Monday, March 10, 2008

Simple (And Easy) Money Saving Tips For Frugal Living

A great many people are criminally squandering their hard earned money on a daily basis - myself included. We all know that scrimping and saving is a pain and too dull for words but the fact is that making a few tiny changes to the way we shop, save and invest could mean the difference between ending our days in a mansion or an old peoples home.

Luckily, you don’t need a financial advisor to patronize you or guilt you into doing something about it; we’ll be running a series of articles on money-saving ideas, investment tips, mortgage advice and all the economic advice you need to get your money matters in order. Subscribe now and we’ll teach you the lingo, give you some tips on haggling for a cheaper price and, today, we’ll give you 10 quick and easy ways to make annual savings that will add up to quite a substantial chunk of change. Enjoy.

  1. Make your lunch

    It’s so easy I’m surprised more people don’t do it. If an average sandwich is $5 a pop and you buy one each day you’re at work, then over a year it’s going to cost you about $1,200 (assuming you have 28 days holiday which is more than most people will get). Get into the habit of rustling up your own food and you can easily pocket half of that cash, using the other half to bulk buy your groceries at the supermarket.

  2. Downgrade your brand purchases

    Going for the cheapest beans in the store is a bit over the top (especially since they probably taste horrible). Drop a brand level on everything you can and the overall price drops by roughly 30%. Often you’re only paying for the branded packaging anyway.

  3. Align your eyes to belly ratio

    Americans actually waste about 40% of food produced for consumption. According to Wasted Food, that amounts to an annual cost of over $100 billion. Buy only what you need for the week and avoid stocking up with food which could spoil quickly. If you run out of food mid-week it’s no big deal to make a second trip to the supermarket.

  4. Reduce your heating bill

    By turning the temperature down in your house by just one degree you can save almost 10% on your heating bill. Also, you’ll prevent about 240kg of carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere. Cheaper, and greener too.

  5. Enjoy happy hour

    If you like a beer with your buddies in the evening, consider going at less popular times of the day. Many bars offer happy hour deals when it’s quiet which can often see you save up to 50% of the cost. You can’t complain at getting more beer for less.

  6. Be a late adopter

    I know it’s tough to wait until the buzz surrounding the new mobile phone or games console has died down - especially if you’re a techno-geek - but if you can hold back from buying until at least six months after the new technology is launched you could save up to 50%. Let other obsessed geeks drive the price down for you.

  7. Give alternative gifts

    People always say “it’s the thought that counts” when you’re giving and receiving gifts. You can put this to the test by offering alternative gifts. You could offer your dad a weekend of gardening to save him mowing the lawn and cleaning out the fish pond or give your girlfriend a booklet of massage vouchers to redeem whenever she likes. They’ll love your thoughtfulness and you get to pocket the cash you would have otherwise spent.

  8. Have a house-swap holiday

    Instead of shelling out on an all-inclusive deal to Jamaica this year, you could have a house swap holiday instead. Who knows, maybe you’ll bump into Cameron Diaz and she’ll take a shine to you. Give it a go at HomeLink.

  9. Drive better

    The Energy Saving Trust reckon you can save almost $200 a year by ‘eco-driving’. Obviously this is applicable to manual cars and it involves changing gear before your engine hits 2,500 rpm, driving smoothly and eliminating the use of your air-con while driving at an efficient speed of around 45-50mph.

  10. Shop smarter

    You can save up to 60% on clothes prices by visiting designer outlet stores, as they sell nothing but excess stock, special buys and end of season merchandise from some of the biggest names in fashion. I got some Diesel jeans for $30. Bargain!

If you’ve got any other simple and easy ways to save money then please feel free to add your thoughts in the comments. We could all use as many tips and as much advice as possible. Also, if you’re a financial blogger, professional, or just someone who is financially savvy, contact us now to discuss writing some money related guest articles for Just A Guy Thing.

Original here

Studies: Iraq costs US $12B per month

The flow of blood may be ebbing, but the flood of money into the Iraq war is steadily rising, new analyses show. In 2008, its sixth year, the war will cost approximately $12 billion a month, triple the "burn" rate of its earliest years, Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph E. Stiglitz and co-author Linda J. Bilmes report in a new book.

Beyond 2008, working with "best-case" and "realistic-moderate" scenarios, they project the Iraq and Afghan wars, including long-term U.S. military occupations of those countries, will cost the U.S. budget between $1.7 trillion and $2.7 trillion — or more — by 2017.

Interest on money borrowed to pay those costs could alone add $816 billion to that bottom line, they say.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has done its own projections and comes in lower, forecasting a cumulative cost by 2017 of $1.2 trillion to $1.7 trillion for the two wars, with Iraq generally accounting for three-quarters of the costs.

Variations in such estimates stem from the sliding scales of assumptions, scenarios and budget items that are counted. But whatever the estimate, the cost will be huge, the auditors of the Government Accountability Office say.

In a Jan. 30 report to Congress, the GAO observed that the U.S. will be committing "significant" future resources to the wars, "requiring decision makers to consider difficult trade-offs as the nation faces an increasing long-range fiscal challenge."

These numbers don't include the war's cost to the rest of the world. In Iraq itself, the 2003 U.S.-led invasion — with its devastating air bombardments — and the looting and arson that followed, severely damaged electricity and other utilities, the oil industry, countless factories, hospitals, schools and other underpinnings of an economy.

No one has tried to calculate the economic damage done to Iraq, said spokesman Niels Buenemann of the International Monetary Fund, which closely tracks national economies. But millions of Iraqis have been left without jobs, and hundreds of thousands of professionals, managers and other middle-class citizens have fled the country.

In their book, "The Three Trillion Dollar War," Stiglitz, of Columbia University, and Bilmes, of Harvard, report the two wars will have cost the U.S. budget $845 billion in 2007 dollars by next Sept. 30, end of fiscal year 2008, assuming Congress fully funds Bush administration requests. That counts not just military operations, but embassy costs, reconstruction and other war-related expenses.

That total far surpasses the $670 billion in 2007 dollars the Congressional Research Service says was the U.S. price tag for the 12-year Vietnam War.

Although American military and Iraqi civilian casualties have declined in recent months, the rate of spending has shot up. A fully funded 2008 war budget will be 155 percent higher than 2004's, the CBO reports.

The reasons are numerous: the "surge" of additional U.S. units into Iraq; rising fuel costs; fattened bonuses to attract re-enlistments; and particularly the need to "reset," that is, repair or replace worn-out, destroyed or damaged military equipment. Almost $17 billion is appropriated this year for advanced armored vehicles to protect troops against roadside bombs.

Looking ahead, both the CBO and Stiglitz-Bilmes construct two scenarios, one in which U.S. troop levels in Iraq and Afghanistan drop sharply and early — to 30,000 by late 2009 for the CBO, and to 55,000 by 2012 for Stiglitz-Bilmes — and a second in which the drawdown is more gradual.

Significantly, the two studies view different time frames, the CBO calculating possible costs met in the next 10 years, while Stiglitz and Bilmes also include costs incurred during that period but paid for later, such as equipment replaced in post-2017 budgets.

This factor figures most in the category of veterans' medical care and disability payments, where the CBO foresees $9 billion to $13 billion in costs by 2017. Stiglitz and Bilmes, meanwhile, project $422 billion to $717 billion in costs over the lifetime of soldiers who by 2017 are wounded or otherwise mentally or physically disabled by the wars.

"The CBO is only looking 10 years out on everything," Bilmes noted in an interview.

For its part, a CBO critique suggested that Bilmes and Stiglitz might be overstating the expense of treating veterans' brain injuries, a costly category.

The two economists say their calculations are conservative, because they don't encompass many "hidden" items in the U.S. budget. Their basic projections also exclude the potentially huge debt-service cost — on which CBO approximately agrees — and the cost to the U.S. economy of global oil prices that have quadrupled since 2003, an increase analysts blame partly on the Iraq upheaval.

Estimating all economic and social costs might push the U.S. war bill up toward $5 trillion by 2017, they say.

Their book already figures in the stay-or-leave debate over Iraq.

When Stiglitz testified on Feb. 28 before the congressional Joint Economic Committee, the ranking Republican, New Jersey's Rep. Jim Saxton, complained that such projections are too imprecise to help determine relative costs and benefits of the Iraq war.

Saxton said a rapid U.S. pullout could lead to full-scale civil war and Iranian domination of Iraq, "enormous costs" that he said should be weighed in any calculation.

Original here

Recycle or go to Hell, warns Vatican

Failing to recycle plastic bags could find you spending eternity in Hell, the Vatican said after drawing up a list of seven deadly sins for our times.

  • Your view: What are the 'deadly sins' of our time?
  • Vatican sex guide urges Catholics to do 'it' more often
  • Climate change 'will spark global conflict'
  • The seven, which include polluting the environment, were announced by Monsignor Gianfranco Girotti, a close ally of the Pope and the head of the Apostolic Penitentiary, one of the Roman Curia's main court.

    The "sins of yesteryear" - sloth, envy, gluttony, greed, lust, wrath and pride - have a "rather individualistic dimension", he told the Osservatore Romano, the official Vatican newspaper.

    The new seven deadly, or mortal, sins are designed to make worshippers realise that their vices have an effect on others as well.

    "The sins of today have a social resonance as well as an individual one," said Mgr Girotti. "In effect, it is more important than ever to pay attention to your sins."

    According to Roman Catholic doctrine, mortal sins are a "grave violation of God's law" and bring about "eternal death" if unrepented by the act of confession.

    They are far more serious than venial sins, which impede a soul's progress in the exercise of virtue and moral good.

  • Cardinal becomes star of YouTube
  • Papal guidance by text for Italian believers
  • Vatican 'tampered' with body of Padre Pio
  • Mgr Girotti said genetic modification, carrying out experiments on humans, polluting the environment, causing social injustice, causing poverty, becoming obscenely wealthy and taking drugs were all mortal sins.

    Original here

    NSA's Domestic Spying Grows As Agency Sweeps Up Data

    WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Five years ago, Congress killed an experimental Pentagon antiterrorism program meant to vacuum up electronic data about people in the U.S. to search for suspicious patterns. Opponents called it too broad an intrusion on Americans' privacy, even after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

    But the data-sifting effort didn't disappear. The National Security Agency, once confined to foreign surveillance, has been building essentially the same system.

    The central role the NSA has come to occupy in domestic intelligence gathering has never been publicly disclosed. But an inquiry reveals that its efforts have evolved to reach more broadly into data about people's communications, travel and finances in the U.S. than the domestic surveillance programs brought to light since the 2001 terrorist attacks.

    Congress now is hotly debating domestic spying powers under the main law governing U.S. surveillance aimed at foreign threats. An expansion of those powers expired last month and awaits renewal, which could be voted on in the House of Representatives this week. The biggest point of contention over the law, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, is whether telecommunications and other companies should be made immune from liability for assisting government surveillance.

    Largely missing from the public discussion is the role of the highly secretive NSA in analyzing that data, collected through little-known arrangements that can blur the lines between domestic and foreign intelligence gathering. Supporters say the NSA is serving as a key bulwark against foreign terrorists and that it would be reckless to constrain the agency's mission. The NSA says it is scrupulously following all applicable laws and that it keeps Congress fully informed of its activities.

    According to current and former intelligence officials, the spy agency now monitors huge volumes of records of domestic emails and Internet searches as well as bank transfers, credit-card transactions, travel and telephone records. The NSA receives this so-called "transactional" data from other agencies or private companies, and its sophisticated software programs analyze the various transactions for suspicious patterns. Then they spit out leads to be explored by counterterrorism programs across the U.S. government, such as the NSA's own Terrorist Surveillance Program, formed to intercept phone calls and emails between the U.S. and overseas without a judge's approval when a link to al Qaeda is suspected.

    The NSA's enterprise involves a cluster of powerful intelligence-gathering programs, all of which sparked civil-liberties complaints when they came to light. They include a Federal Bureau of Investigation program to track telecommunications data once known as Carnivore, now called the Digital Collection System, and a U.S. arrangement with the world's main international banking clearinghouse to track money movements.

    The effort also ties into data from an ad-hoc collection of so-called "black programs" whose existence is undisclosed, the current and former officials say. Many of the programs in various agencies began years before the 9/11 attacks but have since been given greater reach. Among them, current and former intelligence officials say, is a longstanding Treasury Department program to collect individual financial data including wire transfers and credit-card transactions.

    It isn't clear how many of the different kinds of data are combined and analyzed together in one database by the NSA. An intelligence official said the agency's work links to about a dozen antiterror programs in all.

    A number of NSA employees have expressed concerns that the agency may be overstepping its authority by veering into domestic surveillance. And the constitutional question of whether the government can examine such a large array of information without violating an individual's reasonable expectation of privacy "has never really been resolved," said Suzanne Spaulding, a national-security lawyer who has worked for both parties on Capitol Hill.

    NSA officials say the agency's own investigations remain focused only on foreign threats, but it's increasingly difficult to distinguish between domestic and international communications in a digital era, so they need to sweep up more information.

    The Fourth Amendment

    In response to the Sept. 11 attacks, then NSA-chief Gen. Michael Hayden has said he used his authority to expand the NSA's capabilities under a 1981 executive order governing the agency. Another presidential order issued shortly after the attacks, the text of which is classified, opened the door for the NSA to incorporate more domestic data in its searches, one senior intelligence official said.

    [Michael Hayden]

    The NSA "strictly follows laws and regulations designed to preserve every American's privacy rights under the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution," agency spokeswoman Judith Emmel said in a statement, referring to the protection against unreasonable searches and seizures. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which oversees the NSA in conjunction with the Pentagon, added in a statement that intelligence agencies operate "within an extensive legal and policy framework" and inform Congress of their activities "as required by the law." It pointed out that the 9/11 Commission recommended in 2004 that intelligence agencies analyze "all relevant sources of information" and share their databases.

    Two former officials familiar with the data-sifting efforts said they work by starting with some sort of lead, like a phone number or Internet address. In partnership with the FBI, the systems then can track all domestic and foreign transactions of people associated with that item -- and then the people who associated with them, and so on, casting a gradually wider net. An intelligence official described more of a rapid-response effect: If a person suspected of terrorist connections is believed to be in a U.S. city -- for instance, Detroit, a community with a high concentration of Muslim Americans -- the government's spy systems may be directed to collect and analyze all electronic communications into and out of the city.

    The haul can include records of phone calls, email headers and destinations, data on financial transactions and records of Internet browsing. The system also would collect information about other people, including those in the U.S., who communicated with people in Detroit.

    The information doesn't generally include the contents of conversations or emails. But it can give such transactional information as a cellphone's location, whom a person is calling, and what Web sites he or she is visiting. For an email, the data haul can include the identities of the sender and recipient and the subject line, but not the content of the message.

    Intelligence agencies have used administrative subpoenas issued by the FBI -- which don't need a judge's signature -- to collect and analyze such data, current and former intelligence officials said. If that data provided "reasonable suspicion" that a person, whether foreign or from the U.S., was linked to al Qaeda, intelligence officers could eavesdrop under the NSA's Terrorist Surveillance Program.

    The White House wants to give companies that assist government surveillance immunity from lawsuits alleging an invasion of privacy, but Democrats in Congress have been blocking it. The Terrorist Surveillance Program has spurred 38 lawsuits against companies. Current and former intelligence officials say telecom companies' concern comes chiefly because they are giving the government unlimited access to a copy of the flow of communications, through a network of switches at U.S. telecommunications hubs that duplicate all the data running through it. It isn't clear whether the government or telecom companies control the switches, but companies process some of the data for the NSA, the current and former officials say.

    On Friday, the House Energy and Commerce Committee released a letter warning colleagues to look more deeply into how telecommunications data are being accessed, citing an allegation by the head of a New York-based computer security firm that a wireless carrier that hired him was giving unfettered access to data to an entity called "Quantico Circuit." Quantico is a Marine base that houses the FBI Academy; senior FBI official Anthony DiClemente said the bureau "does not have 'unfettered access' to any communication provider's network."

    The political debate over the telecom information comes as intelligence agencies seek to change traditional definitions of how to balance privacy rights against investigative needs. Donald Kerr, the deputy director of national intelligence, told a conference of intelligence officials in October that the government needs new rules. Since many people routinely post details of their lives on social-networking sites such as MySpace, he said, their identity shouldn't need the same protection as in the past. Instead, only their "essential privacy," or "what they would wish to protect about their lives and affairs," should be veiled, he said, without providing examples.

    Social-Network Analysis

    The NSA uses its own high-powered version of social-network analysis to search for possible new patterns and links to terrorism. The Pentagon's experimental Total Information Awareness program, later renamed Terrorism Information Awareness, was an early research effort on the same concept, designed to bring together and analyze as much and as many varied kinds of data as possible. Congress eliminated funding for the program in 2003 before it began operating. But it permitted some of the research to continue and TIA technology to be used for foreign surveillance.

    Some of it was shifted to the NSA -- which also is funded by the Pentagon -- and put in the so-called black budget, where it would receive less scrutiny and bolster other data-sifting efforts, current and former intelligence officials said. "When it got taken apart, it didn't get thrown away," says a former top government official familiar with the TIA program.

    Two current officials also said the NSA's current combination of programs now largely mirrors the former TIA project. But the NSA offers less privacy protection. TIA developers researched ways to limit the use of the system for broad searches of individuals' data, such as requiring intelligence officers to get leads from other sources first. The NSA effort lacks those controls, as well as controls that it developed in the 1990s for an earlier data-sweeping attempt.

    Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat and member of the Senate Intelligence Committee who led the charge to kill TIA, says "the administration is trying to bring as much of the philosophy of operation Total Information Awareness as it can into the programs they're using today." The issue has been overshadowed by the fight over telecoms' immunity, he said. "There's not been as much discussion in the Congress as there ought to be."

    Opportunity for Debate

    But Sen. Kit Bond of Missouri, the ranking Republican on the committee, said by email his committee colleagues have had "ample opportunity for debate" behind closed doors and that each intelligence program has specific legal authorization and oversight. He cautioned against seeing a group of intelligence programs as "a mythical 'big brother' program," adding, "that's not what is happening today."

    The legality of data-sweeping relies largely on the government's interpretation of a 1979 Supreme Court ruling allowing records of phone calls -- but not actual conversations -- to be collected without a judge issuing a warrant. Multiple laws require a court order for so-called "transactional'" records of electronic communications, but the 2001 Patriot Act lowered the standard for such an order in some cases, and in others made records accessible using FBI administrative subpoenas called "national security letters." (Read the ruling.)

    A debate is brewing among legal and technology scholars over whether there should be privacy protections when a wide variety of transactional data are brought together to paint what is essentially a profile of an individual's behavior. "You know everything I'm doing, you know what happened, and you haven't listened to any of the contents" of the communications, said Susan Landau, co-author of a book on electronic privacy and a senior engineer at Sun Microsystems Laboratories. "Transactional information is remarkably revelatory."

    Ms. Spaulding, the national-security lawyer, said it's "extremely questionable" to assume Americans don't have a reasonable expectation of privacy for data such as the subject-header of an email or a Web address from an Internet search, because those are more like the content of a communication than a phone number. "These are questions that require discussion and debate," she said. "This is one of the problems with doing it all in secret."

    Gen. Hayden, the former NSA chief and now Central Intelligence Agency director, in January 2006 publicly defended the activities of the Terrorist Surveillance Program after it was disclosed by the New York Times. He said it was "not a driftnet over Lackawanna or Fremont or Dearborn, grabbing all communications and then sifting them out." Rather, he said, it was carefully targeted at terrorists. However, some intelligence officials now say the broader NSA effort amounts to a driftnet. A portion of the activity, the NSA's access to domestic phone records, was disclosed by a USA Today article in 2006.

    The NSA, which President Truman created in 1952 through a classified presidential order to be America's ears abroad, has for decades been the country's largest and most secretive intelligence agency. The order confined NSA spying to "foreign governments," and during the Cold War the NSA developed a reputation as the world's premier code-breaking operation. But in the 1970s, the NSA and other intelligence agencies were found to be using their spy tools to monitor Americans for political purposes. That led to the original FISA legislation in 1978, which included an explicit ban on the NSA eavesdropping in the U.S. without a warrant.

    Big advances in telecommunications and database technology led to unprecedented data-collection efforts in the 1990s. One was the FBI's Carnivore program, which raised fears when it was in disclosed in 2000 that it might collect telecommunications information about law-abiding individuals. But the ground shifted after 9/11. Requests for analysis of any data that might hint at terrorist activity flooded from the White House and other agencies into NSA's Fort Meade, Md., headquarters outside Washington, D.C., one former NSA official recalls. At the time, "We're scrambling, trying to find any piece of data we can to find the answers," the official said.

    The 2002 congressional inquiry into the 9/11 attacks criticized the NSA for holding back information, which NSA officials said they were doing to protect the privacy of U.S. citizens. "NSA did not want to be perceived as targeting individuals in the United States" and considered such surveillance the FBI's job, the inquiry concluded.

    FBI-NSA Projects

    The NSA quietly redefined its role. Joint FBI-NSA projects "expanded exponentially," said Jack Cloonan, a longtime FBI veteran who investigated al Qaeda. He pointed to national-security letter requests: They rose from 8,500 in 2000 to 47,000 in 2005, according to a Justice Department inspector general's report last year. It also said the letters permitted the potentially illegal collection of thousands of records of people in the U.S. from 2003-05. Last Wednesday, FBI Director Robert Mueller said the bureau had found additional instances in 2006.

    It isn't known how many Americans' data have been swept into the NSA's systems. The Treasury, for instance, built its database "to look at all the world's financial transactions" and gave the NSA access to it about 15 years ago, said a former NSA official. The data include domestic and international money flows between bank accounts and credit-card information, according to current and former intelligence officials.

    The NSA receives from Treasury weekly batches of this data and adds it to a database at its headquarters. Prior to 9/11, the database was used to pursue specific leads, but afterward, the effort was expanded to hunt for suspicious patterns.

    Through the Treasury, the NSA also can access the database of the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, or Swift, the Belgium-based clearinghouse for records of international transactions between financial institutions, current and former officials said. The U.S. acknowledged in 2006 that the CIA and Treasury had access to Swift's database, but said the NSA's Terrorism Surveillance Program was separate and that the NSA provided only "technical assistance." A Treasury spokesman said the agency had no comment.

    Through the Department of Homeland Security, airline passenger data also are accessed and analyzed for suspicious patterns, such as five unrelated people who repeatedly fly together, current and former intelligence officials said. Homeland Security shares information with other agencies only "on a limited basis," spokesman Russ Knocke said.

    NSA gets access to the flow of data from telecommunications switches through the FBI, according to current and former officials. It also has a partnership with FBI's Digital Collection system, providing access to Internet providers and other companies. The existence of a shadow hub to copy information about AT&T Corp. telecommunications in San Francisco is alleged in a lawsuit against AT&T filed by the civil-liberties group Electronic Frontier Foundation, based on documents provided by a former AT&T official. In that lawsuit, a former technology adviser to the Federal Communications Commission says in a sworn declaration that there could be 15 to 20 such operations around the country. Current and former intelligence officials confirmed a domestic network of hubs, but didn't know the number. "As a matter of policy and law, we can not discuss matters that are classified," said FBI spokesman John Miller.

    The budget for the NSA's data-sifting effort is classified, but one official estimated it surpasses $1 billion. The FBI is requesting to nearly double the budget for the Digital Collection System in 2009, compared with last year, requesting $42 million. "Not only do demands for information continue to increase, but also the requirement to facilitate information sharing does," says a budget justification document, noting an "expansion of electronic surveillance activity in frequency, sophistication, and linguistic needs."

    Write to Siobhan Gorman at

    Original here

    50 people looking for solar image of Mary lose sight

    THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: At least 50 people in Kottayam district have reportedly lost their vision after gazing at the sun looking for an image of Virgin Mary.

    Though alarmed health authorities have installed a signboard to counter the rumour that a solar image of Virgin Mary appeared to the believers, curious onlookers, including foreign travellers, have been thronging the venue of the ‘miracle’.

    St Joseph’s ENT and Eye Hospital in Kanjirappally alone has recorded 48 cases of vision loss due to photochemical burns on the retina. “All our patients have similar history and symptoms. The damage is to the macula, the most sensitive part of retina. They have developed photochemical, not thermal, burns after continuously gazing at the sun,” Dr Annamma James Isaac, the hospital’s ophthalmologist, said.

    The hospital has been receiving patients with these abnormal symptoms since Friday. When the doctors found a pattern in the case sheets, they reported it to the district medical officer.

    The health department has now put up a signboard at the hotelier’s house near Erumeli, where the divine image is said to have appeared, warning people against exposing their eyes to sunlight.

    Even the churches in the vicinity disowned the miracle during Sunday mass after health officers and doctors approached the clergy. The house in question has been the centre of local rumours for a few months. The hotelier, who has since moved to another house, had claimed that statues of Mother Mary in his house have been crying honey and bleeding oil and perfumes.

    Though people have been flocking to the “blessed land” - hastily christened Rosa Mystica Mountain - for long, the mad rush for the image in the sky began a week ago.

    There are quite a few people still seeking the miracle, despite the experiences of their unfortunate predecessors and strict health warnings against gazing at the sun with the naked eye.

    “The patients show varying degrees of severity. They are mostly girls in 12-26 age group. Our youngest patient is 12 and the oldest 60. Most of them were looking at the sun between 2 and 4 pm, when UV1 and UV2 rays are harshest,” Dr James Isaac said. He added that they could identify the problem as solar retinopathy because they were aware of the local sensation.

    “Most patients may hopefully improve their vision. But there may be long-term effects on the retina,” he added.

    Original here

    Guess Who's Getting the Most Work Visas

    Indian outsourcers top the list of companies bringing foreign workers to the U.S. on the H-1B program

    The controversy over visas for high-skilled workers from abroad looks like it's about to get even hotter.

    The program for what are known as H-1B visas was originally set up to allow companies in the U.S. to import the best and brightest in technology, engineering, and other fields when such workers are in short supply in America. But data just released by the federal government show that offshore outsourcing firms, particularly from India, dominate the list of companies awarded H-1B visas in 2007. Indian outsourcers accounted for nearly 80% of the visa petitions approved last year for the top 10 participants in the program. The new data are sure to fuel criticism of the visa program from detractors such as Senators Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.). "These numbers should send a red flag to every lawmaker that the H-1B visa program is not working as it was intended," said Grassley in an e-mail.


    Infosys Technologies (INFY) and Wipro (WIT), both based in Bangalore, top the list of visa beneficiaries in 2007, with 4,559 and 2,567 approved visa petitions, respectively, according to data from the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services. Each visa allows the companies to bring one worker to the U.S., where they have substantial operations providing tech support and other services to corporations, complementing services provided from India. Overall, six of the top 10 visa recipients in 2007 are based in India; two others among the top 10, Cognizant Technology Solutions (CTSH) and UST Global, are headquartered in the U.S. but have most of their operations in India.

    Microsoft (MSFT) and Intel (INTC) are the only two traditional U.S. tech companies among the top 10. Microsoft received 959 visa petition approvals, or one fifth as many as Infosys, while Intel got 369.

    Critics such as Grassley and Durbin charge that the outsourcers are abusing the U.S. program. The work visas, they say, are supposed to be used to bolster the U.S. economy. The idea is that companies like Microsoft, Google (GOOG), or IBM (IBM) can use them to hire software programmers or computer scientists with rare skills, fostering innovation and improving competitiveness. Instead, critics say, companies such as Infosys and Wipro are undermining the American economy by wiping out jobs. The companies bring low-cost workers to the U.S., train them in the offices of U.S. clients, and then rotate them back home after a year or two so they can provide tech support and other services from abroad. "Valuable high-tech jobs are on a one-way superhighway overseas," said Durbin in an e-mail.

    A clash is likely in the coming months. Durbin and Grassley are pushing for more restrictions in the program, even as tech companies are advocating for a sharp increase in the number of visas handed out each year. The senators want to tighten the program's criteria, by requiring participating companies to try to hire American workers first and to pledge that visa workers will not displace American workers. U.S. tech companies, meanwhile, want Congress to increase the visa cap from 65,000 a year to at least 115,000.

    The offshore outsourcers deny they're abusing the program. The visa program is open to any company with U.S. operations, no matter where its headquarters. More important, the outsourcers say they're helping U.S. companies stay competitive, allowing them to reduce costs and concentrate on their core competencies. "The Indian IT industry has helped improve the competitiveness of our customers in the U.S.," said Som Mittal, president of Nasscom, the trade group that represents the Indian companies. He added that Nasscom's members are "strong upholders" of regulations in client countries.

    Infosys and Wipro declined to respond to criticisms they are misusing the program. In the past, they've said the jobs they fill in the U.S. are higher skilled than those in India, involving sales and custom software development. Infosys has about 9,000 workers in the U.S., including 7,500 on H-1B visas. (It has 88,000 workers worldwide.)


    Tech companies say more visas are necessary so the U.S. can attract top talent. Bill Gates is scheduled to testify on Capitol Hill on Mar. 12 about how to keep the country competitive. He is expected to repeat the points he made a year ago in Congress, when he argued for more H-1Bs and green cards. "It makes no sense," he said, "to tell well-trained, highly skilled individuals—many of whom are educated at our top colleges and universities—that the U.S. does not welcome or value them."

    Differences are growing between the U.S. tech companies and the outsourcing outfits. U.S. companies often try to keep visa workers in the country and help them become American citizens, while the outsourcers typically employ visa workers in the U.S. on a temporary basis. Some American tech companies say they may support reforms in the visa program to crack down on any abuse. "If Congress decides the visas are being used in ways that don't benefit the economy, there should be additional enforcement provisions or measures," said Jack Krumholtz, Microsoft's chief lobbyist.

    Many U.S. workers oppose any expansion of the program. They say H-1Bs let companies hire cheap workers from abroad, rather than Americans. They say the timing for expansion couldn't be worse, with the economy faltering. "Foreign workers are coming into the U.S., even though Americans need jobs," says Kim Berry, president of the worker advocacy group Programmers Guild. "It turns the intent of the H-1B program upside down."

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