Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Lighting Up a Life, Literally

The New York Times > Health > Vital Signs: Therapy: Lighting Up a Life, Literally


Exposure to bright artificial light can relieve some cases of depression as effectively as psychotherapy or antidepressant medication, new research suggests.

In a statistical review of 20 rigorously designed studies, researchers found strong evidence that exposure to artificial broad-spectrum light was a good treatment not only for seasonal affective disorder, in which people become more depressed in the darker days of winter, but for the more common nonseasonal depression.

The review appears in the April issue of The American Journal of Psychiatry.

Dr. Robert N. Golden, professor and chairman of psychiatry at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine and the lead author, said he was once skeptical of such treatments.

"I noticed that there were a lot of really bad studies being published" that claimed good results based on weak evidence, Dr. Golden said.

"But when you throw out the bad studies and look at the good ones, the data are actually very impressive."

Light therapy usually involves sitting in front of white fluorescent lights with eyes open but not looking directly at the light source.

Treatment time varies from 15 minutes to 90 minutes a day.

Dawn simulation, a variation of the treatment, recreates the timing and intensity of a normal sunrise each morning.

Symptoms can start to diminish within weeks.

Dr. Golden warns that the studies have not been large and that the standards for what constitutes exactly the right exposure have not yet been established.

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Wednesday, May 4, 2005

Two Wolves

Thanks for Staci Stallings for sharing this wisdom. plk

Two Wolves

One evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people.

He said, "My son, the battle is between 2 "wolves" inside us all.

One is Evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy,sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.

The other is Good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith."

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: "Which wolf wins?"

The old Cherokee simply replied, "The one you feed."

- Author Unknown

Tuesday, May 3, 2005

Corporate Tax Avoidance

Citizen Works Shines a Light on Corporate Tax Avoidance
Read the entire article at:

If recent trends are any indicator, large corporations will pay only about half of the statutory 35 percent corporate rate in income taxes.

Citizen Works Communications Director and corporate tax expert Lee Drutman had this to say:
“There are effectively two systems of taxation in the United States today. One is for big corporations and the wealthy, who can afford high-priced accountants and lawyers to tell them how to avoid paying taxes, who can afford high-priced lobbyists to help them get special exceptions and loopholes written into the tax code, and who have the means to set up an intricate web of shell corporations in Bermuda and Barbados and the Cayman Islands. The other is for the hard-working Americans, who can barely even afford to go on vacation to Bermuda.”
“When corporations pay less, it means that ordinary citizens are forced to cover more of the tax burden. At a time of rising budget deficits and vanishing social services this is simply unacceptable.”

The following is a summary of studies in the past year describing the extent to which corporations avoid paying federal and state taxes and some of the strategies that they have used.

 In 2002 and 2003, 275 of the biggest U.S. corporations sheltered more than half of their profits from taxes, reporting $739 billion in profits to shareholders but only $363 billion in profits to the IRS, according to Citizens for Tax Justice (CTJ). According to CTJ, the 275 corporations paid an effective tax rate of 17.2 percent in 2002 and 2003, less than half of the effective corporate tax rate of 35 percent. That’s down from 26.5 percent in 1988, 21.7 percent in 1998, and 21.4 percent in 2001.

Additionally, of the 275 companies CTJ analyzed, 82 either paid no taxes or received a tax refund in at least one of the last three years. In 2003 alone, 46 companies paid zero or less in federal income taxes. These 46 companies, almost one out of six of the companies in the study, reported U.S. pretax profits in 2003 of $42.6 billion, yet received tax rebates totaling $5.4 billion.

Between 2001 and 2003, 28 companies paid negative federal income tax rates over the entire three-year period.

U.S. corporations shifted $75 billion of their profits into tax havens in 2003, depriving the IRS of between $10 billion and $20 billion in expected tax revenue, according to a study in Tax Notes, a tax trade journal. According to the study’s author, Martin A. Sullivan, corporations exploit legal loopholes and tax credits to avoid paying taxes by shifting income into subsidiaries located in no-tax or low-tax countries, such as Bermuda. Sullivan, a former Treasury Department economist, based his study on Commerce Department data.

The profits that U.S. multinational companies reported from their foreign subsidiaries have grown 68 percent since 1999, reaching $149 billion in 2003, according to a separate study published by Tax Notes. However, the data does not show any commensurate growth of actual economic activity in those tax havens. The implication is that multinationals are merely sheltering more income in tax havens.

In 2003 U.S. corporations had an estimated $650 billion sheltered offshore, more than 40 percent of which was in the manufacturing sector, according to a 2003 J.P. Morgan Chase study.
More than 10,300 individuals and 207 Fortune 500 companies have used tax shelters, accounting for a total tax revenue loss of nearly $129 billion, according to a recent GAO report. The report found that 114 of the Fortune 500 companies and 4,400 individuals using tax shelters obtained the services from an accounting firm.
Accounting firm KPMG's revenue from its Tax Services Practice rose from $829 million in 1998 to $1.2 billion in 2001, accord to a recent Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations report. The report also documented how accounting firms such as Ernst & Young and PricewaterhouseCoopers, banks such as Deustche Bank and Wachovia Bank, and law firms such as Sidley Austin Brown & Wood "developed, implemented, and mass-marketed cookie-cutter tax shelters used to rip off the Treasury of billions of dollars in taxes," as Sen. Norm Coleman (R.-Minn.), the committee's chairman, put it.

In 2003, corporate revenues represented only 7.4 percent of federal tax receipts, the second-lowest level on record, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Sixty years ago, corporations paid half of the U.S. tax bill.

Summarized by Copernic Summarizer

Privatizing US Social Security: Those Most in Favor Have Least at Stake, Says Report

Privatizing US Social Security: Those Most in Favor Have Least at Stake, Says Report

WASHINGTON -- The biggest backers of President George W. Bush's plan to privatize Social Security are those with the least at stake in the government retirement system, economic researchers and advocates said Wednesday.

Chief executive officers (CEOs) of U.S. investment firms supporting Social Security's partial privatization effectively pay into the system for only a few days a year because those payments are capped and most financial industry CEOs get paid enough to enable them to reach the limit in the first few days of January, said a new report from the groups United For a Fair Economy (UFE) and Institute for America's Future.

By contrast, they said, ''the average 'Joe' taxpayer pays an effective rate that is more than 201 times the effective rate of the average CEO in this group.''

That is because average taxpayers contribute all year long, paying Social Security taxes on their entire annual earnings without ever reaching the annual cap of $87,900, according to the report, ''Taxpayers for a Day: The Most to Gain, the Least to Lose (.pdf).''

President George W. Bush has made overhauling Social Security a top domestic priority and has crisscrossed the country to build support for his plan.

Bush would allow workers born after 1950 to divert a portion of their payroll taxes into private accounts in exchange for a reduced guaranteed benefit.

He has appealed for support on two main grounds.

First, he has said, the changes would ease a long-term financial squeeze confronting Social Security and second, younger workers would enjoy some degree of control over their retirement funds.

Report co-author Scott Klinger of UFE countered: ''Social Security would be funded and solvent into the next century if the highest-earning 6 percent of Americans would pay taxes on their full income, just like everyone else.''

The report examined the pay structures of 26 CEOs of Wall Street firms involved in backing privatization efforts and estimated the dates by which they would have finished paying Social Security taxes.

Of the 26 CEOs at public and U.S.-owned firms, average compensation in 2004 was $17.7 million.

The average CEO within this group surpassed the $87,900 earnings cap after 4 days on the job, or at the end of the day on Jan. 4, after which no Social Security tax would be collected, the report said.

While 94 percent of workers effectively paid 12.4 percent of their annual income, including employer's contribution, the CEOs paid an average effective rate of 0.16 percent of their annual income toward Social Security taxes, it added.

Although some Wall Street firms have questioned the specifics of the Bush plan for Social Security and at least two have said they do not support it, the investment industry as a whole long has expressed an interest in boosting its business by tapping Social Security's vast pool of money.

Even so, some analysts have said that Wall Street's level of interest in the current Bush plan has been overstated, however.

Corporate supporters are able to funnel money into the administration campaign under the cover of two umbrellas: the Coalition for the Modernization and Protection of America's Social Security (Compass), which counts some 100 state and national trade associations among its members; and the Alliance for Worker Retirement Security.

Also in the forefront is the Business Roundtable, a club of chief executives from 160 of the country's best-known corporations.

Leading the counterattack are the 35-million-member American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) and 13-million-member AFL-CIO labor federation.

Later this month, drug maker Pfizer Inc. will confront a Teamsters union shareholder resolution demanding that the company disclose its spending on political causes.

Union pension fund trustees who manage portfolios in the billions of dollars have said they would consider an investment company's position on Social Security, among other factors, when they review fund managers.

Last month, the trustees who oversee Social Security said that in 2017 Social Security would begin paying out more in benefits than it receives in payroll taxes.

Social Security, established by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1935, provides retirement, survivor, and disability income for 47.6 million Americans.

Medicare, enacted by President Lyndon Johnson 30 years later, provides healthcare for 41.7 million older and disabled people.

Summarized by Copernic Summarizer


Monday, May 2, 2005

New Research on Car Title Lending

From the Center for Responsible Lending: a resource for predatory lending opponents.

Loans Secured by Car Titles Trap Borrowers in Cycle of Debt
April 14, 2005

Today the Center for Responsible Lending and Consumer Federation of America issued a first report on the car title pawn/loan industry, titled "Car Title Lending: Driving Borrowers to Financial Ruin."  The report describes the title loan product and industry, illustrates predatory aspects of these over-secured small loans, and makes recommendations for stronger protections for borrowers.

To get a title loan, borrowers sign over the title to a paid-for car and, in some states, provide the lender with a spare set of keys.  The loan is usually due within a month in a lump-sum payment, making it difficult for families to repay the loan.  Borrowers often find themselves "rolling over" these loans repeatedly - paying huge amounts in interest and fees while barely touching the principal.  Since car title loans are typically made for a fraction of the value of the car, the lender is well-protected if the borrower fails to make the full payment at the end of the month.  In some states, title lenders are allowed to keep the surplus from the sale of the car, allowing title lenders to reap a windfall from the borrower's default.  In many cases, the lender repossesses the car after the borrower has made substantial payments.  That can be devastating because a car is often the borrower's largest asset and his or her only way to to get to work.

If states permit the loan product, CRL and CFA recommend that they adopt strict requirements to protect borrowers from abuses, including:

Establishing fair and affordable loan terms

Protecting borrowers after a default

Closing loopholes to ensure consistent regulation

Closely monitoring lenders

Ensuring that borrowers can exercise their rights

For the full report and additional information on car title lending please visit the our website

About the Center

The Center for Responsible Lending is a national nonprofit, nonpartisan research and policy organization dedicated to protecting home ownership and family wealth by working to eliminate abusive financial practices.  CRL is affiliated with Self-Help, one of the nation's largest community development lenders.

13 ways to live a rich life on less

13 ways to live a rich life on less

By Dana Dratch •

Can you remember life before $100 sneakers and $5 coffee, when people actually lived on what they earned and still had a little something socked away for a rainy day?
"People moan and groan about why they can't make do," says Michelle Singletary, author of "Seven Money Mantras for a Richer Life."  "But if you look at your lifestyle, there's almost always a way to trim [costs] and make do with less."

Singletary and her four brothers and sisters were raised by their grandmother, who earned a low-income salary but owned her home and car and accumulated a nice savings and pension while providing well for her family.

Cutting costs was more than a handful of tips, says Singletary. "It was a way of life."

Her grandmother looked at potential purchases in terms of "what you could spend that money on that would put you in a position of not having to struggle," says Singletary.  Like a fast-food meal out vs. allocating that money for the phone bill. "And I actually do that now myself," she says. "I ask, 'What are the consequences of spending this money?'"

That approach, save automatically and spend selectively, is exactly what money experts and consumer advocates advise.  To accomplish that, here are 13 strategies for living well on less:

1. Analyze your spending.

Look closely at what you've spent for the last three to six months, says Ed Moore, CFP and president of Edelman Financial Services. "And look for spending [you] might regret." As you examine your expenditures, ask yourself, "What dollars satisfied a need, what dollars satisfied a want and which expenditures might not have satisfied either."  

David Bach, author of "The Automatic Millionaire," says not to forget even your smallest purchases: Where do you spend small amounts of money on a daily basis?  For many, it's something as seemingly insignificant as a few bucks for a cup of gourmet coffee, but it adds up.  That doesn't mean you necessarily have to give up your java break. Bach says you do, however, need to change your thinking.  Notice exactly now much you are spending and where.

2. Make a budget.

"Without exception you have to do a written plan, called a budget," says Dave Ramsey, author of "The Total Money Makeover."  Listeners to his national call-in radio show tell him once they make a budget, "they feel like they got a raise." The reason, he says, is "managed money works harder."   But there's no one-size-fits-all budget. "It varies from month to month," Ramsey says.  So sit down and plot how each dollar will be spent "on paper, on purpose before the month begins."

3. Never pay retail.

"Everything's negotiable," says Bach, who learned this money lesson from his grandmother. "Almost everywhere she went, she could talk the price down," he says.  And that's still perfectly acceptable in many retail situations, he says.   Also know when to shop.  For example, buy clothing in season.  That's when the retailers consider it past the season and put it on sale, says Clark Howard, co-author of "Clark's Big Book of Bargains."

4. Try store brands.

"Everytime somebody goes to the supermarket, I want them to try one more store brand," says Howard, which he notes costs up to 40 percent less. "To get people to change everything isn't possible. But to get them to change one item at a time is less difficult."

5. Buy used.

New is nice, but for the best buy, think pre-owned. Bach points to the classic example of a used car. After two years of depreciation, you can get a good, high-quality car at virtually half price, says Bach. "And if you ever do buy a new one, plan on keeping it five to 10 years," he says.
Whatever you're buying used, Ramsey says to focus on high-quality merchandise, "not torn up, junky or dirty."
Secondhand shopping isn't just for those who have to watch their pennies, either. Ramsey recalls a millionaire friend who picked up a $38,000 Rolex for $18,000 from a reputable jeweler. "That's how he got to be a millionaire," Ramsey says.

6. Pay cash.
"When you spend cash, it hurts," says Ramsey. "And you spend less."
Ramsey recalls a study several years ago that showed when shoppers spend cash, "you spend 12 to 18 percent less than when you spend plastic because of the emotional pain."  Plus, he says, you can get a better deal when you use cash as a negotiating tool.

7. Pick your credit card wisely.

If you must use a credit card, make sure it's one that gives you something. Look for a no-fee card with a rewards program. Bankrate can help in your search.  Mark Oleson, director of the Financial Counseling Clinic at Iowa State University, recently signed up for a AAA-branded no-fee card that rebates 5 percent of all gas purchases. The credits are applied automatically to his account every month. Now he's getting $2 gallon gas for $1.90 without changing his buying behavior.

8. Shop around for auto insurance.

You want your car protected, but make sure you get the most cost-effective coverage you can. Howard recounts one ecstatic caller to his radio show who compared rates and sliced his annual premium by $1,433. "That's the easiest money for someone to grab," he says. Anecdotally, Howard says, the typical savings by shopping around for better auto insurance rates is around $1,000.  While you're at it, look at your coverage and deductibles on an annual or semiannual basis, says Oleson. Can you afford to raise the deductible to lower your premium? Are there any overlaps in your coverage that could be eliminated?

9. Dial up phone savings.

Your cell phone certainly comes in handy, but is your plan really worth what you pay? "There are lots of people who sign up for calling plans for cell phones who don't need them," says Howard.   He says a more economic choice might be a prepaid plan.   Do you travel with your cell phone?   Be sure you don't face roaming charges.  A better telephone-travel move might be a discount calling card. "I'm a big believer," says Howard, who finds that the average per minute price on the cards runs about 2.9 cents per minute, a far cry from regular or in-room long-distance charges.

10. Change your mortgage payment method.

Make biweekly payments instead of monthly house payments. You don't change the amount; simply send in half a payment every two weeks. That means, says Bach, you make an extra payment every year and can slice nearly seven years off the average mortgage.

11. Use family and community resources.

This is something that a lot of new parents discover when faced with the cost of expensive baby goods that their child soon will outgrow. "Rather than going out and buying a new crib, this and that, there's a lot of sharing," says Chris Farrell, author of "Right on the Money!"   You can also do the same thing at other stages of life with furniture, appliances, electronics and clothing. Farrell employed the strategy to get rid of a fairly recent desktop computer when he switched to a laptop. "A lot of us are in situations where we spend money on something we wanted, but it's outgrown its usefulness," he says. "And someone else could get pleasure out of it."

12. Pay yourself first.

Automatically transfer part of each paycheck to a retirement account before you get your take-home pay. "Learn from the government, which figured out years ago [people] can't budget," says Bach. His rule of thumb: Save one hour a day of your income each week.  In addition to the longer-term retirement account, also save for short-term emergencies. How much? "I think [a salary contribution equal to] 30 minutes a day is a good start," says Bach.  And while the goals of the two accounts are different, the savings method is the same: Pay yourself first.

13. Exercise restraint.

Finally, call upon your willpower when it comes to spending. Want to save money on your phone bill? Hang up. Want to use less gas? Stay home. Do you really need a bread maker when you have an oven?   Sometimes cutting costs really is just a matter of saying enough is enough.   "As long as I can remember [growing up], I never ate out at fast food [places]," says Singletary. Why? Because her grandmother's motto was, "I have good food at home."   That attitude helped Singletary's family flourish. And by using at least some of these strategies, you too could find that it really is possible to live well for less.

Dana Dratch is a freelance writer based in Atlanta.