All posts by Service2Client

Protecting TV Viewers, Whistleblowers and Supreme Court Justices; New Status Provisions for Immigrant Workers; and OTC Drugs

Reauthorizing Security for Supreme Court Justices Act of 2019 (HR 4258) – This bill reauthorizes the Marshal of the Supreme Court and the Supreme Court Police to protect the Justices of the Supreme Court, their employees and official guests outside of the Supreme Court grounds. The legislation was sponsored by Rep. Greg Stanton (D-AZ). It was introduced on Sept. 9, 2019, and signed into law by the president on Nov. 27, 2019.

Farm Workforce Modernization Act of 2019 (HR 5038) – This bill amends the Immigration and Nationality Act to provide for terms and conditions for nonimmigrant workers performing agricultural labor. Under this law, certified agricultural worker (CAW) status may be granted to someone who 1) performed at least 1,035 hours of agricultural labor during the two-year period prior to Oct. 30, 2019, 2) was inadmissible or deportable on that date, and 3) has been continuously present in the United States from that date until receiving CAW status. The CAW status is valid for five and a half years with the option to extend, and the Department of Homeland Security may grant dependent status to the spouse or children of a principal alien. The legislation was introduced by Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) on Nov. 12, 2019, and passed in the House in December 2019. It is currently in the Senate for consideration.

Television Viewer Protection Act of 2019 (HR 5035) – This bill was introduced by Rep. Michael Doyle Jr. (D-PA) on Nov. 12, 2019, passed in the House of Representatives and currently awaits review in the Senate. The legislation would ban hidden fees from cable providers by requiring them to disclose all itemized charges, fees and estimated taxes in the total price before a consumer signs up for a video package (whether offered individually or as part of a bundle). The bill also would give customers the right to cancel service without penalty within 24 hours of purchasing the service plan.

The Over-the-Counter Monograph Safety, Innovation and Reform Act (S 2740) – Introduced on Oct. 30, 2019, by Sen. John Isakson (R-GA), this bill would add new incentives to the FDA’s process for approving drugs that do not require a prescription. It would allow an over-the-counter drug manufacturer to request 18 months of exclusivity upon FDA approval for products that are new to the OTC market. The application would require a user fee ranging from $100,000 to $500,000, depending on the type of OTC product. This legislation passed the Senate on Dec. 10, 2019, and is currently under consideration in the House.

Engineering Biology Research and Development Act of 2019 (HR 4373) – This bill would establish a federal engineering biology research initiative to bolster U.S. leadership in engineering biology, among other provisions. The bill was introduced on Sept. 18, 2019, by Rep. Eddie Johnson (D-TX) and passed the House on Dec. 9, 2019. It is currently in the Senate.

Department of Homeland Security Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Authorization Act (HR 4713) – Following the emergence of whistleblowers worried about their civil rights, this legislation would give the Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Office new authority to ensure that the rights of individuals subject to its programs and activities are protected. Specifically, the bill would allow each Homeland Security department to appoint its own civil rights and liberties officer and grant them the authority to access all relevant department records, as well as subpoena non-federal entities. The bill was introduced on Oct. 17, 2019, by Rep. Al Green (D-TX) and passed in the House on Dec. 9, 2019. It is currently awaiting consideration by the Senate.

Key Technology Trends in Accounting to Watch Out For in 2020

Technology advances continue to reshape industries and businesses – and the accounting industry is no exception. So far, a lot of repetitive tasks are performed with the help of advanced hardware and software. Even for businesses that do not like change, many find themselves making adjustments due to a generation change in the workforce, marketing demands, regulations and client demand. In any case, technology offers strengths once a business adopts new solutions to the accounting processes.

The accounting industry has evolved so much that bookkeeping is no longer just about balancing books; professionals in this field are slowly transitioning into strategic business advisors.

Technological innovations offer inexpensive and efficient ways to run businesses and other aspects of life. Every now and then, there is news on emerging technologies.

Here are some tech trends that are expected to influence the accounting industry in the year 2020.

Cloud-Based Accounting

The internet has enabled the storage and processing of data from remote servers. Small- and medium-sized businesses can now leverage the power of the internet and access data and infrastructure without worrying about the cost of purchasing and maintaining hardware and software services on-site. The ease of accessing data anytime and anywhere helps businesses save valuable time. Such benefits will continue driving more businesses to adopting the use of cloud-based accounting systems.  

Automation

Automating repetitive tasks has helped eliminate manual data entry while saving production hours at the same time. Since technology continues to advance, the accounting industry will see more tasks become automated. This trend can be observed in the growing number of accounting software available for both small and large businesses. Artificial intelligence will also contribute to automation in the industry. This is already evident with the increased development and adoption of robotic process automation.

Social Media

In the early 2000s, social media platforms were mainly used to communicate with family and friends. Today, social media is making an impact in digital marketing. Social media platforms will continue influencing how businesses communicate with their clients.

Apart from reaching out to more clients, accounting firms can also find talent to hire from social media platforms such as LinkedIn.

Big Data and Data Analytics

With advanced data collection and processing, it’s now possible to have access to insights and predictive analysis. Although analytics is not entirely new in accounting, the availability of data analytics tools makes it more powerful. This is important for business owners as it helps to improve decision making as well as understand the overall status of a company with the click of a button.

Cryptocurrency

This digital currency has revolutionized the financial industry with millions of coins present in the market today, including Bitcoin, Ripple and Ethereum among others. This digital currency has taken root so much that it is now accepted as a means of payment. Cryptocurrency has been enabled by blockchain technology.

Blockchain

For businesses, blockchain technology helps maintain a unique history of all interactions with various parties, which is indisputable. Widely known accounting companies like Ernst Young and Price Waterhouse already have people working in distributed ledger laboratories. The blockchain technology will not only lower the cost of reconciling and maintaining ledgers, but it will also provide accuracy of ownership and asset history. 

Remote Working

Remote work settings are becoming common in most industries, and accounting leaders are also adapting this trend. With expectations of more advanced computerized accounting systems as well as cloud-based solutions, it will not be a surprise to have your accountant handling accounting tasks remotely.

In Conclusion

With technology largely affecting how businesses are run, it’s no longer enough for a business to stick to traditional accountancy practices.

As technology and accounting becomes more intertwined, it’s wise for businesses to stay ahead of the curve. The most important way to deal with it is to embrace the technology, learn about new technologies and most importantly, learn new skills. This will ensure that your business remains competitive as you are ready to meet customer demands for faster processes. 

4 Financial Resolutions You Can Actually Keep

Believe it or not, it’s 2020. You’re not just starting a new year, you’re entering a new decade. With this in mind, you might want to make some resolutions that focus on your finances. According to  Psychology Today, 80 percent of resolutions fail by February. If you’re thinking about dieting or eating better, this isn’t very encouraging. However, when it comes to your money, there are some changes you can implement now that will have staying power and won’t be forgotten by spring.

Review Your Credit Report

This is important for your financial future in many ways, particularly if you want to buy a house or a car (and that’s just for starters). If you need to make some repairs to your score, the new year is the best time to do this. Better still, you’re entitled to three free reports each year. Check it out. See how you’re doing. You’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Get Out of Debt

This might be easier said than done, but it’s absolutely possible. One very helpful tool is Unbury.Me. It’s free and easy to use. Just create an account and map out a payment plan that works for you. If you want to wipe away your debt quickly, there’s the avalanche method, which attacks the highest interest rate debts first, then moves to the second highest and so on. But this isn’t the only solution. There’s another tool that actually uses your purchases to help you pay down debt: Qoins. Here’s how it works. You round your purchases to the nearest dollar, then apply the cash to your debt, i.e. student loans or credit cards. So, in essence, you can go on living your life while shrinking your debt.

Evaluate Your Insurance and Disability Insurance Needs

As you age, your insurance needs change. Think about how much protection you really need. For example, would you be better served by term or permanent life insurance? What about disability insurance? For the latter, make sure you have enough coverage. Life happens. It’s always best to be prepared.

Refresh Your Retirement Savings

If you work for a company that offers 401(k), 403(k) or 457 plans, consider asking your employer to withhold enough through salary deferrals to make sure you reach the maximum limit each year. If you’re over 50, you can raise the amount to make catch-up contributions. If you’re self-employed, you can contribute to a SEP IRA, profit-sharing plan or independent 401(k) plan. Making retirement deductions from your paychecks, especially when they’re maxed out, might take a bit of getting used to. But once you’ve retired, you’ll be very glad you had the foresight to act now.

Truth is that the above resolutions are just the tip of the moneyberg. You can go deeper into each area. If you want further assistance, consult a financial planner or your accountant. But the biggest takeaway from all these suggestions is simple: begin now, or as soon as you can. When you’re making the most of your money today, you’re working toward a more secure tomorrow.

Sources

https://www.investopedia.com/articles/pf/06/newyear.asp

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/modern-mentality/201812/why-new-years-resolutions-fail

https://www.investopedia.com/terms/c/catchupcontribution.asp

https://www.nbcnews.com/better/business/4-tech-tools-help-you-get-out-debt-faster-ncna828351

https://www.transunion.com/article/3-free-credit-reports

https://www.investopedia.com/terms/t/termlife.asp

https://www.investopedia.com/terms/p/permanentlife.asp

https://www.investopedia.com/terms/d/disability-insurance.asp

https://www.investopedia.com/terms/s/sep.asp

https://www.investopedia.com/terms/p/profitsharingplan.asp

https://www.investopedia.com/terms/i/independent_401k.asp

Economic Correlation: Cyclical and Non-Cyclical Stocks

A rising tide might lift all boats, but the same cannot be said for the economy.

When the U.S. experiences robust economic growth, certain sectors of the stock market tend to rise while others hold steady or even decline by comparison. The stocks of companies that experience higher revenues are typically categorized as cyclical. In other words, their good fortune rests mainly on consumers being gainfully employed and having ample discretionary income with which to buy more goods and services.

Take, for example, auto manufacturers. Sales typically increase when more people can afford to buy a new car. But that’s not all the time, because the economy is cyclical – it ebbs and flows over time. Therefore, companies that produce non-essential products – sometimes referred to as consumer discretionary goods and services – tend to flourish during economic cycles of strength and rising GDP. That is why they are called cyclical stocks.

But when the economic future is in decline or at least uncertain, people tend to delay buying non-essential items like a new car. When the economy really takes a nosedive, more consumers are affected, they buy less stuff, manufacturing takes a hit and companies start laying off their workforce.

Despite these unfortunate circumstances, people still have to eat. They buy essential items, such as food and toothpaste and toilet paper. These are considered consumer staples, and the stocks of companies that produce these types of goods are defined as non-cyclical stocks. That’s because those companies are expected to continue earning revenues regardless of economic cycles. Non-cyclical industries include food and beverage, tobacco, household and personal products.

Another non-cyclical sector is utilities. Utilities are a little bit different because people tend to purchase relatively the same amount of utility service – with exceptions for extreme weather or making slight thermostat adjustments to save money – whether the economy is robust or in a downward spiral. Because of this, utility companies are considered a very stable business model.

For investors, that means they are well-established, long-term performers and usually pay out high dividends. Not only are utility stocks a good option for retirees seeking income to supplement their Social Security benefits, but they offer a safe haven for investors to relocate assets during periods of economic decline.

In light of recent cautions by economists predicting a recession in 2020, this could be a good time to review your portfolio from the perspective of cyclical versus non-cyclical holdings. It doesn’t mean you need to sell completely out of your stock allocation; perhaps just temper your holdings to equities that tend to perform reliably regardless of the economy. In addition to consumer staples and utilities, consider companies that specialize in national defense, waste management, data processing and payments.

Also be aware that the past three decades have boasted several of the longest running economic expansions in U.S. history (1991 to 2001; 2001 to early 2007; 2009 through 2019). What this tells us is that U.S. economic growth cycles appear to be lengthening while declines are relatively shorter and followed up with impressive recovery periods.

So, take heart. If you decide to transfer some of your assets to less flashy, non-cyclical securities, you might not have to leave them there for long. However, it’s always a good idea to maintain a diversified portfolio so you don’t have to make adjustments based on economic cycles. And as always, consult an investment professional to help you make these important decisions.

How Will Oil Prices Fare in 2020 With Global Events?

When it comes to 2020 and energy prices, the world’s energy market will face many known and unknown variables. How and what types of events that will ultimately play out are unknown but, according to industry and government experts, there are some variables that are projected to lead to lower global prices overall.

Based on a Dec. 10 short-term energy outlook publication from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), there will be a mix of pushes and pulls on the price of crude oil and associated refining products. Market prices in 2020 for Brent crude oil is expected to average around $61, compared to 2019’s $64 average price per barrel. Looking at West Texas Intermediate (WTI) quotes, the EIA sees this type of crude settling, on average, at about $5.50 per barrel lower than Brent crude oil in 2020. The EIA bases its lowered price forecast on greater supplies of oil globally, especially in the first half of 2020. 

The agency’s data shows that in September 2019, America exported more than 90,000 net barrels per day of products from and crude oil itself. This is coupled with domestic export projections of 570,000 net barrels per day in 2020, in contrast to average net imports of 490,000 barrels per day in 2019.

According to EIA’s projections, U.S. crude oil production will grow by 900,000 barrels per day in 2020, compared to 2019’s production, resulting in 13.2 million barrels of daily production in 2020. This growth is compared to 2019’s production gains of 1.3 million barrels per day, and 2018’s 1.6 million barrel per day growth. The decrease in production, attributed by the EIA, is due to increased rig efficiency and well level productivity, despite the number of rigs dropping.

The EIA believes that OPEC and its “+” oil producing states will go beyond announced oil production cuts on Dec. 6, further cutting production through March 2020. The original cuts of 1.2 million barrels per day, announced in December 2018, have been modified to reducing production to 1.7 million barrels per day. The EIA expects the major global producers to keep production curtailed through all of 2020, due to increasing global oil inventories.

Fuel Standard’s Impact on Oil Prices

Through implementation of the International Maritime Organization (IMO), Jan. 1, 2020, is ushering in new standards for allowable levels of sulfur in bunker fuel. This fuel will be required to contain no more than 0.5 percent sulfur content, compared to current allowable levels of 3.5 percent of the bunker oil’s weight. In reaction to the new standards, the EIA expects American refineries to increase operations by 3 percent in 2020 versus 2019’s production. It’s expected to increase wholesale margins in 2020 to 57 cents per gallon, on average, with it spiking to 61 cents per gallon. This is compared to 45 cents a gallon in 2019.

The Federal Reserve and Oil Prices

According to the Dec. 11, 2019, FOMC statement from The Federal Reserve, there was no modification to the federal funds rate. They based their decision on a yearly measure for inflation, excluding food and energy, along with signs of continued economic expansion, including healthy job creation and continued high rates of employment. However, the Fed indicated that if its goals of fostering a growing economy, maintaining a healthy job market and a 2 percent inflation target fall short, it will take appropriate action to keep supporting economic expansion. Depending on the Fed’s action to lower, increase or maintain its rates, the price of oil would feel the impacts.

While there’s no telling how fiscal policy and geopolitical events will play out in 2020, it looks like the price of oil will head south.

How to Calculate and Analyze Return on Equity

When it comes to evaluating a business, especially one that is publicly traded, determining its return on equity (ROE) is one way to see how it’s performing.

What is Return on Equity?

Return on equity is a ratio that gives investors insight into how effectively the company’s management team is taking care of the shareholders’ financial investments in the company. The greater the ROE percentage, the better the business’ management staff is at making income and creating growth from shareholders’ investments.  

How ROE is Determined

In order to calculate ROE, a company’s net income is divided by shareholder equity. To arrive at net income, businesses account for the cost of doing business, which includes the cost of goods sold, sales, operating and general expenses, interest, tax payments, etc. and then subtracts these costs of doing business from all sales. Similarly, the free cash flow figure can be substituted in place of net income.

There are some caveats when it comes to calculating net income. It is determined prior to paying out dividends to common shareholders, but loan interest and preferred shareholder dividend obligations must be met before starting this calculation.

The other part of the equation is the shareholder equity or stockholders’ equity. One definition is to subtract existing liabilities from a business’ assets, and what remains is what owners of a corporation or its shareholders would be able to claim as their equity in the company. Whether it’s done year over year or quarter over quarter, traders and investors can see how well a company performs over different time periods.

Return on equity is also able to be determined if a business’ net income and equity are in the black. The net income is found on the income statement – the ledger of the company’s financial transactions. Shareholders’ equity is found on the balance sheet – which details the business’ assets and financial obligations.

Analyzing a Business’ ROE

Another consideration that industry experts recommend to determine if a company’s ROE is poor or excellent is to see how it compares to the S&P 500 Index’s performance. With the historical rate of return being 10 percent annually over the past decade, and if a ROE is lower than 10 percent, it can give a good indication as to a particular business’ performance. However, a particular company’s ROE also needs to be compared against the industry’s ROE to see if the company is outperforming its sector.

For example, according to Yahoo Finance!, the ROE on Microsoft’s stock is 42.80 percent. This means that the management team running Microsoft is returning just shy of 43 cents for every dollar in shareholders’ equity. Compared to its industry (Software System & Application) ROE of 13.47percent – as cited by New York University’s Stern School of Business – Microsoft has a much higher ROE compared to the industry average. This is just one metric to measure the company’s performance, but it is an important one.

While looking at a company’s return on equity is not the end all or be all, it’s a good start to determine a company’s present and future financial health.

Sources

https://us.spindices.com/indices/equity/sp-500

https://finance.yahoo.com/quote/MSFT/key-statistics?p=MSFT

http://pages.stern.nyu.edu/~adamodar/New_Home_Page/datafile/roe.html

2020 Tax Brackets, Deductions, Plus More

Beginning on Jan. 1, 2020, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has new annual inflation adjustments for tax rates, brackets, deductions and retirement contribution limits. Note, the amounts below do not impact the tax filing you make in 2020 for the tax year 2019. These amounts apply to your 2020 taxes that you will file in 2021.

2020 Tax Rates and 2020 Tax Brackets

Below are the new 2020 tables for personal income tax rates. There are separate tables each for individuals, married filing jointly couples and surviving spouses, heads of household and married filing separate; all with seven tax brackets for 2020.

Tax Brackets & Rates – Individuals
Taxable Income Between Tax Due
$0 – $9,875 10%
$9,876 – $40,125 $988 plus 12% of the amount over $9,875
$40,126 – $85,525 $4,617 plus 22% of the amount over $40,125
$85,526 – $163,300 $14,605 plus 24% of the amount over $85,525
$163,301 – $207,350 $33,271 plus 32% of the amount over $163,300
$207,351 – $518,400 $47,367 plus 35% of the amount over $207,350
$518,400 and Over $156,234 plus 37% of the amount over $518,400

 

Tax Brackets & Rates – Married Filing Jointly and Surviving Spouses
Taxable Income Between Tax Due
$0 – $19,750 10%
$19,751 – $80,250 $1,975 plus 12% of the amount over $19,750
$80,251 – $171,050 $9,235 plus 22% of the amount over $80,250
$171,051 – $326,600 $29,211 plus 24% of the amount over $171,050
$326,601 – $414,700 $66,542 plus 32% of the amount over $326,600
$414,701 – $622,050 $94,734 plus 35% of the amount over $414,700
$622,050 and Over $167,306 plus 37% of the amount over $622,050

 

Tax Brackets & Rates – Heads of Households
Taxable Income Between Tax Due
$0 – $14,100 10%
$14,101 – $53,700 $1,410 plus 12% of the amount over $14,100
$53,701 – $85,500 $6,162 plus 22% of the amount over $53,700
$85,501 – $163,300 $13,158 plus 24% of the amount over $85,500
$163,301 – $207,350 $31,829 plus 32% of the amount over $163,300
$207,351 – $518,400 $45,925 plus 35% of the amount over $207,350
$518,400 and Over $154,792 plus 37% of the amount over $518,400

 

Tax Brackets & Rates – Separately
Taxable Income Between Tax Due
$0 – $9,875 10%
$9,876 – $40,125 $988 plus 12% of the amount over $9,875
$40,126 – $85,525 $4,617 plus 22% of the amount over $40,125
$85,526 – $163,300 $14,605 plus 24% of the amount over $85,525
$163,301 – $207,350 $33,271 plus 32% of the amount over $163,300
$207,351 – $311,025 $47,367 plus 35% of the amount over $207,350
$311,025 and Over $83,653 plus 37% of the amount over $311,025

 

Trusts and Estates have four brackets in 2020, each with different rates.

Tax Brackets & Rates – Trusts and Estates
Taxable Income Between Tax Due
$0 – $2,600 10%
$2,601 – $9,450 $260 plus 12% of the amount over $2,600
$9,451 – $12,950 $1,904 plus 35% of the amount over $9,450
$12,950 and Over $3,129 plus 37% of the amount over $12,950

 

Standard Deduction Amounts

Amounts for standard deductions see a slight increase from 2019 to 2020 based on indexing for inflation. Note that again as in 2019, there are no personal exemption amounts for 2020.

Standard Deductions
Filing Status Standard Deduction Amount
Single $12,400
Married Filing Jointly & Surviving Spouses $24,800
Married Filing Separately $12,400
Heads of Household $18,650

 

Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) Exemptions

Like the above, the AMT exemption amounts are increased based on adjustments for inflation, with the 2020 exemption amounts as follows.

 

Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) Exemptions
Filing Status Standard Deduction Amount
Individual $72,900
Married Filing Jointly & Surviving Spouses $113,400
Married Filing Separately $56,700
Trusts and Estates $25,400

 

Capital Gains Rates

Capital gains rates remain unchanged for 2020; however, the brackets for the rates are changing. Taxpayers will pay a maximum 15 percent rate unless their taxable income exceeds the 37 percent threshold (see the personal tax brackets and rates above for your individual situation). If a taxpayer hits this threshold, then their capital gains rate increases to 20 percent.

Itemized Deductions

Below are the 2020 details on the major itemized deductions many taxpayers take on Schedule A of their returns.

  • Medical Expenses – The floor remains unchanged from 2019 to 2020, so you can only deduct these expenses that exceed 10 percent of your AGI.
  • State and Local Taxes – The SALT deductions also remain unchanged at the federal level with a total limit of $10,000 ($5,000 if you are married filing separately).
  • Mortgage Deduction for Interest Expenses – The limit on mortgage interest also remains the same with the debt bearing the interest capped at $750k ($375k if you are married filing separately).

Retirement Account Contribution Limits

Finally, we look at the various retirement account contribution limits for 2020.

  • 401(k) – Annual contribution limits increase $500 to $19,500 for 2020
  • 401(k) Catch-Up – Employees age50 or older in these plans can contribute an additional $6,500 (on top of the $19,500 above for a total of $26,000) for 2020. This $500 increase in the catch-up provision is the first increase in the catch-up since 2015.
  • SEP IRAs and Solo 401(k)s – Self-employed and small business owners, can save an additional $1,000 in their SEP IRA or a solo 401(k) plan, with limits increasing from $56,000 in 2019 to $57,000 in 2020.
  • The SIMPLE – SIMPLE retirement accounts see a $500 increase in contribution limits, rising from $13,000 in 2019 to $13,500 in 2020.
  • Individual Retirement Accounts – There are no changes here for IRA contributions in 2020, with the cap at $6,000 for 2020 and the same catch-up contribution limit of $1,000.

Conclusion

There are no dramatic changes in the rates, brackets, deductions or retirement account contribution limits that the vast majority taxpayers tend to encounter for 2020 versus 2019. Most changes are simply adjustments for inflation. Enjoy the stability – as history has shown, it likely won’t last long.

Hanging Flags, Awarding Geniuses, Supporting Hong Kong Protestors and Criminalizing Animal Cruelty

National POW/MIA Flag Act (S 693) – This bill amended title 36 of the United States Code to require that the POW/MIA flag be displayed on all days that the flag of the United States is displayed on certain federal properties. Previously, the POW/MIA flag was displayed only on Armed Forces Day, Memorial Day, Flag Day, Independence Day, National POW/MIA Recognition Day and Veterans Day. The legislation was introduced by Sen. Elizbeth Warren (D-MA) on March 7. It was passed in the Senate on May 2, passed in the House on Oct. 22 and signed into law by the president on Nov. 7.

Hidden Figures Congressional Gold Medal Act (HR 1396) – This legislation awards Congressional Gold Medals to Katherine Johnson and Dr. Christine Darden, and posthumously to Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, as well as all of the women who contributed to the success of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration during the Space Race. The legislation was sponsored by Rep. Eddie Johnson (D-TX). It was introduced on Feb. 27, passed in the House on Sept. 19, in the Senate on Oct. 17 and then signed into law by the president on Nov. 8.

Rebuilding Small Businesses After Disasters Act (S 862) – Introduced on March 25 by Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA), this bill makes permanent the increased collateral requirements for major-disaster loans issued by the Small Business Administration. It passed the Senate on Aug. 1, the House on Nov. 20, and is currently awaiting signature by the president to enact into law.

Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2019 (S 1838) – In response to the millions of Hong Kong citizens who have protested and demonstrated for government reform since last June, this bill authorizes three actions. 1) Requires the State Department to recertify Hong Kong’s autonomous status each year in order to continue receiving special treatment by the United States; 2) mandates the U.S. government identify anyone involved in abductions or extraditions of Hong Kong protesters or citizens to mainland China, plus freezes any U.S.-based assets and denies them entry into the United States; and 3) clarifies under federal law that no one should be denied a visa to the United States on the basis of participating in Hong Kong protests. The bill was introduced on June 13 by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and passed both Houses of Congress in November. It is currently with the president, who may sign or veto the bill.

A bill to prohibit the commercial export of covered munitions items to the Hong Kong Police Force (S 2710) – This legislation prohibits the issuance of licenses to export certain munition items to the Hong Kong Police Force and the Hong Kong Auxiliary Police Force, such as tear gas, rubber bullets and handcuffs. The bill does allow for the president to make an exception upon certifying to Congress how such exports would be advantageous to U.S. national interests and foreign policy goals. This prohibition would expire one year after enactment. The bill was introduced on Oct. 24 by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and passed in Congress on Nov. 20. It is currently awaiting signature by the president.

Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture Act or the PACT Act (HR 724) – This bill expands criminal provisions with respect to animal crushing (torture by stepping on an animal). It subjects violators to criminal prosecution for intentionally crushing an animal, or knowingly creating or distributing an animal crush video using interstate commerce. Criminal penalties include a fine, a prison term of up to seven years, or both. The bill was introduced by Rep. Theodore Deutch (D-FL) on Jan. 23, passed the two Houses of Congress in October and November, and is currently awaiting to be signed into law.

What is Splinternet and Why You Should Care

Eric Schmidt, former Google CEO, made a prediction in September 2018 that the internet will split in two – one part being led by China and the other by the United States. The reasoning behind this involves China’s active monitoring of all internet activities, as well as technological products and services from the country. Other reasons include a different leadership regime, controls and censorship.

Although it’s just speculation, the splinternet phenomenon has been around since the 1990s. Also known as cyber-balkanization, the concept is slowly taking root as governments seek to fence off their internet to create national internets.

How Realistic is Splinternet?

The United States has maintained dominance over the internet since its inception and going public. But in the modern digital landscape, rules and regulations are expected to curve the global internet into smaller networks. The idea is being driven by nationalism as well as concerns surrounding digital colonization and privacy issues.

China is one country known to be taking steps to compartmentalize the internet through its Great Firewall. Other countries that have taken steps to control domestic access to the internet include Russia and Iran. Europe is also taking steps toward reducing U.S. dominance by increasing regulations that require data localization. They have facilitates this with the 2018 introduction of General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

In the United States, there is a drive to increase internet fragmentation to reduce the domination of large companies. This is because of the need to increase personal data protection and reduce data control by large companies. With the world becoming more global, we continue to see cases of large companies like Facebook or Apple having more influence as well as centralized power.

Though a small fraction of the internet interactions, this provides a good example of the splintering. With such fragmentation of the internet increasing, it’s bound to have an effect on economic interests.

How a Split Internet Would Affect Businesses

Data has become a critical resource, from influencing purchasing decisions, behavior dynamics, health and other aspects. But with the changing internet landscape, businesses could be affected in one way or another. Businesses have had an easy time operating in a standardized web. But with the unity of the internet shattered, they would have to adjust their planning and metrics to fit into the new environment. For instance, due to China’s domestic internet control, it’s impossible for some companies in the United States to carry out business operations in China.

This situation presents a challenge for businesses – and especially those whose operations are purely internet based. Increased regulation means disruption of operations.

For small companies expanding to other countries, it would be difficult due to the overhead costs of compliance to various regional regulations. As a business, failing to comply with the laws of a different region would subject it to hefty fines.

Be Prepared

Whether this is going to be a reality or not, the fact is there are big changes happening on the internet. The days of an open internet are dwindling with different countries and companies erecting digital walls on the internet every other day.

Unless we have a new set of global rules that enhance openness and public interest, then businesses and consumers will have to navigate complex laws and regulations that will not only affect the economy, but also disrupt seamless communication.

Since data today plays a big role in the digital economy, businesses can’t afford to ignore the possibility of a splinternet. As a business owner, you need to stay steps ahead as it would be a challenge connecting with your customers when caught up in the changes.

Businesses need to know how to follow consumers to new environments – and this could mean a bigger budget is required for development and testing different markets. Given that technological changes happen gradually, it’s advisable to keep tabs on tech trends and adjust accordingly. 

Practicing Gratitude: A Look Back at 2019

It may be hard to believe, but the end of the year is upon us. During this time, many of us might reflect on the year and tally up the good and the bad, the pros and the cons of the past 12 months. In a society that focuses on success and getting ahead, probably the most common thing to do is zero in on what you didn’t accomplish, or what went wrong. But science tells us that if you’re smart, you’ll look back with gratitude. And the best news is: it’s good for our health.

Gratitude Changes Your Brain – For the Better

When you give thanks for positive things in your life and show appreciation, it literally changes the structure of your brain, according to UCLA’s Mindfulness Awareness Research Center. It keeps the gray matter functioning and causes synchronized activation in multiple brain regions, lighting up parts of the brain’s reward pathways and the hypothalamus. It’s kind of like an anti-depressant: it boosts neurotransmitter serotonin and causes the brain stem to produce dopamine, a chemical that mediates pleasure in the brain. In short, thinking about what you’re grateful for is kind of like free therapy.

Make a List of Your Successes

So now that you know how gratitude works, make a list of what you’ve accomplished this year. It doesn’t have to be big and dramatic; for instance: you ate at home more often. You decided to recycle. You drank more water. However, if you got a promotion and raise, by all means write it down and feel good about it. Besides, there’s more that happens: when you’re feeling grateful, you generate higher levels of activity in your hypothalamus, the area which controls a large array of essential body functions, like eating, drinking and sleeping. According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), this activity prompts you to exercise more, get better sleep and, best of all, decreases depression and bodily aches and pains. How’s that for some motivation to put pen to paper?

Keep a Journal for Next Year

As you can see, being grateful is beneficial, both mentally and physically. So why not keep a journal for the upcoming year? It doesn’t have to be fancy. Granted, a journal helps organize your thoughts and can be your go-to source should you start feeling down. But practicing gratitude can be as simple as jotting down your thoughts on a sticky note and posting it on your mirror. Another way to do this is to pick a gratitude buddy. When you think of something you’re thankful for, text or email a friend. Don’t worry about it sounding right, just do it! Chances are, it’ll not only make you feel better, it might brighten your friend’s day, too.

Just Look for Positive Things

According to Dr. Alex Korb in his book “Upward Spiral,” the simple act of seeking things to be grateful for has as much if not more benefit than the things you are actually grateful for. Korb says that the search “forces you to focus on the positive aspects of your life. This simple act increases serotonin production in the anterior cingulate cortex.” This area of the brain not only regulates blood pressure and heart rate, it’s also responsible for decision making and evaluation processes. Serotonin is good stuff: it’s known as the happy chemical. See how good this gratitude thing is?

So, in the coming year, if you start feeling blue and negative, here are some quick remedies:

  1. Look in the mirror and name five things you like about yourself.
  2. Write someone a thank you note.
  3. When something bad happens, think of something good that’s happened.
  4. Give someone a compliment. The act of giving is soul-nourishing: to give is to receive.

Here’s to looking back and feeling good, then moving forward with positive vibes!

Sources

https://thriveglobal.com/stories/how-gratitude-actually-changes-your-brain-and-is-good-for-business/

https://www.news-medical.net/health/Dopamine-Functions.aspx

http://ebooksdownloadfreeed.blogspot.com/2016/04/the-upward-spiral-pdf-free-download.html

https://www.alleydog.com/glossary/definition.php?term=Anterior+Cingulate+Cortex

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/kc/serotonin-facts-232248