By The Associated Press___ Employers grumble about new insurance fee in health overhaul law Your medical plan is facing an unexpected expense, so you probably are, too. It's a new, $63-per-head fee to cushion the cost of covering people with pre-existing conditions under President Barack Obama's health care overhaul. The charge, buried in a recent regulation, works out to tens of millions of dollars for the largest companies, employers say. Most of that is likely to be passed on to workers. Based on figures provided in the regulation, employer and individual health plans covering an estimated 190 million Americans could owe the per-person fee. The Obama administration says it's a temporary assessment levied for three years starting in 2014, intended to raise $25 billion. ___ Italian election means new stress for eurozone Until last weekend Europe seemed headed for a quiet Christmas and New Year's. Then Italy's Prime Minister Mario Monti unexpectedly announced he was going to resign, pulling the plug on a government that had boosted confidence in the country's ability to manage its debts. The prospect of a return to a shaky government and finances has suddenly put new strains on the leaders of the 17-strong group of European Union countries that use the euro and their efforts to bottle up the region's debt and economic crisis. Analysts warn that after several months of calm, the eurozone could now be in for a rougher ride as 2013 begins. ___ China's money changes the landscape in Australia Tony Clift's family has plowed the rich black soil of Australia's Liverpool Plains for six generations. The thought of selling never crossed his mind until a Chinese company came to town. Shenhua Watermark Coal offered to buy farms at unheard-of prices. The decision wasn't easy, Clift says. His pioneer ancestors settled the land in 1832. But farming is a business nowadays, and selling his 6,500 acres made business sense.
Soaring coal prices fueled by China's economic growth have made mining parts of the Australian landscape far more lucrative than farming it. It's one example of how China's emergence as a global trading power may transform countries in ways never contemplated and not yet fully understood.___ Government investigating makers of cellphone apps The government is investigating whether software companies that make cellphone apps have violated the privacy rights of children by quietly collecting personal information from phones and sharing it with advertisers and data brokers, the Federal Trade Commission said Monday. Such apps can capture a child's physical location, phone numbers of their friends and more. The FTC described the marketplace for mobile applications â¿¿ dominated by online stores operated by Apple and Google â¿¿ as a digital danger zone with inadequate oversight. In a report by the FTC's own experts, it said the industry has grown rapidly but failed to ensure that the privacy of young consumers is adequately protected. The FTC did not say which or how many companies it was investigating. ___ Obama tax plan no small deal to small businessmen President Barack Obama's plan to increase taxes on top earners would have only a small impact on the nation's economy, according to congressional budget experts. But don't tell that to small business owners facing a tax hike. Obama's proposal would hit about 940,000 people who report business income on their individual or household returns, says the Joint Committee on Taxation, the official scorekeeper for Congress. That's only 3.5 percent of the people who report business income, but those business owners are projected to earn 53 percent of the $1.3 trillion in business income that will be reported on individual returns next year. That, Republicans in Congress argue, makes those business owners an important engine for economic growth and job creation.
___4 years in, Madoff trustee still pursuing assets When he was first told in 2008 about Bernard Madoff's epic Ponzi scheme, attorney David Sheehan had a response that now sounds inconceivable. "Who," he wondered, "is Bernie Madoff?" Since then, a trustee appointed to recover funds for Madoff victims and a battalion of lawyers headed by Sheehan have spent long days untangling the fraud. On the fourth anniversary of the financier's arrest, it's an international effort that shows no signs of slowing. ___ Report: Managers at Fannie, Freddie earned $200K A government report finds median pay for nearly 2,000 senior managers at government-controlled Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac exceeded $200,000 last year. The Federal Housing Finance Agency, which oversees the two mortgage giants, also did an inadequate job monitoring pay, according to the report released Monday from the inspector general for the FHFA. Those managers represent nearly 17 percent of the roughly 11,900 total employees at the two bailed-out companies. Compensation for senior managers at the companies cost about $455 million in 2011, according to the report. Taxpayers so far have paid roughly $170 billion to rescue Fannie and Freddie, which suffered huge losses from risky mortgages during the 2008 financial crisis. ___ McDonald's November sales figure rises McDonald's Corp. said Monday that a key sales figure rebounded in November, as U.S. customers snapped up the world's biggest hamburger chain's breakfast offerings and limited-time Cheddar Bacon Onion sandwiches. The increase follows a decline in October, the first drop in McDonald's key monthly sales gauge in nearly a decade. The company, based in Oak Brook, Ill., said that its global sales at restaurants open at least 13 months rose 2.4 percent for the month ended Nov. 30. The figure is a key metric because it strips out the impact of newly opened and closed locations.
___SKorea's porn fight 'like shoveling in a blizzard' Moon Tae-Hwa stares at his computer, dizzy and nauseous from the hours of porn he's viewed online while his wife and children slept. He feels no shame â¿¿ only a righteous sense of mission. Moon is among the most successful members of the "Nuri Cops" (roughly "net cops"), a squad of nearly 800 volunteers who help government censors by patrolling the Internet for pornography in their spare time. Unlike most developed nations, pornography is illegal in South Korea, though it remains easy for its tech-savvy population to find. More than 90 percent of South Korea's homes have high-speed Internet access, and more than 30 million of its 50 million people own smartphones. ___ Spaniards hope for eviction reprieve amid crisis Irene Gonzalez is desperately waiting to hear if she'll benefit from an emergency government decree that protects Spaniards such as her from being evicted for failing to make their mortgage payments. Spain has endured a wave of foreclosures that have generated protests and at least two recent suicides by people about to be ousted from their apartments and houses. Since issuing the emergency decree, which will protect Spanish families with an annual income of less than â¿¬14,400 after taxes, the government has been under increasing pressure to come up with reforms to its mortgage system. Activists have been lobbying for an insolvency law that would allow those who have defaulted on their mortgages to simply turn in the keys to their homes as they do in countries like the United States, freeing them from mortgage debt. ___ By The Associated Press(equals) The Dow Jones industrial average rose 14.75 points to 13,169.88. The index traded within a narrow range of just 56 points throughout the day. The Standard and Poor's 500 finished 0.48 point higher at 1,418.55. The Nasdaq composite ended up 8.92 points at 2,986.96.
Benchmark crude fell 37 cents to finish at $85.56 per barrel in New York. Brent crude, used to price international varieties of oil, rose 31 cents to end at $107.33 per barrel on the ICE Futures exchange in London.Heating oil fell 1.91 cents to finish at $2.90 a gallon. Natural gas fell 9.1 cents to end at $3.46 per 1,000 cubic feet. Wholesale gasoline was unchanged at $2.60 a gallon.