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Pres. Obama and Trump let their guards down at White House

buzzz worthy. . . By Mona Austin President Obama and Donald Trump met for the first time on Thursday to begin talks about the official...

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Thursday, January 1, 2015

Taylor Swift revises year-end charts, taking #1 album spot from "Frozen"

buzzz worthy. . .

By Mona Austin

"Shake It Off" singer Taylor Swift has  Billboard re-telling  its year-end charts story with a major edit.  Swift  finished 2014 with the top-selling album after releasing "1989" in the latter part of Q4. She snagged the #1 spot during the last week of 2014. Billboard had already published its year-end charts (reporting period Dec. 7, 2013 through Nov. 29, 2014) with "Frozen" listed as #1.  Swift's lyrical ode her life experiences sold  3.66 million copies in only nine weeks, approximately 1.5 million more than "Frozen" according to  Nielsen. 

As far back as August it was reported  that Disney's "Frozen" soundtrack was the top-selling album at the time and it was projected to remain in the lead. The animated movie's soundtrack maintained its position until the third week in December and is now in second place.  Holiday sales undoubtedly gave Swift the boost she needed to come out on top as was the case with a cappella group Pentatonix.  Their Christmas record landed in the top 10 of the year overall and they are the top selling group of 2014.

Disney Music Group also has another soundtrack in the top 10 of 2014 with "Gaurdian of the Galaxy" coming in at #5.  Soundtracks don't dominate the charts too often.  The last time a soundtrack had the mass popularity of  " Frozen" was in 1998 when the "Titanic" soundtrack was #1.

 "1989," named for the year she was born features Swift's smash hit "Shake It Off."  She worked on the album for two years and released it on the same day she appeared as a guest mentor on NBC's "The Voice."  Billboard.com reports the singer has earned  the honor once before. In 2009  Swift's second studio album, "Fearless," which moved 3.22 million, was the number one album that year.

Taylor Swift sold over 3 million records in 9-weeks to earn the top selling album of 2014, "1989."

The  Top 10 albums of 2014 are:

1. Taylor Swift, 1989 (3.66 million)
2.Frozen Soundtrack (3.53 million)
3. Sam Smith, In the Lonely Hour (1.21 million)
4. Pentatonix, That's Christmas To Me(1.14 million)
5.Guardian of the Galaxy Soundtrack (898,000)
6. Beyoncé, Beyone (878,000)
7. Barbara Streisand, Partners  (856,000)
8. Lorde, Pure Heroine (841,000)
9.One Direction, Four (814,000)
10. Erich Church, The Outsiders (811,000)

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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

ALL BETTER NOW: Torrence Greene of 21:03 is out of hospital and ready to perform in the DMV on New Year's Eve

buzzz worthy. . .

Evan Ross (l) and Torrence Greene (r) of 21:03.

Torrence Greene of 21:03 is on the mend and ready to hit the stage again. Green will join his group mate Evin Martin at a New Years Eve concert hosted by City of Praise Family Ministries in Maryland.  

From the press update: " Torrence is well and home resting from his emergency hospitalization. 21:03 will join their mentor, J Moss (Grown Folks Gospel), this Wednesday, December 31, 2014 for 'watch night' service in Washington DC at the Showplace Arena.

Mary Mary, J Moss, Kevin Levar, and Janay Peeples will also perform at the free event.  Doors open at 7:00 p.m. 

Greene thanked his fans for praying for him in a Facebook message today.

Last week it was reported the singer was hospitalized  and PMG Gospel (the label home of 21:03 run by PAJAM) solicited prayers from the gospel community. The nature of his condition was not disclosed, but hopefully his return to the stage means he has had a speedy recovery. 

21:03, most noted for their chart-topping hits, "I'm Sorry" "You" and "Cover Me (Feat. Fred Hammond, Smokie Norful & J Moss)," are currently in the studio finishing up their new cd that is scheduled to drop in February 2015.  Their current single, "A Friend" has already been released.  

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Monday, December 29, 2014

BUSINESS NEWS: How to spot your "real" friends on Facebook and engage your followership

"Friends, how many of us have them? Friends, ones we can depend on?" (Whoodini, circa 1984)
"What about your friends?  Are they gonna let you down?  Are they gonna be around?" (TLC, circa 1990)

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BEHIND THE SCENES: A look back at White House Christmas elegance

buzzz worthy. . .

By Mona Austin

From  shops and stores, to office buildings and homes, in the Capital area it still looks a lot like Christmas everywhere you go throughout the month of January.  Decorations enable us to carry  the bliss of the season into the New Year.  To kick off Christmas in Washington, designers from all over the country went all out capturing the awe and wonder of Christmas  for the the residents and visitors of  1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.  The elegantly decorated White House indeed  leaves a lasting impression.

This year I attended a preview of the 2014 White House decorations.  The theme  "Children's Winter Wonderland" intended to capture the pureness of Christmas through the eyes of children.
at t Take an inside look at the decked halls that kicked off Christmas at Americas most famous address.

Plan ahead.  Use this behnd the scenes look at White House décor as a model  for future inspiration while holiday decorations are at bargain basement prices at after-Christmas sales.

It is Obama family tradition to spend Christmas in President Obama's native Hawaii.  Before leaving the family aptly celebrates the season in Washington, DC  hosting military families and entertaining the staff and  guests from near and far.

Theses designers f involving technology, 26 trees on display in public rooms and an enormous amount of sugar.

Think of the time and attention to detail it takes to prepare for a VIP dinner guest to walk through your doors, then multiply it by thousands to get a sense of how much work goes into readying the White House for the holiday season.

"Here at the White House, the holidays are a chance for us to show what our country is grateful for this holiday season, and that’s all of you, the military families who serve our nation proudly and give us all so much.  Because we know that too often, your stories of courage and strength often get lost in the shuffle.  And there are a lot of people who don’t realize what you all go through."

It all starts just after Thanksgiving as the official Christmas tree arrives on a Clydesdale drawn carriage.  This year on November 28 First Lady Michelle Obama, Sasha, Malia, Bo, and Sunny greeted the 18.5-foot-tall Concolor Fir, along with the Botek family -- who grew the impressive evergreen on the Crystal Spring Tree Farm in Leighton, Pennsylvania. This tree was the grandest of them all, said First Lady Obama, so large the doors of the White House were removed from their hinges to bring it into its official spot, The Blue Room, where it was covered with 2,000 ornaments.

The mother of all  interior decorating feats was left in the hands of over 30 volunteers from around the country who  feverishly styled the halls of the White House in less than a week for its projected 65,000 visitors over the holiday season.   The "Children's Winter Wonderland" theme is worked throughout the opulent decor, perhaps the highlight of which are the interactive Bo and Sunny replicas displayed in the Booksellers hallway.  A 420-pound Ginger Bread House sits in the  Room.  TheState Ding

Continuing support for the Joint Forces initiative she and Dr. Jill Biden head up,  First Lady Obama hosted military families as the very first guests of the season to view the decked halls on December 3. 

The first tree indoors (of the 26 total) that greets visitors honors verterans.  It sits alone adorned in patriotic ornaments, some bearing the names of fallen veterans written on ceramic stars lined in gold supplied by the White House.

The aroma of fresh evergreens fill the wreath lined hallway. A total of 26 Christmas trees throughout the house were decorated in themes for each room. The two most creative trees await visitors in the Vermeil room in place of traditional trees.  Metal dress forms were transformed into stunning, avant guard "tree-dresses" A volunteer explained a dress in a New York City store window inspired First Lady Obama to recreated the idea with Christmas flair. Designer Alexis Bittar created the hand-sculpted Lucite ornaments and jewelry for the dress forms. Bittar designed flower ornaments in muted pinks, purple and ivory with crystal centers and hand-blown birds. The hand-sculpted necklaces on the bust form are composed of Lucite ivory pine cones and interwoven with vintage broaches.

Jewelry and ornaments  by jewelry  designer Alexis Bittar adorn Christmas tree dresses in the Vermeil Room in the White House.  An out-of-state volunteer designer poses with the unique design.

Photo: Mona Austin

The White House and Eisenhower Building Photo: Mona Austin

Journalist Mona Austin at the 2014 White House Christmas Decor Preview.
     But I have to tell you that your presence here today is a powerful reminder for all of us what this season is really all about.  So often, we get caught up in the holiday rush –- all the plans for the menu, the logistics traveling to families, the shopping for people, the making your list, checking it twice.  Sometimes we get caught up in all of that, but ultimately, that’s not what this season is about.  It’s really about serving others. It’s about giving more than we receive.  And it’s about showing those we love how much they mean to us.

     And that’s one of the reasons why, here at the White House, the holidays are a chance for us to show what our country is grateful for this holiday season, and that’s all of you, the military families who serve our nation proudly and give us all so much.  Because we know that too often, your stories of courage and strength often get lost in the shuffle.  And there are a lot of people who don’t realize what you all go through.

     They don’t know that military spouses often have to pick up and move their families again and again and again, often at the expense of their own careers.  Many people don’t know that you all are parents and grandparents and siblings, like Susan, who have lost those you love most in the world.  And of course, they don’t know about you kids and all that you have to go through.  They don’t know that oftentimes military kids have to start at a new school every couple of years, which means a tough transition for some of them, although they do it so bravely.  And they’re so smart, but they have to adjust to new classes and new friends and new teammates, and that’s not always easy, right?  But you guys get it done, but a lot of people don’t know that.

     But no matter what you all are going through -- this is the thing that really keeps me going -- is that you guys always, always step up.  So many of you are the ones who are doing all the volunteering, more so than many average Americans.  You’re the ones who are cooking the meals for your neighbors and taking over the carpool.  You guys are the ones who are organizing food drives and sending care packages.  You guys are the ones who are volunteering everywhere -- in your congregations, school fundraisers, stepping up whenever your families and friends need you. 

Photo: Mona Austin

     And as First Lady, one of my most important missions is to make sure that you feel this country’s gratitude for everything that you do.  And that’s one of the reasons why Jill Biden and I, we’ve worked so hard through our Joining Forces initiative, because we want to make sure that you guys are honored and supported every single day.  And that’s why, once again, we are celebrating our military families with our holiday decorations here at the White House.
     I don’t know if you’ve noticed that, again, in the East Room [Landing], as Susan mentioned, we’ve got a tree adorned with ceramic star ornaments trimmed in gold and signed by Gold Star family members to honor their loved ones.  That’s how you kick off your experience here at the White House -- that the first tree you see.  And then once again, we’re giving folks a chance to pledge to serve their community here at the White House in honor of our veterans or military families, because we want to make sure that we’re not just honoring these families during the holidays, but we’re honoring you every single day of the year.  And we get a wonderful response every year to those commitments, those pledges.

     And then this year, our official White House tree, the big huge tree -- have you guys seen the biggest, hugest tree?  Have you seen it?  I think this is the biggest tree we’ve had.  And this tree is in honor of our men and women in uniform.  It is beautiful.  We’ve got a tree that was so big that we had to take the hinges off of the front door and take the doors off -- literally -- just to get this tree in.  Can you imagine that?  (Laughter.)  It’s huge.  It’s the biggest tree ever.  But it’s beautiful, because it has patriotic ornaments and ribbons that read “America the Brave,” as well as some wonderful cards created by children across the country to thank all of you for your service to our country.  It’s beautiful.

     And in addition to these really wonderful tributes to our military families, we have some of a -- a few of the special touches to really build upon our holiday theme this year, which is “A Children’s Winter Wonderland.”  I wish you could see their faces.  (Laughter.)  They’re giving me a lot of personality here. 

     But this year, we’ve got some new twists.  We’ve got a lot of fun, new technologies; we’re playing with technology this year.  For instance, in the Booksellers, where you saw the Bo animals -- did you see Bo and Sunny?  Did you notice that there’s a beautiful interactive snowscape projection on the East Wall?  I haven’t seen it yet.  Did you see it?  And you can wave your hands around and it can -- it looks like you’re playing in the snow.  You haven’t seen it.  Well, I haven’t seen it either, so we’ll make sure to get that covered.  (Laughter.) 

     Have you seen the animated versions of Bo and Sunny?  I haven’t seen those yet either.  Sunny’s eyes move with a motion sensor.  I hope it’s working.  (Laughter.)  But it should be fun.  And then we’ve got a selection of the winners of our 3D-printed ornament challenge that are displayed throughout the house, so that’s something you all can try to find, where those ornaments are.
     And, as always, we have all of the wonderful things that make the holiday season at the White House so unique and special -- guess how many trees we have here scattered all throughout the White House?  But no matter what you all are going through -- this is the thing that really keeps me going -- is that you guys always, always step up.  So many of you are the ones who are doing all the volunteering, more so than many average Americans.  You’re the ones who are cooking the meals for your neighbors and taking over the carpool.  You guys are the ones who are organizing food drives and sending care packages.  You guys are the ones who are volunteering everywhere -- in your congregations, school fundraisers, stepping up whenever your families and friends need you. But no matter what you all are going through -- this is the thing that really keeps me going -- is that you guys always, always step up.  So many of you are the ones who are doing all the volunteering, more so than many average Americans.  You’re the ones who are cooking the meals for your neighbors and taking over the carpool.  You guys are the ones who are organizing food drives and sending care packages.  You guys are the ones who are volunteering everywhere -- in your congregations, school fundraisers, stepping up whenever your families and friends need you.
First Lady Michelle Obama
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Statement from the President and the First Lady on Kwanzaa

buzzz worthy. . .

President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama issued the following statement to those who observe the holiday on the first day of Kwanzaa:
"Michelle and I extend our warmest wishes to those celebrating Kwanzaa this holiday season.  Today begins a celebration highlighting the rich African American heritage and culture through the seven principles of Kwanzaa—unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith.  During this season, families come together to reflect on blessings of the past year and look forward to the promises in the year ahead. As we remain committed to building a country that provides opportunity for all, this time of year reminds us that there is much to be thankful for. 
As families around the world unite to light the Kinara today, our family extends our prayers and best wishes during this holiday season."
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Safety tips for using Fireworks this New Year's Eve

buzzz worthy. . .

New Year's Eve is a wonderful time to celebrate the start of a new year. And fireworks are a wonderful way of celebrating. In 2013, there were reports of injuries caused by consumers taking fireworks apart and modifying them, and of children being hurt by having unsupervised access to consumer fireworks. There were also reports of shooters of fireworks being impaired by alcohol.
If you are at a party for New Year's Eve where consumer fireworks are being shot, make sure that there is a designated shooter who has not been drinking any alcohol and that the fireworks are being used without modifying them in any way.

Nancy Blogin, President of the National Council on Fireworks Safety, notes: "Each New Year's Eve, consumers are injured because their judgment has been impaired by beer, wine, or other alcoholic drink. Alcohol and fireworks do not mix!" Blogin also implores consumers to not modify fireworks in any way, or leave fireworks where children can have unsupervised access to them.
In addition, the National Council reminds shooters of consumer fireworks of these other important safety tips:
  • Only use fireworks outdoors free of overhead obstructions and away from dry grass or other flammable materials.
  • Obey all local laws regarding the use of fireworks.
  • Never give fireworks to young children.
  • Wear safety glasses when shooting fireworks.
  • Always have a bucket of water, and charged water hose, nearby.
  • Dispose of spent product by wetting it down and place it in a metal trash can away from any building or combustible materials until morning.
See all of our Safety Tips at www.FireworksSafety.org

The National Council on Fireworks Safety is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization whose sole mission is to educate the public on the safe and responsible use of consumer fireworks. For a full list of consumer fireworks safety tips and the Council's safety videos, please visit www.FireworksSafety.org.
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Sunday, December 28, 2014

Statement by the President on the End of the Combat Mission in Afghanistan

buzzz worthy. . .

Today's ceremony in Kabul marks a milestone for our country.  For more than 13 years, ever since nearly 3,000 innocent lives were taken from us on 9/11, our nation has been at war in Afghanistan.  Now, thanks to the extraordinary sacrifices of our men and women in uniform, our combat mission in Afghanistan is  ending, and the longest war in American history is coming to a responsible conclusion.
On this day we give thanks to our troops and intelligence personnel who have been relentless against the terrorists responsible for 9/11--devastating the core al Qaeda leadership, delivering justice to Osama bin Laden, disrupting terrorist plots and saving countless American lives.  We are safer, and our nation is more secure, because of their service. At the same time, our courageous military and diplomatic personnel in Afghanistan--along with our NATO allies and coalition partners--have helped the Afghan people reclaim their communities, take the lead for their own security, hold historic elections and complete the first democratic transfer of power in their country's history. 
We honor the profound sacrifices that have made this progress possible. We salute every American--military and civilian, including our dedicated diplomats and development workers--who have served in Afghanistan, many on multiple tours, just as their families have sacrificed at home.  We pledge to give our many wounded warriors, with wounds seen and unseen, the world-class care and treatment they have earned.  Most of all, we remember the more than 2,200 American patriots who made the ultimate sacrifice in Afghanistan, and we pledge to stand with their Gold Star families who need the everlasting love and support of a grateful nation.
Afghanistan remains a dangerous place, and the Afghan people and their security forces continue to make tremendous sacrifices in defense of their country.  At the invitation of the Afghan government, and to preserve the gains we have made together, the United States--along with our allies and partners--will maintain a limited military presence in Afghanistan to train, advise and assist Afghan forces and to conduct counterterrorism operations against the remnants of al Qaeda.  Our personnel will continue to face risks, but this reflects the enduring commitment of the United States to the Afghan people and to a united, secure and sovereign Afghanistan that is never again used as a source of attacks against our nation.
These past 13 years have tested our nation and our military.  But compared to the nearly 180,000 American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan when I took office, we now have fewer than 15,000 in those countries. Some 90 percent of our troops are home. Our military remains the finest in the world, and we will remain vigilant against terrorist attacks and in defense of the freedoms and values we hold dear.  And with growing prosperity here at home, we enter a new year with new confidence, indebted to our fellow Americans in uniform who keep us safe and free.
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Be on the look out for these 5 life insurance game-changers in 2015

buzzz worthy. . .

5 Life Insurance Game-Changers Consumers Need to Know in 2015 
Field expert, Brian Greenberg, cites life insurance industry innovations and trends that consumers should capitalize on in the New Year 
By Brian Greenberg
If you've been putting off buying life insurance or revising your current plan, you're not alone. Many consumers cite high premiums and a glut of red tape among the reasons they shy away from purchasing or modifying a policy. However, over recent years and even months, the life insurance industry has made great strides and is now more consumer-oriented than ever before.

Common barriers and challenges that once blocked shoppers from securing great coverage benefits with ease—and at affordable prices—are a thing of the past. Indeed, amid a handful of game-changing industry innovations, the time to consider life insurance coverage is now. Here's why.

1. No Medical Exam Necessary
Medical exams have always been a major pain point in the life insurance process. Increasingly, companies are offering policies for lower benefit amounts (like $400,000 and under) without the need for a medical exam. However, insurance companies do check your pharmacy records to see all medications prescribed in the past five years. While underwriting times for these policies average about three weeks, some companies do offer coverage in just 24 to 48 hours and you can even find instant issue term life insurance.

2. Technology-Driven Price Drops
Today's life insurance rates are down as much as 70 percent from their highs in the mid 1990’s. This is in large part due to the Internet, which has fostered aggressive competition between insurance companies. New technologies have also made it possible for companies to cut administrative costs and those savings are passed on to the marketplace. If you have an older life insurance policy, there's a good chance you can get a better deal on an updated policy. As with refinancing a home mortgage to take advantage of better rates, it’s a good idea to revisit your current policy and see what's available in terms of lower costs and higher benefits.

3. Ageism is Extinct
Don't make the mistake of thinking that once you're past a certain age, you can no longer get affordable life insurance. Regulators have revised life-expectancy projections -- known as mortality tables -- for the first time since 1980. A man who is 40 years old today can expect to live to be 78, not 73, as was the expectation 25 years ago. Because of this, an 80-year-old male can get a 10 year term policy and an 85-year-old can still get a fully underwritten whole life policy.

4. New Living Benefits
New living benefits riders enable you to use your life insurance policies while you are alive. For example, the accelerated death benefit rider allows you to use up to 75 percent of your coverage amount if you have a terminal illness. The chronic illness rider allows you to use up to 90 percent of the policy's death benefit if you are unable to perform two of the six daily living requirements of bathing, continence, dressing, eating, toileting, and transferring. This is very similar to a Long Term Care Policy. Companies leading the way for living benefits riders are Transamerica and Protective Life Insurance.  There is also a critical illness rider which allows you to use up to 90 percent of the death benefit of your policy if you suffered a critical health condition such as cancer, heart attack, stroke, a major organ transplant, end stage renal failure, ALS, blindness, or paralysis of two or more limbs. Life insurance companies realize people are living longer. This is good news for everyone. No longer are great benefits only for the young or for those willing to pay high premiums and jump through multiple hoops. The insurance industry has listened and has responded to the needs of the consumer in order to streamline the application process and deliver benefits that make sense. Now not only can you get life insurance at any age, but you can also enjoy those benefits during your lifetime. It doesn't get much better than that.

5. Painless Policy Procurement
Traditionally, if you wanted to buy life insurance, you had to have an in-person meeting with an insurance agent. In fact, most insurance companies required their agents to be present in order to witness the application. This practice has gone the way of the dinosaur. According to a 2013 study performed by the Life Insurance and Market Research Association (LIMRA) and The Life Foundation, fully 50 percent of consumers preferred buying life insurance without a face to face meeting. The industry apparently heard this collective marketplace voice and, today, there is no need to meet with your insurance agent in person.  Applications can filled out over the phone or on the internet, the entire process is quicker and easier than ever. To that end, insurance carriers are offering Express or Rapid applications that include time-saving features such as digital applications, the acceptance of digital and voice signatures, and the ability to scan or fax the applications, thus avoiding “snail mail” altogether.  In addition to making the application process simpler and more expeditious, insurance companies are also making it easier and more convenient for consumers to comparison shop and find the policy that best fits their budget. You can research all the insurance carrier’s rates online, and some brokers even allow consumers to run rate comparisons online without requiring them to enter their contact information as part of the process. This model is a bona fide hit, with 80 percent of the marketplace now researching and running rate comparisons online before purchasing a policy.

For those that put off getting life insurance because of the medical exams, paperwork, price, or pushy salesmen, the good news is that modern industry enhancements have largely alleviated those concerns. Of course, it’s imperative for consumers to ensure they are dealing with a reputable A-rated insurance carrier, which they can easily confirm by utilizing online resources like www.ambest.com, which allows consumers to search any insurance company’s financial ratings. Taking just a few minutes to do so can make a huge difference in the outcome of the life insurance endeavor.
Brian Greenberg is a multi-faceted entrepreneur currently serving as a founder and executive of multiple online businesses, including serving as President of True Blue Life Insurance. Recognized as one of the most creative people in the insurance industry, Greenberg is in the world’s top one percent of life insurance and financial services professionals. He may be reached online at www.TrueBlueLifeInsurance.com.
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