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SICK DAY: The upcomming fight over Obamacare

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THE STORY

Congress is coughing up a fit. The topic? Obamacare.

REMIND ME.

In 2010, President Obama signed his favorite thing ever – the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) – into law. Ever since, it’s been a political headache. The law was supposed to make it easier and cheaper for people to get health insurance. And right now, the number of people who are uninsured is at its lowest level. Ever. But critics say it does things like create losses for insurance providers and gives the gov too much power. So the GOP’s tried to repeal or hinder it dozens of times. And it’s gone to the Supreme Court four times for different reasons. But no dice on the repeal.

SO WHAT’S HAPPENING NOW?

ICYMI, one of President-elect Donald Trump’s main campaign promises was to repeal Obamacare. Yesterday, President Obama went to the Hill to get Dem lawmakers’ help in protecting his legacy. And Vice President-elect Mike Pence went to the Hill to say that getting rid of Obamacare will be the “first order of business” for the incoming administration. And since Republicans are about to control both Congress and the White House, their ‘end of Obamacare’ dreams could come true.

WILL IT BE EASY?

No. Democrats say they’re going to put up a major fight. So far, around 20 million people have signed up for insurance through Obamacare. But since it’s unclear what exactly the GOP plans to replace it with, no one really knows what will happen to those millions of people if the law goes away. The GOP says it’s working on a “smooth transition.” K.

theSKIMM

In one corner of the ring is a major part of President Obama’s legacy and the current healthcare system for millions of Americans. In the other corner is President-elect Donald Trump and a Republican-controlled Congress that’s been waiting for this moment for years. Rumble in the GOP jungle.

Skimm This
 

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House GOP scraps plan to gut ethics watchdog after emergency meeting

House Republicans at an emergency conference meeting on Tuesday withdrew a proposal to gut an ethics watchdog.

The new Congress hadn’t even formally gaveled in on before GOP leaders held an emergency conference meeting to discuss the blowback against the party’s vote Monday evening to gut the chamber’s independent ethics watchdog.

Tuesday’s meeting came after President-elect Donald Trump issued a series of tweets questioning the timing of the proposed changes, which would have put the independent Office of Congressional Ethics under oversight of the House Ethics Committee.

Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) both opposed the changes.The House established OCE in 2008 in response to a series of ethics scandals plaguing multiple GOP lawmakers, including three who went to prison.

–This breaking news report will be updated.

 

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My Six Wishes For You This Year

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By Jan M. Flynn –  

 

Bye-bye, 2016. A lot of folks were happy to see you go; you didn’t play very nice.

And hello, 2017. We hope you behave yourself better than predecessor, but I suspect we’re in for a wild ride. Not to be Debbie Downer here, but it’s hard not to believe this is going to be a challenging year, and I mean truly challenging on a level we haven’t seen in a long time. At least not those of us who are lucky enough have lived in a relatively safe and prosperous environment.

I always have mixed feelings on January 1; I’m a little melancholy to see another festive season draw to a close, the time when our normal preoccupations simmer down and we focus on making merry (or escaping, or simply coping). On the other hand, the prospect of a fresh start is invigorating. It’s a chance to set intentions, which I like much better than resolutions, to let go of the past as the decorations are packed away, and ratchet up the energy to take on a whole new year.

This year the transition is more unsettling. The events of November were so jarring that the holiday season seemed like a respite from  psychic whiplash, and I feel my neck cramping up again. There is just so much uncertainty, so much unknown, so many upended assumptions. It’s like the rulebook was rewritten all in one night, and nobody even knows yet what it says.

However, that doesn’t mean we have to slide into despair. Far from it. I’m going to sound very cornball here, but I’m 100% sincere in my belief that we are entering a time that calls on each of us to show up in a way we may never have before. How we conduct ourselves going forward is suddenly critical. While sobering (step away from the mimosas), the idea that  it absolutely matters what each of us does and says and chooses in the coming days is exciting.

Here is what I wish for you, and for everyone you care about and influence. Because even if you didn’t think so previously, you just became very, very important:

  1. Courage. Nobody likes uncertainty, and lots of us don’t cotton much to risk. The coming year is likely to contain lots of both. I wish you the courage to take necessary risks to do what you know in your gut is right, whether it’s showing up to protest a pipeline or speaking your truth calmly and deliberately at a dinner party. All of us are going to need to find a way to embrace uncertainty, so I wish you the courage to do that as well. Don’t wimp out.
  2. Judgement. No, I don’t mean the judge-y kind, where you sit back and rain lofty condemnation on actions and people you don’t like. I mean discernment, rigorous critical thinking, and the discipline to examine news articles, actions, tweets, posts, whatever, for credibility and veracity. Beware of your own biases, because we all have them, and when unexamined they can so easily be used against us. Check your sources, folks. Don’t be anybody’s tool.
  3. Civility. This is key. In case you were hoping the screaming match of the election cycle was over, think again. We have collectively staggered into a realm wherein the loudest and most vituperative voice commands the attention. You have to be better than that. You have to develop the skill to say what you need to say, forthrightly and without apology, but also without calling names or stooping to hostile derision. Don’t be a hater, in any sense of the word.
  4. Faith. By this I mean faith in humanity, as disappointing as individual humans can be. Take the long view, however that makes the most sense to you. We are part of something much bigger than any one of us. Don’t give up.
  5. Resolve. The antidote to insecurity, to fear itself, is action. Do whatever it is you can do; especially do what you haven’t done before. Speak up at the meeting. Join the group. Send whatever money you can to credible organizations that support the most vulnerable among us, that support transparency in government, that support democracy. You don’t have to turn your life inside out, but do something. Don’t sit back.
  6. Joy. I warned you I was going full cornball here. But if ever there were a time when the need to nurture and cultivate joy was front and center, this is it. No regime, administration, or policy-gone-awry should have the power to extinguish the life-affirming core of who you are. And you can’t make a happier world by being unhappy all the time. Take excellent care of yourself and those you love. Eat good stuff; get plenty of sleep; delight in life at every opportunity. Make cool things: gatherings, songs, stories, art, home brew, whatever it is you like to make. Remember, if one individual’s life (and joy) isn’t important, then why is a mass of people’s? Like Marianne Williamson says, don’t play small.

So there they are, my New Year’s wishes for you. May 2017 treat you and yours kindly — but if and when it doesn’t, remember we’re all in this together.

And you? What are your intentions for the new year? Please comment and share!

 

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7 Smart Year-End Tax Planning Moves

1) Harvest Capital Losses Capital gains property includes stocks, bonds and mutual funds. Currently, the stated rate on long term capital gains is 15%. If you have a net loss after netting all of your gains and losses, the tax deduction is limited to $3,000. Any excess capital losses can be carried into the future.

2) Give Away Appreciated Property

Appreciated property is property that is worth more that its tax basis. The tax basis is generally what you paid for an item. By giving away appreciated property, you avoid the capital gains tax on this asset if you had sold it and then given the cash.

3) Maximize Annual Gifts Taxpayers can make gifts of up to $13,000 per year to an unlimited number of people, without having to file gift tax returns or pay gift tax. Granted, you don’t get an income tax deduction for this. However, these assets will be out of their estate. The federal estate tax exclusion is $5 million and the state of Connecticut exclusion is $2 million. In the current economy, many children and grandchildren need all of the help they can get.

4) Self Employed Individuals Should Consider Establishing a Simplified Employee Pension (“SEP”) While many taxpayers are eligible for an IRA or a Roth IRA, self employed individuals also have the option of establishing a SEP. A SEP allows a taxpayer to contribute the lesser of 20% of net income or $49,000 in 2011. Although, you do have until the due date of the returns including extensions to fund the SEP, it’s good idea to plan now if you will be using this vehicle.

5) Connecticut Taxpayers Should Fund a Connecticut CHET 529 Account

Connecticut taxpayers should fund the Connecticut 529 Plan. This is called the Connecticut Higher Education Trust or “CHET.” Married couples filing a joint return are allowed to deduct up to $10,000 on their Connecticut income tax return.

6) Small Business Owners Should Accelerate Deductions and Defer Income

Many people own a small business; some even run their small business out of a home office. Most of these businesses are on the cash basis of accounting. Look at where you are profit-wise. By accelerating their expenses by paying them now and delaying billing, this will reduce taxable income.

7) Taxpayers Over Age 70 1/2 Should Consider Making Charitable Donations From Their IRA Taxpayers over the age of 70 1/2 can make charitable donations from their IRA. The distribution from the IRA is not included in their income. On the other hand, they do not get a tax deduction for this; they do however get these assets out of their estate. Additionally, this qualifies as part of their Required Minimum Distribution (“RMD”).

ACTION ITEM: Here are 7 Smart Year End Tax Planning Moves. But you better hurry. The year will be over soon.

– See more at: http://www.american-apartment-owners-association.org/property-management/tax-tips/7-smart-year-end-tax-planning-moves/#sthash.uKZk5yz0.dpuf

 

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3 Reasons 2016 Wasn’t Actually a Flaming Garbage Shit Storm of Pain and Misery

Trust me on this one.

2016 was hard. A lot of really great, innovative, inspirational people died. The country I live in elected an angry Oompa Loompa for President and he’s trying real hard f*ck everything up. Some good people tried to stop an oil pipe line from destroying sacred land and eventually contaminating a major water source, and it didn’t really work. Lots of POC were beaten and killed by cops. Women might have to start getting abortions illegally soon.

Quick aside: if you voted for Trump, you’re already probably upset with this essay. I get it. We don’t share the same opinions and that sucks, but I’d appreciate it if you didn’t troll and try to get a rise out of me. It won’t work anyway. You are you, I am me. Nothing I can say will change your mind and nothing you can say will change mine. So just close this tab and go back to whatever you were probably supposed to be doing right now and save your trolling for someone else’s post, k? Thank yewwww.

Moving on.

On a personal level, I had to navigate the kind of treacherous depression, anxiety and heartbreak that most people don’t live through. And I did it sober. There were a couple of months where every day I wished I would get hit by a car as I rode my bike around Minneapolis because it hurt that much to be a person. Some of the people I’ve loved the most have said some of the most hurtful shit I have ever heard a person say and I had to choose to walk away from them. Which was really hard. Because I really like to hang around people who say hurtful shit, you guys. It’s kind of my thing.

Lots of super cool stuff happened, too, for sure. But why focus on any of that? 2016 is a massive trash heap of maggot-infested dead things that no one likes, right?

Wrong.

Yes, 2016 was hard and painful. But I wouldn’t change a fucking thing. Which is good, because I can’t. I’m not writing this to show you that 2016 was actually a great time that you should quit being sad. I would never tell you to do that. I do, however, think 2016 was the realest year we’ve had in a long time. Below, you’ll find 3 lessons we can learn from all the flaming diarrhea thrown at us in the last year. If we do it right, we could change this into the beginning of a great story about how we turned things around and leveled up as a species:

Lesson One: We’re all gonna die, so we better start living like it.

We lost Bowie, Prince, Gene Wilder, Alan Rickman, George Michael, Carrie Fisher, HER MOM DEBBIE REYNOLDS A DAY LATER and many more, this year. This is all very sad, for sure, I’m not sure if you know this, but a shitload of other people are gonna die in 2017 too. Also in 2018. Same for 2019. This is due in part to baby boomers getting older and the fact that being a person is hard, and we, as a culture are taking really shitty care of our bodies and minds.

I don’t want to bum you out even more but some day, you will also die. There is no amount of money, fame, love, joy, yoga, food, whatever that will prevent you from dying. You might be able to stave it off by taking better care of yourself, but ultimately, you have no idea when you’re gonna die. Your death is going to be like life throwing you a surprise party so intense that it actually kills you.

What a trip, right?

So when that day comes, do you want to look back with regret or do you wanna say, “You know what? I screwed up a bunch. I also did great. I loved as hard as I could. I said sorry when I meant it. And I tried a little bit every day to be better than the day before.” That was a rhetorical question. Don’t let all those great artists die in vain. Live as greatly as many of them did in whatever way you can.

Lesson Two: We all need to start going all in.

I have a very serious question to ask you: What have you, as an individual, done in response to literally every other garbage thing that happened this year surrounding things like the election, our environment, police brutality and women’s rights? If your answer is: I tweeted about it, then you’re not doing enough.

Be angry. Be sad. Cry and scream. But there is a point when all the searching for people to blame transitions from grief to wasted energy and only you can decide when that is. It is important to remember that there are people who need our help. Armchair activism is an obvious giveaway that you are trapped in your own personal shame cycle and it is going to shorten your life span.

I get that it can seem overwhelming and you’re not sure how you can help. I also understand that your personal schedule/socio-economic status/fears/traumas will play into what you can and can’t do. At the end of the day, you can perform a 5-second google search and you will be provided with many options that will work for you. If you are afraid that you will not have an impact, you are fooling yourself and being a coward and we all need you to stop doing that right now. Making an impact in one person’s life is better than not making one at all. If you are afraid that you will fail, then I am going to let Brené Brown shut that shit down:

“You can do everything right. You can cheer yourself on, have all the support you can find in place and be 100 percent ready to go, and still fail. It happens to writers, artists, entrepreneurs, health professionals, teachers — you name it. But if you can look back…and see that you didn’t hold back — that you were all in — you will feel very different than someone who didn’t fully show up. You may have to deal with the failure, but you won’t have to wrestle with the same level of shame that we experience when our efforts were half-hearted.”

So, pleeeeaaassssseefortheloveofwhateverthefuckyoubelievein, start going all in. Please. We need you. And that brings me to my final lesson:

Lesson Three: We need each other.

A big part of the reason my bloated corpse is not being fished out of the Mississippi right now is because I asked for help. I asked true, good, loving, warm friends who wouldn’t stop telling me that they loved me when I told them that I just didn’t want to be a person anymore. I stopped engaging with toxic people and I worked really hard to create an inner circle that I could trust.

I also have a therapist and she is my hero.

None of this has been easy, but it has kept me here. Our species was not designed to navigate pain alone. This is undoubtedly a painful time and people need you and you need people. Expressing this need is a beautiful display of vulnerability and takes a massive amount of courage and strength. While all of us came pre-packaged with this strength, some of us have had it beaten out of us by life.

This courage is, however, always within our reach if we are willing to put down our flimsy adult armor and see each other for what we really are: scared kids in big bodies trying to find love and stay alive as long as possible.

So while it feels like things have been crumbling at an astonishing rate and there is no relief in sight, I beg you to remember this overused, but very powerful quote from the late great Leonard Cohen, “There’s a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.” So let’s usher in some game changing light by living like we mean it, going all in and supporting each other along the way.

Tatum Fjerstad is a yoga, meditation and writing teacher who also designs websites and edits and ghostwrites books. She lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota with her cat, Gary, and she is well-loved by some really amazing people. To be her new best friend, visit her website.

 

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Three Ways Trump, GOP May Cut Social Security, Medica

960x0by John Wasik –

With President-elect Donald Trump leading GOP control of Congress — and possibly the Supreme Court — what does this mean for your retirement?

Well, it’s unlikely there will be any draconian changes to retirement savings vehicles, but watch out for other potential game-changers. Some of them may hurt your ability to save and achieve financial security in your golden years.

There are some glaring conflicts between what Trump has said in the campaign and retirement policy going forward. Trump, for example, has said he wouldn’t cut Social Security and Medicare, although Speaker of the House Paul Ryan has long pushed for privatizing both programs. That may ultimately cut benefits.

“We’re not going to hurt the people who have been paying into Social Security their whole life,” Trump declared, calling the payment of promised benefits “honoring a deal.”

But the man heading the Trump transition team’s Social Security effort? Michael Korbey, a former lobbyist who has spent much of his career advocating for cutting and privatizing the program, according to Yahoo News.

“It’s a failed system, broken and bankrupt,” Korbey said as a lobbyist in the mid 1990s. Korbey acknowledged that some of the reforms his group backed would hurt retirees, but “our constituents aren’t just senior citizens,” he told a newspaper in 1996. A decade later, as a senior adviser to the Social Security Administration, Korbey was a public advocate for the George W. Bush administration’s failed attempt to privatize Social Security.

Paul Ryan, who represents mainstream Republicans, has long advocated privatizing Medicare. That means dissolving the federally guaranteed fee-for-service program and handing fixed subsidies for retirees to buy private insurance? Would these private plans be affordable? It’s not known, since Ryan has never released specific details.

In addition to handing over Medicare to the private insurance industry, Ryan would raise the qualifying age for Medicare to 67 (from 65 at present) in three years and require that higher-income Americans pay more for insurance.

Another potential loss for retirees would be the repeal of the Affordable Care Act by Trump and GOP Congressional members. At present, the ACA guarantees acceptance for anyone not qualifying for Medicare, so early retirees would be hurt by the loss of the consumer protections, if that part of the law is repealed.

Another retiree protection on the chopping block in the Trump Administration is the Department of Labor’s “fiduciary rule.” Scheduled to go into effect next April, the rule mandated that financial advisers offering retirement advice and products act in the best interest of investors.

Backed by the powerful business lobbies The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the securities and insurance industries, the anti-DOL forces have been suing to scrap the pro-investor rule. Trump and other Republicans had said they want to get rid of the DOL’s signature firewall for retirees.

What will happen if there’s an attack on the DOL rule and other retirement programs? The most immediate impact is that Wall Street and the insurance industry will be selling more overpriced, commission-only products. That will make it harder to save for retirement.

It will also be likely that you’ll be digging into your pocket for health care and retirement income when you can least afford to do so. Nothing, of course, is written in stone in the new Washington. You can always fight back.

 

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2016 was the Arctic’s warmest year on record ‘by far’

BY RUSSELL MCLENDON –

Lofoten, Norway, Arctic Circle

Photo: Olivier Morin/AFP/Getty Images

The Arctic isn’t quite the winter wonderland it used to be. The region is heating up twice as quickly as the rest of the planet, and it just experienced its warmest year on record, with average surface-air temperatures measuring “by far the highest since 1900,” according to the 2016 Arctic Report Card. As an exclamation point for what’s happening, a Christmas heat wave is expected to send North Pole temperatures soaring far above normal, approaching the 32-degree Fahrenheit (0 Celsius) melting point.

The Arctic has been on the front lines of climate change for a long time, losing its sea ice at a rate unseen in recorded history. But 2016 has been especially sweltering, and the year’s last two months have raised concern among scientists that all this warmth could lead to record-low Arctic ice coverage in 2017. And because the white veneer of sea ice creates albedo, which helps reflect heat from the top of the world, more melting can kick off a feedback loop that triggers even more heat. (FOR YOU REPUBLICANS, THAT MEANS THAT BLACK ABSORBS MORE HEAT THAN WHITE).

“Rarely have we seen the Arctic show a clearer, stronger or more pronounced signal of persistent warming and its cascading effects on the environment than this year,” says Jeremy Mathis, director of the U.S. Arctic Research Program.

November and December normally kick off the season of sea-ice growth in the Arctic, but this November brought a brief retreat of sea ice unlike anything seen in nearly 40 years of satellite records, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center, helping November 2016 set a record for lowest sea-ice extent since 1850. The area around the North Pole is typically 95 percent ice-covered by December, but this year’s December coverage has only been about 80 percent. And according to a study released this month, it’s “extremely unlikely” that these events aren’t related to human-induced climate change.

“For all phases of this variability, a warm event like the one of this year would have been extremely unlikely in the climate of a century ago,” the researchers write. “The probability was so small it is hard to estimate, but less than 0.1 percent per year. The model analyses show that the event would also have been extremely unlikely in a world without anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases and aerosols, attributing the cause of the change to human influences.”

2015 was already the warmest year ever measured for the Earth overall, and 2016 is widely expected to break that planetary record. But the Arctic has been heating up at least twice as quickly as the global average, largely due to its feedback loop from lost sea ice. And while this spells trouble for entire Arctic ecosystems — including iconic wildlife like polar bears and reindeer — such dramatic changes in the Arctic will have ripple effects all around the world. As Mathis noted at a news conference this month, we’re all closer to the North Pole than we might think, and now is a good time to heed what’s happening up there.

“We need people to know and understand,” he said, “the Arctic is going to have an impact on their lives no matter where they live.”

 

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