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Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction Act of 2018 H.R. 7213 – Sponsored by Rep. Daniel Donovan (R-NY), this bill amends the Homeland Security Act of 2002 to establish a Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction office as part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). All personnel, budget authority and assets of the DHS Domestic Nuclear Detection Office and the Office of Health Affairs will be transferred to this new office. Its function will be to coordinate DHS strategy and policy to plan, detect and protect against the importation, possession, storage, transportation, development or use of unauthorized chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear materials, devices or agents. This new office also will have a Chief Medical Officer to advise DHS on medical and public health issues. The bill was introduced on Dec. 3, 2018, and signed into the law by the president on Dec. 21, 2018.

FIRST Step Act (S. 756) – This legislation is designed to prepare former prisoners to re-enter their communities as responsible citizens by allowing them to serve the final days of their sentences in halfway houses or home confinement. The Department of Justice (DOJ) is authorized to develop a risk and needs assessment system to offer each prisoner individualized, evidence-based recidivism reduction plans. The program will include vocational training, educational support, substance abuse treatment, mental health care, anger management courses, faith-based initiatives and other resources to reduce the chance that men and women re-offend. This bill also requires that prisoners be placed in facilities located nearer their families; that female inmates have access to personal products as needed; and that individuals leaving custody receive identification documents to help them get a job. The bill was sponsored by Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK). It was introduced on March 29, 2017, and signed into law by the president on Dec. 21, 2018.

Nicaraguan Investment Conditionality Act (NICA) of 2017 (H.R. 1918) – This bill was introduced by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) on April 5, 2017, and signed into law on Dec. 20, 2018. It requires the president to oppose certain loans by international financial institutions that would benefit the government of Nicaragua until he can certify that the government of that country is taking effective steps to combat corruption and promote democracy, free speech, civil society and rule of law.

21st Century IDEA (H.R. 5759) – The purpose of this bill is to improve executive agency digital services. It ensures that any new or redesigned website, web-based form, application or digital service has a consistent appearance; does not overlap with or duplicate any existing websites; and is accessible to individuals with disabilities. It also mandates that executive agency websites be regularly reviewed, consolidated and eliminated, as needed.

Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (H.R. 2) – Also known as the Farm Bill, this legislation was introduced on May 10, 2018, by Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA). It amends and extends major programs for income support, food and nutrition, land conservation, trade promotion, rural development, research, forestry, horticulture and other programs administered by the Department of Agriculture (USDA) for five years through 2023. Among its provisions, the bill makes changes to the eligibility requirements for individuals participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), including expanding the population that is subject to work requirements. The legislation, which is budget neutral and $112 billion below baseline funding, was signed into law by the president on Dec. 20, 2018.

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According to a study by Cornell University, the human brain is wired to earn money more so than save it. As such, when we find we need more money in our lives, our instinct is to earn more and not spend less. In fact, this instinct tends to grow over time, and is one reason why people tend to spend more money when they receive a salary increase rather than save it.

However, researchers believe that by being cognizant of this fact, we can take proactive measures to develop effective savings habits. One way to do this is by using new technology to make saving easier. The following are a few high-tech examples.

  • Set up your bank account to make automatic transfers between your checking and savings account on a regular basis. When you are able to reduce or eliminate a regular expense, set up an automated transferal of that fixed amount. For example, if you start taking your lunch to work each day for savings of $50 a week, automatically transfer $50 each week from your checking to your savings account. That $200 a month in savings can build up quickly.
  • Go online to shop for a savings account at an internet bank. These virtual companies generally offer a higher interest rate on savings accounts since they have lower overhead expenses than a brick and mortar bank. This one move can help your savings compound faster.
  • Download an app designed to help manage your spending habits and automatically transfer money to a savings account every time you make a significant savings decision (like buy a washing machine for $50 less than the one you were considering). Consider popular apps such as Digit, Clarity Money or Saver Life.
  • Consider using an app that helps you delve into the world of investing with small sums of money. These apps offer information and tips to help you understand the basics of investing and make it easy to set up automatic transfers to an investment account. Consider popular apps such as Stash or Acorns.
  • Delete any credit card numbers you have stored at your favorite online stores or on your browser. While saved information is convenient, it is more likely to encourage impulse buying. The longer it takes to input your payment information for each purchase, the more time you have to consider whether or not you really need to buy that item.
  • Unplug your computers, televisions and cable boxes when you’re not using them, as they use energy even when they are turned off. One easy way to do this is to use grounded power strips to turn off several electronics at once.
  • Purchase and install a timer device that automatically adjusts your home’s thermostat. ENERGY STAR reports that reducing the thermostat by 7 degrees to 10 degrees, eight hours a day, can reduce heating and cooling costs by as much as 10 percent a year.
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New Year’s resolutions usually involve stopping things like eating, drinking and spending too much – and so on. You know the drill. However, according to U.S. News & World Report, 80 percent of New Year’s resolutions fail by the second week in February. Why not switch things up this year? Instead of setting yourself up for disappointment by attempting to abolish negative behavior, why not start doing some positive things? You’ll improve your quality of life and maybe even help the world. Here are few ideas to kick things off.

Start Recycling

This is so easy and so doable. All you have to do is get an extra trash can and throw your plastic and aluminum cans into it. Then look up where your local recycling drop-off point is and enter it into your GPS. Put it on your to do list, swing by on the way to or from the grocery store and boom, you’re done.

Start Taking Regular Tech Fasts

You can start with social media. According to a study funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), people who used social media the most were about 2.7 times more likely to be depressed than participants who used social media the least. Not taking your phone to the dinner table and limiting the amount of television you watch are good ideas. You can clear your headspace of the drama and pain that’s going on in the world and focus on your loved ones and most important, your own mental, spiritual and emotional health.

Start Learning a New Language

In addition to expanding your world perspective and understanding another culture, there are other incredible benefits of learning a new language. These include improving decision-making skills, memory and multitasking skills, as well as increasing your attention span and cultural sensitivity.

Start Laughing More

In addition to providing instant joy and changing your mood, laughter also has some very real health benefits. First, it boosts the immune system, decreases stress hormones and increases immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies, which improve your resistance to disease. Second, it triggers the release of endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals that provide an overall sense of well-being and can even temporarily relieve pain. Third, laughter protects the heart, improves the function of blood vessels and increases blood flow, which can help protect you against having a heart attack and other cardiovascular problems. Finally, laughter burns calories, diffuses anger and, according to a study in Norway, just might help you live longer. Clearly, laughter is the best medicine.

Start Focusing on What You Have

In a world dominated by social media, celebrity worship and materialism, it’s easy to zero in on what you don’t have and focus on scarcity. Instead, start noticing, appreciating and celebrating what’s currently in your life. If you need to, make a gratitude list and review it when that ache of lacking rears its ugly head. Your spirit will be refreshed and you just might realize that you have more than enough.

These are just a few of the many good things you can start doing in 2019. Keep your ears and eyes open for other opportunities to build on the positive and cherish the life you’ve been given.



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One of the reasons investing is tricky is because it involves so many factors that we cannot control. One factor is the specific investment itself. In the case of a stock, the share price relies on company management and leadership; manufacturing, marketing and distribution; and balancing expenses with revenues. Another factor is investor and market sentiment, which can change on a dime based on economic uncertainty, the day’s news or a presidential tweet.

Then there’s a third component, which encompasses broader economic events and how they impact investment market fundamentals and the business life cycle. One way we monitor the economy and try to predict market cycles is through economic indicators. These are trackable data points that economists use to get an idea of the direction of specific aspects of the economy.

The following is an overview of regular economic indicators considered reflective of the current economy and indicative of future activity.

Gross Domestic Product (GDP)

GDP measures the total monetary value of all finished goods and services produced in the United States over a specified time period. Economists believe it is the most accurate measure of a country’s overall health.

Price Indexes

There are several types of price indexes, which are basically a way of tracking prices – and thus cost increases and decreases – in order to measure inflation. The most popular measure is the Consumer Price Index (CPI). It is published monthly and tracks the prices of a “basket” of many of the most common goods and services that urban consumers buy, including food, transportation, clothing and medical care.

The Producer Price Index is used to help monitor data from a commercial (wholesale) perspective. It tracks product price changes from a cross-section of sectors in the U.S. economy and is published on a monthly basis.

Jobless Claims Report

The jobless report tracks the number of workers who file for unemployment benefits, which tend to increase when the economy slows. The report does not track self-employment, contract or part-time employees (none of who qualify for unemployment benefits). It is published weekly but typically evaluated as a four-week moving average to account for short-term variances.

Housing Starts

The New Residential Housing Construction Report tracks the number of new building permits issued, which indicates increases or decreases in new construction activity. For reference, new construction usually picks up during the early expansion phase of the business cycle. This housing report generally refers to supply, while the Existing Home Sales Report, compiled by the National Association of Realtors, reflects the current demand for home sales. When viewed together, they offer a balanced assessment of the housing sector.

Consumer Confidence

Because consumer perspective can influence market fundamentals, economists track what is called a Consumer Confidence Index (CCI) that measures the general outlook of the American population. The CCI monitors a sample of 5,000 U.S. households with regard to consumer spending, which represents 70 percent of the economy. A rise in consumer confidence is typically viewed as a positive indicator for strong economic growth.

Purchasing Managers

The Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) gauges the confidence level of businesses, based on their spending patterns with regard to new orders, inventory levels, production, supplier deliveries and employment. The PMI is comprised of a sample of 300 purchasing executives in the manufacturing sector. For reference, an increase in new orders typically indicates a rise in prices, while a decrease points to a drop in prices. This indicator is generally used to anticipate GDP growth.

There are dozens of key economic indicators that signal changes in the direction of the economy. These regular reports help investors, market analysts and wealth managers make day-to-day buy and sell investment decisions.

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According to a press release issued by the United States Trade Representative (USTR) in the middle of September, tariffs of 10 percent on $200 billion of imported Chinese goods went into effect on Sept. 24, 2018. The same tariffs, according to the press release, were set to increase to 25 percent on the same $200 billion in Chinese imports on Jan. 1, 2019.   

However, after talks between the leaders of the United States and China during G20 meetings in Buenos Aires, Argentina, the United States agreed to freeze tariffs at the 10 percent rate for 90 days starting Dec. 1, 2018. If the negotiations don’t lead to long-term settlements, the tariffs will increase to 25 percent on March 1, 2019, according to a White House statement. With this recent announcement, how will markets react in the first quarter of 2019 and beyond?

Along with the negotiations, there seems to be thawing in the icy relations developed during the trade spat. The White House statement also stated that China agreed to buy a substantial variety of American goods, including agricultural products, industrial goods and energy in order to lower the trade deficit America has with China.

The talks during the 90-day negotiations also will address issues raised by the current U.S. Administration, such as China respecting American intellectual property, how to reduce tariffs on both sides, and remediating Chinese cyber-espionage.

Looking at Current Global Economics

According to the Council on Foreign Relations, American exports to China dropped 20 percent since June 2018. However, imports into the United States have increased. As of October 2018 – the first month to reflect the impact of Trump’s 10 percent tariffs, U.S. imports from China were reduced by about $5 billion on an annualized basis..

Per data from the Council on Foreign Relations, non-US imports into China have increased by 18 percent. This is particularly notable because for the 24 months leading up to July 2018, China imported about 22 percent of America’s oil exports, while present Chinese imports of U.S. oil is negligible.

Despite China’s promises to restart importing U.S. oil, Russia is already seeing an increase in exports to China and future opportunities for the former Soviet Union to export one of its well-known commodities are quite favorable.

U.S. trade data from October 2018 showed that there’s more oil production, reducing its deficit in oil production, while there’s an increase in the trade deficit ex-petroleum goods trade. The services surplus has essentially been constant. Brad Setser, a former staff economist at the United States Department of the Treasury, explains that beginning in 2014, imports into the United States have increased by 100 percent because the U.S. dollar has increased in value. Based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau and Haver Analytics, for every two dollars of imports, the United States manufactures one dollar’s worth of goods, not including refined petroleum.

With Americans relying on increased imports and a lack of domestic manufacturing infrastructure, if tariffs move from 10 percent to 25 percent at the end of the 90-day freeze, consumer spending is expected to drop – and this will weigh on the economy going forward.

When it comes to Chinese imports, Setser points out that semiconductors, crude oil and petroleum-related products make up approximately 25 percent of its total imports. With oil prices averaging about $50 per barrel, coupled with the potential for Russia to increase its crude oil exports to China, there’s a question of how much China will need to rely on American petroleum exports during and after the 90-day tariff freeze negotiations.

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When it comes to liability insurance, the saying “you can never be too prepared” is quite meaningful. While business owners cannot predict what happens day to day or year to year, they can look into having business liability as way to give themselves peace of mind. The first step is to understand why it’s so important.

The Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association reports that more than one in two home-based business owners lack necessary insurance. Furthermore, the Independent Insurance Agents of America (IIAA) found that 4 of 10 respondents do not have enough coverage because they believe their homeowners policy covers commercial liability. As you can see, education on this matter is essential. Here are descriptions of several different types of liability insurance from the U.S. Small Business Administration.

General Liability

One of the most common types of liability insurance for businesses is general liability. If the business is a grocery store or restaurant, general liability usually covers customers looking to have their doctor and hospital bills, damaged property or lost wages paid for because they claim they were somehow affected in the course of business operations. General liability also can protect businesses against claims if a third party believes their reputation has been tarnished by written or spoken materials from the company.  

Product Liability Insurance

Whether a business makes a product, is a wholesaler, a distributor or sells the product directly to customers, product liability insurance protects a business against monetary losses if said product is defective and harms the user. Examples of a defective product is if there’s a chain cracked on a swing or there’s an over-the-counter medication with a harmful ingredient and the defective product is determined to have caused the harm.

Professional Liability Insurance

This type of insurance, also known as errors and omissions, protects business owners who provide professional advice or services if they make a mistake or unintended omission in the course of delivery of said services. Examples of this can include a radiologist or one of their subordinates failing to deliver and communicate results of initial and final reports, especially if a medical condition diagnosis has been changed to indicate a more serious problem, and that failure to fully communicate all information leads to preventable medical problems for the patient.

Other examples can include engineers miscalculating combinations of traffic loads on a bridge. If engineers miscalculate the maximum load levels and use incorrect materials and anchors, it could lead to construction delays and/or additional costs to use different materials if a stronger bridge is necessary.

Commercial Property Insurance

When it comes to protecting one’s company against damages to their business’ assets, this type of insurance can reduce the potential financial impact. Policies can and do cover the business owners’ structure from events such as fires, hail and wind events, along with property damage due to criminal activity. This type of insurance may cover business assets as well, such as computers, furniture and inventory.

Home-Based Business Insurance

For business owners who run operations from their home, this type of policy can become part of a homeowner’s existing policy. This type of coverage can protect home-based business owners by covering limited amounts of equipment, such as computers, phones and cameras. It also may provide liability coverage for the homeowner if, for example, a client visits and is injured by slipping on steps or tripping over a box.

No matter what insurance policy a business needs, the best way to protect against loss is to reduce risk in the first place. Along with training employees to follow workplace safety procedures and reducing hazards for customers and workers to reducing the likelihood of accidents, finding the right mix of liability insurance lets business owners focus on growing their business.




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