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Tags: Soaring | Disability | Bankrupting | System | Illegals Sneaking in From Terrorist Nations | Nigerian Terror | Gasoline Taxes

Soaring Disability Rolls Bankrupting System; Illegals Sneaking in From Terrorist Nations

By    |   Sunday, 24 June 2012 02:28 PM EDT

Insider Report

Headlines (Scroll down for complete stories):
1. Social Security Disability Fund Nears Collapse
2. Republicans Assail Obama's Policy on Nigerian Terror
3. Alice Walker Nixes Hebrew Translation of 'The Color Purple'
4. Expert: Kill Gasoline Taxes for Highway Upkeep
5. Medical Tourism Is on the Rise
6. Illegals Caught Entering U.S. From Terror-Linked Nations

1. Social Security Disability Fund Nears Collapse

The number of Americans receiving Social Security disability benefits has soared in recent years and is threatening to push the program into insolvency.

Federal funding from other sources, including incoming payroll taxes, covers 79 percent of disability insurance payments, which average $1,111 a month. But that leaves 21 percent uncovered if the disability insurance fund runs out of money.

Nearly 11 million Americans currently receive disability benefits, and last year the program cost taxpayers $132 billion — more than the combined annual budgets of the Departments of Agriculture, Homeland Security, Commerce, Labor, Justice, and the Interior.

About 1 in 18 working-age, nonretired Americans now receive disability payments, according to Pamela Villarreal, a senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis.

"The pot of money the Social Security Administration is using to cover disability insurance is projected to run dry in 2016," Businessweek reports. "That means that out-of-work disabled Americans, plus their spouses and children, who also qualify for benefits, would see their checks shrink 21 percent."

The disability rolls have grown 23 percent since 2007, in large part because of the bad economy. Unemployed Americans who exhaust their unemployment benefits have been seeking disability benefits for assistance.

The disability program formerly benefited people with debilitating conditions such as strokes and cancer. But Congress expanded the benefits pool to include such claimed ailments as depression, back pain, and chronic fatigue syndrome.

Exacerbating the financial pressure on the program: Disabled workers can go on Medicare after a two-year waiting period, regardless of their age, which encourages low-income workers without health insurance to try to qualify for disability — and to remain in the program once they do qualify. Disability status also makes recipients eligible for food stamps and other benefits. Fewer than 1 percent of those who start collecting benefits return to work.

But the Social Security Administration claims it doesn't have the funds to conduct periodic reviews of beneficiaries to see who is actually entitled to benefits, and currently has a backlog of 1.4 million reviews.

"That both parties are ignoring the issue aggravates Republican Senator Tom Coburn (Okla.), one of the few lawmakers who want the program overhauled," Businessweek observes.

Coburn says Congress could curb spending on the program by demanding more aggressive screening of applicants and more incentives for them to go back to work.

Until then, Villarreal says, the "Social Security disability system is fraught with poor incentives, high costs and an unsustainable future."

Editor's Note:

2. Republicans Assail Obama's Policy on Nigerian Terror

Prominent Republicans have attacked the Obama administration for its "insufficient" response to the Nigerian terrorist organization Boko Haram that has targeted Christians and killed more than 1,000 people.

"The Department of State refuses to explain its rationale for not designating Boko Haram an FTO [Foreign Terrorist Organization], which puts American lives at risk," said Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, and Rep. Patrick Meehan, R-Pa., chairman of the committee's counterterrorism and intelligence subcommittee.

The campaign by Boko Haram — whose name means "Western education is sacrilege" — to promote Islamic law has increasingly taken the form of an anti-Christian jihad.

On Sunday, June 17, Boko Haram terrorists killed more than a dozen people and wounded scores more in suicide bombings at three churches in northern Nigeria.

On the previous Sunday, at least six people were killed and dozens injured when gunmen opened fire at a church.

And on Sunday, June 3, at least 15 people were killed and 42 wounded in a suicide bombing at a church in northern Nigeria.

On Thursday, the State Department announced it was naming three Boko Haram leaders as "specially designated global terrorists" (SDGTs) under executive order 13224, a post-9/11 mechanism designed to disrupt funding to terrorists, CNS News reported.

Americans are barred from engaging in transactions with SDGTs, and any assets they have in the United States are frozen.

The three Nigerians are Boko Haram's "most visible leader," Abubakar Shekau, and two others, Abubakar Adam Kambar and Khalid al-Barnawi, who the department said "have ties to Boko Haram and have close links to al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, a designated Foreign Terrorist Organization."

The department also said in a statement: "Under Shekau's leadership, Boko Haram has claimed responsibility for numerous attacks in northern Nigeria, its primary area of operation. In the last 18 months, Boko Haram or associated militants have killed more than 1,000 people."

The statement referred to several terrorist acts by Boko Haram, including a series of attacks in Kano on Jan. 20 that killed more than 180 people. Those attacks hit police stations, immigration offices and the local headquarters of Nigeria's secret police in the city of more than 9 million, The Associated Press reported.

The State Department said the designations "demonstrate the United States' resolve in diminishing the capacity of Boko Haram to execute violent attacks."

But King and Meehan called the department's step "insufficient."

"The legal ramifications of this designation only affect dealings with three designated individuals, and not the wider Boko Haram organization, which is growing in intent, capability and targeting capacity," they said in a statement.

The lawmakers repeated earlier calls for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to designate Boko Haram as a foreign terrorist organization, according to CNS News.

"Given Boko Haram's trajectory and intent to carry out terrorist attacks against Western targets, including possibly the Homeland, we must take the growing threat seriously."

In a request to Clinton in March, they cited a report the Homeland Security Committee released last November entitled "Boko Haram: Emerging Threat to the U.S. Homeland."

In a second appeal to Clinton in May, King and Meehan referred to media reports saying the Justice Department believes Boko Haram meets the legal requirements for FTO designation.

"It is deeply frustrating and concerning that a formal request from the Department of Justice for FTO designation of Boko Haram has gone unheeded for almost six months," they wrote in the May 18 letter.

"Designating Boko Haram an FTO is essential to giving our intelligence and law enforcement agencies the legal authorities to deter individuals who might be providing support to Boko Haram in the U.S. and abroad, and freeze any known Boko Haram assets. FTO designation can no longer wait. We urge you to act immediately."

Editor's Note:

3. Alice Walker Nixes Hebrew Translation of 'The Color Purple'

In a move called "unfortunate and discriminatory," Pulitzer Prize-winning author Alice Walker has refused to allow an Israeli publisher to translate her book "The Color Purple" into Hebrew.

Walker said she turned down a request from Yediot books because "Israel is guilty of apartheid and persecution of the Palestinian people, both inside Israel and also in the Occupied Territories."

In a letter to the publisher, which appeared on the website of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, Walker — the first woman of color to win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction — stated: "I grew up under American apartheid and [Israel] was far worse.

"It is my hope that the non-violent BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement, of which I am part, will have enough of an impact on Israeli civilian society to change the situation."

She also told the publisher: "I would so like knowing my books are read by the people of your country, especially by the young, and by the brave Israeli activists (Jewish and Palestinian) for justice and peace I have had the joy of working beside. I am hopeful that one day, maybe soon, this may happen. But now is not the time."

Walker published "The Color Purple," based on her childhood in segregated Georgia, in 1982.

Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said in a statement: "It was more out of sadness than anger that we react to the news of Alice Walker's decision not to publish her classic novel 'The Color Purple' in Hebrew.

"It is sad that people who inspire to fight bigotry and prejudice continue to have a biased and bigoted side. For some time Walker has been blinded by her anti-Israel animus. Unfortunately, this willful ignorance and bias against Israel has led her to exercise poor judgment in her publishing endeavors.

"As someone who is seen as a leader in the fight against racism and discrimination, we hope that Ms. Walker will make the effort to truly understand Israel's fight for its survival and reconsider her unfortunate and discriminatory decision."

Commentary magazine called Walker's letter "among the most egregious acts of discrimination against Israel by leftist intellectuals."

Last year Walker said in an interview: "I think Israel is the greatest terrorist in that part of the world. And I think in general, the United States and Israel are great terrorist organizations."

Editor's Note:

4. Expert: Kill Gasoline Taxes for Highway Upkeep

Reliance on gasoline taxes to fund U.S. highway repairs and improvements is outdated and should be replaced with a miles-traveled tax, a transportation expert asserts.

Several problems with the gasoline tax have developed in recent years, according to Robert Poole, director of transportation policy and Searle Freedom Trust Transportation Fellow at the Reason Foundation, who has advised the Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush administrations.

First, the gas tax is based on gallons of fuel consumed, and the average miles-per-gallon of vehicles has doubled over the past two decades. So drivers now travel twice as far on a gallon of gas, but highways still need at least as much maintenance as in previous years.

Second, federal policy promotes alternatives to gasoline-powered vehicles, including hybrids and all-electric cars, so a growing percentage of vehicles on the road will be paying little or nothing toward the cost of maintaining the roads they use.

Third, gasoline taxes are not indexed for inflation. The federal tax of 18.4 percent a gallon hasn't been raised in nearly two decades, and more than half of the states have not raised their gasoline tax this millennium.

The result: "Gasoline taxes no longer provide enough money to pay for roads and bridges — especially when Congress and many state legislatures are reluctant to increase taxes imposed on each gallon," USA Today observed.

A worthy alternative to gasoline taxes would be a miles-traveled tax, which would have drivers pay according to how much they use the nation's roadways rather than how much gas they burn — an approach made feasible by recent technological gains in collecting tolls.

Another problem with gasoline taxes, Poole points out: Everyone pays the same rate per gallon, whether they drive on country roads and neighborhood streets that are inexpensive to build and maintain or on multibillion-dollar highways.

"A system of per-mile charges could be tied to specific highways (as tolls are today), so that those who use mega-project highways would pay accordingly," Poole writes.

Minnesota and Oregon are already testing technology to keep track of drivers' mileage. The greatest obstacle to a miles-traveled tax has been privacy concerns, USA Today reported — in an Oregon pilot program, motorists objected to the in-vehicle boxes used to track miles driven.

Those concerns could be circumvented by allowing motorists who don't want to use the technology to instead buy an unlimited number of miles with a flat annual tax.

"Replacing fuel taxes is not just about ensuring adequate, sustainable funding for the highways we all depend on," Poole concludes.

"It is also the key to transforming what is now a poorly managed, non-priced, government-run system into a 21st-century network utility."

Editor's Note:

5. Medical Tourism Is on the Rise

An increasing number of Americans are traveling to other countries for medical treatment to circumvent soaring healthcare costs in the United States.

These "medical tourists" seek procedures ranging from root canals to knee surgeries and hip replacements — at a fraction of what they would cost at home.

The Bumrungrad hospital in Thailand treats about 400,000 foreign patients each year, and Malaysia had nearly 600,000 medical tourists last year. South Korea had more than 100,000, nearly one-third of them American, and Costa Rica and Mexico also have become popular destinations for American patients, according to the New Yorker magazine.

The reason, of course, is cost. Hip-replacement surgery in Costa Rica costs around $15,000, compared to $90,000 at a U.S. hospital, and cash-paying surgery patients are taking advantage of packages that are one-fifth to one-third of the U.S. cost.

Health insurance companies have been leery about reimbursing patients for medical care overseas — they already receive large discounts with American hospitals and they risk a public-relations disaster if something goes wrong with a medical procedure in another country.

Patients have been wary as well, concerned about the lack of legal recourse for malpractice and the quality of care.

But the quality of medical care in developing nations has risen sharply in recent years, especially at hospitals that cater to foreign patients.

And new companies are making overseas treatment more attractive. Blue Cross/Blue Shield has launched a company called Companion Global Healthcare, which connects patients with hospitals around the world, the New Yorker reports.

Colorado-based BridgeHealth Medical offers American employers plans with flat fees for surgeries paid in advance that are up to 50 percent less than in a typical network, says John C. Goodman, CEO of the National Center for Policy Analysis, in his new book "Priceless: Curing the Healthcare Crisis."

If more Americans sought care overseas, it would likely help control medical costs at home — competition could force the U.S. healthcare industry to be more efficient.

Goodman suggests that Medicare should take advantage of the international medical tourism market to cut costs. And to encourage medical tourism by Medicare patients, a patient who saves money for Medicare by traveling should share in the savings.

Editor's Note:

6. Illegals Caught Entering U.S. From Terror-Linked Nations

The Border Patrol apprehended 315 aliens trying to enter the United States illegally from nations that "promote, produce, or protect terrorists" in fiscal 2011.

From Oct. 1, 2010 through Sept. 30, 2011, the Border Patrol — the U.S. Customs and Border Protection component of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) — arrested 327,577 illegal aliens along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Among those were 46,997 termed "Other Than Mexican," including 255 who originated from what the DHS calls "special interest countries."

Those are defined by the DHS as nations "that have shown a tendency to promote, produce, or protect terrorist organizations or their members," and consist of 34 nations plus the West Bank and Gaza.

The illegals apprehended include 20 from Iran and 36 from Pakistan, plus 76 from Bangladesh, 41 from the Philippines, five from Somalia, four from Tunisia, and three from Syria.

In addition, the Border Patrol apprehended 66 aliens from "special interest countries" trying to enter the country along U.S. coastlines in fiscal 2011.

They included one from Iran, one from Pakistan, 10 from the Philippines, eight from Uzbekistan, seven from Jordan, and five from Indonesia.

All told, the Border Patrol caught 6,552 aliens along the U.S. coast.

The Border Patrol also reported that last year it seized more than 2.5 million pounds of marijuana at U.S. borders, plus nearly 10,000 pounds of cocaine, 619 firearms, and 45,460 rounds of ammunition.

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Editor's Note:

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Sunday, 24 June 2012 02:28 PM
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