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   Several elected officials around the St. Louis area have issued responses to President Obama's State of the Union address.  Leaders from both Missouri and Illinois shared their thoughts. They vary widely in their impressions, and as one might expect, seem to fall along party lines.
 
Assistant Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D-IL): 
   "Tonight the President gave an optimistic speech about opportunity for American families, an economy on the rise and leveled a call to action to ensure this is a year of progress for the middle class.
   "From programs to grow the economy and create jobs like the launching of new manufacturing institutes and infrastructure investments to efforts to strengthen the middle class like raising the minimum wage, expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit along the lines of a bill introduced with Senator Brown, and making college more affordable, tonight's speech focused on creating more opportunities for American families.
   "Improving opportunities for American families requires innovation and action and I plan to work with my colleagues to build on the work we've done in my Defense Appropriations Subcommittee to reverse the devastating cuts to federally funded research and development and grow these programs for years to come.
   "Finally, tonight's speech challenged us in Congress to set aside the partisanship and gridlock that is preventing us from improving the lives millions of Americans. We must now rise to the occasion."
 
U.S. Congressman Wm. Lacy Clay (D) MO:  
   "Tonight, President Obama laid out a bold, optimistic agenda that challenged us to reward hard work, renew economic security for middle-class families and keep faith with our senior citizens.
   "I strongly support the President's call to raise the minimum wage; pass comprehensive immigration reform; renew the Voting Rights Act; continue expanding access to affordable healthcare for all, and eliminate barriers to higher education that are keeping millions from achieving their dreams.
   "He also laid out a clear path that would continue our nation's remarkable progress towards achieving energy independence and creating millions of new jobs in the emerging 21st Century green economy. 
   "I am hopeful that Congress can build on recent bipartisan agreements to move this progressive agenda forward to benefit all Americans."
 
 
 
U.S. Congresswoman Ann Wagner (R-MO):
   "The people of the 2nd District are tired of the same old failed speeches and policies from President Obama.  The Show-Me state wants to know, ‘where are the jobs!’   It's time the President started working with Congress and not around us. 
   "The President called for a ‘year of action.’  I don't know where the President and Senate Democrats have been for the last year, but House Republicans have taken action on solutions that will make your lives just a little better, a little easier to manage. 
   "In fact, the House has passed over 170 pieces of legislation in the last year that have been ignored by the United States Senate and the President.  The House has passed solutions that will increase the size of your paychecks, increase upward mobility, restore your individual liberties and lower costs on everyday items that you depend on every day like groceries, gasoline and the cost of your health care.   These common-sense solutions offer the American people a better future versus a failed present.
   "It's time we turn the page and begin a new era focused on empowering the American people and not the government." 
 
 
 
U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill (D) MO:
   "We've made a lot of progress these past few years, creating millions of jobs and pulling our economy out of the ditch—but there are an awful lot of commonsense ideas still sitting on the table that could build on that success, if elected leaders stop kowtowing to the political extremes and start working toward compromise to get things done. Raising the minimum wage for working families, building innovative private-public partnerships to invest in our roads and bridges, making the tax code fairer, and fixing our broken immigration system aren't partisan initiatives. They're commonsense goals that we should all be ready to rally behind to strengthen America's middle class families."
 
 
 
U.S. Congressman John Shimkus (R) IL:
   "These speeches are always more political than whoever the President is wants to make it seem.  President Obama – in an election year – took a more liberal, activist tone.  I happen to disagree with many of his ideas.
   "Promises made in speeches are also not automatically the law of the land.  However, President Obama wants to start using executive authority to take more actions without Congress’ involvement.  This is an unprecedented challenge to Congress by a President.
   "While the President talks about energy security, his EPA has taken several steps that will hinder what was becoming a growing coal industry.  I'm afraid of what his pen or his EPA might do to other energy issues that benefit Illinois.
   "The President talks about jobs, yet his Administration has taken more steps to stymie job growth than to create jobs.  The House has sent hundreds of bills over to the Senate that would directly or indirectly help job creation.
   "Finally, I want to say that the failures of Obamacare go beyond a website that doesn't work.  Here in Illinois, we are prime examples of the fiasco of Obamacare – we have had thousands more people receive cancellation notices from insurance companies than we have signed up on the website."
Published in Local News
Wednesday, 29 January 2014 02:18

Questions and answer about Obama's wage plan

WASHINGTON (AP) — Relatively few Americans — less than 5 percent of hourly workers — toil for the minimum wage today.
 
Yet President Barack Obama's push to offset years of inflation by raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour would ripple through the economy and touch the lives of millions more workers and their families.
 
Here are some questions and answers about Obama's proposal:
 
___
 
Q: How much is the U.S. minimum wage now?
 
A: It's $7.25 an hour, or about $15,000 per year for full-time work. For a worker supporting a family of two, that falls just below the federal poverty line.
 
A minimum wage of $10.10 would mean earning about $21,000 per year.
 
___
 
Q: How many Americans work for minimum wage?
 
A: About 1.6 million, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. They are a smaller share of the workforce than in previous decades.
 
Another 2 million people are paid even less, because of various exceptions in the law. Many are waiters, bellhops and others whose wages are augmented by tips from customers. Their minimum is lower — $2.13 an hour — and hasn't gone up for more than two decades. Obama supports boosting the minimum for tipped workers to $7.07.
 
Together, both groups make up 4.7 percent of workers paid by the hour, and even less of the workforce when salaried workers are included.
 
___
 
Q: Are these the only workers who would get a boost from Obama's plan?
 
A: No. Millions more people who earn less than $10.10 an hour would get an automatic raise. Many of them work in states that have imposed a minimum wage that's higher than the current federal one.
 
And some people who already make more than $10.10 would get raises, too, as businesses adjusted their pay scales upward.
 
Democratic lawmakers pushing for the increase predict it would lead to raises for some 30 million people. Republican opponents counter that it could force companies to reduce hiring or even lay off some workers.
 
___
 
Q: How many states have a minimum wage higher than the federal one?
 
A: Twenty-one states, plus the District of Columbia, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
 
None is as high as the wage Obama seeks. Washington state's is highest at $9.32 an hour, adjusted annually for inflation. California's minimum wage is set to climb to $10 in 2016.
 
State lawmakers aren't waiting for a divided Congress to act. Democratic legislators are pushing minimum-wage increases in more than half of the states this year, although several are political longshots.
 
___
 
Q: Who makes minimum wage?
 
A: Most are workers in part-time jobs. They tend to be in the service industry, especially in restaurant and sales jobs.
 
Most are adults. But teens and young people make up a disproportionately large share: half of minimum-wage workers are under age 25.
 
Nearly three-quarters have a high school degree or more education. More than three-quarters are white.
 
Nearly 2 out of 3 are female.
 
___
 
Q: Where did the minimum wage come from?
 
A: It started at 25 cents per hour in the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act. Since then, Congress has raised it 22 times. Its value peaked in the 1960s, but the wage hasn't kept up with inflation since then.
 
The last increase was in 2007, during the presidency of George W. Bush. It was phased in to reach $7.25 in 2009.
 
Obama wants the wage to be indexed to inflation, so it would rise automatically in the future.
 
___
 
Q: Why not raise the minimum wage?
 
Q: Many congressional Republicans and other opponents say that would dampen hiring or even spark layoffs at a time when the nation is struggling with high unemployment. They argue that much of the cost would be passed along to consumers as higher prices. And they say it isn't an efficient way to help the poor, because many people earning the minimum wage are part of a middle-class or higher-earning households.
 
___
 
Q: So what do Obama and Democratic supporters say?
 
A: They say that raising the minimum wage would boost the economy and create jobs, because cash-strapped workers tend to spend any extra money that comes in. Supporters argue that boosting low wages would help narrow the gap between the nation's poorest and richest families. And they say full-time workers with families shouldn't have to live in poverty.
Published in National News
WASHINGTON (AP) — It seems to be something of an occupational hazard for President Barack Obama: When he talks about his health care law, he's bound to hit a fact bump sooner or later.
 
So it went Tuesday night, when he declared Medicare premiums have stayed flat thanks to the law, when they've gone up. As for an even bigger theme of his State of the Union address, the president's assertion that "upward mobility has stalled" in America runs contrary to recent research, while other findings support him.
 
A look at some of the facts and political circumstances behind his claims, along with a glance at the Republican response to his speech:
 
OBAMA: "Because of this (health care) law, no American can ever again be dropped or denied coverage for a preexisting condition like asthma, back pain or cancer. No woman can ever be charged more just because she's a woman. And we did all this while adding years to Medicare's finances, keeping Medicare premiums flat, and lowering prescription costs for millions of seniors."
 
THE FACTS: He's right that insurers can no longer turn people down because of medical problems, and they can't charge higher premiums to women because of their sex. The law also lowered costs for seniors with high prescription drug bills. But Medicare's monthly premium for outpatient care has gone up in recent years.
 
Although the basic premium remained the same this year at $104.90, it increased by $5 a month in 2013, up from $99.90 in 2012. Obama's health care law also raised Medicare premiums for upper-income beneficiaries, and both the president and Republicans have proposed to expand that.
 
Finally, the degree to which the health care law improved Medicare finances is hotly debated. On paper, the program's giant trust fund for inpatient care gained more than a decade of solvency because of cuts to service providers required under the health law. But in practice those savings cannot simultaneously be used to expand coverage for the uninsured and shore up Medicare.
 
___
 
OBAMA: "Today, after four years of economic growth, corporate profits and stock prices have rarely been higher, and those at the top have never done better. But average wages have barely budged. Inequality has deepened. Upward mobility has stalled."
 
THE FACTS: The most recent evidence suggests that mobility hasn't worsened. A team of economists led by Harvard's Raj Chetty released a study last week that found the United States isn't any less socially mobile than it was in the 1970s. Looking at children born between 1971 and 1993, the economists found that the odds of a child born in the poorest 20 percent of families making it into the top 20 percent hasn't changed.
 
"We find that children entering the labor market today have the same chances of moving up in the income distribution (relative to their parents) as children born in the 1970s," the authors said.
 
Still, other research has found that the United States isn't as mobile a society as most Americans would like to believe. In a study of 22 countries, economist Miles Corak of the University of Ottawa found that the United States ranked 15th in social mobility. Only Italy and Britain among wealthy countries ranked lower. By some measures, children in the United States are as likely to inherit their parents' economic status as their height.
 
___
 
OBAMA: "We'll need Congress to protect more than 3 million jobs by finishing transportation and waterways bills this summer.  But I will act on my own to slash bureaucracy and streamline the permitting process for key projects, so we can get more construction workers on the job as fast as possible."
 
THE FACTS: Cutting rules and regulations doesn't address what's holding up most transportation projects, which is lack of money. The federal Highway Trust Fund will run out of money in August without action. To finance infrastructure projects, Obama wants Congress to raise taxes on businesses that keep profits or jobs overseas, but that idea has been a political nonstarter.
 
The number of projects affected by the administration's efforts to cut red tape is relatively small, said Joshua Schank, president and CEO of the Eno Center for Transportation, a think tank. "The reason most of these projects are delayed is they don't have enough money. So it's great that you are expediting the review process, but the review process isn't the problem. The problem is we don't have enough money to invest in our infrastructure in the first place."
 
___
 
OBAMA: "More than 9 million Americans have signed up for private health insurance or Medicaid coverage."
 
THE FACTS: That's not to say 9 million more Americans have gained insurance under the law.
 
The administration says about 6 million people have been determined to be eligible for Medicaid since Oct. 1 and an additional 3 million roughly have signed up for private health insurance through the new markets created by the health care law. That's where Obama's number of 9 million comes from. But it's unclear how many in the Medicaid group were already eligible for the program or renewing existing coverage.
 
Likewise, it's not known how many of those who signed up for private coverage were previously insured. A large survey released last week suggests the numbers of uninsured gaining coverage may be smaller. The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index found that the uninsured rate for U.S. adults dropped by 1.2 percentage points in January, to 16.1 percent. That would translate to roughly 2 million to 3 million newly insured people since the law's coverage expansion started Jan. 1.
 
___
 
OBAMA: "In the coming weeks, I will issue an executive order requiring federal contractors to pay their federally funded employees a fair wage of at least $10.10 an hour, because if you cook our troops' meals or wash their dishes, you shouldn't have to live in poverty."
 
THE FACTS: This would be a hefty boost in the federal minimum wage, now $7.25, but not many would see it.
 
Most employees of federal contractors already earn more than $10.10. About 10 percent of those workers, roughly 200,000, might be covered by the higher minimum wage. But there are several wrinkles. The increase would not take effect until 2015 at the earliest and it doesn't apply to existing federal contracts, only new ones. Renewed contracts also will be exempt from Obama's order unless other terms of the agreement change, such as the type of work or number of employees needed.
 
Obama also said he'll press Congress to raise the federal minimum wage overall. He tried that last year, seeking a $9 minimum, but Congress didn't act.
 
___
 
REP. CATHY McMORRIS RODGERS of Washington, in her prepared Republican response: "Last month, more Americans stopped looking for a job than found one. Too many people are falling further and further behind because, right now, the president's policies are making people's lives harder."
 
THE FACTS: She leaves out a significant factor in the high number of people who aren't looking for jobs: Baby boomers are retiring.
 
It's true that a large part of the still-high unemployment rate is due to jobless workers who have given up looking for a job. There are roughly three people seeking every job opening, a circumstance that can discourage others from trying. But one big reason people aren't seeking employment is that there are so many boomers — the generation born in the immediate aftermath of World War II — and therefore more than the usual number of retirements.
 
 ___
 
Associated Press writers Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, Christopher S. Rugaber, Joan Lowy, Sam Hananel and Tom Raum contributed to this report.
 
EDITOR'S NOTE _ An occasional look at political claims that take shortcuts with the facts or don't tell the full story.
Published in National News

WASHINGTON (AP) — The president's advisers are warning that if lawmakers won't work with the White House, the White House will go around them.

President Barack Obama makes his State of the Union address on Tuesday.

Top White House aides say Obama will try to work with Congress where it's possible.

But press secretary Jay Carney and senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer say the White House will take action with executive orders if needed.

On ABC's "This Week," Carney says the White House will "bypass Congress where necessary."

Pfeiffer tells "Fox News Sunday" that Obama, quote, "has a pen, and he has a phone, and he's going to use those."

Republican Sen. Rand Paul tells CNN's "State of the Union" that it sounds like a threat.

Published in National News
WASHINGTON (AP) - Republicans say President Barack Obama's second-term agenda will bring more tax increases and deficit spending, hurting middle-class families at the expense of economic growth.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio says in excerpts released ahead of his Republican response to Obama's State of the Union address that he hopes the president will "abandon his obsession with raising taxes" and try to grow the economy.

Rubio says the nation needs a balanced budget amendment to curb spending and says he won't support changes to Medicare that will hurt seniors like his mother.

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, in excerpts from his tea party response, says Washington acts in a way that your family never could - spending money it doesn't have and borrowing from future generations.
Published in National News
WASHINGTON (AP) — Uncompromising and politically emboldened, President Barack Obama urged a deeply divided Congress Tuesday night to embrace his plans to use government money to create jobs and strengthen the nation's middle class. He declared Republican ideas for reducing the deficit "even worse" than the unpalatable deals Washington had to stomach during his first term.

In his first State of the Union address since winning re-election, Obama conceded economic revival is an "unfinished task," but he claimed clear progress and said he prepared to build on it as he embarks on four more years in office.

"We have cleared away the rubble of crisis, and we can say with renewed confidence that the state of our union is strong," Obama said in an hour-long address to a joint session of Congress and a television audience of millions.

With unemployment persistently high and consumer confidence falling, the economy remains a vulnerability for Obama and could disrupt his plans for pursuing a broader agenda, including immigration overhaul, stricter gun laws and climate change legislation.

Still, fresh off a convincing re-election win, Obama made clear in his remarks that he was determined to press his political advantage against a divided, defensive and worried Republican Party. Numerous times he urged Congress to act quickly on his priorities — but vowed to act on some issues on his own if they do not.

Obama also announced new steps to reduce the U.S. military footprint abroad, with 34,000 American troops withdrawing from Afghanistan within a year. And he had a sharp rebuke for North Korea, which launched a nuclear test just hours before his remarks, saying, "Provocations of the sort we saw last night will only isolate them further."

In specific proposals for shoring up the economy in his second term, an assertive Obama called for increased federal spending to fix the nation's roads and bridges, the first increase in the minimum wage in six years and expansion of early education to every American 4-year-old. Seeking to appeal for support from Republicans, he promised that none of his proposals would increase the deficit "by a single dime" although he didn't explain how he would pay for his programs or how much they would cost.

In the Republican response to Obama's address, rising GOP star Marco Rubio of Florida came right back at the president, saying his solution "to virtually every problem we face is for Washington to tax more, borrow more and spend more."

Sen. Rubio said presidents of both parties have recognized that the free enterprise system brings middle-class prosperity.

"But President Obama?" Rubio said. "He believes it's the cause of our problems."

Still, throughout the House chamber there were symbolic displays of bipartisanship. Rep. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., arrived early and sat with Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., just returned in January nearly a year after suffering a debilitating stroke. As a captain in the National Guard, Duckworth lost both her legs while serving in Iraq in 2004.

A few aisles away, the top two tax writers in Congress, Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., and Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., sat together.

But as a sign that divisions still remain, three of the most conservative Supreme Court justices skipped Obama's speech. Six of the nine attended. Missing were Justices Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito.

Jobs and growth dominated Obama's address. Many elements of his economic blueprint were repacked proposals from his first term that failed to gain traction on Capitol Hill.

Standing in Obama's way now is a Congress that remains nearly as divided as it was during the final years of his first term, when Washington lurched from one crisis to another.

The president implored lawmakers to break through partisan logjams, asserting that "the greatest nation on Earth cannot keep conducting its business by drifting from one manufactured crisis to the next."

"Americans don't expect government to solve every problem," he said. "They do expect us to forge reasonable compromise where we can."

Yet Obama offered few signs of being willing to compromise himself, instead doubling down on his calls to create jobs by spending more government money and insisting that lawmakers pay down the deficit through a combination of targeted spending cuts and tax increases. But he offered few specifics on what he wanted to see cut, focusing instead on the need to protect programs that help the middle class, elderly and poor.

He did reiterate his willingness to tackle entitlement changes, particularly on Medicare, though he has ruled out increasing the eligibility age for the popular benefit program for seniors.

Republicans are ardently opposed to Obama's calls for legislating more tax revenue to reduce the deficit and offset broad the automatic spending cuts — known as the sequester — that are to take effect March 1. The president accused GOP lawmakers of shifting the cuts from defense to programs that would help the middle class and elderly, as well as those supporting education and job training.

"That idea is even worse," he said.

Obama broke little new ground on two agenda items he has pushed vigorously since winning re-election: overhauling the nation's fractured immigration laws and enacting tougher gun control measures in the wake of the horrific massacre of school children in Newtown, Conn. Yet he pressed for urgency on both, calling on Congress to send him an immigration bill "in the next few months" and insisting lawmakers hold votes on his gun proposals.

"Each of these proposals deserves a vote in Congress," he said. "If you want to vote no, that's your choice."

Numerous lawmakers wore green lapel ribbons in memory of those killed in the December shootings in Connecticut. Among those watching in the House gallery: the parents of 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton, shot and killed recently in a park just a mile from the president's home in Chicago, as well as other victims of gun violence.

On the economy, Obama called for raising the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $9 by 2015. The minimum wage has been stagnant since 2007, and administration officials said the increase would strengthen purchasing power. The president also wants Congress to approve automatic increases in the wage to keep pace with inflation.

Looking for common ground anywhere he could find it, Obama framed his proposal to boost the minimum wage by pointing out that even his GOP presidential rival liked the idea. He said, "Here's an idea that Gov. Romney and I actually agreed on last year: Let's tie the minimum wage to the cost of living, so that it finally becomes a wage you can live on."

Obama also renewed his calls for infrastructure spending, investments he sought repeatedly during his first term with little support from Republicans. He pressed lawmakers to approve a $50 billion "fix it first" program that would address the most urgent infrastructure needs.

Education also figures in Obama's plans to boost American competitiveness in the global economy. Under his proposal, the federal government would help states provide pre-school for all 4-year-olds. Officials did not provide a cost for the pre-school programs but said the government would provide financial incentives to help states.

Among the other initiatives Obama is proposing:

— A $1 billion plan to create 15 "manufacturing institutes" that would bring together businesses, universities and the government. If Congress opposes the initiative, Obama plans to use his presidential powers to create three institutes on his own.
— Creation of an "energy security trust" that would use revenue from federal oil and gas leases to support development of clean energy technologies such as biofuels and natural gas
— Doubling of renewable energy in the U.S. from wind, solar and geothermal sources by 2020.
— Launching negotiations on a free trade agreement between the U.S. and European Union

Obama also called on Congress to tackle the threat of climate change, another issue that eluded him in his first term. The president pledged to work with lawmakers to seek bipartisan solutions but said if Capitol Hill doesn't act, he'll order his Cabinet to seek steps he can take using his presidential powers.

Taking a swipe at those who question the threat of global warming, Obama said, "We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence. Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science - and act before it's too late."

Tackling voters' rights issues, Obama announced the creation of a commission that will seek to make it easier and faster for people to cast ballots on Election Day. He used as an example the story of 102-year-old Desiline Victor, a Florida woman who waited in line to vote for several hours during the November election. Victor attended Tuesday's speech as a guest of the first lady and was applauded heartily by the lawmakers.

Obama also called on Congress to pass legislation giving the government more power to combat the rapidly growing threat of cyberattacks. And, as a down payment on that, the president announced that he has signed an executive order to fight electronic espionage through the development of voluntary standards to protect networks and computer systems that run critical infrastructure.
Published in National News

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