A compendium of news, facts, questions and answers

News and trivia

All aboard

Hundreds of men and women around the world “dropped trou” recently in celebration of the 18th annual No Pants Subway Ride. Immodestly clad in panties and scanties, young folk and old from New York, the flagship city, to the far reaches of the globe they boarded London’s Tube, Tokyo’s Metro, Berlin’s U-Bahn and Lisbon’s Metropolitano for a near-nude fun fest. New York-based comedy collective, Improve Everywhere, established the event in 2002 and it went viral across the planet. Their aim: “to surprise and delight random strangers through positive pranks.”

A fishy tale

Groupers are sluggish-looking fat fish that kind of hang around the waters off the coast of Florida. How fat are they? The one caught off the southwest coast of Florida recently by angler Jason Boyll weighed in at 350 pounds. And, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, Jason’s fish was about 50 years old, making it the institute’s oldest sample.

An amazing buzzer-beater

It may have taken some luck, but high school cager, Katara Key, used her well-honed skill to sink a 65-foot winning basket from across the court for Reading High against rival William Penn High School in Pennsylvania. It happened just as the buzzer sounded the end of the game. As she put it in a post-game interview with KPVI-TV: "I just saw the spiral and I was like yeah, that's going in. I practice that shot all the time with my coach."

Inflatable robots

Robots can build cars, move inventory and clean floors, but could they someday also help take care of the sick or elderly? The University of Pennsylvania’s School of Engineering and Applied Science and the School of Nursing have received grant from the National Science Foundation to do just that. Their goal is to create robotic mats that inflate into precise shapes and could be placed on top of hospital beds to help health care workers move patients. “When you think about it, a hospital bed is already a robot,” said project leader James Pikul. “It bends to different shapes and has sensors to monitor vital signs. They’re already sophisticated systems; they’re just bad at moving people. And we want to fix that.”

Amazing cows

While food production is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, there are opportunities to rethink the role of livestock in the environment. The University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, with support from the state’s Department of Agriculture, is investigating how cows can consume plant and food residues that are either indigestible by or unpalatable to humans or are no longer salable for any of a number of reasons. The project will uncover ways that products previously considered “waste” could be used as animal feed, leading to a more sustainable agricultural system and giving rise to meat, milk or fertilizer as a result.

How ice grows

For many people, winter is the season of scraping car windshields on frigid mornings. Researchers have spent decades studying the details of how ice deposits in this way. Now, an international team of scientists has described the first-ever visualization of the atomic structure of two-dimensional ice as it formed. Insights from the findings, which were driven by computer simulations that inspired experimental work, may one day inform the design of materials that make ice removal a simpler and less costly process. “This challenges the traditional view of how ice grows,” says Joseph S. Francisco, an atmospheric chemist at the University of Pennsylvania who co-authored the study. (EDITORS: the complete article, should you have need of it)

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Social Security Matters

By AMAC Certified Social Security Advisor RUSSELL GLOOR

Association of Mature American Citizens

Ask Rusty – When Should I Claim My Widow’s Benefit?

Dear Rusty: My husband passed away at the age of 52, and I was 53. I am currently 59. I've read about and been encouraged to file for widow’s benefits from Social Security when I turn 60. My question is: does doing that impact when I should file for my regular Social Security benefits? In reading on many websites regarding my question, this never is addressed on what is best. Signed: Widowed Survivor

Dear Survivor: You have my sympathy for the loss of your husband at such a young age. I’ll try to clarify your options for you.

Provided you have not remarried you can claim your survivor benefit at age 60, but if you do it will be reduced by 28.5% from what it would be at your full retirement age (FRA) of 67. As long as you are explicit when claiming your survivor benefit that you are not also applying for your own Social Security benefit, there will be no negative impact to your eventual Social Security retirement benefit when you claim that. But, determining which benefit to take, and when, requires some thought.

Your goal should be to get the highest benefit possible for the rest of your life. To help you decide how and when to file, you should first see what your survivor benefit will be at your full retirement age (100% of what your husband was entitled to at his death). If that amount is more than you are entitled to on your own at age 70 then you should consider waiting until age 67 (your FRA) to claim your widow’s benefit, so you can get that higher survivor benefit for the rest of your life. Conversely, if your own age 70 benefit will be more than your widow’s benefit at your FRA, then claiming your widow’s benefit first and allowing your own benefit to grow until age 70 when it reaches maximum would be the more prudent choice. You can get estimates of both your survivor benefit and your age 70 retirement benefit by contacting Social Security. But if claiming the survivor benefit at age 60 is what you decide, or if you were to instead claim your Social Security retirement benefits early (e.g., age 62) there’s more for you to consider.

If you are collecting any Social Security benefits before you reach your full retirement age (FRA) and you are still working, you will be subject to Social Security’s “earnings limit” which restricts the amount you can earn before they take back some of your benefits (the earnings limit changes annually; for 2020 it is $18,240). Up until the year you reach your FRA, they will take back benefits equal to one half of any earnings you have over the limit. During the year you reach your FRA the limit increases by about 2.5 times and the penalty is less, and once you reach your FRA there is no longer a limit on your earnings. So, if you claim your survivor benefit at age 60 and are working, exceeding the earnings limit will result in you permanently losing some of your survivor benefits. If, instead, you claim your SS retirement benefit early (e.g., at age 62) you’ll still be subject to the earnings limit until you reach age 67, but at your FRA they will give you time credit for any months you didn’t get your retirement benefits and increase your benefit amount accordingly.

The important point to remember is that you have a choice of which benefit to take, and evaluating your options as described above should lead you to the right answer - whether you should claim your reduced survivor benefit at age 60, or to delay until it reaches maximum at age 67.

Back to the future

Ron Mallett is no “nut job,” but you might call him a very educated dreamer who believes in time travel. Dr. Mallet is also an astrophysicist and a tenured professor at the University of Connecticut. He has written a scientific equation using theories established by Albert Einstein that he believes might offer a blueprint for building a time machine, skeptics notwithstanding. As he told CNN recently, “In Einstein’s theory, what we call space also involves time — that’s why it’s called space time, whatever it is you do to space also happens to time.” Go figure!

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A very ‘naughty’ Christmas

He sported a beard that gave him a Santa Claus look, but he was no Kris Kringle. In fact, he was arrested by the Colorado Springs police robbing a bank for an undisclosed amount of cash. But it would appear that he was, indeed, full of the Christmas Spirit because after getting away with the loot he tossed his ill-gotten gains into the air, wishing passersby “Merry Christmas.” He then headed for a nearby coffee shop to await the arrival of the local authorities and his arrest.

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A fateful Christmas story

Siobhane Riggs, who was 5 years old at the time, placed a message in a bottle and tossed into the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Nova Scotia. The tides carried it off to Tenerife in the Canary Islands off the coast of Africa where Patrick Dennis found it in 2002. Patrick tried to call Siobhan and finally got in touch with her mom, Carolanne Riggs, who informed him that the girl was tragically killed in an accident at the age of six. Carolanne and Patrick stayed in touch and 17 years later Patrick and his family made the trip to Newfoundland to spend Christmas with Carolanne and her family. It was a heartfelt moment. As Carolanne put it to reporters at CBC: "I really do feel that this message landing over in Tenerife and Patrick getting this bottle and making this connection gives me some closure. It gives me a closure that she's not far. She is always here with us."

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If the tax cuts don’t last, will your retirement funds? 4 ways to make sure

Many taxpayers welcomed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 that reduced income taxes through 2025, but now some people worry about the possibility of rates going up after the act expires and how that could affect their retirement.

It’s a special concern for people whose savings are in tax-deferred accounts, such as traditional IRAs or 401(k)s.

“The over-reliance on 401(k)s and IRAs is setting people up for a retirement trap,” says Greg DuPont (www.dupontwealth.com), an estate and tax planning attorney. “Given the dynamics of politics and the federal deficit, it’s probable that income tax rates will increase again. There’s a window of opportunity now before 2025 where plans can be adjusted to minimize those effects.

“Focusing on saving for the future using only tax-deferred investments forces you to take more risk to meet your income needs.”

DuPont says a recent bill passed by Congress, the SECURE Act, will affect retirees in numerous ways, including by the removal of the stretch IRA, which allowed an inherited IRA to be paid out over an heir’s lifetime. Now it must be paid out within 10 years, thus increasing the yearly tax burden on heirs.

“Passage of the SECURE Act indicates a real need to address the tax structure of your retirement accounts if they are part of the legacy you intend to leave behind,” DuPont says.

DuPont suggests four ways those approaching retirement or already in it can adjust their plans to reduce the impact of higher taxes:

Roth IRA. A Roth IRA is a retirement savings account that allows the saver to withdraw savings tax-free in retirement. “The contributions are invested in what one selects, such as stocks, bonds or mutual funds, and Roth IRAs tend to offer more investment options than a Roth 401(k),” DuPont says. “Roth IRAs are an underutilized vehicle for retirement savings and investment. When the investments grow in value, you can receive the investment gains tax-free.”

Roth 401(k). Access to Roth 401(k)s is more common these days at companies. Contributions go in after tax. By contrast, with a traditional 401(k), contributions are pre-tax – taken off the top of gross earnings before your paycheck is taxed. “But the downside of a traditional 401(k) is you have to pay taxes on the amount you withdraw based on your current tax rate in retirement,” DuPont says. “That’s a substantial penalty for many people. The biggest benefit of the Roth 401(k) is because you already paid taxes on your contributions, the withdrawals you make in retirement are tax-free. The money you put in, plus its growth, is yours.”

Investments through brokerages. “These have benefits above and beyond your typical IRAs,” DuPont says. “The thing people need to recognize is with brokerage accounts, you pay tax only on the money you gained on the investment. So it’s usually far better than taking out a sizable portion of your IRA, which is all taxable.”

Cash value life insurance. “The modern life insurance product gives the saver the ability to build cash value in that policy,” DuPont says. “That cash value grows without tax liability, giving you access to that cash value and accumulating at a more acceptable rate of return than typical bank rates at this point in time.”

“People strive to be debt-free in retirement,” DuPont says, “yet they disregard the biggest debt they may have – the debt to the IRS in their retirement accounts. You can manage the impact of those taxes and perhaps reduce them by taking determined action.”

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Dreading a dental visit? 5 tips for getting the most out of it

Many people would just as soon avoid scheduling a dental appointment, unless an unbearable toothache lands them reluctantly in the dentist’s chair.

Fear of pain is one reason for procrastination, but it’s not the only factor. People worry a routine checkup could reveal the need for expensive, major work. Wary patients also sometimes harbor doubts about whether a costly procedure is even necessary.

But patients can put themselves at ease and get the most out of their dental visit by fully vetting their dentist and learning how to weigh options, says Dr. Rick Mars (www.dentalcaregroup.net), author of The Big Smile: The Principles of Modern Dentistry – for Dentists and Patients.

“Many dentists don’t do a good job of educating their patients and communicating with them,” Dr. Mars says, “and most patients don’t do a good enough job educating themselves. We have a saying in dentistry that if you put 10 dentists in a room with a single patient, they will come up with 10 different treatment plans.

“But the great thing about dentistry is the multitude of creative solutions available to patients. You need to ask the right questions to make sure you understand the treatment options.”

Dr. Mars offers these tips for finding the right dental treatment at a fair price:

Educate yourself and listen when your dentist educates. “The worst thing that can happen is that you don’t get the treatment you need and something disastrous happens,” Dr. Mars says. “The second worst thing that can happen is that you do get treatment, but you didn’t actually need it. Taking an active role means you not only do your own research and get a second opinion, but you also listen carefully to your doctor when your doctor educates you.”

Read online reviews with a critical eye. “The internet can be very helpful when you’re vetting a new dentist, but there’s also a lot of misinformation out there with patients’ reviews,” Dr. Mars says. “In today’s world, patients wield power like they never previously had. In general, people who bother to write reviews are disgruntled and want recourse and even revenge. On the other hand, numerous positive reviews, ideally from people you know who were treated by that dentist, can add up to a trustworthy referral.”

Interview your dentist and their team. “You can ask them how many times they’ve done a certain procedure and even ask to see photos of their cases,” Dr. Mars says. “It may require a specialist rather than a general dentist. And find out why they charge what they charge.”

Get an honest second opinion. “Even though you trust your dentist, you might hear a treatment plan that just doesn’t sit well with you,” Dr. Mars says. “Get a copy of your radiographs from your current dentist to take to your second-opinion dentist. Never show the second dentist your treatment plan until they give their final suggestions.”

Ask to see the results of your dental investment. “Rather than limit your evaluation of your dentist to time, cost, or customer service, think about your dental work like you consider mechanical work to your car,” Dr. Mars says. “After treatment, dentists can and should show you radiographs of your teeth and point out the details proving your problem is fixed.”

“If you’ve done your homework,” Dr. Mars says, “your dentist, whether a general practitioner or a specialist, should leave no room for doubt that you’re in the right place.”

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Medal of Honor: Army 1st Sgt. Leonard Funk

By KATIE LANGE

Army 1st Sgt. Leonard Funk served in some of the most pivotal campaigns in the European theater of World War II, making him one of the war's most decorated paratroopers. After jumping into Normandy on D-Day with the 82nd Airborne Division, he earned the Distinguished Service Cross during Operation Market Garden. His Medal of Honor was earned toward the end of the war when he led the capture of a German garrison during the Battle of the Bulge.

Funk was born Aug. 27, 1916, and grew up east of Pittsburgh. He enlisted in the Army as a 21-year-old in June 1941, months before the U.S. entered World War II. He volunteered to be a paratrooper and was assigned to Company C of the 82nd's 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment. Funk was stationed in England for much of the war, although he didn't see action until June 6, 1944 — D-Day, the largest land, air and sea invasion in history.

On that day, the small unit he commanded landed nearly 40 miles inland. They fought for several days before breaking through enemy lines to rejoin their regiments closer to the coast. Everyone in Funk's unit survived that mission, and he earned a Silver Star Medal.

But that's a story for another time. Today we're focused on his heroics during the Battle of the Bulge.

On Jan. 29, 1945, Funk found himself in waist-deep snowdrifts with other American forces who had been fighting a massive contingent of German troops since mid-December. His unit had managed to advance 15 miles in a driving snowstorm so they could attack the German-held town of Holzheim, Belgium.

When the company's executive officer went down, Funk stepped up to take his place. He realized they didn't have enough infantrymen to take out the German garrison, so he gathered a platoon full of clerks — soldiers with noncombat jobs — and turned them into a fighting force.

Despite facing direct artillery shelling and gunfire, Funk's men moved in. They attacked and cleared 15 houses without suffering any injuries. With the help of another American unit, they quickly overran the town, taking about 80 German prisoners who were placed under a four-man guard. The rest of the dilapidated American forces, including Funk, scanned the town to mop up any isolated points of resistance.

A few hours later, an enemy patrol managed to trick the Americans acting as guards, freeing the German prisoners. They had begun to get into place to attack Company C from the rear when Funk returned to check on the prisoners. He walked right into the enemy patrol.

A German officer, poking a pistol into Funk's stomach, ordered him to surrender. The first sergeant pretended to comply with the order, slowly unslinging his submachine gun from his shoulder. But instead of giving it up, he quickly fired, emptying a full magazine into the German officer and his counterparts, all the while shouting to his American comrades to seize the enemy’s weapons.

Within minutes, 21 Germans were killed, many more were wounded and the rest were captured.

Despite being outnumbered and facing certain death, Funk's actions were directly responsible for the recapture of a force that was much larger than his own. His actions also allowed the other units of Company C to continue their attack plans unfettered.

Funk received the Medal of Honor for his actions on Sept. 5, 1945, at a ceremony at the White House. He's one of the most decorated paratroopers of World War II, having also earned the Bronze Star and Purple Heart with two oak leaf clusters.

Funk left the Army after the war and went on to work for the Veterans Administration in the Pittsburgh area. He and his wife, Gertrude, have two daughters.

Funk retired from the VA in 1972 and lived in McKeesport, Pennsylvania, until his death on Nov. 20, 1992. The 76-year-old is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

His legacy lives on. In 1995, a section of road where he lived was renamed the Leonard A. Funk Jr. Highway. In May 2018, he was inducted into the 82nd Airborne Division's Hall of Fame.

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Social Security Matters

By AMAC Certified Social Security Advisor Russell Gloor

Association of Mature American Citizens

Ask Rusty – Can My Husband use the “Restricted Application?”

Dear Rusty: My question is about the "restricted application for spousal benefits only" I saw referenced in an article. I will turn 66 in February and have applied for my "full retirement benefit" and will continue to work full time. My husband turned 66 this month and has not yet applied for his benefits. According to the Social Security paperwork sent to us, I will receive about $1900 a month and my husband, who is self-employed, would only receive $500 to $600. If my husband claimed "spousal benefits only" using the restricted application, would I still receive my $1900 and he would receive 50% of that for an estimated total of $2850? Doesn't seem to make sense to me! As you can see, we must be in denial of our age and are not knowledgeable about Social Security!! Signed: Inquisitive Senior

Dear Inquisitive: Based on the amounts you quoted in your email (which I assume were recent estimates from the Social Security Administration), your husband should claim his own benefits this month and then claim his normal spousal benefit in February when your benefits start. Since your husband has already reached his full retirement age of 66, his spousal benefit will be the full 50% of the benefit you are entitled to when you reach your full retirement age in February.

Although your husband qualifies for and can submit a “restricted application for spousal benefits only” (as described in the article you read), there is little reason for him to do so because his own benefit, even if he delays claiming it until he is 70, will be less than his spousal benefit from your record. Instead, since his spousal benefit from you will be the highest amount he will ever be eligible for, he can just claim his own benefit first and then claim his regular spousal benefit to begin when your Social Security retirement benefit starts. Here’s why:

If your husband’s current benefit at his full retirement age (FRA) would be $600 and he’s not yet collecting, he could earn delayed retirement credits (DRCs) at a rate of 0.667 per month of delay (8% per year of delay). That will mean his own benefit would be 32% more at age 70 then he is now eligible for at his FRA, which means his maximum benefit on his own earnings record will be $792/month ($600 plus 32%).

The only reason to file the restricted application (for which he is eligible only because he was born before January 2, 1954) is to let his own benefit grow while he collects a spousal benefit, so he can switch to his own higher benefit later. But since his spousal benefit from you will be about $950 - more than the maximum benefit he can get from his own record at age 70 - his most prudent choice would be to simply claim his own benefit now and apply for his normal spousal benefit to start when your SS benefit starts in February. No need for him to file the restricted application because his own benefit will never be higher than his spousal benefit. And just for complete clarity, your husband collecting his spousal benefit from you will not affect your own Social Security retirement benefit in any way.

This article is intended for information purposes only and does not represent legal or financial guidance. It presents the opinions and interpretations of the AMAC Foundation’s staff, trained and accredited by the National Social Security Association (NSSA). NSSA and the AMAC Foundation and its staff are not affiliated with or endorsed by the Social Security Administration or any other governmental entity. To submit a question, visit our website (amacfoundation.org/programs/social-security-advisory) or email us at ssadvisor@amacfoundation.org.

If the bra fits?

Vets came up with a “more comfortable” way to treat a sheep in New Zealand that suffered from sagging udders after giving birth to lamb triplets. Instead of surgery, they fitted the ewe with a store bought bra to keep her sagging mammaries from being dragged on the ground. The alternative would have been painful surgery or euthanasia.

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Museum Mania

There’s a museum dedicated to unknown animals in Portland, ME [go figure]. Then there is the National Mustard Museum in Middleton, WI and the Museum of the Weird in Austin, TX. But if you want to visit the Museum of Hangovers you’ll have to go abroad to Zagreb, Croatia. It is the brainstorm of a college student there and is dedicated to chronicling strange and, sometimes, disturbing tales of the “morning after.” Founder Rino Dubokovic says his aim is to make people aware of what can happen when they overindulge by sharing stories of odd and sometimes scary hangover experiences.

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Twas the night before Christmas

It happened on Christmas Eve in South Burlington, VT. A beloved pet, Cayenne the cat, took a stroll in the yard and decided to climb a tree. His distraught owner hastily decided to attempted a rescue on his own. But he wound up stuck with the cat in the tall branches. Firefighters soon arrived and rescued the cat and its owner and later issued this warning: “at no point is it a good idea to try and rescue an animal out of a tree yourself.”

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History Matters

A feature courtesy of

The Grateful American Book Prize

Showing our children that their past is prelude to their future

It happened on New Year’s Day,1863—two years into a bloody war that pitted the Union against the Confederacy. President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which declared: "on the first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State ... shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free…”

That pronouncement was a critical decision that has rippled through the country’s history, with profound impact.

The Grateful American Book Prize recommends Dark Sky Rising: Reconstruction And The Dawn Of Jim Crow by Henry Louis Gates Jr., and Tonya Bolden; a 2019 Grateful American Book Prize “Honorable Mention.”

President Andrew Johnson’s Secretary of State, William H. Seward, was widely criticized for signing an 1867 agreement with Russia to purchase the territory of Alaska. Critics called it “Seward’s Folly” and “Seward’s Iceberg”, even though the price--$7.2 million--was only about two cents per acre for a landmass about one-fifth the size of the U.S.

But, Johnson’s “polar bear garden,” according to a detractor, turned out to be an acquisition rich in resources, particularly oil reserves; on January 3, 1959, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed a proclamation making Alaska the 49th state-- the largest in the Union.

The Grateful American Book Prize recommends Alaska's History: The People, Land, and Events of the North Country by Harry Ritter.

One of the most decisive skirmishes in the War of 1812 was the Battle of New Orleans; it took place January 8, 1815 and lasted a few hours. Ironically, neither the British forces nor the American forces were aware that the Treaty of Ghent—already signed—had ended the war.

With the aid of buccaneer Jean Lafitte, his band of pirates, and sharpshooters from Kentucky and Tennessee, 4,500 U.S. troops under the command of General Andrew Jackson, stormed a British force of 7,500 soldiers. Jackson’s army incurred a minimal number of casualties--eight men dead and 13 wounded, but among the British troops two thousand were killed or wounded.

The Grateful American Book Prize recommends Andrew Jackson and the Miracle of New Orleans: The Battle That Shaped America's Destiny by Brian Kilmeade.

The birthday of the American oil industry is January 10. In 1901, wildcatters brought in what was probably the first “gusher” in history--on Spindletop Hill, just five miles from Beaumont, TX. It spewed 100,000 barrels of crude oil a day, took more than a week to cap, and eventually birthed the first trillion-dollar industry in the world.

“Black Gold” propelled the inventions of the automobile and the airplane, and improved efficiencies in the older forms of transportation--ships and trains.

The Grateful American Book Prize recommends Spindletop Gusher: The Story of the Texas Oil Boom by Carmen Bredeson.

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Defusing anxiety & negativity in 2020: Why gratitude is key

By FRANK KILPATRICK

We all want to feel happy and productive. But here's the Catch 22: the things we do to try to feel that way—working long hours, rushing kids from one activity to the other, and meeting all of life's obligations—can leave us feeling stressed, anxious, and even resentful. (And that's not counting the complications that spring up.) We may find ourselves thinking: What's the point of all this hard work if I can't enjoy my life?

Thankfully, we can feel contentment (and yes, happiness!) even when life is at its most chaotic. It comes not from trying to control your circumstances (which isn't always possible) but from shifting how you look at them.

I love the saying "Gratitude doesn't change things for you, it changes you for things." When we can learn to come from a place of gratitude, we see things differently. There's a mindset shift that brings peace. My new Gratitude Musical/Visual meditation series, (available on YouTube at www.YouTube.com/c/GratitudeVideo) helps listeners tap into that mindset.

n other words, instead of dreading a tough project at work, we feel gratitude for our job. Instead of feeling stressed about taking our aging mother to the doctor, we're grateful to be able to spend the afternoon with her.

My colleagues—Grammy-winner Alex Wand and composer/vocalist Rayko—and I are on a mission to fill the world with gratitude. Our meditation series—which combines "microtonal" music, vocals, visuals, and on-screen lyrical messages in a unique way that keeps your attention—is designed to help train the brain for gratitude and peace. This focus stems from our work on the Stay Alive video/podcast documentary and is a central part of our strategy for supporting at-risk populations.

Of course, you can't just flip a switch and BOOM! you're grateful. Gratitude evolves over time. It's about building some small, daily habits into your routine—and the new year is the perfect time to start. For example:

Make room in your life for gratitude. Often FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) drives us to stretch ourselves too thin. But it's hard to feel grateful when you are overcommitted. Know that it's totally okay to turn down invitations if you don't feel like being around others, or to spend the weekend recharging. In fact, immersing yourself in the Gratitude meditation series is a great way to spend the time you free up when you cut back on all the "going and doing."

The Gratitude program can be an alternative to giving in to the toxic phenomenon of FOMO. When people remove what they've been conditioned to see as a "reward" they may feel empty, like something is lacking. This program is a great replacement. It's fine to feel grateful for friends and opportunities, but we need to feel grateful for quiet moments and downtime as well.

Prepare your mind. It's important to make time for meditation or contemplation. Think of this as strength training for your mind. At first it might seem difficult to find the time, but it teaches you to get relaxed and centered, which is a vital life skill. Over time, it will get easier and easier to drop into a space of quiet contentedness where gratitude is abundant. "Mind training" should be a part of your daily health routine, like brushing your teeth or stretching. But also, get into the habit of grabbing opportunities to meditate or watch the Gratitude series—like when you're getting ready for your day or waiting for your child at soccer practice.

There are very real advantages to this type of mind training. It helps you stay in a state of gratitude, which enables you to feel peace. It keeps you in the present moment, which is an incredibly powerful technique for keeping anxiety and depression at bay.

Make mind training a part of your self-care routine... People tend to think of self-care in terms of diet, exercise, and maybe sleep, but we often ignore what we put into our minds, what we think about and ruminate on. This is a mistake. Getting intentional about what we watch, listen to, and infuse into our consciousness is just as important—what we focus on shapes our mental state, impacts our relationships, and influences every choice we make.

Stop allowing junk food into your consciousness. We should monitor our cognitive input in the same way we regulate our intake of fats, carbs and calories. What you're doing is intentionally creating the best version of yourself.

...and think of it as a gateway to overall happiness. Neuroscience has proven over and over again that a focus on gratitude literally rewires your brain to be happy. When people engage in practices like meditating on gratitude (as the Gratitude series encourages) or by keeping a daily journal of what they are grateful for, they tend to feel more optimistic and positive about their lives. (That's happiness!) What's more, they may sleep better, exercise more, and enjoy better physical health than those who don't focus on gratitude.

Focus on the small things. There are plenty of things you can (and should) be grateful for in life's simple moments. A hot cup of coffee. Toasty sheets fresh from the dryer on a cold evening. A catchup phone call from a dear old friend. The smell of a delicious dinner wafting from the kitchen. The look of wonder in your toddler's eyes when they see the first snowfall of the year. Just start paying attention and let yourself feel the wonderment.

Say "thank you" (and really mean it). When someone does something kind for you, recognize it with a sincere "thank you." Be specific about why what they did matters. (This helps you mean it, which is important; mindless "thank yous" don't count.) Recognition, even in small doses, makes others feel great, but it also gives you a boost of joy. And it exercises those gratitude muscles.

Manage your expectations. Real life doesn't look like a Norman Rockwell painting and your home most likely will never look like a spread in Better Homes and Gardens. Parents get old. Kids get bad grades. Tempers flare from time to time. Even during a wonderful meal with family and friends, someone might get sick, make a judgmental comment, or burst into tears during the salad course. That's life. It's messy and complicated...and beautiful.

It's hard to be grateful and focused on perfection at the same time. Keep in mind that even best-laid plans seldom go off without a hitch. Remember to savor the good moments and seek out loving feelings toward your friends and families. Find the love in every situation.

The best thing about gratitude is that it's contagious. If you put it out there, chances are very good you will get it back! And don't forget: others are watching you and will see how empowered you have become just by being happy.

Make the effort in the upcoming year to focus on gracious and loving feelings and that peace will find its way to you. You will be amazed at the new and joyful places this attitude of gratitude will lead you.

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Navigating garden catalogs to plan for the season ahead

By MELINDA MYERS

As garden catalogs are piling up and online versions fill your inbox, your thoughts may turn to the growing season ahead. With so many choices of beautiful flowers and scrumptious vegetables it can be overwhelming and hard to resist buying more seeds and plants than you have space to grow and time to tend.

Start by flipping through the pages of various catalogs and searching gardening websites and online catalogs to gather ideas and inspiration. Narrow down your search by selecting plants suited to your climate and growing conditions.

Quality catalogs will list the cold hardiness zone of trees, shrubs and perennials and often include the Plant Hardiness Zone Map developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. These hardiness zones are based on the average minimum winter temperature. The lower the number, the more cold-tolerant the plant.

Sunset Climate Zones for North America may be new to many gardeners. A variety of factors beyond high and low temperatures were considered when the 45 hardiness zones were created. Microclimates, growing season, rainfall, humidity, wind patterns, and ocean currents were some of the other factors that went into defining these zones.

Read the plant description and select plants that match the light, soil and moisture in your garden. Make sure annual flowers and vegetables you select have time to flower and produce before your season ends. Those with a longer time to harvest than your growing season allows will need to be started indoors. You will need time and indoor growing space to start your own long-season plants from seed indoors.

Select the most disease resistant and low maintenance varieties whenever possible. Make sure you have enough space in the garden or containers for all the plants you select and for each of them to reach their mature size. Overcrowding plants increases the risk of disease and can reduce flowering and productivity.

Look for award-winning plants when reviewing the catalogs. All-America Selections’ winners (AAS) are tested nationally and selected for improved growth habit, flowering, pest resistance or some other unique feature for the home garden. Perennial Plant, Hosta and Daylilies of the Year are selected by members of the various organizations for their outstanding performance.

Consult your local University Extension service. Most create lists of plants and varieties that are best suited to your region. They often recommend planting dates based on the average local soil and air temperatures.

Your next step – inventory any leftover seeds saved from last season. When properly stored in a cool dark location many seeds can last for years. Longevity does vary with the type of seed, but you may be surprised to find you can get years of planting from one packet of seeds. Onions, parsley, verbena and salvia usually last about a year, whereas properly stored Brussels sprouts, cabbage and zinnias can last an average of five years.

Create your list and set it aside for a day or two before placing your orders. A bit of planning can save you money and increase success as you grow plants best suited to your climate and gardening space.

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Know your military

Why is the Pentagon, you know, a pentagon?

From the Department of Defense

The land the Pentagon was first planned to go on was bordered on five sides by roads, so the architects designed a five-sided building. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was worried putting the building at that location would interfere with the view of Washington from Arlington Cemetery, so he chose to move it to its present location, but he kept the five-sided design.

Sept. 11 has a double significance for the Pentagon.

Builders broke ground for the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 1941, exactly 60 years before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The Pentagon is big. Reallllly big.

It’s the world’s largest low-rise office building. The entire U.S. Capitol building could fit inside any of the building’s five wedges. It has 6,500,000 square feet of office space (three times the floor space in the Empire State Building!), 7,754 windows and 17 1/2 miles of corridors. Yet, its spoke-and-ring design means it takes only about 7 minutes to walk between the furthest two points in the building.

The builders were frugal with their materials.

During construction, the builders were able to conserve enough steel to build a battleship. And the 689,000 tons of sand and gravel used to make the building’s reinforced concrete – including 41,000 concrete pilings – came from the nearby Potomac River.

Until 2011, there was only one passenger elevator in the Pentagon. And it was reserved for the defense secretary.

A 17-year-long renovation project that finished in 2011 saw 70 passenger elevators installed in the building. Until then, people who couldn’t use stairs used long ramps to move between floors. The ramps are still there, but the rumors of office chair races are greatly exaggerated.

That renovation project? It probably saved thousands of lives.

The Pentagon is divided into five wedges, and the renovation project was going wedge by wedge when terrorists flew American Airlines Flight 77 into the Pentagon, Sept. 11, 2001, killing 189 people. The plane hit in Wedge 3, where renovations had just completed, but only about 800 out of the 4,500 people who normally would have been working there had moved back into their offices. And the new sprinkler system, extra structural support and blast-resistant windows helped to keep the building damage to a minimum, likely saving additional lives.

The Pentagon was the first desegregated building in Virginia.

The Pentagon was designed when segregation was the law in Virginia. But Roosevelt had signed an executive order the previous year, which forbade discrimination against government workers on the basis of race, creed, color or national origin. So the Pentagon became the only building in Virginia where segregation was not enforced. Because segregation was state law, the Pentagon was built with twice as many bathrooms as needed for a desegregated building of its size.

It was constructed in record time.

More than 15,000 workers were on site around the clock, and wartime office space shortages meant that workers moved in before the Pentagon was fully finished. Construction finished on Jan. 15, 1943, just 16 months after it started. Speed costs money, though: Initially budgeted at $35 million, the final cost was $63 million, more than $900 million in today’s money.

The same guy oversaw construction of the Pentagon and the atomic bomb.

Col. Leslie Groves, an Army Corps of Engineer officer, took charge of the Pentagon’s construction in August 1941. He worked six days a week in his office in Washington. Then on Sundays, he would visit the project he felt most needed his personal attention. Groves later said of his time at the Pentagon that he was “hoping to get to a war theater so I could find a little peace.” Instead, he was assigned to direct the Manhattan Project – America’s effort to build an atomic bomb.

For a while, there was a secret crash pad in the Pentagon.

Grove was widely known as a tough boss. One of his deputies, Army Maj. Robert Furman, had to be at the Pentagon at all hours of the day and night. Sometimes he’d go days without going home at all. In order to get some sleep, Furman had the Pentagon contractors build a secret apartment between the walls of what would become the Army’s Ordnance Division. He and some of Grove’s other deputies would use the apartment to grab a few z’s, shower and get back to work. Furman continued to use the apartment on official trips back to Washington while he served as an intelligence officer on the Manhattan Project, but was forced to hand over the keys in 1943 when he was discovered by ordnance officers while leaving the apartment.

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Why are Marines part of the Navy?

BY CLAUDETTE ROULO

Did you ever wonder why the Marine Corps is part of the Department of the Navy?

Historically, marines serve as a navy’s ground troops. In fact, the word "marine" is the French word for sea, which may be why the French military historically called English troops — who all had to arrive by sea — "marines."

Back in the day, there wasn’t much difference between a sailor and a soldier on a ship. After all, most sea battles ended with the ships tangled together and the crews fighting each other hand to hand. So, if you were on a ship, you had to be able to fight. But you also had to be able to fight once your ship got where it was going.

Italy was the first country to use specially trained sailors as naval infantry. Back in the 1200s, the chief magistrate of Venice put 10 companies of specialized troops on a bunch of ships and sent them off to conquer Byzantium in present-day Greece. That went well for the Italians, so they decided that having marines was a good idea and kept them around, later calling them "sea infantry."

The idea of marines eventually caught on with other naval powers. The Spanish marine corps was founded in 1537 and is the oldest still-active marine corps in the world, while the Netherlands marine corps, founded in 1665, is the second-oldest. But, even today, marines in most countries are specially trained sailors who are part of the navy.

The British Royal Marines, which is what the U.S. Marine Corps was modeled on, were probably the first naval infantry to not actually be sailors. During the 1600-1700s, marine regiments would be formed by taking soldiers from the British Army, and disbanded when they weren’t needed. This practice continued until 1755, when England’s parliament made the Corps of Royal Marines permanent.

When the Continental Marines were founded in 1775, the Continental Congress recognized the importance "that particular care be taken, that no persons be appointed to office, or enlisted into said Battalions, but such as are good seamen, or so acquainted with maritime affairs as to be able to serve to advantage by sea when required."

So, maritime knowledge has always been a critical part of being a marine, but the U.S. Marine Corps hasn’t always been part of the U.S. Navy.

Until 1834, the Marines were an independent service. President Andrew Jackson wanted to make the Corps part of the Army. However, the Marine Corps commandant at the time, Archibald Henderson, had proven that Marines were important in landing party operations, not just ship-to-ship battles, so Congress decided to put the Navy and Marine Corps into one department, forever linking these two "sister services."

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Hitting bottom: Submariner explored deepest part of ocean

BY KATIE LANGE

Thousands have climbed Mount Everest, and a handful of people have walked on the moon. But reaching the lowest part of the ocean? Only three people have ever done that, and one was a U.S. Navy submariner.

In the Pacific Ocean, somewhere between Guam and the Philippines, lies the Marianas Trench, also known as the Mariana Trench. At 35,814 feet below sea level, its bottom is called the Challenger Deep — the deepest point known on Earth. In fact, to put it into perspective, think about the Titanic, which was found 12,600 feet below the surface of the Atlantic Ocean — nearly 2.4 miles down.

The Challenger Deep is nearly three times deeper than that.

Only three people have ever made it to the Challenger Deep. The first two did it 59 years ago: Navy Lt. Don Walsh, a submariner, and explorer Jacques Piccard.

Walsh’s engineering background allowed him to be a test pilot for the Trieste, a deep-diving research submersible purchased on behalf of the Navy. The rig was specially equipped with 5-inch-thick steel walls to withstand immense pressures — eight tons of pressure per square inch, to be specific, which is like 2,365 pounds sitting on a person’s fingernail.

On Jan. 23, 1960, Walsh and Piccard made history when they made the five-hour, 6.78-mile odyssey to the world’s deepest-known point.

What did they find there? Walsh talked about his experience in an interview with the Office of Naval Research, so we’ll let him explain:

“As we approached the seafloor, we could see it coming up, and we did see about a foot-long flatfish, like a halibut or sole — small. But that told us quite a bit, just that one glimpse, because that’s a bottom-dwelling form — two eyes on one side — and if there’s one, there’s more. That tells you there’s also sufficient oxygen and food at that depth because they’re bottom dwelling,” Walsh said.

“We did not see anything at the bottom once we landed because the bottom sediment stirred up, and it was like somebody painted our viewport white,” he continued. “We spent a half-hour on the bottom, and the rest of the time coming up. And that was it.”

That might not seem like much to some, but it opened up a whole new world for explorers.

The Navy has always been interested in undersea exploration for navigation, scientific research, education and strategic purposes. In fact, by 1958, it funded nearly 90 percent of all U.S. oceanographic ventures.

The Trieste trip was the culmination of Project Nekton, a series of dives meant to test the viability of using manned craft at extreme depths to study marine life and how temperature, pressure and sound interact at great depths, among other scientific questions.

Whether the Navy is diving, collecting scientific data, investigating shipwrecks or testing autonomous underwater vehicles, this mission continues to evolve and has led to collaborations with many in the civilian scientific community.

Fun Facts

In case you were curious, the Trieste is now part of the undersea exploration exhibit at the National Museum of the U.S. Navy in Washington.

Since its bowels-of-the-earth voyage, only one person has returned to the Challenger Deep: explorer and filmmaker James Cameron in 2012.

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10 Odd Jobs of World War II

BY CLAUDETTE ROULO

Today's military has some jobs that might surprise you — for example, did you know the Army and Marine Corps have instrument repair technicians? These troops repair musical instruments for the military bands.

But during World War II, there were a lot of jobs that would seem strange in today's technologically focused military. Over the course of the war, technological advances reduced or eliminated the need for many manual occupations. This transition is captured in the War Department's list of military jobs from 1944, where entries like ''horse artillery driver'' appear just a page away from ''remote control turret repairman.''

Blacksmith

During World War II, blacksmiths still made many of the items needed to repair equipment and machinery. They would make metal tools and parts, by hand, in coal or coke forges. They also made shoes for some of the tens of thousands of horses and mules that saw service during the war.

Meat Cutter

Does what it says on the label: cuts meat. These troops were responsible for preparing whole carcassas, such as beef and lamb, for distribution to various units around the world.

Horsebreaker

Horsebreakers would train horses and mules so they could be issued to mounted units. They also trained them to carry packs and to be hitched to wagons and carts.

Although they weren't used in World War II to the extent they were used in the First World War, troops still relied on horses and mules to cross terrain impassable to mechanized units. For example, the 5332nd Brigade, a long range patrol group created for service in the mountains of Burma, was largely self-sufficient due to the 3,000 mules assigned to it — all shipped from the United States.

Artist and Animation Artist

Today's military has jobs for skilled multimedia illustrators, but in World War II, military artists and animation artists created paintings, illustrations, films, charts and maps by hand. A number of successful artists served in World War II, including Bill Maudlin, who drew Willie and Joe, archetypes for infantrymen on the front line; and Bill Keane, who went on to draw Family Circus after his military service ended.

The military's animation artists were quite busy during World War II. The Army even stationed soldiers at Walt Disney's studios for the duration of the war to make patriotic films for the public and instructional or training films for service members.

Crystal Grinder

During World War II, many radios still required crystals to operate, usually galena. Crystal grinders would grind and calibrate these crystals to pick up specific frequencies.

Personal radios were forbidden on the front lines, but crystal radio sets lacked external power sources, so they couldn't be detected by the enemy. For this reason, troops often improvised crystal radios from a variety of materials — including pencils and razor blades — in order to listen to music and news. These contraband radio sets were dubbed ''foxhole radios.''

Cooper

Troops who worked as coopers built and repaired the wooden buckets, barrels, casks and kegs used to pack, store and ship supplies and equipment. They used hand tools to plug holes with wood and salvage damaged barrels.

Wood was used to package a wide range of goods for transport all the way through World War II, but improvements in metal and cardboard packaging technology marked the beginning of the end for wooden barrels and crates.

Model Maker

Military model makers were charged with creating scale models of military equipment, terrain and other objects to be used in movies, as training aids and for operational planning. The models built by these troops were used in what was perhaps one of the greatest examples of wartime deception, Operation Fortitude.

Operation Fortitude was aimed at convincing the Germans that Allied troops heading to France for the D-Day invasion would land in Pas de Calais in July, rather than Normandy in June. Dummy buildings, aircraft and landing craft were constructed by model makers and positioned near Dover, England, in a camp built for the fictitious First U.S. Army Group. The deception was so complete that Hitler held troops in reserve for two weeks after D-Day because he believed another invasion was coming via the Dover Strait.

Pigeoneer

Pigeoneers were responsible for all aspects of their birds' lives. They would breed, train and care for pigeons that were used to deliver messages. Some birds would be trained specifically for night flying, while others learned that food could be found at one location and water at another. According to the U.S. Army Communications Electronics Museum, more than 90% of the messages carried by pigeons were successfully delivered.

Field Artillery Sound Recorder

These troops had the sickest beats. Until the development of radar, sound ranging was one of the most effective ways to locate enemy artillery, mortars and rockets. The process was first developed in World War I, and continued to be used in combat through the Korean War.

From a forward operating post, a field artillery sound recorder would monitor an oscillograph and recorder connected to several microphones. When the sound of an enemy gun reached a microphone, the information would be recorded on sound film and the data from several microphones could be analyzed to locate the enemy gun. The technology is still in use today by many countries, which often use sound ranging in concert with radar.

Airplane Woodworker

Although wood was largely phased out in favor of tubular steel in aircraft construction by the time World War II started, there was still a need for airplane woodworkers to repair and maintain existing aircraft — especially gliders and some training aircraft.

Wooden gliders like the Waco CG-4A — the most widely used American troop/cargo military glider of World War II — played critical parts in the war. The CG-4A was first used in the invasion of Sicily in July 1943. They most commonly flew airborne troops into battle, most famously for the D-Day assault on France on June 6, 1944, and Operation Market Garden in September 1944. They were also used in the China-Burma-India Theater.

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Social Security Matters

By AMAC Certified Social Security Advisor Russell Gloor

Association of Mature American Citizens

Ask Rusty – Should I Claim Social Security At 63?

Dear Rusty: I’m 63 years old. What are the benefits or negatives of retiring now? How do I begin the process? Signed: Tired of Working

Dear Tired: Your first question is quite open-ended, but I can give you the basics. Your Social Security benefit is based upon something called your “primary insurance amount” (PIA), which is the amount you would get if you claimed at your full retirement age (66 years and 4 months for you). Your PIA is based upon the highest-earning 35 years in your lifetime working career (past earnings are adjusted for inflation).

If you claim benefits before you reach your full retirement age (FRA) your benefits will be cut by about 6.7% for each full year early, but the reduction is done according to the number of months before your FRA that you claim. If you claim at your current age, your benefit will be cut by about 22%. The reduction will be slightly less for each month that you continue to wait, up to your FRA when you’ll get 100% of what you’ve earned from a lifetime of working. For reference, if you claim at age 64 the reduction will be about 18% and if you wait until you’re 65 the reduction will be about 9.7%. Conversely, if you wait beyond your full retirement age your benefit amount will grow by 8% for each full year you continue to delay, up to age 70 when your benefit amount would be 30.7% more than it would be at your FRA. But whenever you claim, that is the amount you’ll get for the rest of your life (except for cost of living adjustments (COLA) which may be applied annually).

The benefits or negatives to claiming now? Claiming now gives you money earlier, and if you need the money now, are in poor health and don’t expect at least average longevity, then that may be the right choice for you. But if you’re okay financially, are in good health and expect to live to at least average longevity (about 84 for a man your age), then you’ll get more in monthly and cumulative benefits by waiting until at least your full retirement age to claim benefits. By claiming now, the benefit reduction will be permanent. By waiting, the benefit increase will also be permanent.

Claiming before your full retirement age will also subject you to Social Security’s “earnings test” which limits the amount of money you can earn from working before they take back some of your benefits. The earnings test goes away when you reach your FRA.

If you are married, waiting longer to claim will also benefit your surviving spouse should you pass away first. Your surviving spouse will get 100% of the benefit you were receiving at your death (if they have reached full retirement age) and the longer you wait to claim, the more that survivor benefit will be.

Whenever you decide to claim, you can do so either by contacting Social Security directly (preferably by phone) or you can apply online at www.ssa.gov/retire. You will need to create your personal “My Social Security” online account first, but the online process is by far the easiest way to apply, considering that direct contact with SS often subjects you to long wait times (even on the phone).

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Forget New Year’s resolutions, single women; time for new decade resolutions

Not only is 2020 a new year, but a new decade is dawning as well, and some people are framing their annual resolutions in a bigger picture than just the next 12 months.

For single women aspiring to embrace being single and enrich their lives throughout the experience, looking ahead 10 years provides a longer lens to envision different aspects of self-development and expand the list of goals.

So rather than making New Year’s resolutions, Acamea Deadwiler (www.Acameadeadwiler.com), author of Single That: Dispelling the Top 10 Myths of the Single Woman, says 2020 is an apt time for single women to declare “new decade resolutions” that can result in a joyous and fulfilling life.

“My ultimate new decade resolution for single women is to not allow a relationship status to define them,” says Deadwiler. “I think that's where much of the discontent of being single comes from. It's the belief that something is wrong with being single and that it says something unflattering about you as a woman.

“So, you fight against it. You have to remind yourself that you are whole and worthwhile with or without a significant other. Remind yourself until you believe it, and practice behavior that reinforces the belief.”

Deadwiler suggests five new decade resolutions for single women:

Enjoy life as a “Party of One.” “Missing out on enjoyable activities can only add to feelings of discontent and make being single seem worse than it actually is,” Deadwiler says. “Don't allow being single to serve as an unnecessary hindrance that holds you back.”

Find your tribe. “Seek out people who share your interests so that you don't have to do things alone,” Deadwiler says. “There's a Meetup group for nearly any interest you may have. Whatever you enjoy, there's someone else who enjoys it, too, and is also looking for people with whom to do those things.”

Learn a new skill. It’s a wise use of time when single to focus on new skills that nurture personal development. “The more you learn and grow, the more complete you will feel when alone,” Deadwiler says. “The sense of accomplishment that you get will do wonders for your self-esteem.”

Stand up for your singlehood. People who are single can build confidence in their status by kindly reminding critics not to hold singlehood against them. “One who is single shouldn’t allow others to use your relationship status against you or speak of being single as a personal indictment,” Deadwiler says. “It's OK to correct people or gently nudge them away from the idea that your being single is a problem that needs to be fixed. Tell them what you've learned and experienced and how you've enjoyed your time alone.”

Permit yourself to be happy. “It's easy to get caught up in the idea that you should be on the prowl for a mate and that there is something abnormal about being alone,” Deadwiler says. “But you don't have to be so focused on finding love that you can't enjoy your own company.”

“These new decade resolutions allow you to focus on yourself while serving as a reminder that you matter,” Deadwiler says. “You see yourself as a whole person and can be reminded of who you are – independent of anyone else. In these moments, that person feels like enough.”

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How to plan for healthcare costs that could derail your retirement

People work for decades with a hopeful eye toward retirement. But while many try to envision their retirement years as a blissful time of fun and relaxation, no one has a crystal ball showing exactly what all the expenses will look like.

This is especially true of health care.

Fidelity’s annual Retiree Health Care Cost Estimate projected that a 65-year-old couple retiring in 2019 could expect $285,000 in health care and medical expenses during their retirement. An Edward Jones survey showed many Americans are concerned about health care expenses in retirement, particularly baby boomers.

“People spend their healthy years accumulating all their wealth,” says Michael Macke (www.petrosplanning.com), vice president and co-owner of Petros Financial Group. “They work hard and save, building their nest egg.

“But when you retire, you wind up spending a lot of your wealth on your health. In talking with people about retirement for 25 years, health care is always their top concern. To most people it’s the great unknown that can derail the best-laid plans. You never know when you’re going to get sick or come down with a disease. What kind of care will be required, and most of all, what is it going to cost?”

How do you plan for that great unknown — health care costs in retirement? Macke offers these tips:

Make extra wiggle room for the “what-if” medical expenses. “When planning a long-term budget, most people just look at their baseline monthly expenses, but it’s wise to have a discussion about how health care costs can fit in during retirement,” Macke says. “Budgeting for a potential additional expense of $350 to $500 per month in the future can help you be better prepared to handle that ‘what-if’ scenario.”

Open a Health Savings Account (HSA). An HSA offers tax advantages such as deductible contributions and tax-free withdrawals for qualified medical expenses. “The funds from your HSA can be used to pay for Medicare premiums and long-term care insurance premiums,” Macke says. “Those who are 55 or older can make a catch-up contribution of $1,000 a year in addition to the maximum contribution limit (which is $3,500 annually for individual coverage and $7,000 for family coverage).”

Manage Medicare annually. “Every year, you should be reviewing Medicare plans. You need to figure out which plan is best for you based on your health as well as what’s covered and what isn’t in each option.” Macke says. “Some plans may cost a little more but would save you on doctor’s visits and co-pays. Also, remember that your part B and D premiums could be higher based on your annual income from two years prior. Make sure you are working with a tax planner and retirement planner to manage your income, which may include distributions from retirement accounts. Being aware of these limits could save you money! Your health changes constantly as do your options for Medicare coverage. Make sure you are evaluating each year.”

Pay attention to your health. Sounds simple, but a healthy lifestyle is the best way to reduce the chance of health complications and costly bills in retirement. “Don’t miss annual checkups with both your doctor and dentist,” Macke says. “Adhere to a reasonable diet and fitness regimen. And don’t discount the dentist. Cardiovascular disease shows up in the gums first.”

“Unexpected medical expenses later in life threaten our physical health and our financial health,” Macke says. “Therefore, it’s vital to be proactive and plan as early as possible in order to protect your retirement you’ve worked so hard for.”

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Avoid these common student financial aid mistakes

Many students spend more for college than they should by making some common mistakes when seeking financial aid. Follow these tips from KHEAA to make sure you get the help you need.

Some people don’t bother to apply for financial aid because they don’t think they’ll qualify. But they should submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to find out if they’re eligible for state and federal student aid programs. Not filing may hurt their chances of getting more free money for college.

Another common mistake is waiting until the last minute to apply for financial aid. Some programs have deadlines, while others have limited funds.

Colleges send each student who has applied for student aid a financial aid package. Students and their families should look it over carefully. They should compare offers if they have received packages from more than one school to see which is the best deal. Of course, students should also consider other factors, such as whether a school offers the academic program a student wants or if it meets other expectations.

Students who need loans to help pay for college must be good consumers. Not all lenders offer the same rates and benefits. Borrowers should pay close attention to what lenders call the back-end benefits: the interest rate and principal reductions offered when repaying the loan.

KHEAA is a public, non-profit agency established in 1966 to improve students’ access to college. It provides information about financial aid and financial literacy at no cost to students and parents.

KHEAA also helps colleges manage their student loan default rates and verify information submitted on the FAFSA. For more information about those services, visit www.kheaa.com.

In addition, KHEAA disburses private Advantage Education Loans for its sister agency, KHESLC. For more information about Advantage Education Loans, visit www.advantageeducationloan.com.

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How complaining customers can become your business’ best friends

Dealing with customer complaints isn’t a business owner’s favorite task, but that sometimes stressful part of running a company can provide opportunities to improve the business for the long run, experts say.

“Turning those complaints into positives depends largely on two factors,” says Alex Zlatin, CEO of Maxim Software Systems (www.alexzlatin.com). “One, how well business owners and their team handle unhappy customers directly one-on-one, and two, devising solutions for specific customer issues that keep coming up.”

In terms of direct customer service, studies show complaining customers could end up being some of a business’ best customers. Harvard Business Review found that those who have a complaint handled in under five minutes spend more on future purchases.

As for developing long-term solutions for common problems customers bring up, Zlatin says a business should make a habit of documenting all customer complaints, then discuss those issues as a team. Another way, he adds, is to send out customer surveys that include a wide range of questions geared to improving the company’s processes and customer service.

"The bottom line is, the way a business handles its customer complaints determines its success or failure in an increasingly competitive marketplace,” Zlatin says. “Businesses that turn complaints into opportunities for building closer relationships with customers are the ones that are most likely to grow and prosper. Prompt and systematic handling of customer complaints has a positive impact on the major business areas.”

Zlatin says dealing with customer complaints effectively can help a business in the following ways:

Earns customer loyalty. When customers tell you about a problem they’ve had with your company, they expect you to correct it – and if you do, they might show their appreciation with future purchases. “If you don’t correct it promptly,” Zlatin says, “there’s a good chance you will lose them. Show you care by being patient, listening, asking questions and getting all the information possible to make it right. They’ll see that you truly want them to have a valued experience, and this will make them more likely to stay loyal to your business.”

Attracts more customers. Ignoring customer complaints altogether or putting them on low priority can cost a business dearly. “Annoyed customers might share a bad experience on social media or in person, turning potential buyers away,” Zlatin says. “But if you use customer complaints to make several positive changes in your business, current customers will notice and perhaps be your best recruiters. Your customer base will see that your business is more efficient, resulting in a better overall experience, and leading to referrals.”

Boosts overall performance. “Taking action based on customer complaints helps you improve your processes,” Zlatin says. “Issues you otherwise might not have realized you had will no longer hold your business back. Anything customers tell you will provide insight into how you can better meet their needs, operate more efficiently, and grow your business.”

“Don’t take customer complaints personally,” Zlatin says. “But do take them seriously. If you don’t, they’ll think you don’t value their business or opinions. Before long, you won’t be complaining about customers’ complaints, but about having fewer customers.”

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Is it you or an ID thief? How AI uses document verification to keep you safe

It’s a moment most people have experienced.

You’re required to show your ID for something and you wait as the person studies both your face and the photo on the driver’s license, passport, or other document, making sure you’re not an impersonator trying to pull a fast one.

These days, artificial intelligence is playing a role similar to that security person, with software that allows validation of IDs remotely through digital document verification. This way you can do business through your smartphone, and someone on the other end can make sure you’re who you say you are and that a thief hasn’t stolen your identity.

And that’s especially important at a time when identity theft has been on the rise, says Stephen Hyduchak, CEO of Aver (www.goaver.com), an identity-verification service.

“Fraudsters are getting creative, but so is technology,” Hyduchak says. “It’s important to keep up because there are so many ways to create fake documents that allow someone to claim to be you and maybe even get away with it.”

Hyduchak says there are a few categories of document fraud:

Illegitimate documents. These documents are completely false. They have characteristics such as missing holograms or other current standards that are essential parts of a legitimate version of that document.

False documents. This is a document that belongs to one person, but that another person tries to use in an effort to authenticate himself.

Modified documents. This is when an original document is altered. Hyduchak says the alterations can be caught with software that detects whether fonts and text match the originals.

How do fraudsters even get the ID documents to start with? Hyduchak says it’s a matter of data security breaches – and often a combination of more than one breach.

He gives this example. Just recently, the cryptocurrency exchange Binance, using a third-party Know-Your-Customer (KYC) provider, was the victim of a hack that leaked over 10,000 photographs of purported Binance KYC data. This breach affected up to 60,000 people.

“On Binance, users buy and sell cryptocurrency, something that is privacy-centric by its very nature, but still vulnerable,” Hyduchak says.

“Coupling leaks like this with major data breaches like Equifax and Target, our personal information can be manipulated for the fraud with some basic photoshop work.”

A digital verification process is one way to head off any subterfuge, Hyduchak says. For example, his company has a program that works this way: The user captures a picture of their ID or passport using their smartphone. The user then takes a selfie to verify they are the same person pictured on the ID or passport. Facial recognition software compares the images through algorithms.

“As time goes on,” Hyduchak says, “I think you are going to see digital facial checks become the standard for ID verification, and that will eliminate most types of fraud.”

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Learn the difference between a need and a want

A big step to financial security is learning the difference between a need and a want, according to KHEAA. Students who learn that difference will find that their bank accounts grow more quickly.

Needs include clothes, food and, for many students, transportation.

With clothes, a want may mean wearing only designer items that cost more than clothes that last just as long and look just as good.

Students might want to eat a deluxe cheeseburger at a fast food restaurant every day, even though they can save money by making their own sandwich and brown-bagging it.

If a student needs a car, a want would be a new sports convertible instead of a reliable, used car with good gas mileage and less flash.

Before making a purchase, students should ask themselves if they can get by with a less expensive item — or without that item completely. They should save the money they don’t spend so it’s there when they really need something.

KHEAA is a public, non-profit agency established in 1966 to improve students’ access to college. It provides information about financial aid and financial literacy at no cost to students and parents.

KHEAA also helps colleges manage their student loan default rates and verify information submitted on the FAFSA. For more information about those services, visit www.kheaa.com.

In addition, KHEAA disburses private Advantage Education Loans for its sister agency, KHESLC. For more information about Advantage Education Loans, visit www.advantageeducationloan.com.

Naughty or nice?

The authorities at Lithuania’s Vilnius International Airport had a bright idea for its Christmas display this year: they adorned its Christmas Tree with all manner of banned items confiscated from passengers at check-in during the past year. Instead of traditional ornaments the tree was festooned with such dangerous items as scissors, knives and box cutters seized from travelers who disregarded baggage requirements.

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Ugly Christmas Sweaters

The ugly Christmas sweater craze has come a long way since it got started just a few decades ago. The most recent iteration of the trend involves farm animals. At least one dairy farm in the Channel Islands ushered in the holiday season by outfitting their cows with custom made sweaters, appropriate for even the most fashionable Ugly Sweater Party this year. Becky Houze, whose farm is located on the island of Jersey, says "it took a while to cow-ordinate the right design, but we think we've landed on a look worthy of the cream of the crop. With just days to go until Santa comes to town, we've definitely got the Christmas feeling."

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The Christmas Spirit

Some people go overboard when it comes to holiday decorations. Take the driver who was pulled over by a Washington State Trooper who spotted his overly decorated SUV traveling down a local highway. He pulled the car over and gave the driver a stern warning that Christmas lights and ornaments might just be a hazard. The patrol’s public information officer tweeted photos of the car, a tweet that was not so well received by the majority of recipients. As one recipient put it in response to the posting: “Nice use of resources. I’d say let the lights go and actually pull over people who are breaking dangerous traffic laws.” Another compared the trooper to the Grinch.

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Dental emergencies: When to seek immediate help, when you can wait

Maybe a tooth broke as you snacked on popcorn. Or perhaps you joined a pickup basketball game and an elbow to the mouth knocked out a tooth completely.

Mouth mishaps aren’t that unusual, but how do you know whether such dental predicaments are a minor annoyance or a true emergency?

“In some cases, a couple of days won’t matter and you don’t need to go rushing to your dentist’s office or the emergency room,” says Dr. Jamie Reynolds (www.AskDrReynolds.com), an orthodontist, national and international lecturer, and author of World Class Smiles Made in Detroit.

“But other cases can be serious and you’ll want treatment as quickly as you can get it.”

Reynolds offers examples of tooth or gum-related symptoms you might encounter and whether emergency treatment is warranted:

Severe pain with symptoms of infection. An infection can quickly spread, so get treatment immediately, Reynolds says. In the worst-case scenario, he says, this could lead to sepsis, which can be fatal. Symptoms that indicate the infection has spread include fever, rapid breathing, abnormally high or low blood pressure, and/or confusion. Symptoms in the mouth include severe pain, swelling in the gums, swelling in the face, bad breath, and pus or fluids coming from the infected area.

Toothache. Toothaches are no fun. “If the pain is just an annoyance, and you don’t have any other symptoms, you can wait a day or two to see a dentist,” Reynolds says. However, putting off treatment of a sore tooth can lead to serious infection and/or increase the potential need for root canal treatment and tooth loss. If the pain is anything more than mild hot/cold sensitivity, get a dental appointment ASAP.

Soreness from braces. It’s common to experience minor pain after braces have been put on or tightened, and a visit to your dentist or orthodontist shouldn’t be need, Reynolds says. “You should be able to manage the pain at home with ice, dental wax, or an over-the-counter painkiller,” he says.

Tooth knocked out. “If a tooth is knocked out and you want to have any chance of saving it, you need to act immediately,” Reynolds says. The American Association of Endodontists reports that your best bet is to pick up the tooth without touching the exposed root. If the tooth is dirty, rinse it with water only, and place it back in the socket right away. Hold the tooth in place and keep it moist. If you can’t put it back in the socket, keep it between your cheek and gums, or place it in a cup of milk, the association says. You increase the odds of saving the tooth if you can get to a dentist or endodontist’s office within 30 minutes. If that’s not possible, go to the emergency room.

Chipped or broken tooth. If a tooth becomes chipped or broken, but not knocked out entirely, you’re in better shape, Reynolds says. Yes, you will want to see your dentist as soon as you can, but it’s not an emergency. That means get an appointment as soon as possible, but you don’t need to drop everything and rush to the office.

Bleeding in the mouth. If you have uncontrolled mouth bleeding caused by cuts, seek immediate care, Reynolds says. On the other hand, it’s not uncommon to experience minor bleeding caused by inflamed gums, irritated sores, or minor cuts. Assuming the bleeding stops on its own, there’s no need for immediate treatment, he says. But mention the bleeding to your dentist at your next appointment.

While these are good guidelines, Reynolds adds this caveat: If you’re uncertain and you can’t get hold of your dentist’s office for advice because it’s after hours, go ahead and seek treatment.

“If nothing else, it will give you peace of mind,” he says. “And you may end up saving your tooth or – in the case of a significant infection – even saving your life.”

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Create a festive centerpiece from your indoor and outdoor garden

By MELINDA MYERS

Take a break from the holiday rush for a bit of gardening relief. Grab a pruner and basket then wander through your landscape gathering a few evergreen branches, berry-laden stems and cones to create a holiday centerpiece.

Most gardeners are used to walking into their summer garden collecting blossoms to create a bouquet or arrangement for their summer parties. Winter should be no exception.

Start by gathering some greens. The fan-like sprays of arborvitae, blue-green sprigs of juniper and stems of other evergreens like yews, boxwood, pines, and spruces provide all the greenery you’ll need.

Now look for items with interesting color or shapes. Red and yellow twig dogwoods, curly willow, contorted filbert and fantail willow provide interesting color and form.

Next, gather cones, berries and fruits such as rose hips, the blue berry-like cones of junipers, sweet gum seedpods, alder’s cone-like fruit, and of course evergreen cones as substitutes for summer blooms.

Don’t overlook purple coneflower, black berry lily, penstemon and other seed heads and pods. Fluffy seed heads of ornamental and native grasses make nice fillers. All these make beautiful additions to any arrangement and can be painted or glittered for some added glitz. And don’t be afraid to add a few shiny ornaments for a bit of holiday flare.

Look for decorating possibilities that your indoor garden can provide. Dress up small plants to create a centerpiece and larger plants to provide a bit of seasonal color and decor.

Stop by your favorite florist or garden center and purchase a few water picks and cut flowers. Place the cut flowers in the picks and sink them into the pots of your favorite houseplants. This adds some color and seasonal interest to any green plant.

Consider creating a changeable houseplant container. Plant several compatible indoor plants in a large container. Sink a small empty pot in the space where you want to create a focal point. Set a small potted flowering plant inside this empty one. Replace the flowering plant occasionally to freshen up the container garden or create a seasonal display. Miniature poinsettias, azaleas, African violets and cyclamen allow you to change out the display throughout the year and for any special occasion.

Make it even easier to change the display by filling a large basket with a collection of potted houseplants and flowering plants. Switch out the flowers as they fade and foliage plants as the holidays, your mood or the décor changes.

Use silk flowers, glittery spikes and decorative ornaments to add a splash of color and sparkle to your indoor garden as needed. Exchange these for red, pink and white hearts on Valentine’s Day, colorful Easter eggs, or faux fall leaves as the seasons change.

Once you’ve created your first arrangement, you’ll be looking for additional opportunities to create more. And as you plan this year’s garden, consider growing more plants that can be used to dress up your dinner table and other rooms in your home.

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Holiday helpers: Six ways you can support a family with a special needs child during the holidays

By HOLLEY MOSELEY

The holidays are a time to celebrate, relax, and make special memories. But for families with a medically fragile child or children, there's little time left for fire gazing, gift wrapping, or attending parties or school plays. Why? Because special needs kids need constant care and attention, and the arrival of the holidays doesn't change that. This is why one of the best ways you can commemorate the season of giving is by becoming a "holiday helper" to families who may desperately need a hand.

The holiday season can be an exhausting and overwhelming time for families with a medically fragile child. Between work, rushing their child or children to school or doctor's visits, and the demands of everyday life, parents' lives are filled to the max. They have almost no extra time to make this time of year special. Often, the holidays pass in a blur and are over before they ever began.

If you know a family in this situation, the greatest gift you could offer is your time and support.

Families probably won't ask for it, but that doesn't mean they don't need it. And for a medically fragile child going through the struggle of their life, anything you can do to brighten his or her day is absolutely worth doing.

My daughter RayAnn is one such child. Now a thriving teenager, RayAnn spent many years severely ill and hovering near death. After being diagnosed with cerebral palsy and epilepsy since birth, she began experiencing a drastic increase in her seizure activity and was hospitalized many times with status epilepticus—when seizures follow one another without recovery of consciousness in between. After many years of trying every possible treatment, my husband and I discovered "Charlotte's Web," an oil produced from a high-CBD/low-THC cannabis plant. The CBD-rich oil significantly reduced and eventually eliminated the seizures and allowed RayAnn to start making huge strides in her health and happiness.

During RayAnn's most difficult years, I was always so grateful for help from others. A small gesture of caring can go a long way to help a family find the balance they need during such a hectic time of year.

If you're inspired to support a family with a special needs child during the holidays, here are some ways to be a holiday helper.

Ask, "How can I help?" The simple act of reaching out and asking, "What can I do?" or, "What do you need?" is meaningful in itself—especially since people may feel uncomfortable or unsure of what to say around families with special needs children. Showing up and offering assistance of any kind will always be appreciated. You may be asked to pick up a few stocking stuffers for the kids, drive a child to their physical therapy appointment, help repair a broken garage door, or rake up the last of the fall leaves from the yard. These are small kindnesses, but they lighten the load for stressed-out and worn-out parents.

This is one easy way to make a difference to a family that might be struggling under the load of responsibilities they face each day. By offering, you are making it clear that you are their ally. And if you catch them off guard with your offer, let them know that they can think about it for a few days and that you will check back in to ask again. Then, be sure to follow up.

Deliver a meal. A hot holiday meal can make all the difference to a rushed and frazzled family. Therefore, when you prepare your own holiday dinner, make extra amounts of each dish, package it all up along with a bottle of sparkling cider, and deliver it to the family's home. In fact, it doesn't even need to be homemade to be special and very appreciated; a bucket of chicken and a few sides from a restaurant or grocery store is always a big hit as well!

Include them. Families with a medically fragile child are busy, but they still want to be invited to attend neighborhood potlucks, holiday parties, caroling, and other seasonal outings. Keep inviting them to things. They will miss events when they need to but will attend others and always welcome the chance to have fun and socialize.

Treat parents to a night out (for a date, or holiday shopping, or anything else!). Having a child with special needs can place strain on a marriage (about 22 percent of parents of kids with disabilities divorce), and parents need to make time to nurture the relationship. Volunteer to come by and babysit all the children in the household so parents can have a long-overdue evening to themselves. Gather up your own kids too, and head over with some kid-friendly movies, board games, and ingredients for homemade cookies or s'mores. Be sure to offer up this very generous gift ASAP so parents can get dinner reservations or order tickets to a holiday concert or movie in advance.

Parents also need kid-free time to shop for holiday gifts. During the holidays RayAnn was always with me, even when I was shopping for her presents. Luckily my mother could sometimes step in and watch her so I could run some shopping errands, but not every family has this resource. Offering to pick up the kids from school and entertain them for a few hours gives parents time to grab some gifts or stocking stuffers or wrap presents.

Don't forget about siblings. Caring for a differently abled child can be a full-time job for the whole family, and despite everyone's best efforts, siblings may sometimes feel neglected, jealous of the attention their brother or sister receives, or resentful that they must help out in their daily care. So, volunteer to take the siblings out on a special "kids date." You can take them to a museum or aquarium, or go ice skating, or take them shopping for holiday presents for Mom and Dad. (A siblings outing may be best in situations when the medically fragile child is occupied with other activities. Work with the parents to ensure that they do not feel excluded!)

Brighten up the hospital room. If a child can't be home for the holidays due to hospitalization, you can help make their hospital room merry and bright—and it's one less thing the parents have to worry about. Schedule a time to meet the family there for a visit and bring a mini tree or light-up menorah, a string of colored lights, festive wall hangings, tinsel, stockings, and instant hot cocoa. In no time at all, the room—and your own heart—will feel warm and cozy.

It takes real courage to reach out and offer help to special needs parents—especially if you're unsure of how the parents will react to your offer. You may worry that you're intruding or crossing an inappropriate boundary, but this is usually not the case. Push past the momentary discomfort and let a family know you see them and that you would love to help. Your selfless gift helps families find that elusive balance that makes their holidays merry and bright. And that is a gift worth giving, every time.

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Social Security Matters

By AMAC Certified Social Security Advisor Russell Gloor

Association of Mature American Citizens

Ask Rusty – How Can We Change Social Security’s Earnings Limit?

Dear Rusty: How do we change the Social Security earnings cap amount? Do I need to go through my Congressman? Social Security is withholding my benefit because they say I earned too much. The system is very unfair! Signed: Disgruntled Worker

Dear Disgruntled: The Social Security earnings test has been a part of Social Security’s rules and regulations since the original Social Security Act of 1935. In fact, benefits were originally paid only if someone was not working at all, and if a beneficiary worked after they started collecting, they lost all benefits. The law has undergone changes over the years to bring it to where it is today, which is to limit the amount of earnings someone can have while collecting Social Security prior to their full retirement age before taking back some benefits.

If the earnings limit is exceeded, and you have not yet reached your full retirement age, Social Security typically withholds your benefits until they recover what you owe for exceeding the limit. The limit is adjusted annually based upon changes to the National Wage Index, and the annual limit for 2020 is $18,240, up from $17,640 last year. There is also a “first year rule” which will subject those who haven’t yet reached their full retirement age and claim benefits mid-year to a monthly limit (1/12th of the annual limit) for the remainder of that year. The earnings limit increases significantly (by about 2.6 times) during the year you reach your full retirement age (FRA), and goes away entirely once your FRA is attained.

As you are probably aware, exceeding the limit will cause Social Security to take back $1 for every $2 you are over the limit, or if you’re subject to the “first year rule” they will take back your entire benefit for any month you exceed the monthly limit. In the year you reach your FRA (but before your FRA) the “penalty” for exceeding the limit is less severe - $1 for every $3 over the limit. What you may not be aware of is that when you reach your full retirement age, Social Security will give you time credit for any months you did not receive benefits because you exceeded the earnings limit and receiving that time credit at your FRA will result in your benefit being increased. For example, if, over the years before you reached your FRA, Social Security withheld 12 months of benefits due to you exceeding the earnings limit, when you reach your full retirement age Social Security will recalculate your benefit to account for those 12 months by changing your claim date to 12 months later than when you actually applied. That will increase your benefit somewhat and, as a result, you may be able to eventually recoup some, or all, of the benefits which were withheld (depending upon your longevity).

How can we change the earnings cap? Well, the earnings limit already increases automatically each year with changes to the National Wage Index. But if you mean how can we eliminate it, I’m not optimistic that is possible since it would require full Congressional approval as well as Executive Branch approval to do so, and since Congress is now more focused on Social Security’s broader issue of the Trust Fund being depleted in about 2035 (which will result in an across-the-board cut in benefits unless Congress acts sooner). Nevertheless, you should certainly feel free to bring your concerns about Social Security’s “earnings cap” to the attention of your Congressional Representatives. Congressional Representatives are always willing to hear and understand the concerns of their constituents, and Social Security is very much a topic of discussion in Congress today.

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Why teaching employees your company financials is a winning formula

In many businesses a wide gulf exists between ownership and the workforce, a disconnect that can leave employees feeling undervalued and wanting to leave.

The high cost of replacing them means it’s important to find ways to retain the best performers, and studies show that transparency and education from the top can be a solution, boosting employee engagement and motivation.

And one way to achieve that transparency is to open the company’s financial books to employees and teach them the business, says Rich Armstrong (www.greatgame.com), a business coach, president of The Great Game of Business Inc., and co-author with Steve Baker of GET IN THE GAME: How To Create Rapid Financial Results And Lasting Cultural Change.

“Too often in business, we fail to show the players on our own team the big picture – the overall score of the game,” Armstrong says. “We tend to try to manage from the sidelines, focusing on individual performance. Why not teach them what winning means in business?

“But opening the books may be the first time in the employees’ lives they feel they’re being treated as adults. This type of financial transparency builds trust and mutual respect. Teaching employees the business involves them in making a difference, so as a business leader, you need to get comfortable with opening things up.”

Many business owners are hesitant to open the books to their employees. One of their concerns is giving employees access to salary information, but that isn’t advisable, says Baker, who is vice president of The Great Game of Business.

“Opening your books does not mean sharing every detail,” Baker says. “On the other hand, if people see how much the company is making and that makes them want more, that’s what you want as a business owner.”

Armstrong and Baker break down how to open the books for employees and the benefits of doing so:

Bridge the gap between perception and reality. The perception among employees that the owner is focused on self wealth can be changed, Armstrong says, by teaching employees how hard it is for most companies to make money. “Many people would be surprised to know how little even large companies make in profit from every dollar of sales,” Armstrong says. “Research shows the median bottom line in companies in 212 industries across the U.S. is 6.5 cents on every dollar of sales. But the average employee thinks their company makes six times that.”

Break it down for them. “Once you show your team how hard it is to make money, sketch out a simplified income statement for your business, showing your revenue streams and all your expenses,” Baker says. “Draw a dollar bill and show them how little the company keeps out of every dollar.”

Bring the marketplace to your people. An owner can provide clearer perspective to the employees by sharing how and what other companies in the industry are doing. “Do your homework,” Armstrong says, “and find out about your competition. If your employees know how they stack up against the field, most will respond to your appeal to move the needle. Your transparency has made them feel valued.”

Make teaching financials interesting. “The strategy is to create a business of business people,” Baker says. “But remember, you’re trying to educate your people about your business, not create a bunch of CPAs. Share, teach and involve them in the numbers they can impact. Your people rarely need to know about debits and credits or how to do an adjusting entry. But they may very well need to know how production efficiency is calculated and why receivable days matter.

Teaching the business helps everybody begin to understand what they can do, both individually and as a team, to influence bottom line financial results.”

“The purpose of opening the books is to boost the employees’ confidence in understanding the numbers and in the company itself,” Armstrong says.

“Then and only then will they begin to make a connection to the numbers that measure their performance and talk intelligently about improving the business.”

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How complaining customers can become your business’ best friends

Dealing with customer complaints isn’t a business owner’s favorite task, but that sometimes stressful part of running a company can provide opportunities to improve the business for the long run, experts say.

“Turning those complaints into positives depends largely on two factors,” says Alex Zlatin, CEO of Maxim Software Systems (www.alexzlatin.com). “One, how well business owners and their team handle unhappy customers directly one-on-one, and two, devising solutions for specific customer issues that keep coming up.”

In terms of direct customer service, studies show complaining customers could end up being some of a business’ best customers. Harvard Business Review found that those who have a complaint handled in under five minutes spend more on future purchases.

As for developing long-term solutions for common problems customers bring up, Zlatin says a business should make a habit of documenting all customer complaints, then discuss those issues as a team. Another way, he adds, is to send out customer surveys that include a wide range of questions geared to improving the company’s processes and customer service.

”The bottom line is, the way a business handles its customer complaints determines its success or failure in an increasingly competitive marketplace,” Zlatin says. “Businesses that turn complaints into opportunities for building closer relationships with customers are the ones that are most likely to grow and prosper. Prompt and systematic handling of customer complaints has a positive impact on the major business areas.”

Zlatin says dealing with customer complaints effectively can help a business in the following ways:

Earns customer loyalty. When customers tell you about a problem they’ve had with your company, they expect you to correct it – and if you do, they might show their appreciation with future purchases. “If you don’t correct it promptly,” Zlatin says, “there’s a good chance you will lose them. Show you care by being patient, listening, asking questions and getting all the information possible to make it right. They’ll see that you truly want them to have a valued experience, and this will make them more likely to stay loyal to your business.”

Attracts more customers. Ignoring customer complaints altogether or putting them on low priority can cost a business dearly. “Annoyed customers might share a bad experience on social media or in person, turning potential buyers away,” Zlatin says. “But if you use customer complaints to make several positive changes in your business, current customers will notice and perhaps be your best recruiters. Your customer base will see that your business is more efficient, resulting in a better overall experience, and leading to referrals.”

Boosts overall performance. “Taking action based on customer complaints helps you improve your processes,” Zlatin says. “Issues you otherwise might not have realized you had will no longer hold your business back. Anything customers tell you will provide insight into how you can better meet their needs, operate more efficiently, and grow your business.”

“Don’t take customer complaints personally,” Zlatin says. “But do take them seriously. If you don’t, they’ll think you don’t value their business or opinions. Before long, you won’t be complaining about customers’ complaints, but about having fewer customers.”

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UAMS House Call

Dr. Appathurai Balamurugan

Assistant Professor

Department of Family and Preventative Medicine

Q. Cauliflower seems to be sprouting up in all kinds of unexpected food products. How nutritious is this vegetable?

A. Broccoli’s cousin has recently grown in popularity, thanks, in part, to vegan and low-carb diets in which it is substituted for other foods.

White vegetables are generally considered low in nutrition but cauliflower is an exception and offers potential cancer-fighting properties. Cauliflower, containing a couple grams of fiber per cup, is also a source of vitamin C, potassium, folate and vitamin K. Because vitamin K helps your blood to clot, those taking blood thinners should monitor their vitamin K intake.

Cauliflower’s blandness and texture make it versatile. It can be served as “steak” in the form of thick grilled slices or as “nuggets” when breaded and baked. Pulverized, it can be used for pizza “crusts” or “breadsticks.” Chopped cauliflower can substitute as “rice.”

Eating more vegetables provides a variety of health benefits, and most people do not reach their daily recommended intake.

However, cauliflower is a fibrous cruciferous vegetable containing a carbohydrate that the body cannot fully digest. This can lead to gas and bloating. Give the body time to adjust by gradually increasing fiber intake and drinking plenty of water.

Q. Can getting a flu shot give you the flu?

A. No. Flu shots contain dead viruses or proteins from the flu virus. Some people can experience aches or a low fever after getting the flu shot, but this reaction is not the flu.

Usually, the flu spreads through coughing, sneezing, talking or touching something like a door handle that has the virus on it.

Washing hands often and thoroughly with soap and water offers the best protection. The flu is not bacterial but viral and antiviral drugs like oseltamivir (Tamiflu) and zanamivir (Relenza) may ease symptoms if taken within two days of getting sick.

The flu can be serious, especially in children and older adults, if it evolves into pneumonia or respiratory failure. Flu is the leading cause of vaccine-preventable deaths in the United States, with those 65 and older accounting for about 90% of flu-related deaths.

Everyone 6 months and older should get a flu vaccine annually to help protect themselves and others against the strains predicted to be active that year. It is best to get the shot as soon as it is available in the fall, as it takes about two weeks to become fully effective.

Q. Is there anything that will help slow the fine lines and wrinkles as I age?

A. There are several over-the-counter treatments that may help skin appear more youthful, but any improvement may take a few months.

Retinoids, which come from vitamin A, and vitamin C work best on wrinkles. Retinol, a type of retinoid, may help skin produce more collagen and become smoother. It is gentler than the prescription-strength version, tretinoin (Retin-A), which can dry the skin. Vitamin C may help remove fine lines and lessen sun damage, both of which could keep wrinkles at bay.

If sagging skin is a problem, growth factors or peptides, which help produce proteins, including collagen, may help restore firmness. Daily moisturizers with ceramides, fats found in the layers of skin lost through aging, are a less expensive option.

Using a moisturizer daily helps dry skin, plumps it and offers a more youthful appearance. If using more than one anti-aging product, apply the one with an active ingredient first for optimal absorption.

When a product has different levels of an active ingredient, begin with the lowest strength and follow the directions, as some products should be applied in the morning and others at night.

Q. What are superbugs and should I be worried about them?

A. Superbugs are germs that can’t be killed by basic antibiotics. They are a concern because common but serious infections are becoming harder to treat as more bacteria, parasites and viruses are able to survive some of the drugs we use. If it becomes increasingly more difficult to prevent and treat infections, treatments like major surgery and chemotherapy may become more risky.

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria are present worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. Each year, about 2 million Americans become sick from superbugs, leading doctors to prescribe less effective, more costly drugs with more side effects and recovery time for patients.

Bacterial resistance to drugs is a natural process. Each generation of bacteria that survives a treatment passes on this resistance to their offspring. Using antibiotics too often and giving them to livestock to encourage growth accelerates this process.

Clostridium difficile (C. diff), a strain of bacteria that causes life-threatening diarrhea, is currently the most dangerous superbug, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

The best way to help prevent superbugs is by using antibiotics as directed, including completing the prescription even when you start feeling better.

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A shocking yuletide story

The Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga is using a novel way to cut back on its electric bill this year. They’ve hooked up their Christmas tree to an electric eel. Joey Turnipseed, who is in charge of the Aquarium’s audio visual needs, explained: "Whenever Miguel [that’s the eel’s name] discharges electricity, sensors in the water deliver the charge to a set of speakers. The speakers convert the discharge into the sound you hear and the festively flashing lights."

A lofty goal

Hammer Harrison, who plays for the Harlem Globetrotters, may have outdone himself at this year’s World Trick Shot Day. The basketball trickster, who holds the record for the longest underhanded basketball shot [84 feet 8.5 inches], made what some are calling the tallest jump shot. It was a slam dunk for Hammer as he parachuted from a plane at an altitude of 13,000 feet sinking his basketball into a hoop before safely hitting the ground. Last year, hoopster Harrison “dunked off the Stratosphere in Las Vegas, a shot of over 850 feet” on the Globetrotters’ 3rd Annual Trick Shot Day.

The Doghouse Inn

Jayne Trapper of Devon, England is something of a homebody. Husband Paul spent most evenings at a local pub. Then Jayne got the bright idea of building a pub of her own in their backyard, which she appropriately named, The Doghouse Inn. Says Jayne, “My husband had always loved popping down to our local [pub], and I could never seem to keep him at home … so I got to thinking — why not create my own pub, become my own landlady and then I can really tell people - my husband's in the doghouse!"

An early dinner for NYC subway riders

New York City subway riders were treated to an early Thanksgiving dinner this year courtesy of an anonymous benefactor. The catered affair took place on a Brooklyn-bound-train-turned-diner chockfull of traditional dishes, including turkey, mashed potatoes and yams. The table was set in one car of the train, but volunteers made up heaping plates of festive food for all of the riders lucky enough to be on board the Sunday night before Thanksgiving.

Dogs go for a joy ride

A Port St. Lucie, FL driver left Max, the dog, alone in his car and as he stepped away the pooch managed to accidentally put the auto in gear and went on a joy ride-- in reverse,. Anna Sabol, who lives nearby, watched as the car went round and round in a cul-de-sac for some 30 minutes, coming to a halt when it backed into a mailbox. The unidentified owner of the vehicle promised to pay for the minimal damage Max caused. But, Ms. Sabol was impressed with Max, telling a reporter for the Sun-Sentinel newspaper: “They should give that dog a license. He drives better than some people I’ve seen on the roads here.”

How to cure tech addiction

If you’re concerned that tech addiction is having a negative impact on our children, you are not alone. In fact, smartphone dependence is a worldwide epidemic and has triggered a search for a cure. For example, in the Indonesian city of Bandung, West Java they’re giving elementary and middle school children baby chicks to raise as a way to treat their dependency. Mayor Oded M. Danial says the chicks will keep the kids preoccupied so they “won’t be too focused on their gadgets.” As an incentive, the children who raise the biggest chickens can win bicycles.

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Turn milkweed pods into works of art

By MELINDA MYERS

Homemade gifts are a wonderful way to show you care. Making them from items grown in your garden adds that extra personal touch. And just like the plant, decorations and gifts made from milkweed pods are gaining in popularity.

Considered a weed by some, common milkweed is making a comeback as more gardeners are growing this important food source for monarch butterflies. Harvest the seedpods and craft them into wreaths, stars and indoor holiday trees.

Remove the pods from the plants, separate the halves and allow them to dry as needed. If you don’t have your own milkweed plants, ask a friend or neighbor if you can harvest a few of theirs.

Search the internet and craft books for creative ways to use these. You would be surprised how a little paint can turn milkweed pods into a work of art. Paint a winter or holiday scene on the inside of the pods. Or add a bit of moss, tiny dried flowers, acorns and miniatures to create a three-dimensional piece of art.

Decorate the outside with the eyes, nose and hat of Santa Claus or one of his reindeer. Add some pinecone scales for ears and evergreen needles for whiskers and you have the start of an adorable mouse.

Even those with limited artistic talent can create pretty ornaments. Paint the pod and glue a colorful feather or string of beads to the inside. Add twine with a bead or two to the top for a hanger.

Paint the inside and outside of the pods green, gold, silver or other color of your choice Purchase a Styrofoam cone and attach the pods, inner side facing out with pins. Place the pods in rows, covering the cone to create the perfect evergreen.

Glue the wide end of five pods together to form a star. Fill the center with a small cone or sweet gum pod. Still more pods? Use them to decorate a holiday wreath. If you have enough you can create a wreath of all milkweed pods. Just cover the wreath form or frame with milkweed pods or use moss, burlap or greens as a base.

But don’t stop with winter inspired decorations. Save some milkweed pods to craft into beautiful dahlias, birds, butterflies, fairies and more. Just start experimenting with paint, hot glue, florist wire and other natural materials.

Then next fall consider harvesting the pods before they open. You’ll either contain the spread if desired or harvest seeds to share with friends. Place the pods in a paper bag in a warm location to open. Use the fluffy seeds to fill clear ornaments or separate the seeds from the fluff to plant and grow more monarch-friendly plants.

Once you get started crafting, friends and neighbors will be leaving pods on your doorstep to craft into works of art. And you may find yourself adding more milkweeds to the garden. You’ll have plenty of pods for crafting and enjoy the monarch caterpillars munching on the leaves and adult butterflies sipping on the nectar in the garden.

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4 tips for steering your business through tough times

Good times come with this certainty: They never last.

For businesses, that means formidable challenges (a weak economy, new competition, a sea change in the marketplace) are always just around the corner, and unprepared business leaders face the potential for disaster.

“You don’t have the luxury of resting on your laurels,” says Alyssa Rapp (www.alyssarapp.com), CEO of Surgical Solutions and author of Leadership & Life Hacks: Insights from a Mom, Wife, Entrepreneur & Executive.

“You have to keep battling, innovating, out-innovating, and outworking your competition.”

She knows something about that. From 2005 to 2015, Rapp served as the founder and CEO of Bottlenotes Inc., charting a course for the company through the turbulent years of the Great Recession. During her time at Bottlenotes, Rapp was named one of Inc. Magazine’s “30 Under 30” coolest entrepreneurs in the U.S. Starting in 2015, she served as the managing partner at AJR Ventures, which advised privately-held companies and private equity firms on their digital-marketing strategies.

Rapp offers four tips for helping business leaders meet the toughest of times with a resolute attitude:

Acknowledge fear, and move through it. Fear gets a bad rap, but it’s there for a reason: to protect you from something. “Just like standing on a balance beam is scary because your life or limbs are at risk, so, too, is making business decisions that carry huge risks,” says Rapp, a former competitive gymnast who knows something about balance beams. Your job is to acknowledge the fear – to take note of its presence – and then push through it. “Fear is a normal human response,” she says. “The trick is in not letting it dominate your psyche.”

Commit to finishing what you start. You have to commit before you even begin. “If you start anything knowing you probably won’t succeed, then you won’t,” Rapp says. “You’re setting yourself up for failure. You must show up with full commitment, having faith, true grit, and belief in yourself.”

Know that all great ideas start with ‘what if.’ Never be afraid to ask what if, over and over, until you find a solution, Rapp says. She points out that most of the best entrepreneurial innovation in the United States over the past 20 years has been born out of Silicon Valley, precisely because of the constant willingness to ask and re-ask this simple question. “Some people’s responses to challenges or obstacles are to stop asking questions,” Rapp says. “If you want to solve a problem, you have to open yourself up to the possibility that change is inevitable, and reframing the problem will present an otherwise undiscovered solution.”

Remember that you have to be present to win. You can’t win a race if you’re not competing. “So before you do anything else – before you commit to finishing what you start, before you acknowledge your fear and move through it – you have to show up,” Rapp says. “Remember that saying that 80 percent of success is showing up? There’s truth to that because showing up matters.”

It’s inevitable that, regardless of how well you think you’ve planned, life will throw you curveballs, Rapp says.

“They will come at you in every area, every industry, every walk of life,” she says. “I’ve faced them as a mom, wife, entrepreneur, executive, friend – you name it. But I don’t run from them. I’ve learned to apply my brother’s advice: ‘The only way out is through.’ The truth is, I love curveballs, because each one comes with a question: What the hell are you going to do about it?”

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The FBI and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police — Marking a century of partnership

The FBI’s seventh National Academy class was the first to include an international partner—RCMP Sergeant Ed Wood. The National Academy is a prestigious educational training program for law enforcement leaders from around the world.

Earlier this summer, the Canadian Embassy in Washington, D.C., hosted an exhibit called Between Friends, Entre Amis: A Snapshot of Canada-U.S. Relations, which celebrated the 150-year partnership between our nations.

It also highlighted another milestone: a century of collaboration between the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and the FBI.

Canada’s federal law enforcement agency traces its origins to 1873. In that year, Canada created a central police force to patrol Canada’s new western territories. That force later became the North-West Mounted Police, then the RCMP in 1920.

Our respective organizations began working together soon after the Bureau’s launch in 1908. But the relationship took a major step forward 100 years ago this fall.

At the time, both nations were experiencing domestic unrest, including violent radicalism, brought on by the end of World War I and the birth of the Soviet Union.

It was clear that national security threats were becoming cross-border issues. Regular diplomatic channels were too slow to handle fast-moving law enforcement situations.

As a result, Colonel Charles Frederick Hamilton—the RCMP’s first intelligence officer—was dispatched to Washington, D.C., in September 1919.

His mission was to initiate a funnel of information sharing and act as an on-site liaison with U.S. agencies, including the Bureau of Investigation, as the FBI was then known.

Thrust into national security matters soon after its formation, the Bureau welcomed the chance to work with the highly-respected “Mounties” and other RCMP professionals.

Within weeks, the Bureau opened communications channels with our neighbor to the north.

The FBI—and the nation—are grateful to the RCMP for its longstanding partnership and look forward to working together for many more years to come.

The relationship soon began paying dividends. By the mid-1920s, the Bureau and RCMP were exchanging criminal identification information and tracking cross-border fugitives.

That led to many successes. In 1933, for example, a train robber named Frank Grigware—who had broken out of a U.S. prison two decades earlier—was arrested in Canada for poaching. Grigware might have gone unnoticed if not for an astute RCMP clerk who matched his fingerprints with those provided by the Bureau years before. It was a clear demonstration of the power of international information sharing.

In 1935, the FBI began the National Academy, a comprehensive training program for police executives. Just three years later, RCMP Sergeant Ed Wood became its first international graduate. He has been followed by many Canadian law enforcement officers and thousands of other international partners.

World War II brought even closer interaction. In May 1942, the Bureau opened a legal attaché in Ottawa, one of its first international liaison posts. It quickly became a vital link in sharing intelligence during and after the conflict.

In the early days of the Cold War, this cooperation was crucial in dealing with the stunning revelations of Igor Gouzenko. A code clerk in the Soviet Embassy in Ottawa, Gouzenko defected right after the end of World War II with the help of the RCMP. He provided a trove of documents about Soviet spying in North America. These disclosures sparked massive investigations and opened the eyes of both countries to Soviet espionage threat.

For a number of years, the Bureau and RCMP housed an official representative in each other’s headquarters. In 1957, these representatives were moved into our corresponding embassies, but the closeness of the relationship remained and led to many operational successes.

Among the most significant was the hunt for James Earl Ray. After assassinating Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968, Ray fled to Canada. The RCMP helped the FBI track his movements and unravel his various false identities. Ray was ultimately captured in London, when an airport ticket agent recognized his fake name from an RCMP watchlist.

As an age of international crime dawned in the late 20th century, the FBI and RCMP became closer than ever. The organizations worked joint cases involving drug trafficking, organized crime, telemarketing fraud, and more. They also joined hands to help protect multiple Olympic games in both nations.

Most importantly, the FBI and RCMP began extensive cooperation in investigating and preventing terrorism attacks.

In December 1999, for example, Ahmed Ressam was stopped at the Canadian border as he attempted to enter the U.S. His car was loaded with bomb-making materials. In the ensuing case, investigators and forensic experts from the RCMP and FBI clearly linked Ressam to a plot to bomb Los Angeles International Airport on the eve of the millennium celebrations. Ressam was convicted and sentenced to 37 years in prison.

For both organizations, the past century has proven the power and necessity of international law enforcement cooperation. The FBI—and the nation—are grateful to the RCMP for its longstanding partnership and look forward to working together for many more years to come.

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How to plan for healthcare costs that could derail your retirement

People work for decades with a hopeful eye toward retirement. But while many try to envision their retirement years as a blissful time of fun and relaxation, no one has a crystal ball showing exactly what all the expenses will look like.

This is especially true of health care.

Fidelity’s annual Retiree Health Care Cost Estimate projected that a 65-year-old couple retiring in 2019 could expect $285,000 in health care and medical expenses during their retirement. An Edward Jones survey showed many Americans are concerned about health care expenses in retirement, particularly baby boomers.

“People spend their healthy years accumulating all their wealth,” says Michael Macke (www.petrosplanning.com), vice president and co-owner of Petros Financial Group. “They work hard and save, building their nest egg.

“But when you retire, you wind up spending a lot of your wealth on your health. In talking with people about retirement for 25 years, health care is always their top concern. To most people it’s the great unknown that can derail the best-laid plans. You never know when you’re going to get sick or come down with a disease. What kind of care will be required, and most of all, what is it going to cost?”

How do you plan for that great unknown — health care costs in retirement? Macke offers these tips:

Make extra wiggle room for the “what-if” medical expenses. “When planning a long-term budget, most people just look at their baseline monthly expenses, but it’s wise to have a discussion about how health care costs can fit in during retirement,” Macke says. “Budgeting for a potential additional expense of $350 to $500 per month in the future can help you be better prepared to handle that ‘what-if’ scenario.”

Open a Health Savings Account (HSA). An HSA offers tax advantages such as deductible contributions and tax-free withdrawals for qualified medical expenses. “The funds from your HSA can be used to pay for Medicare premiums and long-term care insurance premiums,” Macke says. “Those who are 55 or older can make a catch-up contribution of $1,000 a year in addition to the maximum contribution limit (which is $3,500 annually for individual coverage and $7,000 for family coverage).”

Manage Medicare annually. “Every year, you should be reviewing Medicare plans. You need to figure out which plan is best for you based on your health as well as what’s covered and what isn’t in each option.” Macke says. “Some plans may cost a little more but would save you on doctor’s visits and co-pays. Also, remember that your part B and D premiums could be higher based on your annual income from two years prior. Make sure you are working with a tax planner and retirement planner to manage your income, which may include distributions from retirement accounts. Being aware of these limits could save you money! Your health changes constantly as do your options for Medicare coverage. Make sure you are evaluating each year.”

Pay attention to your health. Sounds simple, but a healthy lifestyle is the best way to reduce the chance of health complications and costly bills in retirement. “Don’t miss annual checkups with both your doctor and dentist,” Macke says. “Adhere to a reasonable diet and fitness regimen. And don’t discount the dentist. Cardiovascular disease shows up in the gums first.”

“Unexpected medical expenses later in life threaten our physical health and our financial health,” Macke says. “Therefore, it’s vital to be proactive and plan as early as possible in order to protect your retirement you’ve worked so hard for.”

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History Matters

A feature courtesy of The Grateful American Book Prize

Showing our children that their past is prelude to their future

On December 1, 1955, a 42-year-old seamstress in Montgomery, Alabama was arrested for refusing to move to the back of a bus. The incarceration of Rosa Parks triggered a year-long boycott of the city’s bus system by African Americans; it ended with a Supreme Court ruling that declared racial segregation on public transportation illegal. Mrs. Parks became known as the “mother of the civil rights movement.”

On December 2, 1823 President James Monroe sent his annual message to Congress prohibiting foreign colonization of the Americas by European nations. It stated that "we should consider any attempt on their part to extend their system to any portion of this hemisphere as dangerous to our peace and safety."

According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, Monroe made four basic points in his message: the United States would not interfere in the internal affairs of, or the wars between European powers; the United States recognized and would not interfere with existing colonies and dependencies in the Western Hemisphere; and, the Western Hemisphere was closed to future colonization; any attempt by a European power to oppress or control any nation in the Western Hemisphere would be viewed as a hostile act against the United States.

It was a balmy Sunday morning; Dec. 7, 1941. The U.S. Naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii was perfectly calm, but the stillness would not last. At precisely 7:55, an armada of approximately 360 Japanese warplanes attacked, killing 2,400 Americans, and wounding 1,200. Five of the eight American battleships, three destroyers, and seven other ships were sunk, or damaged in the surprise ambush that lasted just two hours. The next day, President Franklin Roosevelt declared war on Japan — a devastation that would pull in the rest of the world, and last four years.

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Ways to avoid reckless holiday spending that could wreck your retirement

While an enjoyable part of the holiday season is giving to others, those nearing retirement would be prudent to give something back to themselves as the year nears its end.

That’s the advice from some retirement planners: Reduce holiday spending to provide more money for one’s retirement savings. But it’s a well-known fact that much of America wakes up with a credit card hangover on New Year’s Day, and curtailing holiday expenses in favor of financial planning for one’s future requires more discipline and a stronger commitment.

“It’s easy to overspend during the holidays and make too many emotional purchase decisions,” says Jay Sharifi, an investment advisor at Legacy Wealth Management (www.lwealthmanagement.com) and author of Building a Better Legacy: Retirement Planning for Your Lifetime and Beyond. “That hurts your long-term financial goals.

“The holiday shopping list may seem to get longer as you get older, but at some point you need to draw a line and balance your urge to give with the must of retirement considerations. It doesn’t mean you leave people out, but rather, you don’t go overboard and leave a little more for yourself. It can make a big difference in the long run.”

Sharifi offers these tips on saving more for retirement during the holiday season:

Review your past expenses and plan for the big picture. The holidays are a good time to reflect on how you spent your earnings over the past year. Adjustments may be necessary to get your retirement savings on track. “All through the year, money gets away from people a little bit at a time,” Sharifi says. “That’s often because they don’t have a firm plan. Not dealing with your expenses correctly can be very costly to your retirement. The holidays are the right time to recalibrate for the future.”

Make a holiday list, check it twice. Sharifi says people should approach their holiday season spending in a way that can help them get on track toward retirement goals. That starts with a budget and sticking to it, but many people overspend during the holidays and end up paying for it well into the new year. “If you have a budget set for holiday shopping, you can prioritize and figure out how you will get it done within those boundaries,” Sharifi says. “Look for deals to stretch your dollars. Setting a budget will help you avoid spending sprees that leak onto your credit cards. The carryover there is you may need to dedicate funds in the coming year to reduce that debt, which makes it harder to save for retirement.”

Sock away gifts from the company. Getting extra money from your company is a reward that can be used wisely toward retirement. “If you receive a nice bonus, don’t spend it,” Sharifi says. “Put that extra cash in a 401(k). That lowers your taxable income and gives you a boost toward your savings goals. And if your company offers you a raise, set a healthy percentage of that raise aside for retirement savings in the coming year.”

Make extra money. Holiday seasonal jobs are an excellent opportunity to put extra money away for retirement. Online positions allow someone to work from home, and pet sitting is another popular part-time job with more people traveling during the holidays.

“It’s very tempting to spend this extra money, but if you have the big picture in mind, putting it in a long-term savings account is a great gift to yourself,” Sharifi says. “With many Americans sinking further into debt during the holidays, it might be the right time for them to rethink how they spend and how it affects retirement,” Sharifi says.

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Medal of Honor: Marine Corps Col. William E. Barber

BY KATIE LANGE

Some of our country's greatest heroes fought in iconic battles, but the few who fought in more than one during different wars — well, they've likely reached legendary status. That's the case for Marine Corps Col. William E. Barber, who served in three wars and earned the Medal of Honor in the middle of his 30-year career.

Barber was born Nov. 30, 1919, in Dehart, Kentucky, and grew up on a farm. In 1940, as the war in Europe was expanding, he decided to enlist in the Marine Corps. When the U.S. joined World War II, he was sent to the Pacific. Barber served in the Battle of Iwo Jima, where he was shot rescuing two comrades after he replaced his wounded commander. His actions there earned him the Silver Star and Purple Heart Medals.

Barber survived the war and remained in the Marines. When war broke out in Korea a few years later, he'd reached the rank of captain and was the commanding officer of Company F, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines in the storied 1st Marine Division.

Barber was one of the "Chosin Few" — the men who fought in the Battle of Chosin Reservoir, one of the toughest campaigns in military history. Waged in below-zero temperatures, heavy snow and frigid winds, the nearly three-week battle began when 120,000 Chinese troops infiltrated northeast North Korea. They attacked United Nations troops — about 30,000 men from the U.S. 1st Marine Division, two U.S. Army battalions and some allied troops — who were chasing a defeated North Korean Army north around the reservoir.

The U.N.'s main supply route went through the Toktong Pass, a narrow, steep three-mile mountain road below the reservoir. Troops on both sides knew whoever controlled the pass ruled the road in both directions.

That pass is exactly what Barber and his 240-man company were tasked with defending on Nov. 28, 1950. The Chinese attacked early that morning, surrounding the Marines by the reservoir, isolating them from the rest of their division, and blocking their escape route. Despite the siege, Barber encouraged his men to hold their positions and was able to call in air strikes and airdrops for critically needed ammunition, medication and food.

On the second day of fighting, orders were radioed to Barber for his company to fight its way back east to Hagaru-ri to be relieved. However, two units from Hagaru-ri trying to reinforce Barber's company had already been driven back by the Chinese, so that option didn't look promising.

Barber had a decision to make. He knew leaving his position would sever contact with about 10,000 Marines of the 5th and 7th regiments, who were trapped further west at Yudam-ni. It would also jeopardize their chances of joining the 3,000 Marines waiting for them to the east at Hagaru-ri.

"He chose to risk loss of his command rather than sacrifice more men," the Medal of Honor citation said. Barber asked for permission for the company to stand its ground at Fox Hill. He didn't want to lose more men, abandon those who were too wounded to walk, or lose the critical Toktong Pass.

His request was granted.

Barber suffered two injuries during the stand, but he stayed in control, "often moving up and down the lines on a stretcher to direct the defense," the citation said. For five days and six nights, Chinese troops led repeated onslaughts to try to take the hill, but Company F defended it valiantly, accounting for 1,000 enemy dead.

By Dec. 2, the 5th and 7th Marine Regiments trapped at Yudam-ni had fought their way free and were able to link up with Barber's men, who had held their position on the hill. When they were finally relieved by other friendly troops, only 82 of Barber's men were able to walk away.

"His profound faith and courage, great personal valor and unwavering fortitude were decisive factors in the successful withdrawal of the division from the deathtrap in the Chosin Reservoir sector," the citation read.

According to military records, Barber was hospitalized for three months. Eventually, all of the remaining U.N. troops were able to fight their way south and evacuate from North Korea, but the battle took its toll. The U.S. reported more than 12,000 casualties, including more than 3,000 dead. Chinese forces were decimated with an estimated 50,000 lost.

Barber is one of 17 men who earned the Medal of Honor for his actions at Chosin. On Aug. 20, 1952, Barber, then a major, received the honor from President Harry S. Truman in a ceremony in the White House Rose Garden. His wife and two children were there to witness it.

Barber went on to serve as a psychological operations officer in Vietnam before retiring as a colonel in 1970. He died April 19, 2002, at his home in Irvine, California. He was buried with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery.

Barber and the other "Chosin Few" left a legacy that Marines continue to try to emulate. The National Museum of the Marine Corps erected a Chosin Few Battle Monument in honor of those who fought there.

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Social Security Matters

By AMAC Certified Social Security Advisor Russell Gloor

Association of Mature American Citizens

Ask Rusty – About Survivor Benefits, My Own Benefits and Taxes

Dear Rusty: I am 67 and still working full time but plan to retire after June of next year. Because of my income I have not been drawing my Social Security benefits; however, my income will not be a tax issue in 2020 with my planned retirement. If I begin drawing my SS when I’m 68 next June, can I draw it retroactively to the first of the year at that rate? Or, beginning January 1, 2020, can I draw on my deceased wife's SS and then switch to my higher rate upon my birthdate in June? Signed: Exploring My Options

Dear Exploring: Since you are eligible for both a survivor benefit from your wife and your own SS retirement benefit you have a choice of which one to choose and when to claim. You can choose the survivor benefit first and continue to delay your own SS benefit, thus allowing your own benefit to continue to earn delayed retirement credits. You can delay until you are 70 years old or, depending upon your financial needs, you can claim your own benefit at any time, including June of next year.

Your survivor benefit from your wife will be 100% of the benefit your wife was receiving (or entitled to receive) at her death. You could have started that benefit when your wife passed, but it would have been reduced if that was before you reached your full retirement age (66). Survivor benefits reach maximum at your full retirement age (FRA), and at FRA you get 100% of your deceased wife’s SS benefit. You can restrict your application to your survivor benefit if you choose to do so, and you can request up to 6 months in retroactive survivor benefits if you wish. By doing that, you are delaying the claim for your own benefit so it continues to grow in value.

Since you have not yet claimed your own SS retirement benefit, you have already been earning Delayed Retirement Credits (DRCs) at a rate of 2/3rds of 1% per month past your FRA of 66. DRCs accumulate until you are 70 years old, when your monthly benefit would be 32% more than it would have been at your FRA and 16% more than it will be when you turn 68 in June 2020. If, instead of continuing to delay, you decide to claim your own SS benefit in June of next year, you can claim up to 6 months retroactive benefits, but doing so will move your effective claim date back 6 months and your monthly benefit amount will be permanently reduced by about 3.3%.

So, to answer your two specific questions: yes, you can claim your SS retirement benefit in June 2020 and get 6 months retroactive benefits but your benefit will be reduced as explained above. And yes, you can claim your survivor benefit from your deceased wife in January 2020 and then switch to your own SS retirement benefit in June. From a purely financial standpoint, the latter method would give you some extra money starting in January without reducing your own SS retirement benefit. And it would also give you the option of delaying your claim for your own benefits beyond June 2020 and continuing to earn DRCs until a later time, up to age 70 if you wish. Doing so would give you a substantially higher SS retirement benefit for the rest of your life.

But in either case, the SS benefits you collect will only become part of your taxable income if your “combined income” exceeds $25,000 (assuming you file your income tax as “single”). Your “combined income” is your normal Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) for income tax purposes, plus 50% of the SS benefits you received for the tax year, plus any non-taxable interest you may have. If your combined income exceeds $25,000 then up to 50% of the SS benefits you received in the tax year becomes part of your overall taxable income; if your combined income exceeds $34,000 then up to 85% of your SS benefits becomes part of your taxable income.

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Has a betrayal stolen your holiday spirit? How to take steps toward healing

The “most wonderful time of the year” doesn’t quite live up to its billing for anyone whose holiday itinerary includes healing psychological wounds after being betrayed by a spouse, friend or someone else close to them.

“A betrayal can tend to make you hyper-vigilant about every aspect of a relationship, and that’s an exhausting strategy for living life,” says Susan Stautberg, co-author with Elaine Eisenman, PhD, of Betrayed: A Survivor’s Guide to Lying, Cheating, & Double-Dealing (www.bouncefrombetrayal.com).

“And it can be even more exhausting during the holidays if family or social gatherings cause you to be around someone you would just as soon avoid, or if you’re experiencing your first holiday season after a traumatic breakup caused by a betrayal.”

But there are steps you can take to begin healing as you head into the New Year.

“The true key to unlocking a new and better future is a superpower called resilience,” Eisenman says. “That ability in each of us to survive, and to position ourselves to go forward.”

What better time to do that than as you start a New Year, which also can be a new chapter in your life as you work to put bad memories behind you and look to a better future.

Eisenman and Stautberg offer a few tips for handling a betrayal this holiday season:

Let your recovery happen at its own pace. Holidays follow the calendar, but your recovery won’t be so easily scheduled. It might be nice to think you’ll have all the ill feelings behind you by Christmas Eve or New Year’s Day, but recovering from a betrayal isn’t like checking something else off your shopping list. “Listen to your own body and mind,” Stautberg says. “You’ll be over it when you’re over it.”

Stay clear on your identity and self-worth. “Don’t overlook your achievements in the face of all the flying emotional debris,” Eisenman says. Remember your core strengths – no matter how long ago it was that you used them – and maximize them.

Do not relive the betrayal to everyone who asks how you are feeling. Say it is over and you are moving on. The more you are trapped into reliving the story the less strength you have for bouncing forward.

Forgiveness is up to you. Perhaps well-meaning family members or friends tell you, “It’s the holidays. You need to forgive.” Yes, it can dampen the mood to hold a grudge in the midst of all the merriment. But forgiveness, if it occurs, takes place only after the healing process is complete. “Forgiveness is never the goal,” Stautberg says. “The only goal is to move strongly and confidently into your new future.” If you believe forgiveness is crucial to moving on with your life, then it needs to happen, she says. But if you don’t feel it is necessary, you can give it a pass – holidays or no holidays.

Spend time with those who make your life “merry and bright.” Yes, there are people who will betray you, but if you reach out, there are more people who will support and honor you. During the holidays, those are the people you want to surround yourself with, Eisenman says. It might even mean changing a few holiday traditions, such as which annual parties or family gatherings you attend, but it could be worth it. Find those supportive people and keep them close.

Here’s the good news for anyone whose holiday spirit has been dampened by betrayal.

“Despite the initial trauma, pain and humiliation,” Stautberg says, “most of us recover from betrayal and become stronger and wiser as a direct result of the devastating experience.”

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Don’t let cold and flu season knock you down; Try these 5 natural remedies

Cold and flu season are upon us, that time of year when body aches, fever, chills and nasal congestion combine and can stop you in your tracks, leaving you bedridden for days.

Statistics show that the flu annually sickens millions of Americans, kills tens of thousands, and results in billions of dollars in medical expenses and sick days.

“Complications arising from the flu can become serious,” says Dr. Suhyun An (www.drsuhyunan.com), an expert on regenerative medicine and co-author of Demystifying Stem Cells: A Real-Life Approach To Regenerative Medicine.

“If you still have symptoms after seven to 10 days, be sure to make an appointment with your doctor. If any of your symptoms include difficulty breathing, a rapid heartbeat, or feeling faint, or if you experience other severe symptoms like a high fever, seek immediate medical assistance.”

Dr. An says there are ways to prevent the symptoms from reaching that serious point. To feel better and get back on your feet, she recommends numerous natural cold and flu remedies to alleviate your symptoms:

Vitamin C. Some studies indicate that Vitamin C can shorten the lifespan of a cold and boost your immune system. “The best way to get it is through your diet; the fresher the food, the better,” Dr. An says. “Oranges, limes, lemons, grapefruits, leafy greens, and bell peppers are all good sources of vitamin C. Be careful with supplements because they can lead to upset stomach and kidney stones.”

Honey. Honey has natural antiviral and antimicrobial properties. “Drinking honey in tea with lemon can ease sore throat pain,” Dr. An says. “Research suggests that honey is an effective cough suppressant, too. Honey often contains Clostridium bacteria, so never give honey to a child younger than 1-year-old because infants’ immune systems aren’t able to fight them off.”

Chicken soup. This popular cold and flu remedy helps because hot liquids reduce mucus buildup and keep you hydrated. “Chicken soup, in particular, has anti-inflammatory properties, which help reduce a cold’s unpleasant side effects,” Dr. An says. “Keep some in the freezer or even canned for flu season. It’s quick to prepare that way and soothing to eat.”

Aromas. “When you have congestion from the flu, applying camphor or menthol salve around your nose can help break up mucus,” Dr. An says. “Aromatherapy oils, such as peppermint and eucalyptus, can have a similar effect. Also, vapor rub can reduce cold symptoms, especially in children older than 2 years. It helps open air passages to combat congestion, reduce coughing, and improve sleep. It’s a good alternative to over-the-counter cold medicines in young children because of unwanted side effects.”

Probiotics. These are friendly bacteria and yeast found in the body, some foods, and supplements. “They can help keep your gut and immune system healthy, and they may reduce your chance of getting sick with an upper respiratory infection,” Dr. An says. “For a delicious and nutritious source of helpful bacteria, include probiotic yogurt in your diet.”

“Colds and the flu are threats to us every year, but they don’t have to get us down for long,” Dr. An says. “Natural home remedies can reduce symptoms so you can be more comfortable and get the rest you need to get better faster.”

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Affordable gift ideas for anyone on your list

By MELINDA MYERS

The holidays are upon us and busy schedules often send us into a panic when looking for the perfect gift for those on our list. No matter your budget, there are affordable gift options your friends and family will love.

Tools are always a welcome gift. Most gardeners are reluctant to invest in that cool new hand trowel, shovel or rake. And that’s what makes them a great gift. Or create a starter kit from your extra tools for a new homeowner or gardener. Clean them up, sharpen the blades and bundle them with a bow. Add a gift card from a nearby garden center if your budget allows.

Help your favorite gardener avoid skin cancer and protect their hands when working in the garden by creating a garden basket with gloves, a hat and sunscreen.

Clean up a corner of the basement or spare bedroom to create a seed starting station. Purchase the lights and fixtures or set a table in front of a sunny window. And if your budget is limited, scour the garage and shed or talk to gardening friends to secure items that can be cleaned and reused.

Or give your favorite gardener all they need to start a windowsill herb garden or terrarium. Purchase or recycle the containers and take cuttings, make divisions or purchase the plants you need.

A trip to the basement or thrift store may provide the perfect vessel for your terrarium. Convert an old aquarium into a tropical biodome. A large clear glass serving dish, salad bowl or vase may make a unique terrarium sure to intrigue the recipient and their guests.

Help your favorite indoor gardener dress up their favorite hanging plants. Macramé is back in vogue and adding flare to indoor gardens. Create a few plant hangers from jute and beads.

Preserve a garden memory with a photo of your or the recipient’s garden or favorite plants. A collection of photos can be made into a calendar for a gift that keeps giving all year long.

Share a bit of your garden. Pass along some seeds you saved or start a few cuttings from your favorite heirloom houseplant. Dress up your gift with a painted pot or basket.

And don’t forget to share some dried herbs and flowers or preserves made from your garden harvest. Nothing tastes better or is more beautiful than when it’s homegrown. Don’t have extra this year? Make a note on next year’s calendar and plan ahead.

Give the gift of time. Most of us can use an extra set of hands at certain times of the garden season. No dusting required and it’s a great way to ensure time together.

Put your artistic skills to work and create a garden journal. A simple notebook dressed up with some photos, artwork or stickers can provide an attractive and inviting place for your favorite gardener to record their gardening successes, failures and other useful garden information.

As you can see, the possibilities are endless. And getting friends and family involved in creating these gifts is a great way to enjoy time together while preparing for the holidays.

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Medal of Honor: Marine Corps Gen. Alexander Vandegrift

BY KATIE LANGE

The Medal of Honor is often given for one act of valor, but service members can also earn it for many acts over time. One of the more prominent names to have done that was World War II Marine Corps Gen. Alexander Vandegrift, whose command during the Guadalcanal campaign in the South Pacific led to a critical U.S. victory.

Vandegrift was born March 13, 1887, in Charlottesville, Virginia. He went to the University of Virginia before being commissioned into the Marine Corps as a second lieutenant in 1909.

Vandegrift didn't see combat during World War I, but he did serve overseas later in Cuba, Nicaragua, Mexico, Haiti and China. By 1942, when the U.S. had entered World War II, he had risen to the rank of major general.

That summer, U.S. military leaders had learned that the Japanese were building an airfield on Guadalcanal, an obscure island in the Solomon Islands chain. It marked Japan's furthest advance toward the eastern half of the South Pacific, which was a great concern to the Allies. If Japan remained in control of the island, it could have imperiled vital U.S. supply lines to Australia and isolated that Allied nation.

So, Guadalcanal became the focus of the first major U.S. offensive against the Japanese. For six months, Marines, sailors and soldiers took part in Operation Watchtower. Marines accounted for the largest part of the fighting force.

Holding the Line

Vandegrift commanded the 1st Marine Division -- the only trained amphibious assault troops available in the Pacific at the time. On Aug. 7, 1942, U.S. naval forces fired on a surprised enemy, driving the Japanese away from the airfield they were building and allowing Vandegrift's men an easy landing. U.S. Marines finished building the airfield and, on Aug. 20, the first Allied air units landed there.

Over the next few months, Marines and U.S. soldiers held their position against repeated enemy attacks, despite low supplies, malnutrition and malaria. By November, the Allied land, air and sea assault had crushed the Japanese forces.

On Dec. 9, Vandegrift turned over command of the forces to Maj. Gen. Alexander M. Patch. With that, the 1st Marine Division was relieved.

The Japanese remained on Guadalcanal for another two months, pretending to bring reinforcements when they were actually evacuating surviving troops, but the damage was done. Japan officially surrendered the island on Feb. 8, 1943.

The U.S. victory set the stage for the ultimate defeat of the Japanese Imperial Navy.

Honorable Leadership

Vandegrift's tenacity, courage and resourcefulness were crucial in keeping his troops' spirits up during those months of fighting. For his inspiring leadership, he was given the Medal of Honor on Feb. 5, 1943, at a ceremony at the White House.

Vandegrift is one of only three men to earn the Medal of Honor during the Guadalcanal campaign; Capt. Joe Foss and Gunnery Sgt. John Basilone also received it. Vandegrift was also the first Marine to earn both the Medal of Honor and the Navy Cross.

In November 1943, Vandegrift commanded the 1st Marine Amphibious Corps in Bougainville, another battle in the Solomon Islands. When he returned in January 1944, he became the 18th Marine commandant. During that time, he rose to the rank of four-star general, making him the first four-star general to be commandant while still on active duty.

Vandegrift retired in 1948 after serving in the Marine Corps for nearly 40 years. In his retirement, he co-authored a book about his experiences during World War II.

Vandegrift died on May 8, 1973, in Bethesda, Maryland, after a long illness. He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

The general's service to our nation continues to be honored. In 1982, the Navy frigate USS Vandegrift was named after him. The main street running through Camp Pendleton, California, also bears his name.

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Tortured by chronic pain? Dry needling is emerging as an alternative to opioids

Maybe a sports injury is the problem. Maybe arthritis or some other health condition is the culprit.

Regardless of the cause, nearly 20 million Americans suffer from chronic pain, worrying every day about flare-ups that interfere with their enjoyment of life. While many people turn to painkillers as their first line of defense, others are finding relief in opioid-free methods, such as dry needling.

“Many people view pain as being a bad thing in itself, but actually it is nature’s warning system, meant to protect us,” says Nicky Snazell (www.painreliefclinic.co.uk), a physiotherapist and author of The 4 Keys to Health and other books.

“We need to heed that warning and address the real cause of the problem, not just look for ways to mask the symptoms.”

While Snazell says painkillers have their place, she prefers an integrative approach to combating pain, combining the most potent aspects of medicine with complementary therapies. Dry needling is one of the methods she’s a proponent of and regularly practices.

For those unfamiliar, here’s how the Mayo Clinic describes dry needling: A thin monofilament needle penetrates the skin and treats underlying muscular trigger points for the management of neuromusculoskeletal pain and movement impairments. Snazell practices what is known as the Gunn IMS method, which also uses dry needling to treat neuropathic pain.

Some professional athletes, such as NBA star Anthony Davis, have turned to dry needling to help them overcome troublesome conditions such as back spasms.

Research indicates that dry needling improves pain control, reduces muscle tension, and normalizes dysfunction of the motor-end plates, the sites at which nerve impulses are transmitted to muscles, according to the American Physical Therapy Association. This can help speed up the patient's return to active rehabilitation.

“Dry needling is used as part of a wider physiotherapy treatment and succeeds where other treatments fail,” says Snazell, who over three decades has performed dry needling with success on thousands of patients in the United Kingdom.

A few points the American Physical Therapy Association says patients should know about dry needling include:

The technique uses a “dry” needle, one without medication or injection, inserted through the skin into areas of the muscle. Other terms commonly used to describe dry needling include trigger point dry needling and intramuscular manual therapy.

Although there are similarities, dry needling is not acupuncture, a practice based on traditional Chinese medicine and performed by acupuncturists. Dry needling is a part of modern Western medicine principles, and supported by research. (There has been controversy in this area, though, with acupuncturists in some states trying to block physical therapists from using the procedure, saying they are infringing on the acupuncturists’ turf.)

Physical therapists who perform dry needling obtain specific postgraduate education and training. When contacting a physical therapist for dry needling treatment, the association says, ask about their specific experience and education.

Beyond dry needling, medication, and other pain-relief therapies, Snazell says those battling pain also can ease some of their suffering through lifestyle changes.

“We need to realize that many causes of pain are self-inflicted and can be easily avoided,” she says. “Find ways to lower your stress level. Change your diet to avoid such things as processed foods and excess sugar. Exercise regularly. All of these activities can play a role in helping you to reduce your pain and get more enjoyment out of life.”

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History Matters

A feature courtesy of

The Grateful American Book Prize

Showing our children that their past is prelude to their future

On December 16, 1773 the American colonists, already overwhelmed by British taxation and tyranny, defied them, boarded their ships, and dumped 342 chests of tea into Boston Harbor. The incident became known as the Boston Tea Party, and it foreshadowed the American Revolution.

For a better understanding about the sequence of events that culminated with the Revolutionary War, the Grateful American Book Prize recommends American Tempest: How the Boston Tea Party Sparked a Revolution by Harlow Giles Unger.

On December 19, 1998, Bill Clinton became the second U.S. president to be impeached by the House of Representatives. He was charged with four offenses, but only two-- lying under oath to a federal grand jury, and obstructing justice were approved.

Andrew Johnson had been the first to be impeached in 1868. A century later, President Richard Nixon was also confronted with it—in 1974--but he chose to resign.

For more information about the Clinton impeachment, and the process in general, the Grateful American Book Prize recommends Famous Trials - The Impeachment of Bill Clinton by Nathan Aaseng.

South Carolina seceded from the Union on December 20, 1860. Less than six months later, ten more pro-slavery southern states joined her, and morphed into the Confederate States of America, with a combined population of nine million; nearly half were slaves.

The Civil War was the bloodiest conflict in American history. The other side, or the Union, was comprised of 21 states, fighting against slavery-- with a population of more than 20 million.

The War began April 12,1861 and ended April 9, 1865; approximately 620,000 soldiers perished.

It’s important to understand the reasons for secession. The Grateful American Book Prize suggests Secession: The Southern States Leave the Union by Judith Peacock.

It was Christmas Day,1776. George Washington’s revolutionary forces had been driven out of New York; suddenly, they were at turning point in the rebellion. Against all odds, Washington and his 2,400 troops crossed the icy Delaware River in a fleet of small boats, ambushed 1,500 Hessians [German mercenaries under the command of the British], and captured the remaining forces, in what became known as the Battle of Trenton. The future fifth president, James Monroe, and five of Washington’s troops were wounded.

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Claire Lee Chennault and The Flying Tigers

From the US Department of Veterans Affairs

Claire Lee Chennault, a U.S. major general who commanded the U.S. Army Air Forces in China during World War II, led the First American Volunteer Group, AKA the “Flying Tigers.”

Flying over China in the 1940s, airplanes marked with shark teeth served the Chinese air force. This group of American volunteers, known as the “Flying Tigers,” served under a renowned leader of his time: Claire Lee Chennault

Born in Commerce, Texas, in 1890, Chennault grew up in Louisiana. After graduating from Louisiana State University, he was commissioned as a first lieutenant in the Army Infantry Reserves. Soon, though, he transferred to the Signal Corps Aviation Section, where he served during World War I.

After the war, Chennault served at Langley Field, Virginia, as well as at Kelly Field, Texas, where he studied aeronautical engineering. He learned to fly in 1919. He left the Reserves a year later, but commissioned into active duty service at Gerstner Field, Louisiana, as well as at Ellington Field and Fort Bliss, Texas. Beginning in September 1923, he was stationed in Hawaii for three years as the Commanding Officer of the 19th Pursuit Squadron. He spent the rest of the 1920s in Texas, where he worked as an instructor.

Chennault graduated Air Corps Tactical School in 1931 and later wrote an aviation textbook on aviation fighter tactics.

In June 1936 at Maxwell Field, where he was chief of Pursuit Training, Chennault was promoted to major. Partial deafness and disagreements with other Air Corps officers led to his retirement in 1937.

Many wars

When he left service, Chennault became an aviation advisor for China’s General Chiang Kai-shek during the Sino-Japanese War. Chennault revamped China’s aviation program, bringing in American pilots to serve as Chinese air force members.

The Chinese Air Force made Chennault a brigadier general in the summer of 1941, when he was assigned to train pursuit pilots for the First American Volunteer Group. Their missions included flying supplies and protecting Burma Road and Chongqing.

Chennault’s AVG volunteers started training in Burma in July 1941. Flying with 43 serviceable P-40B fighters and 84 former U.S. military pilots, their first combat was Dec. 20, 1941–less than two weeks after Pearl Harbor. From December 1941 to July 1942, the AVG destroyed 296 Japanese aircraft in China and Burma.

In 1942, soon after the United States declared war on Japan, Chennault returned to active duty with the Army Air Forces as a colonel–but was soon promoted to brigadier general. A few months later, the military assigned him as commanding general of the Army Air Forces in China. In March 1943, he received a promotion to major general to command the 14th Air Force in China.

During this time, Flying Tiger members flew dangerous missions over the Himalayas, known as “the Hump.” Crews defended the Chinese end of the Hump route and supported the Chinese army. In May 1943, Flying Tigers using B-24s bombed Japanese shipping off the Chinese coast. Much of the bombers’ available flying hours, however, were spent hauling their own supplies over the Hump in support of bombing missions.

Chennault remained in this role throughout World War II. He retired from service on Oct. 31, 1945, after serving a short assignment at the headquarters of the Army Air Forces.

After the wars

In 1946, after the war, Chennault established a commercial airline in China, and became president of China’s Civil Air Transport.

Throughout his military service, Chennault received multiple honors and medals, including a Distinguished Service Medal (with one Oak Leaf Cluster) and a Distinguished Flying Cross from the United States military, as well as a Chinese Order of the Celestial Banner, and an Order of the British Empire.

On July 18, 1958, the U.S. Air Force promoted Chennault to the honorary grade of lieutenant general. He died days later, on July 27, 1958.

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Ethics and AI: Are we ready for the rise of artificial intelligence?

No job in the United States has seen more hiring growth in the last five years than artificial-intelligence specialist, a position dedicated to building AI systems and figuring out where to implement them.

But is that career growth happening at a faster rate than our ability to address the ethical issues involved when machines make decisions that impact our lives and possibly invade our privacy?

Maybe so, says Dr. Steven Mintz (www.stevenmintzethics.com), author of Beyond Happiness and Meaning: Transforming Your Life Through Ethical Behavior.

“Rules of the road are needed to ensure that artificial intelligence systems are designed in an ethical way and operate based on ethical principles,” he says. “There are plenty of questions that need to be addressed. What are the right ways to use AI? How can AI be used to foster fairness, justice and transparency? What are the implications of using AI for productivity and performance evaluation?”

Those who take jobs in this growing field will need to play a pivotal role in helping to work out those ethical issues, he says, and already there is somewhat of a global consensus about what should be the ethical principles in AI.

Those principles include:

Transparency. People affected by the decisions a machine makes should be allowed to know what goes into that decision-making process.

Non-maleficence. Never cause foreseeable or unintentional harm using AI, including discrimination, violation of privacy, or bodily harm.

Justice. Monitor AI to prevent or reduce bias. How could a machine be biased? A recent National Law Review article gave this hypothetical example: A financially focused AI might decide that people whose names end in vowels are a high credit risk. That could negatively affect people of certain ethnicities, such as people of Italian or Japanese descent.

Responsibility. Those involved in developing AI systems should be held accountable for their work.

Privacy. An ethical AI system promotes privacy both as a value to uphold and a right to be protected.

Mintz points to one recent workplace survey that examined the views of employers and employees in a number of countries with respect to AI ethics policies, potential misuse, liability, and regulation.

“More than half of the employers questioned said their companies do not currently have a written policy on the ethical use of AI or bots,” Mintz says. “Another 21 percent expressed a concern that companies could use AI in an unethical manner.”

Progress is being made on some fronts, though.

In Australia, five major companies are involved in a trial run of eight principles developed as part of the government AI Ethics Framework. The idea behind the principles is to ensure that AI systems benefit individuals, society and the environment; respect human rights; don’t discriminate; and uphold privacy rights and data protection.

Mintz says the next step in the U.S. should be for the business community likewise to work with government agencies to identify ethical AI principles.

“Unfortunately,” he says, “it seems the process is moving slowly and needs a nudge by technology companies, most of whom are directly affected by the ethical use of AI.”

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A Thanksgiving moment

A conscientious manager at Bagels 101 in Middle Island, NY recently went to great lengths for a customer who left her keys at the store when she stopped in for a cup of coffee. Diana Chong’s husband kept their minivan running while she went into the shop. The vehicle is equipped with a start button that allows you to take the keys with you while the car keeps running but Diana took the keys with her. It wasn’t until they arrived at their home in Honesdale, PA that she remembered leaving her keys at the store. She quickly called the store and spoke to the manager, Vincent Proscia, telling him that she desperately needed the keys to restart her vehicle. Proscia didn’t hesitate. He hopped in his car and made the 7-hour round trip to return Diana’s keys.

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‘Tis the season

Some people just can’t get enough of watching Christmas movies and now one lucky binge watcher can have his or her movies with a side of cash. The folks at Hallmark is offering to pay $1,000 for someone who is prepared to watch 24 holiday movies over a period of 12 days. The greeting card company turned TV channel has rules for its version of The Twelve Days of Christmas. “Rule #1: You don't like Christmas—you love it. Rule #2: You must be over 18-years-old and be a US resident. Rule #3: You know how to work the Gram, Twitter, or Facebook. We want someone who's willing to document their Hallmark marathon with their followers. We want you to have opinions—lots of them! Think the grumpy Grandpa turned jolly Santa was a little overdone? Felt like the plot was a bit half-baked? Be as honest as possible in your review.”

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Pooch-sitter wanted

Attention job-seekers: a British couple is seeking a full-time dog sitter/housekeeper and is willing to pay the lucky applicant some $40,000 a year plus room and board. The ad they posted on the Silver Swan Search Web site specifies that applicants “MUST have a passion for dog care,” noting that “experience looking after dogs is essential.”

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House Call

By Dr. Daniel Knight, Chairman,

Department of Family and Preventive Medicine

College of Medicine, UAMS

Q. Is there anything I can do to reduce the appearance of scars?

A. Some over-the-counter medicated gels or creams can help. Corticosteroid cream can reduce a scar’s appearance over time or help prevent a new one from forming.

Silicone gel keeps skin hydrated and allows it to breathe, which can soften scars and can reduce their color, height and texture. Make sure the gel is completely dry before wearing clothes over it.

Research is still in the early stages, but lab tests show coconut oil, which has fatty acids that spur cell reproduction, may help wounds heal faster and shrink scars.

Zinc, a mineral that is important for helping wounds heal, reduces inflammation and promotes cell growth. However, taking zinc supplements can have side effects, so consult a physician first.

After a wound has healed, gently massaging it may help break up the collagen developing in the tissue underneath. In scars that have developed cords (tight strands of rope-like tissue), massaging and pulling the cords can relax and stretch them, flattening the scar and softening its texture.

Several sessions of laser therapy targeting specific blood vessels can help with severe scars.

Q. I often have migraines. What is the best way to treat these at home?

A. Several over-the-counter painkillers containing acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil) or naproxen (Aleve) can lessen the pain. Placing an ice pack on your forehead, scalp or neck can also help. Doctors are not sure why this works, but reducing the blood flow may be key.

Avoiding loud noise and bright light and retreating to a quiet, dark room can aid in recovering sooner.

Caffeine may offer some mild relief and aid in the body’s faster absorption of drugs, but use it sparingly as it can be addictive and its withdrawal symptoms can include headaches.

When you do not have a migraine, regular exercise can prevent them by releasing endorphins, a pain-fighting chemical. High-intensity exercise can also trigger headaches in some people, so yoga is best for them.

Some studies show magnesium, found in dark-green vegetables, whole grains and nuts, might prevent migraines. Other studies show Vitamin B2 or riboflavin, found in chicken, fish, cheese and milk, may also help. Getting at least seven to eight hours of regular sleep can also help prevent migraines. Note what foods or conditions seem to be triggers and avoid them.

Q. What causes varicose veins and how can I prevent them?

A. Swollen, blue-tinted varicose veins and smaller spider veins, appearing as jagged purple or red lines similar in appearance to spider webs, often arrive with age. About 60% of adults experience these warped blood vessels on their legs and sometimes their ankles.

They occur when problems with the one-way valves in veins leading to the heart allow blood to pool and pressure to increase. The vein wall weakens and the vein will twist and bulge.

Women are twice as likely to get these abnormal veins, and the condition is more common in those who regularly spend several hours on their feet. Other contributing factors include prior trauma, obesity, pregnancy, a previous leg surgery or a genetic predisposition.

In addition to cosmetic problems, varicose veins can lead to discomfort, reduced circulation, painful blood clots and sometimes large sores.

Exercising, maintaining a healthy weight and keeping leg muscles toned and blood circulating freely can help prevent spider and varicose veins. Those who spend a lot of time on their feet should stretch their leg muscles often, and pregnant women should sleep on their left sides rather than their backs.

Q. I have no appetite and feel queasy. Could I have a stomach flu?

A. A stomach or intestinal infection, known as gastroenteritis, is not the flu, but usually a virus, bacteria or parasite is the culprit. Viral infections, the most common types of gastroenteritis, usually run their course after three days, but those caused by bacteria or parasites may last longer.

Viral gastroenteritis infects the body’s cells, inflames the intestine and stomach lining and is very contagious. Bacteria increase faster in temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees, so make sure to keep cold food cold and hot food hot. Gastroenteritis caused by parasites does not occur often in the U.S. or other developed countries.

Symptoms of a stomach virus may include diarrhea, nausea and vomiting and also possibly fever, chills, a headache and abdominal pain. Gastroenteritis can be dangerous to babies, the elderly and those with compromised health. Dehydration is the most common complication.

Most cases subside after a few days with plenty of fluids and rest. Those with symptoms that are severe or linger should see their physician to rule out other conditions that cause similar stomach trouble.

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How connecting children to nature is good for both

Plenty of older Americans hold fond childhood memories of climbing trees, catching frogs, and engaging in endless hours of tag or hide-and-seek with friends.

Most children today, though, spend much less time outdoors, with their recreational hours instead devoted to TV, video games and computers, a trend that has nature advocates concerned.

“If they don’t feel a connection to nature, they aren’t going to feel it’s important,” says Clyde Butcher (www.clydebutcher.com), a nature photographer who since the 1980s has helped bring national awareness to the Everglades through stunning black-and-white photographs that have been compared to the works of Ansel Adams.

“The question is, how do we get them to make that connection. The answer is that the responsibility lies with you and me. I think it’s important to educate both kids and grownups about the world’s environmental wonders.”

Advocacy groups are trying to do just that.

The National Wildlife Federation, for example, has a Green Hour program designed to encourage parents, grandparents, schools, and others to adopt a goal of an hour per day for children to play and learn outdoors in nature.

Butcher says that he tries to bring nature to people through his photography in the hopes they will be inspired to experience it for themselves.

“My goal is for them to say, ‘Wow, I want to go there. I want to see the real thing,’ ” he says.

Introducing children to the great outdoors is about more than just building extraordinary memories. Butcher and other nature proponents say benefits include:

Time outdoors can equal happiness. “Nature is one of those things that can really bring your spirits up,” Butcher says. Indeed, studies show that spending time outdoors is good for your mental health, and those who manage to do so are generally happier than those who stay cooped up inside. Butcher does his part to try to put people in touch with nature. Just recently, his gallery in the Big Cypress Swamp in south Florida sponsored a fall festival that included guided swamp-walk tours for children and adults alike. Those swamp walks provide what Butcher thinks of as education by immersion.

Time outdoors makes children healthier. A sedentary lifestyle can lead to children being overweight, which in turn increases their risk for a number of diseases, such as asthma and diabetes. When children spend time outdoors, they are almost certain to get more exercise, reducing those risks. Health professionals also say that, while over exposure to the sun can be harmful, some time absorbing the sun’s rays is helpful in such ways as boosting your body’s vitamin D.

Time outdoors makes children better stewards of the earth. It’s important to protect the environment, and to preserve natural wonders for future generations, but it’s difficult to truly appreciate nature without venturing out into it, Butcher says. Children who take the time to explore what nature has to offer, he says, are more likely to become advocates for protecting it.

“Sometimes, in the abstract, it’s difficult to understand why nature is so important,” Butcher says. “But when children step into it, and see it firsthand, they can fall in love with it. Then they begin to understand.”

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5 ways women can celebrate the single life

There’s still a stigma and stereotype attached to being a single woman. Society often equates marriage with success and happiness, and questions why some women remain unattached well into their 20s, 30s, or beyond.

Further, the perception persists that single, childless women are unfulfilled and unhappy. But one report refutes that description, suggesting instead that unmarried women without children are the happiest segment in the population. And in Hollywood, where image is a major factor for actors and actresses, some such as Emma Watson are embracing single womanhood. Watson even coined a new term, “self-partnered.”

Acamea Deadwiler (www.Acameadeadwiler.com), author of Single That: Dispelling the Top 10 Myths of the Single Woman, says it’s past time for society to stop defining single women by their relationship status.

“Single women get unflattering labels and insecurities projected upon them by not just men, but even their female friends,” Deadwiler says. “Being single is not synonymous with lonely or desperate. Being single does not mean that you are broken or bitter or jealous.

“Those assumptions need to be put to rest. Single women can be empowered to refuse being defined by whether or not they have a significant other.”

Deadwiler suggests five ways single women can empower themselves to find fulfillment and happiness and ignore negative perceptions:

Pursue a new hobby or interest. “With time to focus on you, expand your experience to include things you like to do, or have always wanted to do,” Deadwiler says. “Perhaps time constraints or self-doubt once held you back, but now you have the room to explore interests outside of work and other relationships. Pursue what makes you happy, what fulfills you, or what piques your curiosity.”

Appreciate the good things in your life. While some people view single women negatively or with skepticism, Deadwiler says appreciating all the positives in your life helps block out the outside perception. “Attitude is key when you’re single, starting with how you view yourself,” Deadwiler says. “Focusing on the positives will shift your perspective to gratitude and happiness. Take stock of your family, friends, your job, your health, and your good qualities.”

Treat yourself. “You deserve to treat yourself,” Deadwiler says. “Splurge now and then. Take a spa day, get that bag you’ve been eyeing; whatever it is, make yourself a priority for some enjoyment.”

Learn to like being alone. “You can’t really know yourself unless you spend time with yourself, independent of the needs and influence of others,” Deadwiler says. “In spending time alone, we get to hear our thoughts without all of the outside noise. We learn our authentic likes and dislikes, what we need, and who we are. This process of self-discovery is invaluable to truly being a happy, single woman.”

Prioritize friends and family. “Your time, money, and energy is yours and yours alone,” Deadwiler says. “You get to spend each as you see fit without consulting with anyone else, which makes scheduling time with your friends and family all the easier. And just as you need a good support network, it’s important that you be a strong member of other support networks.”

“When I witness bashing or arrogance as it relates to being single, I don’t get it,” Deadwiler says. “My big annoyance comes mainly with the insinuation that there is something inherently wrong with the circumstance of being a single woman. But a single woman is not a problem to be fixed. It’s a way to get whole, a way to be free and enjoy being the full you.”

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Selecting and caring for your Christmas tree

By MELINDA MYERS

The holiday tree is the center of many family celebrations. Ornaments collected over the years decorate the boughs while brightly wrapped gifts are carefully placed underneath.

But the hunt for the perfect tree can be an important part of the tradition. Many try to find the right size and shape for the space allotted, a fragrance the whole family prefers and good needle retention for long lasting beauty. Load the family into the car or walk to the corner Christmas tree lot and let the hunt begin.

Size and shape are important. Your tree needs to fit but finding a fresh tree to last through the holidays is equally important. Here are a few tips to help you find the right tree and keep it looking its best throughout the holidays.

Buy local. You’ll support local Christmas tree growers and reduce the risk of spreading unwanted pests into your landscape when purchasing locally grown trees. Your local University Extension Service and Department of Natural Resources will provide updates on any threats.

Select the right variety. Family tradition may dictate your tree choice. Many prefer the fragrance of balsam fir and the needle retention of other firs like Fraser, white, Grand and Noble. Though not a true fir, Douglas fir needles have a wonderful aroma when crushed. White pines lack the fragrance that many prefer. Its pliable branches only support lightweight ornaments, but the soft needles have less bite than the popular Scots or Scotch pine. This evergreen has stiff branches that support heavier ornaments and its needles hold even when dry.

Check for freshness. A fresh tree will last throughout the holidays. Run your hand along the stem. The needles should be pliable, yet firmly attached to the branch. Avoid trees with lots of moss, lichens, vines, broken branches and other signs of poor care.

The right fit. Look closely at the overall shape and size of the tree. Stand the tree upright to make sure it will fit in the allotted space. Check the trunk. It should be straight and the base small enough to fit in your tree stand.

Make a fresh cut. Remove at least an inch from the base of the trunk before setting it in the stand. Straight or diagonal cuts work equally well. A diagonal or V-shaped cut may make it difficult to properly support the tree in the stand.

Proper watering is key. Fill the stand with water and check it often. Fresh trees can absorb as much as 2 quarts of water in the first 24 hours. Keeping your tree stand filled with water is the best way to keep your tree looking its best throughout the season.

Once your tree is in place you can add lights and decorations. Then be sure to take time throughout the busy holiday season to sit down, relax with your favorite winter beverage and enjoy the beauty of your Christmas tree.

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From the files of the FBI

The Flying Bank Robber

How a Resourceful Thief Was Captured 60 Years Ago

On April 15, 1959, the FBI officially put the cuffs on Ten Most Wanted Fugitive Frank Sprenz, aka the “Flying Bank Robber,” in Laredo, Texas.

But Sprenz’s flight from the law had actually ended across the border some days earlier, thanks in part to Mexican authorities and, of all things, a meandering cow.

Sprenz had been in trouble with the law at an early age. By his late 20s, he had landed in federal prison in Akron, Ohio. In April 1958, he fashioned a key out of a piece of metal from his bed and managed to unlock his cell door. Sprenz and four of his fellow convicts overwhelmed the guards and fled. All but Sprenz were quickly killed or captured.

Following his jailbreak, Sprenz crossed state lines, giving the FBI jurisdiction in the case. Using a variety of aliases, stealing more than two dozen cars, and crisscrossing the country, Sprenz proved elusive. On September 10, 1958, the FBI added Sprenz to its Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list, and the hunt intensified.

Meanwhile, Sprenz continued his bank robbery spree. At one point, he traveled to Washington state, where he took flying lessons using the proceeds from one of his thefts. Now he was able to put into place a novel crime strategy that kept him a step ahead of law enforcement: He would steal a car, rob a bank, drive to the airport, snatch a plane, fly to a distant city, and repeat the process.

The plan worked, for a time at least.

In February 1959, Sprenz pilfered a plane in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and flew to Colchester, Vermont. The next month, he robbed a bank in Hamilton, Ohio, stealing around $25,000.

By this point, the FBI and its partners were in full pursuit. The Bureau’s office in Cleveland had the investigative lead, with offices around the nation providing crucial support. The FBI had already been working with international authorities, including in Canada, where Sprenz had reportedly stolen a plane.

Wanted by the FBI poster for former Ten Most Wanted Fugitive Frank Sprenz

When the news media further increased Sprenz’s notoriety by dubbing him the “Flying Bank Robber,” he decided to flee the country. Using a small plane he purchased with stolen money, he eventually flew to Raymondville, Texas, near the border of Mexico. Fearing he had been recognized, he quickly flew on to Mexico.

Sprenz was right—he had been spotted. Authorities contacted the FBI. The Bureau’s international office, or legal attaché, in Mexico City was put on alert.

Sprenz had refueled and was taking off for Cuba when fate intervened: A cow stepped in front of his plane, causing him to swerve and hit a tree. His plane was damaged beyond repair. An FBI legal attaché agent assisted Mexican authorities in tracking down Sprenz, and he was arrested and later returned to the U.S. He was found guilty of various crimes and sentenced to 25 years in jail. He was paroled in 1970 but later returned to his life of crime, and, ultimately, died in prison.

The capture of Frank Sprenz was a testament to two major pillars of the FBI’s work, then and now. First, it demonstrated the power of national and international cooperation, with both Mexican and Canadian authorities supporting the investigation. Second, the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives program was crucial in his capture.

As Sprenz told the news media after his arrest, “Ever since I made the list, I've felt like I was walking down a glass sidewalk that might break at any minute. I'm glad it’s over.”

While partnerships with law enforcement and the public are instrumental to catching felons and fugitives like Sprenz, in this case, at least, an assist from a four-legged beast certainly didn’t hurt, either.

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The Pizza Connection

Painstaking Work Leads to Landmark 1980s Heroin Bust

In early April 1984, the FBI closed in on a real-life Mafia godfather.

His name was Gaetano Badalamenti, and he was the former top boss of the Sicilian Mafia. Though banished from Sicily by rival mobsters in 1978, Badalamenti had continued to secretly lead one of the world’s most prolific drug cartels. Frequently on the move, he ultimately traveled with his wife and oldest son to Madrid. Pietro Alfano, a nephew who was his top operative in the American Midwest, took a flight from Chicago to meet them.

Little did Badalamenti know that Spanish authorities, acting on information from the FBI, were watching closely. On April 8, Badalamenti and Alfano ventured out onto the streets of Madrid and were quickly taken into custody. His son was arrested soon after.

The next day, the FBI conducted a carefully coordinated roundup of nearly 30 Mafia members and associates who worked with Badalamenti in the United States. Under the leadership of FBI New York, agents in six Bureau offices made arrests and carried out search warrants, seizing drug paraphernalia, large amounts of cash and weapons, and a trove of documents.

Among those swept up in the dragnet was Salvatore “Toto” Catalano, the owner of a bakery in Queens and a major figure in the Bonanno Mafia family based in New York. Catalano served as Badalamenti’s primary nexus to the American Mafia and the leader of his U.S. crew, a group of Sicilian immigrants known as the “Zips.”

The trial began on October 24, 1985, with 22 total defendants, all Sicilian-born men. As the government made its case over 16 grueling months—giving rise to the longest criminal jury trial in U.S. history to this day—two men pleaded guilty to lesser charges. One was brutally murdered, likely a victim of friction between Catalano and Badalamenti (Alfano was later shot and nearly killed in retaliation). That left 19 defendants by the time the jury delivered its verdict on March 2, 1987.

Federal prosecutors—including Louis Freeh, who would later become Director of the FBI—argued that the men were part of a vast, long-running drug conspiracy that touched four continents. The scheme involved purchasing morphine base from suppliers in Turkey, processing it into heroin in Sicily, smuggling it into the U.S., and then selling it through pizza shops and other Mafia-run businesses stretching from New York to Illinois and Wisconsin. Cocaine was also being imported from South America as part of the operation.

It was a lucrative business. From January 1975 until April 1984, an estimated $1.6 billion worth of heroin was shipped to this country in the plot. The cash profits were then illegally laundered through a web of banks and brokerages in the U.S. and overseas.

1984 U.S. Marshals arrest photo of Gaetano Badalamenti, part of the Pizza Connection case.

Gaetano Badalamenti

The case, dubbed “The Pizza Connection” by the news media because of the frequent use of pizza parlors as fronts for drug sales, was enormously complex and laborious. Undercover FBI agent Joe Pistone, who had infiltrated the Bonanno crime family in 1976, delivered crucial intelligence that helped set the case in motion. Over time, the investigation snowballed into a massive multi-agency and multi-national effort, with key contributions coming from the New York Police Department, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), U.S. Customs, and international authorities (including FBI international legal attaché offices) in Italy, Sicily, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey, Brazil, Canada, Great Britain, Germany, and Mexico.

Over more than four years, the FBI and its partners gathered a mountain of records and evidence and utilized an array of investigative capabilities. They conducted surveillance on multiple players on multiple continents, sometimes around the clock. They traced and analyzed thousands of telephone calls, often from remote pay phones. Since the conspirators mostly spoke Sicilian and used coded phrases to conceal their true activities, turning their many covert conversations into plain English was especially challenging, requiring a team of expert translators from the FBI and elsewhere.

In the end, the painstaking efforts paid off. All but one of the final 19 defendants were convicted, with Gaetano Badalamenti and Catalano receiving hefty prison sentences.

The case has had some lasting downstream benefits as well. By fortifying partnerships, it helped pave the way for the expansion of the FBI’s network of legal attaché offices, so vital today in addressing global threats like terrorism and cybercrime. The first major drug bust after the Bureau was given concurrent jurisdiction with the DEA over narcotics violations in 1982, the probe also set an investigative standard for similar cases by employing the same suite of tools and approaches used by the FBI to address organized crime—most notably, the use of Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO, to take down larger illicit groups and not just isolated actors.

Director Freeh would later put the case’s importance in perspective, calling it “the FBI’s first major, transnational criminal enterprise investigation and prosecution” and “a historic turning point for international police cooperation and coordinated enforcement action.”

The Pizza Connection was clearly a watershed, and 35 years later, it continues to pay dividends for policing and public safety.

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Social Security Matters

By AMAC Certified Social Security Advisor Russell Gloor

Association of Mature American Citizens

Ask Rusty – Can I Increase My Benefit by Withdrawing from Social Security?

Dear Rusty: I’m 67 and have been collecting Social Security for a couple of years now but I want to increase my benefit. Will you please explain what Social Security’s Form SSA-521 is for? Would it benefit me as a retiree to be able to gain more on my monthly benefits? Where and how could I request or access this form? Signed: Seeking Answers

Dear Seeking: Social Security’s Form SSA-521, Request for Withdrawal of Application, is used when someone has applied for Social Security benefits and later decides they do not want to collect their benefits after all. The form can be submitted within 12 months of the start-date of your benefits, and if approved will require that all benefits which have been paid to you, or on your behalf by Social Security - including Medicare premiums, withheld taxes and any benefits (including those paid to your spouse or any other dependents on your record) - are fully reimbursed to the Social Security Administration. It might be used, for example, by those who claim prior to their full retirement age, perhaps because they become unemployed and need the money, and then later become employed again. Or it might be used by someone who applies for benefits early but later simply change their mind and now wants to delay claiming to increase their benefit amount. This form is how someone can initiate the “do over option” that you sometimes hear Social Security pundits speak of. It essentially “wipes the slate clean” with Social Security, but it cannot be used by someone who has been collecting benefits for more than one year and it cannot be used more than once in your lifetime.

From what you have told me, the Request for Withdrawal of Application Form SSA-521 will not work for you. However, there is another way you can increase your Social Security benefit. Since you have already reached your full retirement age you can now request that Social Security “suspend” your benefit payments so that you can earn “delayed retirement credits” (DRCs). If you suspend your benefits, you’ll earn DRCs at the rate of 2/3rds of 1% per month you delay (8% per year of delay), and when you eventually restart your benefits the amount will be higher (how much higher depends upon the number of months your benefits have been suspended). You can earn DRCs up to age 70, so you should not wait beyond age 70 to restart your benefits. But beware, because there’s a catch to suspending your benefits – your spouse, or any other dependent, cannot collect benefits based upon your work record while your benefits are suspended. And if your Medicare Part B premium is deducted from your Social Security payment, you’ll need to make special arrangements to pay that Part B premium directly to Medicare.

If you decide to suspend and allow your benefit to grow, you will need to contact Social Security directly, either via the general number (800.774.1213) or by contacting your local office (find it at www.ssa.gov/locator). You may ask Social Security to suspend your benefits either verbally or in writing. So, if you have found that you don’t need your Social Security benefit at this time and wish to allow it to grow, and you understand that anyone else collecting on your record cannot get benefits while you are not collecting, then suspending your benefits and restarting later would give you the higher benefit you are seeking. Your benefits will restart automatically the month you turn 70.

An open air car for the open road

If you are a free spirit who loves nothing more than the thrill of wending your way along a country road in a convertible, perhaps you’d like to take your next drive in a car with no roof, windshield or side windows. British automaker, McLaren — known for its racing and sports cars — has just unveiled a roadster that offers the ultimate open air experience. The Elva is the newest addition to the company’s line of Ultimate sports cars and is the first to employ the company’s Active Air Management System that protects passengers in “a bubble.” The bubble is created by forcing a high velocity stream of air to flow above and around the cockpit. The supercar comes with a $1.7 million price tag.

A boy with a plan

If you have a nine year old at home, he or she is likely to be a middle schooler. Not Laurent Simons. He may become the world’s youngest college graduate when he receives his undergraduate degree in electrical engineering at the age of nine from Eindhoven University in the Netherlands. But, Laurent is not one to sit on his laurels; he is already busy on a quest to earn a doctorate in engineering. He wants to study medicine, too, and then embark on a mission to invent artificial organs. Will he succeed? Sjoerd Hulshof, his school’s education director, has faith in this child prodigy. Hulshof describes the lad as “hyper intelligent” and “the fastest student we have ever had here.”

A pair of docs

Jules Verne’s fictional character Phileas Fogg traveled around the world in 80 days. But a pair of British doctors recently made it into the Guinness Book of World Records for doing it in 218 days, 22 hours. They earned the record on a bicycle built for two. They covered more than 18,000 miles across Australia, Asia, India, Europe and North America. In Verne’s novel, Around the World in 80 Days, Fogg’s circumnavigation of the world was done on a bet. Doctors Lloyd Collier and Louis Snellgrove did it to raise money for Spinal Research and the Brain Foundation.

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Brighten your spirits and indoor décor with a colorful cyclamen

By MELINDA MYERS

Add some unique beauty to your indoor décor or give the gift of low maintenance splendor with the easy-care cyclamen. You’ll enjoy the colorful plain or ruffled white, pink, rose or lavender flowers that look like shooting stars hovering over heart shaped leaves with silvery highlights.

Best of all, there’s a size for every home and occasion. Use miniatures as a place card holder at your next gathering, for added color in a terrarium or to brighten any small space. Dress up the dinner table, mantle or side table with one of the larger varieties. Large or small, they make wonderful party favors and hostess gifts. Place the plants in a decorative container, basket or colorful tin for an even more impressive display.

Grow your cyclamen in a cool bright location. These Mediterranean plants thrive in cooler temperatures and should be kept out of drafts of hot and cold air. Consider moving your plant to an even cooler room at night to extend the bloom time.

Use your finger to monitor soil moisture. Water thoroughly when the potting mix that’s just below the soil surface is starting to dry. Pour off any excess water that collects in the saucer, decorative basket or foil wrap. Allowing plants to sit in water leads to soggy soil and the decline of the plant’s health and beauty.

Or set the plant on a saucer of pebbles. The excess water will collect in the saucer while the pebbles elevate the pot above the water. You’ll reduce the risk of root rot and save time by eliminating the need to pour off this excess water.

Remove any yellow leaves to keep your plant looking its best. Adjust watering frequency and growing conditions if this is a frequent problem. Overwatering or allowing the soil to dry to the point of wilting can cause the leaves to yellow. Low light and drafts of hot and cold air can do the same.

Remove flowers as they fade. Gently twist and pull off or cut spent flower stems back at their base in the foliage. Regular deadheading will increase the number of flowers and length of bloom. With proper care, you will be enjoying flowers for four weeks or more.

Don’t be alarmed when the leaves yellow and dry soon after the plant stops flowering. It is entering a natural dormant period. If you like a challenge, try forcing it into bloom a second time.

Simply cut back on watering when you notice the leaves begin to yellow. Then stop watering once all the leaves have dried. Move the plant to a cool dark location for several months. After the rest period, bring your plant out of dormancy and encourage it to bloom. Begin watering, fertilize once new growth appears and place it in a sunny window. Then wait for a beautiful floral display.

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Social Security Matters

by AMAC Certified Social Security Advisor Russell Gloor

Association of Mature American Citizens

Ask Rusty – Does Paying Social Security Payroll Tax Increase my Benefit?

Dear Rusty: After losing my job of 31 years in 2013 at 63 years of age, I decided to start drawing my Social Security benefits. In 2015 I started a part time job, which I still have. In January 2020 I will fully retire. I have been paying Social Security taxes for the last 4 years without receiving any increase in my Social Security benefit amount. Can I therefore claim an increase in benefits, or even a refund of those taxes? If not, is there anything that I can do? Signed: Overtaxed Senior

Dear Overtaxed Senior: I'm afraid it doesn't work that way, nor is there anything you can do to get either an increase in your benefit amount from (or a refund of) those FICA payroll tax contributions you made to Social Security while you were working and also collecting Social Security benefits. Everyone who works and earns - even those who are collecting Social Security benefits - must pay the Social Security FICA payroll tax. But paying that payroll tax doesn't entitle you to a benefit increase. The FICA tax you pay doesn't get credited to a personal account for you; rather it goes into the Social Security general fund to help pay benefits to all current beneficiaries.

Social Security’s basic premise since inception in 1935 is that current workers pay for current beneficiaries. Today, there are about 175 million workers contributing to pay benefits to over 63 million beneficiaries. And actually, the ratio of workers to beneficiaries has been declining for years, which is largely responsible for Social Security’s current financial issues. For example, in 1950 there were about 16.5 workers for each Social Security beneficiary; today there are about 2.4 workers per beneficiary.

As I said, everyone who works and earns must pay the Social Security FICA tax, but the FICA taxes you pay do not increase your benefit and there is no refund of FICA taxes for those already collecting Social Security benefits. Once you claimed your Social Security benefit, the amount was set and will only change as a result of COLA (cost of living adjustment) increases, or if any of your current/recent earnings are more than any of the inflation-adjusted earnings in the 35 year lifetime work record used to originally compute your benefit. Social Security uses the highest earning 35 years in your lifetime work history (adjusted for inflation) to compute your benefit, and if you don’t have earnings in at least 35 years they put in zeros to make a full 35 years. In that case, any current earnings you have would replace any zero earning years in your 35-year history which would slightly increase your benefit. But except for those circumstances, your benefit won’t change simply because you are paying Social Security FICA payroll taxes while you are working.

Think of it this way: The Social Security benefits you are now receiving are being paid for by those Americans currently working, and that will continue even after you retire completely in January. And, you’ll continue to get those Social Security benefits for the rest of your life, from the payroll taxes paid by those still working.

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They lived happily ever after

Charlotte and John Henderson of Austin, TX were married in 1939 and will celebrate their 80th anniversary in December. But that’s not the reason they made it into the Guinness Book of World Records. It is because they are officially the oldest known married couple. He’s 106 years old and she’s 105. And they said it wouldn’t last.

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A throne fit for a king

There’s a solid gold toilet on display in the UK, but a Hong Kong jewelry company recently unveiled its own gold toilet festooned with 40,815 diamonds embedded in its seat. It’s a must-see attraction at Shanghai’s International Import Expo and, as you might expect, it is soon to be listed in the Guinness Book of World Records.

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It’s like herding cats

One cool cat at a shelter in Houston, TX is giving caretakers there a run for their money. Quilty, a seven-year-old feline, has developed a knack for opening the doors to the free-roaming common rooms, giving Quilty and his cat-mates access to the lobby. That, in turn, keeps the staff at the Friends For Life Animal Rescue and Adoption Organization busy rounding them up. Herding cats, as we know, can be a truly difficult task so the shelter is now using broom sticks to prevent future escapes.

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Winter is here: Prepare pets for frigid weather

The Humane Society of Missouri offers tips to keep furry friends safe in freezing temperatures

The days are shorter and freezing temps have arrived! As it drops down into the teens this week and snow hits the ground, it’s tempting to think your pet’s fur will keep them warm while they’re outside. But remember – if it’s too cold for you, it’s too cold for your pet! The Humane Society of Missouri urges all pet owners to keep the safety of their four-legged friends top of mind this winter with our lifesaving motto:

35 Degrees and Below, Protect Fido!

Remember these six tips to protect pets in cold temperatures:

Bring pets inside: A common misconception that fur will protect a pet in cold weather is just that, a misconception! Just like people, cats and dogs are susceptible to hypothermia and frostbite and should not be left outside in the cold for prolonged periods of time, no matter the circumstance.

Provide a cozy space: If there are no other options and dogs are going to be left outdoors, owners must provide a well-insulated, draft-free, appropriately sized doghouse with a sturdy, flexible covering to prevent icy winds from entering.

Press “paws” on pet injuries: Check your animal’s paws frequently for signs of cold-weather damage, such as a cracked paw pad, redness between toes and any bleeding, especially after a walk.

Layer up your pup: If your dog has a thinner coat or seems bothered by cooler temperatures, consider a sweater or a dog coat. But be careful – a wet sweater or coat can actually make your dog colder, so keep it dry.

Prevent poisoning: Make sure to quickly clean up any antifreeze spills or buildup as it is poisonous and can cause serious health issues. Dry your pet off with a towel after they have been outside to remove ice, salt and chemicals.

Schedule a winter wellness exam: If your pet has not visited the veterinarian for their annual wellness exam, don’t delay. Cold weather may worsen certain medical conditions such as arthritis, so prepare your pet for the season by visiting the vet!

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Now’s the time to force a few spring flowering bulbs

By MELINDA MYERS

In just fifteen minutes you can plant a beautiful garden guaranteed to brighten your spirits and indoor décor this winter. All you need is a container with drainage holes, potting mix and some tulips, daffodils and other spring flowering bulbs. Once you have gathered the needed materials, you can get started planting.

Select bulbs labeled for forcing, shorter varieties that are less likely to flop or pre-chilled bulbs that don’t need chilling. Plant a container of one type of bulb or use a combination for added color, texture, form and a longer bloom time. Tulips, daffodils, and hyacinths are most common, but you may want to add another layer of color with shorter bulbs like crocus, squills, and grape hyacinths.

Select a container with drainage holes and cover the bottom with an inch or two of well-drained potting mix. Set bulbs on the potting mix with the pointed side, if it has one, up and root side down. Place the flat side of the tulip bulb toward the outside of the pot for a better display. Pack the container full of bulbs for an impressive display. Cover the bulbs with soil and water thoroughly.

Or create a garden of spring flowers in a pot using a variety of large and small bulbs. Place the largest bulbs on the lowest level of a large container. Cover with soil and add the medium sized bulbs. Cover these and add the smallest bulbs. Then cover with several inches of potting mix and water thoroughly.

Move the potted bulbs to a cold location with temperatures between 35 and 45 degrees for 15 weeks to initiate flowering. This is often the most challenging part of the process. Place the potted bulbs in a spare refrigerator where you do not store fruits and vegetables that produce ethylene that can interfere with flowering. Skip this step if you purchased pre-chilled bulbs that need no additional cold treatment.

Start removing the pots from cold storage after fifteen weeks of chilling. Extend your enjoyment by removing pots at one- or two-week intervals.

Move the chilled container of bulbs to a cool location with indirect light for two weeks. Water thoroughly and often enough to keep the soil moist. Move them to a bright sunny window when the leaves are about four to six inches tall. Bright sunlight and temperatures around 65 degrees Fahrenheit will give you the best results. You’ll be enjoying flowers in about three to four weeks after removing them from storage.

Use pots of forced bulbs as centerpieces or flowering accents indoors. Save a few to use outdoors on your balcony, deck or front steps for added color in your spring landscape. Dress up your display by placing the pots in window boxes or planters and cover with mulch or moss.

Planting and forcing bulbs will help you add spring flowering bulbs to your indoor décor or outdoor landscape. They provide a colorful bridge between your winter and summer gardens.

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Social Security Matters

By AMAC Certified Social Security Advisor Russell Gloor

Association of Mature American Citizens

Ask Rusty – Using a Restricted Application to Maximize Benefits

Dear Rusty: I was born on 1/14/1953, and my wife was born on 6/27/1954. I will have the largest Social Security benefit by 2 or 3 to one. She has been retired for a year or so, but I am working part time. We planned on not taking our SS until 70, since my IRA and Social Security will cover us until 90plus. I want to maximize my SS benefit in case we live past then. I have read about a restricted application and file and suspend, but I get conflicting information on who must be born before 1/2/54. Is there anything we can do besides wait to 70 to maximize our benefits? Signed: Wanting to Maximize

Dear Wanting: How you, as a married couple, should plan your Social Security depends largely upon whether your wife will be eligible for a spousal benefit from you and, if so, how much her spousal benefit will be. Your wife will get a spousal benefit from you if her own benefit amount at her full retirement age (66) is less than half of your benefit amount at your full retirement age (66). The difference between those two amounts will be added to your wife’s own benefit (from her own work record) to become her spousal benefit. At her full retirement age (FRA) she would get 50% of the amount you were eligible for at your FRA, which you reached in January 2019. If your wife’s benefit at age 70 will be more than her spousal benefit will be, then it would be prudent for her to delay claiming until age 70 when her benefit will be 32% more than it would be when she turns 66. However, if her spousal benefit will be more, it could make sense for your wife to file for her own benefit first, which would allow you to file a “restricted application for spousal benefits only.” Your wife cannot file a restricted application because she was born after January 1, 1954, but you can file the restricted application because you were born before that (the “File and suspend” option which allowed your wife to collect spouse benefits while your benefits are suspended is no longer available).

Provided your current finances, as well as your health and expected longevity suggest you can delay, it would be a wise strategy for you to delay claiming until age 70 because it will provide you with the maximum possible monthly benefit and also the most in cumulative lifetime benefits if you attain at least “average” longevity (about 84). This would also give your wife the highest possible survivor benefit should you predecease her (as your widow, your wife gets 100% of the benefit you were receiving at your death). Your wife cannot collect a spousal benefit from you until you start your own benefits, but if she were to choose to claim her own Social Security retirement benefit from her own work record first (so you could file the restricted application), she would switch to her higher spousal benefit when you claim.

So, if your wife’s spousal benefit will be her highest benefit, as a couple you may wish to consider your wife filing for her own benefit to start in January (will be reduced by about 3.3%) and, at that time, you file a “restricted application for spousal benefits only” which means you will collect 50% of your wife’s (unreduced) FRA benefit amount while your own Social Security benefit continues to earn delayed retirement credits (DRCs). DRCs are given at the rate of 2/3rd of 1% per month of delay (8% per year of delay), up until age 70 when your benefit will be 24% more than it would be at age 67. Then, at age 70, when you switch from the spousal benefit from your wife to your own SS retirement benefit, your wife can file for her spousal benefit from you. If you are, indeed, fortunate enough to live well into your 80s, the above will provide you with considerably more in lifetime benefits than any other strategy you might consider.

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History Matters

The Grateful American Book Prize

Showing our children that their past is prelude to their future

On November 19, 1863 -- in the midst of the Civil War -- President Abraham Lincoln delivered a speech that defined the American experience during the ceremonies that dedicated the Gettysburg Battlefield as a National Cemetery. His remarks lasted just two minutes, but the speech has been described as one of the most important in history.

Lincoln concluded: “…we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain-that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom-and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth--” words that have been remembered with reverence.

For more information, the Grateful American Book Prize recommends Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words that Remade America by Garry Wills.

One of the most distressing events of the 20th century happened in Dallas: November 22, 1963. President and Mrs. John F. Kennedy arrived at Love Field aboard Air Force One at 11:30 in the morning to deliver a speech. As his motorcade passed through Dealey Plaza, just past noon, shots rang out, and struck President Kennedy. He was rushed to Parkland Memorial Hospital; thirty minutes later, the 35th president of the United States was pronounced dead.

For more about this difficult event, the Grateful American Book Prize suggests "The President Has Been Shot!": The Assassination of John F. Kennedy by James L. Swanson.

Thanksgiving was America’s first holiday—declared by the first president, George Washington, to be celebrated on Thursday, November 26, 1789. His proclamation urged citizens to give thanks for the founding of the new American republic. But, it wasn’t until Abraham Lincoln issued his Thanksgiving decree, that the celebration would be forever observed on the fourth Thursday in November.

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Do you crave a “bigger burger?”

Some fast-food restaurants brag that their hamburgers are made with a half-pound of ground beef. But Bangkok’s Chris Steaks and Burgers boasts that they’re ready to serve you a burger made with a 13-pound beef patty. It comes with fried onion rings, bacon, mayonnaise and a cash prize of more than $300, if you can down it in nine minutes. The owners say that at least three of their customers have already managed to devour what some call the “whopper of all whoppers.”

Mississippi Squirrel Revival

An intrusive squirrel disrupted morning services at Alabama’s Vestavia Hills United Methodist Church recently. The incident prompted senior pastor Bill Brunson to adjust his sermon that day with an appropriate reference not to a biblical passage but to a classic country song. Brunson used the occasion to recall that "many years ago [singer/songwriter] Ray Stevens sang a song entitled Mississippi Squirrel Revival, when a squirrel went berserk in the First Self Righteous church in the sleepy little town of Pascagoula."

A penny saved is a penny earned

Guinness World Record holder Cory Nielsen finished building a penny pyramid with more than a million pennies last spring. He assembled the project without resorting to the use of an adhesive in quest of the title. It made it a lot easier for him to dismantle the 6,000 pound structure recently so that he could exchange the 1,030,315 pennies for 10,303 dollars and 15 cents.

Alcohol & the brain

A new study may have finally found an explanation for the high relapse rates in people who struggle with alcohol dependence. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine discovered that acetate, a byproduct of alcohol breakdown, traveled straight to the brain’s learning system and directly affected the proteins that regulate DNA function in an animal model. This process was also found to affect pregnant mice and their fetuses, which could lead to insights into potential treatments for fetal alcohol syndrome.

MDs & assault victims

While physicians are aware of the physical and emotional responsibilities they have to patients who have survived sexual assault, a recent article proposes that physicians also have a social responsibility. “The first tenet of our social responsibility is prevention. We need to recognize acquaintance rape as the public health crisis it is,” the authors said. Florencia Greer Polite, a gynecologist at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, became aware of this responsibility after realizing that many of her patients had suffered some sort of sexual assault but had never spoken about it.

Americans & the Supreme Court

More than two-thirds of Americans trust the Supreme Court to advocate in the best interests of the American people, but less than half believe the justices set aside their personal beliefs to make rulings. The survey of 1,104 adults was conducted by the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center and also revealed that 63% of Americans believe that the court fluctuates between liberal and conservative “depending on the law and facts of the case.”

Spinal disc injuries

Researchers may have found a way to increase the short window of time doctors have to treat spinal disc injuries. The method involves using a biological inhibitor that relaxes cells around the injury and prevents them from kicking off a faulty healing response. “These data show us that treating disc injuries very soon after injury is essential, before this transition in phenotype occurs and the scar tissue forms,” said Robert Mauck of the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine.

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Failing to plan for these 4 expenses could cost you fun money in retirement

Good retirement planning takes many factors into account, but with so many costs to consider it can be overwhelming. Thus, people may forget some retirement expenses that are less visible now or downplay others that they think will be unlikely or infrequent.

But the retirement expenses you miss, dismiss, or underestimate in your planning could prove costly.

“Even for those who prepare thoroughly for retirement, they can’t predict with complete accuracy across the board how much they’ll spend,” says Clayton Alexander (www.retireteton.com), an investment adviser and founder of Teton Wealth Group. “The retirement expenses you forget to plan for or ignore could seriously cost you and help sabotage the kind of retirement you were otherwise planning to have.”

Alexander goes over some key retirement expenses that may fly under the radar years in advance of retirement but nonetheless should be planned for:

Long-term care. This can be one of the most expensive costs during retirement. Many people don’t plan adequately for it because they’ve been healthy throughout their life. But the statistics point out the importance of planning for long-term care. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services lists the average cost of a semi-private nursing home room at $6,800 per month. The HHS also says that 70 percent of retirees will need long-term care at some point. Medicare won’t cover long-term care, and if one doesn’t qualify for Medicaid, the patient is responsible for the bill. “It’s easy to ignore the thought of needing long-term care when you have many years of working left and have been healthy,” Alexander says. “But it’s a reality for many in their last years. One way to prepare is building the expenses into your retirement fund by using a Health Savings Account. Or you can buy long-term care insurance before you retire in order to get better rates.”

Caring for family members. Retirement ideally is a time to relax and enjoy one’s newfound free time, but nearly one-third of seniors say they serve as a caregiver. That can strain the budget, so Alexander says it’s important before you retire to think about how much you’re able to help family members and budget that amount annually.

Home repairs and renovations. These aren’t the everyday costs you plan for when creating a retirement budget, but they’re inevitable and could take a large bite out of your budget. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the average person 65 and older spends about $2,300 per year on home repairs and maintenance. A major expense such as a new roof is a big hit. “Building an emergency fund is essential,” Alexander says. “It’s prudent to put aside two or three thousand dollars a year in your retirement budget for home repair and maintenance costs.”

Transportation. Retirement planners say this is a sneaky expense that is easy for retirees to underestimate. Transportation costs represent 16% of expenditures for adults 65 and over according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. “It’s one of the most under-planned items in retirement, but the costs can really bite you,” Alexander says. “It goes beyond buying a car — gas, maintenance, insurance, repairs, and public transportation. Even if a retiree no longer has a car payment, financial advisors need to factor in these types of costs.”

“It’s difficult to cover every scenario,” Alexander says, “but adhering to a careful plan laid out well before the retirement years can help one handle the unexpected costs as well as the ones that are easy to overlook and add up.”

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Away from the office – permanently? How working remotely is changing real estate

A corner office isn’t what it once was. No office is.

Technology has made it easier than ever for people to work remotely, handling their jobs from wherever they happen to be at any moment. That flexibility affects more than just how people schedule their lives and work assignments. It also has a large impact on real estate.

“The ways in which real estate gets bought, sold, leased, managed, and so on have already changed dramatically in recent years because of technology,” says Aaron Block, co-author with Zach Aarons of PropTech 101: Turning Chaos into Cash Through Real Estate Innovation (www.proptech101.com).

“The rise of telecommuting is one more way in which technology is changing how people work, and that affects how much office space a company needs, possibly the length of their lease agreements, and other factors that the commercial real estate world needs to adjust to.”

Block and Aarons, co-founders of MetaProp, a leading PropTech venture capital firm, say the challenge for the real estate industry will continue to grow as more people, and their employers, discover the flexibility and cost savings telecommuting can provide.

Already about 40 percent of the American workforce works remotely at least on occasion, according to an analysis that GlobalWorkplaceAnalytics.com conducted using the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2005-2017 American Community Survey.

“Part of this is driven by changing demographics, with millennials now the largest generation in the workforce,” Aarons says. “Millennials are the architects of the so-called sharing economy, and they are fine with spending their workdays in coffee shops or co-working spaces.”

Block and Aarons say some ways all this impacts real estate include:

What companies expect from an office is evolving. “In fact, the whole notion of office space – how it looks, where it’s located, how it’s valued, the services it offers – is shifting,” Block says. A number of tech-enabled firms, such as WeWork, Convene and TechSpace, are not only changing the way office space is leased, managed, and configured, but also how it is conceptualized. To remain competitive, commercial real estate firms will need to offer space that has more services and has flexible leasing terms, he says.

“Many businesses and workers today do not want to be tied to long leases and oppressive space with cubicles, fluorescent lights, and bad coffee,” Aarons says. If workers spend much of their time elsewhere, companies no longer need the amount of space they once did, so sharing conference rooms, kitchens and other facilities with multiple businesses just makes sense.

Yes, there are apps for that. Whether you are a freelancer or part of a large team, you can book workspace through apps, rather than going through more traditional methods such as responding to a newspaper advertisement or contacting a property manager or a broker. Spaces are available in all shapes, sizes, and locations for any length of time. “You can book space for a month, a year, or even by the hour if you want,” Block says. Aarons recognized the potential for the real-estate-on-demand trend early on and was in investor in Breather, one company that helps people make those connections.

“Technology already has had an enormous and lasting effect on numerous industries, such as taxi companies and the newspaper business, in some cases upending companies that once were very profitable,” Aarons says. “Unless real estate practitioners want to follow in the footsteps of some of those businesses, ignoring the ways in which technology is remaking the industry is not an option.

“Instead, make sure you keep tabs on the tech trends likely to affect your business. Building a realistic strategy that takes emerging threats and opportunities into account is more critical than ever.”

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How to keep good employees happy and reap the business benefits

While many business owners say that the first rule of a successful company is keeping customers happy, studies show that also keeping employees happy is critical to the whole process.

The better a business owner and upper management treat good employees, the more committed and engaged they will be to perform at a consistently high level and do their part to help make the business successful.

“The big key to business success is the productivity level of your employees and the culture in which they operate,” says Paul Trapp (www.eventprep.com), founding owner/CEO of EventPrep, Inc., a full-service meeting planning and management company, and co-author with Stephen Davis of Prep for Success: The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Achieving Your Dreams.

“Employee happiness results directly in success and goes hand-in-hand with company culture. The primary focus of leadership in that culture should be making sure their employees are happy, safe, respected, and making a competitive wage.”

If you get it right with your employees, Trapp and Davis say, they’ll get it right with the customer.

“It’s simple, really,” says Davis, who is EventPrep’s founding owner/president/COO.

“The folks you bring on board are going to spend a significant amount of time with their work family, so why wouldn’t the people running the business want it to be a cool place to work, and why wouldn’t they want it to be the most productive place they could possible make it?”

Trapp and Davis explain the key factors that find the right employees and keep them happy and productive:

Recruiting. “You’ve got to get the right people first, the people with the qualities that make for a passionate, productive worker who contributes to a positive culture,” Davis says. “Recruiting is about connecting with people and connecting them with their passion, their purpose, and enabling them to reach their potential. Recruiting isn’t an event, but a process, and sometimes finding the right person for a particular job can take months or even years. You’re always looking, listening, assessing and asking questions — and really getting to know the person you may hire.”

Establishing a culture. “You want people to want to come to work, and to do that you want people to work in the culture you’re creating,” Trapp says. “Culture is created at the top and cascades downward. What values and ethics do you have as a business owner that can make employees passionately want to be a part of that culture?”

Investing in them. ”Investing in your people raises their performance and strengthens their commitment, but it means far more than giving them raises,” Davis says. “It’s about making them feel like a part of your family, including giving them compassion and understanding when they need it most. Employees in turn embrace that kind of culture and own it. That’s what you want — a self-perpetuating work culture where everyone feels cared for and important.”

Recognizing them. “Keeping people happy and encouraging them to want to stay isn’t magic,” Trapp says. “Just as important as recruiting the right talent, business owners and leaders need to make the culture attractive and sustainable in order to retain the right talent. Retaining is about recognizing and celebrating, showing gratitude and appreciation. Recognizing employees for exceptional work, and giving them a cash bonus or special trip, is a key element toward retaining them.”

“A happy employee who’s engaged and connected, who wants to be there every day, makes the workplace a better place and a stronger business,” Davis says.

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Housecalls

By Dr. Appathurai Balamurugan

Assistant professor Department of Family and Preventive Medicine

College of Medicine

University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences

Q. My hair recently began falling out. Why is this happening?

A. Hair is made up of keratin, a protein produced in follicles in the skin’s outer layer. When new hair cells form, dead keratin cells (hairs visible to us) erupt from the skin’s surface.

Each follicle has a life cycle of two to six years. The average person has 100,000 to 150,000 hairs and loses up to 100 a day, so finding few stray hairs on your brush is normal. Those noticing an increase should consult their physician.

Temporary thinning on the scalp may be due to changes in the growth cycle. Other causes of hair loss include a natural, gradual thinning with age or a genetic condition. An autoimmune disorder can cause patchy hair loss in children and young adults and may lead to complete baldness. In some cases, all body hair falls out, but most of those affected see their hair return in a few years.

Other reasons for hair loss include treatment and styling, abnormal hormone levels, certain drugs, diets or diseases. Once the condition is treated, hair usually returns unless scarring prevents it.

Q. Is melatonin safe?

A. This hormone made by the pineal gland, which is found just above the middle of the brain, helps the body regulate sleep. The body, using its internal clock and the amount of daily light it experiences, makes more melatonin at night.

People with insomnia, jobs that disrupt typical sleep schedules or a delay in falling asleep, turn to melatonin supplements, either natural or synthetic, for help. Some studies say it could help prevent or treat jet lag and doctors are studying whether the supplements could help those with Alzheimer’s disease, cancer and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

Melatonin has fewer side effects than other sleep aid medicines but may include daytime sleepiness, headaches, dizziness, stomach issues, crankiness, anxiety, or brief bouts with depression.

Complications are possible for patients also taking blood-thinning medication, immune system suppressants, birth control pills or diabetes medicine. Visit with your physician before taking any supplement, especially if you have a health condition or are taking any medicine.

Melatonin may not work for everyone. Studies on its effectiveness vary, and there is still not enough research to conclude whether it helps with any non-sleep related issues.

Q. Why do foot problems increase with age?

A. Our feet are literally on the frontline, and, after decades of use, they begin to show it.

One of the most common reasons for heel pain is plantar fasciitis, when the tissue connecting the front and back of the foot becomes irritated and swollen. The exact cause is unknown, but it seems more common in those aged 40 to 60 and those who subject their feet to repetitive impact, such as runners.

Problems with the Achilles, a thick tendon connecting calf muscles to the heel, also increase as we get older and its blood supply slows, leaving it weakened and more prone to injury.

Other age-related foot problems include: osteoarthritis, when the cartilage breaks down and bones rub against one another; bone spurs, when smooth bony growths develop at the edge of bones in the foot; and bunions, bony lumps that grow at the joint where the big toe connects to the foot.

To reduce the chance of foot problems, exercise to tone muscles, strengthen arches and maintain proper blood circulation. Make sure shoes fit properly and offer adequate room in the toe box.

Q. Why is my elderly mother always cold, even in the summer?

A. One possibility is that she is anemic. This occurs when there are not enough healthy red blood cells to transport oxygen through the body. Other symptoms of anemia include being weak, dizzy, tired, or short of breath.

Anemia can be caused by a lack of iron or Vitamin B12, which can be found in chicken eggs and fish. Some people may eat enough of these foods but still have trouble absorbing the vitamin due to an illness or medicine they take.

Coldness is also a symptom of the thyroid gland or pituitary gland not producing enough of certain hormones.

Cold hands and feet can be side effects of some medications like beta-blockers, which help relax the heart of someone with heart disease and prevent the body from producing harmful chemicals. Coldness centered on the body’s extremities can also be a symptom of other diseases, ranging from those affecting the body’s circulatory system to kidney disease. Coldness may also be a sign of an eating disorder. A visit to her physician can determine the cause and treat her with dietary changes, supplements or other treatment.

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Medal of Honor: Marine Cpl. Lee H. Phillips

BY KATIE LANGE

A lot of Medal of Honor recipients have engaged in the fight of their lives, just to fight on another day. This was true for Marine Corps Cpl. Lee H. Phillips, who earned the nation's highest honor during a vicious fight in which he emerged victorious, only to die a few weeks later.

Phillips was born on Feb. 3, 1930, in Stockbridge, Georgia. He went to school in nearby Ellenwood until 1945, when he moved north to Atlanta to work. On Jan. 17, 1948, he enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserve. Six months later, he was recruited to active duty.

Phillips served at home, in the Caribbean and in the Mediterranean until August, 1950, when he was assigned to Company E, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marines Division to prepare for service in Korea, where they were sent a month later.

Less than two months after that, the 7th Marine Regiment was directed to march north and relieve an allied South Korean regiment that had reportedly been hit by Chinese units. Their objective was also to reach the Chosin Reservoir, a man-made lake about 45 miles inland.

The reservoir became a major battlefield in the war when China entered the conflict, infiltrating the northeastern part of North Korea. It would also mark Phillips' final resting place.

On Nov. 4, 1950, Phillips' company was near Sudong, North Korea. They were tasked with trying to overtake an enemy position on a vital hill, despite five previously unsuccessful attempts by Marines and other friendly forces.

As his company's squad leader, Phillips assumed the point position in the attack, which he knew would be difficult because the target was strongly defended by a well-entrenched, much larger enemy force. Phillips bravely led his men in a bayonet charge up the steep slope. They were immediately greeted with mortar, small-arms and machine-gun fire.

Despite the onslaught, Phillips rallied his squad and continued to lead them through the bombarded area. By the time they got to the crest of the hill, only five men remained. Those who survived were immediately hit with a counterattack.

They were heavily outnumbered, but Phillips didn't give up. Instead, he engaged the attackers, firing his rifle, throwing hand grenades and getting the few surviving men he was with to storm forward. They were able to overwhelm the massive enemy force.

By then, Phillips and only two other Marines remained. But they pushed on, determined to get to the last remaining strongpoint, a rocky, nearly inaccessible portion of the hill that four enemy fighters were using as cover.

Phillips used one hand to scale the jagged cliff while using the other to throw grenades. The three men succeeded in knocking out the pocket of resistance and were able to regroup before another counterattack came. Phillips and his men fired on those insurgents, and despite the odds, were able to push them back. Phillips wasn't injured, and the trio emerged victorious, thanks to the young corporal's leadership and bravery.

Unfortunately, Phillips was killed in action on Nov. 27, 1950, only a few weeks after that hard-fought battle. He was buried at the Chosin Reservoir along with other fallen troops.

On March 29, 1954, Phillips' mother accepted the Medal of Honor on his behalf from Navy Secretary Robert Anderson during a Pentagon ceremony.

Phillips was the 40th Marine to earn the Medal of Honor for actions in Korea. Along with that honor, his decorations include the Purple Heart and the Presidential Unit Citation with two Bronze Star medals.

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Six things to help evergreens through winter

By MELINDA MYERS

Prepare your evergreens now before winter weather takes its toll on your boxwood, camellias and rhododendrons. Winter wind, sun, frozen soil, snow and ice can wreak havoc on our plants, especially evergreens.

Water plants, especially evergreens and new plantings thoroughly before the first hard freeze in preparation for drier winter conditions. Evergreens continue to lose moisture throughout the winter even when the landscape appears dormant. Keep the hose handy and water thoroughly when the soil is dry. Winter watering as needed prevents yellow and brown needles and leaves on evergreens.

Apply a layer of mulch to the soil under and around trees and shrubs or freshen existing mulch. A two- to three-inch layer of woodchips or shredded bark insulates roots from temperature extremes, conserves moisture, suppresses weeds during the growing season and improves the soil as it breaks down in the future. Keep mulch several inches away from the trunk of trees and stems of shrubs.

Shelter evergreens from winter winds and sun that increase moisture lost through evergreen needles and leaves. Broadleaf evergreens like rhododendrons and boxwoods are most susceptible and benefit from protection when planted in exposed locations.

Create an attractive winter shelter with one of the commercially available winterizing products or build your own. Use a bit of decorative fencing or recycle a locally grown Christmas tree to cast a bit of shade and block the wind. Christmas tree windbreaks also add greenery to the winter landscape and shelter for visiting birds.

Be prepared to cover tender plants when extreme cold temperatures are in the forecast. Floating row covers allow light and water through while protecting the plants from freezing temperatures. These can be left in place for as long as the threat of cold is in the forecast. Or cover tender plants with old sheets or blankets before damaging temperatures arrive and remove them whenever temperatures have warmed.

As the seasons change, animal habits can also change. Install fencing, apply repellents or enlist scare tactics to reduce the risk of damage from hungry animals. Applying wildlife protection before critters start feeding increases your chance of success. Monitor plantings for damage, adjust as needed and consider using a combination of animal protections.

Delay major pruning until the worst of winter weather has passed. The inner needles and leaves of evergreens have been sheltered by the outer layer of growth. Removing the outermost growth in fall exposes the tender inner growth to the drying winter sun and wind, increasing the risk of winter damage.

A few hours spent preparing evergreens for winter now can save you hours repairing damage next spring and money spent on replacement plants.

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How parents can show the love equally to each very different child

Children need love and attention from their parents, but having two or more children can pose a challenge for moms and dads to spread the warmth evenly.

Sometimes this imbalance occurs when siblings are sharply different in terms of talents and personality. Jennifer Lynch, an educator, child advocate and author of the children’s book Livi and Grace (www.jenniferlynchbooks.com), says giving children equal attentiveness is important to their happiness and starts with parents appreciating their uniqueness.

“Children are unique, unknown little people waiting to be revealed,” Lynch says. “Parents need to ask themselves, how can I embrace these differences and make each child feel and recognize their beautiful uniqueness?

“Let the mystery of who they are and who they are meant to be unfold in their own authentic way, however awesome or peculiar it is. Everyone is different and it’s important to make every child feel special, important and loved.”

Lynch offers these tips to help parents balance their attention on multiple children who have different interests, personalities, and talents:

Give them quality one-on-one time. Consistently taking time to give your children one-on-one time, Lynch says, shows them you care and that they are important. “This means no phones, no distractions, and being 100 percent present with your child,” Lynch says. “Make eye contact, ask questions, and just listen and let them lead at whatever activity or interaction is taking place. This makes them feel safe, in control and loved.”

Celebrate their uniqueness. An imbalance in parental attention can lead to siblings comparing themselves — never a good idea because that can create jealousy and low self-esteem, thus accentuating a sibling rivalry. At the same time, children may think the parent is showing favoritism. “Susie may be faster than Johnny, but Johnny may be a brilliant chess player,” Lynch says. “So when they begin to compare themselves with their siblings, take that conversation and turn it into how great it is that they each have a place that shines. And bring in more examples of how their differences are beautiful and important. Set up scenarios showing examples of how those differences are good.”

Show your love for them. “You obviously love your children, so don’t be afraid to show it,” Lynch says. “Give them that authentic shout-out, or the gentle, grace- filled redirection and encouragement when they need to try again at something, whether it’s poor behavior or just losing a game. Leave the shame out of it.”

Validate them but be authentic. When it comes to praise, Lynch says quality is much more important than quantity. “Children can recognize a fake compliment a mile away,” Lynch says. “They know if you’ve really seen them or not. They know if it’s from the heart or just surface praise.”

“In these ways, showing appreciation for who each of them are will help your children develop confidence in themselves,” Lynch says. “They will take your lead and begin to find other amazing things about themselves and their friends. Making each of your very different children feel truly loved and valued will help them grow up to be happy and responsible adults.”

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Ways to avoid reckless holiday spending that could wreck your retirement

While an enjoyable part of the holiday season is giving to others, those nearing retirement would be prudent to give something back to themselves as the year nears its end.

That’s the advice from some retirement planners: Reduce holiday spending to provide more money for one’s retirement savings. But it’s a well-known fact that much of America wakes up with a credit card hangover on New Year’s Day, and curtailing holiday expenses in favor of financial planning for one’s future requires more discipline and a stronger commitment.

“It’s easy to overspend during the holidays and make too many emotional purchase decisions,” says Jay Sharifi, an investment advisor at Legacy Wealth Management (www.lwealthmanagement.com) and author of Building a Better Legacy: Retirement Planning for Your Lifetime and Beyond. “That hurts your long-term financial goals.

“The holiday shopping list may seem to get longer as you get older, but at some point you need to draw a line and balance your urge to give with the must of retirement considerations. It doesn’t mean you leave people out, but rather, you don’t go overboard and leave a little more for yourself. It can make a big difference in the long run.”

Sharifi offers these tips on saving more for retirement during the holiday season:

Review your past expenses and plan for the big picture. The holidays are a good time to reflect on how you spent your earnings over the past year. Adjustments may be necessary to get your retirement savings on track. “All through the year, money gets away from people a little bit at a time,” Sharifi says. “That’s often because they don’t have a firm plan. Not dealing with your expenses correctly can be very costly to your retirement. The holidays are the right time to recalibrate for the future.”

Make a holiday list, check it twice. Sharifi says people should approach their holiday season spending in a way that can help them get on track toward retirement goals. That starts with a budget and sticking to it, but many people overspend during the holidays and end up paying for it well into the new year. “If you have a budget set for holiday shopping, you can prioritize and figure out how you will get it done within those boundaries,” Sharifi says. “Look for deals to stretch your dollars. Setting a budget will help you avoid spending sprees that leak onto your credit cards. The carryover there is you may need to dedicate funds in the coming year to reduce that debt, which makes it harder to save for retirement.”

Sock away gifts from the company. Getting extra money from your company is a reward that can be used wisely toward retirement. “If you receive a nice bonus, don’t spend it,” Sharifi says. “Put that extra cash in a 401(k). That lowers your taxable income and gives you a boost toward your savings goals. And if your company offers you a raise, set a healthy percentage of that raise aside for retirement savings in the coming year.”

Make extra money. Holiday seasonal jobs are an excellent opportunity to put extra money away for retirement. Online positions allow someone to work from home, and pet sitting is another popular part-time job with more people traveling during the holidays.

“It’s very tempting to spend this extra money, but if you have the big picture in mind, putting it in a long-term savings account is a great gift to yourself,” Sharifi says. “With many Americans sinking further into debt during the holidays, it might be the right time for them to rethink how they spend and how it affects retirement,” Sharifi says.

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Social Security Matters

By AMAC Certified Social Security Advisor Russell Gloor

Association of Mature American Citizens

Ask Rusty – Should I Claim Benefits at Age 67 if I’m working?

Dear Rusty: My wife and I were talking to some other senior citizens who say it would be more beneficial to start drawing social security when I turn 67 next year, rather than wait till 70, even if I work full time. Can I do that? Signed: Working Senior

Dear Working Senior: Yes, you can do that, but it may not be your best strategy. Let’s explore your options:

If your wife is already collecting Social Security on her work record, you might consider filing a “restricted application for spousal benefits only” and collect a spousal benefit from your wife, while continuing to delay your claim for your own benefit, thus allowing your benefit to continue to grow. You can do this because you were born before 1/2/1954, which is the cutoff date for filing in this manner. In this way you could collect 50% of the benefit your wife is entitled to at her full retirement age (FRA) until such time as you file for your own benefit. If you wait until age 70 to file for your own, your payment will be 24% more than it will be when you are 67. But you cannot use this option unless, or until, your wife is collecting her Social Security benefit from her own work record.

There is no simple answer to when you should claim. It depends upon your current financial needs, your current health and your anticipated longevity (considering your family history). If you anticipate a long healthy life and don’t urgently need the money, then waiting until age 70 to claim your benefit will not only give you the highest possible monthly payment but also the most in lifetime benefits (assuming you live to at least the “average” age (84 for a man today). Waiting until 70 will also ensure that your wife gets the highest possible survivor benefit, should you predecease her (at her FRA, your surviving spouse gets 100% of the amount you were receiving at your death).

As for you working, since you’ve reached your full retirement age you no longer need to worry about Social Security’s “earnings test” which takes back benefits from anyone whose earnings exceed a certain limit. But it would be wise to consider that Social Security benefits are subject to Federal Income Tax (and, depending upon where you live, possibly a State income tax), so adding your Social Security income to your earnings from work could be an important tax consideration for you.

Claiming your benefit at age 67 will give you a payment which is 8% more than you would have gotten at age 66. But if the factors discussed above suggest you should wait longer, then you’ll earn an additional 8% for each additional year you wait to claim your benefit, up to age 70 when your maximum benefit is reached. What is the downside to waiting? Well, only that your wife, if she will be eligible for a spousal benefit from you, cannot collect that spousal benefit until you start collecting your own benefit. Your wife’s spousal benefit would be half of your age 66 benefit if she claims at her full retirement age.

So, as you can see, there is no easy answer to whether you should claim Social Security at age 67, but with the above information you should be able to make an informed decision. And here’s one final suggestion: don’t take Social Security advice from “armchair experts” and don’t be swayed by those who might say “collect now because Social Security is going bankrupt.” It’s not. It’s true that Congress needs to fix some portions of the program soon, and it’s also true they’ve been dragging their collective feet to do so. But, historically, Congress has always stepped up to the task when they had to, and I’m confident they will eventually do so again.

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A spooky treat

It has long been a seasonal tradition for homeowners to light up their houses for the Thanksgiving, Hanukah and Christmas holidays. In recent years, however, we’ve seen more and more homeowners extending the season as early as Halloween. For an outstanding example of how ghoulishly delightful All Hallow’s Eve decorations can be you’ll have to travel to the home of Tom BetGeorge in Tracy, California. BetGeorge is a lighting designer and his Halloween decorations are spectacular as well as enticingly spooky, attracting crowds of visitors seeking to get in the mood. Meanwhile, a particularly artful video of his creation that is posted on YouTube, has been attracting tens of thousands of viewers. Check it out for yourself by visiting the Web site www.youtube.com/watch?v=uANjW0bEhIc.

It’s not just a pumpkin

The celebration of Halloween can become an obsession for some people. Take Justin Ownby, a farmer in Cleveland, Tennessee. Justin has been trying to grow bigger and bigger pumpkins for years and this year, instead of planting lots of pumpkin seeds, he focused on growing one bigger and better pumpkin, according to his wife, Christin. And, indeed, he produced a 910-pound pumpkin. But instead of carving it into a giant jack-o-lantern, he decided to turn it into a rowboat, which he used to go sailing on his farm’s pond.

How creepy is that

What better way to celebrate the Halloween holiday than by participating in a Creepy Doll Contest like the one organized this year by Minnesota’s History Center of Olmsted County? Some of the contestants can be disconcerting. The museum’s curator Dan Nowakowski, for example, says that he finds that the dolls with repurposed human hair can be particularly unsettling. But that is the purpose of the contest: to find the creepiest doll of all.

Dogs & genes

A recent study shows that the difference in behaviors among dog breeds can partly be attributed to genetic distinctions. The link between behaviors and genetic disposition has long been suspected, but this hypothesis was finally supported by research relying on behavioral data collected by James Serpell of the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine. He and colleagues from around the country found 131 sites of variation in the genome dealing with a breed’s behavioral patterns. Some of the differential genetic behaviors include guarding, hunting and companionship.

Price of noise

In an increasingly loud world, non-stop noise can disturb sleep, which can lead to cardiovascular problems, mood disorders and an overall reduced quality of life. Persistent noise was also found to cause an increase in the production of stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. In an effort to alleviate these effects, Mathias Basner the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania recommends actively seeking out quiet spaces and using noise-cancelling headphones.

Twitter & gender

A study on the impact and reach of academics on Twitter found that the social media platform reflects the familiar “old boys club” present in academic institutions. The study, conducted by a team of Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics Senior Fellows at the University of Pennsylvania, found that, despite having a similar amount of engagement, female researchers were found to have less reach and influence than their male counterparts. However, differences between assistant professors, who are at the beginning of their careers, were smaller than those between full-time professors, offering hope for the future of gender parity.

Mindfulness at work

Workplace wellness strategies such as yoga and meditation are intended to manage stress and create a more productive worker, and research shows they work. Seven to eight minutes of meditation has been proven to improve relational cooperation and functioning, especially in workplaces with frequent collaboration and interaction between co-workers and supervisors. “Even with a one-time intervention, you’re getting smoother, pleasant, more helpful workers. That’s one of the key benefits,” Lindsey Cameron of the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School said.

Efficient hiring

Despite the economy’s stabilization since the 2008 recession, many companies are now grumbling that they can’t find qualified workers. However, a Wharton School marketing professor at the University of Pennsylvania argues that the problem doesn’t lie in the economy, but rather in the companies’ hiring processes. “They’re looking at cost per hire, time to fill, and they’re not looking at whether our practices give us good candidates or not.”

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How an exotic invasion in the Everglades has its fans worried

Burmese pythons and their battles with alligators get the headlines, but those large reptiles that came from Southeast Asia as part of the exotic-pet trade aren’t the only invasive species wreaking havoc on the Florida Everglades.

The National Park Service reports that the Everglades are suffering from a barrage of pressure brought on by numerous nonnative species, including exotic fish that gobble up native fish species and melaleuca trees that crowd out indigenous plants.

Now the pressure on the fragile ecosystem in south Florida could get even worse. Just recently, the Trump administration said it was disbanding the Interior Department’s Invasive Species Advisory Committee, which had coordinated the federal government’s efforts at controlling pythons and other invasive species plaguing the nation.

That has fans and defenders of the Everglades concerned.

“The Everglades have faced a number of threats over the years, and certainly one of the very serious ones has been invasive species,” says Clyde Butcher (www.clydebutcher.com), a nature photographer who since the 1980s has helped bring national awareness to the Everglades through stunning black-and-white photographs that have been compared to the works of Ansel Adams.

Butcher and his photography have been witness to some of the changes invasive species have wrought. He notes that one of his early photographs taken in 1986 along the Tamiami Trail provides an example of the delicate balance in the Everglades. A thick cloud formation and a dark sky initially draw a viewer’s attention, but Butcher points to the grassy plains in the foreground.

“Most of the grass in that picture was sawgrass, which later was overcome by invasive exotic plants,” Butcher says.

He says many people going about their daily lives, even in south Florida, are unaware of what would be lost if more isn’t done to protect this unique natural wonder from invasive species and other environmental hazards.

“With my photography, I’m trying to educate people that the environment is really important, and they need to actually experience it themselves,” Butcher says. “Looking at photographs in a gallery where you have air conditioning and there are no bugs is nice, but there’s nothing like experiencing the real thing.”

A few of the reasons that invasive species are a concern to Butcher and other defenders of the Everglades include:

Lack of natural predators. Because nonnative species typically lack natural predators, they can outcompete native species, the National Park Service reports. They can multiply unchecked, using up valuable resources such as sunlight, water, and nutrients. Native species suffer from this intense competition.

Severe decline of mammal population. Those Burmese pythons aren’t just wrestling with alligators. They also make meals out of mammals that call the Everglades home, which is one reason the state sponsors hunting contests among other efforts to get rid of them. Since the late 1990s, the Everglades have seen a steep decline in populations of raccoons, opossums, and bobcats, the U.S. Geological Survey reported. Marsh rabbits, cottontail rabbits, and foxes effectively disappeared.

Economic impact. Infestations of invasive plants and animals can negatively affect property values, agricultural productivity, public utility operations, native fisheries, tourism, and outdoor recreation, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. In a state like Florida, where agriculture and tourism are major industries, that’s significant.

Butcher says walking through the Everglades can be a spiritual experience, one he would like to see as many people as possible share.

“For me, the inspiration has been overwhelming to try to record this for people, for posterity, because it’s so unique in the world,” he says. “I’m not sure there’s another place like it.”

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These thieves don’t want your entire ID; just a piece of it

If people weren’t worried enough about protecting their identities, now comes “synthetic identity fraud,” the Frankenstein monster of ID theft where crooks cobble together bits and pieces of different people’s identities to pull off their crimes.

“One example of how it works is when a thief will take your Social Security number and blend it with someone else’s address and a fake name to create a fictitious identity,” says Stephen Hyduchak, CEO of Aver (www.goaver.com), an identity-verification service.

Synthetic identity fraud isn’t really new, but it’s been growing rapidly in the last few years to become the fastest-growing financial crime. While these identity thieves can use an adult’s Social Security number, they often target children because they aren’t currently using their Social Security numbers and likely won’t discover the subterfuge until the day, several years from now, when they accept their first summer job or apply for a credit card.

“The thieves will use these manufactured identities to apply for government benefits, open bank and credit card accounts, apply for loans or utility services, or even rent a place to live,” Hyduchak says.

And, unfortunately, many banks and businesses aren’t doing a good job of making sure they are actually dealing with who they think they are dealing with, he says. As a result, Equifax reports that synthetic identification fraud now accounts for 80% of all credit card fraud losses, and nearly one-fifth of credit card charge-offs.

Hyduchak says there are steps consumers can take to protect themselves and their identities, such as avoid using debit cards whenever possible and don’t put their date of birth and place of birth on social media.

With synthetic ID fraud, though, the onus largely falls on businesses, which need to do a better job of protecting their customers, he says.

Hyduchak says there are a few clues that could indicate to businesses something is amiss with the person they are dealing with:

Criminals often use common male names. In the United States, for example, you can’t get more common than a name like John Smith, and fraudsters use that to their advantage because it’s hard to distinguish people with common names from each other, Hyduchak says. “Using the data and statistics to play the odds, the criminals use this to trick reports,” he says.

Fraudsters don’t have much social footprint. Hyduchak says his team has noticed that fraudsters usually don’t take the time to build much of a social media profile with their fake identifications. “Linkedin profiles with less than two work histories and no college experience are immediate flags,” he says. “Many do not even have a social media profile of any nature.”

Applications lack birthdates. In some cases, identity thieves don’t like to give definitive birthdates. “That’s because a search of the common name they are impersonating turns up a lot of individuals with the same name, meaning the ages are all over the map,” Hyduchak says. “The bad actors try to play the odds and hope to get through compliance systems.”

Name and email addresses don’t match. Most adults use an email address that is some variation of their first and last names, perhaps with a number or a middle initial added if someone else already had the email address. “When a name does not match the email, it is something else that is a flag for identity fraud,” Hyduchak says.

“Even though each of these pieces can be ambiguous and subjective, they can be a strong indicator of fraud,” Hyduchak says. “It’s imperative that banks and businesses have some sort of identity-verification system in place to protect both themselves and their customers.”

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When the creative light bulb flips on, here’s how to make your idea take off

Smart business ideas can pop into someone’s head just about any time and anywhere: While walking or jogging, when driving, before going to bed, while doing housework, or during a brainstorming session.

The idea is usually triggered when the person notices a problem or need. The exciting moment the idea springs to life may seem like an epiphany, akin to a light bulb flipping on brightly in the brain. But that doesn’t mean it’s always a good, viable business idea, and discerning whether it will work doesn’t happen nearly as easily as the idea originally came.

“Getting a business idea from zero to reality requires numerous steps, lots of important details, and diligence,” says Deni Sciano (www.ScoreGameDayBag.com), the founder of Score! Designs, LLC, a women-owned designer handbag company based in San Antonio, Texas.

Sciano got her business idea to design clear handbags when waiting in a long security line at a professional sports event. Her products are now sold in 100 stores across the U.S.

“When you have that ‘a-ha!’ moment of discovery, your passion for your idea can take over, but that passion doesn’t give you the pragmatic side of business that you’ll need to properly investigate its potential and make it work. Having said that, by taking the right steps, being persistent and figuring it out, your idea might really take off.”

Sciano offers five ways to turn your idea into a business reality:

Do your homework. “The idea person who’s basically new to marketing and selling really needs to self-educate as much as possible,” Sciano says. “Read books on sales and marketing. Learn the importance of trade shows and networking as well as online marketing. Research the market; you need to carry out a full analysis of your idea by investigating the target audience and its demographics.”

Plan to spend money. The dream-big side of a new idea is countered by — and sometimes ended by — the reality-check side of having enough money to invest in the project. “You have to ask yourself early-on, ‘Can I afford this?’ ” Sciano says. “That’s the No. 1 thing that can stop you. There are many money factors to consider — for a lawyer, an accountant, to hire staff, to get trademarks, do the marketing, etc. There’s a lot that goes toward building your brand and your market.”

Find mentors. “It’s crucial to form relationships with entrepreneurs who had an idea, believed in it, and made it happen,” Sciano says. “You need the knowledge and inspiration gained from them and their successful experience.”

Keep the faith. “The grinding day-after-day part of pursuing your idea and turning it into a business reality can be drudgery, overwhelming, and discouraging at times,” Sciano says. “Fear is a huge factor that stops people from following through. It’s like a chain on your ankle. But let your adventurous spirit and your continuing curiosity shine through. Keep the faith in yourself and your product.”

Learn how to juggle. Sciano says that if it’s done properly, dedicating oneself to a product investigation and launch is extremely time-consuming. The person with the idea needs to weigh whether following through on it is worth the personal sacrifices they must make. “You have to go all-out, and the first couple of years you have to give up some of those things you enjoy — spending time with friends, hobbies, etc.,” Sciano says. “Figure out what kind of work-life balance you need.”

“After you come up with a great idea, trying to make it work can seem like hitting a wall over and over again,” Sciano says. “You learn how to go over the wall, and going for it is worth it.”

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Plan ahead for amaryllis blooms all winter long

By MELINDA MYERS

Let amaryllis fill your home with flowers for the holidays and keep the blossoms coming all winter long. When you plant several different types of amaryllis bulbs, from both the southern and northern hemisphere, you can be sure to get a long-lasting, colorful show that will brighten your mood and surroundings throughout the winter months.

Kick off the holiday season with amaryllis bulbs that are imported from growers in Peru. As we enter autumn, it’s springtime in South America, and these bulbs are eager to start blooming. Pot them up before early November for flowers in December.

Amaryllis varieties grown in the southern hemisphere include deep red Mandela, frosty white Denver, coral-pink Bolero and two-tone Charisma. Combine these impressive blossoms with greens, poinsettias, candles and other holiday décor, or give them as living gifts to friends, family and neighbors.

Most amaryllis bulbs that are grown in the U.S. are imported from Holland, and their natural bloom time is January through March. Exactly when the flowers will open is impossible to predict. The best strategy is to choose a number of different varieties and plant them 3 to 4 weeks apart during November, December and January. This way you will always have flowers coming into bloom.

Plan a winter filled with amaryllis blossoms by referring to Longfield Gardens’ article, longfield-gardens.com/article/When-Will-Your-Amaryllis-Bloom, for insight on when different amaryllis varieties will bloom.

Start your indoor flower display with an early bloomer such as Evergreen, which is always quick to break out of dormancy. Its flowers have narrow, lime/chartreuse petals on 20-inch plants. Enjoy the impressive display as each bulb produces 2 stems with 4 to 6 blooms.

Minerva’s extra-large, cherry-red flowers have a white star in the middle and an apple green throat. They are eye-catching from afar and spectacular up close. Apple Blossom is a long-time favorite with snow-white petals brushed with pink and a lime green throat. Or grow a double amaryllis such as Double King with layers of burgundy-red petals and up to a dozen flowers.

Enjoy some of the more unusual amaryllis colors and flower styles by planting varieties such as Naranja, with its tropical red-orange blossoms or Sweet Nymph, a romantic double amaryllis with stunning, coral-pink petals. Add elegance to your indoor garden with Picotee. Its 8” flowers are white with a thin red line around each petal.

As winter turns to early spring, celebrate with an explosion of indoor blooms from Red Pearl, Spartacus and other proven performers. The velvety, burgundy-red flowers of Red Pearl have a deep maroon throat that sets off the glittering gold stamens. Spartacus turns heads with its crimson petals and bold white stripes.

Display your amaryllis on a mantle, kitchen counter or entryway table where you can watch the amazing show as the first sprout appears, followed by buds and the spectacular trumpet-shaped blooms. Amaryllis are also beautiful, long-lasting cut flowers.

For best selection, order your bulbs early and store them in a cool, dry, dark place until you are ready to plant. Once you pot up the bulbs and place them in a warm, bright location, flower buds should appear in about 6 to 10 weeks.

Protect yourself from the winter blahs by investing in amaryllis. You can count on their big flowers and bright colors to lift your spirits and ease your way to spring.

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How Americans can rediscover civility in a time of political turmoil

America has been a nation divided for a while.

Now, with Washington mired in a Congressional impeachment inquiry that’s investigating the dealings of President Donald Trump, that divide has grown ever wider. Americans on all sides express a mixture of anger and frustration that they have been betrayed by their country, by their leaders or by their fellow Americans.

That raises a question: Can the nation find its way back to some semblance of civility and reconciliation, or have things gone too far?

“Even in down times, there’s always a road back if we give each other the courage to both look for it and take it,” says Susan Stautberg, co-author with Elaine Eisenman, PhD, of Betrayed: A Survivor’s Guide to Lying, Cheating, & Double-Dealing (www.bouncefrombetrayal.com).

Stautberg, a former TV journalist who covered Watergate in the 1970s, and Eisenman, an organizational psychologist, say that any successful institution – whether it’s a country or a corporation – requires a sense of strong interconnectedness and shared pride.

“That’s something that is severely lacking at the moment in the media and the world,” Eisenman says.

Instead, on social media and sometimes in person, friends, family and strangers argue heatedly over every political revelation and treat each other like mortal enemies, unwilling to consider the other side’s arguments, much less feelings.

Regardless of how the impeachment inquiry plays out – and who feels betrayed by whom in the process – Stautberg and Eisenman suggest a few ways each American, and society as a whole, can seek to heal their relationships with those they don’t see eye to eye with.

Keep communication lines open. “You detoxify disputes when you personalize them, which is why it’s important to continue contact with people you disagree with,” Stautberg says. “As Gandhi put it, ‘You can’t shake hands with a closed fist.’ ”

Remember the value of tact. Sometimes you must have a sense of how to say or do the right thing in order to maintain good relations with others and avoid offending them, Eisenman says. “That may sound easy and simple, but it’s not,” she says. “Tact takes brains and discipline. It’s a form of empathy. You see someone is embarrassed or unhappy and you decide not to make it worse; you decide to be gracious instead.”

Find ways to build community. “We need to work together to end social isolation and build communities by weaving together a social fabric,” Stautberg says. “We need to build relationships and hubs where disenfranchised networks of people can come together for solidarity and support. With each other’s help, we can look beyond the moment, not in rearview mirrors.”

“We are living through such challenging times and need civility and friendship, despite differing points of view,” Eisenman says. “Willingness to embrace and celebrate our differences brings out our best.

“Our purpose should be frank, open and spirited discussions of issues, not dividing debates. Close friendships can survive these times of intense political change. We just need to put friendship first and find common ground.”

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From the files of the FBI

Phishing the famous, man who targeted celebrities sentenced

Kwamaine Ford traveled in famous circles. He worked for a celebrity and had social media accounts that showed him living a glamorous life, surrounded by well-known people.

But Ford, now 28, funded his lifestyle with an illegal hobby—using his knowledge of celebrities to phish their personal accounts and charge the associated credit cards.

Between 2015 and 2018, Ford, posing as an Apple customer service employee, emailed various celebrities to ask them to change or share their passwords.

More than 100 victims, including athletes and musicians, unwittingly gave Ford their passwords. Since the passwords were for their iCloud accounts, he had access to anything stored in the cloud, including email and photos.

Apple notified the FBI, who began investigating.

“A lot of people are using cloud-based services to back up data from their devices. This important information is stored remotely and accessed through login credentials,” said Special Agent Joseph Zadik, who investigated the case out of the FBI’s Atlanta Field Office.

Investigators learned Ford stole an estimated $325,000 by fraudulently using victims’ credit card numbers that he accessed through phishing.

Ford pleaded guilty to computer fraud and aggravated identity theft charges earlier this year. In July, he was sentenced to more than three years in prison.

Phishing is a growing problem. Phishers send emails or text messages that instruct recipients to click on links or provide other information to the scammer. According to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center, there were more than 26,000 victims of phishing and similar crimes reported in 2018.

There are steps you can take to protect yourself and your information.

“Everyone—especially high-profile or high-net worth individuals—needs to be aware that your personal information is very valuable. You are likely being targeted.”

Joseph Zadik, special agent, FBI Atlanta

Zadik said companies do not generally ask for your passwords. If you receive an unsolicited request via text or email, don’t click on anything. Look up the company’s phone number on your own (not the one a potential scammer is providing). Call the company or bank to ask if the request is legitimate. It is probably a would-be scammer.

It’s also important to set up two-factor (or multi-factor) authentication on any account that it allows it and never disable it.

Be careful of how much information you share online or on social media. If one of your security questions is your pet’s name, and you reveal your pet’s name on a social media account, someone can easily guess your answer.

In some cases, Ford convinced his victims to disable their two-factor authentication or to give him the answers to their security questions. Then, once he had their passwords, he had automatic access to their accounts, Zadik said.

“Everyone—especially high-profile or high-net worth individuals—needs to be aware that your personal information is very valuable. You are likely being targeted,” Zadik said. “You wouldn’t give out the alarm code to your house or the combination to your safe. You shouldn’t give out your passwords, either.”

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Former state prison guard pleads guilty to smuggling methamphetamine and other drugs to inmates

ROME, GA. - Voltaire Peter Pierre, a former corrections officer at Hays State Prison, has pleaded guilty to smuggling methamphetamine, crack cocaine, and marijuana past prison security and into the hands of inmates in exchange for payments. Because Pierre stored the drugs at his family home before smuggling them into the prison, he also pleaded guilty to possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine on premises where a minor resides.

“Public service is a duty and a privilege, not an opportunity to leverage a position of trust for personal financial gain,” said U.S. Attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak. “As a former corrections officer, Pierre violated his oath to uphold the law, betrayed the community, and endangered his fellow officers and inmates. We will continue working with our federal and state law enforcement partners to ferret out and remove corrupt officials and to combat the flow of drugs and other contraband into our prisons.”

“Smuggling illegal contraband into a prison not only jeopardizes the safety of staff and inmates, it also fosters criminal activities inside and outside of the prison,” said the Special Agent in Charge of FBI Atlanta, Chris Hacker. “Pierre not only violated his sworn oath, but betrayed every hard working corrections officer. The FBI will vigorously pursue any allegations of corruption in these facilities to ensure the safety of both staff and inmates.”

“The Georgia Department of Corrections maintains a zero tolerance policy for individuals who choose to ignore their oath and jeopardize our non-negotiable mission of public safety. We appreciate the support of our Federal partners in our efforts to see that justice is served on this former Officer,” said GDC Commissioner Timothy C. Ward. “The actions of this individual do not reflect the hundreds of Officers who are committed each and every day to ensuring the safety of the public and the safe operations of our facilities.”

According to U.S. Attorney Pak, the charges and other information presented in court: Beginning in June 2018, and continuing until his arrest on October 1, 2018, Pierre smuggled methamphetamine, crack cocaine, marijuana, and tobacco into Hays State Prison in Trion, Georgia, for distribution to inmates, many of whom were members of the Bloods criminal street gang. He coordinated with inmates and their associates outside prison to arrange drug drop-offs at motels and at his family’s home. After receiving the drugs, the defendant smuggled them into the prison in soup containers and other seemingly innocuous items. Inmates and their associates paid the defendant through a mobile payment app.

On October 2, 2019, Voltaire Peter Pierre, 39, of Norcross, Georgia, was charged via criminal information with (1) conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute methamphetamine, crack cocaine, and marijuana and (2) possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine on premises where a minor resides. Pierre pleaded guilty to both of those charges.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is investigating this case in coordination with the Georgia Department of Corrections.

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Film producer pleads guilty in movie financing fraud scheme

A South Florida movie financier pled guilty in connection with a scheme to steal over $60 million from investors and producers seeking financing for motion pictures and theater performances.

Benjamin McConley, 37, of South Florida, admitted his role in orchestrating the sophisticated fraud scheme during a change-of-plea hearing before U.S. District Judge Ursula M. Ungaro. McConley pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. McConley faces a maximum possible sentence of 20 years’ in prison.

According to court records, McConley held himself out as a film producer and financier. In those roles, McConley offered to provide financing to investors and producers seeking funds to produce motion pictures, theater performances, and other projects. McConley promised the victims that, in exchange for the victims’ cash contribution, McConley would match the contribution and use the combined funds to secure financing from financial institutions in South Florida and elsewhere.

Based on these false representations and promises, victims sent tens of millions of dollars to accounts controlled by McConley and his co-conspirators. In truth, McConley never “matched” the victims’ contributions as promised in the funding agreements.

Instead of fulfilling their promises to victims, McConley and his co-conspirators stole the victims’ money by transferring the funds to their personal and corporate bank accounts, often within days of the victims’ contributions or loans.

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Historic cases of the FBI: The fabulous Brink's robbery

Shortly before 7:30 p.m. on the evening of Jan. 17, 1950, a group of armed, masked men emerged from 165 Prince Street in Boston, Massachusetts, dragging bags containing $1,218,211.29 in cash and $1,557,183.83 in checks, money orders, and other securities. These men had just committed the “crime of the century,” the “perfect crime,” the “fabulous Brink’s robbery.” At 7:27 p.m. as the robbers sped from the scene, a Brink’s employee telephoned the Boston Police Department. Minutes later, police arrived at the Brink’s building, and special agents of the FBI quickly joined in the investigation.

At the outset, very few facts were available to the investigators. From interviews with the five employees whom the criminals had confronted, it was learned that between five and seven robbers had entered the building. All of them wore Navy-type peacoats, gloves, and chauffeur’s caps. Each robber’s face was completely concealed behind a Halloween-type mask. To muffle their footsteps, one of the gang wore crepe-soled shoes, and the others wore rubbers.

The robbers did little talking. They moved with a studied precision which suggested that the crime had been carefully planned and rehearsed in the preceding months. Somehow the criminals had opened at least three—and possibly four—locked doors to gain entrance to the second floor of Brink’s, where the five employees were engaged in their nightly chore of checking and storing the money collected from Brink’s customers that day.

All five employees had been forced at gunpoint to lie face down on the floor. Their hands were tied behind their backs and adhesive tape was placed over their mouths. During this operation, one of the employees had lost his glasses; they later could not be found on the Brink’s premises.

As the loot was being placed in bags and stacked between the second and third doors leading to the Prince Street entrance, a buzzer sounded. The robbers removed the adhesive tape from the mouth of one employee and learned that the buzzer signified that someone wanted to enter the vault area. The person ringing the buzzer was a garage attendant. Two of the gang members moved toward the door to capture him; but, seeing the garage attendant walk away apparently unaware that the robbery was being committed, they did not pursue him.

The Investigation

In addition to the general descriptions received from the Brink’s employees, the investigators obtained several pieces of physical evidence. There were the rope and adhesive tape used to bind and gag the employees and a chauffeur’s cap which one of the robbers had left at the crime scene.

Roll of waterproof adhesive tape (used to gag and bind Brinks' employees), left at the scene of the crime in Boston at the Great Brinks Robbery on January 17, 1950, where five men hauled away $1.2 million in cash and $1.5 million in checks.

The FBI further learned that four revolvers had been taken by the gang. The descriptions and serial numbers of these weapons were carefully noted since they might prove a valuable link to the men responsible for the crime.

In the hours immediately following the robbery, the underworld began to feel the heat of the investigation. Well-known Boston hoodlums were picked up and questioned by police. From Boston, the pressure quickly spread to other cities. Veteran criminals throughout the United States found their activities during mid-January the subject of official inquiry.

Since Brink’s was located in a heavily populated tenement section, many hours were consumed in interviews to locate persons in the neighborhood who might possess information of possible value. A systematic check of current and past Brink’s employees was undertaken; personnel of the three-story building housing the Brink’s offices were questioned; inquiries were made concerning salesmen, messengers, and others who had called at Brink’s and might know its physical layout as well as its operational procedures.

An immediate effort also was made to obtain descriptive data concerning the missing cash and securities. Brink’s customers were contacted for information regarding the packaging and shipping materials they used. All identifying marks placed on currency and securities by the customers were noted, and appropriate “stops” were placed at banking institutions across the nation.

Hundreds of Dead Ends

The Brink’s case was “front page” news. Even before Brink’s, Incorporated, offered a $100,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the persons responsible, the case had captured the imagination of millions of Americans. Well-meaning persons throughout the country began sending the FBI “tips” and theories which they hoped would assist in the investigation.

For example, from a citizen in California came the suggestion that the loot might be concealed in the Atlantic Ocean near Boston. (A detailed survey of the Boston waterfront previously had been made by the FBI.) Former inmates of penal institutions reported conversations they had overheard while incarcerated which concerned the robbing of Brink’s. Each of these leads was checked out. None proved fruitful.

Many other types of information were received. A man of modest means in Bayonne, New Jersey, was reported to be spending large sums of money in night clubs, buying new automobiles, and otherwise exhibiting newly found wealth. A thorough investigation was made concerning his whereabouts on the evening of Jan. 17, 1950. He was not involved in the Brink’s robbery.

Rumors from the underworld pointed suspicion at several criminal gangs. Members of the “Purple Gang” of the 1930s found that there was renewed interest in their activities. Another old gang which had specialized in hijacking bootlegged whiskey in the Boston area during Prohibition became the subject of inquiries. Again, the FBI’s investigation resulted merely in the elimination of more possible suspects.

Many “tips” were received from anonymous persons. On the night of January 17, 1952—exactly two years after the crime occurred—the FBI’s Boston Office received an anonymous telephone call from an individual who claimed he was sending a letter identifying the Brink’s robbers. Information received from this individual linked nine well-known hoodlums with the crime. After careful checking, the FBI eliminated eight of the suspects. The ninth man had long been a principal suspect. He later was to be arrested as a member of the robbery gang.

Of the hundreds of New England hoodlums contacted by FBI agents in the weeks immediately following the robbery, few were willing to be interviewed. Occasionally, an offender who was facing a prison term would boast that he had “hot” information. “You get me released, and I’ll solve the case in no time,” these criminals would claim.

One Massachusetts racketeer, a man whose moral code mirrored his long years in the underworld, confided to the agents who were interviewing him, “If I knew who pulled the job, I wouldn’t be talking to you now because I’d be too busy trying to figure a way to lay my hands on some of the loot.”

In its determination to overlook no possibility, the FBI contacted various resorts throughout the United States for information concerning persons known to possess unusually large sums of money following the robbery. Race tracks and gambling establishments also were covered in the hope of finding some of the loot in circulation. This phase of the investigation greatly disturbed many gamblers. A number of them discontinued their operations; others indicated a strong desire that the robbers be identified and apprehended.

The mass of information gathered during the early weeks of the investigation was continuously sifted. All efforts to identify the gang members through the chauffeur’s hat, the rope, and the adhesive tape which had been left in Brink’s proved unsuccessful. On Feb. 5, 1950, however, a police officer in Somerville, Massachusetts, recovered one of the four revolvers which had been taken by the robbers. Investigation established that this gun, together with another rusty revolver, had been found on Feb. 4, 1950, by a group of boys who were playing on a sand bar at the edge of the Mystic River in Somerville.

Shortly after these two guns were found, one of them was placed in a trash barrel and was taken to the city dump. The other gun was picked up by the officer and identified as having been taken during the Brink’s robbery. A detailed search for additional weapons was made at the Mystic River. The results were negative.

Through the interviews of persons in the vicinity of the Brink’s offices on the evening of Jan. 17, 1950, the FBI learned that a 1949 green Ford stake-body truck with a canvas top had been parked near the Prince Street door of Brink’s at approximately the time of the robbery. From the size of the loot and the number of men involved, it was logical that the gang might have used a truck. This lead was pursued intensively.

On March 4, 1950, pieces of an identical truck were found at a dump in Stoughton, Massachusetts. An acetylene torch had been used to cut up the truck, and it appeared that a sledge hammer also had been used to smash many of the heavy parts, such as the motor. The truck pieces were concealed in fiber bags when found. Had the ground not been frozen, the person or persons who abandoned the bags probably would have attempted to bury them.

The truck found at the dump had been reported stolen by a Ford dealer near Fenway Park in Boston on November 3, 1949. All efforts to identify the persons responsible for the theft and the persons who had cut up the truck were unsuccessful.

The fiber bags used to conceal the pieces were identified as having been used as containers for beef bones shipped from South America to a gelatin manufacturing company in Massachusetts. Thorough inquiries were made concerning the disposition of the bags after their receipt by the Massachusetts firm. This phase of the investigation was pursued exhaustively. It proved unproductive.

Nonetheless, the finding of the truck parts at Stoughton, Massachusetts, was to prove a valuable “break” in the investigation. Two of the participants in the Brink’s robbery lived in the Stoughton area. After the truck parts were found, additional suspicion was attached to these men.

Field of Suspects Narrows

As the investigation developed and thousands of leads were followed to dead ends, the broad field of possible suspects gradually began to narrow. Among the early suspects was Anthony Pino, an alien who had been a principal suspect in numerous major robberies and burglaries in Massachusetts. Pino was known in the underworld as an excellent “case man” and it was said that the “casing” of the Brink’s offices bore his “trademark.” Pino had been questioned as to his whereabouts on the evening of Jan. 17, 1950, and he provided a good alibi. The alibi, in fact, was almost too good. Pino had been at his home in the Roxbury Section of Boston until approximately 7 p.m.; then he walked to the nearby liquor store of Joseph McGinnis. Subsequently, he engaged in a conversation with McGinnis and a Boston police officer. The officer verified the meeting. The alibi was strong, but not conclusive. The police officer said he had been talking to McGinnis first, and Pino arrived later to join them. The trip from the liquor store in Roxbury to the Brink’s offices could be made in about 15 minutes. Pino could have been at McGinnis’ liquor store shortly after 7:30 p.m. on Jan. 17, 1950, and still have participated in the robbery.

And what of McGinnis himself? Commonly regarded as a dominant figure in the Boston underworld, McGinnis previously had been convicted of robbery and narcotics violations. Underworld sources described him as fully capable of planning and executing the Brink’s robbery. He, too, had left his home shortly before 7 p.m. on the night of the robbery and met the Boston police officer soon thereafter. If local hoodlums were involved, it was difficult to believe that McGinnis could be as ignorant of the crime as he claimed.

Neither Pino nor McGinnis was known to be the type of hoodlum who would undertake so potentially dangerous a crime without the best “strong-arm” support available. Two of the prime suspects whose nerve and gun-handling experience suited them for the Brink’s robbery were Joseph James O’Keefe and Stanley Albert Gusciora. O’Keefe and Gusciora reportedly had “worked” together on a number of occasions. Both had served prison sentences, and both were well known to underworld figures on the East Coast. O’Keefe’s reputation for nerve was legend. Reports had been received alleging that he had held up several gamblers in the Boston area and had been involved in “shakedowns” of bookies. Like Gusciora, O’Keefe was known to have associated with Pino prior to the Brink’s robbery. Both of these “strong-arm” suspects had been questioned by Boston authorities following the robbery. Neither had too convincing an alibi. O’Keefe claimed that he left his hotel room in Boston at approximately 7 p.m. on Jan. 17, 1950. Following the robbery, authorities attempted unsuccessfully to locate him at the hotel. His explanation: He had been drinking at a bar in Boston. Gusciora also claimed to have been drinking that evening.

The families of O’Keefe and Gusciora resided in the vicinity of Stoughton, Massachusetts. When the pieces of the 1949 green Ford stake-body truck were found at the dump in Stoughton on March 4, 1950, additional emphasis was placed on the investigations concerning them. Local officers searched their homes, but no evidence linking them with the truck or the robbery was found.

In April 1950, the FBI received information indicating that part of the Brink’s loot was hidden in the home of a relative of O’Keefe in Boston. A Federal search warrant was obtained, and the home was searched by agents on April 27, 1950. Several hundred dollars were found hidden in the house, but could not be identified as part of the loot.

On June 2, 1950, O’Keefe and Gusciora left Boston by automobile for the alleged purpose of visiting the grave of Gusciora’s brother in Missouri. Apparently, they had planned a leisurely trip with an abundance of “extracurricular activities.” On June 12, 1950, they were arrested at Towanda, Pennsylvania, and guns and clothing which were the loot from burglaries at Kane and Coudersport, Pennsylvania, were found in their possession.

Following their arrests, a former bondsman in Boston made frequent trips to Towanda in an unsuccessful effort to secure their release on bail. On Sept. 8, 1950, O’Keefe was sentenced to three years in the Bradford County Jail at Towanda and fined $3,000 for violation of the Uniform Firearms Act. Although Gusciora was acquitted of the charges against him in Towanda, he was removed to McKean County, Pennsylvania, to stand trial for burglary, larceny, and receiving stolen goods. On Oct. 11, 1950, Gusciora was sentenced to serve from five to 20 years in the Western Pennsylvania Penitentiary at Pittsburgh.

Even after these convictions, O’Keefe and Gusciora continued to seek their release. Between 1950 and 1954, the underworld occasionally rumbled with rumors that pressure was being exerted upon Boston hoodlums to contribute money for these criminals’ legal fight against the charges in Pennsylvania. The names of Pino, McGinnis, Adolph “Jazz” Maffie, and Henry Baker were frequently mentioned in these rumors; and it was said that they had been with O’Keefe on “the Big Job.”

Despite the lack of evidence and witnesses upon which court proceedings could be based, as the investigation progressed there was little doubt that O’Keefe had been one of the central figures in the Brink’s robbery. Pino also was linked with the robbery, and there was every reason to suspect that O’Keefe felt Pino was turning his back on him now that O’Keefe was in jail.

Both O’Keefe and Gusciora had been interviewed on several occasions concerning the Brink’s robbery, but they had claimed complete ignorance. In the hope that a wide breach might have developed between the two criminals who were in jail in Pennsylvania and the gang members who were enjoying the luxuries of a free life in Massachusetts, FBI agents again visited Gusciora and O’Keefe. Even in their jail cells, however, they showed no respect for law enforcement.

In pursuing the underworld rumors concerning the principal suspects in the Brink’s case, the FBI succeeded in identifying more probable members of the gang. There was Adolph “Jazz” Maffie, one of the hoodlums who allegedly was being “pressured” to contribute money for the legal battle of O’Keefe and Gusciora against Pennsylvania authorities. He had been questioned concerning his whereabouts on Jan. 17, 1950, and was unable to provide any specific account of where he had been.

Henry Baker, another veteran criminal who was rumored to be “kicking in to the Pennsylvania defense fund,” had spent a number of years of his adult life in prison. He had been released on parole from the Norfolk, Massachusetts, Prison Colony on Aug. 22, 1949—only five months before the robbery. At the Prison Colony, Baker was serving two concurrent terms of four to ten years, imposed in 1944 for “breaking and entering and larceny” and for “possession of burglar tools.” At the time of Baker’s release in 1949, Pino was on hand to drive him back to Boston.

Questioned by Boston police on the day following the robbery, Baker claimed that he had eaten dinner with his family on the evening of Jan. 17, 1950, and then left home at about 7 p.m. to walk around the neighborhood for about two hours. Since he claimed to have met no one and to have stopped nowhere during his walk, he actually could have been doing anything between 7 and 9 on the night of the crime. Prominent among the other strong suspects was Vincent James Costa, brother-in-law of Pino. Costa was associated with Pino in the operation of a motor terminal and a lottery in Boston. He had been convicted of armed robbery in 1940 and served several months in the Massachusetts State Reformatory and the Norfolk, Massachusetts, Prison Colony. Costa claimed that after working at the motor terminal until approximately 5 p.m. on Jan. 17, 1950, he had gone home to eat dinner; then, at approximately 7 p.m., he left to return to the terminal and worked until about 9 p.m.

The FBI’s analysis of the alibis offered by the suspects showed that the hour of 7 p.m. on Jan. 17, 1950, was frequently mentioned. O’Keefe had left his hotel at approximately 7 p.m. Pino and Baker separately decided to go out at 7 p.m. Costa started back to the motor terminal at about 7 p.m. Other principal suspects were not able to provide very convincing accounts of their activities that evening. Since the robbery had taken place between approximately 7:10 and 7:27 p.m., it was quite probable that a gang - as well drilled as the Brink’s robbers obviously were - would have arranged to rendezvous at a specific time. By fixing this time as close as possible to the minute at which the robbery was to begin, the robbers would have alibis to cover their activities up to the final moment.

Grand Jury Hearings

Any doubts which the Brink’s gang had that the FBI was on the right track in its investigation were allayed when the federal grand jury began hearings in Boston on Nov. 25, 1952, concerning this crime. The FBI’s jurisdiction to investigate this robbery was based upon the fact that cash, checks, postal notes, and United States money orders of the Federal Reserve Bank and the Veterans Administration district office in Boston were included in the loot. After nearly three years of investigation, the Government hoped that witnesses or participants who had remained mute for so long a period of time might “find their tongues” before the Grand Jury. Unfortunately, this proved to be an idle hope.

After completing its hearings on Jan. 9, 1953, the Grand Jury retired to weigh the evidence. In a report which was released on Jan. 16, 1953, the Grand Jury disclosed that its members did not feel they possessed complete, positive information as to the identify of the participants in the Brink’s robbery because (1) the participants were effectively disguised; (2) there was a lack of eyewitnesses to the crime itself; and (3) certain witnesses refused to give testimony, and the Grand Jury was unable to compel them to do so.

Ten of the persons who appeared before this Grand Jury breathed much more easily when they learned that no indictments had been returned. Three years later, almost to the day, these ten men, together with another criminal, were to be indicted by a state Grand Jury in Boston for the Brink’s robbery. Following the Federal Grand Jury hearings, the FBI’s intense investigation continued. J. Edgar Hoover and his men were convinced that they had identified the actual robbers, but evidence and witnesses had to be found.

Pino’s Deportation Troubles

While O’Keefe and Gusciora lingered in jail in Pennsylvania, Pino encountered difficulties of his own. Born in Italy in 1907, Pino was a very young child when he entered the United States. But he never became a naturalized citizen. Due to his criminal record, the Immigration and Naturalization Service instituted proceedings in 1941 to deport him. This occurred while he was in the state prison at Charlestown, Massachusetts, serving sentences for breaking and entering with intent to commit a felony and for having burglar tools in his possession.

That prison term, together with Pino’s conviction in March, 1928, for carnal abuse of a girl, provided the basis for the deportation action. Pino determined to fight against deportation. In the late summer of 1944, he was released from the state prison and was taken into custody by Immigration authorities. During the preceding year, however, he had filed a petition for pardon in the hope of removing one of the criminal convictions from his record.

In September, 1949, Pino’s efforts to evade deportation met with success. He was granted a full pardon by the Acting Governor of Massachusetts. The pardon meant that his record no longer contained the second conviction; thus, the Immigration and Naturalization Service no longer had grounds to deport him.

On Jan. 10, 1953, following his appearance before the Federal Grand Jury in connection with the Brink’s case, Pino was taken into custody again as a deportable alien. The new proceedings were based upon the fact that Pino had been arrested in December, 1948, for a larceny involving less than $100. He received a one-year sentence for this offense; however, on Jan. 30, 1950, the sentence was revoked and the case was “placed on file.”

On Jan. 12, 1953, Pino was released on bail pending a deportation hearing. Again, he determined to fight, using the argument that his conviction for the 1948 larceny offense was not a basis for deportation. After surrendering himself in December, 1953, in compliance with an Immigration and Naturalization Service order, he began an additional battle to win release from custody while his case was being argued. Adding to these problems was the constant pressure being exerted upon Pino by O’Keefe from the county jail in Towanda, Pennsylvania.

In the deportation fight which lasted more than two years, Pino won the final victory. His case had gone to the highest court in the land. On April 11, 1955, the Supreme Court ruled that Pino’s conviction in 1948 for larceny (the sentence which was revoked and the case “placed on file”) had not “attained such finality as to support an order of deportation....” Thus, Pino could not be deported.

During the period in which Pino’s deportation troubles were mounting, O’Keefe completed his sentence at Towanda, Pennsylvania. Released to McKean County, Pennsylvania, authorities early in January, 1954, to stand trial for burglary, larceny, and receiving stolen goods, O’Keefe also was confronted with a detainer filed by Massachusetts authorities. The detainer involved O’Keefe’s violation of probation in connection with a conviction in 1945 for carrying concealed weapons.

Before his trial in McKean County, he was released on $17,000 bond. While on bond he returned to Boston; and on Jan. 23, 1954, he appeared in the Boston Municipal Court on the probation violation charge. When this case was continued until April 1, 1954, O’Keefe was released on $1,500 bond. During his brief stay in Boston, he was observed to contact other members of the robbery gang. He needed money for his defense against the charges in McKean County, and it was obvious that he had developed a bitter attitude toward a number of his close underworld associates.

Returning to Pennsylvania in February, 1954, to stand trial, O’Keefe was found guilty of burglary by the state court in McKean County on March 4, 1954. An appeal was promptly noted, and he was released on $15,000 bond.

O’Keefe immediately returned to Boston to await the results of the appeal. Within two months of his return, another member of the gang suffered a legal setback. “Jazz” Maffie was convicted of Federal income tax evasion and began serving a nine-month sentence in the Federal Penitentiary at Danbury, Connecticut, in June, 1954.

Hatred and Dissension Increase

Underworld rumors alleged that Maffie and Henry Baker were “high on O’Keefe’s list” because they had “beaten him out of” a large amount of money. If Baker heard these rumors, he did not wait around very long to see whether they were true. Soon after O’Keefe’s return in March, 1954, Baker and his wife left Boston on a “vacation.”

O’Keefe paid his “respects” to other members of the Brink’s gang in Boston on several occasions in the Spring of 1954, and it was obvious to the agents handling the investigation that he was trying to solicit money. He was so cold and persistent in these dealings with his co-conspirators that the agents hoped he might be attempting to obtain a large sum of money—perhaps his share of the Brink’s loot.

During these weeks, O’Keefe renewed his association with a Boston racketeer who had actively solicited funds for the defense of O’Keefe and Gusciora in 1950. Soon the underworld rang with startling news concerning this pair. It was reported that on May 18, 1954, O’Keefe and his racketeer associate took Vincent Costa to a hotel room and held him for several thousand dollars’ ransom. Allegedly, other members of the Brink’s gang arranged for O’Keefe to be paid a small part of the ransom he demanded, and Costa was released on May 20, 1954.

Special agents subsequently interviewed Costa and his wife, Pino and his wife, the racketeer, and O’Keefe. All denied any knowledge of the alleged incident. Nonetheless, several members of the Brink’s gang were visibly shaken and appeared to be abnormally worried during the latter part of May and early in June,1954.

Two weeks of comparative quiet in the gang members’ lives were shattered on June 5, 1954, when an attempt was made on O’Keefe’s life. The Boston underworld rumbled with reports that an automobile had pulled alongside O’Keefe’s car in Dorchester, Massachusetts, during the early morning hours of June 5. Apparently suspicious, O’Keefe crouched low in the front seat of his car as the would-be assassins fired bullets which pierced the windshield.

A second shooting incident occurred on the morning of June 14, 1954, in Dorchester, Massachusetts, when O’Keefe and his racketeer friend paid a visit to Baker. By this time, Baker was suffering from a bad case of nerves. Allegedly, he pulled a gun on O’Keefe; several shots were exchanged by the two men, but none of the bullets found their mark. Baker fled and the brief meeting adjourned.

A third attempt on O’Keefe’s life was made on June 16, 1954. This incident also took place in Dorchester and involved the firing of more than 30 shots. O’Keefe was wounded in the wrist and chest, but again he managed to escape with his life. Police who arrived to investigate found a large amount of blood, a man’s shattered wrist watch, and a .45 caliber pistol at the scene. Five bullets which had missed their mark were found in a building nearby.

On June 17, 1954, the Boston police arrested Elmer “Trigger” Burke and charged him with possession of a machine gun. Subsequently, this machine gun was identified as having been used in the attempt on O’Keefe’s life. Burke, a professional killer, allegedly had been hired by underworld associates of O’Keefe to assassinate him.

After being wounded on June 16, O’Keefe disappeared. On Aug. 1, 1954, he was arrested at Leicester, Massachusetts, and turned over to the Boston police who held him for violating probation on a gun-carrying charge. O’Keefe was sentenced on Aug. 5, 1954, to serve 27 months in prison. As a protective measure, he was incarcerated in the Hampden County Jail at Springfield, Massachusetts, rather than the Suffolk County Jail in Boston.

O’Keefe’s racketeer associate, who allegedly had assisted him in holding Costa for ransom and was present during the shooting scrape between O’Keefe and Baker, disappeared on Aug. 3, 1954. The missing racketeer’s automobile was found near his home; however, his whereabouts remain a mystery. Underworld figures in Boston have generally speculated that the racketeer was killed because of his association with O’Keefe.

Other members of the robbery gang also were having their troubles. There was James Ignatius Faherty, an armed robbery specialist whose name had been mentioned in underworld conversations in January, 1950, concerning a “score” on which the gang members used binoculars to watch their intended victims count large sums of money. Faherty had been questioned on the night of the robbery. He claimed he had been drinking in various taverns from approximately 5:10 p.m. until 7:45 p.m. Some persons claimed to have seen him. Continuous investigation, however, had linked him with the gang.

In 1936 and 1937, Faherty was convicted of armed robbery violations. He was paroled in the Fall of 1944, and remained on parole through March, 1954, when “misfortune” befell him. Due to unsatisfactory conduct, drunkenness, refusal to seek employment, and association with known criminals, his parole was revoked and he was returned to the Massachusetts State Prison. Seven months later, however, he was again paroled.

McGinnis had been arrested at the site of a still in New Hampshire in February, 1954. Charged with unlawful possession of liquor distillery equipment and violation of Internal Revenue laws, he had many headaches during the period in which O’Keefe was giving so much trouble to the gang. (McGinnis’ trial in March, 1955, on the liquor charge, resulted in a sentence to 30 days’ imprisonment and a fine of $1,000. In the Fall of 1955, an upper court overruled the conviction on the grounds that the search and seizure of the still were illegal.)

Adolph Maffie, who had been convicted of income tax violation in June, 1954, was released from the Federal Corrections Institution at Danbury, Connecticut, on Jan. 30, 1955. Two days before Maffie’s release, another strong suspect died of natural causes. There were recurring rumors that this hoodlum, Joseph Sylvester Banfield, had been “right down there” on the night of the crime. Banfield had been a close associate of McGinnis for many years. Although he had been known to carry a gun, burglary—rather than armed robbery—was his criminal specialty; and his exceptional driving skill was an invaluable asset during criminal getaways.

Like the others, Banfield had been questioned concerning his activities on the night of Jan. 17, 1950. He was not able to provide a specific account, claiming that he became drunk on New Year’s Eve and remained intoxicated through the entire month of January. One of his former girl friends who recalled having seen him on the night of the robbery stated that he definitely was not drunk.

Even Pino, whose deportation troubles then were a heavy burden, was arrested by the Boston police in August, 1954. On the afternoon of Aug. 28, 1954, “Trigger” Burke escaped from the Suffolk County Jail in Boston, where he was being held on the gun-possession charge arising from the June 16 shooting of O’Keefe. During the regular exercise period, Burke separated himself from the other prisoners and moved toward a heavy steel door leading to the solitary confinement section. As a guard moved to intercept him, Burke started to run. The door opened, and an armed masked man wearing a prison guard-type uniform commanded the guard, “Back up, or I’ll blow your brains out.” Burke and the armed man disappeared through the door and fled in an automobile parked nearby.

An automobile identified as the car used in the escape was located near a Boston hospital, and police officers concealed themselves in the area. On Aug. 29, 1954, the officers’ suspicions were aroused by an automobile which circled the general vicinity of the abandoned car on five occasions. This vehicle was traced through motor vehicle records to Pino. On August 30, he was taken into custody as a suspicious person. Pino admitted having been in the area, claiming that he was looking for a parking place so that he could visit a relative in the hospital. After denying any knowledge of the escape of “Trigger” Burke, Pino was released. (Burke was arrested by FBI agents at Folly Beach, South Carolina, on Aug. 27, 1955, and returned to New York to face murder charges which were outstanding against him there. He subsequently was convicted and executed.)

O’Keefe Confesses

Despite the fact that substantial amounts of money were being spent by members of the robbery gang during 1954, in defending themselves against legal proceedings alone, the year ended without the location of any bills identifiable as part of the Brink’s loot. In addition, although violent dissension had developed within the gang, there still was no indication that any of the men were ready to “talk.” Based on the available information, however, the FBI felt that O’Keefe’s disgust was reaching the point where it was possible he would turn against his confederates.

During an interview with him in the jail in Springfield, Massachusetts, in October,1954, special agents found that the plight of the missing Boston racketeer was weighing on O’Keefe’s mind. In December, 1954, he indicated to the agents that Pino could look for rough treatment if he (O’Keefe) again was released.

From his cell in Springfield, O’Keefe wrote bitter letters to members of the Brink’s gang and persisted in his demands for money. The conviction for burglary in McKean County, Pennsylvania, still hung over his head, and legal fees remained to be paid. During 1955, O’Keefe carefully pondered his position. It appeared to him that he would spend his remaining days in prison while his co-conspirators would have many years to enjoy the luxuries of life. Even if released, he thought, his days were numbered. There had been three attempts on his life in June, 1954, and his frustrated assassins undoubtedly were waiting for him to return to Boston.

Evidently resigned to long years in prison or a short life on the outside, O’Keefe grew increasingly bitter toward his old associates. Through long weeks of empty promises of assistance and deliberate stalling by the gang members, he began to realize that his threats were falling on deaf ears. As long as he was in prison, he could do no physical harm to his Boston criminal associates. And the gang felt that the chances of his “talking” were negligible because he would be implicated in the Brink’s robbery along with the others.

Two days after Christmas of 1955, FBI agents paid another visit to O’Keefe. After a period of hostility, he began to display a friendly attitude. Interviewed again on Dec. 28, 1955, he talked somewhat more freely, and it was obvious that the agents were gradually winning his respect and confidence.

At 4:20 p.m. on Jan. 6, 1956, O’Keefe made the final decision. He was through with Pino, Baker, McGinnis, Maffie, and the other Brink’s conspirators who had turned against him. “All right,” he told two FBI agents, “what do you want to know?”

In a series of interviews during the succeeding days, O’Keefe related the full story of the Brink’s robbery. After each interview, FBI agents worked feverishly into the night checking all parts of his story which were subject to verification. Many of the details had previously been obtained during the intense six-year investigation. Other information provided by O’Keefe helped to fill the gaps which still existed.

The following is a brief account of the data which O’Keefe provided the special agents in January 1956:

Although basically the “brain child” of Pino, the Brink’s robbery was the product of the combined thought and criminal experience of men who had known each other for many years. Serious consideration originally had been given to robbing Brink’s in 1947, when Brink’s was located on Federal Street in Boston. At that time, Pino approached O’Keefe and asked if he wanted to be “in on the score.” His close associate, Stanley Gusciora, had previously been recruited, and O’Keefe agreed to take part. The gang at that time included all of the participants in the Jan. 17, 1950, robbery except Henry Baker. Their plan was to enter the Brink’s building and take a truck containing payrolls. Many problems and dangers were involved in such a robbery, and the plans never crystallized.

In December, 1948, Brink’s moved from Federal Street to 165 Prince Street in Boston. Almost immediately, the gang began laying new plans. The roofs of buildings on Prince and Snow Hill Streets soon were alive with inconspicuous activity as the gang looked for the most advantageous sites from which to observe what transpired inside Brink’s offices. Binoculars were used in this phase of the “casing” operation.

Before the robbery was carried out, all the participants were well acquainted with the Brink’s premises. Each of them had surreptitiously entered the premises on several occasions after the employees had left for the day. During their forays inside the building, members of the gang took the lock cylinders from five doors, including the one opening onto Prince Street. While some gang members remained in the building to ensure that no one detected the operation, other members quickly obtained keys to fit the locks. Then the lock cylinders were replaced. (Investigation to substantiate this information resulted in the location of the proprietor of a key shop who recalled making keys for Pino on at least four or five evenings in the Fall of 1949. Pino previously had arranged for this man to keep his shop open beyond the normal closing time on nights when Pino requested him to do so. Pino would take the locks to the man’s shop, and keys would be made for them. This man subsequently identified locks from doors which the Brink’s gang had entered as being similar to the locks which Pino had brought him. This man claimed to have no knowledge of Pino’s involvement in the Brink’s robbery.)

Each of the five lock cylinders was taken on a separate occasion. The removal of the lock cylinder from the outside door involved the greatest risk of detection. A passerby might notice that it was missing. Accordingly, another lock cylinder was installed until the original one was returned. Inside the building, the gang members carefully studied all available information concerning Brink’s schedules and shipments. The “casing” operation was so thorough that the criminals could determine the type of activity taking place in the Brink’s offices by observing the lights inside the building, and they knew the number of personnel on duty at various hours of the day.

A few months prior to the robbery, O’Keefe and Gusciora surreptitiously entered the premises of a protective alarm company in Boston and obtained a copy of the protective plans for the Brink’s building. After these plans were reviewed and found to be unhelpful, O’Keefe and Gusciora returned them in the same manner. McGinnis previously had discussed sending a man to the United States Patent Office in Washington, D.C., to inspect the patents on the protective alarms used in the Brink’s building.

Considerable thought was given to every detail. When the robbers decided that they needed a truck, it was resolved that a new one must be stolen because a used truck might have distinguishing marks and possibly would not be in perfect running condition. Shortly thereafter—during the first week of November—a 1949 green Ford stake-body truck was reported missing by a car dealer in Boston. During November and December, 1949, the approach to the Brink’s building and the flight over the “getaway” route were practiced to perfection. The month preceding Jan. 17, 1950, witnessed approximately a half-dozen approaches to Brink’s. None of these materialized because the gang did not consider the conditions to be favorable.

During these approaches, Costa—equipped with a flashlight for signaling the other men— was stationed on the roof of a tenement building on Prince Street overlooking Brink’s. From this “lookout” post, Costa was in a position to determine better than the men below whether conditions inside the building were favorable to the robbers.

The last “false” approach took place on Jan. 16, 1950—the night before the robbery.

At approximately 7 p.m. on Jan. 17, 1950, members of the gang met in the Roxbury section of Boston and entered the rear of the Ford stake-body truck. Banfield, the driver, was alone in the front. In the back were Pino, O’Keefe, Baker, Faherty, Maffie, Gusciora, Michael Vincent Geagan, and Thomas Francis Richardson.

(Geagan and Richardson, known associates of other members of the gang, were among the early suspects. At the time of the Brink’s robbery, Geagan was on parole, having been released from prison in July, 1943, after serving eight years of a lengthy sentence for armed robbery and assault. Richardson had participated with Faherty in an armed robbery in February 1934. Sentenced to serve from five to seven years for this offense, he was released from prison in September, 1941. When questioned concerning his activities on the night of Jan. 17, 1950, Richardson claimed that after unsuccessfully looking for work he had several drinks and then returned home. Geagan claimed that he spent the evening at home and did not learn of the Brink’s robbery until the following day. Investigation revealed that Geagan, a laborer, had not gone to work on Jan. 17 or 18, 1950.)

During the trip from Roxbury, Pino distributed Navy-type peacoats and chauffeur’s caps to the other seven men in the rear of the truck. Each man also was given a pistol and a Halloween-type mask. Each carried a pair of gloves. O’Keefe wore crepe-soled shoes to muffle his footsteps; the others wore rubbers.

As the truck drove past the Brink’s offices, the robbers noted that the lights were out on the Prince Street side of the building. This was in their favor. After continuing up the street to the end of the playground which adjoined the Brink’s building, the truck stopped. All but Pino and Banfield stepped out and proceeded into the playground to await Costa’s signal. (Costa, who was at his “lookout” post, previously had arrived in a Ford sedan which the gang had stolen from behind the Boston Symphony Hall two days earlier.)

After receiving the “go ahead” signal from Costa, the seven armed men walked to the Prince Street entrance of Brink’s. Using the outside door key they had previously obtained, the men quickly entered and donned their masks. The other keys in their possession enabled them to proceed to the second floor where they took the five Brink’s employees by surprise.

When the employees were securely bound and gagged, the robbers began looting the premises. During this operation, a pair of glasses belonging to one of the employees was unconsciously scooped up with other items and stuffed into a bag of loot. As this bag was being emptied later that evening, the glasses were discovered and destroyed by the gang.

The robbers’ carefully planned routine inside Brink’s was interrupted only when the attendant in the adjoining Brink’s garage sounded the buzzer. Before the robbers could take him prisoner, the garage attendant walked away. Although the attendant did not suspect that the robbery was taking place, this incident caused the criminals to move more swiftly.

Before fleeing with the bags of loot, the seven armed men attempted to open a metal box containing the payroll of the General Electric Company. They had brought no tools with them, however, and were unsuccessful.

Immediately upon leaving, the gang loaded the loot into the truck which was parked on Prince Street near the door. As the truck sped away with nine members of the gang—and Costa departed in the stolen Ford sedan—the Brink’s employees worked themselves free and reported the crime.

Banfield drove the truck to the house of Maffie’s parents in Roxbury. The loot was quickly unloaded, and Banfield sped away to hide the truck. (Geagan, who was on parole at the time, left the truck before it arrived at the home in Roxbury where the loot was unloaded. He was certain he would be considered a strong suspect and wanted to begin establishing an alibi immediately.) While the others stayed at the house to make a quick count of the loot, Pino and Faherty departed.

Approximately one and one-half hours later, Banfield returned with McGinnis. Prior to this time, McGinnis had been at his liquor store. He was not with the gang when the robbery took place.

The gang members who remained at the house of Maffie’s parents soon dispersed to establish alibis for themselves. Before they left, however, approximately $380,000 was placed in a coal hamper and removed by Baker for security reasons. Pino, Richardson, and Costa each took $20,000, and this was noted on a score sheet.

Before removing the remainder of the loot from the house on Jan. 18, 1950, the gang members attempted to identify incriminating items. Extensive efforts were made to detect pencil markings and other notations on the currency which the criminals thought might be traceable to Brink’s. Even fearing the new bills might be linked with the crime, McGinnis suggested a process for “aging” the new money “in a hurry.”

On the night of Jan. 18, 1950, O’Keefe and Gusciora received $100,000 each from the robbery loot. They put the entire $200,000 in the trunk of O’Keefe’s automobile. Subsequently, O’Keefe left his car—and the $200,000—in a garage on Blue Hill Avenue in Boston.

During the period immediately following the Brink’s robbery, “the heat” was on O’Keefe and Gusciora. Thus, when he and Gusciora were taken into custody by state authorities during the latter part of January, 1950, O’Keefe got word to McGinnis to recover his car and the $200,000 which it contained.

A few weeks later, O’Keefe retrieved his share of the loot. It was given to him in a suitcase which was transferred to his car from an automobile occupied by McGinnis and Banfield. Later, when he counted the money, he found that the suitcase contained $98,000. He had been “short changed” $2,000.

O’Keefe had no place to keep so large a sum of money. He told the interviewing agents that he trusted Maffie so implicitly that he gave the money to him for safe keeping. Except for $5,000 which he took before placing the loot in Maffie’s care, O’Keefe angrily stated, he was never to see his share of the Brink’s money again. While Maffie claimed that part of the money had been stolen from its hiding place and that the remainder had been spent in financing O’Keefe’s legal defense in Pennsylvania, other gang members accused Maffie of “blowing” the money O’Keefe had entrusted to his care.

O’Keefe was bitter about a number of matters. First, there was the money. Then, there was the fact that so much “dead wood” was included—McGinnis, Banfield, Costa, and Pino were not in the building when the robbery took place. O’Keefe was enraged that the pieces of the stolen Ford truck had been placed on the dump near his home, and he generally regretted having become associated at all with several members of the gang.

Before the robbery was committed, the participants had agreed that if anyone “muffed,” he would be “taken care of.” O’Keefe felt that most of the gang members had “muffed.” Talking to the FBI was his way of “taking care of” them all.

Arrests and Indictments

On January 11, 1956, the United States Attorney at Boston authorized special agents of the FBI to file complaints charging the 11 criminals with (1) conspiracy to commit theft of government property, robbery of government property, and bank robbery by force and violence and by intimidation, (2) committing bank robbery on Jan. 17, 1950, and committing an assault on Brink’s employees during the taking of the money, and (3) conspiracy to receive and conceal money in violation of the Bank Robbery and Theft of Government Property Statutes. In addition, McGinnis was named in two other complaints involving the receiving and concealing of the loot.

Six members of the gang—Baker, Costa, Geagan, Maffie, McGinnis, and Pino— were arrested by FBI agents on Jan. 12, 1956. They were held in lieu of bail which, for each man, amounted to more then $100,000.

Three of the remaining five gang members were previously accounted for, O’Keefe and Gusciora being in prison on other charges and Banfield being dead. Faherty and Richardson fled to avoid apprehension and subsequently were placed on the list of the FBI’s “Ten Most Wanted Fugitives.” Their success in evading arrest ended abruptly on May 16, 1956, when FBI agents raided the apartment in which they were hiding in Dorchester, Massachusetts. At the time of their arrest, Faherty and Richardson were rushing for three loaded revolvers which they had left on a chair in the bathroom of the apartment. The hideout also was found to contain more than $5,000 in coins. (The arrests of Faherty and Richardson also resulted in the indictment of another Boston hoodlum, as an accessory after the fact).

As a cooperative measure, the information gathered by the FBI in the Brink’s investigation was made available to the District Attorney of Suffolk County, Massachusetts. On Jan. 13, 1956, the Suffolk County Grand Jury returned indictments against the 11 members of the Brink’s gang. O’Keefe was the principal witness to appear before the state grand jurors.

Part of the Loot Recovered

Despite the arrests and indictments in January, 1956, more than $2,775,000, including $1,218,211.29 in cash, was still missing. O’Keefe did not know where the gang members had hidden their shares of the loot—or where they had disposed of the money if, in fact, they had disposed of their shares. The other gang members would not talk.

Early in June, 1956, however, an unexpected “break” developed. At approximately 7:30 p.m. on June 3, 1956, an officer of the Baltimore, Maryland, Police Department was approached by the operator of an amusement arcade. “I think a fellow just passed a counterfeit $10 bill on me,” he told the officer.

In examining the bill, a Federal Reserve note, the officer observed that it was in musty condition. The amusement arcade operator told the officer that he had followed the man who passed this $10 bill to a nearby tavern. This man, subsequently identified as a small-time Boston underworld figure, was located and questioned. While the officer and amusement arcade operator were talking to him, the hoodlum reached into his pocket, quickly withdrew his hand again and covered his hand with a raincoat he was carrying. Two other Baltimore police officers who were walking along the street nearby noted this maneuver. One of these officers quickly grabbed the criminal’s hand, and a large roll of money fell from it.

The hoodlum was taken to police headquarters where a search of his person disclosed he was carrying more than $1,000, including $860 in musty, worn bills. A Secret Service agent, who had been summoned by the Baltimore officers, arrived while the criminal was being questioned at the police headquarters; and after examining the money found in the bill changer’s possession, he certified that it was not counterfeit.

This underworld character told the officers that he had found this money. He claimed there was a large roll of bills in his hotel room—and that he had found that money, too. The criminal explained that he was in the contracting business in Boston and that in late March or early April, 1956, he stumbled upon a plastic bag containing this money while he was working on the foundation of a house.

A search of the hoodlum’s room in a Baltimore hotel (registered to him under an assumed name) resulted in the location of $3,780 which the officers took to police headquarters. At approximately 9:50 p.m., the details of this incident were furnished to the Baltimore Field Office of the FBI. Much of the money taken from the money changer appeared to have been stored a long time. The serial numbers of several of these bills were furnished to the FBI Office in Baltimore. They were checked against serial numbers of bills known to have been included in the Brink’s loot, and it was determined that the Boston criminal possessed part of the money which had been dragged away by the seven masked gunmen on January 17, 1950.

Of the $4,822 found in the small-time criminal’s possession, FBI agents identified $4,635 as money taken by the Brink’s robbers. Interviews with him on June 3 and 4, 1956, disclosed that this 31-year-old hoodlum had a record of arrests and convictions dating back to his “teens” and that he had been conditionally released from a Federal prison camp less than a year before—having served slightly more than two years of a three-year sentence for transporting a falsely made security interstate. At the time of his arrest, there also was a charge of armed robbery outstanding against him in Massachusetts.

During questioning by the FBI, the money changer stated that he was in business as a mason contractor with another man on Tremont Street in Boston. He advised that he and his associate shared office space with an individual known to him only as “Fat John.” According to the Boston hoodlum, on the night of June 1, 1956, “Fat John” asked him to rip a panel from a section of the wall in the office; and when the panel was removed, “Fat John” reached into the opening and removed the cover from a metal container. Inside this container were packages of bills which had been wrapped in plastic and newspapers. “Fat John” announced that each of the packages contained $5,000. “This is good money,” he said, “but you can’t pass it around here in Boston.”

According to the criminal who was arrested in Baltimore, “Fat John” subsequently told him that the money was part of the Brink’s loot and offered him $5,000 if he would “pass” $30,000 of the bills.

The Boston hoodlum told FBI agents in Baltimore that he accepted six of the packages of money from “Fat John.” The following day (June 2, 1956), he left Massachusetts with $4,750 of these bills and began passing them. He arrived in Baltimore on the morning of June 3 and was picked up by the Baltimore Police Department that evening.

The full details of this important development were immediately furnished to the FBI Office in Boston. “Fat John” and the business associate of the man arrested in Baltimore were located and interviewed on the morning of June 4, 1956. Both denied knowledge of the loot which had been recovered. That same afternoon (following the admission that “Fat John” had produced the money and had described it as proceeds from the Brink’s robbery), a search warrant was executed in Boston covering the Tremont Street offices occupied by the three men. The wall partition described by the Boston criminal was located in “Fat John’s” office, and when the partition was removed, a picnic-type cooler was found. This cooler contained more than $57,700, including $51,906 which was identifiable as part of the Brink’s loot.

The discovery of this money in the Tremont Street offices resulted in the arrests of both “Fat John” and the business associate of the criminal who had been arrested in Baltimore. Both men remained mute following their arrests. On June 5 and June 7, the Suffolk County Grand Jury returned indictments against the three men—charging them with several state offenses involving their possessing money obtained in the Brink’s robbery. (Following pleas of guilty in November, 1956, “Fat John” received a two-year sentence, and the other two men were sentenced to serve one year’s imprisonment.)

(After serving his sentence, “Fat John” resumed a life of crime. On June 19, 1958, while out on appeal in connection with a five-year narcotics sentence, he was found shot to death in an automobile which had crashed into a truck in Boston.)

The money inside the cooler which was concealed in the wall of the Tremont Street office was wrapped in plastic and newspaper. Three of the newspapers used to wrap the bills were identified. All had been published in Boston between Dec. 4, 1955, and Feb. 21, 1956. The FBI also succeeded in locating the carpenter who had remodeled the offices where the loot was hidden. His records showed that he had worked on the offices early in April, 1956, under instructions of “Fat John.” The loot could not have been hidden behind the wall panel prior to that time.

Because the money in the cooler was in various stages of decomposition, an accurate count proved most difficult to make. Some of the bills were in pieces. Others fell apart as they were handled. Examination by the FBI Laboratory subsequently disclosed that the decomposition, discoloration, and matting together of the bills were due, at least in part, to the fact that all of the bills had been wet. It was positively concluded that the packages of currency had been damaged prior to the time they were wrapped in the pieces of newspaper; and there were indications that the bills previously had been in a canvas container which was buried in ground consisting of sand and ashes. In addition to mold, insect remains also were found on the loot.

Even with the recovery of this money in Baltimore and Boston, more than $1,150,000 of currency taken in the Brink’s robbery remained unaccounted for.

Death of Gusciora

The recovery of part of the loot was a severe blow to the gang members who still awaited trial in Boston. Had any particles of evidence been found in the loot which might directly show that they had handled it? This was a question which preyed heavily upon their minds.

In July, 1956, another significant turn of events took place. Stanley Gusciora, who had been transferred to Massachusetts from Pennsylvania to stand trial, was placed under medical care due to weakness, dizziness, and vomiting. On the afternoon of July 9, he was visited by a clergyman. During this visit, Gusciora got up from his bed, and, in full view of the clergyman, slipped to the floor, striking his head. Two hours later he was dead. Examination revealed the cause of his death to be a brain tumor and acute cerebral edema.

O’Keefe and Gusciora had been close friends for many years. When O’Keefe admitted his part in the Brink’s robbery to FBI agents in January, 1956, he told of his high regard for Gusciora. As a Government witness, he reluctantly would have testified against him. Gusciora now had passed beyond the reach of all human authority; and O’Keefe was all the more determined to see that justice would be done.

Trial of Remaining Defendants

With the death of Gusciora, only eight members of the Brink’s gang remained to be tried. (On January 18, 1956, O’Keefe had pleaded guilty to the armed robbery of Brink’s.) The trial of these eight men began on the morning of Aug. 6, 1956, before Judge Feliz Forte in the Suffolk County Courthouse in Boston. The defense immediately filed motions which would delay or prevent the trial. All were denied, and the impaneling of the jury was begun on August 7.

In the succeeding two weeks, nearly 1,200 prospective jurors were eliminated as the defense counsel used their 262 peremptory challenges. Another week passed—and approximately 500 more citizens were considered—before the 14-member jury was assembled.

More than 100 persons took the stand as witnesses for the prosecution and the defense during September, 1956. The most important of these, “Specs” O’Keefe, carefully recited the details of the crime, clearly spelling out the role played by each of the eight defendants.

At 10:25 p.m. on Oct. 5, 1956, the jury retired to weigh the evidence. Three and one-half hours later, the verdict had been reached. All were guilty.

The eight men were sentenced by Judge Forte on Oct. 9, 1956, Pino, Costa, Maffie, Geagan, Faherty, Richardson, and Baker received life sentences for robbery, two-year sentences for conspiracy to steal, and sentences of 8 years to 10 years for breaking and entering at night. McGinnis, who had not been at the scene on the night of the robbery, received a life sentence on each of eight indictments which charged him with being an accessory before the fact in connection with the Brink’s robbery. In addition, McGinnis received other sentences of two years, two and one-half to three years, and eight to ten years.

While action to appeal the convictions was being taken on their behalf, the eight men were removed to the State prison at Walpole, Massachusetts. From their prison cells, they carefully followed the legal maneuvers aimed at gaining them freedom.

The record of the state trial covered more than 5,300 pages. It was used by the defense counsel in preparing a 294-page brief which was presented to the Massachusetts State Supreme Court. After weighing the arguments presented by the attorneys for the eight convicted criminals, the State Supreme Court turned down the appeals on July 1, 1959, in a 35-page decision written by the Chief Justice.

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When dad stays home: Advice for couples who buck the stereotype

As more women have joined the workforce, many are dedicated to growing their careers or running successful businesses. Those efforts often demand long hours, travel, and time away from home.

And while it’s no longer unusual for women to be the main breadwinner in their family, another U.S. social dynamic has occurred in the wake of those demands: A substantial increase in the number of dads staying home as the primary caregiver for the children.

Parents experiencing this change in the day-to-day household structure say it requires strong mutual support between spouses. Andreas Wilderer, author of Lean On: The Five Pillars Of Support For Women In Leadership, calls it, “The partnership pillar, beginning with empowering your partner.”

“It’s incumbent on stay-at-home dads to step up to the caregiving role in the same devoted way that their wives do as the financial provider,” says Wilderer (www.andreaswilderer.com). “Each must take care to empower the other.

“In a healthy relationship, the partners accept and appreciate each other’s roles, but some couples sink into disrespect and disdain. If the partners are redefining their roles in the family, they should anticipate a learning period and be careful not to get in the way of each other’s progress. They should build each other up rather than tear each other down.”

Wilderer offers ways couples can support each other when the mother works and the father stays home to care for the children:

Look beyond your own interests. “To empower your partner, you must carefully consider his or her needs and wants,” Wilderer says. “Conflicts are common in any relationship, but having several of them can lead to destructive tension. Look for a true solution that isn’t selfish. By talking and sharing feelings, a compromise can work for both.”

Hand over the keys with trust. ”Adjusting to new roles can take time,” Wilderer says. “Egos and pride get in the way. Neither partner should micromanage or undercut the other’s responsibilities. With patience and understanding, each should adjust well to the model that they together agreed to adopt for the good of the family.”

Ignore the whispers, rise above negativity. Men and women can sense or hear criticism from outsiders when swapping traditional roles. “Many women today are gaining the confidence to break the glass ceiling in the workplace,” Wilderer says. “Yet they could use more of that confidence in their home lives as well, and their stay-at-home husbands can help them with that. Why should women feel guilty about their success? They are providing well for their families. Likewise, a man who has assumed the support role in the home may imagine that people are whispering he should be making a living for his family. But none of what people say matters when the husband and wife have total respect for each other and for their respective roles.”

Listen to each other’s ‘job frustrations.’ The mother may have frustrations and stress from work that she wants to air to her husband when she gets home. Likewise, the partner who has been watching over the house and kids all day may want to vent. “The main focus for both should be listening; most of the time neither desires unsolicited advice,” Wilderer says. “They need compassion and understanding, a sympathetic ear. Each partner should treat the other’s heart with care and tenderness.”

“Loving partners bestow the gift of self-reliance generously on each other,” Wilderer says. “Each must be willing to step back, patiently and respectfully, to allow the other to build a sense of pride in a job well done.”

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Social Security Matters

By AMAC Certified Social Security Advisor Russell Gloor

Association of Mature American Citizens

Ask Rusty – How Does My Husband’s Federal Pension Affect Benefits?

Dear Rusty: My husband retired at his full retirement age of 66. He qualified for Social Security but also qualified for Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS). Being so, he falls under the Windfall Offset Provision, and subsequently had his Social Security benefit reduced from around $900 to $450. His full CSRS benefit is $3,400. I have not claimed my Social Security benefit, but I expect it to be around $2000 at my full retirement age of 66 in November. At my full retirement age could I collect half of his benefit and let mine grow until age 70? Or upon filing, am I forced to take my full benefit instead? If I can take half of his benefit, would it be half of his full benefit or half of the reduced benefit? Also, upon claiming my benefit, would my husband be entitled to claim half, and thus increase what he is currently receiving on his own benefit? In addition, upon my death, would my husband qualify for my full Social Security benefit or is he subject to offset by the Windfall Offset or Government Pension Offset? Signed: Confused About SS

Dear Confused: Because of your husband’s CSRS pension, his own Social Security benefit is reduced by the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP), and any spousal benefit he may be entitled to will be affected by the Government Pension Offset (GPO). Both WEP and GPO are provisions which affect anyone with a pension from employment which did not participate in the Social Security program.

GPO is the more severe of these two provisions, because it reduces any spousal (or survivor) benefit your husband might be entitled to by 2/3rds of his CSRS pension, which means that he will not be able to get a spousal benefit from you when you apply (2/3rds of his CSRS pension is more than he would get as a spousal benefit). You, on the other hand, will be eligible (at your full retirement age, or “FRA,” of 66) to file a “Restricted Application for Spousal Benefits Only,” which will give you half of his WEP-reduced Social Security benefit (about $225/month). You are eligible to use the restricted application because you were born before January 2, 1954 (those born after January 1,1954 cannot use this option). By doing so, you can collect a spousal benefit from your husband while allowing your own SS retirement benefit to grow by 8% per year of delay (2/3rds of 1% per month of delay) up until you are 70 years of age, when your benefit amount will be 32% more than it would be at age 66. But when you claim your benefit at age 70 your husband’s spousal benefit won’t be based on your increased amount, but rather upon your FRA benefit amount of $2000, which means he still won’t get a spousal benefit due to the Government Pension Offset.

Finally, if you should predecease your husband, the GPO will also affect his survivor’s benefit, which is based upon 100% of what you were receiving at your death (not on your FRA benefit). So, using the numbers you provided, if your FRA benefit would be about $2000 your age 70 benefit will be about $2640 (not including COLA increases). Since 2/3rds of your husband’s CSRS pension is $2268, he’d normally be entitled to the difference $372) as his survivor’s benefit. But since that amount is less than his own WEP-reduced SS benefit, he won’t get a survivor’s benefit. As you may be aware, the Federal CSRS plan has been replaced by the Federal Employee Retirement System (FERS) which participates in Social Security, so WEP and GPO do not apply to those who retire under FERS.

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History Matters

A feature courtesy of

The Grateful American Book Prize

Showing our children that their past is prelude to their future

Abraham Lincoln achieved national attention during his 1858 campaign to represent Illinois in the U.S. Senate. His rival was Democrat Stephen A. Douglas; during the run-up, the two faced off in a series of debates about slavery. The Lincoln-Douglas Debates, as they came be known, attracted widespread, country-wide attention. Lincoln believed slavery should be abolished, while Douglas argued that the decision belonged to the states.

Lincoln lost that election, but two years later, the newly formed Republican Party selected him to run against Douglas, but—this time—for the presidency. On November 6, 1860 Lincoln was declared the 16th president of the United States.

On November 7, 1944, Franklin D. Roosevelt became the first--and only-- president to win a fourth term. He served from March 4, 1933 through April 12, 1945; he died of a stroke at the age of 63. His vice president, Harry S. Truman, succeeded him.

The unprecedented longevity of Roosevelt’s tenure was a difficult time; during his stewardship, Roosevelt led the country through the Great Depression, and World War II—a conflict that was fought by America, and its allies in Europe and the Pacific.

In 1947, Congress passed the 22nd Amendment, which limited a president’s service to two terms. it was ratified by the states in 1951.

On November 10, 1775, the Continental Congress authorized the U.S. Navy to raise two battalions of Marines for service as landing forces. The Navy and the Marine Corps were essential to the task of winning American independence. But, in 1783, they were disbanded when the revolution ended; they were given “new life” when they were re-established in the mid-1790s, yet, their birth dates remained October 13 and November 10, 1775, respectively.

A nutty story, indeed

Holly Persic had parked her car in the open in Allegheny County, PA over the weekend. She was off to the library on Monday morning and a squirrelly thing happened en route. She heard strange noises coming from the engine and smelled something burning, so she pulled over and opened the hood only to find a stash of some 200 walnuts in a bed of grass. Apparently squirrels were attracted by a walnut tree in the Persic yard and got busy gathering a supply of nuts for the winter, stashing them atop the auto’s engine block.

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Chirper alert

This almost biblical story comes to us from San Antonio, TX, which was under siege by scary swarms of crickets recently. The experts say that the invasion of the chirping critters could last for weeks and explained that it was the result of weather conditions -- a dry summer, followed by rains and the onslaught of cooling conditions. Thousands of the pesky visitors covered walls, blocked doors and made life that much more difficult for residents, prompting some of them to liken the infestation to a “plague.”

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In the blink of an eye

Eventually everyone needs to blink, try as you may to win a “no blinking contest.” At most, it appears, you might keep your eyes wide open, without blinking, for as long as one hour, seventeen minutes and three seconds. That’s the record Paolo Ballesteros set in a recent televised challenge as part of a Philippine variety show. Ballesteros may have a shot at making it into the Guinness Book of World Records, if they decide to create a “no blinking” category. By the way, the runner up in the Philippine contest had no chance. He was only able to keep his eyes open for a paltry 34 seconds before giving in to a reflexive blink.

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She’d paint the town red, if she could

It’s been decades since the dissolution of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, but apparently there is still a love of the color red among some who live in parts of the former USSR. Take Zorica and Zoran Rebernik who live in a red house in the former Red State of Yugoslavia. The Bosnian couple have been wed for nearly 40 years. When they married Zorica wore a red wedding dress. Their home is furnished in various shades of red. Zorica sports a head of red hair, eats from red plates and drinks from red glasses. Mr. and Mrs. Rebernik have even gone so far as to import red granite tombstones from India.

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A true fish story

It’s pretty hard to reel in a big fish if your line is not strong enough and it isn’t easy for a youngster even if his line is strong. But don’t tell that to eight year old Jayden Millauro, an Australian boy was out for a day of fishing off the coast of New South Wales with his dad recently. Turns out that dad and a few other fishermen on the scene had to hold on to Jayden’s harness as he reeled in the 692-pound tiger shark he hooked. It certainly gives the boy a story he can tell for the rest of his life and it just might be a record setting catch. The official record of the International Game Fish Association's "small fry" category is a 687 pound tiger shark set in 1997.

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Scoop the poop

Most people would agree that there’s nothing more off putting than to come across dog droppings on the sidewalk when you are out for a walk. But, the town of Springfield, Missouri, may have found a way to deal with the problem and it’s easier than using a troop of pooper-scoopers. The town put up a variety clever flags reminding pet owners of their civic responsibility when taking their pooch for a walk. They read: Is this your turd? Cuz that's absurd, this is a nudge to pick up the fudge and Scoop the Poop.

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Political polarization

Despite the widespread perception that political polarization skyrocketed after the 2016 U.S. presidential election, a recent study by the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication compared the levels of political polarization in 2014 to those in 2017 and found no significant difference. While the studies did show that the U.S. remains undoubtedly politically polarized, it is not any more or less so than it was before the 2016 presidential election. )

Gene therapy

A gene therapy being developed to stop the severe muscle deterioration associated with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD), a rare, genetic disease, has now been shown to be successful in both large and small animals. The study, conducted by the University of Pennsylvania, engineered a “substitute” protein for dystrophin that protected muscles without retaliation from their immune systems. The gene therapy’s success spurs hope for the future development of treatment for DMD.

Restoring culture

In an effort to undo the damage ISIS wrought, archaeologists from the University of Pennsylvania, in collaboration with Iraq’s State Board of Antiquities and Heritage and others, are

rebuilding three cultural heritage sites destroyed during the fighting, as well as a number of smaller Christian churches. Backed by $4 million in funding from a variety of sources, including the U.S. State Department, the work will take years, but the archaeologists hope that restoring the physical sites will help draw displaced communities back to their homes and return to these areas a sense of normalcy following years of destruction.

Bile duct on a chip

With the creation of the first bile duct-on-a-chip, researchers will now be able to study illnesses related to the difficult-to-access tissue more readily. The chip, created by a team from the University of Pennsylvania, is only 4 mm long and .16 mm wide and is made using a clear, gas polymer and collagen. Researchers are specifically interested in using the bile duct on a chip to study the difference in vulnerability between adult and child bile ducts. “This access could open doors for more research into liver diseases such as primary biliary cholangitis, primary sclerosing cholangitis, and biliary atresia,” researcher Rebecca Wells said.

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Social Security Matters

By AMAC Certified Social Security Advisor Russell Gloor

Association of Mature American Citizens

Ask Rusty – Income Tax on Social Security vs. the Earnings Test

Dear Rusty: I retired from work this year (age 62) and I will receive my first social security benefits in September. Is there a special rule for the first year you retire that allows you to not pay taxes on your social security since you have earned no other income since you retired? Before I retired, I earned about $50,000, which I know is more than the usual allowed income. Signed: Retired Senior

Dear Retired Senior: I'm afraid there is no such "first year" rule which exempts you from paying income tax on your Social Security benefits. When you file your Federal income taxes with the IRS you will need to claim your Social Security (SS) benefits as part of your income, and whether it is taxable will depend upon whether your "modified adjusted gross income" (MAGI) for the year exceeds $25,000 (if you file single) or $32,000 (if you file married-filing jointly). "MAGI" includes your taxable income from all sources (your “adjusted gross income” from your Federal income tax return), plus any tax-exempt interest you may have received, plus half of your annual Social Security benefits. If your MAGI exceeds the above levels, then up to 50% of your Social Security benefits will become a part of your taxable income; or if you exceed $34,000 (filing single) or $44,000 (filing married-jointly) then up to 85% of your annual SS benefits will become taxable. If you don't exceed those levels your SS benefits aren't taxable as income.

However, I suspect you may be confusing income tax on your Social Security benefits with another rule - Social Security's "earnings test" which, if you have not yet reached your full retirement age, sets a limit on what you can earn without your benefit payments being affected. If you are collecting benefits before you have reached your full retirement age and you exceed the annual earnings limit ($17,640 for 2019) Social Security will withhold some of your benefits – $1 for every $2 you are over the limit. If that is what you're referring to then, yes, there is a special rule for the first year you are collecting Social Security. That special first year rule says that if you claim benefits mid-year and you have not yet reached your full retirement age, you'll be subject to a monthly earnings test for the remainder of that year, rather than the annual test. So, if your benefits start in September, provided you don’t earn more than $1470 in September or any month thereafter in 2019 you won't lose any benefits. But if you do exceed that monthly limit, even by $1, you won't be entitled to any SS benefits for that month. The monthly test is only in the calendar year you claim benefits - it goes away for you in 2020 and you'll be subject to the annual earnings test only for next year.

Please note that the earnings limits are considerably more if you are claiming in the year you will reach your full retirement age. If this were the year you will reach your full retirement age, the annual limit would be $46,920 and the monthly limit would be $3910 (these limits change annually). However, if you stay fully retired and don’t return to work you will not need to worry about the Social Security earnings test but, depending on your “MAGI,” you may need to pay income taxes on your Social Security benefits.

Ask Rusty – What should I know about Social Security?

Dear Rusty: I’m 59 years old. When do I need to start looking at what’s available for me - when I start getting closer to age 65? Signed: Planning Ahead

Dear Planning Ahead: Kudos to you for thinking about Social Security in advance! Fifty-nine years of age is a great time to start planning. Your strategy may be different, depending on whether you are married, if you plan to continue working well into your sixties (or later), your health, and your expected longevity.

You have an 8-year window between ages 62 – 70 during which you can claim your benefits, and the age you claim will greatly influence the amount of your benefit. If you claim at age 62, your payment will be 30% less than it would be if you wait until your full retirement age (FRA), which for you is age 67. If you choose to delay past your FRA until age 70, your benefit will be 24% more than it will be at your FRA. Your full retirement age is when you get 100% of the benefit you have earned from a lifetime of working - claiming earlier will result in a lower benefit and claiming later (up to age 70) will mean a higher benefit (8% more per year of delay).

The age you claim should consider your plans for working, because if you claim earlier than your FRA and continue to work you’ll be subject to Social Security’s earnings limit until you reach your FRA. If you exceed the limit ($17,640 for 2019), SS will take back $1 for every $2 you are over the limit by withholding future benefits. The earnings limit goes up by about 2.5 times during the year you reach your FRA and goes away once you reach FRA. If you exceed the earnings limit SS will withhold benefits for as many months needed to recover what is due, which means you could go months without receiving any benefits. Although, at your FRA, you will get time credit for any months withheld (thus a benefit adjustment), it could (depending upon the amount) take many years to recover any withheld benefits.

Your health and expected longevity are key factors in determining the age to claim SS. The life-expectancy for the “average” man your age today is about 84. If your health and family history suggest you will enjoy at least average longevity, then delaying your claim to a later age will yield more in cumulative lifetime benefits, as well as a higher monthly payment. Conversely, if you’re in poor health and expect less than average longevity, delaying may not be a practical option for you.

If you are married there are special considerations if your wife is, or was, a lower-earner or stay-at-home mom and has a smaller SS benefit than you. Your wife may be eligible for a spousal benefit from you and will also be eligible for a survivor benefit if you should predecease her. The widow’s benefit your wife would be entitled to is based upon the actual amount you are receiving at your death. If you claim at age 62, your widow would get your age 62 benefit, but if you wait until later (up to 70) to claim, your widow gets the higher benefit you were receiving because you delayed claiming (if that’s higher than her own).

Finally, your financial needs should be included in your planning. If your circumstances are such that you do not urgently need your Social Security benefits to live comfortably, then delaying your claim will provide you with a higher monthly benefit in retirement. If, on the other hand, you need the extra money to make ends meet, then claiming early makes sense (but beware of the earnings limit mentioned above).

By setting up your personal online account at www.ssa.gov you’ll be able to see the benefit amounts you are estimated to receive at age 62, at your FRA, and at age 70. Having these numbers, and taking the above points into consideration, should allow you to develop a strategy for when you should claim your Social Security benefits.

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Medal of Honor: Army Pfc. Richard G. Wilson

BY KATIE LANGE

Military medics are serious about taking care of their fellow service members in battle, often risking their own lives to do that difficult job. Army Pfc. Richard G. Wilson was one of those men who gave the ultimate sacrifice to save another during the Korean War. For that, he earned the Medal of Honor.

Wilson was born in Marion, Illinois, on Aug. 19, 1931. His family moved to Cape Girardeau, Missouri, when he was a boy.

In 1948, Wilson left high school after his junior year to join the Army, enlisting on his 17th birthday. He trained at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, and volunteered to go to airborne school.

Wilson left for Korea with his unit, Company I of the 187th Airborne Infantry Regiment, in late summer 1950. On Oct. 20, he and his fellow paratroopers jumped behind enemy lines north of Pyongyang, North Korea, to cut off retreating enemy units. The jump was one of the largest airdrops in American military history.

The next day, Wilson accompanied his company on a reconnaissance mission on a hillside near the small town of Opari. As most of the unit was passing through a narrow valley flanked on three sides by hills, enemy soldiers ambushed them, opening up a barrage of mortar and gun fire.

A lot of men fell as they tried to get to safety, and Wilson was among them. He moved from one injured man to another to tend their wounds. The unarmed medic constantly exposed himself to enemy fire, but his fellow soldiers reported that he didn't seem to be worried about his own safety.

The unit was ordered to withdraw so they wouldn't be surrounded and isolated. Wilson helped many of the wounded men to safety, making sure that no one was left behind. But when he learned one man who had been presumed dead was seen trying to crawl to safety, he went back — despite protests from his fellow soldiers.

Without a weapon, Wilson returned to the onslaught, going back to one of the most dangerous locations on the hillside to find his fallen comrade.

He never came back. Two days later, a patrol found him lying beside the man for whom he had gone back. Wilson had been shot several times while trying to shield and give aid to the soldier. He was 19.

Wilson's bravery and self-sacrifice inspired his fellow soldiers and earned him the Medal of Honor. In a ceremony at the Pentagon on Aug. 2, 1951, the medal was presented to Wilson's widow, who he had married shortly before he deployed to Korea.

In the decades since, several buildings on military installations have been named in his honor, including one at Fort Sam Houston and at an elementary school at Fort Benning, Georgia.

This article is part of a series called "Medal of Honor Monday," which recognize one of the more than 3,500 Medal of Honor recipients who have earned the U.S. military's highest medal for valor.

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3 ways you can benefit by giving your smartphone a rest

America is saturated in smartphones. A Pew Research Center survey reported 81% of Americans own the versatile — and some say, addictive — mobile device.

With the smartphone’s capabilities for internet access, social media interaction, running all kinds of apps, and texting, its screen has become the nation’s preoccupation — while face-to-face human conversation seems more of a second option.

“Everywhere you go, so many people are looking into their phone, not at each other,” says Johnny Welsh (www.johnnywelsh.com), author of Paper Maps, No Apps: An Unplugged Travel Adventure. “Will smartphones and social media be the biggest distractors of interpersonal communications in our lifetime?”

Welsh wanted to ensure that didn’t happen in his life, so he and his girlfriend embarked on a 16-day western U.S. road trip devoid of smartphones and electronic devices. A bartender for 25 years, Welsh had grown tired of seeing the social element of a crowded bar — lively conversation — often missing when people were glued to their phones.

Learning to live without the devices – or at least doing so for a couple weeks while vacationing — is a healthy reboot everyone should try, Welsh says. Reflecting on his unplugged road trip, Welsh shares what he gained from travelling without information-age technology — and how he thinks people can benefit by giving their phones a rest:

Enjoy real conversation. Welsh means meaningful conversation with strangers as well as with friends and loved ones. On their trip, he and his girlfriend enjoyed meeting people and they got to know each other better as well. It led to their engagement. “The art of one-on-one communication is getting lost,” he says. “But without phones to distract us, our communication between us was more fulfilling. I imagine this can be a challenge for many couples who are accustomed to being apart even while in the same room — because one or both are on their phones.”

Keep your head up, see and feel more. Simple observation of nature’s beauty was enhanced on Welsh’s trip. ”We felt a heightened sense of focus throughout our trip,” Welsh says. “We were free to absorb all that was around us without distraction. In the pre-internet days, kids on vacation looked out the window of cars with a sense of wonder. Every day was a new discovery. Unplugging today gives you that same sense of fresh discovery and in-the-moment living we were all intended to have.”

Re-learn how to relax. A vacation is supposed to be about relaxing. Welsh was reminded of that without his smartphone. “We recognized the reason we take vacations is to get away — and that means getting all the way away,” Welsh says. “Turn it off. Unplug. Be totally in the present. Too many people spend vacations and days off still consumed by social media, which can either add stress or steal the present time from you.”

“You’re robbing yourself of the full experience of a road trip if you don’t unplug,” Welsh says. “The same is true in life; you’re not getting nearly the most out of it if you stay glued to a screen and miss many of the moments and people around you.”

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Is your business’ global message lost in translation?

American businesses with plans to take their products global know they will need to overcome language barriers, but that little chore could prove to be a greater challenge than they realize.

The potential for missteps abounds as companies attempt to translate websites, apps, user manuals, print advertisements, marketing emails, and other materials for a customer base that’s not their usual audience.

“It’s critical that companies be aware of not just how their products will be perceived, purchased, and used in other countries, but also that selling internationally requires tweaking business processes,” says Ian A. Henderson, author of Global Content Quest: In Search of Better Translations and co-founder with his wife, Francoise, of Rubric (www.rubric.com), a global language-service provider.

“Many products designed for and by Americans are in high demand in other countries, but that doesn’t mean the user experience will be exactly the same.

Some translation complications that businesses encounter could easily be avoided, Rubric’s founders say. A few of those problematic situations include:

Creating poor user journeys. The Hendersons say they sometimes encounter clients who have a general idea of what the content should be in English, but have not thought about what it should be in other languages, or how to adjust it for different cultures. “Because of this,” Ian Henderson says, “people often end up translating for the sake of translating from some vague idea of necessity, rather than to intentionally grow the international market for their product in a strategic way. This leads to a poor user journey.” If you don’t put time and thought into what you are translating and why, he says, you may end up with inconsistency in content.

Using misapplied tools. Companies often look for software that will solve all their problems, and in many cases a multi-language feature is sold as part of a content-management system, or a product-information management system. “Unfortunately, it is often not very effective,” Francoise Henderson says. “Translation is more of an art than a science, and it is rarely as simple as plugging words into a program.” She recommends running a pilot program to test out new software before committing to buying it.

Adding translation to someone’s other responsibilities. Companies often make the mistake of assigning translation duties to someone already on staff simply because they speak the languages in question. “On the surface, that seems to make sense because the person knows your product and is already on your payroll,” Ian Henderson says. But the employee won’t make translation a priority because of competing responsibilities. When the employee does prioritize the translation, the rest of their work suffers. Also, just because they speak the language doesn’t mean they are competent writers who can successfully convey a message from one language to another.

Being stuck in silos. If departments within a company fail to communicate, information might be unintentionally translated multiple times, costing the company thousands in extra translation costs, Ian Henderson says. Other times, different departments will use different vendors to translate. So when put through translation, a product’s packaging claim might not correspond to the material that marketing or legal is sending out. One solution, the Hendersons say, is to have a central communications hub through which everything flows.

“One thing we’ve learned is translation is more than just a language problem,” Francoise Henderson says. “People and the products they buy vary from country to country. As a result, marketing can’t be too uniform because it won’t speak to all the audiences. But if it’s too individualized, you can lose your brand identity. The trick is creating a balance that both preserves the global brand and serves the local needs.”

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You’re never too old

A 70-year old Bolivian grandmother, Mirtha Munoz, took the road less traveled, especially for senior citizens, and she showed that she has the right stuff. Munoz is the oldest participant in Bolivia’s punishing Skyrace bicycle competition. In fact, says the senior advocacy organization, the road she took on her bicycle is known as the “Death Road.” The nearly 40 mile long, two mile high trail starts in the jungles of Bolivia and winds its way up until it reaches the treacherous, snow-covered crests of the Andes. The Death Road gets its name from the fact that it is said to be “the world’s most dangerous road,” as Reuter’s put it. It’s said that the vertical highway has claimed the lives of thousands of daring travelers over the years.

This good deed went unpunished

These alleged sea-going drug smugglers turned the tables on the police who were chasing them. Police off the Spanish coast engaged their suspects in a high-speed, ocean-going chase but they suddenly lost control of their speedboat and the three lawmen on board wound up in the drink. Not to worry. The drug traffickers came to their rescue, saving the cops as a police helicopter watched from above. However, the good deed did not give them a pass. They were arrested after the cops found their three-ton stash of hashish.

Winning the lottery is not always what you think it is

2-2-2-2 was the lucky pick in a recent South Carolina Education Lottery drawing with $3.4 million at stake. But dreams of vast riches quickly went up in smoke when the one-thousand-four-hundred winners found out that they have to share the lottery loot. That comes to an average payout per ticket of just about $2,500.

Gun-violence patients

When providing medical care to victims of traumatic injury, including gun violence, knowledge of a patient’s environment plays a role. For example, people who come to the emergency room for a minor injury and who also have symptoms of depression or anxiety have poorer outcomes 12 months later, said Therese Richmond of the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing. Her research also shows that factors such as adverse childhood experiences and poor childhood environments worsen the severity of post-injury mental health symptoms. “Health is driven not just by individual behaviors or risks but where you spend most of your time, where you live, play, work, worship,” Richmond said. “Those environments can have profound positive or negative effects on both physical and mental health.”

Immigration & the economy

Immigration policy in the United States is important to future economic growth over the next few decades, due to the country’s aging population and relatively low native fertility, according to experts from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. “If we want to continue growing, if we want to maintain our relative position in the world population, really the only way we’re going to accomplish that is if we bring in more immigrants,” said Alexander Arnon of the Penn Wharton Budget Model, which has built an online immigration policy simulator. The essential findings of the simulator include: Shifting the mix of legal immigrants toward college graduates would have little impact on employment and slightly increase gross domestic product (GDP); legalization of undocumented workers would slightly reduce employment and have a negligible impact on GDP; increasing deportations would substantially reduce both employment and GDP.

Intelligent machines

Artificial intelligence (AI) is no longer a futuristic concept flourishing solely in sci-fi worlds filled with robots and androids. It’s become an integral part of modern life. But despite AI’s ubiquity, many uncertainties remain. How is it being used today? How will it be used in the future? What trade-offs are acceptable in terms of privacy, ethics, and human decision-making? And how much control over and input into the process should individuals have? Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania who are working to answers these questions say the bottom line is that AI is here to stay, so the key is to figure out how to live in a world shared by humans and smart machines.

Three rivers

The Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio rivers meet in the center of Pittsburgh. This wealth of water also presents a unique set of challenges for the region, including sewer overflows, flooding, indus­trial and agricultural pollutants, emerging contaminants, aging infrastructure and poorly coordinat­ed land use. An in-depth study by the Water Center at the University of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia, has shown that, while the Pittsburgh region has made progress on some of these issues, many remain unaddressed. The report also underscores how climate change and changing land use patterns will exacerbate these impacts. Now embarking on a second phase of the project, the Water Center, with support from the Heinz Foundation, is working to develop and implement a road map for water resource management.

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If college sports were a stock, they would be on everyone’s buy list

Big money and big-time college sports have been entwined for some time.

But that connection may have grown even closer recently when California passed a first-of-its-kind law that allows student athletes to hire agents and make money on endorsement deals, something the NCAA actively opposes.

California’s new law, along with discussions about paying college players, may lead to fiery debates among sports fans, but there’s no denying that sports are a profitable undertaking for many universities. In fact, one financial professional says that if college sports were a stock, a lot of people might add the NCAA to their portfolios.

“You have some top college football programs that bring in well over $100 million in revenue, with a 50 percent profit margin,” says Jason Lambert (www.nwfts.net), president and CEO of Northwest Financial & Tax Solutions and author of the upcoming book The Retirement Trailhead.

“If that were a business, I would definitely invest in it. It’s a unique business model.”

Lambert attended Auburn University, which averages $117 million in annual revenue from its football program. He understands the appeal of college football strictly from a fan perspective, but as a financial planner he says it’s also hard to miss just how big of a business college sports can be.

“Some schools are making an insane amount of money on their sports teams,” he says. “But not everyone. There’s a big disparity between the haves and the have nots.”

Lambert points to some of the evidence that college sports – at least at the top level – are as much a financial undertaking as they are a school-spirit booster:

Enviable profit margins. Forbes recently released its annual list of the 25 most valuable teams in college football, which combined bring in $1.5 billion in profits on revenues of $2.7 billion. Topping the list is Texas A&M, which had revenue of $147 million and a profit of $94 million. Others in the top five were Texas, Michigan, Alabama and Ohio State.

Wins equal cash. This is especially true for football teams. A Harvard Business School study showed that a single win during the football season could mean as much as a $3 million for some top schools. Even some college football programs that are not so well established saw a monetary increase as a result of invitations to postseason bowls, the study reported.

TV’s growing role. Television contracts have long been lucrative for college sports, but nothing like today when colleges and the NCAA don’t have to rely exclusively on the major networks. “Look at the top two teams on that Forbes list,” Lambert says. “The Texas Longhorns have their own TV network. Texas A&M is part of the SEC, which has it own TV network.”

Given these facts, Lambert says it shouldn’t be surprising that California wants to allow players to profit off their talents, or that others have pushed the idea that players should be paid by the universities that they churn profits for.

“Scholarships are valuable and great,” he says. “But something is going to have to change when you see the money that is coming in to these programs.”

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Are you an overprotective parent? 4 ways to let go and let your child grow

Good parents want to be involved in their children’s lives, but for years educators and psychologists have been asking the question: How much parental involvement is too much? When does trying to help your children in school, sports, and myriad other ways go too far, hurt their development, and become over-protective?

The explosive college admissions scandal seemed to answer that question. Television actress Felicity Huffman was sentenced to jail for paying $15,000 to influence the boosting of her daughter’s SAT score. Fourteen other parents in the probe have also pleaded guilty.

While most parents don’t cross that legal line, early education expert Christine Kyriakakos Martin says too much parental involvement can be harmful in a variety of ways, sometimes leading to children becoming ill-prepared for the challenges of adulthood.

“The consequences of being an overprotective parent is that your child will lack self-confidence to make decisions and take risks,” says Martin (www.youvegotthisparenting.com), author of You’ve Got This! Keys To Effective Parenting For The Early Years. “They’ll lack the coping skills to get up when they fall down from a bad experience and try again.”

Martin offers four ways for parents to stop being overprotective and promote more strength and independence in their children:

Stop teaching fear. While there are non-negotiables when it comes to teaching your child safety — for example: wearing a helmet when biking, no talking to strangers, no texting when driving — Martin says sometimes parents overprotect when they create too many boundaries, which in turn may teach children to live fearfully. “When you don’t allow them to play outside much, you’re impeding their freedom,” Martin says. “Play develops the imagination and self-confidence. Overprotective parents don’t want their children to fall down, and getting back up and brushing themselves off is a necessary component for healthy growth and development.”

Don’t be their full-time problem-solver. Martin says many parents want to take care of all of their chidlrens’ problems and make things easier for them. At some point that needs to stop, she says, because adult life is rife with adversity and unforeseen obstacles that we must learn to deal with independently. “Teaching children problem-solving skills encourages them to be independent,” Martin says. “Learning to resolve conflict on their own and work through problems builds resilience and teaches them how to handle adversity.”

Teach responsibility. “If you make their beds and clean their room, you’re doing them a great disservice,” Martin says. “It’s about learning early lessons in responsibility. Doing these things for a prolonged time can debilitate your child and set them up for a lack of life skills as adults. Let your child take on reasonable responsibilities and let them feel a sense of accomplishment.”

Let them branch out. Sometimes parents develop a comfort zone with their child’s pursuits and restrict them when the child wants to expand. “Let your child have some freedom to make some of their own decisions about their interests,” Martin says. “Interests change, and the more varied experiences they have, the better for their ability to make decisions and adapt to different situations.”

“Parents are right to protect their children in a dangerous world,” Martin says. “But having them grow up in a bubble hurts them and their ability to deal with the world as adults. The best thing you can do for your children is to find that balance between protecting them and teaching them to be strong and self-sufficient.”

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Medal of Honor: Army Pvt. Pedro Cano

BY SHANNON COLLINS

As an infantryman in World War II, Army Pvt. Pedro Cano used a shoulder-fired rocket launcher to take out more than 19 enemy soldiers and several machine guns terrorizing American troops in Schevenhutte, Germany, during the Battle of Hurtgen Forest.

For this action, he earned the Medal of Honor in 1944.

According to the official citation, while he was serving with 4th Infantry Division in December 1944, the infantrymen launched an attack against German gun emplacements, but were turned back by enemy machine gun fire.

"Armed with a rocket launcher, Cano crawled through a densely mined area under heavy enemy fire and successfully reached a point within 10 yards of the nearest emplacement," the citation said. "He quickly fired a rocket into the position, killing the two gunners and five supporting riflemen."

"Without hesitating, he fired into a second position, killing two more gunners, and proceeded to assault the position with hand grenades, killing several others and dispersing the rest," the citation said. "When an adjacent company encountered heavy fire, Cano crossed his company front, crept to within 15 yards of the nearest enemy emplacement and killed the two machine gunners with a rocket."

With another round, he killed two more gunners and destroyed a second gun.

The next day, his company renewed the attack and again encountered heavy machine gun fire. Cano, armed with his rocket launcher, again moved across the fire-swept terrain and destroyed three enemy machine guns in succession, killing the six gunners, the citation said.

Call to Service

Cano was born in La Morita, Nuevo Leon, Mexico, but moved to Edinburg, Texas, with his family when he was 2 months old. As a young adult, he worked as a farm laborer before volunteering to join the Army in World War II.

Cano served in battles in France and Germany. Sometime after the Hurtgen Forest battle, Cano was seriously injured and was brought back to the United States. He eventually returned home to his wife and daughter in Edinburg.

Cano became a U.S. citizen in May 1946 and went on to have two more children. He died in a car crash in 1952.

Cano didn't receive his Medal of Honor until decades after the war. His daughter, Dominga Perez, accepted it on her father's behalf from President Barack Obama during a ceremony at the White House on March 18, 2014. Several other service members from past generations were honored that day.

Cano received other accolades, including two Bronze Star medals, a Purple Heart and a Distinguished Service Cross. For his extraordinary war efforts, Edinburg named a street and a school after him.

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Put fall leaves to work in your landscape

By MELINDA MYERS

Raking fall leaves can seem like a chore and a never-ending one, at that. Reduce time and effort spent managing fall leaves by putting this valuable resource to work in your landscape.

Use your mower to recycle leaves right where they fall. As you mow the grass, you’ll shred the leaves into smaller pieces. If they are the size of a quarter or smaller, your lawn will be fine. As these leaf pieces decompose, they add organic matter and nutrients to the soil.

Another option is to attach a bagger to shred and collect the leaves with every pass of the mower. Only use grass clippings collected from lawns that have not been treated with a weed killer this fall. Or burn a few extra calories and rake the leaves into a pile. Shred with a leaf shredder or mower and spread them over the soil surface around perennials. Leaf mulch helps insulate plant roots, conserve moisture, suppress weeds and improve the soil as it breaks down.

Bag shredded leaves you want to save for next season. Tuck them out of sight for winter under trees or around the foundation of your house for added insulation.

Dig extra shredded leaves into vacant annual flower and vegetable gardens or incorporate them into the soil as you prepare new planting beds. They will break down over winter, improving the drainage in heavy clay soils and the water-holding ability in fast-draining soils.

Create compost with shredded leaves and other landscape trimmings. Do not use meat, bones or dairy that can attract rodents. Avoid diseased, insect-infested trimmings and weeds that can survive in compost piles that don’t produce enough heat to kill these unwanted pests.

Start with a compost pile that’s at least three feet high and wide for efficient decomposition. Place a mixture of shredded fall leaves, grass clippings free of herbicides, vegetable scraps and other landscape trimmings in an 8- to 10-inch layer. Cover with compost and sprinkle with a low nitrogen, slow release fertilizer.

Repeat the layers until the pile is the desired height. Then moisten until it’s the consistency of a damp sponge. Turn the pile occasionally, moving the material in the center to the outer edge and the less decomposed trimmings to the hotter center. It’s a great workout and speeds decomposition. Or pile the materials in a heap and let nature do the work; it just takes longer.

Oak and large maple leaves both make great mulches and additions to the compost pile but are slow to break down. Shred them with your mower or leaf shredder first for better results. Avoid black walnut leaves that contain juglone, a compound which is toxic to many plants. Once the leaves are fully decomposed the compost is safe to use.

As you begin putting fall leaves to work in your landscape, you’ll start considering them a gift versus a curse from nature especially as you see the results of your efforts – a more beautiful landscape.

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Social Security Matters

By AMAC Certified Social Security Advisor Russell Gloor

Association of Mature American Citizens

Ask Rusty – Understanding the Family Maximum

Dear Rusty: My husband passed away when our children were 3 and 5 years old. I received benefits for myself, our two children and my 14-year-old son from a previous relationship. When my 14-year-old son turned 18, the amount he received stopped and was added to ours, keeping the total family amount the same. Then in July of this year my youngest daughter turned 16 so I fell off with that amount now going to my kids. Again, the total family amount stayed the same - $625.00 each for my daughter and son. The very next month in August, my youngest son turned 18 so of course, he fell off. I called Social Security and the representative said that she couldn't guarantee that my son’s full amount will go to my daughter. It turns out that none did, decreasing the family amount by $625.00. My question is why was the family amount reduced when she still has 2 years before she turns 18? Signed: Confused Survivor

Dear Confused: I understand your confusion – let me clarify what happened in your situation: Social Security (SS) sets a “Family Maximum” amount, which is the most all eligible family members combined can receive from a worker’s (your husband’s) record. SS uses a rather complex formula to compute the Family Maximum amount, but it comes out to be somewhere between 150% and 180% of your husband’s “primary insurance amount” (or “PIA,” what he was entitled to when he passed). The family maximum is in effect whenever there are multiple beneficiaries on a worker’s record.

The benefits you were personally receiving were “child in care” benefits which entitled you, as a surviving spouse with a minor child, to collect 75% of the benefit your husband was receiving, or entitled to receive, at his death. Child in care benefits stop when the youngest child reaches 16 years of age. Each of your 3 minor children were also entitled to receive 75% of their deceased father’s (or stepfather’s) benefit amount. Minor children can receive 75% of the deceased parent’s benefit until they reach 18 years of age (or 19 if still in high school). However, all benefits are subject to the “family maximum.” The total of benefits paid to all survivors of the deceased is limited to that family maximum and, if that amount is reached, all eligible survivors share equally in that family maximum amount. Then as each survivor becomes ineligible due to their age, the remaining survivors each receive a proportional share of the family maximum amount, but that adjustment cannot result in an individual’s benefit being more than they are otherwise entitled to (their maximum individual benefit of 75% of your husband’s PIA).

When your oldest son turned 18 and became ineligible, the sum of benefits due all remaining survivors was still more than the family maximum, so the family maximum amount was equally divided among the remaining eligible survivors. Then, when your eligibility for child-in-care benefits ceased when your youngest turned 16, your two remaining minor children each received either a) their equal share of the family maximum, or b) 75% of their father’s PIA (their normal entitlement as a surviving minor child). When your youngest son turned 18 and became ineligible, your youngest daughter was then eligible to receive only her full benefit as a minor surviving child (75% of your husband’s benefit), which she can continue to receive until she is 18 (or 19 if still in high school). So, as you can see, the family maximum isn’t an amount which is fully available to any survivor, it is an amount that restricts the total amount which can be paid to all when there are multiple eligible survivors.

Please note that at age 60 you are once again eligible for a surviving spouse benefit, which will be based upon 100% of the benefit your husband was entitled to at his death, subject, of course, to normal reductions and earnings restrictions for claiming benefits before your full retirement age.

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From the files of the FBI

Hoboken man admits participating in voter bribery scheme

NEWARK, N.J. – A Hoboken, New Jersey, today man admitted his role in a conspiracy to promote a voter bribery scheme during a municipal election in Hoboken, U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito announced.

William Rojas, 69, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge William J. Martini in Newark federal court to an information charging him with conspiring with others to use the mail to promote a voter bribery scheme during the 2015 municipal election in Hoboken.

According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court:

Under New Jersey law, registered voters are permitted to cast a ballot by mail rather than in person. To receive a mail-in ballot, voters must complete and submit to their county clerk’s office an Application for Vote By Mail Ballot (VBM Application). After the VBM Application is processed, voters receive a mail-in ballot.

From September 2015 through November 2015, Rojas worked for a candidate for the Hoboken City Council (Candidate 1). At Candidate 1’s direction, Rojas and a conspirator, Matthew Calicchio, agreed to pay certain Hoboken voters $50 each if those voters applied for and cast mail-in ballots for the November 2015 Hoboken municipal election. Rojas provided these voters with VBM applications and told them they would get paid $50 for casting mail-in ballots. After receiving the completed mail-in ballots from voters, Rojas and Calicchio reviewed them to ensure that voters had voted for Candidate 1. After the election, Rojas delivered $50 checks to the voters whose mail-in ballots he collected. Calicchio previously pleaded guilty to his role in the scheme and is scheduled to be sentenced Nov. 7, 2019.

Rojas faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Sentencing is scheduled for Feb. 20, 2020.

Fatal shoot-out with police ended crime spree

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – A Kansas City, Missouri, man was sentenced in federal court for his role in a three-months-long conspiracy that included more than 27 armed robberies, culminating in the armed robbery of a Walgreens in Blue Springs, Missouri, in which a suspect was fatally shot by law enforcement officers.

Shannon R. Thomas, 29, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Greg Kays to life in federal prison without parole, followed by a consecutive sentence of 72 years in federal prison without parole.

On May 9, 2019, Thomas was found guilty at trial of participating in the conspiracy as well as participating in 10 armed robberies. He was also found guilty of 10 counts of brandishing a firearm in furtherance of a violent crime, and one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm. The life sentence was imposed for Thomas’s conviction of brandishing a firearm during the Walgreens robbery that resulted in the death of Jermon Seals.

Thomas and co-conspirators robbed 27 businesses in Blue Springs, Independence, North Kansas City, Raytown, and Kansas City, Missouri, and in Kansas City, Kansas, at gunpoint from Jan. 2 to March 24, 2016. In addition to the armed robberies charged in the indictment, evidence was introduced during the trial of other, uncharged robberies that were committed in furtherance of the conspiracy. Victim businesses included convenience stores, pharmacies, and other businesses.

The robberies followed a similar pattern: Two or three conspirators entered the business armed with handguns, wearing gloves, hoodies, and/or masks. The hoodies were drawn tightly over their faces to obscure their features. The employees were forced at gunpoint to hand over money from the cash register and the safe. The thieves wore the same hoodies in nearly all the robberies; Thomas wore a blue Kansas City Royals hoodie for the majority of the robberies he committed.

The spree of robberies culminated on March 24, 2016. Thomas, along with co-defendant Deonte J. Collins-Abbott, 25, of Grandview, Missouri, and Jermon Seals of Shawnee, Kansas, robbed the Walgreens at 7 Highway and Duncan in Blue Springs. Thomas placed a Springfield Armory .40-caliber semi-automatic pistol to the back of an employee’s head and took money from the front register. Collins-Abbott and Seals went over the pharmacy counter and took prescription grade cough syrup at gunpoint from the pharmacist. They left the business but were confronted by law enforcement officers as they were walking back to the vehicle. They failed to comply with the officers’ commands; Seals turned towards the officers, pointing a gun in their direction. Officers returned fire and Seals was fatally struck in the exchange. Thomas and Collins-Abbott were apprehended by officers after a short foot chase.

Collins-Abbott pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 25 years in federal prison without parole. Collins-Abbott admitted that he committed eight armed robberies between Feb. 3, 2016, and March 24, 2016.

Parrise K. Black, also known as “Kilo,” 27, of Grandview, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison without parole. Demetrius Nelson, 26, of Kansas City, Missouri, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to eight years in federal prison without parole. Co-defendant Kevin T. Thompson-Randell, 24, of Kansas City, Missouri, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to five years in federal prison without parole.

Oil & gas company officers charged with bank fraud

PHILADELPHIA – United States Attorney William M. McSwain announced that Jeffrey Lyons, 58, of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Karen Connelly, 65, of Manheim, Pennsylvania, and Judith Avilez, 58, of Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania were all charged with bank fraud for their roles in defrauding Fulton Bank. Lyons and Connelly were charged by Information and Avilez was charged by Indictment.

The charging documents allege that between 2003 through May 15, 2018, Lyons, the former CEO of Worley & Obetz, and Worley & Obetz’s two controllers, Connelly and Avilez, defrauded Fulton Bank by fraudulently inflating Worley & Obetz’s revenue on its financial statements. Worley & Obetz was an oil and gas company in Manheim, Pennsylvania, that provided home heating oil, gas, and propane to its customers. As a result of these and other alleged financial improprieties, the company has shut down and all employees lost their jobs.

To perpetuate the fraud, Connelly and Avilez created fraudulent Worley and Obetz financial statements to make the company appear to the bank that it had more revenue and accounts receivable than it did. Connelly was the Worley & Obetz controller from 2000 until she retired in December 2015. After Connelly retired, she and Lyons continued the fraud for approximately six months until Lyons asked Connelly to teach the scheme to Worley & Obetz’s new controller, Avilez.

Avilez’s Indictment alleges that after Connelly taught her how to commit the fraud, she knowingly continued the fraud with Lyons, falsifying Worley & Obetz’s financial statements. Lyons is also alleged to have altered a customer contract and provided the altered contract to Fulton Bank to support Worley & Obetz’s requests for more loans. The charging documents allege that the bank fraud scheme continued for at least 15 years. Fulton Bank relied on the fraudulent Worley & Obetz customer contract and the fraudulent Worley & Obetz financial statements created by Lyons, Connelly, and Avilez when it lent Worley & Obetz over $60 million.

The Information also charges Lyons with tax evasion for not reporting over $650,000 in income he received from Worley & Obetz in 2013.

“The alleged fraud here is stunning in scope and duration,” said U.S. Attorney McSwain. “As alleged, the defendants obtained tens of millions of dollars from bank lenders to benefit their business, when their jobs as CEO and Controller required them to act with fiduciary integrity. My Office will continue to work aggressively with our law enforcement partners to protect innocent individuals and businesses from being victimized by financial fraud.”

If convicted, Karen Connelly and Judith Avilez face a maximum possible sentence of 30 years’ imprisonment and a $1,000,000 fine and Lyons faces a maximum sentence of 35 years’ imprisonment and a $1,250,000 fine.

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October is National Pet Wellness Month: Change of season encourages routine vet visit

The Humane Society of Missouri and its Animal Medical Center of Mid-America

urge pet owners to be proactive in caring for the well-being of their furry friends

As temperatures begin to drop and leaves change colors, the change of season serves as a good reminder for pet parents to pay a visit to the veterinarian for their annual check-up before the year comes to a close. October is National Pet Wellness Month, so set aside time now to evaluate your pet’s health.

The Humane Society of Missouri’s Animal Medical Center of Mid-America (AMCMA) shares these preventative care and wellness tips:

1. Don’t wait until it’s too cold – sneak in your pet’s annual wellness appointment now

Set up time now before motivation is low when cold temperatures are upon us. We recommend taking your pet to the vet at least once a year. Regular wellness exams are critical to detect any problems, receive lifestyle recommendations and keep your pet up to date on all shots and medications.

2. Don’t let Halloween scare you – providing proper nutrition is easy

Your pet’s diet is one of the most important factors for general well-being. Quality nutrition plays a vital role for your pet’s health and longevity. It is important to make smart choices when it comes to your pet’s food in order to maintain good health and prevent diseases. Provide a diet high in protein while incorporating natural sources of vitamins and minerals. Avoid treating your pet to table scraps and “people food.”

3. Fall into a routine – remember to exercise regularly

With its mild temperatures, October is the perfect time of the year to get outside and start exercising daily with your furry friend. It’s a great way to enjoy the outdoors while keeping your pet physically active. Check with your vet on the appropriate amount of exercise for your pet.

4. Holidays are right around the corner – don’t forget about dental hygiene

Family pictures are not the same with stinky breath and yellow chompers. Brush your pet’s teeth at home to avoid tartar buildup and maintain optimal dental health. If you’re concerned about your pet’s teeth, schedule an appointment for a professional teeth cleaning, as dental health can make a huge impact on your pet’s overall wellness.

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3 ways you can benefit by giving your smartphone a rest

America is saturated in smartphones. A Pew Research Center survey reported 81% of Americans own the versatile — and some say, addictive — mobile device.

With the smartphone’s capabilities for internet access, social media interaction, running all kinds of apps, and texting, its screen has become the nation’s preoccupation — while face-to-face human conversation seems more of a second option.

“Everywhere you go, so many people are looking into their phone, not at each other,” says Johnny Welsh (www.johnnywelsh.com), author of Paper Maps, No Apps: An Unplugged Travel Adventure. “Will smartphones and social media be the biggest distractors of interpersonal communications in our lifetime?”

Welsh wanted to ensure that didn’t happen in his life, so he and his girlfriend embarked on a 16-day western U.S. road trip devoid of smartphones and electronic devices. A bartender for 25 years, Welsh had grown tired of seeing the social element of a crowded bar — lively conversation — often missing when people were glued to their phones.

Learning to live without the devices – or at least doing so for a couple weeks while vacationing — is a healthy reboot everyone should try, Welsh says. Reflecting on his unplugged road trip, Welsh shares what he gained from travelling without information-age technology — and how he thinks people can benefit by giving their phones a rest:

Enjoy real conversation. Welsh means meaningful conversation with strangers as well as with friends and loved ones. On their trip, he and his girlfriend enjoyed meeting people and they got to know each other better as well. It led to their engagement. “The art of one-on-one communication is getting lost,” he says. “But without phones to distract us, our communication between us was more fulfilling. I imagine this can be a challenge for many couples who are accustomed to being apart even while in the same room — because one or both are on their phones.”

Keep your head up, see and feel more. Simple observation of nature’s beauty was enhanced on Welsh’s trip. ”We felt a heightened sense of focus throughout our trip,” Welsh says. “We were free to absorb all that was around us without distraction. In the pre-internet days, kids on vacation looked out the window of cars with a sense of wonder. Every day was a new discovery. Unplugging today gives you that same sense of fresh discovery and in-the-moment living we were all intended to have.”

Re-learn how to relax. A vacation is supposed to be about relaxing. Welsh was reminded of that without his smartphone. “We recognized the reason we take vacations is to get away — and that means getting all the way away,” Welsh says. “Turn it off. Unplug. Be totally in the present. Too many people spend vacations and days off still consumed by social media, which can either add stress or steal the present time from you.”

“You’re robbing yourself of the full experience of a road trip if you don’t unplug,” Welsh says. “The same is true in life; you’re not getting nearly the most out of it if you stay glued to a screen and miss many of the moments and people around you.”

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When your hot, you're hot

The Akron, Ohio Alliance Fellowship Church hardly had an occasion to use its brand new $3,500 air conditioning unit when it was stole. The police were called in to find the perpetrators but Pastor Gus Brown may be hoping that the thieves will repent and return it and he posted a notice on the church bulletin board in front of the church. It reads in large letters, "Whoever stole our AC Unit: Keep it. It’s hot where you’re going."

The family fortune was hanging in the kitchen

An elderly woman in a town near Paris hit the jackpot when she decided to have what she thought was an old religious icon hanging in her kitchen appraised. It turned out that the painting, which had been in the family for some time, was in fact an exceptionally valuable painting, known as The Mocking of Christ, by the 13th century Florentine artist Cenni di Pepo who is considered by experts to be “the father of Western painting.” It’ll be put up for auction soon and it’s expected to fetch as much as $6 million.

The toilet is still missing

The police are still looking for the robbers who stole the toilet in Britain’s Blenheim Palace, where Winston Churchill was born, are still on the loose. It was a particularly rich haul for the thieves; the working commode, which was installed in the palace as part of an exhibition, was made of solid 18-carat gold and was worth some $5 million.

Vaping & health

Vaping-related deaths and lung injuries are on the rise. While electronic cigarette companies claim that their products can help adults quit smoking, they have failed to prove this claim and offer products in a range of appealing-sounding flavors, making them more enticing to young people. “These are people who have gotten the message that cigarettes are gross,” said pulmonologist Frank Leone of the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine. “They don’t want to smoke. But they don’t think of this as smoking.” E-cigarette makers’ marketing practices and the health risks associated with their products are now attracting intense scrutiny.

Brains & machines

Technology that provides a direct communication link between a brain and a computer is no longer limited to science fiction. Brain-machine interfaces represent a “beautiful step forward for medicine,” said neuroscientist Kondad Kording of the University of Pennsylvania, but he adds that ethical considerations and safeguards need to be addressed. “You need to think of the risks before you start implementing because we would get more enmeshed with electronic systems and they can have more influence on us.”

Around the world

The first-ever circumnavigation of the globe, 500 years ago by an expedition led by Ferdinand Magellan, was driven by political and economic pressures, not for scientific enterprises or discovery. “There is no doubt that his experience allowed people to think about geography, about global trade, and about human diversity in ways that were impossible before," said historian Antonio Feros of the University of Pennsylvania, "but one has the feeling that the commemorations this year around Magellan’s voyage go beyond the celebration of the man and his real accomplishments.” He said Magellan’s historic voyage helped shape the modern world. “There is no doubt that his experience allowed people to think about geography, about global trade and about human diversity in ways that were impossible before."

Consumer finance reforms

Some of the consumer finance reforms put in place after the recession have been effective during the past 10 years, and others have not, according to new research by Natasha Sarin of the University of Pennsylvania Law School. If left unchecked, banks will exploit the behavior of consumers, like customers' inattention to checking account contracts that detail the significant costs of over-drafting, allowing banks to charge high fees, she said. “As such, policymakers must bring discipline to these markets by restricting shrouded pricing,” she said, adding that “low-income consumers tend to pay higher prices than their high-income counterparts” for banking products, and regulators ought to pursue reforms that reduce such inequality."

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How to live life like you’re on a treasure hunt

Nearly everyone experiences it.

We get so caught up in our work or other day-to-day responsibilities that we overlook many of the world’s simple pleasures and intoxicating wonders.

But, when we pay attention, life can be an extraordinary treasure hunt that will lead us down paths we never imagined, says Sandra A. Miller (www.SandraAMiller.com), author of Trove: A Woman’s Search for Truth and Buried Treasure.

“Sometimes I will see people walking through the woods and they are texting, not noticing all the beauty around them,” Miller says. “It makes you realize that it's getting harder to spend even an hour without technology.”

She certainly has made the effort to untether herself. Miller’s memoir is about a midlife crisis as experienced through armchair treasure hunting, a hobby in which a person or group buries a treasure and sets up a series of clues and puzzles that will lead treasure hunters to it. The game entails getting out into the world and possibly even digging in the dirt.

But Miller says such organized treasure hunts also serve as a metaphor for what everyone needs to do more of – leave the digital world behind and explore the abundant riches that the real one provides.

Miller says she has found that a few ways to live life like you’re on a treasure hunt include:

Start each day with a prayer of gratitude. This doesn’t have to be a religious thing. Miller says it means savoring and showing appreciation for family and friendships; for the joy a favorite song brings; for every experience that teaches you a little more about yourself and the world; and for any small thing that might be insignificant to others, but holds meaning for you.

Engage with people, even strangers. Technology makes it easy these days to become isolated from others. “The antidote to that is putting down our phones, looking someone in the eye and saying, ‘How is your day going?’ ” Miller says. “If they don’t want to tell you, they won’t. But chances are, no one else has asked them. Who knows what treasures these conversations will reveal?”

Look for clues and signs everywhere. “I try to stay open to the found things on my path; from words, to signs, to love that announces itself to us in hundreds of ways each day,” Miller says. “That bird. That baby in the stroller. An early spring daffodil. I feel pleased with where I am in my life, and I’m not looking for something else to make me happy. But I still stay aware of all these treasures around me.”

Expect to always be on a search. One of the great things about living life like you’re on a treasure hunt is that the hunt never ends. “There is so much to search for,” Miller says, “and now more than ever we need to stay awake and alert to the beauty around us.”

“I think so many of us reach midlife and say, ‘Now what?’ ” Miller says. “In many cases, we have built strong careers and have disposable income. Often we even have time to travel or do the things we love, but we are still plagued by a sense of longing, which is different for everyone. Stay open to all the possibilities because the treasure you’re looking for is almost never where you expect to find it.”

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Who’s responsible for your company’s culture? Look in the mirror, leaders

Extensive research has shown that a positive work culture often results in productive employees who both value their work and feel valued themselves.

But company leadership, not the employees, usually creates that culture. Executives and managers have a significant responsibility to establish a positive culture that is conducive to company success.

“Culture can be thought of as the inner life of the organization,” says Cynthia Howard (www.eileadership.org), an executive coach, performance expert, and author of the book The Resilient Leader, Mindset Makeover: Uncover the Elephant in the Room.

“It is the self-sustaining mix of values, attitudes, and behavior that drives performance. Culture is the brand identity of the company, and it has the ability to attract and retain great talent or not. Thus, it’s incumbent on the leaders to be aware of their culture, what they can do to improve it, and honestly assess if it’s the kind of place where people want to be and want to grow.”

Another key reason that company leaders need to make work culture a high priority, Howard says, is because millennials — who comprise the largest segment of the workforce — rank culture as their top consideration when choosing where to work.

Howard offers five ways leaders can foster a positive work culture:

Model positive, respectful behavior. Howard says a positive work culture starts with the leader setting the tone, which can send the right message to leaders at other levels in the company. “Don’t play the blame game,” Howard says. “Encourage an environment where it’s OK to make mistakes and move forward. Frontline staff crave leaders who understand them and care about them, will mentor them, and will provide professional guidance to make fair and tough decisions.”

Show gratitude. “Show your gratitude and appreciation for accomplishments by acknowledging people during a meeting or with a note,” Howard says. “Celebrating wins lifts morale, and when people know they will be recognized for exceptional work, they’ll be more motivated.”

Communicate consistently and with clarity. “Keep employees in the loop with consistent updates,” Howard says. “Give them regular feedback, not just at review time. This keeps people connected, feeling part of the team, and removes the mystery — and inherent tension — of where they stand. Create clear goals, and make everyone feel that they are necessary components toward reaching those goals. That inspires an environment of inclusion, pride and commitment.”

Really listen. “This is the important other side of communication that some leaders fail to master,” Howard says. “For the leaders underneath you and the employees throughout a company to truly feel valued, they have to know they have a voice and that it will be heard. Be open and encouraging to others’ ideas and solutions.”

Promote collaboration. One of a company leader’s primary jobs is getting the most out of their team — mainly by defining the importance of team. “Maximizing the strengths of a team means knowing each person’s uniqueness and talents and using them in the best possible way,” Howard says. “It also means creating a culture where everyone respects each other’s talents and is enthusiastic about working together for the greater good.”

“Poor culture leads to lots of turnover,” Howard says. “When you as a leader instill and insist on a positive culture, you reap the benefits. Happy, engaged employees mean a thriving company.”

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How to keep good employees happy and reap the business benefits

While many business owners say that the first rule of a successful company is keeping customers happy, studies show that also keeping employees happy is critical to the whole process.

The better a business owner and upper management treat good employees, the more committed and engaged they will be to perform at a consistently high level and do their part to help make the business successful.

“The big key to business success is the productivity level of your employees and the culture in which they operate,” says Paul Trapp (www.eventprep.com), founding owner/CEO of EventPrep, Inc., a full-service meeting planning and management company, and co-author with Stephen Davis of Prep for Success: The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Achieving Your Dreams.

“Employee happiness results directly in success and goes hand-in-hand with company culture. The primary focus of leadership in that culture should be making sure their employees are happy, safe, respected, and making a competitive wage.”

If you get it right with your employees, Trapp and Davis say, they’ll get it right with the customer.

“It’s simple, really,” says Davis, who is EventPrep’s founding owner/president/COO.

“The folks you bring on board are going to spend a significant amount of time with their work family, so why wouldn’t the people running the business want it to be a cool place to work, and why wouldn’t they want it to be the most productive place they could possible make it?”

Trapp and Davis explain the key factors that find the right employees and keep them happy and productive:

Recruiting. “You’ve got to get the right people first, the people with the qualities that make for a passionate, productive worker who contributes to a positive culture,” Davis says. “Recruiting is about connecting with people and connecting them with their passion, their purpose, and enabling them to reach their potential. Recruiting isn’t an event, but a process, and sometimes finding the right person for a particular job can take months or even years. You’re always looking, listening, assessing and asking questions — and really getting to know the person you may hire.”

Establishing a culture. “You want people to want to come to work, and to do that you want people to work in the culture you’re creating,” Trapp says. “Culture is created at the top and cascades downward. What values and ethics do you have as a business owner that can make employees passionately want to be a part of that culture?”

Investing in them. ”Investing in your people raises their performance and strengthens their commitment, but it means far more than giving them raises,” Davis says. “It’s about making them feel like a part of your family, including giving them compassion and understanding when they need it most. Employees in turn embrace that kind of culture and own it. That’s what you want — a self-perpetuating work culture where everyone feels cared for and important.”

Recognizing them. “Keeping people happy and encouraging them to want to stay isn’t magic,” Trapp says. “Just as important as recruiting the right talent, business owners and leaders need to make the culture attractive and sustainable in order to retain the right talent. Retaining is about recognizing and celebrating, showing gratitude and appreciation. Recognizing employees for exceptional work, and giving them a cash bonus or special trip, is a key element toward retaining them.”

“A happy employee who’s engaged and connected, who wants to be there every day, makes the workplace a better place and a stronger business,” Davis says.

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Social Security Matters

By AMAC Certified Social Security Advisor Russell Gloor

Association of Mature American Citizens

Ask Rusty – What Will My Widow’s Benefit Be?

Dear Rusty: My husband just started receiving Social Security Disability in June. He is diagnosed with a terminal disease that likely he will rapidly succumb to. He will be 65 in Oct 2019. I turned 62 July 2019. I was his caregiver when he was at death’s door and was pulled back to 75% full life on immunotherapy. We see him starting to go downhill again; it creeps, then starts moving rapidly with the symptoms. I will be the caregiver again for round 2 that has no brakes to stop it this time - no do over. After he passes, when does the disability SS amount stop and what amount starts coming to me in my name as his widow, at my age? Signed: Survivor under age 65

Dear Survivor: Please know that you have my sympathy for what you and your husband are going through. Let me at least try to ease your anxiety by answering your Social Security questions.

Your husband's disability benefit will cease in the month he passes. Although, depending upon the date, he may receive a disability payment for the month he passes (it would be received the following month), that payment, if received, will need to be returned to Social Security (SS). Social Security will only pay up to the last full month your husband is alive. The funeral home is supposed to notify Social Security of your husband's passing, but you should verify that they will be doing that. Your benefit as your husband's survivor will be based upon the SS disability amount your husband was receiving at his death.

Although your survivor benefit will be based upon the amount your husband was receiving, if you take it before you reach your full retirement age (FRA) the survivor benefit will be reduced. Your full retirement age for the widow's benefit is 66 plus 2 months (versus your normal FRA of 66 1/2). You have a choice to take the reduced survivor benefit early (before your FRA), or wait until your FRA to claim the full amount your husband was collecting at his death. If you claim your widow’s benefit early, the reduction will be about 4.75% for each year earlier than your FRA that you claim it. Your survivor benefit reaches maximum at your widow's FRA. You must apply for your widow's benefit in person with Social Security and you should contact your local office by phone first to make an appointment. You can easily find your local SS office contact information at this link: www.ssa.gov/locator.

Taken at age 62, the survivor benefit will be reduced by about 20%. When to claim your survivor benefit might be influenced by whether you are eligible for Social Security benefits from your own lifetime work record. If you are eligible for your own benefit, you should look at what your own benefit will be at age 70. If it will be more than your survivor benefit, you should make sure to file a "restricted application" for survivor benefits to allow your own benefit to continue to grow. It will grow until you are 70, at which time you would switch from the lower survivor benefit to your own (you get whichever benefit is higher). Your decision on when to claim the survivor benefit might also be influenced by your plans for working. Since you have not yet reached your normal full retirement age (66 + 6 months), any Social Security benefit you claim before that (including your survivor benefit) will be subject to Social Security's earnings test. The "earnings limit" for 2019 is $17,640 (changes annually) and if you exceed that, Social Security will take back benefits equal to $1 for every $2 you are over the limit. The earnings limit will be in effect until you reach your normal full retirement age, at which point it goes away. Once again, you have my sympathy for the difficulties you are experiencing, but fortunately your Social Security widow’s benefit will be available to you when your husband passes.

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Protect your winter landscape from hungry wildlife

By Melinda Myers

There’s no doubt that managing critters in the landscape can be a challenge especially as food supplies start to dwindle or you change out your garden for the winter season. If you are battling with rabbits, deer, groundhogs or other wildlife, don't let down your guard as the growing season begins to wind down.

Be proactive. Start before they get into the habit of dining on your landscape. It is easier to keep them away than break the dining habit.

Fence them out. Fencing is the best defense against most wildlife. A four feet tall fence around a small garden will keep out rabbits. Secure the bottom tight to the ground or bury it several inches to prevent rabbits and voles from crawling underneath. Or fold the bottom of the fence outward, making sure it’s tight to the ground. Animals tend not to crawl under when the bottom skirt faces away from the garden.

Go deeper, at least 12 to 18 inches, if you are trying to discourage woodchucks. And make sure the gate is secure. Many hungry animals have found their way into the garden through openings around and under the gate.

A five-foot fence around small garden areas can help safeguard your plantings against hungry deer. Some gardeners report success surrounding their garden with fishing line mounted on posts at one- and three-foot heights.

Break out the repellents. Homemade and commercial repellents can be used. Apply before the animals start feeding and reapply as directed. Consider using a natural repellent that’s safe for people and wildlife.

Scare ‘em away. Blow up owls, clanging pans, rubber snakes, slivers of deodorant soap, handfuls of human hair and noise makers are scare tactics that have been used by gardeners for years. Consider your environment when selecting a tactic. Urban animals are used to the sound and smell of people. Alternate scare tactics for more effective control. The animals won't be afraid of a snake that hasn't moved in weeks.

Combine tactics. Use a mix of fencing, scare tactics and repellents. Keep monitoring for damage. If there are enough animals and they are hungry, they will eat just about anything.

Don’t forget about nature. Welcome hawks and fox into your landscape. Using less pesticides and tolerating some critters, their food source, will encourage them to visit your yard. These natural pest controllers help keep the garden-munching critters under control.

And most importantly, don't give up. A bit of persistence, variety and adaptability is the key to success. Investing some time now will not only deter existing critters from dining in your landscape, but will also reduce the risk of animals moving in next season.

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Your business has 99 problems and communication is all of them

Businesses face a multitude of vexing situations every day.

Sometimes these are quickly remedied, such as a missed phone call that must be rescheduled, or an unhappy customer who needs to be soothed.

At other times, there’s a total breakdown and turmoil erupts, as in the recent GM strike where 50,000 auto workers walked out, venting their anger over a number of decisions by the company.

But, small or large, of minor importance or potentially ruinous, every cause for concern that a business encounters originates from the same place.

“All problems are communication problems,” says Bill Higgs (culturecodechampionspodcast.com), an authority on corporate culture and author of the upcoming book Culture Code Champions: 7 Steps to Scale & Succeed in Your Business.

“How well you communicate is tied to your organization’s culture, which raises the question: What is your current culture costing you?”

Higgs says it’s common in the business world to be in a situation where someone asks or tells you to do something, you think you understand what they want, but when it’s done, it’s not right.

“When you both review what happened, you realize there was a communication breakdown at the outset,” he says.

Higgs recommends a few ways businesses can improve communications – and in the process avoid everything from minor mishaps to major disputes:

Seek and value input from everyone. A lot of rework could be avoided if leaders in an organization would empower their people to speak up if they see a problem, Higgs says. “Often, people remain silent even when they see something that does not seem right,” he says. “Why is that? I believe these problems happen because a person might notice something seems wrong, but he or she isn’t comfortable challenging someone who they see as more expert on the subject than them or who has more authority.” That’s why it’s important to foster an organization-wide culture where people feel comfortable challenging things, no matter who they are or who they are challenging. That way you increase the odds that things will be done right the first time.

Cross-train people so they better understand what others do. When employees have no idea about their co-workers’ areas of expertise, work slows down, as though everyone on the team is speaking a different language. “You want to get your people to broaden their knowledge and expand the scope of what they normally do in their own jobs,” Higgs says. As people learn more, they become more efficient and, for example, could handle questions from a vendor without bringing in other members of the team, saving everyone’s time. Higgs says cross-training often can take place when people have downtime, but if that’s not possible, it may be necessary to schedule time to make it happen.

Bust silos. Many organizations group people together by function. Marketing people work in the marketing department, finance people in the finance department, and so forth. Departments also are often separated physically. “This can create a number of problems and inefficiencies,” Higgs says. “For example, it can lead to lots of rework because silos are not conducive to communication.” Other problems silos cause include competition rather than collaboration among teams, and finger-pointing and blame-shifting when things go awry. He suggests that, instead of separating people by their functions, group them together in teams that are working on the same projects.

“Don’t let your people shut themselves off in their offices or workspaces, and don’t create such a hierarchy that people can communicate only through pre-approved channels,” Higgs says. “Effective teamwork requires good communication – and lots of it.”

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How to make the mindset change that creates good habits and success

Achieving success or struggling depends on many factors, but habits go a long way toward determining either outcome, research shows.

Breaking bad habits and cultivating good ones can be difficult, and willpower alone isn’t enough, says Ngan Nguyen (www.nganhnguyen.com), a leadership coach and author of Self-Defined Success: You Already Have Everything It Takes.

“You can’t create the life you want unless you replace bad habits, and that happens by developing a new mindset,” says Nguyen. “These are new thought processes that are linked to your new clarity of vision for your life.

“Usually, some sort of stimuli triggers our habits. Breaking a habit requires changing the action that we take when the stimuli appear. Repeated over and over, these new, more constructive thoughts and resulting positive actions automatically become the new habit.”

Nguyen offers the following tips to transform bad habits into good habits that lead to success.

Clarify your life vision. “Reassessing what we want out of life can provide a more efficient roadmap of goals and how to reach them,” Nguyen says. “Translate your longings and discontents into an actionable, crystallized vision that propels you forward. If you feel stuck, a powerful vision that’s in alignment with your core values is the most critical first step in liberating yourself and creating the results you want. Good habits flow from an energizing new life vision.”

Don’t let doubt or worry hold you back. “Distinguish between believing if you deserve to live your dream life, and whether or not it is possible,” Nguyen says. “You don’t want to talk yourself out of the vision you have crafted for your life based on whether or not you think it is possible. It is absolutely possible, because if you can imagine the outcome, then there is a way. Knowing that, your new habits stay consistent.”

Replace negative beliefs with positive, empowering thoughts. Nguyen says habits that hinder success often stem from negative thoughts. Some common ones are beliefs about ourselves, other people, money, and success. “People think, ‘I’m not good enough, not smart enough,’ or, ‘Other people will deceive me,’ and, ‘Money is scarce and hard to earn,’ ” Nguyen says. “Changing our beliefs to positive is what will allow us to access ideas and allow new positive perception to enter our consciousness. If we recognize that a thought doesn’t serve us, then we can choose to think differently when a stimulus to think negatively occurs. Over time, it becomes easier to think differently because new neural pathways are strengthened with our persistence.”

Analyze your stories. “Stories are how we live our lives,” Nguyen says. “The way we each live is guided by our beliefs, habits, values and emotions. It becomes destructive when patterns repeat in our lives that we do not desire, like always having problems with money or the inability to have a fulfilling relationship. If similar patterns play out that we do not like, we can identify what the underlying belief is by taking an objective look at the story.”

“It is when your beliefs, thoughts, and emotions completely align with the person who is living their new, clarified vision that the life they want becomes possible,” Nguyen says. “New, good habits become second nature, and while success is never automatic, good habits make it far more likely.”

Farm grown furniture

Need a new set of chairs or a table or even a lamp. Don’t buy them. Don’t build them. Grow them in your back yard. That’s what Gavin and Alice Munro of Derbyshire, England do; they harvest “shape as they grow” pieces of furniture for a living. Gavin tells the Reuters News Agency that they are currently nurturing a crop of 250 chairs, 100 lamps and 50 tables.

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No good deed goes unrewarded

It started out as a joke, but it ended up as a gesture of kindness when 24-year-old Carson King managed to get his poster on TV during an Iowa State football game. It asked viewers to use their Venmo digital payment apps to send him beer money and they did just that. It wasn’t long before the “unexpected” happened and he found that $400 had been deposited into his account. The sum quickly grew to $20,000. In the meantime, King said he had a change of heart. Instead of beer he would donate his newfound wealth to the University of Iowa Stead Family Children's Hospital. His request for beer money went viral and days later, the New York Post reported that the amount of King’s contribution had risen to over a million dollars and counting -- a worthy donation for the children’s hospital. The Busch Brewery took care of King for his generosity; they’re providing him with a year’s worth of beer.

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‘Dirty Birds’

Illinois state representative Jaime Andrade of Chicago was on a crusade. It was him against the pigeons that have been taking over what commuters have nicknamed the “pigeon poop” elevated train station. He was interviewed recently by a reporter from a local TV news station. His appeal for government funds to deal with the dirty birds was rudely interrupted when one of them did a fly over, dropping its droppings on his head. Andrade excused himself so that he could clean up, commenting: "That's what happens to my constituents. They get [expletive deleted] on all time."

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Improving democracy

The majority of Americans today say they believe living in a democracy is crucial but also think democracy in the United States is currently weak. A report from the Center for High Impact Philosophy (CHIP) at the University of Pennsylvania suggests two ways for people to help: One, increase civic engagement, which includes anything from donating to a charity to running for office. The second is to reinvigorate local media, not only larger newspapers and television stations that cover the area but also hyperlocal websites and other communication outlets that tell a community’s stories. “Our goal,” said Katherina M. Rosqueta, CHIP’s executive director, “is to help people turn their concern, good intentions, and charitable dollars into positive social change.”

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Guaranteed income

The mayor’s office in Stockton, Calif., launched a pilot program that gives $500 debit cards, funded by grants, to 125 randomly selected citizens as part of research on “guaranteed income” spending. The research is being conducted by two professors of social work, Amy Castro Baker of the University of Pennsylvania and Stacia Martin-West of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. “The idea behind guaranteed income is really based on the thought that people are experts of their own lives and they know best where they can leverage that money to help smooth income volatility and help their family achieve upward mobility,” Castro Baker said. “The idea is, ‘What would happen if we gave people cash and let them match that benefit to their needs, which change and flux over the course of the year? What potential would be unleashed in families and communities if they had a modest cushion to rely on instead of having to take on additional jobs or shifts that are detrimental to their health?’”

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Gun violence

Gun violence has taken a particularly hard toll on black boys. A sociological study centered on an all-boys high school in a high-poverty area of Philadelphia, where multiple students had been lost to gun violence, revealed that the school’s students and staff were ill-equipped to manage the emotional toll. The work, conducted by Nora Gross, a doctoral student in the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education, highlights the ways in which the misunderstanding of black boys’ pain can play out, oftentimes leading to interventions that may not be helpful.

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Americans & the Constitution

The American public knows more about the U.S. Constitution and the separation of powers than in the recent past, according to the 2019 Constitution Day Civics Survey by the Annenberg Public Policy Center (APPC) of the University of Pennsylvania. The survey found that 39% of American adults correctly named the three branches of government: executive, legislative and judicial. That is the highest in five years; last year 32% could do the same. “While this marks an improvement, the overall results remain dismal,” said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the APPC. “A quarter of U.S. adults can name only one of the three branches of government and more than a fifth can’t name any. The resilience of our system of government is best protected by an informed citizenry. And civics education and attention to news increase that likelihood.”

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Med school & minorities

Black, Hispanic and American Indian students remain underrepresented in medical schools despite decade-long efforts to increase physician diversity. A new study from the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine found that, while absolute numbers of historically-underrepresented medical students have increased, the rate of increase is slower than their age-matched counterparts. “In light of the evidence that physicians from underrepresented backgrounds are more likely to serve populations with significant health disparities and that a diverse physician workforce improves health care for all, the need for representation is an evidence-based imperative,” said researcher Lanair Amaad Lett.

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Hiring the wrong people? Maybe you’re asking them the wrong questions

A company’s intention in a job interview is to find the person who best fits a particular position. But recent research has shown that quite often, the candidate who was hired failed, and usually their exit was related to attitude issues that weren’t revealed in the interview.

That raises the question: Are interviewers asking the wrong questions — and consequently hiring the wrong people? Alex Zlatin, CEO of Maxim Software Systems (alexzlatin.com), says some traditional styles of interviewing are outdated, thus wasting time and resources while letting better candidates slip away.

“It still astounds me to meet HR professionals who lack the basic skills of interviewing,” says Zlatin, author of the book Responsible Dental Ownership. “In 2019, ‘tell me about yourself’ is still a way to start an interview, and that’s absurd. The only thing you get is people who describe the outline of their resume, which you already know.

“You want to get to know the candidate’s personality in the interview. In a normal setting, you would have about one hour to do this. But some traditional interview practices waste this precious time, and you can miss out on great talent and instead hire a mediocre one.”

Zlatin offers the following interview approaches to help HR leaders, recruiters and executives find the right candidate:

Make it a two-way conversation. Zlatin says traditional interviewing focuses too much on the candidate’s skills and experience rather than on their motivation, problem-solving ability, and willingness to collaborate. Thus, he suggests configuring the interview in a non-traditional, informal way to gain insight into the candidate’s personality. “Rather than make most of the interview a rigid, constant question-and-answer format that can be limiting to both sides, have a two-way conversation and invite them to ask plenty of questions,” Zlatin says.

Flip their resume upside down. “Surprise them by going outside the box and asking them something about themselves that isn’t on their resume or in their cover letter,” Zlatin says. “See how creatively they think and whether they stay calm. You want to see how a candidate thinks on their feet — a trait all companies value.”

Ask open-ended questions. Can this candidate make a difference in your company? Zlatin says answering that question should be a big aim of the interview. “Ask questions that allude to how they made a difference in certain situations at their past company,” Zlatin says. “Then present a hypothetical situation and ask how they would respond.”

Don’t ask cliched questions. Zlatin says some traditional interview questions only lead to candidates telling interviewers what the candidate thinks the company wants to hear. “Interviewers should stop asking pointless questions like, ‘Where do you see yourself in five years?’ “ Zlatin says. Or, ‘Why do you want to work for this company?’ Candidates rehearse these answers, and many of them are similar, so that doesn’t allow them to stand apart.”

Learn from the candidate’s questions. The questions candidates ask can indicate how deeply they’ve studied the company and how interested they really are. “A good candidate uses questions to learn about the role, the company, and the boss to assess whether it’s the right job for them,” Zlatin says.

Don’t take copious notes. Zlatin says the tendency by interviewers to write down the candidate’s answers and other observations is “a huge obstacle to building a solid two-way conversation because it removes the crucial element of eye contact.”

“An effectively done interview allows the employer to get both an in-depth and big-picture look at a candidate,” Zlatin says. “Judging whether they might fit starts with giving them more room to express in the interview.”

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Is your ‘inner critic’ undermining your career? 5 ways to boost your confidence

The workplace, like the playing field in sports, is packed with competition — often against oneself. It demands being at your best, reaching and exceeding goals, working hard to master all aspects of a position, and proving you’re capable of taking on more.

Someone might have all the requisite skills to succeed, but they also might become their own biggest obstacle when self-criticism gets in the way, corporate observers say. Confidence becomes a problem when difficult experiences at work, such as making mistakes or being passed over for an opportunity, cause us to question ourselves and create negative thoughts.

To produce positive thoughts and smooth the path toward success, one needs to create a mindset based on processes that are purposeful, says Grant Parr (www.gameperformance.com), a mental sports performance coach and author of The Next One Up Mindset: How To Prepare For The Unknown.

“The mind can get lonely and focus on negative things,” says Parr. “We risk giving our attention to thoughts that can eat away at us, destroy our confidence, and take us out of our rhythm.

“We begin to listen to a cartoon version of the devil who sits on one shoulder and whispers in our ear. So we need to develop ways to listen to that other voice within us, that angel on the opposite shoulder, to quiet the inner critic.”

Parr suggests a five-step process to develop a more positive mindset and boost your confidence in the workplace:

Focus on winning in the present. Dwelling on past mistakes or worrying about what comes next can create self-doubt. Staying present is key and requires resiliency, which leans on past training and the skills that led to achievements. Parr likens a resilient worker with athletes such as a placekicker, who shakes off a missed field goal and comes back to make the game-winner. “The workplace setting doesn’t wait for you to get over things,” Parr says. “And rather than fearing making more mistakes, you must ask yourself, ‘What’s important now?’ To be the best you can be in the current moment, you have to focus all of your energy on the present and embrace it.”

Breathe to relax and refocus. “Refocusing always starts with your breath,” Parr says. “It casts out distractions and allows you to be yourself. Focusing on your breathing reminds you that this is something you can control, and in turn you can control your thoughts. Ultimately, you’re training your subconscious mind how to use breath to settle you.”

Meditate. “Meditation builds off your controlled, sustained breathing,” Parr says, “and it becomes a practice to develop clarity and create a calm space in the mind. Meditation brings control and harnesses much of the untapped power of the mind. It aligns your mind, body, and spirit.”

Visualize. To reach peak performance, Parr says, people must be able to see themselves performing well. “The more precisely you can see yourself in action, the more you are able to adjust and control that image, change its details, and guide its outcome,” Parr says. “Visualization also entails tapping into an emotion, feeling the confidence of the moment that you see yourself making happen.”

Engage in self-talk. “Learn to become your own best motivator,” Parr says. “You can do this through the power of positive language directed at the self. We want to develop a language that creates purposeful optimism. Find specific language that can give voice to your feelings and enhance your internal drive.”

“Training the mind to generate confidence, qualm fear and spark joy empowers someone to be better than their negative side thought they could be,” Parr says.

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Medal of Honor: Army Tech. 5th Grade Harold A. Garman

By SHANNON COLLINS

As a combat medic in World War II, Army Technician 5th Grade Harold A. Garman dove into the Seine River in France to pull a boat of wounded soldiers to safety amid enemy machine-gun fire.

Garman joined the Army in Albion, Illinois, in 1942. By Aug. 25, 1944, he was a private serving as a medic in Company B, 5th Medical Battalion, 5th Infantry Division in Montereau, France. For his actions that day, he received the Medal of Honor on March 29, 1945.

According to Garman's Medal of Honor citation, the enemy opened fire with a machine gun on a boatload of wounded soldiers just as the boat reached the middle of the Seine. The men in the boat jumped into the water — except for one, who was too badly wounded.

Two of those in the water couldn't swim because of their wounds, so they clung to the sides of the boat. When Garman saw the wounded soldiers were in extreme danger, he jumped into the river and towed the boat to safety as the Germans continued to fire.

"This soldier's heroism not only saved the lives of the three patients, but so inspired his comrades that additional boats were immediately procured and the evacuation of the wounded resumed," the citation continued.

Garman died at age 74 on Aug, 13, 1992, and is buried in Albion.

Did You Know?

Combat medics were the first to answer the call for aid during the war. Their main objective was to help the wounded as quickly as possible and move the wounded away from the front lines. Medics would often come under fire as they evaluated the patient, applied a tourniquet, administered morphine for pain, and cleaned wounds. When that happened, the medics would drag the patient to safety.

It's estimated that 830,000 medic cards were distributed to personnel throughout World War II. Physicians, dentists, nurses and combat medics, such as Garman, cared for about 14 million patients during that time.

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Are you a visionary? 6 traits every strong vision shares

There’s a reason many of the most successful businesses in America – Apple, Amazon and others – had a visionary leader behind them, propelling them to achieve their goals at the highest level.

“A vision pushes people not just to do more, but to do more than they think they are capable of,” says Oleg Konovalov (www.olegkonovalov.com), a global thought leader and consultant who has worked with Fortune 500 companies and is author of the new book Leaderology.

Yet, even though everyone does a lot of talking about the importance of vision, he says, it’s not easy to fully grasp just what it is.

“I’ve discussed vision with CEOs of big companies, serial entrepreneurs, creators of unique software, and many others,” Konovalov says. “Every single person with whom I have spoken viewed vision differently. But in the course of all these discussions I discovered that there were some properties of a strong vision that remained constant.”

Vision reflects the highest purpose of leadership. A leader’s vision should include actual benefits for those affected by the vision, such as employees, customers, the leaders themselves, employees’ families and society at large. “A main stimulus of vision is people and the care of their needs,” he says. “If a vision is not formed around people and their needs, then it is not vision but personal ambition.”

Vision doesn’t lead to dead ends. A vision is always scalable and should show multiple potentials for expansion, Konovalov says. “But to be able to scale the vision you should maintain an appropriate cognitive distance from it,” he says. “This allows you to see the broader picture while keeping the important details in sight. Stand too close and you see the details, but lose the whole picture. Stand too far away and you lose the important details from which the vision is created.”

Vision reveals a path to success. As you pursue your vision, watch for the signs and clues that will help lead you to success. “They will be easy to follow if the vision is strong,” Konovalov says. “Those signs are always around in different forms – words of encouragement, expressions of real need from strangers, and answers to critical questions coming from unexpected perspectives.” Paying attention to such signs helps people spot opportunities while crafting the most effective path to success, he says.

Vision means taking on responsibility. If you’re the person with a vision, you are taking on a responsibility that will have an impact on people’s lives. “And the greater the vision is, the greater the responsibility,” Konovalov says. “But this huge responsibility also comes with incredible opportunities, the kind of opportunities available only to pioneers. It may be intimidating to take on all that responsibility, but it will reward you in return.”

Vision should be easy to understand. “Vision involves elegant thinking about complicated things,” Konovalov says. But that doesn’t mean the vision itself should be so complex that everyone is left puzzling over what you’re saying. Just the opposite. “Great vision is genuinely easy to understand,” he says. “The simpler the vision is in its core meaning, the easier it can be shared with employees, customers, and partners.”

Vision generates excitement. A person with a vision isn’t nonchalant about it. Strong vision is always accompanied by excitement. “Actually, vision is a strong emotion itself,” Konovalov says. “If someone tells you about his great vision and he sounds ho-hum about it, then most likely he is lying to himself and others. Such a person might have a goal, but they don’t have a vision.”

Vision is a great leadership ability and success instrument, Konovalov says.

“Vision defines and explains why and where effort should be focused,” he says. “And while vision is normally created by a single person, it quickly becomes the property of many, and that’s important.

“No one can accomplish something great on his or her own. Vision is what attracts the people needed to take what you want to accomplish and turn it into a reality.”

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Social Security Matters

By AMAC Certified Social Security Advisor Russell Gloor

Association of Mature American Citizens

Ask Rusty – Working at 65, So What About Medicare?

Dear Rusty: My husband turns 65 in December of this year, but he is employed and will be on his employer's health insurance at least through this school year (May 2020). How should we inform Medicare of this situation and must we let Medicare know that he is presently insured by BCBS? When must we let Medicare know about these details? I know there is a certain window when no health questions are asked but what is that time frame? If my husband quits teaching in May, when does he let Medicare know he wants to start Part A and B in June 2020 ? Is there only open enrollment in the 3-month window of his birthday? Signed: Confused by Medicare

Dear Confused: If your husband has creditable healthcare coverage from his employer, he need not enroll in Medicare when he turns 65. His creditable employer coverage will exempt him from a late enrollment penalty when he enrolls in Medicare Part B (or D) later (“creditable” coverage is a group plan with at least 20 participants). When his employer coverage ends he will enter a Special Enrollment Period (SEP) which will last for 8 months from the date his employer coverage ends. As long as he enrolls in Medicare Part B before his SEP expires, your husband will not incur a late enrollment penalty. To sign up for Part B shortly before his employer coverage ends or during the 8 months after his employer ends, he should complete and submit an Application for Enrollment in Part B (CMS-40B) and a Request for Employment Information (CMS-L564), both of which can be found at this website: https://www.cms.gov/Medicare/CMS-Forms/CMS-Forms/CMS-Forms-List.html.

Your husband may want to enroll in Part B prior to his employment coverage ending in order to avoid a lapse in healthcare coverage (it usually takes a couple months for Medicare Part B to become effective). Note that unless your husband is contributing to a Health Savings Account (HSA), he may wish to enroll in Medicare Part A at age 65. Medicare Part A (hospitalization coverage) is free if your husband is also eligible for Social Security, and he will need to be enrolled in Part A in order to enroll in Part B (doctors and outpatient services) and Part D (prescription drug coverage), both of which have a premium associated with them. He will also need to be enrolled in Part A to collect Social Security after age 65.

If your husband is already collecting Social Security when he turns 65, he will be automatically enrolled in both Part A and Part B, but he can, if desired, decline Part B until his employer coverage ends. Please also note that if your husband wishes Part D prescription drug coverage (provided by private insurance carriers) he must enroll in a plan within 63 days of his existing employer drug coverage ending to avoid a Part D late enrollment penalty. After age 65, one cannot go more than 63 days without creditable prescription drug coverage without incurring a late enrollment penalty for enrolling in a Part D plan later.

For your awareness, if your husband does not enroll in Medicare before his SEP expires, he will not be able to enroll again until the General Enrollment Period (GEP) the following year (the GEP runs from January through March of each year, for coverage to start on July 1 of that year). I suggest your husband enrolls in Medicare a couple months before his employment ends (to avoid a lapse in coverage), but in any case he should not miss enrolling during the special enrollment period, because the late enrollment penalties are significant and are recurring (he’ll pay the premium penalty for the rest of his life).

Finally, there is no “window” for qualifying medical questions to be asked when enrolling in Medicare; everyone who is eligible by virtue of paying FICA payroll taxes, or via a spouse who did so, is covered regardless of their current health.

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Pansies Add Color and Interest to Every Occasion

By MELINDA MYERS

Pick a few pansy flowers and add a smile to any occasion. No matter where you live, pansies provide color, and in some cases, fragrance to the garden and containers during the cooler months of the year.

Pick a few flowers and freeze them in ice cube trays to serve in your favorite beverage. Or float them on top of your favorite seasonal punch. They will brighten any occasion, especially when snow is in the forecast.

Set a few flowers on a bed of greens for unique flavor and added color. Or garnish your entrée. Just be sure to tell your guests the flowers are edible. Otherwise you will end up with a pile of pansies at the edge of each plate.

Decorate cookies and cakes to make any dessert extra special. The cheerful flowers will generate happy thoughts and for some of us, a way to enjoy the last of this season’s garden.

Make crystallized sugar pansies. Beat an egg white until it is foaming. Add water as needed to make the glaze easier to spread. Paint each blossom then sprinkle with sugar.

Only use pansies and other edible flowers that have not been treated with pesticides. Removing the reproductive parts in the center of the flower helps eliminate some of the bitter flavor.

Complete the setting with a pumpkin planter. Cut a hole in the top of the planter just large enough for the pot of pansies to fit through. Punch a couple drainage holes in the bottom and set your pansy plant inside. Place your pumpkin planter on a decorative plate to protect your tabletop.

Purchase a few extra pansies and create a special planter to show your appreciation to the teachers in your life.

You’ll need 2 yardsticks, a 4” x 4” wooden planter box, a potted pansy and saucer that will fit inside the planter box. Gather your glue gun and glue sticks, sandpaper and a hobby knife to create your gift.

Cut the yardsticks into 4” lengths and sand the cut edges smooth. Glue the yardstick pieces vertically and next to each other onto all four sides of the planter. Set the saucer in the bottom of the planter box and place the potted pansy on top of it.

Your project is complete and sure to make the teacher’s day while creating a fun memory with the youngsters in your life.

Pansies can add a fun twist to any celebration, appreciation gift or meal. So, get creative and make your next occasion stand out with the pansy flower.

But, her ring was safe

Her boyfriend told her to swallow her engagement ring to keep it safe from “bad guys.” At least, that’s what happened in the dream that Jenna Evans had that fateful night. But when she woke up the next morning the ring was not on her finger and Jenna recalled the dream and knew it was in her stomach. As she put it in an interview with KGTV in San Diego, “When I woke up and it was not on my hand, I knew exactly where it was. It was in my stomach." She underwent surgery to retrieve the ring.

Another dream job

It’s a dream job for any football freak, getting paid to go to every home game your favorite team plays. In this case, the home team is the Los Angeles Rams. California’s Golden Road Brewing is offering to pay a Ram’s fan $150 per game. All the lucky new employee would have to do is promote the company’s products, especially its new Whose House?! Blonde Ale. The lucky applicant will have the title of Chief Beer Officer.

How safe can sleep-driving be

Technically, there is no law on the books in Massachusetts that prohibits falling asleep at the wheel if you’re traveling in a self-driving car, according to Boston’s WBZ-TV. At least, that’s what the station’s news report claimed recently. It seems that Dakota Randall was driving on the Mass Pike recently and spotted a Tesla on the road. As he passed the car he made a double take when he saw the driver and a passenger were apparently sound asleep. Randall told WBZ "it was just so bizarre that I just had to get it on video… They looked like they needed to go home and go to bed."

Rain forest inferno

Massive fires in the Brazilian Amazon are a threat not only to the invaluable biodiversity the rainforest holds but also to human health and the warming climate. The moist tinder from the forests are more likely than drier materials to release toxic fumes; by attaching to particles of soot, such toxins can spread far from where the fires occur. “Depending on the meteorological conditions, these particles can be blow thousands of miles,” said Reto Gieré, an environmental scientist at the University of Pennsylvania. In addition, the fires are releasing carbon dioxide and trapping heat in the upper reaches of the atmosphere, potentially worsening climate change, and, once the trees are gone, leading to soil erosion. “Sediments can enter the streams and rivers,” potentially impacting aquatic plants and animals.

Competition & exercise

Adding a competitive element can motivate people to exercise more. A new study from the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine followed 600 people in a personalized fitness program with game-like elements and found that competition was more effective than social support or collaboration for increasing daily step counts. “Gamification and wearable devices are used commonly in workplace wellness programs and by digital health applications, but there is an opportunity to improve their impact on health behaviors by better incorporating behavioral insights and social incentives,” said researcher Mitesh Patel.

U.S. health care

There are “inevitable moral choices that come with tremendous medical progress," according to a new book, Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven But Nobody Wants to Die. The authors, Amy Gutmann and Jonathan Moreno, argue that Americans should have universal, affordable access to health care: “Until we make universal access to basic health care a reality while controlling costs, we will continue to have among the lowest life expectancies and highest infant mortality rates of any industrialized nation,” Gutmann said. “It turns out that increased access and affordability of health care actually can go together.” Gutmann is a political scientist and president of the University of Pennsylvania, and Moreno is a Penn expert on medical ethics and health policy.

Children & languages

Why do children learn languages more easily than adults? The human brains hold two types of long-term memory: procedural or knowing how, and declarative or knowing that. Researchers have found that adults learning a second language appear to store both its rules and words in their declarative memory, while native speakers file the rules in their procedural memory and words in their declarative memory. Linguistics expert Kathryn Schuler, through her Child Language Lab at the University of Pennsylvania, is working to understand that relationship. “We might be able to find a way we can force adults back into using their procedural memory circuit so they can achieve higher levels of proficiency. That would be the dream,” she said.

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Are you an overprotective parent? 4 ways to let go and let your child grow

Good parents want to be involved in their children’s lives, but for years educators and psychologists have been asking the question: How much parental involvement is too much? When does trying to help your children in school, sports, and myriad other ways go too far, hurt their development, and become over-protective?

The explosive college admissions scandal seemed to answer that question. Television actress Felicity Huffman was sentenced to jail for paying $15,000 to influence the boosting of her daughter’s SAT score. Fourteen other parents in the probe have also pleaded guilty.

While most parents don’t cross that legal line, early education expert Christine Kyriakakos Martin says too much parental involvement can be harmful in a variety of ways, sometimes leading to children becoming ill-prepared for the challenges of adulthood.

“The consequences of being an overprotective parent is that your child will lack self-confidence to make decisions and take risks,” says Martin (www.youvegotthisparenting.com), author of You’ve Got This! Keys To Effective Parenting For The Early Years. “They’ll lack the coping skills to get up when they fall down from a bad experience and try again.”

Martin offers four ways for parents to stop being overprotective and promote more strength and independence in their children:

Stop teaching fear. While there are non-negotiables when it comes to teaching your child safety — for example: wearing a helmet when biking, no talking to strangers, no texting when driving — Martin says sometimes parents overprotect when they create too many boundaries, which in turn may teach children to live fearfully. “When you don’t allow them to play outside much, you’re impeding their freedom,” Martin says. “Play develops the imagination and self-confidence. Overprotective parents don’t want their children to fall down, and getting back up and brushing themselves off is a necessary component for healthy growth and development.”

Don’t be their full-time problem-solver. Martin says many parents want to take care of all of their chidlrens’ problems and make things easier for them. At some point that needs to stop, she says, because adult life is rife with adversity and unforeseen obstacles that we must learn to deal with independently. “Teaching children problem-solving skills encourages them to be independent,” Martin says. “Learning to resolve conflict on their own and work through problems builds resilience and teaches them how to handle adversity.”

Teach responsibility. “If you make their beds and clean their room, you’re doing them a great disservice,” Martin says. “It’s about learning early lessons in responsibility. Doing these things for a prolonged time can debilitate your child and set them up for a lack of life skills as adults. Let your child take on reasonable responsibilities and let them feel a sense of accomplishment.”

Let them branch out. Sometimes parents develop a comfort zone with their child’s pursuits and restrict them when the child wants to expand. “Let your child have some freedom to make some of their own decisions about their interests,” Martin says. “Interests change, and the more varied experiences they have, the better for their ability to make decisions and adapt to different situations.”

“Parents are right to protect their children in a dangerous world,” Martin says. “But having them grow up in a bubble hurts them and their ability to deal with the world as adults. The best thing you can do for your children is to find that balance between protecting them and teaching them to be strong and self-sufficient.”

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Use your head: What you need to know when considering a hair transplant

It’s a sad fact of male adult life: Many American men start losing their hair by the age of 35, statistics show.

Going bald can be a blow to the male ego, but rather than pull out their remaining follicles in frustration, more men are turning to hair transplant surgery. But with the industry growing rapidly in response to high demand, some transplant specialists say patients can be misled or confused amidst the mass of marketing and information. Some have been disappointed by the result; according to the International Society of Hair Restoration Surgery (ISHRS), 64% of men having hair transplants were disappointed with their hair density after their procedure. Other common complaints include unnatural design of hairline, unnatural angling of hairs, and more visible, unnatural grafts.

A hair transplant can cost between $10,000-$25,000, so specialists emphasize that patients need to educate themselves before taking that leap.

“Hair restoration or transplant surgery is a medical specialty,” says

Dr. Christopher Varona (www.varonahairrestoration.com), a hair restoration specialist and the owner of Varona Hair Restoration in Newport Beach, Calif. “Many people aren’t aware of the possible pitfalls. A botched procedure can be worse than going bald.

“There are many factors that go into it, and certain procedures aren’t for everybody. But if you do your homework, you can have a great outcome.”

Dr. Varona suggests that anyone considering whether a hair transplant is right for them should:

Research non-surgical options first. “Surgery should be considered only as a last resort if other methods have failed to achieve the desired result,” Dr. Varona says. “First visit your regular doctor to discuss medical options, such as Rogaine and Propecia, the FDA-approved medical therapies for treating hair loss. PRP (platelet-rich plasma) treatments for the scalp are also gaining popularity.”

Research hair transplant physicians. Prospective patients should ask physicians for examples of before-and-after hair transplant results. Investigate their reputation and read patient reviews. “Patients who prefer a certain technique need to make sure the surgeon is experienced in that method,” Dr. Varona said. “For example, FUE transplants are very popular right now because of the minimal scarring. But it’s a totally different skill set than a traditional FUT (strip) surgery. And remember, if a surgeon focuses solely on hair transplantation, they’re typically more knowledgeable and experienced in it than a surgeon who does it almost as a sideline, which many do.”

Have specific questions for the consult. Dr. Varona says it’s critical for patients to get answers to questions about others involved in the surgical process. “Patients need to ask, ‘Who is doing the actual FUE extractions of grafts during the FUE procedure?’ “ he says. “If it is not the doctor doing the surgery, why not, and who is? And what are that person’s qualifications?”

Have a first-visit checklist. “The doctor should ask about medical history, and they should explain the entire hair transplant procedure, which technique is right for the patient and why, and examine the donor area,” Dr. Varona says. “You want to make sure the surgery being proposed to you is done with your best interest in mind, and not the bias of the clinic trying to sell you a surgery.”

Have realistic expectations. “Sometimes a patient’s ideal image is not a realistic image for their particular case,” Dr. Varona says. “Patients must realize that hair restoration is a limited procedure due to finite resources. Once hair is used, it cannot be reused, and more hair cannot be generated.”

“Surgical hair restoration is a very serious decision that should not be taken lightly,” Dr. Varona says. “The planning for such a procedure is perhaps one of the most important undertakings you will ever do.”

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Know Your Military

Medal of Honor: Army Pvt. John Towle

BY KATIE LANGE

You never know how service members will react in war. Will they freeze up, or push through the chaos?

For World War II Army Pvt. John Towle, it was the latter. The 19-year-old soldier single-handedly took out nine Germans and two armored tanks, saving the lives of his fellow soldiers, but losing his own.

Towle was born in Cleveland on Oct. 19, 1924. One of five siblings, he apparently quit high school early to help his family pay the bills.

Towle joined the Army in March 1943, a few months after he turned 18. He volunteered to become a paratrooper and was assigned to the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment in the famed 82nd Airborne Division. He served in North Africa and Italy before being sent to Europe where the Allies had just gotten a foothold on the continent.

According to a 2015 article in Cleveland's The Plain Dealer newspaper, Towle wrote about training as a paratrooper in one of his letters home: "Well, the first jump is over, and I landed like a feather. You have no sensation of falling at all. I've seen some beautiful things in this world, but, oh brother, nothing can compare with that big, white, silk, beautiful chute," Towle said.

Parachutists jump from airplanes while dozens of others drift toward a field below.

Towle was only 19 when he made his one and only combat jump. On Sept. 17, 1944, he successfully landed in Holland with about 20,000 other Allied paratroopers as part of Operation Market Garden, the largest airborne operation in history. The goal — to take strategic positions from the Nazis in preparation for the invasion of Germany.

Towle and the rest of the 82nd Airborne spent the next several days battling their way through Holland. Eventually, they reached the town of Nijmegen, where they were able to secure the Nijmegen Bridge over the Waal River.

On Sept. 21, 1944, Towle's rifle company was in a defensive position on the western side of the bridge when about 100 enemy soldiers, two tanks and a half-track vehicle with wheels in the front and tank-like tracks in the back began to attack.

Towle, who was a rocket launcher gunner, knew it would be a disaster for his company and the entire bridgehead if the Germans broke through. So, without orders, he got out of his foxhole and moved 200 yards through intense fire to an exposed dike roadbed.

From there, Towle was able to fire his bazooka and hit both tanks. They weren't heavily damaged, but the strikes did make them withdraw. Towle then turned his attention to nine German soldiers who had fled into a nearby house for cover. He shot his rocket launcher, killing all nine.

Towle quickly reloaded his weapon and ran 125 yards through enemy fire to another exposed position where he could get the half-track in his sites. He took a knee and was prepared to fire, but he was hit by a mortar shell and killed.

Towle's devotion to destroying the enemy saved the lives of several of his fellow soldiers and was instrumental in stopping the enemy attack. For his dedication, Towle was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor on March 15, 1945. He was buried in Calvary Cemetery in his hometown.

In the decades since his passing, Towle's sacrifice hasn't been forgotten. The supply ship USNS John Towle and Fort Bragg's Towle Stadium were named in his honor. His name is also inscribed on a memorial beside a bridge built over the Waal River, where the 504th was said to have crossed during their trek toward Germany.

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The USS New York, a city on the sea

Its motto is simple and powerful: "Strength forged through sacrifice. Never forget."

The U.S. Navy's USS New York, an instrument of freedom and peace, was commissioned Nov. 7, 2009, in New York City. Cutting through the water with a bow forged from 7.5 tons of World Trade Center steel, the USS New York carries much more than just the name of the Big Apple wherever it travels.

Intrepid Mission

This sleek San Antonio-class landing platform, dock vessel has the primary mission of carrying Marines and equipment anywhere in the world. It can remain under the radar and place many Marines on the beach very quickly to build combat power ashore before the enemy is even aware.

The USS New York is a San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock ship that has much in common with its bustling namesake. And to the sailors aboard, it is their city on the seas.

• Length - 684 ft.

• Beam -105 ft.

• Speed - 22+ knots

Heavy Responsibility

The skipper may be in charge of any ship, but the USS New York or any other Navy ship doesn't sail without boatswain's mates.

Boatswains, or "bosun" and "boats" as they are known in the Navy, form the core of a ship's manpower. These sailors are in charge of how the ship runs by taking care of the entire ship, performing many of the crucial tasks required to put and keep it underway.

Boatswain is the original "rate," or job, from which all others diverged as sailors' duties became more specialized.

These crew members are still known for taking care of the overall ship from top to bottom and performing many of the crucial tasks to put and keep a ship underway.

Never Forget

Anyone who boards the USS New York will, as the ship's motto says, "Never Forget." Reminders of Sept. 11, 2001, extend beyond the ship's bow, built with 7.5 tons of World Trade Center steel.

Even the ship's daily prayer ritual—the chaplain chooses the name of someone who died in the attacks to honor—makes it impossible to forget.

"You can't help when you walk around the ship to notice all the things meant to remind you of why you serve," says Command Master Chief Petty Officer Ben Hodges

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Bold and beautiful alliums for every garden

By MELINDA MYERS

Short or tall, big or small, ornamental alliums are a treat for flower gardeners and for butterflies, bees and other pollinators. Plant the bulbs in fall and enjoy months of colorful spring and summer blooms – this year, and for years to come.

Just like their relatives, onions and chives, ornamental alliums are easy to grow and trouble free. Pest, diseases and even deer don’t bother them. Most types are reliably perennial and winter hardy in zones three to eight. Alliums prefer well-drained soil and full sun, though they will also grow in partial shade.

You can choose flowers that are white, yellow, pink, purple or even blue. All are long lasting and combine nicely with other perennials. They are also excellent cut flowers. When alliums finish blooming, their foliage fades away quickly, so surrounding flowers can take center stage.

Alliums bloom at different times during the growing season, starting with early spring and continuing to midsummer. Consult Longfield Gardens’ allium bloom time chart (longfield-gardens.com) for help choosing which alliums you want to plant in various spaces around your yard and garden, or in containers.

Plant Allium hollandicum ‘Purple Sensation’ for a burst of color just prior to peony bloom. These raspberry-violet globes measure 3 to 4-inches across and are held high on 3-foot stems that rise above most newly emerging perennials. The bulbs are inexpensive, so it’s affordable to create large displays. Plus, they multiply over time, so are a great choice for naturalizing.

Be sure to include some show stopping Globemaster alliums. These flowers are the size of bowling balls, on sturdy, three-foot-tall stems. Bloom time is the same as most peonies, which make excellent companions. The dried seed heads are striking when left in the garden and will usually last into early autumn.

Shorter but just as impressive, allium christophii has eight-inch diameter flowers atop 12- to 18-inch-tall stems. The spiky, violet–pink blossoms have a silvery sheen that adds to the stunning appearance. Plant the bulbs in flower beds, along pathways and in rock gardens where their late spring blooms can be admired close-up. Allow the dried seed heads to remain in the garden for months of added interest.

Plant the drumstick allium, Allium sphaerocephalon, amongst ornamental grasses or allow it to grow up through other perennials. The two-toned, raspberry and green flowers have long, slender stems and are a fabulous addition to early summer arrangements. Drumstick alliums will self-sow, so they’re ideal for naturalizing.

Add an exotic look to the late spring garden with allium bulgaricum, also known as Nectaroscordum siculum or Sicilian honey garlic. The sprays of dangling, cream and burgundy florets have a look that’s completely different from other alliums. Plant them in flower gardens, informal naturalized areas and cutting gardens. They will return to bloom again year after year.

Once you start growing ornamental alliums, you’ll find yourself looking for more varieties and more ways to include these beauties in the landscape. Their long-lasting, pollinator-friendly blossoms and easy-care nature make them a good choice for any gardener.

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From the files of the FBI

Employee at U.S. military base admits to accepting bribes and kickbacks

NEWARK, N.J. – A civilian employee of Picatinny Arsenal (PICA) and an employee of a defense contractor admitted their roles in conspiring with others to receive bribes and other gratuities in return for assistance with the awarding of government contracts, U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito announced.

Robert Dombroski, 64, of Branchville, New Jersey, a high ranking civilian employee at PICA, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge John Vazquez in Newark federal court to an information charging him with conspiring to commit wire fraud in order to accept or receive things of value in return for favorable assistance with government contracts and with making false claims against the United States.

Indra Nayee, 53, of Metuchen, New Jersey, pleaded guilty before Judge Vazquez to an information charging him with conspiring to give, offer or promise anything of value to a public official and to make false claims against the United States.

According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court:

Dombroksi worked at PICA, a U.S. Army installation in Morris County, New Jersey, for more than 30 years. PICA conducts research, development, acquisition and lifecycle management of advanced conventional weapons systems and advanced ammunitions and provides products and services to all branches of the U.S. military. Dombroski admitted that from at least January 2010 through December 2017, he conspired with other employees at PICA, with Subsystems Technology (STI) – a defense contracting firm that works with PICA and specializes in advanced engineering, advanced analytics, management consulting and IT services, including cyber-security – and employees of STI. He conspired to seek and accept gifts and other items of value, such as Apple products, luxury handbags, Beats headphones, and tickets to a luxury sky box at professional sporting events, valued at least $150,000 to $250,000, from STI in exchange for assistance in obtaining and retaining government contracts and other favorable assistance at PICA. He also admitted that in order to cover up his crimes, he filed false statements to the Department of Defense by failing to list the items of value he received from STI on his annual confidential financial disclosure form known as an OGE Form 450.

Nayee, an employee of STI, admitted that from January 2012 through December 2016, he conspired with STI and other employees of STI to offer gifts and other items of value to numerous individuals employed at PICA in order to obtain and retain contracts and other favorable assistance at PICA. He also admitted that he and other employees at STI, and the company, submitted false bills to the United States writing off the cost of the bribes as “materials” needed on United States government contracts, when in fact the gifts and other items of value were for the personal use and enjoyment of the employees at PICA and not for any legitimate government purpose.

The conspiracy charge to which Dombroski and Nayee pleaded guilty carries a maximum potential penalty of five years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000 or twice the gross gain or loss associated with the offense, whichever is greatest. Sentencing for Dombroski is scheduled for Nov. 19, 2019, and sentencing for Nayee is scheduled for Dec. 16, 2019.

U.S. Attorney Carpenito credited special agents of the FBI, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Gregory W. Ehrie in Newark; the U.S. Department of Defense, Defense Criminal Investigative Service, under the direction of Leigh-Alistair Barzey, Special Agent in Charge, DCIS Northeast Field Office; and the U.S. Army, Major Procurement Fraud Unit, Criminal Investigation Command, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge L. Scott Moreland, with the investigation leading to today’s guilty pleas.

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Corrections officer sentenced for scheme to smuggle opioids into MCI-Norfolk

BOSTON — A former corrections officer at the Massachusetts Correctional Institute facility in Norfolk (MCI-Norfolk) was sentenced in federal court in Boston in connection with a conspiracy to smuggle Suboxone strips into the facility for an inmate.

Steven J. Frazer, 29, of Cumberland, R.I., was sentenced by U.S. Senior District Court Judge George A. O’Toole Jr. to 30 days in prison, two years of supervised release and ordered to pay forfeiture of $2,500. In May 2019, Frazer pleaded guilty to an Information charging him with one count of conspiracy to possess a controlled substance with intent to distribute.

Beginning around Nov. 14, 2018, Frazer, who was working as a corrections officer, arranged with a cooperating witness to smuggle Suboxone strips into MCI-Norfolk to sell to inmates. Suboxone is a Class III controlled substance used to treat heroin addiction, but some people abuse it to get high. It is coveted as contraband in prisons across the nation and particularly in New England.

Around midnight on Sunday, Nov. 18, 2018, the cooperating witness met Frazer in a South Attleboro parking lot and provided him with 40 Suboxone strips, 24 pages of K2 (a synthetic cannabinoid, which is more powerful and more dangerous than marijuana), and $2,500 in cash. After the meeting – which was audio and video recorded by law enforcement – federal agents arrested Frazer.

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Leader of armed robbery crew sentenced to 41 years

TAMPA, Fla. — United States District Judge William F. Jung has sentenced Rashid Iman Turner to 41 years in federal prison for his involvement in a string of armed robberies of banks and retail stores. Turner was also ordered to pay $103,782.78 in restitution to the victims. A federal jury had found Turner guilty on May 29, 2019.

According to evidence presented at trial, in August and October 2017, Turner and co-defendant Petrie Addison robbed Family Dollar and Dollar General stores in Lehigh Acres. In both retail robberies, shortly after closing time, Turner and Addison held the employees at gunpoint, threatened to kill them and their families, forced them to open the safes, and stole cash from the stores. Co-defendant Dakiriya Lias served as their getaway driver for the Dollar General robbery.

In November 2017, Turner and Addison robbed a Wells Fargo Bank in Spring Hill. And, in December 2017, co-defendant Zachary Gloster joined Turner and Addison and they robbed Seacoast Banks in Arcadia and Port St. Lucie. In each of the bank robberies, the defendants stormed through the bank’s front doors shortly after opening time, held the employees at gunpoint, looted the teller drawers, and fled less than two minutes later.

Addison, Gloster, and Lias pleaded guilty for their roles in this case prior to Turner’s trial. This morning, Gloster was sentenced to 20 years in prison for his role. Addison and Lias are currently awaiting sentencing.

This case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, with assistance from the Ft. Myers Police Department, the Lee County Sheriff’s Office, the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office, the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office, the Florida Highway Patrol, the Arcadia Police Department, the Port St. Lucie Police Department, and the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office. It is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Michael M. Gordon.

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Young serial bank robber sent to prison

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — A 20-year-old resident of Wilmer has been ordered to federal prison for a significant amount of time after committing multiple bank robberies and brandishing a firearm during a crime of violence, announced U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Patrick.

Markeist Daquon Reed pleaded guilty June 17, 2019, to a total of three counts of bank robbery involving three different banks and one count of brandishing a firearm during a crime of violence.

Today, Senior U.S. District Judge John Rainey handed Reed a 63-month sentence for the robberies. He also received an additional 84 months for the firearms charge which must be served consecutively to the other sentence imposed. The sentences will be immediately followed by three years of supervised release. In handing down the more than 12-year sentence, the court noted how people were put in significant danger as a result of Reed’s actions during each of the robberies.

The charges stem from a series of bank robberies that occurred Oct. 5, Oct. 19 and Oct. 25, 2018, at the BB&T Bank on Park Lane in Dallas, Value Bank Texas on South Staples in Corpus Christi and BBVA Compass Bank on Ayers Street in Corpus Christi, respectively.

In each instance, a male - later identified as Reed - entered the banks and approached an employee demanding money. During the last robbery, Reed carried with him and pointed an AK-47 style rifle as he demanded the money from the bank employee. Reed was later arrested during a traffic stop. At that time, law enforcement recovered the rifle and items linking him to the robberies.

Reed has been and will remain in custody pending transfer to a U.S. Bureau of Prisons facility to be determined in the near future.

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Man sentenced for role in armed gas station robberies

ALEXANDRIA, Va. – A Washington, D.C. man was sentenced to 23 years in prison for his participation in a string of armed robberies.

“Williams is a violent criminal whose callousness was on full display during the series of armed robberies,” said G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. “Our commitment to getting such violent criminals off of our streets is unwavering. I am grateful to our local and federal law enforcement partners who assisted in this investigation and whose diligence allowed us to prosecute the case successfully.”

According to court documents and evidence presented at trial, Kenya Preston Williams, 37, used a loaded semi-automatic handgun to commit eight robberies in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, including the robbery of an Exxon gas station in Alexandria and two different robberies of the same Shell gas station in Falls Church. Williams’ co-conspirator, Steven Oneil Houston, 26, of Oxon Hill, Maryland, previously pleaded guilty to charges of brandishing a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence.

“Today’s sentencing sends a clear message that violent criminals in our community cannot evade the law,” said Timothy M. Dunham, Special Agent in Charge, Criminal Division, FBI Washington Field Office. “The FBI Washington Field Office will work closely with our federal, state, and local law enforcement partners through our Safe Streets Violent Crime Task Force to continue to aggressively investigate violent crime in our area.”

This case is part of Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN), which is the centerpiece of the Department of Justice’s violent crime reduction efforts. PSN is an evidence-based program proven to be effective at reducing violent crime. Through PSN, a broad spectrum of stakeholders work together to identify the most pressing violent crime problems in the community and develop comprehensive solutions to address them. As part of this strategy, PSN focuses enforcement efforts on the most violent offenders and partners with locally based prevention and reentry programs for lasting reductions in crime.

G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, Timothy M. Dunham, Special Agent in Charge, Criminal Division, FBI Washington Field Office, and Colonel Edwin C. Roessler Jr., Fairfax County Chief of Police, made the announcement after sentencing by U.S. District Judge Anthony J. Trenga. Assistant U.S. Attorney Alexander E. Blanchard prosecuted the case.

The Alexandria City Police Department, Prince George’s County Police Department, and Metropolitan Police Department all provided significant assistance with this investigation.

This case was investigated by the FBI’s Washington Field Office Safe Streets Violent Crime Task Force, which is composed of FBI agents and law enforcement partners within the National Capital Region.

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Traveling bandit sentenced to over 15 years in prison for national bank robbery spree

Jason Lee Robinson, 40, of Pikesville, Kentucky, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Federico A. Moreno to 188 months in prison, after previously pleading guilty to committing a string of bank robberies across the country.

Ariana Fajardo Orshan, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida and George L. Piro, Special Agent in Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) made the announcement.

According to court documents, Robinson’s bank robbery spree began in South Florida on December 28, 2018, roughly one month after he was released from federal prison following a 2013 conviction for bank robbery. On December 28, 2018, Robinson robbed a Capital Bank in Aventura, Florida of approximately $1,900. On January 2, 2019, he robbed a SunTrust Bank in Arden, North Carolina of approximately $3,040. On January 4, 2019, he robbed a Mountain Commerce Bank in Johnson City, Tennessee of approximately $4,300. On January 8, 2019, he robbed a U.S. Bank in Mount Juliet, Tennessee of approximately $3,990. On January 10, 2019, he robbed a Trustmark Bank in Prattville, Alabama of approximately $6,560. On January 14, 2019, he robbed a Fifth Third Bank in Mount Vernon, Illinois of approximately $1,950. On January 17, 2019, he robbed a Wells Fargo Bank in Price Branch, Utah of approximately $2,269.

U.S. Attorney Fajardo Orshan commended the investigative efforts of the FBI in this matter. She thanked the FBI’s Field Offices in Charlotte, North Carolina; Knoxville, Tennessee; Memphis, Tennessee; Mobile, Alabama; Springfield, Illinois; Salt Lake City, Utah; Denver, Colorado and Louisville, Kentucky, for their assistance. This case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Lisa H. Miller and Michael B. Homer in the Southern District of Florida.

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Social Security Matters

By AMAC Certified Social Security Advisor Russell Gloor

Association of Mature American Citizens

Ask Rusty – Will My Husband’s Income Affect My Benefits?

Dear Rusty: Since it looks like a good option for me to retire at 62 and my husband (who is younger than me) to retire at 67, will the income he makes after I retire affect my benefit amount by way of income taxes if we continue to file jointly? Also, how would receiving an inheritance affect my benefit amount if I file at 62? Signed: Worried Spouse

Dear Worried: Your husband’s income won’t directly affect your monthly Social Security benefit payments at all, but it may affect the tax liability on your Social Security benefits. Only earnings from you working will affect your monthly Social Security benefits, but whether the benefits you receive become taxable income to the IRS depends upon the level of your “combined income” for your IRS filing status. “Combined income” is your Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) as reported to the IRS, plus any non-taxable interest you may have, plus 50% of your yearly Social Security benefits. This is also known as your “modified adjusted gross income” or “MAGI.”

If you file your income taxes as “married – filing jointly,” and your combined income for both you and your husband is more than $32,000, then up to 50% of your Social Security benefits will become taxable income. If your MAGI is over $44,000 then up to 85% of your Social Security benefits will become taxable. What that means in tax dollars depends upon your normal income tax rate as defined by the IRS. For information, the MAGI clip levels are lower when filing as an individual - if filing “single” MAGI over $25,000 means that up to 50% of Social Security benefits are taxable and MAGI over $34,000 means that up to 85% of Social Security benefits are taxable. But the advantages of filing jointly versus filing single usually more than offset the difference (though you may want to consult a tax advisor to confirm that).

As to your last question, an inheritance won’t affect your monthly Social Security benefit (only your earnings from working will affect your Social Security benefit), but if that inheritance is taxable by the IRS, then the portion of your Social Security benefits which are taxable could be affected, as described above.

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Opioid use

Patients in the U.S. and Canada are seven times more likely to receive an opioid prescription after surgery than patients in Sweden. That's the conclusion of researchers from the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, who also found that while the U.S. and Canada have similar opioid prescription rates, U.S. patients tend to receive higher doses of medication. “Our findings reveal stark differences in prescribing practices across the three countries and suggest real opportunities to encourage more judicious use of opioids before and after surgery for patients in the United States and Canada,” said researcher Mark D. Neuman.

Farm of the future

Veterinary researchers are developing a “farm of the future” that can help make U.S. pig farming more sustainable. A goal of the University of Pennsylvania’s Swine Teaching and Research Center is to reshape the environmental and social impacts of raising swine using humane conditions and efficient resource usage. At Penn's New Bolton Center in Kennett Square, Pa., for example, a model pig farm includes free-roaming sows implanted with RFID chips that allow them to receive personalized, pre-measured amounts of organic feed so that the animals do not have to compete with one another to eat.

Info gerrymandering

Social networks can impede the free flow of information. In what scientists have termed “information gerrymandering,” it’s not geographical boundaries that confer bias, but the structure of social networks, such as social media connections. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania and University of Houston conducted experiments with thousands of human subjects and analyzed a variety of real-world networks, finding examples of information gerrymandering on Twitter, in the blogosphere, and in U.S. and European legislatures. “People come to form opinions, or decide how to vote, based on what they read and who they interact with,” said Joshua Plotkin of Penn. “Information gerrymandering can induce a strong bias in the outcome of collective decisions. This tells us that we need to be cautious about relying on social media for communication because the network structure is not under our control and yet it can distort our collective decisions.”

It’s never too late

Ask any mother and she’ll tell you that birthing a baby is painful but a joy, nonetheless. Having twins, most would say, is twice the bliss and twice the hurt. But, the senior advocacy organization says the older the pregnant mother is, the more complicated and dangerous it can be. Apparently it didn’t faze 74-year-old Erramatti Mangayamma who gave birth to twins in India recently via a C-Section, making her the oldest woman on record to give birth to a baby — let alone twins. Her doctor said mother and daughters underwent the procedure without complications and are healthy and happy. Her husband, 80-year-old E. Raja Rao, who provided the sperm for Mrs. Mangayamma’s IVF pregnancy, is proof that you’re never too old.

What are the odds

An adventurous roller coast enthusiast at New Zealand’s Port Aventura theme park dropped his cell phone mid-ride and flew through the air. But, a passenger with quick reflexes riding in a car behind him managed to reach out and catch the phone as it flew through the air. The roller coaster, which was traveling at 80 MPH at the time, was equipped with a surveillance camera that caught the whole thing on video.

A “smart” move

Who needs a garage? As Hurricane Dorian approached Florida recently. Patrick Eldridge became concerned that its powerful winds could do major damage to his property-- particularly his car. Eldridge’s garage was overcrowded so he decided to bring his auto indoors and wound up parking it in his kitchen. Thank goodness it was small Smart Car.

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How to live life like you’re on a treasure hunt

Nearly everyone experiences it.

We get so caught up in our work or other day-to-day responsibilities that we overlook many of the world’s simple pleasures and intoxicating wonders.

But, when we pay attention, life can be an extraordinary treasure hunt that will lead us down paths we never imagined, says Sandra A. Miller (www.SandraAMiller.com), author of Trove: A Woman’s Search for Truth and Buried Treasure.

“Sometimes I will see people walking through the woods and they are texting, not noticing all the beauty around them,” Miller says. “It makes you realize that it's getting harder to spend even an hour without technology.”

She certainly has made the effort to untether herself. Miller’s memoir is about a midlife crisis as experienced through armchair treasure hunting, a hobby in which a person or group buries a treasure and sets up a series of clues and puzzles that will lead treasure hunters to it. The game entails getting out into the world and possibly even digging in the dirt.

But Miller says such organized treasure hunts also serve as a metaphor for what everyone needs to do more of – leave the digital world behind and explore the abundant riches that the real one provides.

Miller says she has found that a few ways to live life like you’re on a treasure hunt include:

Start each day with a prayer of gratitude. This doesn’t have to be a religious thing. Miller says it means savoring and showing appreciation for family and friendships; for the joy a favorite song brings; for every experience that teaches you a little more about yourself and the world; and for any small thing that might be insignificant to others, but holds meaning for you.

Engage with people, even strangers. Technology makes it easy these days to become isolated from others. “The antidote to that is putting down our phones, looking someone in the eye and saying, ‘How is your day going?’ ” Miller says. “If they don’t want to tell you, they won’t. But chances are, no one else has asked them. Who knows what treasures these conversations will reveal?”

Look for clues and signs everywhere. “I try to stay open to the found things on my path; from words, to signs, to love that announces itself to us in hundreds of ways each day,” Miller says. “That bird. That baby in the stroller. An early spring daffodil. I feel pleased with where I am in my life, and I’m not looking for something else to make me happy. But I still stay aware of all these treasures around me.”

Expect to always be on a search. One of the great things about living life like you’re on a treasure hunt is that the hunt never ends. “There is so much to search for,” Miller says, “and now more than ever we need to stay awake and alert to the beauty around us.”

“I think so many of us reach midlife and say, ‘Now what?’ ” Miller says. “In many cases, we have built strong careers and have disposable income. Often we even have time to travel or do the things we love, but we are still plagued by a sense of longing, which is different for everyone. Stay open to all the possibilities because the treasure you’re looking for is almost never where you expect to find it.”

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Worried about saving for college? Here are the key points to consider

As students head back to college, millions of parents are hoping their younger children someday can do the same.

With the high costs of college continuing to rise and many students and families saddled with heavy debt, saving for college has become as important as ever. Many people started savings plans early, while others either could not afford to or procrastinated.

The bottom line, says financial professional Alexander Joyce, is learning all the options that fit with a family’s financial situation.

“It’s never too late, but most people wish they had started sooner, and many don’t know what investment option is best for their college funding needs,” says Joyce, president/CEO of ReJoyce Financial LLC (www.ReJoyceFinancial.com) and author of ReJoyce In Your Retirement: Everything You Need To Know To Get Everything You Want.

“Be honest and realistic about the college part of your family financials, and from there you can decide on ways to get there in discussions with a planner.”

Joyce says the following points should be explored and evaluated before going forward with a college savings plan:

Your risk tolerance level. Before committing to a college savings plan, it’s important to determine how much you can afford to risk. “Just like anything in life, the higher the risk, the higher the potential reward,” Joyce says. “If you start very early you likely can go higher risk somewhere down the road. At the same time, risk tolerance — and protecting your principal — is very important because college savings is a usually more conservative investment; it’s a targeted investment, meaning you need an amount of money by a specific date.”

The pros and cons of 529 plans. The 529 plan is an immensely popular college savings tool. Among the benefits are tax-deferred growth and tax-free withdrawals when savings are used for qualified education expenses. And as of 2019, individuals can contribute up to $15,000 per 529 plan, per child annually without triggering a gift tax. However, there are some disadvantages, such as limited investment options and a 10 percent tax penalty applied when money in the account is used for non-qualified education expenses. “The 529 has traditionally been the way for many families, because you hear about it the most,” Joyce says. “But if you’re getting a late start on college savings, this may not be the plan for you. You may have to play catch-up by contributing larger amounts, and you also have a shorter window for seeing your investments recover from market volatility.”

Non-traditional college savings plans. “One of the best things some people can do is look outside the box of traditional planning vehicles,” Joyce says. “There’s a big argument for adding an additional level of equities — some say you would be better off buying a mutual fund or exchange-traded fund (ETF) to fund college. For example, with some funds averaging 10-15% in the market the last 10 years, those who did exceptionally well took more market risk, exposing the principal to loss or gain. On the other hand, perhaps try a Roth IRA — it could double as a college savings account as well as a retirement account. There’s no 10 percent penalty when Roth IRA withdrawals are used for qualified higher education expenses, but ordinary income tax may apply to any earnings withdrawn before the age of 59½.”

“When drawing a conclusion on a plan of action, stick to it the best you can,” Joyce says. “Consistency wins the race.”

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U.S. DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE

KNOW YOUR MILITARY

Medal of Honor: Marine Corps Capt. Everett Pope

BY KATIE LANGE

Marine Corps Capt. Everett Pope was a seasoned officer by the time he landed on the small Pacific island of Peleliu during World War II, but little prepared him for what it took to survive there. His leadership while fighting devastating odds earned him the Medal of Honor.

A Marine Corps major in full dress uniform wears the Medal of Honor around his neck.

Pope was born July 16, 1919, and grew up in Massachusetts, where he graduated from high school. He then attended Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, and spent his junior year studying abroad in France. By October 1939, he returned to the United States fully aware of the increasing crisis in Europe.

"We could see what [war] could do. It was devastating, the world the French were living in at that point," Pope recalled in an interview with the Library of Congress' Veterans History Project. "I didn't want to hang around and be drafted."

So, four days after graduating from college in 1941, Pope joined the Marine Corps as an officer candidate. He got his commission just before the Pearl Harbor attacks and, a few months later, was sent off to the Pacific to fight.

"I was fluent in French, so of course the Marine Corps sent me to the southwest Pacific," Pope joked.

Several Marines in combat dress lay low on a sandy beach with bombed-out trees in the background.

The 23-year-old was part of the 1st Battalion, 1st Marines Regiment, 1st Marine Division, which first saw action in Guadalcanal in August 1942. There, Pope said, they learned jungle warfare skills they would need over the next two years. By September 1944, Army Gen. Douglass MacArthur, who fled the Philippines before their capture by the Japanese in 1942, was ready to return to the islands to retake them. But he needed to secure his right flank first.

That meant capturing the Palau island group. On Sept. 15, 1944, the 1st Marine Division was sent to Palau's Peleliu island to take it from the Japanese. Pope was in command of a rifle company sent to secure the island's airfield, which happened fairly easily.

Seizing the rest of the island was a struggle. Pope said the terrain was all coral, rocks and 300- to 400-foot hills that were filled with caves and Japanese defensive positions.

An aerial view of a small island in which bombs can be seen blowing up behind an airfield and near heavily wooded ridges.

"I landed with a rifle company of about 235 men. Four days later … there were about 90 of us left," he said.

Pope rallied his troops to keep moving. On Sept 19, they scaled a steep coral hill that was being hammered by cannon, machine gun, mortar and sniper fire, and they took refuge on a flat area about the size of a tennis court.

"We were on a plateau with high ground dominating it, really, to the south, and the Japanese were able to fire down at us [on three sides]," he said. "We held that hill overnight, trying to protect the troops that were below us."

Pope's Marines fiercely fought back, even with rocks and hand-to-hand combat. But their ammunition quickly ran out, and they had little water to drink in the 115-degree weather. By daybreak, Pope said, he could see they were about to be overrun.

"We were ordered to withdraw at about the same time I decided we were going to get out of there," Pope said.

Of the 70 men who went up the hill with him, only eight came back down.

"A lot of brave Marines died on that hill," Pope said. "I can never forget it."

Men and tanks move toward a bombed-out ridge. A small lake is to their right.

The Cost of Peleliu

The Allies won the Battle of Peleliu, but at great cost. What leaders thought would only take a few days to secure took more than two months. It was one of the bloodiest campaigns of the Pacific, with a casualty rate exceeding all other amphibious operations in the region – 1,544 killed and 6,843 wounded, which accounted for 70 percent of Pope's 1st Marines Regiment.

"I was the only company commander in the regiment to come out of that island standing up," Pope said.

Nearly all of the 11,000 Japanese troops on the island were killed, too.

Pope's ability to lead despite the horrors of that campaign earned him the Medal of Honor. He was the first man to whom President Harry S. Truman presented the medal at the White House on June 15, 1945. He was also promoted to the rank of major.

A group, including four service members wearing Medals of Honor, stands on a lawn with President Harry S. Truman and their families.

Pope said he wore the medal to represent the heroes who didn't make it home.

"I was proud to receive the nation's highest award. I wasn't sure that I deserved it, but I was determined to wear it appropriately," Pope said. "It encouraged me to do serious things, to be helpful to my fellow Americans as best I could."

A Marine in dress uniform handles a folded U.S. flag with care as funeral attendees look on in the background.

After the war, Pope left the Marine Corps to raise two sons with his wife, Eleanor. He spent about three decades working as a banker in Boston before moving back to Maine to work at his alma mater, Bowdoin College.

Pope died July 16, 2009, on the morning of his 90th birthday and six months after his wife passed away. The couple was laid to rest together in Arlington National Cemetery.

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Medal of Honor: Army Lt. Gen. Jonathan Wainwright

BY KATIE LANGE

On Sept. 2, 1945, Army Lt. Gen. Jonathan Wainwright, a Medal of Honor recipient, was among the few U.S. military leaders aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay when Japan signed the surrender documents ending World War II.

Wainwright is lauded for defending the Philippines when they were overtaken by the Japanese and earned the nickname "Hero of Bataan."

Born in 1883 in Walla Walla, Washington, Wainwright was from a long line of military officers. He followed in his father's footsteps by joining the Army and graduated from West Point in 1906.

More than 30 years later, Wainwright was the 4th Army's commander in the Philippines when the U.S. entered World War II. After the Pearl Harbor attack, Army Gen. Douglas MacArthur — who was in charge of Pacific forces — was forced to flee the Philippine capital of Manila ahead of a Japanese invasion. So, in 1942, Wainwright became senior field commander of U.S. and Philippine forces and was tasked with defending the islands.

Army Lt. Gen. Jonathan Wainwright, thin and wearing a button-down shirt and khaki pants, sits at a small table in front of a microphone as he broadcasts a message surrendering to the Japanese. A Japanese man sits beside him, looking at papers on the table.

The battle for the Philippines was hard-fought and spanned several months. U.S. troops faced starvation, disease and rough jungle conditions after being cut off from supplies. Despite being advised to leave, Wainwright was authorized to continue the fight from the Bataan Peninsula. He fought alongside his men and often visited the front lines of battle.

The Philippines fell to the Japanese on April 9, 1942, but Wainwright and thousands of others survived and escaped to Corregidor, the last Allied stronghold in the island chain. There, they hid and dodged air bombardments for another month.

Wainwright finally surrendered the island to the Japanese on May 6, 1942. He and the remaining Allied troops were forced to join the Bataan Death March to prison camps in the Philippines and on other Japanese-held islands.

A soldier sitting in a chair at a table, signs the Japanese surrender document that ended World War II. Two other service members in dress uniform stand behind him near a microphone, and others stand off to the side.

Three years and three months later, in August 1945, Wainwright was released from a liberated prisoner-of-war camp. Two weeks later, he stood behind MacArthur on the USS Missouri when the general signed the Japanese surrender documents.

After that, Wainwright returned to the Philippines to witness the surrender of the local Japanese commander.

Wainwright considered himself a failure because he had surrendered, but in September 1945, he was promoted to four-star general and awarded the Medal of Honor. He received a hero's welcome when he returned to the United States.

A woman wearing a hat shakes a man’s hand behind a table with several tea kettles on it. A second man in uniform stands between them.

After the war, Wainwright commanded the 4th Army at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, before retiring from active duty in August 1947. He died in 1953 and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery. He was 70 years old.

In 1961, Alaska's Ladd Air Force Base, which had been an Army base during World War II, was returned to the Army and renamed Fort Wainwright.

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Medal of Honor: Marine Corps Sgt. Grant Timmerman

BY KATIE LANGE

Marine Corps Pfc. Grant Timmerman had already served plenty of time abroad when he was discharged from the military in late 1941. But Pearl Harbor happened five weeks after he got out, so he decided to join right back up.

Timmerman shipped out again for his country a short time later, and he never returned. But the actions he took to save his fellow Marines will always be remembered. They're what earned him the Medal of Honor.

Grant Frederick Timmerman was born in Americus, Kansas, on 19 February 1919. He received the Congressional Medal of Honor posthumously upon his death on 8 July 1944 at Saipan saving his tank crew from an enemy grenade. Timmerman Street on Marine Corps Base Quantico is named in his honor.

Timmerman was born in February 1919 in Americus, Kansas, where he grew up playing saxophone, hunting and learning Russian and French. He went to college for a year before moving to California to become a welder.

A few months later, in October 1937, he joined the Marine Corps. Timmerman was shipped to China on the USS Henderson, where he served as a truck driver and motorcycle dispatch rider. An incident in Shanghai during this time earned him a letter of appreciation from a U.S. Navy commander. The commendation came after Timmerman and another Marine found a woman being surrounded by a menacing-looking group, so they dispersed the angry crowd and waited for police to show up. It turned out the woman was the Navy commander's wife.

Five Marines wearing combat helmets and holding guns stand in a foxhole with sparse trees in the background.

Timmerman enjoyed being overseas and extended his tour of duty, but he found himself back in the states by the spring of 1941 and was discharged after four years of duty that October.

However, just five weeks later, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, catapulting the U.S. into World War II. Timmerman reenlisted two months later. By autumn, he was a 23-year-old sergeant being shipped to New Zealand to prepare for combat. He fought at the Battle of Tarawa during the conquest of Betio Island in the Gilbert Islands in November 1943. After getting some rest and relaxation and more training in Hawaii, he was sent back to the Pacific battlegrounds.

The Z-shaped Tarawa Atoll is seen from the sky with ocean all around it.

By the time the Marines landed in the Mariana Islands to fight for control of Saipan in June 1944, Timmerman was a tank commander with the 2nd Battalion, 6th Marines, 2nd Marine Division.

On July 8, 1944, Timmerman was moving his tank a few yards ahead of his infantrymen, steadily firing an antiaircraft machine gun during an attack on hostile positions. But their progress was impeded by a series of Japanese pillboxes and trenches.

Timmerman stopped the tank as he saw a target he could hit with the tank's 75 mm gun. He stood up in his exposed turret to warn the infantrymen around him of the gun's muzzle blast, telling them to hit the deck.

Marines hide behind sandbags during heavy combat beside a hill; one Marine’s hand is cocked backward, ready to launch a grenade into the distance. Sand is in the foreground; palm trees are in the background.

Four service members, two of whom are standing on a tank, look into the distance toward an island hill. Palm trees and sand surround them.

Right then, a Japanese grenade flew toward his open turret. Thinking quickly, Timmerman shielded the opening with his body and took the brunt of the blast to his chest. He was killed instantly.

By blocking the grenade, Timmerman saved the rest of the tank's crew. His sacrifice earned him the Medal of Honor a year later, on July 8, 1945. The medal was presented to his parents in their home during a quiet, informal presentation they requested.

Timmerman was initially interred in a cemetery in the Marianas, but he was moved and reburied at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu.

The USS Timmerman was named in his honor in 1946. Christened by his mother, the destroyer was used from 1952 to 1959. At Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia, Marines who have followed in his footsteps might recognize his name when they venture down Timmerman Street, behind the base commissary.

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How to make the mindset change that creates good habits — and success

Achieving success or struggling depends on many factors, but habits go a long way toward determining either outcome, research shows.

Breaking bad habits and cultivating good ones can be difficult, and willpower alone isn’t enough, says Ngan Nguyen (www.nganhnguyen.com), a leadership coach and author of Self-Defined Success: You Already Have Everything It Takes.

“You can’t create the life you want unless you replace bad habits, and that happens by developing a new mindset,” says Nguyen. “These are new thought processes that are linked to your new clarity of vision for your life.

“Usually, some sort of stimuli triggers our habits. Breaking a habit requires changing the action that we take when the stimuli appear. Repeated over and over, these new, more constructive thoughts and resulting positive actions automatically become the new habit.”

Nguyen offers the following tips to transform bad habits into good habits that lead to success.

Clarify your life vision. “Reassessing what we want out of life can provide a more efficient roadmap of goals and how to reach them,” Nguyen says. “Translate your longings and discontents into an actionable, crystallized vision that propels you forward. If you feel stuck, a powerful vision that’s in alignment with your core values is the most critical first step in liberating yourself and creating the results you want. Good habits flow from an energizing new life vision.”

Don’t let doubt or worry hold you back. “Distinguish between believing if you deserve to live your dream life, and whether or not it is possible,” Nguyen says. “You don’t want to talk yourself out of the vision you have crafted for your life based on whether or not you think it is possible. It is absolutely possible, because if you can imagine the outcome, then there is a way. Knowing that, your new habits stay consistent.”

Replace negative beliefs with positive, empowering thoughts. Nguyen says habits that hinder success often stem from negative thoughts. Some common ones are beliefs about ourselves, other people, money, and success. “People think, ‘I’m not good enough, not smart enough,’ or, ‘Other people will deceive me,’ and, ‘Money is scarce and hard to earn,’ ” Nguyen says. “Changing our beliefs to positive is what will allow us to access ideas and allow new positive perception to enter our consciousness. If we recognize that a thought doesn’t serve us, then we can choose to think differently when a stimulus to think negatively occurs. Over time, it becomes easier to think differently because new neural pathways are strengthened with our persistence.”

Analyze your stories. “Stories are how we live our lives,” Nguyen says. “The way we each live is guided by our beliefs, habits, values and emotions. It becomes destructive when patterns repeat in our lives that we do not desire, like always having problems with money or the inability to have a fulfilling relationship. If similar patterns play out that we do not like, we can identify what the underlying belief is by taking an objective look at the story.”

“It is when your beliefs, thoughts, and emotions completely align with the person who is living their new, clarified vision that the life they want becomes possible,” Nguyen says. “New, good habits become second nature, and while success is never automatic, good habits make it far more likely.”

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When tragedy strikes, should families of the accused also suffer?

When the most heinous crimes occur – murders, mass shootings, serial killings – much of the focus understandably turns to the victims and their grieving families who struggle to make sense of senseless violence.

But the perpetrators have families, too, who often are horrified and guilt-ridden by what happened.

Even the famous are not immune. Olympic gymnast Simone Biles revealed recently how agonizing it was to process the news after her brother was charged in a triple homicide. Biles tweeted that her “heart aches” for the victims and their families. But she also asked for respect for her family’s privacy “as we deal with our pain.”

“It’s an understandable request because the pain of an accused perpetrator’s family can be unbearable,” says Dr. Buck Blodgett, who wrote A Message from Jessie and founded The LOVE>hate Project (www.ligth.org) after his daughter was raped and murdered by an ex-boyfriend in her own home.

Even as he mourned his daughter and sought justice, Blodgett felt empathy for the parents of the young man eventually convicted in her death.

“They are good people,” he says. “They unquestionably provided a loving, caring, quality home environment for their children. They had nothing to do with the choices their son made. And they have been through a hell that few can imagine.”

Blodgett has a message for those caught up in either side of a tragedy – and for anyone who struggles to understand why the world is filled with such suffering:

Don’t lose faith in human goodness. Blodgett remembers during one court hearing when he and his wife passed the defendant’s parents and their family. They exchanged hugs, blessings and sympathies. Later, two members of the family approached him and thanked him “for the grace you have shown our family.” Blodgett says that touched him. “The fact that two families on opposite sides of a murder trial could show each other respect, empathy and love meant everything,” he says. “It brought faith in the goodness of people, and a small measure of healing back into our families.”

Understand who is really responsible. After his daughter’s murderer was sentenced, Blodgett approached the convicted killer’s mother, hugged her and told her she was a great mom. He imagined she must ask herself numerous questions, including “Could I have done something different?” Blodgett says that’s the wrong question, and says it’s better to ask: “Why did (the killer) choose to use his gift of free will in this way?”

Choose love over hate. Once tragedies happen they can’t be undone, and the grieving process may never end, but Blodgett is convinced people can create some good out of even the most horrible of events, regardless of which side of that event they fall on. In Blodgett’s case, he founded The LOVE>hate Project with the mission of ending violence against women and promoting love over hate.

“How do you overcome something like this?” Blodgett asks. “With love. With an open heart, an open mind, an open will. For me, the answer is refusing to let hate win; refusing to let it shape me, govern my actions, tell me who I am. Hate is not allowed in my heart.”

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Revive overcrowded and struggling perennials

By Melinda Myers

Fall is the best time to divide spring and summer blooming perennials that are overcrowded, dead in the center, failing to flower or flopping open. Wait until spring to dig and divide fall or summer blooming perennials that were not moved the previous fall.

These are guidelines that increase success, but most gardeners have found that the best time to divide is when you have the time and can provide good, proper post-transplanting care.

Use a sharp-edged shovel to dig the perennial, roots and all, out of the ground. Lift the clump out of the soil and use a linoleum, garden knife or drywall saw to cut the plant into smaller sections.

Some gardeners prefer to use two garden forks placed back to back in the center of the clump and then pry the perennial apart into two pieces. Continue the process until the desired size and number of divisions is achieved.

Discard and compost the dead center. Divide the remaining plant into four, six or eight pieces. The smaller the divisions, the longer it will take for the plants to reach mature size. Larger divisions may quickly grow, fill the space and need to be divided sooner.

You can plant one of the divisions back into its original location. Use the others to fill voids, expand existing gardens or start a new bed or border. Just make sure to match the plant with its desired growing conditions.

No matter how you plan on using the divisions you should prepare the soil first. Add compost, peat moss or other organic matter to the top 8 to 12 inches of soil. Plant the divisions at the same depth they were growing in the garden. Water thoroughly at planting and throughout the fall or subsequent growing season whenever the top few inches of soil starts to dry. Spread a layer of shredded leaves, evergreen needles or other organic mulch over the soil surface. Be careful not to bury the stems. Mulch helps moderate soil temperatures, conserves moisture, suppresses weeds and improves the soil as it breaks down.

Regular dividing can also help eliminate other garden tasks like deadheading, staking and replacement. Divide repeat blooming daylilies every few years to keep them blooming throughout the season. Do the same for threadleaf coreopsis.

Divide asters every year or two in the spring to keep them vigorous and control their spread as needed. Increase the vigor and compactness of Shasta daisies by dividing them every 2 to 3 years.

Peonies, on the other hand, seldom need dividing. They can remain in the ground undisturbed and blooming profusely for decades. Fall is the time to dig and divide peonies if you need to move or want to divide them to make more plants (propagate).

Don't be alarmed if your peony or other perennials fail to bloom the year after transplanting. The transplant often spends the first year establishing a healthy root system instead of flowering. Just be patient and you will be rewarded with flowers the following year.

Take advantage of the warm soil and cool air of fall to dig, divide and transplant overcrowded and struggling perennials. Your efforts will be rewarded with better looking and more floriferous gardens.

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Social Security Matters

By AMAC Certified Social Security Advisor Russell Gloor

Association of Mature American Citizens

Ask Rusty – When Will My Earnings Not Hurt My Social Security Benefits?

Dear Rusty: I will turn 66 in June of next year. I do not plan to stop working but I do plan on starting to collect my Social Security. How soon can I start to collect without having to give it back because my income is too high? And after I start collecting will I still have to pay into the program with deductions from my current salary, and if I do, will those payments from me help to increase what I will be able to collect from SSA? Signed: Planning Ahead

Dear Planning Ahead: Social Security's earnings limit goes away when you reach your full retirement age (FRA), which for you is 66. So, if you claim Social Security benefits to start in June of next year you do not need to worry about your earnings causing Social Security to take back benefits - you’ll have reached your full retirement age (FRA) and the earnings limit disappears at your FRA. But, whether you can claim any earlier in the year without it affecting your benefits depends on your earnings level.

Starting next year, because that will be the year you reach your FRA, the usual earnings limit ($17,640 for 2019) will be about 2.5 times greater, or a little more than this year’s limit of $46,920 for those in their FRA year. So, if you claim benefits to start before June when you reach your FRA, you'll be subject to that higher 2020 annual limit and - depending on the month you claim - perhaps a monthly limit (the annual limit divided by 12). Exceeding the annual limit will cause Social Security to take back some of your benefits, and If you exceed the monthly limit you won’t be entitled to benefits for that month. However, if your income starting next year won’t exceed those limits you can claim earlier in the year without having benefits withheld. And if you don’t start your benefits before June of next year you won’t be subject to an earnings limit at all next year, nor for any year thereafter. And just to be sure you’re aware, you can apply for Social Security about 3 months before you want your benefits to start - but if you want to start benefits at your FRA just be sure to specify June 2020 as your benefit start month. For clarity, you can get benefits for the full month of June, the month you reach your FRA, regardless of the day of the month you were born.

As to your question about continuing to pay into the program, yes, for as long as you continue to work you will need to pay Social Security FICA payroll taxes - everyone who works and earns must pay that tax. But paying Social Security FICA, by itself, doesn't increase your benefit. What may affect your benefit is if your current earnings are more than the inflation-adjusted earnings in any of the 35 years used to compute your benefit when you start Social Security. Each year, Social Security will look at your annual earnings and, if an increase is appropriate because you have more recent higher earnings, they will automatically make that adjustment for you.

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3 ways you can benefit by giving your smartphone a rest

America is saturated in smartphones. A Pew Research Center survey reported 81% of Americans own the versatile — and some say, addictive — mobile device.

With the smartphone’s capabilities for internet access, social media interaction, running all kinds of apps, and texting, its screen has become the nation’s preoccupation — while face-to-face human conversation seems more of a second option.

“Everywhere you go, so many people are looking into their phone, not at each other,” says Johnny Welsh (www.johnnywelsh.com), author of Paper Maps, No Apps: An Unplugged Travel Adventure. “Will smartphones and social media be the biggest distractors of interpersonal communications in our lifetime?”

Welsh wanted to ensure that didn’t happen in his life, so he and his girlfriend embarked on a 16-day western U.S. road trip devoid of smartphones and electronic devices. A bartender for 25 years, Welsh had grown tired of seeing the social element of a crowded bar — lively conversation — often missing when people were glued to their phones.

Learning to live without the devices – or at least doing so for a couple weeks while vacationing — is a healthy reboot everyone should try, Welsh says. Reflecting on his unplugged road trip, Welsh shares what he gained from travelling without information-age technology — and how he thinks people can benefit by giving their phones a rest:

Enjoy real conversation. Welsh means meaningful conversation with strangers as well as with friends and loved ones. On their trip, he and his girlfriend enjoyed meeting people and they got to know each other better as well. It led to their engagement. “The art of one-on-one communication is getting lost,” he says. “But without phones to distract us, our communication between us was more fulfilling. I imagine this can be a challenge for many couples who are accustomed to being apart even while in the same room — because one or both are on their phones.”

Keep your head up, see and feel more. Simple observation of nature’s beauty was enhanced on Welsh’s trip. ”We felt a heightened sense of focus throughout our trip,” Welsh says. “We were free to absorb all that was around us without distraction. In the pre-internet days, kids on vacation looked out the window of cars with a sense of wonder. Every day was a new discovery. Unplugging today gives you that same sense of fresh discovery and in-the-moment living we were all intended to have.”

Re-learn how to relax. A vacation is supposed to be about relaxing. Welsh was reminded of that without his smartphone. “We recognized the reason we take vacations is to get away — and that means getting all the way away,” Welsh says. “Turn it off. Unplug. Be totally in the present. Too many people spend vacations and days off still consumed by social media, which can either add stress or steal the present time from you.”

“You’re robbing yourself of the full experience of a road trip if you don’t unplug,” Welsh says. “The same is true in life; you’re not getting nearly the most out of it if you stay glued to a screen and miss many of the moments and people around you.”

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How technology is reshaping and reinventing the real estate frontier

How you buy or rent property – and how others sell or lease it to you – is in the midst of dramatic change, the kind perhaps not seen in the real estate world since the birth of the skyscraper in the 19th century.

The reason: property technology or “PropTech,” which is a collective term used to define startups offering technologically innovative products or new business models for the real estate markets.

PropTech could even alter who wins and who loses in the real estate profession.

“Some who don’t embrace real estate technology will be dragged along, forced to up their game by vendors and clients,” says Aaron Block, co-author with Zach Aarons of PropTech 101: Turning Chaos into Cash Through Real Estate Innovation (www.proptech101.com). “They may discover one day that they are well behind the competition. Some of them won’t survive.”

Block and Aarons, co-founders of MetaProp, a leading PropTech venture capital firm, say that PropTech is creating far-reaching change for the real estate industry that’s comparable to what happened in the late 1800s when innovations in construction technology helped make building skyscrapers possible and profitable.

“The ways in which real estate gets bought, sold, leased, financed, appraised, designed and managed already have changed dramatically in recent years,” Aarons says. “And you can expect PropTech to drive even more changes, and at a fast pace.”

Block and Aarons say that’s a good thing for consumers, for the industry – and for those working in real estate who are willing to adapt. Some of the many changes and benefits PropTech is creating are:

Energy savings. One key benefit of PropTech is the potential cost savings involved with energy. “Detailed data about how a space is used, lighted, cooled, and heated, and the ability to automate or remotely control the built environment, make for a powerful combination,” Block says. “This sort of information and analysis moves landlords and management closer to the customer, allowing them to present real estate as a service, not a product, which increasingly gives them an edge over the competition.”

Availability of data. The growing transparency and availability of real estate data has a democratizing effect and makes providing good service more important than ever, Aarons says. “Much of the commercial brokers’ value used to lie in their relationships with other brokers and their access to information,” he says. “Residential sales agents were hired in part because they had deep local knowledge and exclusive access to a jealously guarded multiple-listing service.” As technology makes such information readily available, those who can differentiate themselves in such areas as good deal-making skills and smarter strategies stand to make more money, Aarons says.

Efficiency. In the past, commercial real estate brokerages had to spend a lot of time and resources gathering information and plugging it into spreadsheets. Now they can devote that time to deeper market analysis, planning, and strategy, Block says. Meanwhile, residential sales agents who are willing and able to adapt to innovations will have the means to replace their exclusive access to the MLS with perhaps something better – a forward-looking online advertising strategy, a suite of powerful digital tools, and a comparative marketing analysis that harnesses data in ways their competitors’ CMAs don’t.

“The fact that real estate managed to insulate itself from technological advances and innovations for longer than most industries only means that the pace of change is that much faster now,” Aarons says. “The good news is that, for those willing to embrace innovation, there is a future rife with opportunity.”

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True Grit

Ray Woolley is an exemplar for senior citizens. Woolley, saw action in World War II. It’s nearly 75 years since VE Day but Woolley’s sense of derring do is still intact. The 96-year-old veteran recently broke the record for the oldest scuba diver, diving to a depth of 138 feet off the coast of Cyprus to explore a sunken ship. But, it is not the first time for Woolley. The record he broke is his own, which he established in 2018 when he broke the record he set in 2017. In a documentary focused on his life, he explains it this way: “I refuse to accept the fact that I’m getting old,” according to the Reuters news service.

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Driver gives new meaning to the word “impulsive”

You can make book that next time this Welsh driver will call for a tow truck. But this time Glyndwr Wyn Richards decided to do it himself when he needed to transport a disabled automobile. He, somehow, managed to rest the inoperable vehicle on the roof of his own car. He was caught before he could get very far. Richards was, of course, fined for reckless endangerment after admitting that it was “a stupid thing to do.” Ya think?

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Ach du Lieber

Next time this German zookeeper will be more careful when trying to herd a determined rhinoceros. The rhino recently used its powerful horn to upend the zookeeper’s vehicle and then proceeded to toss it around. The battering virtually demolished the camouflaged car but the zookeeper escaped with minor injuries. It happened at the Serengeti Park in the town of Hodenhagen. The rhino is part of a breeding program.

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Planting bulbs this Fall? Protect them.

Bobbex, Inc.

With Autumn about to begin, you’re probably thinking about the shorter, colder days of winter rather than the beauty of spring flowers blooming from bulb planting. If you want to enjoy tulips, daffodils, hyacinths and other beautiful blooms next spring, it’s time to plan for and plant bulbs!

Spring-blooming bulbs need to be planted in autumn, so they’ll have time to form strong roots before the ground freezes. The best time to plant is mid-September through late October when the soil temperature typically falls below 60 degrees. Bulbs need time to get established before winter’s freezing weather sets in.

Many winter hardy bulbs are left in the ground year after year and can provide multiple years of gorgeous color. To make the most of your time and money investments, be sure to give them a good start. A close up of food

Description automatically generatedTimely tips on planting bulbs

*When buying, look for bulbs that are plump and firm and avoid those that are soft, rotted, moldy, or dented.

* Once purchased, it’s important to get them in the ground as soon as possible to prevent them from drying out. If you can’t plant them right away, store them temporarily in a cool, dark place and plant as soon as possible. Storage must be cool, as temps near 80 degrees will damage-even kill -heat sensitive bulbs, like tulips.

*It’s always recommended to do a soil test prior to planting to be sure your pH level is 6.0 to 7.0, for most bulbs. Adding limestone can raise pH if necessary or if your pH is too high, add some sulfur. Your soil test results will reveal what amendments you might need.

Spring flowering bulbs can literally cover lots of ground. They not only bloom in a beautiful range of colors, shapes and sizes, they also thrive in a wide variety of conditions. As a rule, bulbs grow best when planted in areas that have well-draining soil, and where they receive full sun to light shade. Another good rule to remember is if you’re planting bulbs that bloom in spring, plant in fall. For bulbs that bloom early summer or later, plant in spring.

*When deciding where to plant, keep in mind that it’s often still cold and bleak when the first spring bulbs break ground. Consider planting them where they can be seen from inside the house–so you can enjoy living color from the comfort of home. Some other prime viewing areas are next to walkways and entry doors, under deciduous trees, in front of evergreens and in open flower beds.

Protect against bulb bandits

Bulbs are favorite food for garden varmints like squirrels, chipmunks and other critters who dig them up and eat them, dashing your chance for beautiful blooms in springtime.

You can protect your bulbs and the beauty they bring in spring by employing some timely tactics:

Working in wire: If critters are a problem in your yard, although cumbersome, try covering bulbs with wire mesh screening which will allow shoots to grow through the holes, while keeping critters out.

Plant resistant varieties: Small animal pests love tulips just as much as deer, but they’re less interested in daffodil, allium, scilla and some other bulbs as well.

Dip it: Use a proven effective repellent: One of the best and easiest ways to protect newly planted bulbs is with a third party tested, proven effective repellent like Bobbex-R Rabbit & Small Animal Repellent. This all-natural product repels rabbits, chipmunks and other small herbivores through smell and taste aversion.

To protect bulbs as you plant them, pour Bobbex-R into a small container and dip the bulbs in it prior to planting, following these simple instructions. Once the solution dries, it becomes water-insoluble, so it won’t wash off.

Come springtime, when your plants emerge, spray them with Bobbex-R to protect flowers and foliage.

Take it one step further and use Bobbex-R as a critter deterrent by spraying at the mouth of animal burrows.

Bulbs need protection from the minute they go into the ground. Protect them as you plant for best results for an early array of color and beauty that will kick start spring gardens and enhance your yard with the living color, we all crave!’

For more information on repellents, please visit www.bobbex.com

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Get the most out of your tomato harvest

By MELINDA MYERS

Nothing beats the flavor of fresh-from-the-garden tomatoes and when they’re left on the plant five to eight days after the fruit are fully colored, the flavor only gets better.

Check plants regularly and keep harvesting, so the plants continue to produce throughout the fall. This also reduces problems with insects and disease attacking overripe or rotting fruit. Store the mature red tomatoes in cool, 45- to 50-degree, conditions with high humidity and they’ll last about 7 to 14 days.

Consider pinching off the growing tip of indeterminate tomatoes about a month before the average date of the first fall frost. These plants will keep growing and producing new flowers and fruit until the frost kills the plant. By pruning off the tip towards the end of the growing season the plant will direct its energy into ripening the existing fruit instead of producing more tomatoes that won’t have time to mature.

When frost is in the forecast be prepared to protect your plants and harvest. Cover plants with sheets, lightweight blankets or floating row covers in the afternoon. All but the row covers must be removed each day when the temperatures are above freezing. Since row covers allow air, light and water through to the plants while trapping the heat, they can remain in place until the end of the harvest season.

Once you grow tired of fighting the frost, consider picking any tomatoes that are starting to show some color and allow them to finish ripening indoors. The blossom end of the tomato should be greenish white or starting to show the color of the tomato variety you’re growing. Store green tomatoes in a cool 60- to 65- degree location to extend their storage life.

Spread out the tomatoes on heavy paper or wrap them individually in newspaper so the fruit do not touch. This prevents one rotten tomato from spoiling nearby fruit.

The green tomatoes will ripen over the next few weeks. Speed up the process by moving a few tomatoes to a bright, warm location a few days before they're needed.

Next season extend your enjoyment by growing a few tomato varieties that last longer than most in storage. Garden Peach, Golden Treasure, Long Keeper and Reverend Morrow’s Long Keeper are a few varieties you may want to try.

And don't let the rest of the green tomatoes go to waste. You can use them for frying, chow chow, green salsa and other tasty treats.

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New NFPA research report: 43% of U.S. fire stations are 40+ years old

As the condition of aging bridges, roadways, transportation resources, and grids across the U.S. has increasingly become the focus of discussion, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has issued Renovations Needs of the U.S. Fire Service, a new report on the fire service’s aging infrastructure. Two key findings within the report show that more than 21,000 firehouses across the country are beyond 40 years of age with total replacement costs estimated to be in the $70-$100 billion range.

The report draws on data found in the Fourth Needs Assessment for the U.S. Fire Service, a survey that compares what fire departments actually have with what existing standards, government regulations, and other guidance documents state as being required in order to be safe and effective. Relevant case studies were also considered as part of the research project.

The objective was to determine just how old firehouses are today, and what it would cost to rebuild current, compliant structures that keep first responders safe from harm at their workplace. The report identifies the number of stations that are over 40-years old; are not equipped with exhaust emission control; are without backup power; do not have separate facilities for female firefighters; and need mold remediation.

Findings from the report include the following:

21, 230 of U.S. fire stations (43 percent) are more than 40 years old, representing an 11 percent increase in aging infrastructure over the past 15 years.

The estimated cost to replace these stations is estimated at between $70 and $100 billion; costs depend on space needs, location, site condition, and department preferences.

Sixty-one percent of fire stations that are more than 40 years old are serving communities with less than 9,999 people.

A shortage of funding, tighter budgets, and a lack of grants are likely reasons for the large number of older stations.

29,120 fire stations (59 percent) in the U.S. are not equipped with exhaust emission control systems, which are critical for mitigating firefighter exposure to diesel fumes. These fumes can increase the likelihood of cardiovascular disease, cardiopulmonary disease, respiratory disease, and lung cancer.

Assistance to Firefighter Grants have helped reduce the number of firehouses without exhaust emission control systems from 66 to 59 percent.

Approximately 17,030 fire stations (35 percent) do not have access to backup power, which is critical for business continuity during an emergency event. When the power is out, firehouses without generators may run into issues with phones ringing, computers running, trucks being fueled, and garage bay doors opening. The cost to install backup generators runs between $850 million and $1.7 billion.

When fire stations were built 40-plus years ago, departments were exclusively male. Today, the most recent Needs Assessment estimates that 10 percent of career firefighters are female. The number of males and females in a particular fire department typically varies based on whether the fire company is career, volunteer or combination, as well as the size of the community. Further research is needed today to determine the number of stations that do not provide separate facilities for female firefighters and the estimated cost to renovate these stations.

The number of firehouses affected by mold is unknown, despite common perceptions that stations are susceptible given water damage, prolonged humidity, or dampness. All fire stations should allocate resources for mold prevention including dehumidifiers, proper ventilation, mold inhibitors, and mold-killing cleaning products to reduce the likelihood of seasonal allergy and pneumonia-like symptoms.

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3 ways to guard against letting someone’s betrayal define your life

Betrayal comes in many variations: a friend gossiping about a secret you shared in confidence; a relative taking advantage of your hospitality to steal from you; a spouse engaging in an affair.

But regardless of what form betrayal takes, the results share something in common.

“Betrayal destroys trust, and since trust is the foundation of all relationships, it’s no wonder that betrayal does such damage,” says Elaine Eisenman, PhD, co-author with Susan Stautberg of Betrayed: A Survivor’s Guide to Lying, Cheating, & Double-Dealing (www.bouncefrombetrayal.com).

These two successful business women say they themselves have experienced betrayal professionally and personally. But the good news, Stautberg says, is that despite the initial trauma, pain, and humiliation, most people survive and recover from betrayal and become stronger and wiser as a result.

“Recovery is not a single point in time; it is an ongoing process,” she says. “One day, you’ll discover there are simply more ups than downs. Hang on to that because it will steer you through darker moments.”

In the meantime, Stautberg and Eisenman offer a few suggestions on how to guard against letting someone’s betrayal define your life:

Listen to your gut. Your gut instinct is an incredible natural warning system, Eisenman says. “It can help you sense a betrayal before it becomes a reality,” she says. Instead of closing your eyes or creating excuses for someone else’s odd behavior, listen carefully to your uneasy feelings. Those nagging doubts can help you avoid a betrayal, or at the very least, lessen the impact of one.”

Hold onto your power. Even while you are navigating through a fog of deception and hurt, you do hold some cards. “You just need to step back and see them,” Stautberg says. For example, you alone decide whether or not to forgive your betrayer. “By recognizing and addressing the new challenges, making decisions about your next steps, and retaining your sense of self, you reclaim your power,” she says. “Those who recover best never relinquish power to the betrayer.”

Have the courage to move forward. It’s important to face the fact you aren’t in control of certain events and you will never create a perfect do-over that will fix everything, Einsenman says. “To begin the act of recovery look the nasty circumstances in the eye and see them for what they are,” she says. “The fallout from betrayal says more about the betrayer’s values than it does about you, so toss the bad stuff in the garbage and put a permanent lid on it.”

“Hurt, setbacks, and diabolical events touch all of our lives; there is no escape,” Stautberg says. “But inside all of us are the keys to unlock our courage and strength, and that’s how we move on and build a better future.”

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Social Security Matters

By AMAC Certified Social Security Advisor Russell Gloor

Association of Mature American Citizens

Ask Rusty – Confused About Survivor Benefits

Dear Rusty: My husband passed away in 2013 just a few days short of his 63rd birthday. I was 56 at the time and when I went into the Social Security office to notify them of his death I was told I would be able to get a partial draw when I turned 60. Two years after that I was told that I would never draw anything from his account as the rules had been changed, and since he had never drawn Social Security that his benefits were eliminated. I am 62 and intend to keep working but any information you have might be helpful. Signed: Confused Survivor

Dear Confused Survivor: You've certainly been given some conflicting information, so I’ll try to clarify. If your husband had accumulated enough quarter credits to be eligible for Social Security, you are eligible for a survivor benefit even if your husband was not yet collecting Social Security (SS) benefits when he passed. To be eligible for SS, your husband would have needed to work for about 10 years for an employer which participated in Social Security program (meaning, both your husband and his employer paid SS FICA payroll taxes on his earnings). Most U.S. employers participate in the Social Security program. However, if your husband worked his entire career as an employee of a state or local government which does not participate in SS, or if he worked for the Federal government under their “CSRS” program, or if he worked for any other entity which didn't participate in Social Security, he may not have had enough SS credits to be eligible. But if he contributed to Social Security for at least 10 years and had at least 40 credits (can earn 4 per year) then he would have been eligible for SS, and you would be eligible for a survivor benefit from his record.

The rules haven't changed for any of this. If your husband was at least eligible for SS (not necessarily collecting), you became eligible for a survivor benefit at age 60 although it would have been reduced by about 28.5% from what you would get at your full retirement age (FRA). You are still eligible for the survivor benefit but, if you take it now at age 62, it will still be reduced for claiming before your FRA, and since you are still working you'll also be subject to Social Security's earnings limit ($17,640 for 2019). If you exceed the earnings limit, SS will withhold from future benefits $1 for every $2 you are over the limit, which would mean you wouldn't get benefits for some months until they recover what is due. If your current earnings are high, it may not be prudent to claim early SS benefits even if you're entitled to them. The earnings limit changes annually, is considerably higher (by 2.5 times) in the year you reach your FRA and goes away once your reach your full retirement age.

For your awareness, the survivor benefit reaches the maximum amount when you reach your full retirement age (but is reduced if you claim it earlier). You have the option to restrict your claim to survivor benefits only, and you may want to do this if your own SS benefit from your lifetime earnings record will be more at age 70 than your survivor benefit will be at your FRA. Your goal should be to collect the highest benefit possible for the rest of your life. If you so choose, you can collect your survivor benefit first and delay your own SS benefit past your full retirement age, which would allow you to earn delayed retirement credits on your own benefit. That will increase it by 8% per year of delay, up to age 70 when your maximum Social Security retirement benefit will be reached, and at that time you would switch to the higher benefit.

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Tired of living with chronic pain? Know how to talk to your doctor

The opioid crisis has shown that the U.S. is a nation in pain — chronic pain. Over 20 percent of the country’s adult population — 50 million people — live with persistent or frequently recurring pain, according to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Living with chronic pain can adversely affect one’s quality of life on a daily basis, from performing simple tasks to work, relationships, and sleeping. While some people can’t find a remedy and learn to accept chronic pain, they may be missing out on a cure. How? Because they haven’t had a comprehensive discussion about the symptoms with their doctor.

“Unfortunately, there isn’t a pain scale, like a blood-pressure monitor, that doctors can use to diagnose pain,” says Dr. Suhyun An (www.drsuhyunan.com), an expert on regenerative medicine and co-author of Demystifying Stem Cells: A Real-Life Approach To Regenerative Medicine. “While talking to your health care provider about chronic pain can be difficult, it is a conversation worth having.

“Doctors will not know the location, timing, or intensity of your pain unless you tell them, and being specific is important for diagnostic purposes. Knowing how to talk with them can be a big step toward finding relief.”

An offers ways to communicate effectively with your doctor about your chronic pain symptoms:

Give details of your pain in writing. Putting down on paper the chronology of your pain provides a road map for the physician. “Writing down the description, timeline, location, frequency, and intensity of your pain can help get your care provider on the right track,” An says. “Make sure to include how the pain affects your daily activities, and go over your daily routine.”

Create a list of questions. Sometimes, people walk out of a doctor’s visit having forgotten to ask some key questions. Be prepared and that won’t happen. “The goal is to find the source of the pain,” An says, “so that should be the first question: ‘What causes my chronic pain?’ Have at least three questions you’re ready to ask, such as, ‘What are the available treatments, and what’s the best option for me? Does my daily diet and lifestyle contribute to the pain?’ ”

Point to the pain. “If your pain moves around, tell your doctor about all the areas that can be painful and the areas that hurt most often,” An says. “Your doctor needs to determine if the pain comes on more slowly and sticks around a long time before lessening, or if it comes on suddenly and sporadically, then leaves suddenly.”

Be assertive. “Tell the doctor what you want — be direct,” An says. “Do you expect to have tests to diagnose a cause? Do you want more in-depth information about your condition, and does the doctor know enough about it to be able to address it effectively? Have the doctor explain what the tools and tests are and why they would help. Doing everything in your power to explain your pain clearly and accurately gives you the best chances of being heard and treated appropriately.”

“Health care providers can’t feel your pain, so you need to communicate clearly and work together for a solution,” An says. “If you’re unsatisfied with their response or uncertain about how to move forward, referrals to other providers may be needed.”

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Stressed out at work? 5 strategies to reboot and refresh

Stress at work can adversely affect other areas of your life, such as relationships and sleep, studies show. And as stress in the workplace rises, having a stress management strategy is vital, say mental health professionals and experts in corporate culture.

It’s not just workers who suffer from stress. Employers feel the effects of stress in increased absenteeism and lost production, and some companies address work-related stress with policies and practices. But it’s important for over-stressed workers to develop their own tools to better deal with stress and not let it affect their job performance or quality of life, says Cynthia Howard (www.eileadership.org), an executive coach and performance expert.

“Stress is the new normal and, to become resilient, you must practice strategies that will unhook you from the damaging, reactive nature of the stress reaction,” says Howard, the author of The Resilient Leader, Mindset Makeover: Uncover the Elephant in the Room. “One cannot think their way out of a stress reaction, and when you ignore what can happen, you leave yourself vulnerable.”

Howard offers these strategies to build a tolerance to work stress and perform at a high level even during stressful situations:

On a count of four, breathe. The goal is breathing with intention to shift the stress effect. Howard suggests taking four deep breaths — breathing in on the count of four, holding on four, exhaling on four. “Breathing is your first line of defense against the distraction of the stress reaction and being overwhelmed,” Howard says. “Most people today are in moderate to severe stress, multitasking, or in the throes of strong emotions. Breathing gets shallow and less effective in blowing off the buildup of carbon dioxide, leaving you more acidic — the opposite of what the body needs to stay energized.”

Take a moment: the three-second transition. Used at different parts of the day, such as before and after a meeting or difficult conversation, this strategy helps develop the feeling of being in the moment. “Be deliberate with three seconds,” Howard says. “Pause, breathe, and focus on what you are going to do — for three seconds. This slows down your mind and opens your awareness. With practice, it will also expand your situational awareness and lead to more enjoyment of your day.”

Practice everyday mindfulness. Because many people are distracted in a social media-filled world, Howard says, it’s hard for them to focus for long periods. Mindfulness can tune out distractions. “Mindfulness means directing your attention to what is happening in the moment without judging what is happening,” Howard says. “This practice improves the quality of your attention and decreases your reactivity to stress.”

Keep a journal. Howard suggests taking 10 minutes each day to write out thoughts. “This practice will increase self-awareness and build your ability to stay in the moment,” Howard says. “You will get to know yourself at a deeper level and, with that, get to the real motives that drive your choices and behavior. Set a time limit to do your journaling and have specific goals in mind — reflecting on a conversation, recapping your day, digging deeper into your reaction to something. Then go back and review your journal after every quarter. Have you made progress?”

“We tend to expend more energy than we renew,” Howard says. “Most people go through the day with constant interruptions, irritations, and other emotional triggers, all draining energy. It is essential to use some type of stress-relief strategy every day to keep our energy stores filled.”

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He’s still on the job

It’s not unusual these days for older Americans to keep working past the traditional retirement age of 65 to make ends meet. But this elderly grocery store “bag boy” is still on the job in New Jersey at the age of 98 because he enjoys it, according to the Association of Mature American Citizens [AMAC]. "Bennie" Ficeto flew B-25s during World War II. In an interview with CBS News he revealed the secret of his success: "You got to enjoy work, you got to enjoy what you're doing. I see people running around and saying, 'Oh, I have to go to work!' That's ridiculous." What can you say? How about, thanks for your service.

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The trout are biting

If you’re looking for a new, productive fishing hole you might try Lake Champlain in New York State. After all, it’s where fisherwoman Debbie Geddes recently landed not just any trout, but one with two mouths. Photos of her unusual catch posted on the Internet went viral around the world. Geddes released the fish so that future anglers might have a chance to reel it in again.

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Unjust deserts

It’s easy to see why there’s truth in the saying, no good deed goes unpunished, when you hear what happened to Officer McGinty of the Cambridge, MA police department. He spotted a skunk in distress and didn’t hesitate to come to the rescue. The skunk was struggling to dislodge an empty yogurt cup stuck on its head and McGinty ultimately managed to yank it off. Free, at last, the ungrateful stinker promptly sprayed the policeman and it was all caught on tape, as they say.

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How technology is reshaping and reinventing the real estate frontier

How you buy or rent property – and how others sell or lease it to you – is in the midst of dramatic change, the kind perhaps not seen in the real estate world since the birth of the skyscraper in the 19th century.

The reason: property technology or “PropTech,” which is a collective term used to define startups offering technologically innovative products or new business models for the real estate markets.

PropTech could even alter who wins and who loses in the real estate profession.

“Some who don’t embrace real estate technology will be dragged along, forced to up their game by vendors and clients,” says Aaron Block, co-author with Zach Aarons of PropTech 101: Turning Chaos into Cash Through Real Estate Innovation (www.proptech101.com). “They may discover one day that they are well behind the competition. Some of them won’t survive.”

Block and Aarons, co-founders of MetaProp, a leading PropTech venture capital firm, say that PropTech is creating far-reaching change for the real estate industry that’s comparable to what happened in the late 1800s when innovations in construction technology helped make building skyscrapers possible and profitable.

“The ways in which real estate gets bought, sold, leased, financed, appraised, designed and managed already have changed dramatically in recent years,” Aarons says. “And you can expect PropTech to drive even more changes, and at a fast pace.”

Block and Aarons say that’s a good thing for consumers, for the industry – and for those working in real estate who are willing to adapt. Some of the many changes and benefits PropTech is creating are:

Energy savings. One key benefit of PropTech is the potential cost savings involved with energy. “Detailed data about how a space is used, lighted, cooled, and heated, and the ability to automate or remotely control the built environment, make for a powerful combination,” Block says. “This sort of information and analysis moves landlords and management closer to the customer, allowing them to present real estate as a service, not a product, which increasingly gives them an edge over the competition.”

Availability of data. The growing transparency and availability of real estate data has a democratizing effect and makes providing good service more important than ever, Aarons says. “Much of the commercial brokers’ value used to lie in their relationships with other brokers and their access to information,” he says. “Residential sales agents were hired in part because they had deep local knowledge and exclusive access to a jealously guarded multiple-listing service.” As technology makes such information readily available, those who can differentiate themselves in such areas as good deal-making skills and smarter strategies stand to make more money, Aarons says.

Efficiency. In the past, commercial real estate brokerages had to spend a lot of time and resources gathering information and plugging it into spreadsheets. Now they can devote that time to deeper market analysis, planning, and strategy, Block says. Meanwhile, residential sales agents who are willing and able to adapt to innovations will have the means to replace their exclusive access to the MLS with perhaps something better – a forward-looking online advertising strategy, a suite of powerful digital tools, and a comparative marketing analysis that harnesses data in ways their competitors’ CMAs don’t.

“The fact that real estate managed to insulate itself from technological advances and innovations for longer than most industries only means that the pace of change is that much faster now,” Aarons says. “The good news is that, for those willing to embrace innovation, there is a future rife with opportunity.”

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E-cigarette danger

Using an e-cigarette even a single time can impact vascular function. A study from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania found that vaping once from a nicotine-free e-cigarette temporarily reduced blood flow in the large artery that supplies blood to the legs. “The common belief is that the nicotine is what is toxic, but we have found that dangers exist, independent of nicotine,” said researcher Felix Wehrli. “Clearly if there is an effect after a single use of an e-cigarette, then you can imagine what kind of permanent damage could be caused after vaping regularly over years.”

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Economic slowdown

A recession is not in the country's near-term future, but "we are in a slowdown," said economist Jeremy Siegel of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. A recession is marked by declines in real gross domestic product, while a slowdown means the economy is still growing but at a reduced rate. “Are we heading for a recession? Will we eventually have one? Yes, of course. The question is, will it be within the next year, or year and a half?” he said. Developments in the U.S. trade war with China will be a critical factor, he said.

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Flu & the lungs

Most people bounce back after a case of the flu, but for some the infection causes lasting injury to the lungs. In a new study using a mouse model, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania found that a transplant of lung cells from a healthy animal improved healing in those that had a severe flu infection. The transplanted cells, known as alveolar type-two cells, act like stem cells when they are transplanted into injured lungs, multiplying and diversifying into another type of cell that improves oxygen levels in the blood. The researchers envision the approach one day being used in humans, who could “bank” healthy cells for later use in the event of a severe respiratory disease.

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Criminal justice reform

A movement to reduce mass incarceration and to recognize failures in the criminal justice system has found political traction. The Quattrone Center at the University of Pennsylvania Law School has leveraged data to find the weak points in the system and craft policy solutions, focused on making the entire system better by reducing the number of mistakes and the practical and human cost. “We’re getting different answers because we’re asking different questions, and we’re asking different questions because we’re bringing social science into an area that has typically been a legal domain,” said John Hollway, the Center’s executive director. “We’re actually changing the legal academy with this work.”

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Don’t let your body be a bummer, 5 tips to detoxify

As summer winds down, some people who ditched their New Year’s weight-loss resolutions may re-dedicate themselves to looking good.

Even more important, though, is what we put in our bodies. What we eat and drink not only impacts how we look, but how we feel.

And to properly set the tone for the inner body and good overall health, it’s vital to get the bad stuff – toxins – out, and keep them out, says Dr. Suhyun An (www.drsuhyunan.com), an expert on regenerative medicine and co-author of Demystifying Stem Cells: A Real-Life Approach To Regenerative Medicine.

“People may want to look good, but being truly healthy on the inside is a year-round commitment,” Dr. An says. “And you need to start by detoxifying the body.

“Toxins can severely affect every part of the body. They’re in tons of every-day products. Being aware of them and avoiding them are essential to good health.”

Dr. An provides five tips for cleaning out the toxins in your body:

Reduce the toxins you’re taking in. The first step to cleaning out toxins in your body is to cut back – or completely eliminate – things you put into your body that contain them. “When something is hard for the body to digest, it can slow down your metabolism and cause toxins to accumulate in your body,” Dr. An says. “Avoid these groups: red meat, gluten, refined sugar, processed food, alcohol, and caffeine.”

Be careful with household products. Household cleaners, soaps, and beauty products all can contain harmful toxins that are absorbed through the skin. “Choose these products carefully,” Dr. An says, “and always make sure you know what’s in them. There are many great natural cleaners and products that can help reduce the toxins your skin and body are exposed to.”

Drink plenty of water. “Water has a multitude of benefits for your body, skin, and organs,” she says. “Drinking enough water is extremely important in getting rid of toxins in the body. It helps boost metabolism and can literally flush out the harmful materials that have built up in your body.”

Add plenty of dietary fiber and antioxidants to your diet. Eating foods with plenty of fiber, such as organic fruits, vegetables and whole grains, will help your body move the toxins out. “Antioxidants help to fight free radicals and help to further remove harmful materials,” Dr. An says.

Sweat it out. Sweating is a very effective way for the body to get rid of toxins. “Achieving this through exercise also keeps your organs and systems working properly, which plays a key role in releasing toxins,” Dr. An says. “Aside from exercising, hopping into a sauna or hot bath can help, too.”

“Removing toxins is key to living a healthy life,” Dr. An says. “Just like many of us do in our homes by procrastinating and getting sloppy, our body stores junk. Get rid of it once and for all.”

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Four questions to ask before fueling your outdoor power equipment this fall

Autumn is coming soon, which means fall leaves and yard work. Homeowners are opening up their garages and sheds and getting out their mowers, trimmers, blowers, power washers, and other outdoor power equipment to use for fall chores. The Outdoor Power Equipment Institute (OPEI), an international trade association representing power equipment, small engine, utility vehicle, golf car and personal transport vehicle manufacturers and suppliers, provides these tips to get “backyard ready” for fall—starting with proper fueling of your equipment.

“You want your equipment available when you need it, and that starts with proper maintenance and fueling,” said Kris Kiser, OPEI President and CEO. “Always check which fuel you’re buying before filling up.”

Four questions to ask before you start fueling outdoor power equipment:

1. Have you read the owner’s manual for the equipment? Always follow manufacturer’s fueling recommendations and use the type of fuel specified.

2. Is the fuel in your equipment fresh? Fuel should not sit in the tank for more than 30 days. Untreated gasoline (without a fuel stabilizer) left in the system will deteriorate, which may cause starting or running problems and, in some cases, damage to the fuel system.

3. Did you purchase the correct fuel? What goes in your car or truck may not be the correct fuel to use in your outdoor power equipment. There are many choices at the pump today, and you should only use E10 or less fuel in any outdoor power equipment. Some gas stations may offer 15 percent ethanol (E15) gas or higher ethanol fuel blends, but any fuel containing greater than 10 percent ethanol can damage – and is illegal to use, says the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) –in small engine equipment not designed for it.

4. Are you using a fuel additive or the manufacturer’s fuel? Many manufacturers make fuel additives and fuels, sold at retail locations, to improve equipment performance and mitigate any fueling problems caused by ethanol-based fuels. Check with your manufacturer’s recommendations and make the best choice that will keep your equipment running strong all season.

“It’s also important to drain fuel tanks before storing equipment for the winter,” he said. “Fuel more than 30 days old isn’t good for machines. Also service and winterize your lawn mower, string trimmer, leaf blower, and other outdoor power equipment before storing so it’s ready to get jobs done.”

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Rethinking menopause: Turning the change of life into your best life

Menopause can be a physically challenging and emotionally trying time for a woman.

But with the right information and outlook, the so-called “change of life” phase can also become the bridge to the best time of a woman’s life, says Dr. Arianna Sholes-Douglas (www.tulawellnessmd.com), author of The Menopause Myth: What Your Mother, Doctor, And Friends Haven’t Told You About Life After 35, and the founder of Tula Wellness Center in Tucson, Ariz.

“It’s a myth that menopause is the beginning of the end,” says Sholes-Douglas. “Menopause is a journey toward your best, authentic self. Menopause is not a dirty word. It’s time we use it, reform it, and own it.”

A long-time OBG-YN, Sholes-Douglas says she missed her own perimenopause diagnosis, thus she dedicated her career to helping women through a difficult stage that she thinks is largely neglected by most of the medical community.

“Women are blindly struggling, and often, no viable solutions are offered by their medical providers,” Sholes-Douglas says.

Sholes-Douglas offers advice on how women can empower themselves to better cope with menopause and not let it diminish their quality of life:

Separate the myths from reality. “A common myth is that menopause doesn’t affect women until after menstrual cessation,” Sholes-Douglas says. “The reality is that perimenopause — one of the most emotionally and hormonally tumultuous times of a woman’s life — precedes menopause and starts as early as age 35. This journey is not only heralded by the fluctuations of hormones, but also by a ‘personal awakening’ that starts to occur. No wonder women have traditionally avoided the ‘M’ word like the plague. But this avoidance of information, resources, and conversations does a disservice to women and their families.”

Embrace the change. Feelings of dread and confusion often accompany the onset of menopause. “So many women start to focus on the signs of aging that we all experience,” Sholes-Douglas says. “But there is technology available to push back the hands of time. The real work, however, starts with the mental and spiritual. At midlife, we are forced to take inventory of our lives. So what are you waiting for? It’s time to do you; the best part of your life is waiting for you to show up, which takes courage.”

Have a real menopause conversation with your doctor. “Forty years ago, nobody really recognized perimenopause as a significant issue worthy of understanding, much less of research and conversation,” Sholes-Douglas says. “Women just dealt with it and suffered in silence. Unfortunately, the current healthcare model still doesn’t allow time for doctors to truly assess a woman’s physical and emotional symptoms. Fortunately, there is a new generation of women who demand understanding and validation of their bodies and their sexuality after midlife. We need to start the real menopause conversation and open it up so that it is destigmatized, demystified, and accessible to all women. It’s an exciting time because there are new therapies and options available so women can continue to lead vital, pleasurable, fulfilled lives.”

“The journey is ultimately about balancing the emotional, physical, and spiritual components of coming into your own,” Sholes-Douglas says. “Embracing and understanding it can have truly transformative effects on women’s lives.”

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September is National Preparedness Month: Plan for pets, too

From power outages to tornados, fires to floods, disasters for Missouri residents can often be unpredictable and unexpected. National Preparedness Month is this September – the perfect time to put a plan in place for the whole family, which means pets, too.

From a countless number of rescues in the aftermath of hurricanes, tornadoes, floods and more, the Humane Society of Missouri’s Disaster Response Team knows how devastating it is to see pets exposed to the perils of natural disasters, as well as how critical it is to be prepared for the unexpected.

Follow these five tips from the Humane Society of Missouri’s Disaster Response Team, which could be the key to survival for your four-legged family members:

Make a plan

Create an evacuation plan that includes your pet and inform close friends and family. Different disasters require different courses of action; the sooner you create a plan, the more time you have to prepare.

Identify pet-friendly places to go in times of distress and make sure your pet has identification, including a collar with ID tags and an up-to-date microchip.

Build a disaster kit

Include medications, medical records, leashes/harnesses/carriers/bowls, current photos and descriptions of your pets, a week’s worth of food and water, and anything that will reduce your pet’s stress, such as their bedding and toys. Be sure to have a pet first aid kit as well.

If you evacuate, take your pet

Don’t assume your pet will be fine, even if you think you will only be gone for a short period of time. Never leave a pet behind if you evacuate.

Keep a sturdy, safe crate or carrier on hand, and have a pet-friendly place that you can keep your pet while the cleanup ensues. This could include a hotel that accommodates pets, boarding facilities or a family/friend’s home.

Have an emergency veterinarian

Identify a veterinarian outside of the disaster area ahead of time that you can take your pet to in case they appear to be injured or ill.

Listen for information

Whether it’s over the radio or on your phone, listening and following local news outlets is key to receiving updates on where to go and what to do during an emergency.

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Hackers covet your identity; 5 ways to thwart their efforts to steal it

Each day people take a virtual trip through the internet to do their banking, make hotel reservations, shop for a new car, or engage in a myriad of other activities important to them.

It’s so routine that it’s easy to forget that you need to be just as careful about protecting yourself on those virtual journeys as you would on an actual one.

“Hackers are creative about dreaming up new ideas for stealing your identity, so it’s important that you stay vigilant even if you already have taken action to guard yourself and your data,” says Chris Hoose (www.choosenetworks.com), an IT consultant who works with small businesses.

Hoose says a few steps you can take to protect your identity include:

Use a password manager. One problem with passwords is that people often use simple ones that are easy to remember, but also easy to hack. A password manager provides an encrypted database where you can store unique, long, complex passwords for each of your online accounts, and access them when you need them. “With a password manager, you can have better passwords that are harder to hack, and you don’t have to memorize them,” Hoose says.

Do your online activities with a VPN. Worried that your online browsing will lead identity thieves right back to you? One solution, Hoose says, is a virtual private network (VPN), which lends you a temporary IP address and hides your true IP address from every website or email you connect with. “It also prevents the sites you visit from learning your physical location,” he says. “You just need to remember to connect to it when you want to use it.” A VPN usually costs about $40 to $50 a year, he says.

Be wary on social media. Most people check in on social media routinely to catch up on family news, connect with college buddies, or perhaps to share photos of a new puppy. Unfortunately, cyber thieves lurk in the background. “They know that social media platforms are an excellent source for personal information and information about your contacts, which makes identity theft that much easier for them,” Hoose says. To stay safe on social media, he suggests you check to see if you have already been compromised; avoid password reuse; update your security settings regularly; and limit your connections because the more you have, the more potential for a fraudulent or compromised account to send you a malicious link.

Keep tabs on your credit report. One way to make sure no one has taken on debt in your name, and damaged your credit in the process, is to request a full credit report from any of the three major agencies: Equifax, TransUnion and Experian. You can get a free copy from any of them through the site www.annualcreditreport.com. Also, it might be time to get off the mailing list for all those credit offers you receive that say you are pre-approved. “Those offers are a gold mine for identity thieves,” Hoose says. You can opt out of pre-approved credit offers by visiting www.OptOutPrescreen.com.

Be sure to install anti-virus/malware software. Your first and best line of defense against identity theft on your computer remains anti-virus software and anti-malware software, Hoose says. When choosing one, he suggests making use of the trial period most companies offer. “That way you can try them out and decide which one works best for you,” he says.

“The more people try to foil identity thieves, the more sophisticated those thieves seem to get in their methods,” Hoose says. “But by being watchful and attentive, you can stay safe and enjoy your time online.”

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How technology can make health care cheaper and more efficient

As the rising costs of health care remain a major concern for consumers, industry experts say new technology could help reduce costs and increase efficiency — a potential win-win for patients and providers.

The way advancements in technology could work for both involves the accumulation and distribution of patient data, says Alex Zlatin, CEO of Maxim Software Systems (alexzlatin.com).

“Whether it’s related to doctors’ offices, specialists, hospitals or oral care, data is the foundation to curb costs,” says Zlatin, the author of Responsible Dental Ownership. “Data is the key to delivering accountable, affordable and informed care.

“While many have struggled to use data effectively, the time is ripe for the industry to become data-driven and, with that, align costs, procedures, and outcomes. Researchers and innovators are bringing medical care and the dental industry into a new era of trying to improve effectiveness and curb the cost of care. But it’s the responsibility of providers and their offices to stay current with data management practices to help make this all work.”

Zlatin offers the following points about technology’s impact on data accessibility, and the associated benefits, in health care:

Telehealth and consumer technology. These are playing larger roles in supporting new health care delivery models, with companies like Apple and Uber getting involved. Apple has developed mobile apps and Uber is launching a medical-transit program. “Both examples speak to another shift pushing the industry toward value-based care: consumerization,” Zlatin says. “Patients are bearing a larger portion of costs, and with more options for where to get care, they are becoming more discerning and demanding.”

Exchange of patient data. This is one technology evolution that’s already helping health care reduce costs and increase efficiency. “It allows doctors to better understand the context of a patient’s overall health,” Zlatin says. “Improving the integration of the electronic health record means labs, care plans, and medical histories from different sources are available quickly. Thus the provider can make a clear diagnosis and develop the most effective care plan in less time.”

Full digital office management systems. Having a digital system streamlines record-keeping. In dental offices, digital processes keep the provider and patient informed regarding hygiene appointments, future treatments and account balances.”Having a scheduling system, billing and personal information, charts and integrated X-rays all by digital means makes for a more efficient practice and enhances the patient experience,” Zlatin says.

Wearable devices and patient lifestyle. Information from wearable health devices incorporate valuable data about patient health behaviors, including heart rate, sleep patterns, physical activity and calorie burn. “Those different factors will integrate into decision-making for your health,” Zlatin says. “Expanded access to data also can help manage patients’ costs. Providers will have access to information such as current benefits offered by insurance providers, based on a patient’s health profile.”

More importance on data protection. Patient privacy must remain a priority for technologists and providers. “Advancements in technology and data integration heighten the importance of patient record protection,” Zlatin says. “Large volumes of data bring ethical concerns about proper use of patient information. There needs to be a regulatory component to ensure tools are used properly and to protect the patients. And choosing the right partner to manage data will become even more critical.”

“The future of health care includes technology that could seamlessly combine data on a patient’s medical history, real-time health, insurance coverage, and financial information,” Zlatin says. “All of that can support provider decision-making, improve patient health, and reduce costs.”

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Housecall

By Dr. Appathurai Balamurugan

assistant professor in the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine

University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences

Email your health questions to housecall@uams.edu.

Q. My elbow began hurting but I have not injured it. What could be causing this?

A. Several things can cause elbow pain without an obvious injury, including repetitive motion and overuse, bursitis, arthritis, lupus and Lyme disease.

The elbow is a joint where three bones — one in the upper arm and two in the forearm — meet. Each bone contains cartilage on its end to absorb shock and assist in sliding against the others. The bones and cartilage are bound by ligaments, while tendons connect them to muscles.

Tendons damaged through overuse can cause tennis elbow (effecting the outside of the elbow) and golfer’s elbow (effecting the inside). Other wear-and-tear injuries can include trapped nerves, stress fractures or a small crack in a bone.

Bursitis, often caused by repetitive motions, occurs when the small, fluid-filled sacs used to cushion bones, tendons, and muscles swell with excess fluid. This usually will improve on its own in a few weeks.

If the pain does not subside with rest and ice or you have intense pain, problems bending the arm, swelling and bruising, or redness that increases, especially accompanied by a fever, you should see your physician.

Q. Is it true that some food and beverages can affect some medicines?

A. Yes. Before taking any medicine for the first time, ask your physician or pharmacist if there is any food or drink you should avoid. For example, grapefruit alters the way certain cells in the digestive system receive and distribute medicine through the body.

Those who take warfarin to treat and prevent blood clots should monitor how much vitamin K they consume as it can make the blood thinner less effective.

Dark chocolate can weaken the effectiveness of drugs designed to calm or aid in sleep but can strengthen some stimulant drugs. For those who take an MAO inhibitor for depression, it can make blood pressure dangerously high.

As for beverages, milk can make it more difficult for the body to process certain antibiotics and licorice contains a chemical that can weaken the effect of some drugs, including cyclosporine, prescribed to some transplant patients to prevent organ rejection. Coffee can weaken the effects of antipsychotic drugs but increase the effects, and side effects, of others like aspirin and drugs to treat serious allergic reactions. Alcohol makes certain drugs less effective and others stronger.

Q. How do I know if I am getting enough iron?

A. Iron is a mineral the body uses to make hemoglobin, which helps transport oxygen in the blood throughout the body. A lack of iron can limit that flow of oxygen and may lead to anemia. There are different types of anemia but iron-deficiency anemia is the most common. Poor diet or serious illness can cause iron deficiency.

Those most at risk are women, beginning with the onset of menstrual cycles, and older adults whose appetites have decreased. Others at risk are those taking treatments or medicines, like blood thinners that rob the body of iron, and those with chronic illnesses causing blood loss.

Symptoms of iron deficiency include fatigue; constant chills; paleness, especially around the eyes; dry skin; bruising; and feeling bloated.

Blood tests will confirm anemia but a physical exam and sharing medical history with a physician often leads to an initial diagnosis. When it is determined that diet is the cause, iron-rich foods such as spinach, red meat, peanut butter, kidney beans, dried fruits, pumpkin or squash seeds, and oysters may be recommended. The physician may also recommend an over-the-counter iron supplement.

Q. How does Epsom salt work?

A. For hundreds of years, people with pains and aches have been seeking relief by soaking in Epsom salt. Found in drugstores, the inexpensive material originates from a bitter saline spring in an English town of the same name.

In water, Epsom salt breaks down into magnesium and sulfate. The theory, while not proven, is that taking an Epsom salt bath allows the magnesium and sulfate to enter the body through the skin. However, simply soaking in warm water can help loosen stiff joints and relax muscles. Some researchers believe taking magnesium increases serotonin in the brain and is good for reducing inflammation in internal organs. Some doctors expect better magnesium absorption through the skin but there is no published research comparing it with taking magnesium by mouth.

Most people have taken Epsom salt baths as a home treatment for sore muscles but others have used it for ingrown toenails or insomnia.

Epsom salt is for external use only and those with health concerns should check with their physician. Epsom salt is bad for those with severe skin inflammation or infection and should not be used by those who have an open wound or severe burn.

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From the files of the FBI

Laser striker sentenced: Florida man among many prosecuted for aiming laser pointer at aircraft

Laser pointers can light your path or entertain your cat, but pointing a laser at an aircraft is dangerous and illegal. And a Florida man who pointed a laser at a police helicopter is now serving a prison sentence thanks to an investigation by the FBI and local law enforcement.

During an armed standoff in a Pasco County, Florida, neighborhood on December 5, 2017, the sheriff’s office called for a helicopter to assist deputies. As the helicopter hovered overhead, Ryan Fluke, 28, repeatedly aimed a laser pointer at the helicopter, momentarily disorienting the pilot.

The pilot recovered his vision, but had he not, the results could have been disastrous. While airborne, though, the pilot had been able to determine the house where the laser beam originated, and, after landing, went to the residence. Fluke, who was at the house and matched the description of the man captured on the helicopter’s video surveillance recordings, was arrested.

When confronted by law enforcement, Fluke apologized. “He said he didn’t know it was so bright,” said FBI Special Agent Katie Hill, who worked the case out of the FBI’s Tampa Field Office.

In November 2018, Fluke pleaded guilty to aiming a laser at a police helicopter; he was sentenced in March 2019 to 21 months in federal prison.

While pointing a laser at a helicopter or plane may seem harmless, the opposite is true. It’s dangerous—both to those in the air and on the ground—and it’s a federal crime.

“It’s very risky to point lasers at aircraft. Whether it’s a helicopter or a large commercial airliner, it’s very dangerous.”

Katie Hill, special agent, FBI Tampa

“It’s very risky to point lasers at aircraft,” Hill said. “Whether it’s a helicopter or a large commercial airliner, it’s very dangerous. It’s especially dangerous on takeoff and landing, which are critical times of the flight.”

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) tracks these incidents and received 6,754 reports of laser strikes in 2017—a 250 percent increase since the FAA first started tracking laser incidents in 2010.

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Fake bail bondsman sentenced; man impersonated law enforcement, kidnapped victims

When Shane Ryan Hammond burst into an Ohio home in 2017 to apprehend a suspected bail jumper, he pointed an assault rifle directly at a man and his grandmother. He then handcuffed his target and drove him to West Virginia.

But Hammond wasn’t a police officer or sheriff’s deputy. He wasn’t even a licensed bail bondsman. Hammond was simply an admirer of law enforcement who pretended to be in their ranks—and his actions made him a danger to the public.

As a result of an investigation by the FBI, Columbus Police Department, and the Franklin County Sheriff’s Department, Hammond is now serving time in prison.

For more than a year, Hammond, now 27, ran a company he called the Midwest Fugitive Task Force. He dressed in tactical gear and carried guns, a Taser, a badge, and a patch identifying him as an agent. At least eight times, he kidnapped people who had skipped bail and received payment from an actual bail bondsman for returning them. Hammond also falsely claimed on several occasions that he was a federal agent.

“He knew how to talk like a cop. He knew the lingo, and people believed him,” said Officer Roger Dickinson of the Columbus Police Department, who serves on the FBI Cincinnati Field Office’s Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF).

Bail bondsman licensing varies by state, and Hammond did not have a proper license to operate in Ohio. Hammond was an authorized employee of a private security company, but that license did not allow him to run his own operation.

Hammond wanted to imitate police officers but his behavior differed from that of legitimate law enforcement personnel. He carried an assault rifle, violated individuals’ rights, and demeaned those he interacted with, investigators said. Hammond even once pointed an assault rifle at a young child while trying to capture a fugitive.

“He knew how to talk like a cop. He knew the lingo, and people believed him.”

Roger Dickinson, task force officer, FBI Cincinnati JTTF

Hammond came to the attention of the JTTF after he falsely claimed to be a federal agent investigating terrorism. And although Hammond was a fake officer, he had a real body camera—and he had recorded hours of footage of himself kidnapping his victims.

“He wore a body recorder and captured all of these incidents. We had a lot of disturbing footage of him,” said Supervisory Special Agent Greg Naples of the FBI Cincinnati JTTF.

Hammond pleaded guilty last year to kidnapping, impersonating an agent of the United States, interstate transportation of a stolen vehicle, and wire fraud charges. He was sentenced in May to 15 years in prison.

“Even though Hammond did not physically injure anyone, he did things that were unconstitutional and immoral,” said a Franklin County Sheriff’s Department investigator assigned to case. “Some of the people he encountered were traumatized. Someone absolutely could’ve been hurt.”

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A thief by many names: Atlanta man sentenced for aggravated identity theft

The headquarters of a large national bank had detected fraud on an account and sent word to an Atlanta branch to be on alert: If an individual comes in to pick up the new debit card linked to that account, call the Atlanta Police Department.

An alert bank employee did just that when Khoi Nguyen, 43, came in to the branch to claim the debit card. Officers arrived quickly to ask Nguyen about his identity and the name on the bank account. Upon questioning, Nguyen produced a Department of Defense identification badge and claimed to be in law enforcement.

The police weren’t buying it, so they called the FBI to investigate Nguyen for impersonating a federal law enforcement officer. It was soon discovered that he was not only impersonating a government official but more than a dozen different people in a sophisticated identity theft scheme.

“In his bag at arrest were 20 cellular phones, 13 different identifications, a number of credit cards, and about $11,000 in cash,” said Special Agent Marcus Brackman, who worked the case out of the FBI’s Atlanta Field Office.

Brackman said that Nguyen had some technical skills and likely purchased the stolen personal information he used to create fake documents and open fraudulent financial accounts off encrypted websites. “Criminals can buy identities for 50 cents on the dark web,” Brackman explained.

Nguyen pleaded guilty to aggravated identity theft and was sentenced in October 2018 to two years in federal prison for his crime. He was also ordered to pay restitution to the financial institution and is facing additional state charges related to similar alleged activity in other areas of the country.

“In his bag at arrest were 20 cellular phones, 13 different identifications, a number of credit cards, and about $11,000 in cash.”

Marcus Brackman, special agent, FBI Atlanta

“Identity theft is very prevalent,” said Brackman. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, an estimated 26 million people age 16 or older in the United States experienced some form of identity theft in 2016—with many of those cases involving the misuse of a credit card or bank account. Brackman said that it was gratifying to hold someone responsible for a crime that affects so many people and creates such a headache for victims.

Beyond the financial losses, the impact of identity theft extends to the time, stress, and worry involved in cleaning up the harm done to credit scores and financial standing. “It is just painful to do your job and raise your family while trying to deal with the aftereffects of someone stealing your identity,” Brackman sympathized.

While it is difficult to protect against all the ways a criminal can find your personal data, Backman said consumers should monitor accounts and credit reports regularly and safeguard all personal information by being diligent about online safety and security and ensuring mail and documents don’t fall into the wrong hands.

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Why AI is the new frontier in cybersecurity

With breach attempts and cyberattacks increasing, many companies say artificial intelligence (AI) is a necessity in identifying and thwarting threats, and they are devoting bigger pieces of the budget for AI’s role in cybersecurity.

“It’s a fundamental tool going forward due to the approaching reality of the 5G-enabled world, where massive amounts of data will need to be analyzed in real time,” says J. Eduardo Campos, co-founder with his wife, Erica, of Embedded-Knowledge Inc. (www.embedded-knowledge.com) and co-author with her of From Problem Solving to Solution Design: Turning Ideas into Actions.

“5G will empower machine-to-machine communications, and the new wireless technology will be faster, carry more information per second, and interconnect sensors, devices, and computers at large scale.

“With more data flowing at higher speeds, only AI solutions will be able to handle such high volume of transactions while monitoring applications and sensors at the edge of companies’ networks.”

Campos offers some reasons AI is an effective cybersecurity tool for businesses:

System-entry protection. AI systems can scan the retina and fingerprints for biometric logins, identifying small changes in patterns — a more secure point of entry than traditional passwords provide. “Hackers cracking passwords open Pandora’s Box,” Campos says. “Passwords are vulnerable to cyberattacks, and personal information such as credit cards are easily compromised. Changing passwords alone isn’t a solution. Biometric systems lower your risk of breaches because biological characteristics are hard to duplicate.”

Enhanced threat detection and attack prevention. Cybersecurity firms are training AI systems to detect malware and viruses by using special algorithms. “This enables AI to use pattern recognition, which helps identify malicious software and isolate them,” Campos says. “AI systems are being trained to recognize ransomware before it encrypts. The predictive analytics AI uses are much faster than a manual approach.”

Time and cost saving. The average overall time to detect threats and respond to breaches is reduced by up to 12%. “This time reduction occurs by repeatedly scanning for anomalies that show threat patterns,” Campos says. “AI used in fraud detection has saved some companies millions.”

Natural language processing. This is a subfield of computer science, information engineering and AI related to programming computers to process natural language data and narrow down the most pertinent information. “AI-powered systems can collect data for reference by scanning articles and studies on cyber threats, helping organizations prepare effective strategies,” Campos says.

“There is still no guarantee against a cyberattack,” Campos says. “But AI certainly takes cybersecurity a step further, and businesses of all sizes are taking notice at a time when threats are always knocking at the door.”

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Social Security Matters

By AMAC Certified Social Security Advisor Russell Gloor

Association of Mature American Citizens

Ask Rusty – Paying Income Taxes on Social Security Benefits

Dear Rusty: I understand that after I reach full retirement age, I no longer have a limit on how much I earn. I retired one year early (65), and am now 76, but I am still being taxed on a portion of my SS benefits. I am not working and making extra money. However, my wife is still working, and I get two small annuities per month. But when I file income tax I am told we made enough for me to be taxed on a portion of my Social Security benefit. I even checked to see if filing married but separate returns would help and it was not as good as joint returns. So maybe you can explain this to me. Signed: Taxpaying Senior

Dear Taxpaying Senior: I’m afraid you’re speaking of two different things. You are correct that once you reach your full retirement age there is no longer a limit on how much you can earn from working before your monthly Social Security benefit is reduced. But that is something totally different from paying income tax on your Social Security benefits.

Social Security’s “earnings limit” looks only at your earnings from employment (or self-employment) to decide if they should take back some of your benefits before you reach your full retirement age. However, whether or not your Social Security benefits are taxable income is determined by your “combined income,” which includes your adjusted gross income as reported to the IRS, plus any non-taxable interest you may have had, plus 50% of your total Social Security benefits for the tax year. This is often referred to as your “modified adjusted gross income” or “MAGI” and it’s how the IRS determines if, or how much, of your Social Security benefit is taxable income. As a couple filing your income taxes as “married – filing jointly” if your MAGI is over $32,000 then up to 50% of your annual Social Security benefit amount is taxable, and if your MAGI is over $44,000 then up to 85% of your Social Security income becomes taxable. Note that the combined income levels are different, and lower, when you file your taxes individually.

The “earnings limit” is a rule imposed by Social Security to recover some benefits paid if the limit is exceeded due to your earnings from working. Taxation of Social Security benefits is done by the IRS (not Social Security) and it’s the IRS who determines if your Social Security benefits will add to your income tax burden. And while the Social Security earnings limit goes away once you reach your full retirement age, there is no such relief from the IRS at any age when it comes to paying income tax on your Social Security benefits.

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 'Moon Shoes' sell for 50K

What do you do with a pair of smelly old sneakers taking up space in your closet? Apparently, you should put them up for sale. That’s what Dave Russell of Sacramento, CA did and he managed to make a $50,000 profit. It turns out these were not any old kicks; they were designed by Bill Bowerman, co-founder of Nike, and only 12 pairs of what were called “Moon Shoes” were made in 1972. Eugene, OR was hosting the Olympic trials that year and Bowerman gave ten pairs to athletes trying out for the Olympic team and Russell was one of them. The Graduate Eugene Hotel, which is building a Nike Museum in Eugene, purchased the shoes. "They wanted something that would say, 'this is Nike town’," according to Russell.

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This centenarian has the right stuff

She’s 103 years old, but that didn’t stop her from showing that she has the right stuff. Seattle’s "Kitty" Hodges likely earned a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records when she jumped out of a plane at an altitude of 10,000 feet recently. She was strapped to an instructor, but it still took guts. Evidence of her feat has been submitted to the folks at Guinness to prove that she is the oldest woman to make a tandem jump.

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Squirrelly squirrels

New York City has a reputation for being a tough town and the newest warnings posted by the city’s Parks Department seem to prove that it’s not just muggers who pose a threat. The Big Apple has been putting up signs in several parks advising visitors not to feed the squirrels because they bite. The bushy-tailed creatures may look lovable and cute but lately they’ve become quite aggressive and pose a danger to those who might try to feed them. A local cameraman wanted to see for himself just how aggressive the squirrels in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park have become and he found out the hard way that some of them have become very angry critters. He was attacked as soon as he started filming.

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Ride-hailing apps

Transit use and environmental emissions have changed since ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft have become widely available, according to studies being conducted at the Kleinman Center for Energy Policy at the Universiy of Pennsylvania. Previously underserved, hard-to-access regions are seeing a burst of redevelopment with businesses like restaurants and bars, and, although that can benefit those areas, there are other repercussions to consider, such as possible increased emissions resulting from increased travel. EPA data measuring carbon monoxide, a common output from cars, highlight a clear correlation between the introduction of ride-hailing apps and greater emissions in more than a dozen cities in the United States.

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Portable EEG

Imagine if a coach could know when a certain player might peak or if a truck driver could know when he’d hit an unsafe point of mental fatigue. A portable EEG created by University of Pennsylvania professor Michael Platt and postdoctoral student Arjun Ramakrishnan can provide those insights by monitoring brain function. This new technology, which led to the formation of a company called Cogwear, LLC, has potential applications from health care to sports performance. “At its core, the advance we’re making here is the sensor technology.Then we can leverage those signals to make predictions about performance, user experience, customer engagement, all sorts of things,” Platt said.

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Rising temps

Increased outdoor temperatures are linked to known health risks, such as heat stroke and dehydration, but a new study from the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine has also found a relationship between potassium supplements and survival in heart failure patients during the hot summer months. Researchers found that taking supplemental potassium, a key nutrient that is lost through sweat, increased survival rates in this group of high-risk patients. Continued research on the relationship between the effects of prescription drugs and high outdoor temperatures will become increasingly important as climate change progresses.

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Water filters

More than 800 million people lack access to clean water, but current water filtration methods are too costly and cumbersome to be used in remote parts of the world. Engineers from the University of Pennsylvania recently published a study describing a novel “inverted” approach for creating nanoscale water filters that are flexible and robust, and they even have antimicrobial properties. These nanoscale water filters could someday be used to remove harmful chemicals from water more easily and cheaply than reverse osmosis.

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Brain insights

Brain-training games don’t work. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania's Center for Neuroscience & Society found no effects on participants’ abilities other than on the specific tasks being practiced. Another study, this one on prescription drugs intended to treat ADHD, found that when these medicines are taken by normal, healthy individuals, they do not enhance cognitive abilities.

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How to throw out your phone on a summer road trip

When you go on your summer vacation, can you also take a vacation from your smartphone?

Can you give Facebook and Instagram a rest and enjoy conversing with the people around you rather than constantly scrolling, posting, and checking for comments from your legion of followers?

Critics of chronic users of smartphones and social media doubt people can go without them for long. In today’s digitally consumed world, taking a “digital detox” is difficult for many to do.

But Johnny Welsh (www.johnnywelsh.com), author of Paper Maps, No Apps: An Unplugged Travel Adventure, says vacation is the perfect time to disconnect — and that it may change your perspective, and your life, if you do.

“With this addiction to our smartphones, this obsession to be connected with the world, we fail to connect with the people sitting right in front of us,” says Welsh, whose book chronicles a 16-day road trip in the western U.S. that he and his girlfriend, Kristy, took while detaching from smartphones and social media.

“The disconnect in face-to-face interactions keeps growing; I see it happening more as smartphones get ‘smarter.’ I imagine what would happen if aliens landed on earth and observed us. They might think a smartphone is something we need to live, like an external nervous system.”

On his road trip, Welsh endeavored to experience “how different life could be without the constant seduction of the flat screen” — while also examining his own social media habits with a sense of humor. Likewise, he thinks others who ditch their phones on a getaway can better live in the moment while not being digitally distracted.

“Be present,” Welsh says. “Turn off your device and really live. Vacations should be a real break from our technology-soaked lives.”

Welsh gives five tips on how to disconnect from your smartphone and enjoy vacation without it:

Use paper maps. Welsh says this is the first big step to looking at what’s around you rather than looking at your phone. “Using the old-school way, you won’t have to go to Google Maps for navigation and have an excuse to keep using your phone,” Welsh says. “Plus, using your brain, your imagination fires up like when you were a kid, looking at the back roads on an old map and wondering where they all lead.”

Delete tempting apps. “Addicted to Twitter or other sites? Delete the app from your phone before you leave on vacation,” Welsh says, “and don’t reinstall it until you get back.”

Buy a disposable camera or a real one. “Rather than take selfies on your phone, and constantly posting pictures and agonizing over the perfect hashtags, you can capture memories the old-fashioned way,” Welsh says. “And this way you actually enjoy your surroundings without having your face in a screen most of the day.”

Check hotels with digital-detox discounts. “Yes, they’re out there,” Welsh says. “Some places offer room discounts for giving up your phone upon check-in. A reawakening starts with forced human interaction. We did that for thousands of years before.”

Read. “Remember that?” Welsh asks. “Rather than being entranced on your phone, bring a good book. The act of reading a physical book quiets and calms us, incorporates the sense of touch and smell, and allows us to become part of the story in a way that no pop-up headline can.”

“We’re relying too much on instant technology,” Welsh says. “There can be life — a higher quality of life — without these devices.”

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Know Your Military

Medal of Honor: Army Pvt. Wilburn Ross

BY KATIE LANGE

Few World War II veterans can say they earned not just America's highest medal for valor, but France's as well. Army Pvt. Wilburn Ross is part of an elite group who can.

Ross single-handedly took out nearly 60 Germans in a five-hour period in 1944, saving his depleted company from an elite German force.

Ross was born May 12, 1922, and grew up on a farm in Kentucky. When World War II broke out, he moved to Virginia to be a shipyard welder. Not long after that, in 1942, he was drafted into the Army and quickly sent to the Western Front as a machine gunner with the 30th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division.

Ross saw combat in Morocco and Italy and took part in the mid-August 1944 invasion of southern France known as Operation Dragoon. It was a lesser-known invasion than northern France's D-Day, but just as important. During Dragoon, Ross's unit landed along the French Riviera, quickly secured the beachhead and pushed inland. According to the Seattle Times, Ross was injured by a grenade explosion to the cheek, but he recovered and continued on with his company, which regrouped with several other Allied armies in mid-September to begin the drive toward Germany.

Ross's division was moving east through the Vosges Mountains when he earned his Medal of Honor.

On Oct. 30, 1944, Ross' unit was fighting an entrenched group of elite German mountain soldiers, and they were losing badly — 55 of 88 men in his company had been lost by noon. But that didn't make Ross weary; instead, he pushed even harder to prevail.

Armed with a light machine gun, Ross managed to make his way to the front of the line, 10 yards ahead of the forward-most riflemen, so he could repel the attackers. It worked several times, despite the growing number of rifle and grenade explosions landing near him.

By the eighth German assault, most of the U.S. soldiers on the front line were out of ammunition. Ross continued to fire, single-handedly holding off the Germans as, one by one, his comrades crawled up to him to collect rounds they could use from his ammunition belt. As this was going on, enemy soldiers with grenades had crawled to within four yards of Ross, but he was able to repel them, too, hurling the grenades back at them.

Eventually, Ross also ran out of ammo. He was advised to withdraw to the company's command post, but he heard more ammo was on its way, so he declined.

Meanwhile, the Germans were desperately trying to take Ross out. After all, his machine gun was standing between them and a decisive breakthrough.

During the last German attempt, Ross' comrades were preparing for a last-ditch stand, fixing bayonets on their rifles as the enemy drew closer. But just before the Germans could swarm his position, the ammo to resupply them arrived. Ross reloaded and blasted his way through the enemy crowd, killing 40 and wounding 10 more. His efforts alone broke their will, and the Germans retreated.

During five hours of continuous combat, Ross killed or wounded at least 58 Germans. To ensure the remaining members of his unit survived, he stayed in position for 36 hours. His actions were an inspiration to his fellow soldiers.

On April 23, 1945, Ross was one of five members of the 3rd Infantry Division to be honored with the Medal of Honor in a ceremony at Zeppelin Field in Nuremberg, Germany — Hitler's once-thriving Nazi rally grounds.

After the war, Ross got married and had six children. He stayed in the military and served in the Korean War before he decided to retire as a master sergeant in 1964. Ross eventually settled down in DuPont, Washington, where he remained active in the veteran community.

In 2010 – 65 years after he received the Medal of Honor — Ross and a few other soldiers were presented with the French Legion of Honor, the highest decoration bestowed by France for military service, for their actions during Operation Dragoon.

The accolades have continued since. A Veterans of Foreign Wars post was renamed in Ross' honor in 2011, as was a nature trail in DuPont and a Kentucky highway near where he grew up. Ross was also one of 12 Medal of Honor recipients featured on postage stamps released in 2013.

Ross died May 9, 2017, at the age of 94. Clearly, he will be remembered.

This article is part of a weekly series called "Medal of Honor Monday," in which we highlight one of the more than 3,500 Medal of Honor recipients who have earned the U.S. military's highest medal for valor.

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Hijacked by emotions at work? Name, tame, and transform them

The workplace can make people feel a full range of emotions — sometimes more intensely and frequently than one experiences at home.

The difference is, people are often reluctant to show or acknowledge to themselves their full emotions while on the job. But burying those emotions can cause bigger problems, says Cynthia Howard, author of The Resilient Leader, Mindset Makeover: Uncover the Elephant in the Room.

“Emotions are part of your survival kit,” says Howard (www.eileadership.org), an executive coach and performance expert. “But for too many, emotions are the black box in the aircraft. You look at them only when there has been a crash or a tragedy.

“In the workplace, emotions get ignored for a variety of old assumptions, such as they’re a sign of weakness. But the message that one can separate their emotions and still function well is a myth. Research shows that when you can identify your emotion, you are able to slow your reaction. Thus you can name it, tame it, and then can take the right action to shift those feelings.”

Howard suggests using a journal to evaluate the following common emotions experienced at work and turn them into positives:

Anger. “Get to know your anger,” Howard says. “When ignored, anger turns to rage, resentment, heart disease, and it shuts down your ability to be happy.” Anger alerts you to set boundaries and facilitate change. Ask yourself these questions: What happens as a result of experiencing anger? How does it affect other people and interfere with your goals? Who or what flips your anger switch on?

Anxiety. “Anxiety arises from thoughts,” Howard says. “It can catch you in an endless thought loop. Did I sign off on that contract? Did I forget something? Anxiety can also serve as a messenger to help you clarify a situation, so you can take action.” Use your phone to create lists or download one of the many aps that will help you stay organized and focused. Consider these questions: How does anxiety interfere with your goals? Who or what flips your anxiety switch on? What would you like to experience instead?

Sadness. This emotion often brings a desire to withdraw and the need to cry. “It’s a cue you need time to reflect and let go of things that are not working,” Howard says. “Sadness gives you a window into what you value. And when you can acknowledge your own sadness, you increase the ability to demonstrate empathy. You develop the courage and ability to do other difficult things.”

Discouragement. When left unchecked, discouragement can erode confidence, motivation and momentum. “Go from discouraged to determined,” Howard says. “Reframe it by identifying three things that are going well for you. Recognize that the discouragement is not permanent. Find a safe person to talk to, then let go of discouragement and focus on your big vision.”

“All these emotions tie into stress,” Howard says. “Chronic, unmanaged stress, often caused by an unwillingness to confront these emotions, interrupts the ability to think clearly, work well with others, and in general, perform. Identifying your emotions leads you to having more control over them.”

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Four ways to protect yourself from deadly superbugs

By Greg Frank, Ph.D.

Every year, drug-resistant bacteria and fungi known as "superbugs" infect 2 million Americans -- and kill up to 162,000 of those patients.

Sadly, that toll could soon skyrocket. Microorganisms like bacteria and fungi build resistance to medical treatments over time. Each time someone uses an antimicrobial -- think prescription antibiotics or antibacterial soaps -- those microorganisms have a chance to evolve into a drug-resistant superbug.

Superbugs are evolving faster than we're creating new treatments. It's up to everyday Americans to prevent this looming public health crisis.

Here are four easy steps to fight the spread of these deadly infections.

1. Avoid antibacterial products.

Soap and body wash that contain "antibacterial" ingredients sound healthy. But they aren't.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) determined that antibacterial soaps are no better at preventing illness than regular soap and water. These added ingredients just turn people's bodies into breeding grounds for antimicrobial-resistant bacteria.

Antibacterial cleaning products, meanwhile, leave behind chemicals designed to wipe out bacteria. However, these chemicals aren't 100 percent effective. The surviving bacteria may evolve to become resistant to antimicrobials -- posing a threat to humans' safety.

2. Take antibiotics appropriately.

When prescribed antibiotics, patients should always complete the full course of treatment, even if they feel better halfway through. Stopping treatment early allows some bacteria to live on and evolve.

Patients should also only take antibiotics when absolutely necessary. Many often clamor for antibiotics as soon as they catch colds, even though most colds -- along with the flu, bronchitis, and the stomach flu -- are caused by viruses, which antibiotics can't treat. Thirty percent of antibiotics prescribed in the United States are unnecessary, according to a study in the Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy. Only one in 10 sore-throat patients actually needs antibiotics, but six in 10 receive them.

By overusing antibiotics or not taking them as directed, Americans inadvertently accelerate the spread of superbugs. Patients can exercise caution and only use antibiotics as a last resort. For instance, folks should confirm they actually have strep throat before taking amoxicillin. Otherwise, they may increase their risk of resistant infections down the line.

3. Get vaccinated.

It's crucial that people stay up-to-date on their shots. A single vaccine prevents the same infections as a whole regimen of antibiotics.

Consider the bacteria responsible for many ear and sinus infections, Streptococcus pneumoniae. If every child in the world was vaccinated for that bacteria, the World Health Organization estimates it would prevent 11 million days of antibiotic use every year.

4. Tell Congress to support the DISARM Act.

In June, Senators Johnny Isakson (R-GA) and Bob Casey (D-PA) introduced the Developing an Innovative Strategy for Antimicrobial Resistance, or DISARM, Act. The bipartisan bill would incentivize doctors and hospitals to use newer antibiotics, instead of older less effective ones. The proposal would also require hospitals to start stewardship programs to monitor how and when they administer antibiotics. Such programs have proven effective at reducing the amount of unnecessary prescriptions that doctors write.

The DISARM Act is an essential first step in preventing the misuse of antibiotics. Americans can call or write their senators to advocate for the bill.

By taking small steps to prevent antibiotic resistance, everyone can help save millions of lives from the scourge of superbugs.

Greg Frank, Ph.D., is the director of infectious disease policy at the Biotechnology Innovation Organization.

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Plant a few edible and decorative containers for fall

By MELINDA MYERS

End the growing season with an extra burst of color and nutrition with a few fall containers. A pot of mums or asters can add color to your front steps and a container filled with kale and greens adds fresh flavor to your fall meals. But don’t stop there. Create attractive potted gardens by combining asters, mums, grasses, cool weather edibles and other fall beauties.

Spruce up an existing container by replacing weather worn annuals with fresh fall favorites. Pansies, sweet alyssum and dianthus are just a few annuals that hit their stride as cooler weather returns.

Or plant new container gardens for your fall landscape. Just select a pot with drainage holes and fill it with a quality planting mix. Or upcycle items like a wicker basket, small bushel basket, wooden crate or galvanized tub into a fun fall planter. Just add drainage holes before planting. Or scoop out a pumpkin and set a pot of pansies or ornamental peppers inside.

Use ornamental grasses, kale, black-eyed Susans and Swiss chard for vertical interest. Complement your plantings and containers with garden art, gourds, mini pumpkins and berry-covered branches. Add a mum or aster for a vibrant surge of color.

Include some trailing plants like golden moneywort, trailing lobelia and ivy. Fill any voids with snapdragons, ornamental peppers, colorful greens and coral bells. Just be sure to protect peppers and any other frost-sensitive plants on those chilly nights.

Grow a container of Bright Lights Swiss Chard, colorful leaf lettuce and pansies – the flowers are edible – for an attractive and edible combination. Make your fall centerpiece an edible part of your gatherings. Fill a metal colander or basket with red dragon arugula, red mizuna mustard, red sails lettuce, bull’s blood beets and other colorful greens in a metal colander or basket for your outdoor gatherings.

Test your container designs while shopping. Grab a cart and gather the plants you would like to grow. See if the colors and textures work well together. The bold leaves of plants like ornamental cabbage contrast with the fine leaves of ornamental grasses to create a focal point. Repeat colors from the flowers or leaves of one plant to another to unify your planting. For example, use a purple aster or pink mum to echo the colors of decorative kale, pansies or the colorful leaf stems of Swiss chard.

Set containers on the front steps as a colorful autumn welcome. Group several containers together for a garden of containers to display on the deck, patio or balcony. This collection of container gardens is sure to brighten your day when relaxing outdoors or enjoying the view from inside the house looking out.

Go one step further and create a stunning autumn display by combining fall planters with gourds, decorative squash and pumpkins. Use corn stalks or broom corn for vertical interest or as a backdrop. Then include bales of hay to elevate a few of the pots and pumpkins for multiple levels of fall beauty. Dress it up further with sprigs of American bittersweet, grape vines and other fall décor.

A few fall planters can go a long way to help celebrate the transition from summer to winter. The last blaze of color will warm you as the temperatures start to drop.

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Social Security Matters

By AMAC Certified Social Security Advisor Russell Gloor

Association of Mature American Citizens

Ask Rusty – About Medicare and Social Security

Dear Rusty: I know that when a person turns 65 he or she must enroll in Medicare. I have been informed that the charge for this would be deducted from the Social Security benefit, if it has been claimed. Otherwise, this will be another payment for my medical care, in addition to my existing coverage. Please explain the relationship between the two programs and considerations in timing the claim for the SSA benefit. Signed: Frugal Senior

Dear Frugal Senior: If you are already collecting Social Security benefits you will be automatically enrolled in Medicare about 3 months prior to your 65th birthday but, if not, enrollment can be done by contacting Social Security directly. You must enroll in Medicare at age 65, unless you have other “creditable” healthcare coverage (such as from an employer) or you will be subject to a late enrollment penalty for enrolling after expiration of your initial enrollment period (your “IEP”). Your “IEP” is a seven-month window which starts 3 months before the month you turn 65 and ends 3 months after the month you turn 65. You should check with your employer to make sure your existing coverage is “creditable” and, if it is, you can delay enrolling in Medicare until such time as that other coverage ends and thus avoid a late enrollment penalty for not enrolling in Medicare Part B during your IEP. When your employer coverage ends, you’ll enter a “special enrollment period” during which you can enroll in Medicare Part B (and Part D, which is prescription drug coverage) without incurring a late enrollment penalty.

Medicare Part A (hospitalization coverage) is free if you are also eligible for Social Security benefits (you don’t have to be collecting SS, only eligible). Medicare Part B provides coverage for doctors and outpatient services and there is a premium associated with it ($135.50 for 2019). If you have other creditable coverage you can avoid paying the Part B premium by not enrolling during your IEP. If your existing plan also provides creditable prescription drug coverage, you can also defer enrolling in a Medicare Part D plan until your employer coverage ends, at which time you will have 63 days to take a Part D plan without incurring a late enrollment penalty. FYI, you must be enrolled in Medicare Part A to collect SS benefits after you are 65 years old, and since Part A is free for anyone eligible for Social Security, there is little reason to not enroll in Part A at age 65 (unless you have a Health Savings Account (HSA), in which case there are special rules to consider).

Although you enroll in Medicare via Social Security, they are two very separate and distinct programs. Normally, if you are collecting Social Security benefits your Medicare Part B premium is automatically deducted from your Social Security benefit. But if you wish to delay collecting Social Security and want to enroll in Medicare Part B, you can do so and request alternate Medicare Part B premium payment arrangements, for which there are several options.

As for the timing of your claim for Social Security benefits, you should evaluate your need for the money, your current health and your expected longevity. If you don’t need the money now and expect to live to at least average life expectancy (about 87 for women and 84 for men) then delaying your claim for SS as long as possible will yield you the highest monthly benefit amount as well as the most in lifetime SS benefits. For each year you delay claiming Social Security beyond your full retirement age you’ll get an additional 8% on your monthly benefit, and you could get as much as 32% more (depending on your FRA) at age 70. Age 70 is when your benefit would reach maximum so you shouldn’t wait beyond age 70 to claim Social Security.

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Talk about firewater

The Chernobyl nuclear power plant meltdown and explosion in 1986 created a radioactive no-man’s land, a 1,000 square mile exclusion zone. Experts estimate that the exclusion zone won’t be safe for more than 100 years. But, entrepreneurial scientists at England’s University of Portsmouth have decided it is already safe enough to use the water and grain in the zone to make a powerful new Vodka, aptly labeled Atomik Vodka. The University issued a statement noting that “the only radioactivity the researchers could detect in the alcohol is natural Carbon-14 at the same level you would expect in any spirit drink.”

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Attention bacon lovers

A chain of West Coast restaurants has announced that it will pay a lucky aficionado of crispy bacon $1,000 for a day of non-stop taste-testing. The Farmer Boys chain posted a notice on its Web site describing how to enter the competition for the “bacon intern” position before August 20 and notes that the winner will be announced on August 27.

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Is she kidding?

Did revenge motivate the owner of the Manhattan Beach, CA “emoji house?” The speculation is Kathryn Kidd was indeed seeking retribution when she gave the exterior of her home a hot-pink paint job that has neighbors in an uproar. It features large, colorful emoji-like figures, one of which is sticking its tongue out. It seems the home owner was recently fined $4,000 for illegally renting rooms to short-term visitors, which is against the law in Manhattan Beach. On the contrary says the homeowner, "it's a message to me to be positive and happy and love life."

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Mass shootings

The lack of a clear, consistent definition for “mass shootings” makes it hard to determine exactly how much the frequency of such events has increased, said University of Pennsylvania criminologist Richard Berk. “It’s difficult to arrive at a consensus, but a very rough estimate is that during the past decade, there have been about 40 deaths per year attributed to mass shootings, ” he says. “Virtually all perpetrators were male—just as in most violent crime—and mass shootings associated with intimate partner violence were the most common type.” Broad gun control likely won’t work, he said, given the Second Amendment and the sheer number of semi-automatic weapons in the United States. Rather, more surgical interventions such as banning high-capacity magazines may be a better approach to fostering change.

Porn & privacy

New research shows that pornography websites have an overwhelming lack of privacy and lack of transparency about privacy. More than 90 percent of pornography websites share user data with at least one third party, according to a study from the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication. Google alone was tracking users on nearly 75 percent of the 22,000 websites analyzed. And many of the sites’ privacy policies failed to mention the presence of third-party trackers while others lacked privacy policies altogether.

Early universe

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania are part of an international effort to create the largest ground-based cosmic microwave background (CMB) observatory ever built. As members of the Simons Observatory collaboration, Mark Devlin and his team are building the sensor that will sit at the “heart” of this cluster of cutting-edge telescopes. Located in the high Atacama Desert in northern Chile, the Observatory will measure CMB, the residual radiation left behind by the Big Bang nearly 14 billion years ago, to learn more about the first moments of the early universe.

Alzheimer's

Using PET scans to image amyloid protein deposits in the brain is becoming a more common means for predicting Alzheimer’s disease and evaluating patients with symptoms of dementia in both clinical and research settings. However, recent studies have suggested that this measurement may not be directly linked to cognitive performance. A new study from the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine and Thomas Jefferson University found that measuring glucose consumption in the brain is a more effective and sensitive endpoint than amyloid protein deposits. “Our results support the notion that amyloid imaging does not reflect levels of brain function, and therefore it may be of limited value for assessing patients with cognitive decline,” said co-principal investigator Abass Alavi.

Memory motion

A familiar tune has the ability to take the listener to another time and place. In the University of Pennsylvania Health System’s Memory in Motion program patients with dementia reconnect with their past through the power of music. The program, housed under the Penn Memory Center, encourages patients with dementia and their caregivers to move and dance while listening to musical oldies. “So many studies show the incredible memories recalled in connection with music. They become completely different people,” said Colby Damon, a former professional dancer who leads the group. “It’s important for me to help people who are living with dementia still have a high quality of life, to find experiences that can enrich their daily lives.”

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KNOW YOUR MILITARY

'C-Rats' Fueled Troops During and After World War II

BY DAVID VERGUN

An old saying declares that an army marches on its stomach, meaning it needs food to survive, thrive and conquer.

Soldiers, sailors and Marines were often far from their mess halls, galleys and field kitchens during World War II, so they had to haul around heavy boxes of prepackaged food to survive.

The rations they carried were known as C-Rations, but were more often referred to as "C-Rats."

C-Rations on display.

C-Rations were developed in 1938 as a replacement for reserve rations, which sustained troops during World War I, and consisted chiefly of canned corned beef or bacon and cans of hardtack biscuits, as well as ground coffee, sugar, salt and tobacco with rolling paper — not much in the way of variety.

Researchers at the Quartermaster Subsistence Research and Development Laboratory in Chicago went to work to design food products that could be kept for long time periods and were more delicious and nutritious than reserve rations.

A soldier eats food.

The design they came up with consisted of 12-ounce tinplate cans that were opened with a key. At first, the meals were stews, and more varieties were added as the war went on, including meat and spaghetti in tomato sauce, chopped ham, eggs and potatoes, meat and noodles, pork and beans; ham and lima beans, and chicken and vegetables.

Besides these main courses, chocolate or other candies, gum, biscuits and cigarettes were added.

When three meals a day were consumed, C-Rations provided about 3,700 calories. They could be eaten cold, but tasted better cooked.

A soldier sits on the ground eating C-rations.

Troop feedback on C-Rations often went unheeded. For instance, the ham and lima beans entree was unpopular, but it remained in the C-Ration mix until well into the Vietnam War. Two other complaints were that the food selection was monotonous and the meals were heavy to carry into combat on foot.

In 1958, C-Rations were replaced by "Meal, Combat, Individual" rations. The contents were almost identical to C-Rations, so they continued to be called C-Rats until the early 1980s, when "Meal, Ready-to-Eat" replaced them. MREs came in packages instead of cans, so they were much lighter than C-Rations.

K-Rations used during World War II.

Besides C-Rations, K-Rations were also issued during World War II, but in a more limited number. These were distributed for missions of short duration, such as paratroopers participating in airborne operations.

K-Rations were lighter than C-Rations, and three meals a day netted only 2,830 calories. Soldiers complained about the taste and lack of calories, and so entrepreneurial leaders often found supplements such as rice, bread and C-Rations.

K-Rations were discontinued at the end of World War II.

Today, MREs are issued to troops. The early versions were disliked by many, so the Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center in Massachusetts, which does food research for the Defense Department, improved the taste of MREs over time.

However, many veterans who've eaten both C-Rats and MREs, still have nostalgia for C-Rats and prefer them over MREs.

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Four ways to protect yourself from deadly superbugs

By GREG FRANK, Ph.D.

Every year, drug-resistant bacteria and fungi known as "superbugs" infect 2 million Americans -- and kill up to 162,000 of those patients.

Sadly, that toll could soon skyrocket. Microorganisms like bacteria and fungi build resistance to medical treatments over time. Each time someone uses an antimicrobial -- think prescription antibiotics or antibacterial soaps -- those microorganisms have a chance to evolve into a drug-resistant superbug.

Superbugs are evolving faster than we're creating new treatments. It's up to everyday Americans to prevent this looming public health crisis.

Here are four easy steps to fight the spread of these deadly infections.

1. Avoid antibacterial products.

Soap and body wash that contain "antibacterial" ingredients sound healthy. But they aren't.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) determined that antibacterial soaps are no better at preventing illness than regular soap and water. These added ingredients just turn people's bodies into breeding grounds for antimicrobial-resistant bacteria.

Antibacterial cleaning products, meanwhile, leave behind chemicals designed to wipe out bacteria. However, these chemicals aren't 100 percent effective. The surviving bacteria may evolve to become resistant to antimicrobials -- posing a threat to humans' safety.

2. Take antibiotics appropriately.

When prescribed antibiotics, patients should always complete the full course of treatment, even if they feel better halfway through. Stopping treatment early allows some bacteria to live on and evolve.

Patients should also only take antibiotics when absolutely necessary. Many often clamor for antibiotics as soon as they catch colds, even though most colds -- along with the flu, bronchitis, and the stomach flu -- are caused by viruses, which antibiotics can't treat. Thirty percent of antibiotics prescribed in the United States are unnecessary, according to a study in the Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy. Only one in 10 sore-throat patients actually needs antibiotics, but six in 10 receive them.

By overusing antibiotics or not taking them as directed, Americans inadvertently accelerate the spread of superbugs. Patients can exercise caution and only use antibiotics as a last resort. For instance, folks should confirm they actually have strep throat before taking amoxicillin. Otherwise, they may increase their risk of resistant infections down the line.

3. Get vaccinated.

It's crucial that people stay up-to-date on their shots. A single vaccine prevents the same infections as a whole regimen of antibiotics.

Consider the bacteria responsible for many ear and sinus infections, Streptococcus pneumoniae. If every child in the world was vaccinated for that bacteria, the World Health Organization estimates it would prevent 11 million days of antibiotic use every year.

4. Tell Congress to support the DISARM Act.

In June, Senators Johnny Isakson (R-GA) and Bob Casey (D-PA) introduced the Developing an Innovative Strategy for Antimicrobial Resistance, or DISARM, Act. The bipartisan bill would incentivize doctors and hospitals to use newer antibiotics, instead of older less effective ones. The proposal would also require hospitals to start stewardship programs to monitor how and when they administer antibiotics. Such programs have proven effective at reducing the amount of unnecessary prescriptions that doctors write.

The DISARM Act is an essential first step in preventing the misuse of antibiotics. Americans can call or write their senators to advocate for the bill.

By taking small steps to prevent antibiotic resistance, everyone can help save millions of lives from the scourge of superbugs.

Greg Frank, Ph.D., is the director of infectious disease policy at the Biotechnology Innovation Organization.

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What is your definition of success? 5 tips to find it

While building and maintaining a thriving business may not be easy, experts in entrepreneurial endeavors say that building a personal brand first is key. In fact, some studies show that today’s consumers trust big brands less and prefer buying from a person they view as authentic and relatable.

But before building a personal brand, it’s important for an entrepreneur to define what constitutes their own brand of success, says Ngan Nguyen (www.nganhnguyen.com), an intuitive strategist and author of Self-Defined Success: You Have Everything It Takes.

“Fulfillment and extraordinary results only come when you strive to achieve your authentic success,” Nguyen says. “The key is figuring out what that is and navigating that path. The good news is that we each already have everything it takes to navigate that path. It is essential, because we each have unique gifts, passions, and talents that can create amazing impact in the world and differentiate ourselves and our businesses.”

Nguyen offers five ways to define your own brand of success that can lead to running a successful business:

Get unstuck by unleashing your inner self. “We feel stuck when there is a lack of clarity and the path in front of us is not aligned with our authenticity,” Nguyen says. “Stagnancy and negative happenings force us to look inside ourselves at who we really are and what we really want. Detail those things, and now you’ll have the blueprint to create change and growth. Getting clear on this enables us to lead ourselves and our business to forge ahead on a new path.”

Act on your new authenticity. “Our full potential comes out when we are fully committed to creating a result that fully expresses who we are and what we love,” Nguyen says. “Without that clarity and without acting upon our newly discovered authentic selves, there will always be a bit of reservation. And with that reservation comes lackluster results that are not a reflection of our true potential.”

Keep the vision in mind. Nguyen says much of our untapped potential lies in unused intelligence. “Leaders who leverage their vision can effectively navigate a path to success in a competitive marketplace,” Nguyen says. “Any vision that we can imagine, this infinite intelligence knows how to bring about. The question is how we go about influencing our subconscious in the right way so that it serves us. We do this by holding and keeping an image of a life we desire, and feeding it through repetition long enough that our mind goes to work to aid us in creating it.”

Make your passion your fuel. “The power to create extraordinary results requires this critical ingredient,” Nguyen says. “Passion is contagious, ignites the heart, and motivates the team. It energizes and sparks the pull forward through all barriers, uncertainty, and challenges.”

Have the will to make decisions that move toward your dream. Nguyen says the difference between those who make their dreams happen and those who don’t isn’t always a matter of intelligence but often is a matter of consistent will in decision-making. “You must have the intention to keep moving forward,” Nguyen says. “There is an energy shift that is experienced in the decision-making process, where a desire goes from wanting to being because you’ve concluded that the dream must come true no matter what.”

“Most of us are not accessing our full potential,” Nguyen says. “We need more people to bring their passion, humanity, wisdom and mastery into the world, and achieving this is easier than you may think.”

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What buying habits tell marketers about each generation

Each generation has unique experiences, lifestyles, and demographics that influence their buying behaviors, financial experts say. And studies show these distinguishing factors often lead to different spending habits between generations.

As a result, many companies are reaching out to consumers and trying to understand — and gain the attention of — these diverse buyers, says Gui Costin (www.guicostin.com), an entrepreneur, consultant and author of Millennials Are Not Aliens.

“This type of multi-generational marketing is the practice of appealing to the unique needs and behaviors of individuals within different generational groups,” says Costin. “In terms of finding and retaining buyers, companies cannot underestimate those generational differences.”

Costin discusses how the buying habits of different generations are influenced by environmental factors and how businesses must focus their marketing efforts accordingly:

Millennials. Now comprising the highest percentage of the workforce, this generation (born roughly from 1981 to 1995) receives considerable marketing attention. Many millennials grew up immersed in the digital world — a big difference from previous generations — and they think globally. “Attract this group early and earn its loyalty by appealing to their belief that they can make the future better,” Costin says. “Traditional mass marketing approaches do not work well with younger consumers. Be sure they know that your organization’s mission speaks to a purpose greater than the bottom line, e.g., globalization and climate change. Give them systematic feedback because they value positive reinforcement at accelerated rates and want more input.”

Generation X. Following the baby boomers and preceding the millennials, their tastes are different from previous generations. “Because they have greater financial restraints, they often shop at value-oriented retailers,” Costin says. “On the other hand, they have a reputation of being incredibly disloyal to brands and companies. Generation Xers like initiatives that will make things more useful and practical. They demand trust to the extent that if your organization does not follow through once, then you are likely to lose them.”

Baby Boomers. This demographic group, with many now in retirement or nearing it, includes those born from 1946 to 1964. Health is a major concern, and change is not something they embrace. “They appreciate options and want quick fixes that require little change and instant improvement,” Costin says. “They do not like bureaucracy — but give them a cause to fight for and they will give their all. Focus on building value and they will be less price-sensitive. While this group may be aging, they’re focused on breaking the mold of what 60 and beyond looks like.”

The Silent Generation. Born between 1925 and 1945, this group represents the oldest Americans and, Costin says, typically is labeled with traditional values such as discipline, self-denial, hard work, conformity, and financial conservatism. “It’s important to earn their trust,” says Costin, “as they believe that a person’s word is his or her bond. Patriotism, team-building, and sacrifice for the common good are appealing to this generation. As a group, they aren’t particularly interested in the information age; however, the younger members of this generation are one of the fastest-growing groups of internet users.”

“Communicating with customers in different generations can be challenging,” Costin says. “However, all generations appreciate honesty and authenticity. As environmental factors change, transparency and genuine interactions remain important to everyone.”

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Tomato Troubles

By MELINDA MYERS

You have waited all season for that first red ripe tomato only to discover less-than-perfect fruit. But don’t worry, you can still have a great harvest this year while improving things for next season.

Blossom end rot is a common problem. It’s due to a calcium deficiency often caused by fluctuations in soil moisture, often seen on the first set of fruit and those grown in containers.

Adjust your watering and mulch the soil to help keep it consistently moist. Have your soil tested before adding any calcium fertilizer. Further reduce the risk of blossom end rot by avoiding root damage when staking and cultivating your garden. Eliminating some of the roots limits the plant’s ability to absorb water and nutrients. And, don’t use ammonium forms of nitrogen prior to or during fruit set.

Fortunately, it is safe to eat the firm red portion of the tomato. Since this is a physiological and not disease or insect problem, you can cut off the black portion and toss it into the compost pile.

Cracked fruit are also common in the garden. Fluctuating temperatures, moisture and improper fertilization result in irregular development of the fruit that results in cracking. You can’t change the weather, but you can reduce the risk of this problem with thorough, less frequent watering to encourage deep roots. And just like blossom end rot, mulch the soil to keep it evenly moist and be sure to avoid root damage.

Several fungal diseases such as early and late blight, septoria leaf spot and anthracnose, can cause spots on the leaves and fruit of tomatoes. Minimize the problem by rotating your plantings whenever possible. Move your tomatoes to an area of the garden where unrelated crops, such as beans, lettuce or onions, were grown last season.

Mulch the soil to help keep soil borne fungal spores off the plant. Water early in the day, and if possible, apply the water directly to the soil with a soaker hose, drip irrigation or a watering wand to reduce the risk of disease.

Properly space and stake or tower the plants for better air circulation and remove susceptible weeds and volunteer tomato plants to further reduce the risk of these and other diseases.

Always clean up and dispose of tomato and other disease-infected plant material in the fall. Cultural practices and growing the most disease-resistant varieties available are often enough to keep these diseases under control.

As a last resort you may choose to use a fungicide. Select one labeled for food crops and apply at the first sign of the disease. Repeat applications are usually needed. Be sure to read and follow all label directions carefully whether using organic, natural or synthetic fungicides.

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Little-known tax breaks that could save you big dollars

By CHRIS HEERLEIN

If you want to pay less in taxes, you must create a forward-looking plan. And it’s wise to start strategizing and implementing those tactics in 2019.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 gives us a lot to think about when crafting a financial framework. With the legislation scheduled to run through 2025, you want to be aware of certain provisions and exceptions in the tax-reform law and how you can take advantage of them.

State taxes. The tax-reform changes impose a $10,000 limitation on the deduction of state taxes. The IRS says that maximum does not apply to property taxes imposed on business property. For those of you with home offices, to the extent that you can allocate real estate taxes on your home to that office, understand that’s deductible outside or above the $10,000 limit.

Home equity lines of credit. If you take out a home equity line and use the proceeds to reinvest in your home, such as a new kitchen or a new wing in your bedroom, the interest remains deductible. But if you use those proceeds to, say, pay off college tuition or credit cards, there’s no allowable deduction. We see families borrowing money on their home to use for repairs, improvements, and sometimes even to cover retirement income and keep their tax bracket under control. Borrowing home equity can be good, but you need to keep track of what you’re doing with the proceeds because if they’re invested in the home, you can still take a deduction.

Charitable contributions. These are deductible, as they always were, but the reason to be concerned about this category is the doubling of the standard deduction. Prior to the new tax law, only about a third of people in the United States actually itemized deductions. And after this increase in the standard deduction, guess what? It goes down to less than 10% of Americans.

Think about that: 90% of people will claim a standard deduction. Now, why does that affect charitable contributions? Well, as you may know, you can claim a deduction for a charitable contribution only if you itemize. If you don’t itemize and take the standard deduction, you get no tax benefit for charitable contributions. But here are some workarounds:

For people over the age of 70 ½ — the age when you have required minimum distributions on your IRAs and 401(k)s — there’s something called a qualified charitable distribution (QCD), and you can take up to $100,000 out of your IRA each year and basically have it sent directly to a qualified charity. This is a wonderful strategy for families that give small amounts and large amounts. And you avoid all tax on that distribution that ends up at the qualified charity. You can claim the standard deduction and still avoid tax on the IRA required distributions, but remember, the first dollars you give to charity should be money out of your IRA.

What about those of you younger than 70½? Here’s what you might want to do. This is a little outside the box but it’s a powerful strategy. Bundle several years or so of contributions to your qualified charity. Let’s pull five years out as an example. You can actually bundle these contributions into a single year so that you will go over the standard deduction in that one year and claim a deduction for the excess contributions. A Donor Advised Fund (DAF) is when families put money into the fund, they get the full tax deduction for whatever goes into the fund that year, plus they can distribute that money over time, at their direction. I recommend this a lot of times to clients, especially those taking the standard deduction.

Entertainment and meal expenses. There are some big changes when it comes to entertainment expenses and meal expenses. The new tax law disallows any deduction for entertainment expenses period. Meals — an integral part of business dealings, of course — are a bit different. The IRS says you can still deduct the meal expense as long as you have a separate receipt. Going forward, make sure that your food costs for clients are separately stated on those invoices and receipts. That’s a big one and can add up fast.

Then there’s the very important SSA-44 Form. Let’s say you’re a high-wage earner and you are going to work half the year when you retire at 65. You get off the employer health care plan and go on Medicare. Well, the government dictates your Medicare premiums by how much income you report. If you go over these thresholds, you are going to get a letter in the mail that says, “You’re Medicare premiums are going up.” And I’m talking perhaps $500-plus per person more for the same coverage your neighbor is getting. The SSA-44 Form is something you would file with your tax return in a year that you retired and were over these income limits, and they’ll give you a once-in-a-lifetime exception around those limits.

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Social Security Matters

By AMAC Certified Social Security Advisor Russell Gloor

Association of Mature American Citizens

Ask Rusty – How Is My Benefit Amount Determined?

Dear Rusty: I am 60 years old. I have worked full time since age 22. I am thinking about working part-time ages 62-65. When I start collecting my social security benefit sometime after age 65, will my monthly amount be based on only the last few years of my working? Can you please explain how my monthly amount will be determined? Signed: Planning My Future

Dear Planning: I admire that you’re thinking ahead to your retirement years and I’m happy to clarify this for you. Your Social Security benefit, when you claim it, will be based upon the highest earning 35 years of your lifetime working career (not only the last few years). To determine your benefit, Social Security will take your entire record of lifetime earnings, adjust each year for inflation, and select the 35 years in which you had the highest earnings. After totaling those years they’ll divide by 420 (the number of months in 35 years) to determine your “average indexed monthly earnings” (AIME). They then break your AIME into several parts (using what’s known as “bend points”) and then take a percentage of each part and add it up to arrive at what’s called your “primary insurance amount” or “PIA.” The “bend point” values change each year, but for 2019 they are $926 and $5583. To compute your benefit, the formula will take 90% of the first $926 of your AIME; 32% of your AIME between $926 and $5583; and 15% of any amount of your AIME over $5583. The product of those three computations are added together to arrive at your PIA.

Your PIA is the amount you will get at your full retirement age, or your “FRA,” which for you (born in 1959) is 66 years and 10 months. If you claim any earlier than your FRA, your benefit will be reduced - about 29% less if claimed at 62. If you wait beyond your FRA the benefit will be more - 8% more for each year you delay, up to age 70 when maximum is reached. At age 70 your benefit will be about 25% more than it would be at your FRA. But a note of caution: any benefit estimates you have now from Social Security assume you’ll keep earning at your current level until you reach your FRA, so if you work part-time starting at age 62 your benefit amounts will be less than those shown in the current estimates.

Finally, the above applies to your own individual SS retirement benefit from your own lifetime work record. If you are married, and your PIA is less than 50% of your husband’s PIA, then you might also be eligible for a spousal boost from your husband. Or if you are the higher earner, your husband might be eligible for a spousal boost from you when you claim your Social Security benefit.

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History Matters

Feature courtesy of The Grateful American Book Prize

Showing our children that their past is prelude to their future

It’s the 50th anniversary of the Woodstock festival, which took place on a farm in the town of Bethel, NY on August 15, 1969. Some parents may recall what a momentous event the three-day concert turned out to be, but many grandparents were probably among the more than 300,000 participants. Twenty-four rock bands performed, and their music — in time — partially defined the counter-culture movement of the 1960’s.

It was a significant episode in American history, one that is worth explaining to your children and grandchildren.

The Grateful American Book Prize recommends Three Day Summer, by Sarvenaz Tash.

It’s a rough patch of history, but the impeachment of Bill Clinton, the 42nd President of the United States, is an important lesson for young people to absorb.

It all started on August 17, 1998 when Mr. Clinton became the first sitting president to appear before a grand jury that resulted in a far-reaching investigation of his alleged inappropriate conduct and, ultimately — his possible — removal from office. That night, after months of maintaining his innocence, Clinton delivered a televised speech in which he confessed to an improper relationship with White House intern, Monica Lewinsky, and his conviction failed to happen.

For more detailed information, read Famous Trials —The Impeachment of Bill Clinton, by Nathan Aeseng

The British army took its revenge for an American attack on the city of York [Toronto] during the War of 1812 by invading Washington, D.C. and burning down the U.S. Capitol on August 24 and 25,1814. The White House and much of the City of Washington D.C. were incinerated, but the Americans defeated the British in 1815.

The Grateful American Book Prize recommends The Burning of Washington: August 1814, by Mary Kay Phelan.

One of the most important events that occurred during the Civil Rights Movement, was the March on Washington, on August 28, 1963. The movement had been underway almost ten years, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a Baptist minister and social activist, was well established as a leader in the struggle for equal rights. As a pre-eminent spokesman for the cause, King was selected to address the gathering of more than 250,000 supporters — men, women and children. He delivered a speech which he called I Have A Dream. It stirred the crowds and quickly became one of the most famous and important exemplars of oratory since Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.

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So you’re not the boss? Here’s how you can still be a leader

Are leaders born or are they developed? It’s a subject that’s long been debated.

And in the workplace, can an employee who holds no supervisory job title be an effective leader — before being entrusted with managing people?

Grant Parr, a mental sports performance coach, says yes — and adds that it’s almost mandatory if someone hopes to be ready as a leader when promoted to a bigger role in an organization.

“Leadership is a choice,” says Parr (www.gameperformance.com), author of The Next One Up Mindset: How To Prepare For The Unknown. “It’s not a title, position, or rank. You don’t have to be a department head, manager or CEO to be a leader.”

“Leadership is a group of characteristics, and you can acquire them even if you’re not the boss. You’ll never be a leader when you assume that primetime role unless you have developed the qualities of leadership as part of your preparation for the next big step.”

Parr offers five ways to become a leader at a company without holding a leadership-type position:

Listen to others’ ideas. “Leadership is about others, not about the self, and it starts with listening,” Parr says. “Being a leader isn’t putting yourself above others, interrupting them, or acting like your ideas are more important than anyone else’s. True leadership brings out the best in others and your culture, and you do that by making them feel valued and giving them a voice.”

Be accountable for mistakes. “Own your errors,” Parr says. “It sets an example of accountability that is good for the culture. Too many people, when told of a mistake, assign blame and make excuses. A leader corrects constructively and surveys for solutions. As a subordinate, staying positive and offering ways to fix your mistake, and showing the humility of asking for help, is a path toward being a leader people can trust.”

Learn flexibility. “This applies in so many ways,” Parr says. “If you’re stuck on doing something one certain way, you’re headed toward being a micromanager who few would like and fewer would want to work under. Leadership is about tapping into your broad base of workplace talent, expanding knowledge, improving systems and raising the ceiling.”

Interact and network. Networking isn’t only about finding jobs, it’s about connecting with people in a way that enhances important relationships and the work environment. “As you learn to interact with different types in the workplace,” Parr says, “you’ll learn which relationships are most effective, how to help those people with their career, and show your ability to direct and lead.”

Develop a thick skin. To become a leader, Parr says it’s vital to rise above annoyances and petty slights from others and let them roll off your back. “HR isn’t the principal’s office,” he says, “and if you vent every time about someone doing something irritating, you’ll get the reputation of being a whiner. Don’t complain behind closed doors, gossip, or criticize people behind their backs. No one who does those things can be viewed as a leader.”

“People want to be led,” Parr says. “But they don’t want to be bossed around. Great leaders can learn this as underlings on their way to a management position. Then when they get there, they’re ahead of the game — and everyone’s in step with them.”

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KNOW YOUR MILITARY

These Social Media Scams Affect the Military

BY KATIE LANGE

Nowadays, you have to be cautious of everything you do online. Scammers are always trying to get money, goods or services out of unsuspecting people — and military members are often targets.

Here are some scams that have recently been affecting service members, Defense Department employees and their families.

Romance Scams

In April, Army Criminal Investigation Command put out a warning about romance scams in which online predators go on dating sites claiming to be deployed active-duty soldiers. It's a problem that's affecting all branches of service — not just the Army.

A Navy sailor holds up a smartphone, making visible a screen that shows a red circle with the words “scam alert” in it across a webpage that looks like a social media site.

CID said there have been hundreds of claims each month from people who said they've been scammed on legitimate dating apps and social media sites. According to the alleged victims, the scammers have asked for money for fake service-related needs such as transportation, communications fees, processing and medical fees — even marriage. CID said many of the victims have lost tens of thousands of dollars and likely won't get that money back.

Remember: Service members and government employees DO NOT PAY to go on leave, have their personal effects sent home or fly back to the U.S. from an overseas assignment. Scammers will sometimes provide false paperwork to make their case, but real service members make their own requests for time off. Also, any official military or government emails will end in .mil or .gov — not .com — so be suspicious if you get a message claiming to be from the military or government that doesn’t have one of those addresses.

If you're worried about being scammed, know what red flags to look for. If you think you've been a victim, contact the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center and the Federal Trade Commission.

DOD officials said task forces are working to deal with the growing problem, but the scammers are often from African nations and are using cyber cafes with untraceable email addresses, then routing their accounts across the world to make them incredibly difficult to trace. So be vigilant!

A man’s hands typing on a cellphone. The contents on the screen are undeterminable.

'Sextortion'

Sexual extortion — known as "sextortion" — is when a service member is seduced into sexual activities online that are unknowingly recorded and used against them for money or goods. Often, if a victim caves on a demand, the scammer will just likely demand more.

Service members are attractive targets for these scammers for a few reasons:

They're often young men who are away from home and have an online presence.

They have a steady income and are often more financially stable than civilians.

Because of their careers, they're held to a higher standard of conduct.

Military members have security clearances and know things that might be of interest to adversaries.

To avoid falling victim to sextortion, don't post or exchange compromising photos or videos with ANYONE online, and make sure your social media privacy settings limit the information outsiders can see — this includes advertising your affiliation with the military or government. Be careful when you're communicating with anyone you don't personally know online, and trust your instincts. If people seem suspicious, stop communicating with them.

Hands typing on a laptop computer at a white table.

DOD officials said sextortion often goes unreported because many victims are embarrassed they fell for it. But it happens worldwide and across all ranks and services. Here's what you should do about it if it happens to you:

Stop communicating with the scammer.

Contact your command and your local CID office.

Do NOT pay the perpetrator.

Save all communications you had with that person.

Service Member Impersonation Scams

Scammers love to impersonate people of authority, and that includes service members.

These people often steal the identity or profile images of a service member and use them to ask for money or make claims that involve the sale of vehicles, house rentals or other big-ticket items. These scammers often send the victim bogus information about the advertised product and ask for a wire transfer through a third party to finish the purchase, but there’s no product at the end of the transaction.

Lately, fake profiles of high-ranking American military officials have been popping up on social media websites using photos and biographical information obtained from the internet. Scammers often replicate recent social media posts from official DOD accounts and interact with official accounts to increase the appearance of legitimacy. As an example, there are impersonator accounts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. These accounts are also interacting with Joint Staff account followers in an effort to gain trust and elicit information. The only Joint Staff leader with an official social media presence is Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Chairman Army Command Sgt. Maj. John Wayne Troxell, who is listed as @SEAC.JCS on Facebook and @SEAC_Troxell on Twitter.

A graphic shows the logos of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other popular social media sites.

Scammers are making these profiles to defraud potential victims. They claim to be high-ranking or well-placed government/military officials or the surviving spouse of former government leaders, then they promise big profits in exchange for help in moving large sums of money, oil or some other commodity. They offer to transfer significant amounts of money into the victim's bank account in exchange for a small fee. Scammers that receive payment are never heard from again.

Here are some ways to lower the chances of you being impersonated or duped by a scammer:

To avoid having your personal data and photos stolen from your social media pages, limit the details you provide on them and don't post photos that include your name tag, unit patch and rank.

If an alleged official messages you with a request or demand, look closely at their social media page. Often, official accounts will be verified, meaning they have a blue circle with a checkmark right beside their Twitter, Facebook or Instagram name. General and flag officers will not message anyone directly requesting to connect or asking for money.

Search for yourself online — both your name and images you've posted — to see if someone else is trying to use your identity. If you do find a false profile, contact that social media platform and report it.

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Business betrayals: Protecting yourself from workplace treachery

Betrayal in business can come in many forms.

A supervisor who gives specific directions for a project, then lays the blame squarely on you when things go awry. An employee who fails to inform you of a high-end client’s unhappiness, leaving you blindsided and feeling the CEO’s wrath when the client cancels a contract.

In such scenarios, the person betrayed can feel angry, devastated and perhaps unsure whether to ever trust anyone again, say Elaine Eisenman, PhD, and Susan Stautberg, co-authors of Betrayed: A Survivor’s Guide to Lying, Cheating, & Double-Dealing. These two successful business women say they themselves have experienced betrayal professionally and personally.

“In all relationships we trust others, believing that while they will look out for their own best interest, they will also respect ours,” Stautberg says. “Unfortunately, that’s not always so.”

In business, there’s no guarantee that even a good friend or family member deserves your confidence.

“Regardless of how well you know someone, treat any business arrangement with due diligence,” Eisenman says. “Motives can be hidden, even with the best of friends.”

So, how can business leaders and their employees avoid betrayals that can harm them and their organizations? And how should they handle the fallout if they are betrayed? Eisenman and Stautberg offer a few suggestions:

Learn to trust wisely. Blind trust can make you an easy target because you ignore the potential for human nature’s darker side, Stautberg says. But it’s also ill-advised to assume no one can be trusted ever. What you’re after, she says, is “wise trust,” which allows you to weigh each situation, assessing whether there is low or high probability of betrayal.

Listen to what your gut tells you. So-called “gut feelings” act as an early warning system. “Ignore those feelings at your own peril,” Eisenman says. She shares the story of a woman named Ingrid, a chief finance officer in the public sector who was involved in the recruiting of a comptroller who came highly recommended. Ingrid preferred to handle reference checks herself, but that was HR’s job so she backed off, even though something told her this job candidate’s credentials were too good to be true. She shouldn’t have ignored her instinct because after he was hired the comptroller was charged with white-collar crimes committed in another state. For Ingrid, this became a triple betrayal – by colleagues who tried to make her the scapegoat, by HR, who didn’t perform a thorough background check, and, of course, she was betrayed by the man she hired.

Don’t seek revenge immediately – if at all. Planning revenge continues to provide the betrayer with power over you rather than allowing you to take that power into your own hands. It’s more productive to distance yourself from the betrayal and shore up your emotions with rational thoughts. That will help you begin to derive lessons from the traumatic event.

If you are betrayed, there is no need to beat up on yourself. “It is critical to recognize that what you are feeling is completely normal,” Eisenman says. “If you blow the event out of proportion, exaggerating its impact on all aspects of your life, you’ll only postpone your recovery.”

“The key to moving forward is self-compassion,” Stautberg says. “Get yourself to a safe space, both physically and emotionally, and get some sleep. Being rested will help you think clearly and you’re going to need your wits to survive.”

Reactions to stress differ. So, don’t worry if your immediate reaction includes anger. Try to balance it and take the energy to hold onto your power. Surround yourself with friends. Have the courage to move forward and leave the past behind. Learn to pivot. Eisenman and Stautberg discovered that the formula for success is creating a new positive, self-confidence about work and informed risk taking. Learn how to BOUNCE – Be Bold, Optimistic, Undaunted, Nimble, Courageous, and Empowered.

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How early orthodontic evaluation can save your child a mouthful of problems

Oral diseases affect almost half the global population, and recent research indicates they persist because oral health has not been prioritized as much as traditional healthcare.

One factor, cited in research published in the Lancet Series on Oral Health led by University College London: Dentistry focuses more on technology and treatment than on prevention.

One avenue of prevention is early orthodontic evaluation – not necessarily to start orthodontic treatment, such as the application of braces, but to uncover any lurking bite problems and determine appropriate solutions. The American Association of Orthodontists recommends that every child have their first orthodontic visit and evaluation by the age of 7.

“As dental professionals, we need to do a better job of educating the parents of young children — specifically as to why it’s important to monitor the development of their bite,” says Dr. Ana Castilla, an orthodontist and the author of the book Smile of Your Life: Everything You Need to Know for Your Orthodontic Journey (dranacastilla.com).

“Most children do not need early orthodontic treatment, but by the age of 7 there has been sufficient jaw development and enough permanent (adult) teeth have erupted for an orthodontist to be able to identify if there are any problems developing. When these problems are caught early, it helps to avoid more aggressive and more costly treatment later on.”

Castilla lists three ways in which early diagnosis and interceptive orthodontic can be effective:

Identifies specific oral problems early. By age 7, most children have a mix of primary (baby) and permanent (adult) teeth. Early tooth issues may include crowding or too much space between teeth, underbite, overbite, jaw abnormalities, missing teeth and protruding teeth. “Genetics, poor nutrition, poor oral hygiene and thumb- or finger-sucking can bring early onset of orthodontic problems,” Dr. Castilla says. “And while your child’s teeth may appear aligned and straight to you, there could be a problem that only an orthodontist can detect. They’re trained to identify subtle problems with jaw growth and emerging teeth while some baby teeth are still present.”

Utilizes different types of preventive measures. These vary depending on the situation. “If a child is a thumb-sucker or finger-sucker, an appliance can be inserted in their mouth that makes it difficult for them to continue a habit that can lead to a serious overbite problem,” Dr. Castilla says. “Appliances such as palatal expanders can widen the upper jaw to help resolve dental crowding, while night-time headgear may be advised to correct discrepancies between the sizes or position of the jaw.”

Provides long-term health benefits. Early intervention and treatment may prevent the development of more serious health conditions. “Additionally,” Dr. Castilla says, “it improves oral hygiene, helps the child avoid self-esteem issues and mocking by peers associated with neglected or misaligned teeth, guides permanent teeth into proper position, and directs jaw growth and development.”

“You can be completely unaware that a problem exists with your child’s teeth — simply because you can’t see it or don’t know what to look for,” Dr. Castilla says. “Early detection and treatment can resolve issues early before they become complicated and difficult to correct.”

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It gives new meaning to solo flight

The daring French man flew through the air with the greatest of ease and wound up in England. His name is Franky Zapata and he’s an inventor who built a jet-powered hoverboard that allowed him to stand up for the 20-minute flight across the English Channel. The hoverboard’s five jet engines are quite small and so about 22 miles after taking off from the French shoreline near Calais he made a brief, scheduled landing aboard a waiting boat to refuel and then landed near Dover.

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Believe it or not

Bad enough if you have to go to the dentist to have a tooth pulled but imagine having to undergo several hundred extractions in one sitting. Dental surgeons in India recently removed a total of 526 teeth from the mouth of a 7-year-old boy. Actually, the mass of tiny teeth was contained in what the surgeons called a "compound odontome," a benign tumor that had been growing in the child’s mouth for several years.

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Diamond in the rough

Who needs a diamond mine? Just visit Arkansas' Crater of Diamonds State Park and, if you are lucky, there’ll be a diamond waiting for you in plain sight. That’s how Josh Lanik found his 2.2 carat gem. He was visiting with his family and told Park authorities: “We took the kids to look for amethyst on Canary Hill, and I was walking through an area where it looked like a lot of water had washed when I saw it.” The officials told him that the gemstone was the biggest diamond found so far this year. But the biggest diamond ever found at the Crater of diamonds is the legendary Uncle Sam diamond that weighed in at 44.23 carats when it was found in 1924.

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Thumbtack names Arkansas top state for small business friendliness

Arkansas was named the number one state for small business friendliness by Thumbtack, the website and app that helps people find local professionals for any project.

“Since day one, my administration has worked to make Arkansas a business-friendly state,” said Gov. Asa Hutchinson. “We do that in a number of ways, from lessening burdensome regulations and overhauling the tax structure, to building infrastructure and supporting workforce education. We’re proud to be recognized for those efforts.”

In Thumbtack’s 2019 Small Business Friendliness Survey, Arkansas received the top honors based on factors including licensing requirements, tax regulations, and labor and hiring regulations. More than 5,000 business owners were surveyed, making it the largest continuous study of small business perceptions of local government policy in the United States.

“We recognize that small business is the engine that drives the Arkansas economy, and we strive to make the state as business-friendly as possible,” said Arkansas Secretary of Commerce Mike Preston. “With the unique obstacles small businesses face, we do all we can to help them overcome and be successful. We will continue to support startups and grow existing businesses, with more jobs, new technology and avenues to market their products across the state, the country and the globe.”

Small business owners gave Arkansas an A+ this year. Last year, Arkansas received an A- and ranked 16th. As a comparison, neighboring states Missouri and Tennessee both received C+ this year.

The professionals surveyed included a variety of small business owners including electricians, music teachers, wedding planners, and wellness professionals. The survey asked participants about the policies in their states and local communities toward small businesses.

“Small business owners are active, involved members of their communities and local economies,” said Kellyn Blossom, head of public policy at Thumbtack. “Our survey shows the economic impact of health care, housing, and transportation are top of mind for them. With 96 percent of small business owners planning to vote in the 2020 elections, they could have a big impact on the outcome.”

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National Take Your Cat to the Vet Day on Aug. 22

Any cat owner knows that a trip to the vet can be a struggle for both the cat and owner, so many pet parents find it easier to just skip making the appointment. Cats visit the vet far less frequently than dogs, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association.

Thursday, Aug. 22, is National Take Your Cat to the Vet Day – established to remind cat owners the importance of paying a visit to their vet. Although it may seem difficult, the Humane Society of Missouri’s Animal Medical Center of Mid-America shares five encouraging tips for making a fear-free trip with your feline:

Create a cozy carrier: The first step to a fear-free vet visit is understanding that your cat will need time to become familiar with the carrier that will be transporting them. Leave the carrier out in an area of your home where your cat spends a lot of time and place familiar bedding in the carrier along with a treat or toy.

Secure the carrier safely: Place the carrier on a nonslip surface or on the car seat when headed to the vet. The floorboard behind the passenger seat is the best location for a small pet carrier. Secure larger carriers to prevent sliding.

Visit a Cat Friendly Practice: If you have an extra anxious cat, consider a vet clinic that’s also a designated Cat Friendly Practice such as the Animal Medical Center of Mid-America (AMCMA). These places provide a more calming environment for you and your cat. Staff at these locations have made specific changes to help reduce the stress of the visit such as animal waiting areas and training on feline-friendly handling techniques.

Survey the new surroundings: Cats need time to adjust to new surroundings to feel safe. Wait in the vehicle or place your cat’s carrier on an elevated surface in the lobby so they can observe the unfamiliar space before letting them out.

Integrate your cat with other pets when arriving back home: Cats have very strong senses and unfamiliar smells can result in one cat no longer recognizing another. Leave the returning cat in the carrier to observe how all your cats react. If there is tension between the cats, keep the cat in the carrier and take it to another room until it regains the more familiar smell of home.

As a responsible owner, it’s important to provide good health care for your cats for longer, healthier lives. Routine visits to the vet play a major role in maintaining their overall health.

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Social Security Matters

By AMAC Certified Social Security Advisor Russell Gloor

Association of Mature American Citizens

Ask Rusty – About Survivor Benefits

Dear Rusty: I am looking for information on my benefits. I am 60 years and 5 months old, and still employed. My spouse died in 2017 and would have been 61 years and 9 months old on July 31, 2019. My husband was the more highly compensated employee and was employed longer than myself. Signed: A Survivor

Dear Survivor: You are eligible for a survivor benefit from your deceased husband because you are now 60, but that survivor benefit will be considerably reduced (by about 28.5%) if you take it now. The survivor benefit is reduced if taken before your widow’s full retirement age (which is 66 ½ for you). Taken at your widow’s full retirement age (FRA) you’d be entitled to 100% of the benefit your deceased husband had earned at his passing. But if you take the survivor benefit now - before your normal full retirement age (66 years and 10 months) - and you are working you’ll be subject to Social Security’s “earnings limit.” If you exceed the limit, it will cause Social Security to withhold some of your survivor benefits. The 2019 earnings limit is $17,640 and it will increase slightly each year until the year you reach your normal FRA, when it will increase by about 2 ½ times; then when you reach your normal FRA there is no earnings limit. What all of that means is that if you take the survivor benefit now and continue to work and earn, your survivor benefit will be reduced from what it could be, and Social Security will take back some benefits if you exceed the earnings limit (they’ll take back $1 for every $2 you are over the limit).

Assuming you have earned the requisite 40 credits from your own career, you will be eligible for your own Social Security retirement benefit at age 62, though your own benefit would also be reduced if you take it early (the reduction for your own benefit at age 62 will be about 29.2%). Since at 62 you will have a choice to take either the survivor benefit or your own benefit, you may want to set a goal of getting the highest possible benefit for the rest of your life. To do that I suggest you determine whether the maximum benefit you can get on your own work record (at age 70) is more than the maximum survivor benefit you can get at your widow’s FRA, and then follow a strategy which yields the highest benefit. You can get those numbers by contacting Social Security directly and asking for your own Statement of Estimated Benefits, and also asking for what your maximum survivor benefit will be. You can get the statement for your own estimated benefits online by creating a “My Social Security” account, but you will need to contact Social Security directly to get your maximum survivor benefit amount.

Once you are 62, you will have a choice of which benefit to choose and when to choose it. So, if your own SS benefit on your own work record will be more at age 70 than your survivor benefit will be at your widow’s FRA, you should consider taking the survivor benefit first and delaying your own benefit until it reaches maximum, at which point you would switch to your own benefit. However, If your own maximum benefit at age 70 will be less than the maximum survivor benefit you can get at your widow’s full retirement age, then you may wish to wait until you reach your widow’s full retirement age (66 ½) to claim the maximum survivor benefit. If you wait until your widow’s FRA to claim the maximum survivor benefit, and you need additional income while you’re waiting, you can claim only your own SS benefit at age 62 but remember that if you do so the earnings limit will still apply to your own SS retirement benefit until you reach your normal full retirement age.

Hot stuff

Frying an egg on the sidewalk was not good enough for the National Weather Service in Omaha, NE during a recent heat wave. The weather forecasters there turned a car into an oven and baked biscuits. They put the biscuit batter on a tray and placed the tray under the car’s windshield as temperatures inside the vehicle reached 185 degrees. The result was a batch of biscuits that were described as somewhat doughy but edible.

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Special delivery

She loves Amazon. He loves her. And, so, when her birthday came around Waylon McGuire of Dunn, NC he had a local bakery cook up a special birthday cake for his wife, Emily. It was an exact replica of a delivery from the online retailer. The baker did such a good job of turning flour and icing into a realistic-looking USPS package that Emily says she thought it was a real box at first glance.

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The fish that didn’t get away

A pair of boys will have a spectacular fish story to tell their classmates when they return to school. They’ll have the video to prove that they indeed did catch a more than six-foot long sturgeon. Fourteen-year-old Owen Sanderson and 12-year-old Mac Hoekstra of Edina, Minnesota say they used a rope with a slip-knot to lasso and land their monstrous catch. They then released the fish back into Minnehaha Creek. The proud dad of one of the boys used his cell phone camera to record the event.

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House Call

By Dr. Daniel Knight

University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences

Q. Are artificial sweeteners unsafe?

A. According to the National Cancer Institute, there is no scientific evidence that any sugar substitutes approved for use in the United States cause cancer. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says that more than 90 studies consider the sugar substitutes, including aspartame, saccharin and sucralose (Splenda), safe.

In the 1970s, lab tests in rats suggesting a possible link to bladder cancer led to having a warning label added to saccharin. More than 30 studies since have demonstrated that the results found in rats were not relevant to humans.

Aspartame is one of the most exhaustively researched food substances with more than 90 studies supporting its safety, according to the FDA. A 165-pound adult would need to drink 20 or more cans of diet soda or consume more than 107 packets of the sweetener daily to exceed the recommended level, according to the American Cancer Society. However, those who have phenylketonuria (PKU), a rare metabolic disorder, need to avoid aspartame because it contains phenylalanine, an amino acid found in large quantities in high-protein foods.

The highly purified extracts of stevia, a natural no-calorie sweetener from a South American plant, is also considered safe.

Q. What is the paleo diet?

A. It is based on eating like a caveman, and those following the high-fiber, high-protein paleo diet avoid foods that weren’t common until farming began, avoiding processed foods, grains, white potatoes, sugar, beans and dairy. Instead, grass-fed meat, seafood and eggs comprise 30% of the calories with another 30% coming from fresh fruits and vegetables and the remainder coming from nuts, seeds and healthy oils. The paleo diet includes an average amount of fat and small amount of refined carbohydrates. The premise is that modern processed foods aren’t healthy and lead to obesity, diabetes and heart problems.

Research suggests this diet works for weight loss but cuts out healthy foods like whole grains. To avoid consuming too much saturated fat, stick to lean cuts of meat. This diet may not be safe for those who have health issues like kidney disease and need to monitor how much protein they consume. Those who lead an active lifestyle may find the Paleo diet with its restricted carbohydrates leads to tiredness. Be sure to talk to your doctor about whether to begin supplements to replace the calcium and vitamin D needed to prevent osteoporosis, rickets, bone fractures and inflammation.

Q. Is vaping a safe alternative to traditional cigarettes?

A. Many perceive electronic cigarettes or vapes to be safe, but a recent U.S. surgeon general report considers it a major public health concern, especially for teens. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration reports that between 2011 and 2015, there was a 900% increase in e-cigarette use among high school students.

E-cigarettes, powered by a rechargeable lithium battery, vaporize a liquid in a heating chamber when the user inhales. The replaceable liquid cartridges contain nicotine mixed with a base (usually propylene glycol) and flavorings.

While e-cigarettes do not contain the more than 60 cancer-causing chemicals found in tobacco smoke, they still include harmful chemicals like nicotine.

The highly addictive nicotine releases feel-good chemicals in the brain, leading to long-lasting chemical changes and addiction. It also causes rapid, shallow breathing, permanent lung damage, and a higher risk of lung disease and cancer. Nicotine raises heart rate and blood pressure, both which can lead to a higher risk of heart attack and stroke.

Nicotine can also permanently reduce impulse control, lead to problems with thinking and attention, lead to mood disorders, and one study found that vaping can suppress hundreds of key immune genes.

Q. What are some of the warning signs of AFib?

A. Atrial fibrillation is an irregular heartbeat that raises the risk of heart disease and stroke. When the heart is functioning properly, the electrical signals of the contractions of the heart’s upper section (the atria) is followed by contractions in the lower heart (the ventricles) to move blood through the body. AFib causes the contractions to be off-kilter and impedes the blood flow.

Signs of AFib include feeling for a few minutes as though the heart is fluttering or racing instead of beating. Other symptoms include chest pain or pressure, shortness of breath, weakness, dizziness, fatigue, sweating and confusion. Those unsure of whether they are experiencing a heart attack should call 911 or their physician. AFib is diagnosed through blood tests, chest x-rays to rule out lung disease, electrocardiograms, echocardiograms, CT scans, MRIs or exercise stress tests.

Those with other heart problems, sleep apnea, overactive thyroid gland, long-term lung disease, and those taking certain medicines are more at risk. AFib, more common in those 60 and older, is treated through blood thinner medication, and lifestyle changes, and occasionally medical procedures, including surgery or installing a pacemaker.

Dr. Knight is chairman of the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine in the College of Medicine at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. Email your health questions to housecall@uams.edu.

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How to get your child socially and emotionally ready for the new school year

Reena B. Patel, a licensed educational psychologist and author, offers tips on helping to prepare kids for the start of a new school year

Labor Day marks the unofficial end of the summer, and the start of a new school year for most people. Many children experience anxiety at this time, being filled with the stress of what starting school again will entail. From bullying and being nervous about making friends and having a new teacher, there’s a lot that can weigh on a child. This stress can continue throughout the school year and have devastating consequences. According to the American Psychological Association, when children experience chronic stress it can contribute to psychological problems, as well as physical conditions. The good news is that there are plenty of things parents can do to help their child prepare.

“Kids don’t know just know how to handle their emotions, so it’s important for parents to take steps to help address them,” explains Reena B. Patel, a parenting expert, licensed educational psychologist, and author, who offer virtual workshops. “Parents who make emotional and social health a priority will help raise children who are more successful, stable, and experience less stress in life.”

There are many things parents can do to help prepare their children emotionally and socially for taking on a new school year. These include tips:

Teaching kids to embrace progress, rather than perfection. If they feel they have to get perfect grades, for example, they will have a lot of unnecessary stress and anxiety.

Setting your expectations for them based on your values. It’s important to let kids know what you expect for the school year from them, but that you realize there is room for error, too.

Taking the time to talk to your children about your own social mistakes, so they can learn from them. Let them know what mistakes you made and how you would have handled it differently if you could go back in time now.

Remembering that winning isn’t everything. Kids need to learn how to be a team member, and how to lose gracefully. Play games with them where they will lose at times, so they can learn good sportsmanship and resilience.

Discussing with them what “success” means. Teach them that we all learn through our mistakes on our way to success.

Kids need to know how to make friends, so discuss with them how to do that. Have your child pick five qualities you would want in a friend and then discuss the list with them. As social issues arise, refer back to that list of core values to see if the relationship is a good fit.

Having a family discussion about finding balance and discussing how much can be fit into one schedule. This is especially important when it comes to the number of extracurricular activities that can be taken on.

Making sure your kids know that it’s okay to ask for help.

Making a social media discussion a priority if your child uses it, ensuring that they use the T.H.I.N.K. acronym regarding what they post online. T (is it truthful), H (is it helpful), I (is it inspiring), N (is it necessary), and K (is it kind).

Having a discussion about bullying. Remind them that bullying is never okay and that they need to speak up if it happens. Discuss having boundaries, speaking up, being a good role model, and getting help when needed.

Teaching your child coping skills, which will help them be better prepared to handle stress and anxiety.

Letting kids know the importance of focusing on the positives in life. They can do this by keeping a gratitude journal, and having a positive affirmation that they repeat each day.

“Most parents are focused on the supplies that kids need for school, but those pale in comparison to the emotional tools they need,” added Patel. “By making sure kids have the emotional and social tools and skills they need, they will be more likely to enjoy the school year, get better grades, and be happier, all of which are good.”

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Forget YouTube fame; social responsibility is key to career happiness

American children and teens, when asked the age-old question of what they want to be as adults, lean toward careers that could bring personal fame or are just plain fun, rather than those that might contribute to the betterment of society or lead to scientific progress.

“While we’re focused on fame and fun, other countries are emphasizing discipline and a good work ethic,” says Dr. Steven Mintz (www.stevenmintzethics.com), author of Beyond Happiness and Meaning: Transforming Your Life Through Ethical Behavior.

The latest example came in a survey Harris Poll conducted on behalf of Lego, where American children ages 8 to 12 picked vlogger/YouTuber as their No. 1 career choice. Chinese children, in comparison, overwhelmingly chose astronaut.

The results are similar to a survey Chicago-based market-research company C+R conducted a couple of years ago. American teenagers were asked about career aspirations and the largest percentage, 20 percent, said they want to be an athlete, artist or entertainer.

Mintz says the emphasis on fame – combined with a trend of many employers trying to create a “fun” work environment for employees – is troubling.

“Is this really what success looks like in the U.S.?” he asks. “Can we reasonably be expected to compete with the Chinese in the 21st century by making the workplace fun when the Chinese, who will likely surpass the U.S. as the world’s largest economy within the next 10 years, have skyrocketed to the top through hard work and discipline?”

But eschewing fun for fun’s sake doesn’t mean employees can’t find happiness at work. Mintz says that is better accomplished by creating a socially responsible workplace, which he says meshes nicely with the passion millennials and Gen Z have for social causes.

Some ways to help employees find happiness and meaning on the job, he says, include:

Establish an ethical culture. Companies should strive to create an ethical workplace culture where employees are encouraged to serve the interests of the company’s stakeholders – customers, clients and suppliers – and to do so ethically, Mintz says. Creating an ethical workplace starts with ethical values: emphasize doing what is right not wrong; doing good things not harmful ones.

Coach employees on the workplace’s values. Company leaders should engage employees in regular discussions about workplace ethics and the procedures that are designed to uphold ethical practices, Mintz says. “Employers must coach employees so they do good by being good, which means commit to ethical values,” he says.

Tap into the social conscience many employees already have. A recent survey reports that nearly one in five business-school students would sacrifice more than 40 percent of their salary to work for a responsible employer. “Some will work for nonprofits where they are committed to the cause,” Mintz says. “Millennials especially seek out purpose in their employment. I believe that’s because each of us is searching for happiness and greater meaning in life and our jobs provide one of the best sources to enhance our well-being.”

“Although there are troubling signs in our society regarding attitudes about jobs,” Mintz says, “I am heartened by other surveys that show millennials and Gen Z really care about what a business does, whether its actions are ethical and trustworthy, and that a purpose-driven culture exists that puts benefitting society front and center in their mission statement.”

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Farmers count on neighbors to shop at markets

By Rhea Landholm

Center for Rural Affairs

Some family farms have been feeding our neighbors for more than 100 years, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

Katie Jantzen is one such farmer. The fifth generation on her family farm, she grows produce, some of it to sell at farmers markets.

Farmers markets stimulate local economies, increase access to fresh, healthy food, promote sustainable farming practices that protect our water and soil, and preserve our farmland. However, none of these benefits are possible without farmers like Katie.

For many family farmers to succeed, particularly those new to agriculture, they count on their neighbors to shop regularly at market. Farmers markets provide one of the only low-barrier entry points for new farmers, ranchers, and food entrepreneurs, allowing them to start small and test new products.

According to a 2017 National Young Farmers Coalition survey, farmers markets and Community-Supported Agriculture represented the highest proportion of new and beginning farmers’ sales. This support is important, as there are currently 3.5 times as many U.S. farmers over age 65 as there are under 35.

At traditional food outlets, farmers and ranchers receive only 15 cents of every food dollar that consumers spend, according to the Farmers Market Coalition. At a farmers market, 100 percent of your food dollar goes to your local farmer.

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Pretty potholes

Pothole ridden streets are dangerous and unsightly but a local artist in Chicago may have come up with a way to give commuters a smooth and esthetically soothing ride. Jim Bachor is an accomplished mosaic artist who came up with the idea of filling the potholes with unique works of art on a trip to Pompeii. He uses a technique that employs shards of marble and glass just as mosaic artists did 2,000 years ago. Bachor says a tour guide in Pompeii inspired him. The guide pointed out that the mosaic works of art that adorn floors throughout the ancient city look just as they did when they were first created. “I still don't know if it's legal or not, but I have had discussions with [Chicago] police through the years, about a half dozen, and once they know what I'm doing they don't have an issue with it.”

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Feisty farmer

She was fed up with reckless drivers speeding on the open roads surrounding her village in Sefton, England, so 71-year-old farmer Edie Pope took matters into her own hands. The feisty farmer decided that if a scarecrow can deal with pesky birds that dine on crops, a “scarecop,” dressed like a police officer with radar gun, might help keep the roads around her farm a little bit safer. It’ll take time to see if her solution works.

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Boy oh boy

Police in Brigham City, UT recently received numerous calls about a young man -- a very young man -- had set up a roadside stand selling beer.Wwhen the police went out to investigate they caught the underage entrepreneur red handed. He was holding a sign with large block letters hawking “Ice Cold Beer.” But on closer inspection they saw the word “root” spelled out in very small letters between the words “Cold” and “Beer.” A very clever “marketing strategy,” said the police on the Brigham City Police Facebook page.

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From the files of the FBI

Inmate Sentenced For Murder-For-Hire Scheme

BOSTON – An inmate was sentenced in federal court in Boston in connection with a murder-for-hire scheme.

Mason Stickney, 21, of Byfield, was sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge Denise J. Casper to 90 months in prison and three years of supervised release. In March 2019, Stickney pleaded guilty to three counts of using a facility of interstate commerce in the commission of murder-for-hire. Stickney was indicted in November 2017; he is currently in state custody on unrelated charges.

In October 2017, Stickney, who was in custody at the Essex County House of Corrections, approached a fellow inmate and solicited his assistance in the murders of a police officer, a restaurateur from New Hampshire and a student. The fellow inmate reported Stickney’s solicitation to authorities. Thereafter, at the request of investigators, the inmate provided Stickney with the phone number of a would-be hitman, who was actually an undercover agent.

In recorded conversations between Nov. 3 and Nov. 8, 2017, both on the phone and in person at the jail, Stickney described to the undercover agent the individuals he wanted killed and how he wanted the murders committed. Stickney promised to pay the undercover agent $10,000 upon his release from jail, as well as to “get rid of three people for you guys.”

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Iowa man charged with making threats to Manhattan-based Jewish organization

Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, William F. Sweeney Jr., the Assistant Director in Charge of the New York Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”), and James P. O’Neill, the Commissioner of the New York City Police Department (“NYPD”), announced the unsealing of a complaint charging Garrett Kelsey with sending threats to a Manhattan-based Jewish organization (the “Victim Organization”) by email and phone. Kelsey was arrested in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and was presented before a Magistrate Judge in the Northern District of Iowa.

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said: “As alleged, Garrett Kelsey repeatedly conveyed obscenity-laden and hate-filled threats to a Jewish organization by phone and email. The alleged conduct is not protected speech. As charged, the conduct – making interstate threats – is a federal crime punishable by years in prison.”

FBI Assistant Director William F. Sweeney Jr. said: “The FBI will always follow threats that cross the line of free speech and threaten the safety of individuals and groups, especially when those threats are based on a religion or race. The fact that Mr. Kelsey allegedly continued his threatening behavior even after being informed that his previous actions were not protected speech makes his actions more abhorrent.”

Police Commissioner James P. O’Neill said: “The investigative efforts of New York City law enforcement are relentless and far-reaching. Whenever individuals – wherever they are based – pose a threat, the NYPD and our partners will work tirelessly to keep people safe. I thank our colleagues at the FBI and the Southern District for their partnership.”

As alleged in the Complaint unsealed today in Manhattan federal court[1]:

In late May 2019, Kelsey made violent threats by phone and email to the Victim Organization. On May 23, Kelsey called the Victim Organization and spoke briefly with one of its employees. A short time later, Kelsey called that employee’s number back and left a voicemail for the Victim Organization stating, “My people have fucking slaughtered your fucking people before and we will do it again. And right now, you are giving us incentive to do that . . . . Filthy fucking Jews.”

Later that same day, Kelsey sent the Victim Organization an email demanding that the Victim Organization remove a video about Nordic Neo-Nazis that the Victim Organization had uploaded to the Internet. Kelsey wrote: “Everywhere Jews go in the world they cause trouble. You have 3 days to remove this video and offer an apology to the Asatru community or we will be taking action against your organization full of degenerates.” “Asatru” appears to have been a reference to a religious movement recently linked to anti-Semitic and other racist groups.

The next day, Kelsey participated in a voluntary interview with law enforcement, during which he admitted to sending the threatening email and voicemail to the Victim Organization.

Approximately one week after his voluntary law enforcement interview, Kelsey changed the cover photograph associated with his Facebook account. The new cover photograph depicted Jewish residents of a ghetto in Warsaw, Poland, lined up facing a wall with their hands up. Those residents were detained after an uprising during World War II and ultimately were transferred to Nazi concentration camps.

Kelsey, 31, of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, is charged with one count of interstate transmission of threats to injure a person, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison. The maximum potential sentence in this case is prescribed by Congress and is provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the judge.

Mr. Berman praised the outstanding efforts of the FBI’s New York Joint Terrorism Task Force, which principally consists of agents from the FBI and detectives from the New York City Police Department. Mr. Berman also thanked the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Iowa. Mr. Berman noted that the case is ongoing.

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Former Bedford VA nursing assistant charged with making false statements;

Defendant allegedly lied about conducting hourly bed checks of patient who died

BOSTON – A former nursing assistant at the Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Center in Bedford was charged in federal court in Boston for making false statements to federal agents in connection with an investigation of a patient’s death.

Patricia A. Waible, 52, of Nashua, N.H., was charged in an Information and agreed to plead guilty to two counts of making false statements. Waible will appear in federal court in Boston at a later date.

As alleged in court documents, on July 3, 2016, Waible, a nursing assistant, worked the overnight shift from midnight to 8 a.m. at the Bedford VA’s nursing home unit. During the shift, Waible’s responsibilities included conducting hourly bed checks to check on patients’ breathing. Early that morning, a patient who suffered from several serious medical ailments was found unresponsive and not breathing. The patient was transferred by ambulance to an emergency room, where he was later pronounced dead. During the ensuing investigation, on two separate occasions, Waible falsely stated to federal agents that she had conducted the hourly checks on the patient during her shift.

The charge of making false statements provides for a sentence of no greater than five years in prison, one year of supervised release and a fine of $250,000. Sentences are imposed by a federal district court judge based upon the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

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Shreveport investment advisor pleads guilty to bilking clients out of $3.5 million

SHREVEPORT, La. – United States Attorney David C. Joseph announced that Gregory Alan Smith, 55, a Shreveport investment advisor, pleaded guilty before Chief U.S. District Judge S. Maurice Hicks Jr. to conspiracy to commit wire fraud.

According to information presented in court, Smith used his influence and status as an investment advisor to persuade multiple victims to “invest” approximately $3.5 million with Smith and co-defendant Kirbyjon H. Caldwell. The victims’ investments were purportedly in historical Chinese bonds, which are bonds issued by the former Republic of China prior to losing power to the communist government in 1949. These bonds are not recognized by China’s current government and, accordingly, have no investment value.

Smith began approaching existing clients and acquaintances in the spring of 2013 about what he described as an opportunity to invest in Chinese historical bonds. His usual sales pitch to investors was that Caldwell, the senior pastor at Windsor Village United Methodist Church in Houston, Texas, was: (1) putting the bond deal together on behalf of investors, (2) had the bonds in his possession or was obtaining them and (3) was brokering a deal to sell the bonds. Smith also promised that by investing money with him and Caldwell, the victims would obtain a partial ownership of the bonds and would quickly receive exponential returns on their investments. The victims were not told of the true nature of the bonds nor were they informed that no previous investor had ever obtained the promised return on investment. The victims were encouraged to cash out any other investments they might have if they could not otherwise afford to participate.

After Smith made the fraudulent pitch, the victims were instructed to wire funds to various bank accounts under Caldwell’s control. The funds were then divided between Smith, Caldwell and others. Smith received $1.08 million of the total $3.5 million. He used it to pay down loans, purchase two luxury sport utility vehicles, place a down payment on a vacation property and maintain his lifestyle. After time passed and investors began to question why they had not received the promised returns, Smith and Caldwell offered excuses, defended the legitimacy of the deals and assured victim-investors that they would receive the promised returns.

Under the terms of his plea agreement, Smith faces five to seven years in prison. He also faces a $1 million fine, restitution, forfeiture and five years of supervised release. Smith’s sentencing is scheduled for December 11, 2019. Caldwell’s trial is scheduled for December 2, 2019.

The FBI conducted the investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Seth D. Reeg and C. Mignonne Griffing are prosecuting the case.

U.S. Attorney Joseph noted that this case was included in the Justice Department’s largest-ever nationwide elder fraud sweep, which includes hundreds of enforcement actions in criminal and civil cases that targeted or disproportionately affected seniors.

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Man charged with fraud conspiracy

A Brecksville, Ohio, man was charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud after he and another man conspired to steal products from another company, relabel them and sell the product under false pretenses to various health care providers.

Ryan H. Tennebar, 38, was the Director of Operations at Healthcare Essentials Inc. (HEI), an Ohio company that primarily distributed negative pressure therapy systems, also known as wound care vaccums, which promote wound healing by delivering negative pressure to patients’ wounds.

Kinetic Concepts, Inc. (KCI) was a corporation whose parent company was based in Texas. KCI developed, manufactured, and distributed proprietary wound care vaccums. KCI maintained exclusive rights for sale and distribution of its wound care vacuums to its customers, which typically included nursing homes, hospitals and rehabilitation centers.

According to the criminal information filed in U.S. District Court:

Tennebar conspired with a person identified as co-conspirator number one, who worked for KCI at a facility in El Paso. Tennebar communicated with the conspirator between 2013 and 2016 to request KCI wound vacuums, which were illegally taken from KCI facilities, nursing homes, hosptials and rehabilitation centers. The conspirator continued to fraudulently acquire KCI wound care vacuums even after he was terminated as a KCI employee in 2014.

Tennebar and the conspirator fraudulently relabeled the KCI products with HEI labels. The original KCI serial numbers were often obliterated.

Tennebar then falsely represented to HEI’s prospective customers that HEI was an authorized distributor of KCI wound care vacuums.

Tennebar sent the conspirator approximately $619,000 between 2013 and 2016 for stolen wound care vacuums. The actions of Tennebar, the conspirator and others resulted in a loss to KCI of approximately $4.2 million, according to the information.

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Delaware man indicted on drug charges

MARTINSBURG, WEST VIRGINIA – Durrion Joshua Morrison, of Wilmington, Delaware, was indicted by a federal grand jury today on cocaine charges, United States Attorney Bill Powell announced.

Johnson, also known as “Nephew,” age 30, is charged with two counts of “Distribution of Cocaine Base” and one count of “Aiding and Abetting Possession with Intent to Distribute Cocaine Base.” Johnson is accused of selling cocaine base, also known as “crack,” and possessing more than 28 grams of cocaine base in July 2016 in Berkeley County.

Johnson faces up to 20 years incarceration and a fine of up to $1,000,000 for each distribution count. He faces not less than five years and up to 40 years incarceration and a fine of up to $5,000,000 for the aiding and abetting count. Under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, the actual sentence imposed will be based upon the seriousness of the offenses and the prior criminal history, if any, of the defendant.

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Two more “Rip Crew” members sent to federal prison

McALLEN, Texas – Two men involved with a rip crew responsible for multiple home invasions and carjackings to steal narcotics in Hidalgo County have been ordered to prison, announced U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Patrick.

Miguel Marin Cerda, 31, pleaded guilty to possessing with the intent to distribute more than five kilograms of cocaine, while his nephew - Alfredo Avalos-Sanchez, 27 - pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit Hobbs Act robbery.

U.S. District Judge Micaela Alvarez ordered Cerda to serve 130 months in prison, while Avalos-Sanchez received an 87-month-term of imprisonment. Cerda and Avalos-Sanchez are Mexican citizens who illegally resided in Mission. As such, they are expected to face deportation proceedings following their prison sentences.

In considering their violent crimes, Judge Alvarez stated the events forming the charges are incidents that have come to be expected in Mexico and other Central American countries which do not allow residents to feel safe. The court noted that even though some victims were often drug traffickers themselves, it does not excuse the defendants’ behavior. She furthered that drug trafficking is bad in itself, but is exacerbated when combined with carjackings and home invasions.

The defense argued their actions were mistakes, but the court concurred with prosecutors that these were intentional profit-driven actions. They continued to engage in conduct even after prior arrests for similar conduct and close calls with life and death events. Such instances included violent crimes involving totaled vehicles and multiple discharges of firearms which could have taken lives.

In imposing the prison terms, the court considered multiple offenses. As a result of the conspiracy, the organization terrorized local residents with multiple home invasions and carjackings as well as the distribution or attempted distribution of multiple kilograms of cocaine and hundreds of kilograms of marijuana.

Specifically, the court considered their involvement in a carjacking March 12, 2017, in McAllen in which co-conspirators took a car believed to contain a controlled substance. Another instance occurred in Pharr in April 2017 which involved the discharge of firearms in a residential neighborhood in efforts to steal approximately 14 kilograms of cocaine contained within two vehicles.

The men also were also part of a home invasion June 6, 2017, in McAllen. The organization actually entered the wrong residence and terrorized a family, including a pregnant female.

Cerda was further held partially accountable for an April 2017 home invasion in San Juan, in which other co-conspirators assaulted juveniles in efforts to steal multiple kilograms of cocaine.

Cerda and Avalos-Sanchez have been and will remain in custody pending transfer to a U.S. Bureau of Prisons facility to be determined in the near future.

Others who have also pleaded guilty in the conspiracy and are pending sentencing include Roberto Lee Rodriguez aka el Tio or Pica, 39, and Sergio Alejandro Gallegos aka Tovy, both of Mission; and Mexican nationals Jose Garcia-De La Torre aka Coco, 22, Carlos Guadalupe Aquino-Pacheco aka Tomy, 20, Gustavo Angel DeLeon-Covarrubias aka Tripa, 19, Jose Arturo Reyes-Sanchez aka Gordo, 19; and Cesar Alejandro Tovar-Guillen aka Nucho or el Sobrino, 31.

They all also remain in custody.

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Former South Carolina resident sentenced to federal prison for charity fraud scheme

COLUMBIA, S.C. — United States Attorney Sherri A. Lydon announced that John Shannon Simpson, age 44, of Lee County, Florida, was sentenced in federal court after pleading guilty to Wire Fraud. United States District Judge David C. Norton of Charleston sentenced Simpson to four years in federal prison and three years of supervised release to follow. This sentence will run consecutively with a nine-year state sentence that Simpson is serving in Florida. Simpson was also ordered to pay restitution of $141,709.44 to the victims of his fraud.

Evidence presented to the court established that in May 2014, Simpson founded a charitable organization entitled “Marines and Mickey” and served as the President. The purpose of the charity was to provide funds to selected United States Marines Corps (USMC) service members and their families to defray their costs of visiting the Walt Disney Resorts. The charity was also supposed to provide funds to the families of newly graduated Marines to defray the families’ costs of attending USMC boot camp graduations, including some held at Parris Island, South Carolina, and San Diego, California.

The charity claimed in its promotions and requests for money that 100% of the donations went directly to Marines and their families through the charity’s programs. The charity actively solicited donations on and near the USMC base in Parris Island, South Carolina, and elsewhere. The remainder of monies raised by the charity were a combination of private and corporate donations to the charity, including by USMC recruits and recent boot camp graduates.

While acting as the charity’s President and in support of fundraising for the charity, Simpson falsely represented himself as a retired career Marine with as much as 20 years of service, a retired Master Sergeant, a former Drill Instructor, and a Recon Marine.

In fact, Simpson spent less than five years in the Marine Corps. He entered active duty on June 28, 1993. He was absent without leave (AWOL) from June 10, 1996, to June 19, 1997. The highest rank he achieved prior to going AWOL was Lance Corporal/E-3, and his operational specialty was Basic Disbursing Clerk. Simpson was found guilty at a Special Court Martial for violation of Article 86 (Absence without leave) of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, was reduced in rank to Private/E-1, and was given a Bad-Conduct Discharge, which was effective on May 5, 1998.

By misleading donors and volunteers about his military background, Simpson was able to add credibility to his solicitations for money.

The charity was in operation from May 2014 through 2016, and it received approximately $481,000 in donations during that time-period. However, despite Simpson’s claims that 100% of the donations would go to Marines and their families through the charity’s programs, only about $90,000—or about 19% of the donations—were used for charitable purposes. Simpson diverted the remainder of the monies in the charitable accounts, approximately $391,000, for his personal use and enrichment.

The primary victim of Simpson’s scheme was the mother of a United States Marine killed in the active shooter attack at a military center in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in July 2015. Simpson fraudulently induced the Gold Star mother and others to give Simpson’s charity about $131,000, all in honor of the Gold Star mother’s son, including $75,000 of the Gold Star mother’s own money and $25,000 that the Community Foundation of Greater Chattanooga donated at the direction of the Gold Star mother.

The charity also held a fundraising benefit in New York to raise money for a Disney World trip for a Marine family whose minor daughter was terminally ill. The charity advertised all proceeds from the event would go to the minor daughter and her family for a Disney World trip, and to help pay for the family’s needs. Because the minor daughter died prior to the fundraiser, the trip intended for the minor daughter and her family, including her father who is an active duty U.S. Marine Corps Drill Sergeant, was donated to another family at the request of the minor daughter’s family. However, the charity, after paying all of the expenses of the fundraiser and sending the other Marine family to Disney World, still had about $3,200 of donations left over. Simpson kept that money for himself instead of giving it to the minor daughter’s family.

Additionally, during 2015 and 2016, Simpson made unauthorized withdrawals from the bank accounts of at least seven active-duty Marines who had recently graduated from boot camp. Simpson convinced them to allow him to make recurring withdrawals from their accounts in nominal amounts to support the charity. Instead, he used their debit card numbers to make unauthorized withdrawals from their accounts in a combined total amount of more than $5,000.

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Bookkeeper sentenced to 18 months in federal prison

CHARLESTON, S.C. — United States Attorney Sherri A. Lydon announced that Shirley Watson, age 43, of Georgetown, was sentenced in federal court for her role in a multi-year scheme to embezzle funds from her employer, two family-owned real estate businesses. United States District Court Judge David C. Norton of Charleston sentenced Watson, who has no prior criminal record, to 18 months in federal prison.

In January 2019, Watson pleaded guilty to a three-count Information, admitting to two counts of Bank Fraud and one count of Tax Evasion. She admitted that beginning in 2011 and continuing up through 2016, she used her position as a bookkeeper to divert hundreds of thousands of dollars in company funds to herself. She exploited her access to company accounts, writing checks to herself and forging her employer’s signature. She also admitted that she neither reported the income to the Internal Revenue Service nor paid any related taxes.

Upon her release from prison, Watson must pay restitution in the amount of $345,337.43 to the victims and $82,825 to the IRS. Watson will also serve a three-year term of court-ordered supervision.

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U.S. attorney files lawsuit against spinal implant company

Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, William F. Sweeney Jr., Assistant Director-in-Charge of the New York Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”), and Scott J. Lampert, Special Agent in Charge of the New York Regional Office of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Inspector General (“HHS-OIG”), announced that the United States has filed a civil healthcare fraud lawsuit against LIFE SPINE INC. (“LIFE SPINE”), MICHAEL BUTLER, the founder, president, and chief executive officer of LIFE SPINE, and RICHARD GREIBER, the vice president of business development of LIFE SPINE. The Government’s complaint seeks damages and civil penalties under the False Claims Act for paying kickbacks in the form of millions of dollars of consulting fees, royalties, and intellectual property acquisition fees to surgeons to induce them to use LIFE SPINE’s spinal implants, devices, and equipment. The lawsuit alleges that the surgeons who received these payments accounted for approximately half of LIFE SPINE’s total domestic sales of spinal products from 2012 through 2018. As set forth in the complaint, these payments violated the Anti-Kickback Statute and, as a result of this unlawful conduct, LIFE SPINE, BUTLER, and GREIBER caused hospitals and surgeons to submit false claims for payment to Medicare and Medicaid.

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said: “As alleged, Life Spine and its senior management flagrantly ignored the law by paying surgeons millions of dollars in fees and royalties to get them to use Life Spine products during spinal surgeries. Kickbacks to doctors can alter or compromise their judgment about the medical care and services to provide to patients, and can increase healthcare costs. This office will continue to hold companies and the people who run them accountable when they make improper payments to doctors.”

FBI Assistant Director William F. Sweeney Jr. said: "Cases like this are why patients sometimes distrust the care they receive because they don’t know if it’s what the doctor actually thinks, or if there is a company pushing a new drug or new device. People seeking medical treatment are dependent on the advice they get, they don’t have the expertise to question the doctors. The FBI does all it can to stop those companies who overlook the patient who is just hoping to get better, and only sees the dollar signs.”

HHS-OIG Special Agent in Charge Scott J. Lampert said: “Paying kickbacks to physicians as a means to boost company profits, as alleged in this case, compromises medical judgement and drives up healthcare costs. Our agency, working closely with our law enforcement partners, will continue to investigate such illegal activities.”

The following allegations are based on the Complaint that was filed in Manhattan federal court and unsealed:

LIFE SPINE is a Delaware corporation with its principal place of business in Huntley, Illinois. LIFE SPINE designs, develops, manufactures, and markets medical devices and equipment primarily used in spinal surgeries performed by orthopedic surgeons and neurosurgeons, including implants and instruments (“Life Spine Products”). BUTLER is the founder, president, and chief executive officer of LIFE SPINE and is its majority shareholder. BUTLER was closely involved in overseeing the operations of LIFE SPINE. From 2012 to 2015, GREIBER was involved in selecting and approving surgeons who served as paid “consultants” for LIFE SPINE.

LIFE SPINE paid surgeons to induce them to use Life Spine Products during their surgeries. LIFE SPINE aggressively recruited surgeons who had the potential to use a high volume of Life Spine Products to enter into agreements to serve as paid consultants and/or to transfer their patents/patent applications to LIFE SPINE in exchange for payments and promised support to bring the surgeons’ new products to market. LIFE SPINE tied these agreements and the associated payments – as well as the company’s continued commitment to devote resources to the surgeons’ product development projects – to the surgeons’ usage of Life Spine Products. LIFE SPINE and BUTLER expected surgeons to commit to using Life Spine Products at a certain level in exchange for the consulting fees, royalties, and intellectual property acquisition fees paid to them.

LIFE SPINE, with the knowledge, involvement, and participation of BUTLER and GREIBER, entered into agreements with dozens of surgeons. These agreements included medical education agreements under which the surgeons were paid to provide training and/or educational services; product development agreements under which the surgeons were paid to purportedly provide input on new products and then would receive royalties on future sales of the product; and intellectual property agreements under which the surgeons were paid large up-front acquisition fees for their patents/patent applications and then would receive royalties on sales of any products developed based on the patents. Life Spine paid surgeons millions of dollars in consulting fees, royalties, and intellectual property acquisitions pursuant to these agreements.

BUTLER informed LIFE SPINE staff that he expected surgeons who were paid for their consulting services to commit to using Life Spine Products. LIFE SPINE’s senior management, including BUTLER, closely tracked surgeons’ usage of Life Spine Products to ensure that the payments to surgeons were generating sufficient sales revenues for the company and that the surgeons were fulfilling their “commitment” to use Life Spine Products. LIFE SPINE went so far as to generate a report that compared surgeon consulting, royalty, and intellectual property payments to surgeon product usage levels, and then calculated an “ROI” (return on investment) for each surgeon based on those figures. If a surgeon’s usage was too low, LIFE SPINE managers, including BUTLER, pressured the surgeon to use more Life Spine Products during his or her surgeries.

The kickback scheme was successful. Surgeons who received payments from LIFE SPINE accounted for approximately half of LIFE SPINE’s total domestic sales of spinal products between 2012 and 2018. Most of these surgeons substantially increased their usage of Life Spine Products after entering into agreements with LIFE SPINE. These surgeons used Life Spine Products during procedures performed on Medicare and Medicaid patients, which resulted in the submission of kickback-tainted false claims to Medicare and Medicaid.

The Government intervened in a private whistleblower lawsuit before Judge Jed S. Rakoff that had previously been filed under seal pursuant to the False Claims Act.

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Social Security Matters

By AMAC Certified Social Security Advisor Russell Gloor

Association of Mature American Citizens

Ask Rusty – About Collecting Spouse Benefits or Disability

Dear Rusty: My wife will be 62 in a few months and I'm still working (I am 59). Can my wife get any Social Security if I’m not yet retired? She's short quarters for her own Social Security from when she worked. She also worked under our State Teachers Retirement System as a substitute teacher, but she is short of getting any STRS benefits. She's a diabetic and has other health problems, so can she qualify for disability? Signed: Inquiring Husband

Dear Inquiring Husband: Your wife cannot collect Social Security spousal benefits from your record until you are collecting your own Social Security. To be eligible for Social Security on her own work record she needs to have at least 40 “quarters” of work credits - about 10 years of substantial earnings over her lifetime during which she and her employer both contributed to Social Security. Her employment with STRS didn’t give her Social Security credits since her State employer doesn’t participate in the Social Security program; however, if she doesn’t have a STRS pension then neither does she need to worry about that pension affecting her eventual Social Security spousal benefits when she can collect from you (if she had a pension from STRS her Social Security spousal benefit would be reduced).

As far as the possibility of your wife getting Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits, SSDI benefits can only be awarded based upon one’s own work record. Whether your wife qualifies would depend upon how many Social Security quarter credits she has and when they were earned. Your wife would need to have worked in Social Security covered employment for at least 5 of the last 10 years to be eligible for SSDI benefits, and her current health condition would need to render her totally disabled and unable to work (and that must be medically confirmed) in order to qualify.

If she hasn’t already done so, I suggest your wife obtain a Statement of Estimated Benefits and Earnings Statement from Social Security. She can do this online by setting up her own personal “My Social Security” account at www.ssa.gov or by requesting same from Social Security via phone. You can find your local Social Security office contact information by going to this link: www.ssa.gov/locator. Once you have obtained this information you will be able to determine exactly how many Social Security “quarter credits” your wife actually has to this point and the employment years for which she earned them (for SSDI purposes), and also if she is entitled to any Social Security benefits on her own from credits earned over her lifetime (SS credits don’t expire). Having all that information should help your wife fully understand if she has any claiming options other than waiting until you start collecting your own Social Security retirement benefit, at which point she can claim her spousal benefit.

Ambitious tech-tinkerers

The potentials of 21st Century technology apparently have no limits. Consider that tech-tinkerers are already able to make musical instruments and prosthetic body parts using their computers and 3D printers, according to the Association of Mature American Citizens [AMAC]. Enterprising tech-savvy parents can even turn their children’s make-believe crayon drawings into real toys. But, Sterling Backus’s kid was not interested in simple novelties. The boy asked his dad to use his 3D printing system to make a full-size, functional Lamborghini Aventador-- a luxury sports car that can sell for more than $400,000. And, Backus is well on his way to making his son’s epic challenge a reality and it has cost him just $20,000 so far.

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‘It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature’

If you are old enough, you may recall a 1970’s TV commercial that used the catch phrase “it’s not nice to fool Mother Nature.” Well, the Association of Mature American Citizens [AMAC] reports that a California start-up is doing just that. Perfect Day is the name of a nascent company that has found a way to manufacture dairy free protein to produce non-dairy products that look and taste like the ones Mother Nature has been making since the beginning of time. And, that includes ice cream that will allow the lactose intolerant to know how great real ice cream tastes.

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Pot luck?

It’s all in the pronunciation. For example, the Association of Mature American Citizens [AMAC] says Kensli Davis of Milledgeville, GA blames her mother’s deep South drawl for the mix-up when she ordered her birthday cake. Mom asked for Kensli’s cake to feature icing with a theme based on her favorite Disney character, Moana. But when the cake was delivered, it featured a marijuana leaf and a horse smoking a joint, as they say. Kensli says, "I think they thought that she said 'marijuana' because we are from south Georgia and kind of have an accent. So, 'Moana,' marijuana?"

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Social Security Matters

by AMAC Certified Social Security Advisor Russell Gloor

Association of Mature American Citizens

Ask Rusty – Will Social Security Go Bust?

Dear Rusty: I'm always hearing rumors of Social Security imploding - of people my age getting benefits but not the younger as they have time to do something else. I wonder if I file in December for 50% of my spouse's benefit, and later, before I turn 70 and change to my own benefits, if SS goes bust will I lose what I would have been able to claim under myself? I understand that you would only be guessing to answer that. From what I've read, it seems that 20% reduction will be necessary across the board. I do not trust politicians who love to play Santa to get reelected. Signed: Untrusting Senior

Dear Untrusting Senior: As of right now, Social Security (SS) has about $2.9 trillion in reserves in its Trust Fund. Beginning probably in 2020, SS income will be less than needed to pay all benefits, and money will start to be withdrawn from the Trust Fund to meet benefit obligations. Current projections are that the Trust Fund reserves are sufficient to pay 100% of benefit obligations until 2035, at which time SS will only be able to pay out as much money as it brings in. According to projections, that would result in about a 21% cut in benefits for all beneficiaries. But those dire predictions are only valid if Congress does nothing to resolve Social Security’s cash flow deficit expected to start in 2020.

The solutions for Social Security’s financial issues are very well known to Congress. What’s missing is a bipartisan agreement on the best way to resolve it. One side of the aisle wants to simply raise Social Security taxes (remove payroll caps and raise FICA contributions), while the other side prefers future program adjustments which deal with the reality that people are living much longer today than they did when SS was first enacted. Most pundits believe that Congress will eventually reach a compromise before the Trust Fund is depleted in 2035 requiring benefit cuts. After all, what politician who wishes to stay in Congress would want to be associated with reducing Social Security benefits for the very large and voting senior citizenry?

To get to your specific question: There is no real danger of SS going “bust,” as in not being able to pay any benefits at all, so you’ll never “lose what I would have been able to claim under myself.” The worst-case scenario is that your age 70 benefit (which will be about 32% more than your age 66 benefit) might be reduced, but it would never be totally eliminated. The best-case scenario is that Congress puts the current vitriolic atmosphere aside and does their job to fix the problem before it’s a crisis.

The last time Social Security had a crisis of this nature was in 1983, and the Democratic-controlled Congress and the Reagan Administration worked together to enact a fix which lasted for decades (until now). It’s my sincere hope, and indeed my expectation, that a similar bipartisan effort will eventually take place to resolve Social Security’s financial issues for many decades to come. The Association of Mature American Citizens (AMAC) has developed a common-sense Social Security Guarantee proposal which has been presented to multiple Congressional representatives for consideration, and which would solve Social Security’s financial issues for generations. If you’d like to see that proposal feel free to go to this link: https://amac.us/social-security/. Will Congress act on this any time soon? I’m afraid that’s impossible to predict, but if history offers any insight it’s that they will probably act only when the crisis can no longer be ignored.

Burp!

Joey Chestnut downed 71 frankfurters and Miki Sudo sucked up 31 of them to hold on to their titles in the 104th Nathan's Famous International Hot Dog Eating Contest at Coney Island, NY on July 4th. The day before in Washington, DC a hungry Molly Schuyler took the title for the fifth time in the 10th Annual Z Burger Eating Championship event. She broke the burger eating record she set last year, consuming 32 of them in just ten minutes. Last year she put away 27 whoppers.

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It’s all in the game

Perhaps “Jeopardy!” champ James Holzhauer might want to stick to word games; the professional gambler folded after playing 14 hands at this year’s World Series of Poker in Las Vegas. Holzhauer still holds the record for the most wins on the TV game show. He took home more than $2.4 million with 32 consecutive Jeopardy wins earlier this year. He took the 454th place in the poker fest.

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Another daring young man

An unidentified daredevil appears to be the first to climb the tallest building in the U.K. recently. He used no ropes or harnesses, just a couple of suction cups to make his way up the side of the 95-story tower known as the Shard. The British tabloid, the Mirror, says that police detained him briefly, but let him go.

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A fishy story

Four years after he was divorced, Jason Rose of Newaygo, MI decided it was time to get rid of his wedding ring. Says Rose, his was an unhappy marriage and he became convinced the ring was cursed. So the charter boat captain decided to get rid of it the best way he knew how-- by throwing it overboard tied to the tail of a recently caught steelhead trout. “I am convinced that ring is cursed,” he told reporters after the story got out that another fisherman, Jim Nelligan caught the trout seven weeks later. It seems that Nelligan may also believe the ring is ‘cursed’ and, not wanting to tempt fate, is not inclined to keep the ring. He says that he’s been having boat troubles ever since he landed the fish.

###

A deadly truth

The owner of a new themed coffee shop in Bangkok, Thailand says his aim is to show customers that it’s best not to give in to greed. Customers of his Death Awareness Café not only get coffee, they get a chance to experience what it’s like to be laid out in a coffin. He believes the experience reinforces the benefits of a selfless life by showing them that you can’t take it with you when you die.

###

Hen pecked

Scotland’s women’s World Cup team recently came up with a unique way to vent when they lost their first match against England. They hoped the team would rally by getting het up in a rubber chicken fight that was caught on tape. The video shows enthusiastic teammates chasing each other on their training field wielding the squeaky rubber hens.

###

Asthma & summer heat

During summer months, high heat, humidity, and pollution levels can cause asthma attacks, flare-ups, and emergency room visits for the millions of people who suffer from this chronic condition. Patricia Takach from the University of Pennsylvania's Perelman School of Medicine said the findings of the report emphasize the need for patients with asthma to work with primary care providers to develop a personalized approach. “The asthma action plan is a critical resource that allows patients to identify when their asthma symptoms are increasing, and what they need to do to treat it,” she said.

Toxins from the tap

Chemicals known as PFAS, short for per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, are gaining attention as they are increasingly being discovered in sources of drinking water. These compounds, used in everything from non-stick pans to clothing, are long-lived. In many areas, particularly near some military sites where PFAS-laden fire-fighting foam had been used in training exercises, water sources have been found to contain concerning levels of the chemical, which has been associated with harmful health effects. Howard Neukrug of the Water Center at the University of Pennsylvania, a former Philadelphia water commissioner, said these emerging toxins often leave regulatory agencies and consumers with more questions than answers.

Nature Rx

Nature Rx, a new initiative at the University of Pennsylvania, aims to highlight relaxing and contemplative moments in nature as not just leisure but as therapy to help curb anxiety and depression among students. “The idea is that clinicians and health partners would write prescriptions for people to spend time in nature,” said Chloe Cerwinka, landscape planner at Penn. “It’s really simple. You can spend time in nature any way you want to. And there’s scientific research that shows spending as little as five minutes outside in nature can help improve your health.”

Facebook & illness

research from the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine and Stony Brook University found that the language used in Facebook posts can help identify conditions such as diabetes, anxiety, depression and psychosis. Researchers analyzed the entire Facebook post history of nearly 1,000 patients who had their medical record data linked to their profiles. The study found that all of the 21 medical conditions the researchers assessed were predictable from Facebook posts alone. “As social media posts are often about someone’s lifestyle choices and experiences or how they’re feeling, this information could provide additional information about disease management and exacerbation,” said physician Raina Merchant of Penn.

Brands & social impact

Corporations are making social impact front and center in their business models as shoppers increasingly want meaning from their purchases. It’s a trend that is poised to continue, as consumers buy items that are consistent with and help expand upon their own values and beliefs. “I think brands are being pushed to have a social conscience,” said Patti Williams, a professor of marketing at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. “Brands are increasingly expected to have a social and moral perspective.” (EDITORS: Additional information)

###

Social Security Matters

By AMAC Certified Social Security Advisor Russell Gloor

Association of Mature American Citizens

Ask Rusty – Age Seventy hasn’t yet applied for Social Security

Dear Rusty: How can I maximize my monthly Social Security benefit? I'm already 70 years old – almost 71 now. Signed: Ready to Apply.

Dear Ready to Apply: You’ve already maximized your monthly Social Security benefit by waiting until age 70 to apply. Age 70 is when you stop earning delayed retirement credits, which have boosted your monthly benefit amount by 32% over what you would have received at your full retirement age of 66, and by 76% over what you would have received if you had claimed benefits early at age 62. Your maximum Social Security benefit is reached in the month you turn 70 years of age, so you shouldn’t delay any longer. Since you’re now actually more than 70 (almost 71), you should immediately claim your Social Security benefit and you should also ask for 6 months of retroactive benefits, which SS will give you in a lump-sum. You can claim your benefits by contacting the Social Security office (find your local office at www.ssa.gov/locator) and making an appointment to apply for benefits, or you can apply online at www.ssa.gov. To apply online, you’ll have to first set up your personal “My Social Security” online account at www.ssa.gov, and then complete and submit your application online. You should specify your “benefit start month” as six months before the date you apply to get the retroactive benefits.

If you are married, since you have not yet applied for benefits your wife is not yet receiving spousal benefits from your record. Assuming she has reached her full retirement age, her spousal benefit will be half of the benefit you were eligible to receive at your full retirement age, if that amount is more than she is entitled to on her own lifetime work record. If your wife was born on or before January 1st, 1954 she should contact your local Social Security office to file for her spousal benefit. If your wife was born January 2nd, 1954 or later, her spousal benefit should be automatically added to her own benefit when you claim, and she should not need to contact Social Security to apply. I encourage you both to claim these benefits as soon as possible, because each month you delay you are losing benefits which you are entitled to. This is true even if one or both of you are still working, because there is no penalty for working after you have reached full retirement age. And even if you’re still working and paying FICA taxes monthly, your benefit will not increase just because you are still paying into Social Security.

###

History Matters

The Grateful American Book Prize

Showing our children that their past is prelude to their future

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was arguably the most comprehensive civil rights law ever passed in the United States. It was proposed by President John F. Kennedy in 1963 and passed by his successor, President Lyndon B. Johnson, on July 2, 1964, seven months and 10 days after President Kennedy was assassinated. The law prohibited segregation -- based on race--in schools and public places, and it made employment discrimination illegal.

For more information, the Grateful American Book Prize recommends The Civil Rights Act of 1964: An End to Racial Segregation by Judy L Hasday.

The Fourth of July is one of the most highly anticipated holidays of the year. It’s a day for picnics, barbecues and fireworks. But it has a more significant meaning. It is when we celebrate -- and remember -- America’s hard-won independence from British rule.

Recommended reading: The Declaration by Gemma Malley.

Hamilton, one of Broadway’s most popular offerings, has appealed to people of all ages. It almost guarantees an interest in learning more about the man and his times. He was killed on July 14, 1804 in a duel with his long-time political rival, Aaron Burr. Their complicated history is worth knowing.

The Grateful American Book Prize suggests that Judith St. George’s book, The Duel: The Parallel Lives of Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr, is an attractive way to teach your kids a lesson.

###

Ransomware can put healthcare providers — and patients — in critical condition

A healthcare organization can find itself in critical condition if attacked by ransomware — a type of malware that prevents or limits users from accessing their files unless a ransom is paid.

Verizon’s 2018 Data Breach Investigations Report discovered that ransomware accounts for 85 percent of all malware targeting the healthcare industry. Ransomware attacks have been numerous in hospitals and other health facilities recently, and the consequences can be dire for providers and patients, who are denied access to their files and cannot receive the care they need.

“Many healthcare offices are not prepared to combat cyber attacks,” says Alex Zlatin, CEO of Maxim Software Systems and author of Responsible Dental Ownership (alexzlatin.com). “It can be a life-or-death situation if they can’t access data. So, they are more likely to pay up.

“Healthcare organizations are prime targets because of all the patients’ personal information they have to offer cyber criminals. It’s imperative they get up to speed on how to prevent such a nightmare scenario and know how to deal with a ransomware attack quickly.”

Zlatin offers ways for healthcare organizations to prevent or reduce the risks of ransomware attacks, and how they should respond if infected:

If attacked by ransomware

Isolate the infected computer immediately. “Infected systems should be removed from the network as soon as possible to prevent ransomware from attacking network or shared drives,” Zlatin says.

Isolate or power-off affected devices. Those devices that have not been completely corrupted should shut down or be isolated. Zlatin says this can provide time to recover data and contain the damage.

Secure backup data or systems by taking them offline. “You’ll want to ensure backups are free of malware before using them to restore inaccessible data,” Zlatin says.

Change online account passwords and network passwords. “After removing the system from the network, do this, and change all system passwords once the malware is removed,” Zlatin says.

To prevent attacks and mitigate risks

Train employees on cyber hygiene. “This is a healthcare organization’s best defense against ransomware,” Zlatin says. “Cyber hygiene is not putting yourself in a situation where you're surrounded by malicious links — like surfing the internet for personal reasons, opening emails from unfamiliar sources, going on Facebook or checking your Twitter feed from a workstation.”

Keep all systems secure. To remain compliant with HIPPA regulations in the U.S. and Canadian ones like PIPEDA, PHIPA and Alberta’s IHA, all systems that contain protected health information are required to stay up to date. “To protect against a ransomware threat, a similar approach must be taken so that all systems are secured against any potential vulnerabilities,” Zlatin says.

Monitor network traffic and file access. “Data breaches can be discovered by monitoring for unusual behavior within the systems,” Zlatin says. “Detecting outbound connections can pinpoint the location of an infection.”

Back up all data. “If some or all of a system’s files get encrypted, restoring the files from a backup is the only recovery option,” Zlatin says. “Making sure that the backup restores properly is as important as having a backup from the get-go.”

Adopt additional protection. “Ransomware sometimes goes undetected by many antivirus tools,” Zlatin says, “and IT departments must apply safeguards to block suspicious emails and deploy additional filters that block potential harmful sites,” Zlatin says.

“Providers can’t just hope an attack doesn’t happen to them,” Zlatin says. “They must do everything they can to prevent it.”

###

Social Security Matters

by AMAC Certified Social Security Advisor Russell Gloor

Association of Mature American Citizens

Ask Rusty – Will my Canadian pension affect my U.S. Social Security?

Dear Rusty: I worked for 15 years in Canada and for 20 years in the USA and I live in the USA. I will get Social Security from the US soon and I suspect that I can get a smaller (20% of US) pension from Canada as well. Does the US claw back (all or part) of a Canadian pension from the US pension amount? Is it possible it's a net loss to apply for Canadian pension? Signed: Dually Entitled

Dear Dually Entitled: The United States and Canada have a bilateral agreement which regulates benefits for people who have worked part of their career in both countries and are eligible for benefits from both. Under this agreement, your Canadian Pension Plan (CPP) benefit, earned independently in Canada, will affect your U.S. Social Security (SS) benefit amount based upon a rule in U.S. Social Security regulations known as the Windfall Elimination Provision (or "WEP").

WEP will not take effect until you start your Canadian pension but will then affect your U.S. Social Security benefit by using a special formula to compute (or re-compute) your U.S. benefit amount. Your U.S. Social Security benefit amount will be based upon your "average indexed monthly earnings" (or "AIME"), which is the inflation-adjusted monthly average for your years of lifetime significant earnings in the U.S. The AIME actually uses 35 years of lifetime earnings, and if you don't have a full 35 years of U.S. earnings they add in zeros to make it 35 years.

To compute your SS benefit, your AIME is broken into three parts, each of which is multiplied by a different percentage to arrive at an amount, which will become part of your "primary insurance amount" (the "PIA" is the amount you get at your full retirement age). If you have 20 years or less of significant U.S. earnings, the WEP formula will take 40% of first part of your AIME as the first of three numbers which will be added together to arrive at your U.S. Social Security benefit (without WEP, the normal formula uses a 90% multiplier). What that would mean, if you first become eligible for U.S. Social Security in 2019, is that the first $926 of your AIME, rather than adding $833 to your SS benefit amount, would instead add $370 (a reduction of $463; thus, your total U.S. Social Security benefit amount would be reduced by $463). But there are some additional things you should be aware of:

· WEP cannot reduce your U.S. benefit amount by more than 1/2 of your Canadian CPP/QPP benefit amount.

· WEP cannot and will not eliminate your U.S. SS benefit.

· If you have more than 20 years of significant U.S. earnings, the 40% multiplier increases by 5% per additional year, which would mean a smaller WEP reduction. The WEP provision does not apply to anyone with 30 or more years of significant Social Security earnings.

###

A fishy story

Four years after he was divorced, Jason Rose of Newaygo, MI decided it was time to get rid of his wedding ring. Says Rose, his was an unhappy marriage and he became convinced the ring was cursed. So the charter boat captain decided to get rid of it the best way he knew how-- by throwing it overboard tied to the tail of a recently caught steelhead trout. “I am convinced that ring is cursed,” he told reporters after the story got out that another fisherman, Jim Nelligan caught the trout seven weeks later. It seems that Nelligan may also believe the ring is ‘cursed’ and, not wanting to tempt fate, is not inclined to keep the ring. He says that he’s been having boat troubles ever since he landed the fish.

###

A deadly truth

The owner of a new themed coffee shop in Bangkok, Thailand says his aim is to show customers that it’s best not to give in to greed. Customers of his Death Awareness Café not only get coffee, they get a chance to experience what it’s like to be laid out in a coffin. He believes the experience reinforces the benefits of a selfless life by showing them that you can’t take it with you when you die.

###

Hen pecked

Scotland’s women’s World Cup team recently came up with a unique way to vent when they lost their first match against England. They hoped the team would rally by getting het up in a rubber chicken fight that was caught on tape. The video shows enthusiastic teammates chasing each other on their training field wielding the squeaky rubber hens.

###

Social Security Matters

By AMAC Certified Social Security Advisor Russell Gloor

Association of Mature American Citizens

Ask Rusty – Age Seventy hasn’t yet applied for Social Security

Dear Rusty: How can I maximize my monthly Social Security benefit? I'm already 70 years old – almost 71 now. Signed: Ready to Apply.

Dear Ready to Apply: You’ve already maximized your monthly Social Security benefit by waiting until age 70 to apply. Age 70 is when you stop earning delayed retirement credits, which have boosted your monthly benefit amount by 32% over what you would have received at your full retirement age of 66, and by 76% over what you would have received if you had claimed benefits early at age 62. Your maximum Social Security benefit is reached in the month you turn 70 years of age, so you shouldn’t delay any longer. Since you’re now actually more than 70 (almost 71), you should immediately claim your Social Security benefit and you should also ask for 6 months of retroactive benefits, which SS will give you in a lump-sum. You can claim your benefits by contacting the Social Security office (find your local office at www.ssa.gov/locator) and making an appointment to apply for benefits, or you can apply online at www.ssa.gov. To apply online, you’ll have to first set up your personal “My Social Security” online account at www.ssa.gov, and then complete and submit your application online. You should specify your “benefit start month” as six months before the date you apply to get the retroactive benefits.

If you are married, since you have not yet applied for benefits your wife is not yet receiving spousal benefits from your record. Assuming she has reached her full retirement age, her spousal benefit will be half of the benefit you were eligible to receive at your full retirement age, if that amount is more than she is entitled to on her own lifetime work record. If your wife was born on or before January 1st, 1954 she should contact your local Social Security office to file for her spousal benefit. If your wife was born January 2nd, 1954 or later, her spousal benefit should be automatically added to her own benefit when you claim, and she should not need to contact Social Security to apply. I encourage you both to claim these benefits as soon as possible, because each month you delay you are losing benefits which you are entitled to. This is true even if one or both of you are still working, because there is no penalty for working after you have reached full retirement age. And even if you’re still working and paying FICA taxes monthly, your benefit will not increase just because you are still paying into Social Security.

###

History Matters

The Grateful American Book Prize

Showing our children that their past is prelude to their future

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was arguably the most comprehensive civil rights law ever passed in the United States. It was proposed by President John F. Kennedy in 1963 and passed by his successor, President Lyndon B. Johnson, on July 2, 1964, seven months and 10 days after President Kennedy was assassinated. The law prohibited segregation -- based on race--in schools and public places, and it made employment discrimination illegal.

For more information, the Grateful American Book Prize recommends The Civil Rights Act of 1964: An End to Racial Segregation by Judy L Hasday.

The Fourth of July is one of the most highly anticipated holidays of the year. It’s a day for picnics, barbecues and fireworks. But it has a more significant meaning. It is when we celebrate -- and remember -- America’s hard-won independence from British rule.

Recommended reading: The Declaration by Gemma Malley.

Hamilton, one of Broadway’s most popular offerings, has appealed to people of all ages. It almost guarantees an interest in learning more about the man and his times. He was killed on July 14, 1804 in a duel with his long-time political rival, Aaron Burr. Their complicated history is worth knowing.

The Grateful American Book Prize suggests that Judith St. George’s book, The Duel: The Parallel Lives of Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr, is an attractive way to teach your kids a lesson.

###

Ransomware can put healthcare providers — and patients — in critical condition

A healthcare organization can find itself in critical condition if attacked by ransomware — a type of malware that prevents or limits users from accessing their files unless a ransom is paid.

Verizon’s 2018 Data Breach Investigations Report discovered that ransomware accounts for 85 percent of all malware targeting the healthcare industry. Ransomware attacks have been numerous in hospitals and other health facilities recently, and the consequences can be dire for providers and patients, who are denied access to their files and cannot receive the care they need.

“Many healthcare offices are not prepared to combat cyber attacks,” says Alex Zlatin, CEO of Maxim Software Systems and author of Responsible Dental Ownership (alexzlatin.com). “It can be a life-or-death situation if they can’t access data. So, they are more likely to pay up.

“Healthcare organizations are prime targets because of all the patients’ personal information they have to offer cyber criminals. It’s imperative they get up to speed on how to prevent such a nightmare scenario and know how to deal with a ransomware attack quickly.”

Zlatin offers ways for healthcare organizations to prevent or reduce the risks of ransomware attacks, and how they should respond if infected:

If attacked by ransomware

Isolate the infected computer immediately. “Infected systems should be removed from the network as soon as possible to prevent ransomware from attacking network or shared drives,” Zlatin says.

Isolate or power-off affected devices. Those devices that have not been completely corrupted should shut down or be isolated. Zlatin says this can provide time to recover data and contain the damage.

Secure backup data or systems by taking them offline. “You’ll want to ensure backups are free of malware before using them to restore inaccessible data,” Zlatin says.

Change online account passwords and network passwords. “After removing the system from the network, do this, and change all system passwords once the malware is removed,” Zlatin says.

To prevent attacks and mitigate risks

Train employees on cyber hygiene. “This is a healthcare organization’s best defense against ransomware,” Zlatin says. “Cyber hygiene is not putting yourself in a situation where you're surrounded by malicious links — like surfing the internet for personal reasons, opening emails from unfamiliar sources, going on Facebook or checking your Twitter feed from a workstation.”

Keep all systems secure. To remain compliant with HIPPA regulations in the U.S. and Canadian ones like PIPEDA, PHIPA and Alberta’s IHA, all systems that contain protected health information are required to stay up to date. “To protect against a ransomware threat, a similar approach must be taken so that all systems are secured against any potential vulnerabilities,” Zlatin says.

Monitor network traffic and file access. “Data breaches can be discovered by monitoring for unusual behavior within the systems,” Zlatin says. “Detecting outbound connections can pinpoint the location of an infection.”

Back up all data. “If some or all of a system’s files get encrypted, restoring the files from a backup is the only recovery option,” Zlatin says. “Making sure that the backup restores properly is as important as having a backup from the get-go.”

Adopt additional protection. “Ransomware sometimes goes undetected by many antivirus tools,” Zlatin says, “and IT departments must apply safeguards to block suspicious emails and deploy additional filters that block potential harmful sites,” Zlatin says.

“Providers can’t just hope an attack doesn’t happen to them,” Zlatin says. “They must do everything they can to prevent it.”

Like a big pizza pie

There are a lot of ways to celebrate the Fourth of July. Some plan elaborate firework displays. Others plan extravagantly lavish barbecues. Still others try to set records, like the Outta Hand Pizza shop in Westfield, NJ. The daring Pizzaiolos [Italian for pizza makers] cooked up a 9-foot by 4-foot red, white and blue pie recently for the kickoff of the town’s Summer Movie Night event. The pizzeria issued a statement confidently stating that: "We will submit an application with Guinness Book of World Records for largest square pizza and for the largest Flag Pizza in the world."

###

Shaggy dog story

Petaluma, CA may be known as the Wrist Wrestling Capital of the World, but now has a relatively new boast, the home of the World's Ugliest Dog contest. Scamp