest neighbours, even as other countries, among them China, are drawn to the region for oil, gas and trade.
“A lot of countries are looking at what will be a potential for exploration and extraction of natural resources, as well as new sea lanes, and are increasingly expressing interest in the Arctic,” Clinton said.
“We want the Arctic Council to remain the premier institution that deals with Arctic questions.”
It is Difficult to Distinguish the Geopolitical Calculations of Some States From the Profit Motives of Criminal Organizations
The global economic crisis has been a boon for transnational criminals. Thanks to the weak economy, cash-rich criminal organizations can acquire financially distressed but potentially valuable companies at bargain prices. Fiscal austerity is forcing governments everywhere to cut the budgets of law enforcement agencies and court systems. Millions of people have been laid off and are thus more easily tempted to break the law. Large numbers of unemployed experts in finance, accounting, information technology, law, and logistics have boosted the supply of world-class talent available to criminal cartels. Meanwhile, philanthropists all over the world have curtailed their giving, creating funding shortfalls in the arts, education, health care, and other areas, which criminals are all too happy to fill in exchange for political access, social legitimacy, and popular support. International criminals could hardly ask for a more favorable business environment. Their activities are typically high margin and cash-based, which means they often enjoy a high degree of liquidity — not a bad position to be in during a global credit crunch.
But emboldened adversaries and dwindling resources are not the only problems confronting police departments, prosecutors, and judges. In recent years, a new threat has emerged: the mafia state. Across the globe, criminals have penetrated governments to an unprecedented degree. The reverse has also happened: rather than stamping out powerful gangs, some governments have instead taken over their illegal operations. In mafia states, government officials enrich themselves and their families and friends while exploiting the money, muscle, political influence, and global connections of criminal syndicates to cement and expand their own power. Indeed, top positions in some of the world’s most profitable illicit enterprises are no longer filled only by professional criminals; they now include senior government officials, legislators, spy chiefs, heads of police departments, military officers, and, in some extreme cases, even heads of state or their family members.