TODAY

– October 31, 2014

JENNIFER ELIZONDO SPECK

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Vice President

Speck Media Inc.

What we do:  Design, print, branding, promotional items, campaign management (email and social media), technology business tools (website development and hosting), photography, signage, distribution & ad placement and fulfillment 

Education:  Bachelor of Arts in English and Economics from Bellarmine University, Kentucky 

Age:  44 

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Latest Local News

Written on 10/31/2014, 8:42 am by TAMI ABDOLLAH, Associated Press
(AP) — A year after a man walked into Los Angeles International Airport with an assault rifle and vendetta against security screeners, efforts are still...
Written on 10/31/2014, 8:39 am by RICARDO ALONSO-ZALDIVAR, Associated Press
(AP) — Call it drugs for the departed: Medicare's prescription program kept paying for costly medications even after patients were dead. The problem was traced back to a head-scratching bureaucratic rule that's now getting a second look. A report coming out Friday from the Health and Human Services Department's inspector general says the Medicare rule allows payment for prescriptions filled up to 32 days after a patient's death — at odds with the program's basic principles, not to mention common sense. "Drugs for deceased beneficiaries are clearly not medically indicated, which is a requirement for (Medicare) coverage," the IG report said. It urged immediate changes to eliminate or restrict the payment policy. Medicare said it's working on a fix. Investigators examined claims from 2012 for a tiny sliver of Medicare drugs — medications to treat HIV, the virus that causes AIDS — and then cross-referenced them with death records. They found that the program paid for drugs for 158 beneficiaries after they were already dead. The cost to taxpayers: $292,381, an average of $1,850 for each beneficiary. Medicare's "current practices allowed most of these payments to occur," the report said. Of 348 prescriptions dispensed for the dead beneficiaries, nearly half were filled more than a week after the patient died. Sometimes multiple prescriptions were filled on behalf of a single dead person. Investigators don't know what happened to the medications obtained on behalf of dead people, but some may have been diverted to the underground market for prescription medicines. The report said HIV drugs can be targets for fraud since they can be very expensive; one common HIV drug costs about $1,700 for a month's supply, it said. Medicare is the government's premier health insurance program, providing coverage to about 55 million seniors and disabled people. Prescription coverage delivered through private insurance plans began in 2006 as a major expansion of the program. But it's also been a target for scams. The report did not estimate the potential financial impact across the $85 billion-a-year Medicare prescription program known as Part D. But investigators believe the waste may add up to millions of dollars. "The exposure for the entire Part D program could be significant," said Miriam Anderson, team leader on the report. "The payment policy is the same for all drugs, whether they are $2,000 drugs to treat HIV or $4 generic drugs." In a formal response, Medicare agreed with the investigators' recommendations. "After reviewing this report, (Medicare) has had preliminary discussions with the industry to revisit the need for a 32-day window," wrote Marilyn Tavenner, the Obama administration's Medicare chief. Medicare had originally maintained that the date of service listed in the billing records could instead reflect when a pharmacy submitted bills for payment. That billing date might have actually occurred after a prescription was filled, since some nursing home and institutional pharmacies submit their bills in monthly bundles. However, the inspector general's investigators found that about 80 percent of the prescriptions for dead beneficiaries were filled at neighborhood pharmacies, undercutting Medicare's first explanation. As for the remainder, the investigators said they didn't see any reason pharmacies can't report an accurate date of service. Investigators said they stumbled on the problem during an examination of coverage for AIDS drugs dispensed to Medicare beneficiaries. Sexually transmitted diseases are an increasingly recognized problem among older people. That earlier investigation raised questions about expensive medications billed on behalf of nearly 1,600 Medicare recipients. Some had no HIV diagnosis in their records, but they were prescribed the drugs anyway. Others were receiving excessively large supplies of medications. Several were getting prescriptions filled from an unusually large number of pharmacies. Prescription drug fraud has many angles. When the high price of a drug puts it out of reach for certain patients, it can create an underground market. And some medications, like painkillers and anti-anxiety pills, are constantly sought after by people with substance-abuse issues.
Written on 10/31/2014, 8:34 am by ANNE D'INNOCENZIO, AP Retail Writer
(AP) — Wal-Mart is doing whatever it takes to rope in holiday shoppers however they want to buy. For the first time, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is offering free shipping on what it considers the season's top 100 hottest gifts, from board games to items related to Disney's hit film "Frozen" items, starting Saturday. The move comes as rival Target Corp. began offering free shipping on all items, a program that started late October and will last through Dec. 20. Wal-Mart is also planning to offer discounts, or what it refers to as "rollbacks," on more than 20,000 items on a broad range of products, from groceries to TVs, starting Saturday. The timing is similar to last year, but the discounter said the assortment is broader. It's also pulling forward by nearly a month 15 24-hour online deals originally reserved for the Thanksgiving weekend and so-called Cyber Monday, about double from last year. For the first time, Wal-Mart will allow shoppers to pick up those 24-hour online specials at the store. They include 40-inch Element TVs for $199, down from $298, and Crayola Paint Makers for $12, down from $18.88. Customers will be able to purchase the deals online starting shortly after midnight on Monday. The online deals are in addition to several hundred online holiday specials that start Saturday. "We're trying to offer the best deals when they want them," said Steve Bratspies, Wal-Mart's executive vice president and general merchandise manager for Wal-Mart's U.S. division. Wal-Mart unveiled some of the details of its holiday strategy as it considers matching online prices from competitors such as Amazon.com, a move that could help grab more customers but could also hurt profit margins. The Bentonville, Arkansas-based discounter has matched prices of local store competitors but has not followed other retailers including Best Buy and Target in matching prices of online rivals. But last month, Wal-Mart started to test the strategy in five markets: Atlanta; Charlotte, North Carolina; Dallas; Phoenix; and northwest Arkansas. Wal-Mart is trying to rev up sluggish sales in the U.S. as it battles competition from online retailers, dollar stores and drugstores. At the same time, it's also dealing with a slowly recovering economy that hasn't benefited its low-income shoppers. As a result, Wal-Mart's U.S. namesake stores, which account for 60 percent of its total business, haven't reported growth in a key sales measure in six straight quarters. Wal-Mart's move underscores how stores are being forced to step up their game for the holiday shopping season, which accounts for about 20 percent of retail industry's annual sales. The National Retail Federation, the nation's largest retail trade group, forecasts a 4.1 percent sales increase to $616.9 billion for November and December from last year. But online sales, which are included in the forecast, are expected to increase anywhere from 8 percent to 11 percent. Wal-Mart declined to say whether it was considering changing its price match policy for just the holidays or permanently. Deisha Barnett, a Wal-Mart spokeswoman, says many store managers have matched online prices for customers on a case-by-case basis. "Taking care of the customers who shop our stores is what we always aim to do," she added. As for its free shipping holiday program, Wal-Mart said that it had store executives pick the 100 items and that products are guaranteed to arrive before Christmas. Wal-Mart's current policy is that online shoppers have to spend at least $50.
Written on 10/31/2014, 8:31 am by CHRISTOPHER S. RUGABER, AP Economics Writer
(AP) — U.S. consumers expect better economic growth and rising incomes in the coming months, pushing a measure of confidence to a seven-year high in October. The University of Michigan says that its index of consumer sentiment rose to 86.9 from 84.6 in September. That's the highest since July 2007, five months before the Great Recession began. Still, the index regularly topped 90 before the downturn. Richard Curtin, the survey's chief economist, says that almost six in ten of the respondents said the economy has improved recently, the highest proportion in more than 10 years. The measure is the second this week to show consumer confidence has reached the highest level since the recession. Greater confidence and more hiring could lead to faster spending and healthier economic growth.
Written on 10/30/2014, 5:02 pm by Business Journal staff
Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin announced that bond rating agency Fitch Ratings revised the city's credit rating outlook from negative to stable. “This is just more proof that the tough choices we've made to pay off our debt, begin to build our reserves and stabilize our labor contracts were not only the right things to do, but also a smart strategy for improving the city's credit outlook," said Swearengin in a release. "However, we know that our future success depends on maintaining fiscal prudence so that Fresno can continue its recovery and build a strong, vibrant platform for a growing economy." According to Fitch’s, the change in outlook reflects the recent positive news in Fresno's economy, as well as the City of Fresno’s improved financial performance. The stable outlook also reflects Fitch’s expectation that the City of Fresno will continue its commitment to balance its budgets and rebuild its reserves. Fitch Ratings also affirmed the city's outstanding BBB+/BBB/BBB- bond ratings. Last month, Moody's Investors Service also revised its outlook on the City of Fresno's long-term ratings from stable to positive.
Written on 10/30/2014, 3:41 pm by Gordon M. Webster
As people complete their mail-in ballots or prepare to hit the polls Tuesday for the November general election, here is one fact they should keep in mind: California is one of the worst state's when it comes to taxes. In fact, out of 50 states, it has the 48th best tax climate, according to the latest State Business Tax Climate Index by the nonpartisan Tax Foundation. That means only two states — New York and New Jersey — suffer from more complex, non-neutral taxes with higher rates. When it comes to just individual income taxes, California is the worst with a No. 50 ranking. The state's highest ranking comes in the unemployment insurance tax category with a No. 14 ranking. The Tax Foundation argues that while the federal government is gridlocked on this issue, state policymakers on both sides of the aisle are enacting fundamental reforms. It may not be a surprise to see the top tax states are Wyoming at No. 1, South Dakota at No. 2 and Nevada at No. 3. Texas ranked at No. 10. So as you vote this year, ask yourself where your favorite candidates stand on California's onerous tax system, and what they are prepared to do about it.
Written on 10/30/2014, 1:25 pm by The Associated Press
(AP) — U.S. stock indexes are closing higher as big companies turn in encouraging quarterly results. The Dow Jones industrial average rose more than 200 points Thursday, thanks in large part to a big gain in Visa, the Dow's highest-priced stock. The Standard & Poor's 500 index gained 12 points, or 0.6 percent, to 1,994. The Nasdaq composite rose 16 points, or 0.4 percent, to 4,566. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 221 points, or 1.3 percent, to 17,195. Visa announced earnings late Wednesday that beat analysts' expectations. The company also announced a big share buyback program. Auto parts maker BorgWarner dropped 4 percent after reporting results that missed analysts' expectations. The price of the 10-year Treasury note edged up. Its yield fell to 2.31 percent.
Written on 10/30/2014, 1:18 pm by The Associated Press
(AP) — A police department in suburban Philadelphia has created a "safe zone" for people to complete transactions they arranged online. The Conshohocken Police Department said individuals making purchases from other people through Craigslist and other online sites are free to complete the deals in the police department's lobby or parking lot. The idea for the safe zone came after Conshohocken Officer Steve Vallone said his wife told him she was going to another person's house to complete an online purchase. He didn't like the idea. "I figured there's got to be a better place for people who don't know each other to complete these transactions," Vallone said. "Why not allow people to complete their online transactions from here? It seems like the perfect match." The lobby is available from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and the parking lot is open for use 24 hours a day. Vallone said the lot is well-lit and has four surveillance cameras. Police said the decision was not undertaken in response to any crimes. A similar program was started in May by the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office in Florida. That office said it was offering four of its parking lots for residents making purchases in a response to "safety threats for those engaging in cash transactions" involving items bought from others on the Internet or in classified advertisements. Vallone said the department hopes to see others implement similar programs.
Written on 10/30/2014, 12:49 pm by Tom Krisher, AP Writer
(AP) — Shortly before 9 a.m. on the day after the worst night of his life, Rikk Wilde got the phone call from his big boss at General Motors. Yes, he committed a nationally televised, major-league blooper while presenting pickup truck keys to the World Series MVP. No, he wouldn't be fired. Now get out there and sell some trucks. The call, from Chevrolet Vice President Brian Sweeney, had to be a relief for Wilde, who makes his living as a zone manager and liaison between GM and its Kansas City-area dealers. "The Chevy leadership team called and told him he did nothing wrong. It's all good. Everyone here has his back," said Michael Albano, the brand's top spokesman. GM had lined up Wilde, a lifelong Royals fan, for the postgame presentation because he's a good employee and loves baseball. There was hope that he'd be giving the keys to a Chevrolet Colorado to someone on the home team. But instead it went to San Francisco Giants ace Madison Bumgarner, who saved Game 7 by shutting out the Royals for five innings. Wilde had practiced for the moment, an effort to draw attention to GM's newest product, and brought notes just in case he forgot something. He did. When Fox Sports announcer Erin Andrews introduced him, he was sweating. As he started to say his lines, he became breathless. He stumbled and had to look to his notes. He ad-libbed a line that would bring guffaws on social media: "It combines class-winning and leading, you know, technology and stuff, with Wi-Fi powered by OnStar." #Technologyandstuff was trending on Twitter, as was #ChevyGuy, with many comparing Wilde to the late comedian Chris Farley. "ChevyGuy is the most hilariously awkward person ever," one person tweeted. "Chevy really sold me on their new Colorados with that class leading technology and stuff and immediate recalls!!!," another tweeted, an obvious reference to GM's safety problems. But around 1:30 a.m. EDT, Albano said he noticed the sentiment starting to shift. "We LOVE the #Chevyguy! Don't change a bit #Wildeman!," wrote one tweeter. "We saw quickly the 'technologyandstuff' tagline kind of take off and start to trend," Albano said. "That's when you realize that you have something there that you might want to embrace." GM got a bigger chance to promote its re-entry into the small to midsize pickup truck business because Wilde drew so much attention to the usually forgotten MVP presentation. Chevy even used the #technologyandstuff in a tweet from a corporate account, linking to an ad. "He was on message," Albano said. "The truck has technology and stuff. We will use that term and stuff."
Written on 10/30/2014, 12:41 pm by Scott Smith, AP Writer
(AP) — A judge on Thursday approved a debt plan by Stockton, California, one of the largest U.S. cities to declare bankruptcy, allowing it to reorganize more than $900 million in long-term debt and put more than two years of financial uncertainty behind it. Marking a critical development in the city's financial recovery, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Christopher Klein said Stockton can use the plan to exit the court's Chapter 9 protection, which it sought in 2012. Klein's ruling can be appealed. "This plan, I'm persuaded, is the best that can be done in terms of restructuring an adjustment of the debts of the city of Stockton," he said. The city negotiated deals with all major creditors except Franklin Templeton Investments, which argued it was being treated unfairly. The investment firm said the city isn't touching a massive employee pension fund but is asking the company to walk away from collecting nearly $32.5 million still owed. "Obviously we are disappointed," Franklin Templeton's attorney, James Johnston, told the judge. "We will evaluate our next steps." Klein ruled earlier this month that bankruptcy law allows the city to treat pension obligations like any other debt, meaning the city could trim benefits. An inland port city 80 miles east of San Francisco, Stockton filed for Chapter 9 protection in 2012, making it the nation's largest bankrupt city before Detroit filed for bankruptcy last year. Elsewhere in California, Vallejo went through bankruptcy before Stockton. San Bernardino filed shortly after Stockton and has yet to present an exit plan. Stockton's leaders say the city fell victim to an unforgiving boom-and-bust economic cycle. Before the recession, leaders spent millions of dollars revitalizing the downtown area with a new City Hall and building a marina, sports arena and ballpark. The city issued about 3,000 permits annually to build new homes, and it paid police premium wages and health benefits. With the recession, building dried up, and Stockton became ground zero for home foreclosures. Like many residents, City Hall couldn't pay its bills. The city slashed millions of dollars from its budget and laid off 25 percent of its police officers. Crime soared. Franklin Templeton also argued that Stockton agreed to better terms with its other creditors, and that the city's economic projections showed it could afford to eventually pay back most or all it owed Franklin Templeton.

Latest State News

Written on 10/31/2014, 8:42 am by TAMI ABDOLLAH, Associated Press
(AP) — A year after a man walked into...
Written on 10/30/2014, 12:41 pm by Scott Smith, AP Writer
(AP) — A judge on Thursday approved a...
Written on 10/30/2014, 12:28 pm by Associated Press
(AP) — Mayor Eric Garcetti has proposed...
Written on 10/30/2014, 12:26 pm by Associated Press
(AP) — A physics institute at the...

Latest National News

Written on 10/31/2014, 8:39 am by RICARDO ALONSO-ZALDIVAR, Associated Press
(AP) — Call it drugs for the departed:...
Written on 10/31/2014, 8:34 am by ANNE D'INNOCENZIO, AP Retail Writer
(AP) — Wal-Mart is doing whatever it...
Written on 10/31/2014, 8:31 am by CHRISTOPHER S. RUGABER, AP Economics Writer
(AP) — U.S. consumers expect better...
Written on 10/30/2014, 1:25 pm by The Associated Press
(AP) — U.S. stock indexes are closing...