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The headlines out of France the past 36 hours are downright horrific, as are the amateur videos posted online.
Three terrorist attackers shot their way into the offices of French satire magazine Charlie Hebdo. They gunned down 12 editors, cartoonists, and police officers in cold blood, praising Allah in the process. Then they fled as quickly as they arrived, leaving a nation in a state of shock and mourning.
One suspect has reportedly turned himself in — 18-year-old Hamyd Mourad. But two other suspects, brothers Cherif Houachi, 32, and Said Kouachi, 34, remain at large. More recent reports say yet another police officer was shot and killed in a Paris suburb, raising tensions further.
Still other reports say Cherif was a known terrorist, convicted in 2008 for terrorism charges that resulted in an 18-month prison sentence. At least one witness said the attackers claimed they represented Al-Qaeda in Yemen.
|The number of “soft targets” around the U.S. is huge.|
Naturally this is a fast-moving, fluid situation with updates pouring in hour-by-hour. But stepping back from the immediate headlines, the bigger issue is “Who’s next?”
We’ve already seen a host of large-scale and small-scale terrorist attacks throughout Europe in the past several years. They include the 2004 train bombing in Spain and 2005 subway bombing in London, and the 2013 and 2014 stabbing and shooting incidents in the U.K. and Belgium.
I don’t think we’ve seen the last of those kinds of smaller attacks in Europe, even as I hope the larger plots will be harder to pull off. And here in the U.S., you can’t help but worry about the possibility of homegrown attacks.
Guns aren’t hard to come by. The number of “soft targets” around the U.S. is huge. And more overseas groups like ISIS are urging their followers around the world to attack at home rather than try to travel to the Middle East.
Could something like the December hostage crisis that resulted in two civilian deaths in Sydney, Australia happen in New York? Or Los Angeles? Or in any other major city or on a U.S. military base?
You bet! Heck, the FBI and Department of Homeland Security warned soldiers just last month to watch out for domestic threats inspired or guided by ISIS members overseas.
|“Be vigilant and be wary — whether traveling or at home.”|
The lesson for all of us? Be vigilant and be wary — whether traveling or at home. Report suspicious activity and review some of the tips available on the DHS website if you haven’t already.
What else would you recommend? Any tips you can share with your fellow Americans, or foreign readers if you live abroad? Do you think we’ll see more terrorist attacks in Europe — or here in the U.S.? Or do you have faith in our counterterrorism efforts, and our ability to stop both small-scale and large-scale attacks?
Finally, have you modified your travel arrangements — or are you planning to do so — in light of the French attack? Let me know at the Money and Markets website as soon as you can.
|Our Readers Speak|
Health care continues to be a hot topic, in light of the many personal challenges you’re all facing with your bills and premiums. One example would be the comments from Reader Steve.
He said his Blue Cross/Blue Shield, self-employed individual plan gradually got more expensive — 10 percent more when he turned 55 and another 12 percent when he turned 60. He later switched to a higher-deductible, higher-out-of-pocket plan to save money, and his premiums dropped 54 percent as a trade off. But then, things took a turn for the worse, as he noted at the website:
“In October 2013, I got notice that the policy would be cancelled and replaced with a compliant Obamacare policy. One that offered me mental health coverage and prenatal and ob/gyn care. I’m nearly 65. My new premium went up 24 percent. I guess I should be thankful compared to some of your readers.”
So what’s the solution? That’s one of the most vexing questions, and many of you weighed in with your own proposals.
Reader Carl said: “A multi-tier plan, where the State provides the bottom ‘safety net,’ might work. However, I’d want a national understanding of what that bottom tier is before creating it.
“I’d support all the cost-effective care at the bottom tier — basic preventative care, common pregnancy/infant care, antibiotics, broken bones, etc. Definitely not cutting-edge medicine, geriatrics, aids, cancer treatments — high dollar, usually later in life stuff.”
Reader Bob W. weighed in on a primary reason for excessive costs — fear of lawsuits. His suggestion was to require plaintiffs in medical malpractice lawsuits to pay defendants’ costs if they lose, much like it works the other way around. He also favors tort reform that would limit malpractice payouts awards, saying:
“It is time that we address the real problems versus the symptoms associated with rising health care costs. Much, if not most, of current medical cost is driven by doctors and hospitals practicing defensive medicine — that is doing unnecessary tests to protect against malpractice law suits.”
Finally, a couple of our readers who live outside of the U.S. shared their experience with their local healthcare systems. With regards to Canada, Reader Annabelle H. said:
“Many people like to bash the Canadian system, but in my experience as a part-time resident (I am a U.S. citizen) in B.C., health care there works just fine. Paying for some things such as blood tests and mammograms outright has been cheaper in many instances than U.S. prices WITH coverage. If you have an emergency, you WILL go to the head of the line. I have availed myself of care there for 15 years and know whereof I speak.”
Reader Michael O’H. weighed in from Down Under, saying: “While Australia’s health system may or may not compare with that of the USA, most Australians think that is at least ‘fair.’ Fair in that anyone with a health issue can get help when they need it. Fair in that those who want their own doctor or room or fast treatment have the option of paying for health insurance to obtain that queue-jump. Basic healthcare though, is taken as a ‘given’ by people who live here.
“While arguments can be made about inefficiency (as well as spurious sound-bite calls of ‘Socialism!’), a basic universal health-care system such as Australia’s, based on a low-level of national tax, does at least ensure that the most vulnerable will still receive treatment when they need it.”
Thanks again for the comments, particularly on potential solutions and differing health care systems overseas. As I said yesterday, health care costs are a major force holding back the domestic economic recovery — and preventing employers from being more free-wheeling with raises and hiring. Tackle the health care conundrum and we’ll have stronger consumer spending, stronger wage growth, and more robust GDP expansion very soon!
|Other Developments of the Day|
We’ll get the Labor Department’s monthly jobs report for December tomorrow. In the meantime, we learned that initial jobless claims fell 4,000 to 294,000 in most recent week. That’s a relatively healthy reading, but still above the 14-year low of 266,000 that we hit in October.
I’ve been bearish on the euro for what seems like forever — and for a lot of percentage points! More recently, I said the currency’s move may be getting too extended in the short term. But over the long term, could it be headed to parity against the buck?
That’s what ING Groep NV just said. The bank’s forecasters believe Euro-QE and the expanding money supply that comes with it — coupled with U.S. interest rate hikes — will drive even more capital out of the euro-region and toward the U.S.
How will “Big Oil” cope with lower energy prices? Will firms cut capital investment, cut dividend payouts, or just keep borrowing more money to cope with reduced cash flow? That’s a topic the Wall Street Journal tackled today.
The latest meeting minutes from the Federal Reserve were released late yesterday. They showed that policymakers were relatively sanguine about the domestic economic situation, even as they worried that international weakness could be “an important source of downside risks.” Naturally, the Fed added that the wondrous QE “solution” it unleashed here is just what the Doctor (Frankenstein) should order up for Europe!
Ready to comment on these or other stories of the day? Then head over to the website and get started!
Until next time,