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Sales Tax Update 01: Buy a product at a local store and, in most states, you’ll pay sales taxes of as much as 10 percent. Buy that same product online from an out-of-state company, and it’ll normally be shipped to your door without that merchant adding sales taxes. But you knew that, right? Here’s what you probably didn’t know: In many states, you’re supposed to be paying those taxes anyway, either by sending in the appropriate sales tax to your state, or its closely-related cousin, a use tax (essentially, a tax levied by the state on any item not subject to sales tax). Of course, legal or not, virtually nobody pays sales or use taxes to their state for out-of-state purchases. But that sales tax holiday might finally be coming to an end.
Businessweek recently reported that a bipartisan group of U.S. senators has introduced what they’re calling the Marketplace Fairness Act [PDF], which will make it easier for states to require online, out-of-state businesses to charge and remit state and local sales taxes. While many online retailers are obviously against this bill, Amazon.com feels that some form of online taxes is inevitable, and the company is looking for a solution like this bill that creates a uniform system and controls the administrative costs of collecting taxes for every city, county, and state. You can read their press release expressing their support of the bill at http://phx.corporate-ir.net/phoenix.zhtml?c=176060&p=irol-newsArticle&ID=1628503&highlight=.
While the letter of the law may currently rely on consumers to voluntarily remit uncollected sales and use taxes, there is at least one thing that consumers can do to save money: Make sure retailers don’t apply sales tax to pre-discount totals. We all have made purchases with coupons and other discounts, only to find that the merchant calculated sales tax on the original price. Yet in every state that researched, this is simply wrong: Iowa’s Department of Revenue is clear on this issue, as is Florida’s, Colorado’s, and New York’s. The exceptions are typically rebates and vouchers for reimbursement issued by manufacturers or the government. In most cases this happens when you use coupons at restaurants, but it also occurs on discounted items by other retailers. In these cases, it is hard to say if an unscrupulous merchant is padding its bottom line under the guise of sales tax or if their poorly programmed computers are actually collecting and paying extra taxes. Either way, it makes sense to learn the laws of your state and make sure your retailer is not collecting more sales tax then they should.

Today’s consumers can still enjoy ordering goods through the mail without having the merchant collect taxes – but that may change. In the meantime, you can at least be sure that you are still being charged the appropriate taxes when you save money by using coupons and other discounts. [Source: MoneyTalksNews Jason Steele 8 Dec 2011 ++]


http://static.moneytalksnews.com/ic/flickr%252f401k/474/266/http:/farm7.staticflickr.com/6056/6355404323_ac5691e105_o.jpg
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Dover Air Base Mortuary: The Air Force dumped the incinerated partial remains of at least 274 American troops in a Virginia landfill, far more than the military had acknowledged, before halting the secretive practice three years ago, records show. Air Force officials said the landfill dumping was not disclosed to families who had authorized the military to dispose of the remains in a dignified and respectful manner,. There are no plans, they said, to alert those families now. The Air Force had maintained that it could not estimate how many troops might have had their remains sent to a landfill. The practice was revealed in NOV by The Washington Post, which was able to document a single case of a soldier whose partial remains were sent to the King George County landfill in Virginia. The new data, for the first time, show the scope of what has become an embarrassing episode for vaunted Dover Air Base, the main port of entry for America’s war dead. The landfill disposals were never formally authorized under military policies or regulations. They also were not disclosed to senior Pentagon officials who conducted a high-level review of cremation policies at the Dover mortuary in 2008, records show.
Air Force and Pentagon officials said in NOV that determining how many remains went to the landfill would require searching through the records of more than 6,300 troops whose remains have passed through the mortuary since 2001. “It would require a massive effort and time to recall records and research individually,” Jo Ann Rooney, the Pentagon’s acting undersecretary for personnel, wrote in a 22 NOV letter to Rep. Rush D. Holt (D-N.J.). Holt, who has pressed the Pentagon for answers on behalf of a constituent whose husband was killed in Iraq, accused the Air Force and Defense Department of hiding the truth. “What the hell?” Holt said in a phone interview. “We spent millions, tens of millions, to find any trace of soldiers killed, and they’re concerned about a ‘massive’ effort to go back and pull out the files and find out how many soldiers were disrespected this way?” He added: “They just don’t want to ask questions or look very hard.” Senior Air Force leaders said there was no intent to deceive. “Absolutely not,” said Lt. Gen. Darrell D. Jones, the Air Force’s deputy chief of staff for personnel.
This week the Air Force produced a tally based on information contained in the Dover mortuary’s electronic database. It showed that 976 fragments from 274 military personnel were cremated, incinerated and taken to the landfill between 2004 and 2008. An additional group of 1,762 unidentified remains were collected from the battlefield and disposed of in the same manner, the Air Force said. Those fragments could not undergo DNA testing because they had been badly burned or damaged in explosions. The total number of incinerated fragments dumped in the landfill exceeded 2,700. A separate federal investigation of the mortuary in NOV, prompted by whistleblower complaints, uncovered “gross mismanagement” and documented how body parts recovered from bomb blasts stacked up in the morgue’s coolers for months or years before they were identified and disposed of. The problems also transpired at a time when the mortuary was shielded from public scrutiny. News coverage of the return of fallen troops to Dover was banned by President George H.W. Bush in 1991 before the first Persian Gulf War. The ban remained until APR 09, when the Obama administration lifted it.
The Air Force said it first cremated the remains and then included those ashes in larger loads of mortuary medical waste that were burned in an incinerator and taken to a landfill. Incinerating medical waste is a common disposal practice but including cremated human ashes is not, according to funeral home directors, regulators and waste haulers. Air Force officials said they do not know when the landfill disposals began. Their first record of it is Feb. 23, 2004. The mortuary database became operational in late 2003. Mortuary leaders decided to end the practice in May 2008 because “there was a better way to do it,” Jones said. The remains are cremated and placed in a sea-salt urn. The mortuary arranges with the Navy to have the retirement at sea. Jones said the Air Force did not need to inform relatives of troops whose remains ended up in the landfill because they had signed forms stipulating that they did not wish to be notified if additional remains were identified. The forms authorized the military to make “appropriate disposition” of those subsequent remains. Asked if the landfill was a dignified final resting place, Jones said: “The way we’re doing it today is much better.”
Jones said the mortuary mission is to treat all remains with dignity, honor and respect. Mortuary employees also stand ready to help the families of the fallen. In 2008, mortuary employees were the ones who pushed for the change once they realized how the remains were being disposed of. "It was employees at the Dover Port Mortuary who, on their own volition, came up with that suggestion, that recommendation, to make that policy change back in 2008," Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. John Kirby told reporters 8 DEC. "That wasn't something imposed upon them. It wasn't the result of some [inspector general] report. They came up with this on their own." The Air Force has set up a hotline for families who have questions about the processes the mortuary used. It is 1-855-637-2583. Or families with questions can e-mail officials at dover.pm@pentagon.af.mil. "We will be forthright, we will tell them everything we know about the disposition of their loved one," Jones said. [Source: Washington Post Craig Whitlock | Mary Pat Flaherty article 7 Dec 2011 ++]
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The coffins of four U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq arrive at Dover Air Force
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VA RTLS: The Veterans Affairs Department views a planned $550 million Real-Time Location System (RTLS) as a way to ensure its hospitals properly sterilize medical instruments, improve efficiency and track equipment. VA unions view it as a Big Brother system that could monitor employees. The department is scheduled to release on 9 DEC a draft request for proposals for RTLS, which will use signals from Wi-Fi networks already installed in its hospitals to track equipment -- and potentially employees -- within a meter or better. VA has referred to plans to track employee Wi-Fi tags with the system in a notice in September and a briefing in November, although the department said 5 DEC it did not have an official plan in place to tag and track employees. Tracking equipment will help solve one of its most vexing problems -- lack of sterilization of medical equipment, VA Chief Information Officer Roger Baker said in a media call last month.
In June 2009, the department's inspector general reported that VA hospitals in Georgia and Florida failed to properly sterilize endoscopes used for colonoscopies before reuse, potentially exposing thousands of veterans to HIV and other infections. Baker said RTLS tags on medical equipment would ensure they would not be used before they were sterilized. VA, in a "sources sought" notice released to industry in September, said RTLS equipment will interface with cleaning and sterilization equipment for strict adherence to cleaning standards. Baker said he viewed RTLS as a technology that could support "at least 15 business cases" in VA, including tracking of equipment such as computers. The September notice to industry said the system could follow veteran case file folders used by examiners in the Veterans Benefits Administration and track the remains of soldiers for the National Cemetery Administration. VA also said in the September notice it wanted to tap RTLS to "locate staff in real time" through 2-inch wide Wi-Fi tags on their badges in the 152 hospitals run by the Veterans Health Administration. The department also briefed its staff tracking plans to potential bidders on 8 NOV. Staff tracking information -- as well as all the other information gathered by the system -- would be stored in a National Data Repository accessible at the local, regional or national levels.
VA said staff tracking by RTLS will help improve hospital workflow and efficiency and this will be done with the "explicit knowledge" of employees. The department added that data collected from the system will not be used for employee performance assessment or disciplinary purposes, and "will have the support of VHA labor union partners." That's news to three of the four unions representing roughly 250,000 VHA employees.

  • Susan Anderson, president of National Association of Government Employees local at the Martinsburg, W. Va., Veterans Affairs hospital, and a member of the labor-management VA National Partnership Council, said she received a briefing from the department in July about RTLS and was assured it would be used to track equipment only, not employees. Anderson said VA did not furnish her with the information contained in its industry briefings or procurement documents. Anderson called the $550 million price tag for RTLS "a staggering amount of money that could be used to care for vets." She also is concerned about the privacy implications. "I really don't want anyone to track how long I spend in the bathroom," Anderson said.

  • Elaine Gerace, vice president of the Service Employees International local for the VA hospital in Syracuse, N.Y. -- and another member of the National Partnership Council -- said the last RTLS briefing she had from VA was a year ago, and the department said the technology would be used to track equipment only. Gerace views any plans by VA to use RTLS to track employees as "the beginning of Big Brother . . . an invasion of privacy."

  • Oscar Williams Jr., second executive vice president for the American Federation of Government Employees National VA Council, also had the impression that the department planned to use RTLS to only track equipment, and if VA wants to use it to electronically monitor employees then "we're not going to let it happen." AFGE, Williams said, represents 207,000 VA employees.

Josephine Schuda, a VA spokesman, said 5 DEC that as of now there was no official plan for staff tagging with RTLS. She said the new contract will "buy technology that will allow a wide range of capabilities for use over five years." Before VA asks a vendor to develop a particular application, there would be discussions with the unions, Schuda said. [Source: NextGov.com Bob Brewin article 5 Dec 2011 ++]


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VA Homeless Vets Update 25: In an effort to keep veterans from turning to the streets, the Department of Veterans Affairs announced 5 DEC that it will offer $100 million in grants to local agencies that help returning troops in need. The VA estimates that 107,000 veterans are without a place to stay on any given night and has committed to eliminating the mounting problem by 2015. The VA's most recent program will enable community agencies to apply for grants from a $100 million pot, so that they can intervene before former servicemen and servicewomen are forced to give up their homes. "The problems that lead to homelessness begin long before veterans and their families are on the streets," Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki said in a statement. "By putting more resources into prevention services for people at risk of becoming homeless, we will continue to help veterans and their families get back on their feet and turn their lives around." The program aims to help more than 35,000 veterans and families. Offering veterans training, education and counseling -- among other services -- is critical before returning troops resort to living in cardboard boxes. Homeless veterans are more likely to develop life-threatening diseases -- and remain on the streets longer -- than non-veteran homeless people, according to a study conducted by the 100,000 Homeless Campaign released in November. “Those who have served this nation as veterans should never find themselves on the streets, living without care and without hope,” Shinseki said.
homeless vets
[Source: Huff Post Impact article 7 Dec 2011 ++]
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Iowa Veterans Home Update 04: Iowa's nursing home for veterans has ended a program in which residents transported other residents who use wheelchairs around the campus, following a bloody accident in which an elderly woman fell face-first into concrete and broke her nose, its top administrator said. The Iowa Veterans Home in Marshalltown reported the 29 SEP fall by a resident who suffered from arthritis and dementia to state regulators and took responsibility for failing to train her escort. That incident and another in which a patient fell out of bed after being left unattended led the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals to cite the home for a major safety violation last month and fine it $3,000. State records show it is the second fine for a serious violation in two years for the home, which is Iowa's largest nursing home and among the biggest in the nation for veterans and their spouses. The home is made up of two separate facilities: one that provides nursing care for about 500 residents, and a residential care facility where 100 more people live mostly independently.
Under the home's resident employee escort program, Commandant David Worley said 2 DEC that about a dozen residents of the residential care facility were employed a few hours per week at minimum wage transporting nursing home residents in wheelchairs. He said the program had been in place for years but was discontinued after the Sept. fall exposed a lack of training among employees and raised questions about safety. "We hope we never, ever are the cause of a resident getting injured. That's always our biggest concern," he said. "We want that to never happen again." Asked why the escorts did not have training, Worley said the program was there when he took over as nursing home administrator 16 months ago "and we just hadn't followed up on it."
On Sept. 29, a male employee was transporting the woman back from a beauty shop down a ramp on the home's grounds when she put her feet down, tried to stand up and fell face-first onto cement, records show. The woman taken to an emergency room, where doctors found her nose was broken and a major cut on her forehead that required 14 stitches. The male employee told investigators he'd been doing the job for three months, but had no training on the proper use of wheelchairs. "At the time of the fall, the wheelchair pedals were not being used and the resident escort employee transferring the resident had no training," according to the state citation, which is dated 2 NOV. "The facility and/or director of nursing had not provided training to ensure residents' needs were met." After the fall, Worley said employee escorts were reassigned to other jobs such as delivering mail and folding laundry. Residents in wheelchairs will now only be transported by staff employees or volunteers who go through training, he said. David Werning, a spokesman for the Department of Inspections and Appeals, said the wheelchair escort program "may well have been a case of good intentions that went awry." He said it was understandable to try to have residents feel good about helping others, but the lack of training was problematic.
In the second case, regulators faulted the home for failing to prevent a patient who had chronic kidney disease and other ailments from slipping off the end of a bed on 25 SEP and hitting his or her head on the floor. That resident bruised the area around his or her eye so badly that it swelled shut and suffered abrasions to the elbow and knees. Veterans home employees blamed a nurse for briefly leaving the resident sitting on the end of the bed while looking for another employee to help adjust the patient's sling. The patient's care plan had warned the resident was at high risk for falls. Regulators cited the home for a single major violation as a result of multiple lesser infractions that constituted "an imminent danger or a substantial probability of resultant death or physical harm to the residents of the facility."
The home paid the fine on 15 NOV and its size was reduced by 35 percent to $1,950 under a policy rewarding violators who do not contest citations, Werning said. He said home administrators had also submitted an acceptable plan to address the problems, and regulators would check whether the measures are in place during a surprise visit.

"Anytime you get a Class 1 violation it signifies there is a significant issue to be corrected," he said. "Considering the size of the facility, they jumped on it quickly." The home was cited and fined $4,500 last year for inadequate supervision after a resident with dementia left the grounds during a recreational activity, walked four blocks away and was spotted trying to hitchhike. [Source: Associated Press Ryan J. Foley article 5 Dec 2011 ++]


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WWII Vets Update 09: Time, to be sure, is catching up with the 1.7 million living American veterans of history's greatest conflict. Many are frail or ill. But on the 70th anniversary of the U.S. entry into that war - at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941 - the remarkable story is how well so many veterans are doing.

  • Henry Heim, who survived the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and later flew bombing missions over Europe, recently crawled through brush and briars while on a hunting trip to get in position to shoot "the biggest buck I ever killed." He's 90.

  • Ted Paluch, who played dead to escape a German massacre of U.S. troops in World War II, moved not long ago from South Jersey to Center City to be more in the thick of things. He recently got back from a four-day speaking trip to Michigan. He's 89.

  • Sam Ballinger, who fought in the Battle of the Bulge, still loves ballroom dancing and is a fitness freak who works out daily. He's 86."Everybody says I look good for a World War II veteran," Ballinger said. "They expect to see an old man with a mustache and a cane."

This is the wealthiest, healthiest generation of older Americans, ever. "It might very well be that these guys, who have seen everything and are now late in life, might become centenarians," said Carolyn Aldwin, a professor of human development at Oregon State University who has studied the life span of veterans. "The ones who are left are probably pretty hardy individuals." Seven decades after the Civil War, fewer than 1 percent of Union veterans were living, according to data from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. At a similar distance from the First World War, 2.5 percent of veterans were alive. Thanks to medical advances and the blessings of a prosperous post-war America, World War II veterans are doing far better. More than 10 percent of the 16 million who served in the Armed Forces are alive. Even by 2015, by the 70th anniversary of Japanese surrender on Sept. 2, 1945, more than 5 percent will remain, the VA estimates. The agency projects that 855,000 will still be around in 2015, 205,000 in 2021, and 57,000 in 2025. The last World War I veteran, Frank Buckles, of West Virginia, died Feb. 27 at age 110. Quite a few World War II veterans might do as well, or better. The VA estimates that 370 will be around in 2036 - a whole generation from now.


Veterans often live longer than other people because they had to be fit to get into the military, Aldwin said. Many grew up tough and strong on the farm, or worked in coal mines or steel mills. After the war, the educational opportunities afforded by the GI Bill gave many a safer workplace with medical insurance, pensions, and vacations - benefits unheard of by their parents. Penicillin and other antibiotics were among the first of myriad medical advances that saved millions of lives. Aldwin cites what she calls the "tough-old-bird" factor. These veterans survived some of the most dangerous years of life - their 50s, 60s, and 70s, when heart disease and lung ailments related to smoking often take a toll. Having made it until now, they're "apt to live for a very long time," Aldwin said.
Heim knows well the toll that time is taking On Pearl Harbor Day last year, he spoke at a ceremony in the state Capitol, at which he counted just seven Pearl Harbor veterans. Not so many years ago, there might have been dozens. "We're dwindling fast," he said. "I wouldn't say there's a heck of a lot of us." Yet, Heim is feeling well. Heim, who was knocked unconscious by a bomb at Pearl Harbor, says he considers every day as a bonus. But he has always done so. "I remember when I was 19, I didn't think I was going to live another minute," he said. He left the military after World War II, but was recalled for duty in the Korean War. He ended up a major. He worked for Bell Telephone until retiring in 1976, more than 35 years ago. He and his wife, Kay, have been married 69 years. "I expect to be 105 or 110," he said. "Now, that's silly; but I have always exceeded expectations."
For decades after the war, veterans kept busy with work and family. As they retired, many became more interested in the historic events of their youth, and joined veterans groups. Many of the groups are now withering. Some have folded. Others have opened membership to the descendants of veterans, or others. Last week, at a meeting of the Delaware Valley chapter of the Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge, 14 veterans were on hand. The group, which is one of the larger organizations still going, remembers a battle in the winter of 1944-45 in which 19,000 GIs were killed, 20,000 were captured, and 40,000 were wounded. Meeting monthly at the Coast Guard station in South Philadelphia, the group has $10,000 in the bank and is planning a 2012 bus trip to Gettysburg or other historic destination. Stan Wojtusik, who helped organize the group 30 years ago, gave up the presidency last Wednesday, turning it over to 46-year-old Gary Lambert, son of Bulge veteran Ed Lambert, 86. The younger Lambert, an Iraqi war veteran, said he hoped to keep the group thriving indefinitely. In attendance for the turnover were:

  • Matt Reluga, 92. A former sales rep who retired at age 62, who said he never expected to live this long. He had three brothers and a sister, all of them gone. "I think it's by being thin, by not being overweight," he said. Reluga, who was one of the first U.S. soldiers to enter Czechoslovakia during the Allied advance across Europe, attends the meetings "to have some activity" and enjoy the camaraderie. The veterans seldom talk anymore about combat, he said. It's enough just to know that the "other guy" has had similar experiences.

  • Sam Ballinger, the fitness buff, agreed that keeping trim was key. A former mechanical engineer from Burlington, he has a full head of hair, stands 5-foot-11, weighs 160 pounds, and has "a lot of girlfriends," by his account. "I don't eat meat, I drink soy milk, and I get a lot of exercise," he said.

  • Ted Paluch, at the meeting in a crisp fedora, said he felt lucky not to have died in his youth. On Dec. 17, 1944, the second day of the Battle of the Bulge, Paluch was in a field artillery unit that ran smack into a German heavy-tank battalion. After the Americans surrendered, they were stripped of belongings, grouped together in a field, and hosed with machine guns in the worst atrocity committed by the Nazis against U.S. troops. Paluch was hit in the hand, but hid silently among heaps of dead Americans, probably 80 at least. At the meeting, he carried two new books, both of which mentioned him prominently. One was about the battle as a whole, and the other focused on the massacre. He has found, in old age, that he is of interest to historians. He appears to enjoy it. "Will I live to be 100? I'll try," he said. "I've got a couple more years. I'm doing pretty good."

[Source: Philadelphia Inquirer Tom Infield article 7 Dec 2011 ++]
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Postal Service Update 05: On 5 DEC the United States Postal Service said it planned to largely eliminate next-day delivery for first-class mail as part of its push to cut costs and reduce its budget deficit. Currently, more than 40 percent of first-class mail is delivered in one day. The agency said the slower delivery would result from its decision to shut about half of its 487 mail processing centers nationwide. The move is expected to eliminate about 28,000 jobs and increase the distance that mail must travel between post offices and processing centers. It would be the first reduction in delivery standards for first-class mail in 40 years. Current standards call for delivering first-class mail in one to three days within the continental United States. Under the planned cutbacks, those delivery times would increase to two or three days, potentially creating problems for clients of Netflix, the popular DVD-by-mail service, who hope that their next episodes of “Mad Men” will arrive in a day, or procrastinators who like to pay bills as late as possible.
The agency had announced on Sept. 15 that it would begin studying plans to close 252 of its mail processing centers. On 5 DEC, the Postal Service said it would “move forward” with that plan, with closings to begin as early as March. It also said it was seeking a nonbinding advisory opinion from the Postal Regulatory Commission about the closures, although agency officials said they were intent on closing the processing centers as part of a plan to save $3 billion a year by 2015. “The bottom line is that in the last three years, we’ve lost almost 27 percent of our first-class volume,” Patrick Donahoe, the postmaster general, said in a phone interview. “In 2000, 5 percent of people paid bills online. Now it’s 60 percent. The problem is we’ve lost so much volume in blue-box mail, we can’t hold out for next-day service anymore.” The Postal Service lost $5.1 billion last year. Mr. Donahoe has said that by 2015, he hopes to cut $20 billion from the agency’s annual costs, now about $75 billion. He has called for closing up to 3,700 of the nation’s 32,000 post offices, reducing deliveries to five days a week from six and cutting the agency’s work force of 653,000 employees by more than 100,000.
Postal officials said they would not make definitive announcements on any post office closings before January. But many of the other proposed changes sought by the agency would require Congressional action. So far, lawmakers have been unwilling to grant Mr. Donahoe’s requests or agree on an alternative plan of action. “What I need Congress to do is act now to help me on the things they can help me on,” Mr. Donahoe said. In particular, he urged Congress to approve five-day-a-week delivery and to remove the post office’s obligation to set aside about $5.5 billion a year for 10 years to prefund retiree health care, a burden that has accounted for a large share of the agency’s financial losses in recent years. If Congress takes those two actions, “it can help me save $8.5 billion a year,” he said. The Postal Service had previously announced a 1-cent increase in first-class postage, to 45 cents, starting 22 JAN. [Source: New York times Business Day Steven Greenhouse article 5 Dec 2011 ++]
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USPS: Misunderstanding the "less is more" principle
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TSP Update 24: The Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board reported last month that TSP participation rate for federal employees was strong at 85.4 percent, while participation for military members was 39.3 percent, despite fewer enrollees from the reserves. TSP returns, particularly for the C, S, and I funds, have been volatile throughout 2011. November was a fairly dismal month for Thrift Savings Plan returns with all but three funds posting in the red.

  • After an above-average October in which the C Fund, invested in common stocks of large companies on the Standard & Poor's 500 Index, jumped 10.93 percent, November was a disappointment. The fund lost 0.21 percent last month and has gained 7.82 percent during the past 12 months.

  • The stable government securities (G) fund increased 0.14 percent. The F Fund, which invests in fixed-income bonds, was in the black for the fifth consecutive month, edging up 0.01 percent. During the past year, the F Fund has increased 5.68 percent; the G Fund is up 2.51 percent and the L Income Fund rose 3.55 percent.

  • The I Fund, invested in international stocks, dropped the most, falling 2.46 percent in November and is down 2.67 percent over the past year. Since January, the I Fund has decreased 9.98 percent, likely due to the ongoing debt crisis in Europe.

  • L Income, the fund for federal employees who have reached their target retirement date and have started withdrawing money, rose 0.02 percent.

  • The S Fund, which invests in small and midsize companies and tracks the Dow Jones Wilshire 4500 Index dipped 0.51 percent, after a big jump of 14.09 percent in October. The S Fund had posted positive returns in 2011 until this month.

All the life-cycle funds, designed to move investors to less risky portfolios as they get closer to retirement, saw losses in November. The L 2050 dropped 0.78 percent; L 2040 declined 0.62 percent; L 2030 lost 0.49 percent; and L 2020 decreased 0.34 percent. During the past year, however, all the life-cycle funds have posted positive returns. Year-to-date data and figures for the past 12 months of the L 2050 Fund were unavailable. [Source: GovExec.com Kellie Lunney article 6 Dec 2011 ++]


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Day of Infamy: It was a quiet and beautiful Sunday morning at Hawaii’s Pearl Harbor—home of America’s Pacific Fleet. Many of the 60,000 Sailors and other military personnel stationed there were still in their bunks resting after a Saturday night on the town. Some were eating breakfast; a few were on duty, others just straggling in. What appeared to be another day in paradise would quickly turn into a nightmare. At five minutes before 8:00 AM on December 7, 1941, 183 Japanese aircraft raced across the mountains north of Pearl Harbor with a mission to destroy the U.S. Fleet. Bombs were dropped on fuel and ammunition dumps, buildings, and ships. Japanese pilots strafed the same with wing-mounted machine guns while others dropped torpedoes. The attack was a surprise. Some Sailors went down with their ships. Some were trapped only to drown inside as water replaced the air in the sinking ship. Some had to choose between staying aboard a doomed ship, or take a chance by diving into a harbor aflame with burning oil, littered with the dead bodies of their fellow service members. It was truly a living hell. But in American fashion, these brave men and women pulled together. Ammunition and weapons lockers were cracked open in order to fight back. Army pilots dodged bombs and machine gun fire to make it to their planes in attempt to take to the air and drive off the attackers. Some rendered aid to the injured and dying. Others put their comrades before themselves and risked their own lives to save a stranger.
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Pearl Harbor Dec 7, 1941
Fifty minutes later, a second wave of 170 Japanese planes intensified the attack arriving almost simultaneously from three different directions. More than 1,100 Sailors were killed when the U.S.S. Arizona’s forward magazine exploded from a direct bomb strike. In all, the assault claimed 2,403 American lives and left more than a thousand others wounded. Ninety minutes after it all began, the last Japanese plane headed away from Pearl Harbor and back to its carrier. America’s entry into World War II was solidified. Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, who planned the attack on Pearl Harbor, would write in his diary, “I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.” Whether or not the Admiral actually wrote those words is debatable, however, there is no doubt the attack did awaken a sleeping giant. Sixteen million fighting Americans would go on to drive the Japanese and Germans into surrender—fighting in every corner of the globe to deliver a world free from tyranny.
Today, fewer than 3,000 Pearl Harbor survivors remain as our last living links with history and the beginning of America’s greatest generation. Most of these brave Americans are now in their late 80s and 90s. Today, we salute their valor and sacrifice, and we honor their fighting spirit—a spirit that has motivated millions of Americans to follow their lead and live by their example. For most of us born several generations later, it’s hard to relate to the devastation, the loss of life and the implications of those events that happened 70 years ago; and thousands of miles away. The horrific attack on Pearl Harbor was to the greatest generation what 9/11 is to most of us. Most of us weren’t directly affected by the terrorist attacks in New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C., but we felt the horror, the overwhelming emotions and the desire to unite and take the fight to enemy. Those experiences and emotions must have been similar to what the greatest generation felt and it spurred them on to set a high standard for both future American service members and for how the world would view the United States and its military might.

Those of us who have worn the uniform, and those who will wear it tomorrow, are the legacy of the survivors of Pearl Harbor as well as the millions of brave Veterans who followed in their footsteps. They put country before self and are willing to risk all to save all—the American way of life. We owe all that we are today, to those who came before us. [Source: VAntage Point Gary Hicks article 6 Dec 2011 ++]


photo of sailors saluting the uss arizona memorial

Sailors and Marines render honors as the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) passes the USS Arizona Memorial
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Day of Infamy Update 01: Lee Soucy, who lived to be 90 after surviving the attack on Pearl Harbor, passed away just last year. Seven decades after dozens of fellow Sailors were killed when the USS Utah sank on Dec. 7, 1941, Navy divers took a small urn containing his ashes and put it in a porthole of the ship. The ceremony was one of five memorials held the week of 7 DEC for servicemen who lived through the assault and wanted their remains placed in Pearl Harbor out of pride and affinity for those they left behind. "They want to return and be with the shipmates that they lost during the attack," said Jim Taylor, a retired Sailor who coordinates the ceremonies. The memorials happened the same week the country observed the 70th anniversary of the aerial bombing that killed 2,390 Americans and brought the United States into World War II. A larger ceremony to remember all those who perished was held 7 DEC just before 8 a.m. Hawaii time -- the same moment the devastating attack began.
Soucy, the youngest of seven children, joined the Navy out of high school so he wouldn't burden his parents. In 1941, he was a pharmacist mate, trained to care for the sick and wounded. He had just finished breakfast that Sunday morning when he saw planes dropping bombs on airplane hangars. He rushed to his battle station after feeling the Utah lurch, but soon heard the call to abandon ship as the vessel began sinking. He swam to shore, where he made a makeshift first aid center to help the wounded and dying. He worked straight through for two days. The Utah lost nearly 60 men on Dec. 7, and about 50 are still entombed in the battleship. Today, the rusting hull of the Utah sits on its side next to Ford Island, not far from where it sank 70 years ago. Soucy's daughter, Margaret, said her parents had initially planned to have their ashes interred together at their church in Plainview, Texas. But her father changed his mind after visiting Pearl Harbor for the 65th anniversary in 2006. "He announced that he wanted to be interred on the Utah. And my mother looked a little hurt and perplexed. And I said, `Don't worry, Daddy, I'll take that part of your ashes that was your mouth and I'll have those interred on the Utah. And you can then tell those that have preceded you, including those that were entombed, what's been going on in the world,' " Margaret Soucy recalled saying with a laugh. " 'And the rest of your remains we will put with mother in the church gardens at St. Mark's.' And then my sister spoke up and said, `Yes, then mother can finally rest in peace,' " she said.
ap photo
The family had long kidded Soucy for being talkative -- they called him "Mighty Mouth" -- so Margaret Soucy said her father laughed and agreed. "He just thought that was hilarious," she said. "So that is what we are doing. We're taking only a portion of his ashes. It's going to be a small urn," she said. Soucy's three children, several grandchildren and great-grandchildren -- 11 family members altogether -- attended the sunset ceremony on 6 DEC. His wife died earlier this year. Amid overcast skies, a Navy diver took the urn, protected by a mesh bag, and held it above water while swimming toward the Utah. The diver, who was accompanied by three supporting divers, went underwater to the porthole once reaching the ship. An urn carrying the ashes of Vernon Olsen, who was among the 334 on the Arizona to survive the attack, was interred in a gun turret on the ship Wednesday. Most of the battleship's 1,177 Sailors and Marines who died on Dec. 7 are still entombed on the ship. Five months after Pearl Harbor, Olsen was on the USS Lexington aircraft carrier when it sank during the Battle of the Coral Sea. "I used to tell him he had nine lives. He was really lucky," said his widow, Jo Ann Olsen. He passed away in April at the age of 91 after a bout of pneumonia.
Most of the 12 ships that sank or were beached that day were removed from the harbor, their metal hulls salvaged for scrap. Just the Utah and the USS Arizona still lie in the dark blue waters. Only survivors of those vessels may return in death to their ships. Pearl Harbor interment and ash scattering ceremonies began in the late 1980s, and started growing in number as more survivors heard about them. Taylor has helped 265 survivors return to Pearl Harbor. The vast majority have had their ashes scattered. He's arranged for the remains of about 20 Arizona survivors to be placed in the Arizona and about a dozen to be put in the Utah. "These guys are heroes, OK. Fact is, in my opinion, anybody that's ever served in the military and wore the uniform are heroes. That's why you and I can breathe today in a free country. So I just appreciate what they did," he said. [Source: Associated Press Audrey Mcavoy article 6 Dec 2011 ++]
pearl harbor: survivors return to ships after death http://extras.mnginteractive.com/live/media/site21/2011/1207/20111207__pearl1_300.jpg

Lee Soucy Navy divers swim with the urn of Pearl Harbor survivor

Lee Soucy during internment ceremony
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Day of Infamy Update 02: On Dec. 7, 1941, in the infamous sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, Japanese naval aircraft sunk the battleship USS Arizona, killing 1,177 of its crew while they were preparing for a quiet Sunday morning. The mostly submerged wreck, sheltered by a graceful and distinctive white canopy, is a National Memorial, justifiably visited by the thousands who make the pilgrimage to its resting place. Nearly half of the 2,402 people who died at Pearl Harbor are entombed there. It may be one of the best known sights in Hawaii. On the other side of Ford's Island, almost directly across from the Arizona, is another National Memorial, if not exactly forgotten, certainly largely overlooked. The battleship USS Utah was sunk by torpedo, some say three torpedoes, and, despite a couple of unsuccessful attempts to move it, the rusty orange remains of the Utah remain where the it rolled over on its side at 8:01 that Sunday morning.
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The USS Utah society objects that the Memorial "is not mentioned in tourist brochures." And, indeed, the small memorial on the shore and that part of Pearl Harbor is off limits to visitors without special permission. The isolation and the quiet — no parking lot, no tour buses, no crowds, the isolation — somehow make it more poignant than the Arizona, even though the periodic oil bubbles create the odd sensation that some small part of the ship is still alive. The 521-foot Utah was commissioned in 1911. The Utah spent World War I covering convoys from a base in Ireland and postwar had brief stints as a flagship in Europe and South America. In a curious sidelight, during sea trials in the 1930s it was successfully operated by remote control from another ship, presaging the modern era of the drone. It was in its capacity as a target ship that the Utah arrived in Hawaii in early September 1941. Some think that the heavy wooden planking intended to protect the Utah from the practice bombs might have misled the Japanese into thinking it was a carrier.
The Utah, too, had its tales of heroism. Electricians and engine room crew who remained at their posts to give their shipmates a chance to escape. The senior officer aboard, Lt. Cmdr. Solomon Asquith, went through the ship trying to ensure that his crew escaped was himself trapped and had to be pulled out through a porthole. Even as the Japanese were strafing the wrecked ships, the crew climbed onto the wreck and cut a hole in the hull, freeing six trapped sailors. The Utah carried a crew of 371. Fifty-four of them died that day. Periodically they are rejoined by the ashes of their old shipmates. In remembering Pearl Harbor, we should not forget the Utah. Nor should we forget the 4,148 others who perished during the attack, or the more than 400,000 who died during the war that for America began with the raid. Sixteen million men and women served in the armed forces during World War II, and they comprised a generation that changed our world during and after the conflict. We honor the dead, and salute the survivors. [Source: Knoxville News Sentinel article 7 Dec 2011 ++]
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NORAD Santa Tracking Update 01: For the 56th year running, the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) will add the job of tracking the global flight of Santa on Christmas Eve to its mission of North American aerospace warning and control. NORAD stands the watch protecting the skies of North America 365 days a year, but on Christmas Eve the children of the world look to NORAD and our trusted partners to make sure that Santa is able to complete his mission safely," said Army Gen. Charles H. Jacoby, Jr. Jacoby commands NORAD, as well as U.S. Northern Command, both based at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado. The NORAD Tracks Santa mission "is a duty to the children of the world," he added, "and a privilege we've enjoyed for 56 consecutive years."
This year, the NORAD Tracks Santa website went live 1 DEC and features a Countdown Calendar, a Kid's Countdown Village with holiday games and activities that change daily, and video messages from students and troops from around the world. The website is available in English, French, Spanish, German, Italian, Japanese, Brazilian, Portuguese, and Chinese. For the first time, using free apps in the Apple iTunes Store and in the Android market, parents and children can use their smart phones to count down the days until Santa and his reindeer take off from the North Pole to deliver presents to kids everywhere. Facebook, Google+, YouTube, and Twitter also offer tracking opportunities. Santa followers can type "@noradsanta" into each search engine to get started. And that's not the only technology that goes into the Santa tracking mission. To track the big man in red, NORAD uses radar, satellites, Santa cams, and fighter jets. A NORAD radar system called the North Warning System consists of 47 installations strung across the northern border of North America. On 24 DEC, NORAD monitors the radar systems continuously for indications that Santa Claus has left the North Pole. The moment radar indicates a lift-off, satellites positioned in geo-synchronous orbit at 22,300 miles from the Earth's surface are equipped with infrared sensors, which enable them to detect heat. Rudolph's bright red nose gives off an infrared signature that allows the satellites to detect Santa's sleigh.
NORAD starting using the Santa cam network in 1998. Santa cams, according to NORAD, are ultra-cool, high-tech, high-speed digital cameras prepositioned at many locations around the world. They use the cameras once a year to capture images and videos of Santa and his reindeer. In the air, Canadian NORAD pilots flying the CF-18 fighter will intercept and welcome Santa to North America. In the United States, American NORAD fighter pilots in F-15s, F-16s, or F-22 Raptors will fly alongside Santa's airborne sleigh pulled by his famous reindeer: Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, Blitzen, and Rudolph. Once data is collected on December 24, it is pushed into Google Maps and Google Earth so families all over the world can follow Santa. Thanks to these systems and technologies, starting at midnight Mountain Standard Time on 24 DEC, visitors to the NORAD Santa website can watch Santa's progress around the globe.
It all started in 1955 when a Sears media advertisement directed kids to call Santa Claus but printed a telephone number that rang through to the crew commander on duty at the Continental Air Defense Command Operations Center. The colonel on duty told his staff to give all children who called in a "current location" for Santa Claus. The tradition continued when NORAD replaced CONAD in 1958. To track Santa, go to http://www.noradsanta.org. [Source: http://www.defense.gov/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=66357 Dec 2011 ]
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Clark Veterans Cemetery: As of DEC 2011 use the following quick reference when providing VFW Post 2485 information regarding burials at the Clark Veterans Cemetery (CDC) in Angeles City Philippines:
ELIGIBILITY - Current agreement with the Clark Development Corporation (CDC), limits burial

strictly to Veterans of U.S. military service, with the approval of CDC. This includes



Philippine Scouts.
REQUIRED DOCUMENTS:

  • DD Form 214 or earlier documents. Discharge Certificate for Philippine Scouts.

  • Death Certificate registered with date stamp.

  • For cremation burials, a copy of the cremation certificate will also be required.

  • A permit to transfer remains from point of death to the Angeles City area (funeral home responsibility).


COST:

  • Full Body burial - P9,000

  • Cremation burial - P1,500

  • Receipt will be provided for possible VA reimbursement


SCHEDULING - CDC requires 2 business days for processing of burial requests. (Example – for Thursday service, request must be to CDC Tuesday AM). NOTE: Philippine Holidays will impact on scheduling.

  • Full Body burials and service can be conducted Tuesday through Saturday.

  • Cremation burials and service can be conducted Monday through Saturday.


SEQUENCE OF EVENTS:

  • Graveside services are conducted promptly at 10 AM on date scheduled.

  • It is the responsibility of the Family to insure on-time arrival of the deceased, guests, etc.

  • VFW Post 2485, or other Veterans organization, will conduct the Graveside service commencing at 10 AM. Other Speakers or Clergy may, at family option, speak following this service.


SERVICES AT OTHER LOCATIONS - Graveside services can be conducted locally at locations other than Clark Veterans Cemetery pending availability of personnel.
POINTS OF CONTACT - Ask Family representative for a contact name and number. Have them contact one of the below for appointment to coordinate services:

  • John Gilbert 0919-928-0984

  • Carl Burke 0920-836-5588

[Source: Chairman, Clark Veterans Cemetery 6 Dec 2011 ++]
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VA Cardiac Rehabilitation: Cardiac rehabilitation/secondary prevention services are recognized as providing significant benefit for persons with heart disease. Cardiac rehabilitation is a professionally supervised program that includes exercise training, education on heart healthy living, and counseling to reduce stress with the goal of significantly reducing the risk of future heart problems, including heart attacks. Although post-hospital rehabilitation programs are an important component of care for patients with heart disease, few VA medical centers provide comprehensive cardiac rehabilitation (CR) services on site. This is particularly problematic for rural Veterans who must travel long distances to receive care and may find it difficult to access rehabilitation services in general. This ORH-sponsored project grew out of a desire to bring services, such as CR, closer to rural Veterans and their homes.
The purpose of this demonstration project was to implement and evaluate a telephone-based outpatient cardiac rehabilitation program, and to estimate program costs. Forty-eight Veterans chose to participate in the demonstration project. Each Veteran received an individualized exercise prescription at baseline and were contacted weekly by telephone for 12 weeks for education and assessment. Preliminary analyses of outcome data for the remote participants completing the 12-week program were promising. Participants showed significant improvements on several outcome measures. Specifically, improvements from baseline to 12-weeks were found for total lipids (171 mg/dl at baseline, 155 mg/dl at 12 weeks, p<.01) and for two of four Seattle Angina Questionnaire scales (Physical Limitations and Quality of Life, p<.05). There were no significant changes in tobacco use, blood pressure, HDL, LDL, triglycerides, weight, or medication adherence. Additionally, participants were very satisfied with the care they received in the remote program (mean 4.6 on a 1 to 5 scale). Remote participants remained engaged throughout the program; the majority (81%) completed at least 10 of 12 weekly sessions. Estimated costs for the remote program were similar to VA fee-basis costs for referring patients to local on-site programs.
The final product for this project will be an implementation toolbox for a remote CR program. The toolbox will include a Program Implementation Manual, including guidance for staff delivering the program (e.g., 12-week protocol, data collection forms, tips on successful program implementation and patient outcome measurement), a Patient Manual (providing tracking tools for self-monitoring and patient education information) and a cost analysis spreadsheet. This project has had a direct effect on Veterans. It is likely that many of the participants would not have been referred to CR without this program. If implemented widely, this service will not only fill an important gap in VA services, but will bring services closer to patients and their homes, a fundamental principal in the improvement of care for rural Veterans. [Source: The Rural Connection Bonnie Wakefield article Dec 2011 ++]
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VA Rural Access Update 12: Did You Know -

§ Rural Veterans are, on average, older than their urban counterparts. Almost half of rural Veterans are between the ages of 55 and 74 and approximately 26% are over the age of 75.





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