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dkf

dkf's Journal
dkf's Journal
February 24, 2013

Bloomberg's soda ban prohibits 2-liter bottles with your pizza and some nightclub mixers

Say goodbye to that 2-liter bottle of Coke with your pizza delivery, pitchers of soft drinks at your kid’s birthday party and some bottle-service mixers at your favorite nightclub.

They’d violate Mayor Bloomberg’s new rules, which prohibit eateries from serving or selling sugary drinks in containers larger than 16 ounces.



Typically, a pizzeria charges $3 for a 2-liter bottle of Coke. But under the ban, customers would have to buy six 12-ounce cans at a total cost of $7.50 to get an equivalent amount of soda.


Families will get pinched at kid-friendly party places, which will have to chuck their plastic pitchers because most hold 60 ounces — even though such containers are clearly intended for more than one person.

http://www.nypost.com/p/news/local/soda_ban_to_sap_your_4t5pEK0hvo3PoNZEBOdZ2L

February 24, 2013

The social security trust fund enables full payment of benefits...

Even though payroll taxes no longer provide enough for the benefit payments.

This was the reason it was overfunded, so that when this day came we could continue these payments without having congress having to annually argue if the shortfall should be funded or not.

This is the same reason some politicians want to delay the depletion of the fund by looking at things like chained CPI.

So while you may think there is no benefit, if you intend to be collecting past 2033, you just may have an interest in keeping the fund going for as long as possible delaying a projected 25% decrease in payments.

February 24, 2013

In Syria, new influx of weapons to rebels tilts the battle against Assad

ANTAKYA, Turkey — A surge of rebel advances in Syria is being fueled at least in part by an influx of heavy weaponry in a renewed effort by outside powers to arm moderates in the Free Syrian Army, according to Arab and rebel officials.

The new armaments, including anti-tank weapons and recoilless rifles, have been sent across the Jordanian border into the province of Daraa in recent weeks to counter the growing influence of Islamist extremist groups in the north of Syria by boosting more moderate groups fighting in the south, the officials say.

The arms are the first heavy weapons known to have been supplied by outside powers to the rebels battling to topple President Bashar al-Assad and his family’s four-decade-old regime since the Syrian uprising began two years ago.

The officials declined to identify the source of the newly provided weapons, but they noted that the countries most closely involved in supporting the rebels’ campaign to oust Assad have grown increasingly alarmed at the soaring influence of Islamists over the fragmented rebel movement. They include the United States and its major European allies, along with Turkey and the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the two countries most directly involved in supplying the rebels. Security officials from those nations have formed a security coordination committee that consults regularly on events in Syria, they said.

Although the Obama administration continues to refuse to directly arm the rebels, the administration has provided intelligence assistance to those who are involved in the supplies, and it also helps vet opposition forces. U.S. officials declined to comment on the new armaments.

http://m.washingtonpost.com/world/in-syria-new-influx-of-weapons-to-rebels-tilts-the-battle-against-assad/2013/02/23/a6bf2bc0-7dfb-11e2-9073-e9dda4ac6a66_story.html

February 23, 2013

Some gunmakers say they won't sell to N.Y. police

ALBANY, N.Y. -- Some gun manufacturers say they will no longer sell their firearms to New York law enforcement agencies after the state passed a broad assault-weapons ban last month.

At least five companies have said they won't sell to New York police since Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the Safe Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act in January. The bill, known as the NY SAFE Act, included a ban on any semi-automatic rifles or shotguns with "military-style" features, such as a pistol grip or a folding stock.

Olympic Arms, a Washington-based company that specializes in the making of AR-15s, a semi-automatic rifle affected by the state's new gun laws, is one of those that says it won't sell to New York police.

"Olympic Arms will no longer be doing business with the State of New York or any governmental entity or employee of such governmental entity within the State of New York" until the law is repealed, the company wrote in a news release last week.

http://m.usatoday.com/article/news/1931283

February 22, 2013

Companies are dropping health coverage for spouses to cut costs

By denying coverage to spouses, employers not only save the annual premiums, but also the new fees that went into effect as part of the Affordable Care Act. This year, companies have to pay $1 or $2 “per life” covered on their plans, a sum that jumps to $65 in 2014. And health law guidelines proposed recently mandate coverage of employees’ dependent children (up to age 26), but husbands and wives are optional. “The question about whether it’s obligatory to cover the family of the employee is being thought through more than ever before,” says Helen Darling, president of the National Business Group on Health. See: When your boss doesn’t trust your doctor.

While surcharges for spousal coverage are more common, last year, 6% of large employers excluded spouses, up from 5% in 2010, as did 4% of huge companies with at least 20,000 employees, twice as many as in 2010, according to human resources firm Mercer. These “spousal carve-outs,” or “working spouse provisions,” generally prohibit only people who could get coverage through their own job from enrolling in their spouse’s plan.

Such exclusions barely existed three years ago, but experts expect an increasing number of employers to adopt them: “That’s the next step,” Darling says. HMS, a company that audits plans for employers, estimates that nearly a third of companies might have such policies now. Holdouts say they feel under pressure to follow suit. “We’re the last domino,” says Duke Bennett, mayor of Terre Haute, Ind., which is instituting a spousal carve-out for the city’s health plan, effective July 2013, after nearly all major employers in the area dropped spouses.

But when employers drop spouses, they often lose more than just the one individual, when couples choose instead to seek coverage together under the other partner’s employer. Terre Haute, which pays $6 million annually to insure nearly 1,200 people including employees and their family members, received more than 20 new plan members when a local university, bank and county government stopped insuring spouses, according to Bennett. “We have a great plan, so they want to be on ours. All we’re trying to do is level the playing field here,” he says.

http://www.marketwatch.com/story/why-your-boss-is-dumping-your-wife-2013-02-22

February 22, 2013

US dispatches 100 troops to Niger to support French campaign in Mali

President Obama told Congress on Friday he had dispatched 40 more American troops to Niger this week, bringing the total U.S. military presence in the west African country to 100.

The troops have been deployed to support the intervention in neighboring Mali, where French troops have been helping local forces rout Islamist militants from the country's north since last month.

The Obama administration is also planning to build a base in Niger for unarmed Predator drones to conduct surveillance on militants in the region, The New York Times reported last month.

On Wednesday, “the last elements of a deployment of approximately 40 additional U.S. military personnel entered Niger with the consent of the Government of Niger,” Obama wrote to the House and Senate leaders.


Read more: http://thehill.com/blogs/global-affairs/terrorism/284351-obama-says-us-has-sent-100-troops-to-niger-in-support-of-mali-intervention#ixzz2LejMPduW

February 22, 2013

The Geography of Defense Cuts (D's get hit harder than R's)

The GOP is fighting to spare the Pentagon from $500 billion in cuts. Yet the across-the-board reductions will probably hit Democrats harder than Republicans. A look at the 20 districts that receive the most in defense contracts.


http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2013-02-21/the-geography-of-defense-cuts

Why Democrats Should Fear Budget Sequester Cuts

While both parties are beginning to position themselves for the showdown over the $1.2 trillion in automatic “sequestration” cuts that take effect on March 1, Democrats are generally seen as having the advantage. The programs they’re most concerned about (Medicare, Medicaid, nutrition assistance) are, for the most part, spared the budget axe. The same is not true for Republicans. Sequestration makes deep cuts to the military budget, a source of intensifying concern for conservatives, who have already begun fighting amongst themselves over how to respond. The emerging view among Washington insiders is that the sequester will probably not be averted before March 1, but that Republicans will probably make concessions as the cuts begin to bite.

But a new study out Thursday morning from Bloomberg Government (subscription only) does quite a bit to upend that logic. The study shows that Democratic congressional districts will be harder hit by the military cuts than Republican ones, and that eight of the top 10 districts that will experience the deepest cuts are represented by Democrats. Robert Levinson, the Bloomberg Government defense analyst who conducted the study, found that “Democrats won 47 percent of the seats in the House of Representatives in the 2012 election, but 58 percent of the military’s fiscal 2012 prime contract spending went to companies performing work in those districts.” Among the top districts, military spending in those represented by Democrats averaged $893 million this year, vs. $573 million in those represented by Republicans.

Which districts will experience the most pain? Topping the list is Missouri’s first district, which is represented by Democrat William Lacy Clay and received $11.4 billion in “prime defense contract dollars.” Interestingly, Clay may not have to worry. Much of the defense work in his district is done by Boeing (BA) for the Saudi government and therefore won’t get cut. Democratic Representative James Moran, on the other hand, is probably concerned about the $11.3 billion sent to Virginia’s eighth district. Rounding out the top three is Republican Representative Kay Granger, whose Texas 12th district received $9.8 billion last year. Representative Morris Brooks of Alabama’s fifth district is the only other Republican in the top 10, with $5.9 billion in contracts headed his way.

http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2013-02-21/the-geography-of-defense-cuts

February 21, 2013

Dental health on decline for Chicago's needy

As more than 30,000 dental experts descend on McCormick Place for their winter meeting this week, a new report issues a stark warning: The Chicago area's dental safety net — the oral care it provides to underserved patients — "is in the midst of collapse."

From 2006 to 2011, more than a quarter of the region's low-cost dental clinics were shut, according to a 30-page white paper released Thursday by the Chicago Dental Society. The report details how the local availability of dental treatment has declined for the neediest patients, leading to what one dentist calls a "perfect storm of an oral health crisis."

They have "almost nowhere to go" at this point, said Dr. Susan Becker Doroshow, secretary of the dental society. "The path for them is already irreversible."

Most factors cited in the report could apply to any municipality — strained budgets, fundamental misconceptions about oral care and shrinking income thanks to stubborn unemployment. But the dental safety net in Cook County and Chicago is especially vulnerable, according to oral health advocates.

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/ct-met-chicago-dental-care-0221-20130221,0,7789444.story?track=rss

February 21, 2013

Bitter Pill: Why Medical Bills Are Killing Us

1. Routine Care, Unforgettable Bills
When Sean Recchi, a 42-year-old from Lancaster, Ohio, was told last March that he had non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, his wife Stephanie knew she had to get him to MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. Stephanie’s father had been treated there 10 years earlier, and she and her family credited the doctors and nurses at MD Anderson with extending his life by at least eight years.

Because Stephanie and her husband had recently started their own small technology business, they were unable to buy comprehensive health insurance. For $469 a month, or about 20% of their income, they had been able to get only a policy that covered just $2,000 per day of any hospital costs. “We don’t take that kind of discount insurance,” said the woman at MD Anderson when Stephanie called to make an appointment for Sean.

Stephanie was then told by a billing clerk that the estimated cost of Sean’s visit — just to be examined for six days so a treatment plan could be devised — would be $48,900, due in advance. Stephanie got her mother to write her a check. “You do anything you can in a situation like that,” she says. The Recchis flew to Houston, leaving Stephanie’s mother to care for their two teenage children.

About a week later, Stephanie had to ask her mother for $35,000 more so Sean could begin the treatment the doctors had decided was urgent. His condition had worsened rapidly since he had arrived in Houston. He was “sweating and shaking with chills and pains,” Stephanie recalls. “He had a large mass in his chest that was … growing. He was panicked.”

http://healthland.time.com/2013/02/20/bitter-pill-why-medical-bills-are-killing-us/

February 18, 2013

FINRA investor alert: Duration—What an Interest Rate Hike Could Do to Your Bond Portfolio

http://www.finra.org/Investors/ProtectYourself/InvestorAlerts/Bonds/P204318

If you own bonds or have money in a bond fund, there is a number you should know. It is called duration. Although stated in years, duration is not simply a measure of time. Instead, duration signals how much the price of your bond investment is likely to fluctuate when there is an up or down movement in interest rates. The higher the duration number, the more sensitive your bond investment will be to changes in interest rates.

Currently, interest rates are hovering near historic lows. Many economists believe that interest rates are not likely to get much lower and will eventually rise. If that is true, then outstanding bonds, particularly those with a low interest rate and high duration may experience significant price drops as interest rates rise along the way. If you have money in a bond fund that holds primarily long-term bonds, expect the value of that fund to decline, perhaps significantly, when interest rates rise.

How Duration Risk Affects Price

Many factors impact bond prices, one of which is interest rates. A maxim of bond investing is that when interest rates rise, bond prices fall, and vice versa. This is known as interest rate risk. But just as some people’s skin is more sensitive to sun than others, some bonds are more sensitive to interest rate changes than others. Duration risk is the name economists give to the risk associated with the sensitivity of a bond’s price to a one percent change in interest rates.

The higher a bond’s duration, the greater its sensitivity to interest rates changes. This means fluctuations in price, whether positive or negative, will be more pronounced. If you hold a bond to maturity, you can expect to receive the par (or face) value of the bond when your principal is repaid, unless the company goes bankrupt or otherwise fails to pay. If you sell before maturity, the price you receive will be affected by the prevailing interest rates and duration. For instance, if interest rates were to rise by two percent from today’s low levels, a medium investment grade corporate bond (BBB, Baa rated or similar) with a duration of 8.4 (10-year maturity, 3.5 percent coupon) could lose 15 percent of its market value. A similar investment grade bond with a duration of 14.5 (30-year maturity, 4.5 percent coupon) might experience a loss in value of 26 percent.1 The higher level of loss for the longer-term bond happens because its duration number is higher, making it react more dramatically to interest rate changes.

Duration has the same effect on bond funds. For example, a bond fund with 10-year duration will decrease in value by 10 percent if interest rates rise one percent. On the other hand, the bond fund will increase in value by 10 percent if interest rates fall one percent. If a fund’s duration is two years, then a one percent rise in interest rates will result in a two percent decline in the bond fund’s value. A two percent increase in the bond’s fund value would follow if interest rates fall by one percent.

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