Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Compromised Health Care Reform Slouches On

Is there one liberal constituency that hasn't been thoroughly betrayed?

Nevertheless, the bill inches forward:
WASHINGTON – Jubilant Democrats locked in Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson as the 60th and decisive vote for historic health care legislation Saturday, putting President Barack Obama's signature issue firmly on a path for Christmas Eve passage.

At the White House, Obama swiftly welcomed the breakthrough, saying, "After a nearly century-long struggle, we are on the cusp of making health care reform a reality in the United States of America."

In the Capitol, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid smiled broadly when asked if Nelson's decision gave him the 60-vote majority necessary to overcome solid Republican opposition. "Seems that way," he said. The Nevada Democrat agreed to a series of concessions on abortion and other issues demanded by Nelson in daylong talks on Friday, then informed Obama of the agreement in a late night phone call as the president flew home from climate talks in Copenhagen.

The Congressional Budget Office said the Senate bill would extend coverage to more than 30 million Americans who lack it. It also imposes new regulations to curb abuses of the insurance industry, and the president noted one last-minute addition would impose penalties on companies that "arbitrarily jack up prices" in advance of the legislation taking effect.

CBO analysts also said the legislation would cut federal deficits by $132 billion over 10 years and possibly much more in the subsequent decade.

The developments unfolded on a day of improbables — a snowstorm enveloped the Capitol, creating whiteout conditions outside; while inside senators staged dueling news conferences as if their presence on the Saturday before Christmas was the rule rather than the rarest of exceptions.

Addict Needs Her Fix

E.: MMMMAAAAAARRRCCC! Where is your phone? Last night, I was dreaming about that - what's it called? - PapiJump!

The Lazy Party



My nephew Aaron Christopher Browning (in the white jacket) and his friends put this together.....

Plus, a blooper reel too.



I'm trying to summon the energy to be incensed about this political satire, but .... I'm TOO lazy!

Santa's Bailout

Friday, December 18, 2009

Didn't Even Realize This Was Possible

The theoretical made manifest:
Welcome to the world of small-town high school basketball: Where a few twists can turn a school that advanced to the state tournament just two years ago to one that figures to struggle for even a single victory this season.

Or, in the case of Wrenshall, score a single basket.

"I've never heard of 65-0 loss in the years I've been playing," Blanchard said. "But it happens."

More than some realize.

While most people know that blowouts are common in high school basketball, shutouts, on the other hand, are far more infrequent. A 100-0 game in Texas last year - a lopsided affair where the final score was no coincidence - drew national attention and raised questions about sportsmanship (and cost the coach his job).

If Morgan Stanley Can Walk Away, You Can Too

"Strategic default" - such a nice term!:
Morgan Stanley ... plans to relinquish five San Francisco office buildings to its lender two years after purchasing them from Blackstone Group LP near the top of the market.“This isn’t a default or foreclosure situation,” [Alyson Barnes, a Morgan Stanley spokeswoman] said. “We are going to give them the properties to get out of the loan obligation.” ...The Morgan Stanley buildings may have lost as much as 50 percent since the purchase ...
Note that Morgan Stanley is current on the loan and is not in foreclosure. They are simply "walking away" because the buildings are worth less than the amount owed.

...From a research paper earlier this year on homeowners with negative equity walking away: Moral and Social Constraints to Strategic Default on Mortgages by Guiso, Sapienza and Zingales.
It is difficult to study the strategic default decision, because it is de facto an unobservable event. While we do observe defaults, we cannot observe whether a default is strategic. Strategic defaulters have all the incentives to disguise themselves as people who cannot afford to pay and so they will appear as non strategic defaulters in all the data.
The researchers argued that the pace of strategic defaults is increasing - and that is terrifying for lenders.

This is what I wrote in 2007:
One of the greatest fears for lenders (and investors in mortgage backed securities) is that it will become socially acceptable for upside down middle class Americans to walk away from their homes.
And that remains the greatest fear - and it probably doesn't help that companies like Morgan Stanley are walking away from commercial buildings.

The Biggest Problem With The Proposed Health Care "Reform"



Oligopoly on steroids!

Usury Starts With "You"

I've carried a large balance for years, but methinks it's time to just back out of the whole game:
NEW YORK — It's no mistake. This credit card's interest rate is 79.9%.

The bloated APR is how First Premier Bank, a subprime credit card issuer, is skirting new regulations intended to curb abusive practices in the industry. It's a strategy other subprime card issuers could start adopting to get around the new rules.

Typically, the First Premier card comes with a minimum of $256 in fees in the first year for a credit line of $250. Starting in February, however, a new law will cap such fees at 25% of a card's credit line.

In a recent mailing for a preapproved card, First Premier lowers fees to just that limit — $75 in the first year for a credit line of $300. But the new law doesn't set a cap on interest rates. Hence the 79.9% APR, up from the previous 9.9%.

"It's the highest on the market. It's the highest we've ever seen," said Anuj Shahani, an analyst with Synovate, a research firm that tracks credit card mailings.

The Sounds Of Silence

When we all ate at Steve Zaintz' Thai Restaurant in Albuquerque last week, I spent most of of my time regaling the New Mexico relatives with California stories.

My nephew took advantage of my distraction by taking my i-Phone and installing a clever little video game called PapiJump, which is apparently popular with him and his friends.

And it is a fun game!

So, I brought it back to California.....

...

E.: MMMMMMAAAAARRRCCC! They aren't nice to me at work! They keep interfering with what I'm doing! They won't leave me alone! I don't have enough time to do my job! yada, yada, yada, yada....

M.: Here, play this game. It's called PapiJump...

(ten minutes later...)

E.: (silent, except for the game's signature squeak, squeak, squeak, squeak....)

(one hour later...)

E.: (squeak, squeak, squeak, squeak....)

(two hours later...)

E.: (squeak, squeak, squeak, squeak....)

...and the only thing that brought the session to an end, about 4:00 a.m., was the exhaustion of the i-Phone's battery....

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Kit Carson's Last Campfire - the Musical



I've been reading Hampton Side's biography of Kit Carson, "Blood and Thunder", and I saw this Kit Carson musical posted on YouTube.

Yup, to fully appreciate this musical, it helps to chaw on Sacred Datura salad first, sprinkled with bits of jimson weed and peyote....

LEDs & Sheepherding

And speaking of LEDS, Karen recommends this:

A Drawback Of LED Traffic Lights

[h/t Jerry]

Cool technology! As a matter of fact, too cool!:
Installing traffic lights with LED energy-efficient bulbs saves municipalities money but may also create a hazard for drivers because the lights sometimes cannot melt the snow and ice that accumulate on them during inclement weather.

LED bulbs use 90% less energy than incandescent bulbs, and states such as Wisconsin have seen savings of $750,000 per year. While incandescent bulbs must be replaced every 12 to 18 months, LEDs installed seven years ago are still going strong, according to Wisconsin’s Department of Transportation.

Then you have situations in Illinois last April, when 34-year-old Lisa Richter made a left turn and was killed by a driver coming the other direction because ice and snow obscured the traffic signal. Winter storms covering LED traffic lights have been blamed for dozens of accidents as they have become more common in the past 10 years.

Teaching Monkeys Taekwondo

You know this had to be a bad idea:
Hu Luang, 32, a bystander who photographed the incident, said: "I saw one punch him in the eye - he grabbed another by the ear and it responded by grabbing his nose. They were leaping and jumping all over the place. It was better than a Bruce Lee film."

At one point the monkey trainer grabbed a staff to hit the monkeys, only to find himself facing a stick-brandishing monkey that cracked him over the head

Machines That Just Won't Communicate

It's hard, I know. I demand written reports from my toaster all the time, but never get a response:
MELBOURNE University's vice chancellor, Glyn Davis, has demanded a full written report from the Australian Synchrotron on its unexpected removal of chemistry professor Rob Lamb as founding director of the facility.

...The university had first asked for a report on November 16. "Despite the clear requirements of the secondment agreement, the report has not yet been provided," Professor Davis says.

Watching The Folks Assemble A Manikin At Arden Fair Mall

Putting a clothing ensemble on a manikin is different than I thought. FIRST, you put the coat on the dummy, and THEN you put the arms on the dummy....

Pitbull ft. Lil' Jon - "Krazy"



And since I'm thinking about the tune anyway....

Trust, But Verify

Tonight in the lobby at Pepper Von's studio, a mother was trying to keep her 3-year-old daughter doing a peculiar lunge and thus getting in everyone's way.

The mother said: "Honey, if you do that again, your brains are going to fall out!"

The daughter immediately lunged again, and then asked: "Mommy, did my brains fall out?"

OMG! - Pepper Von's Hip Hop Workout #4



Oh, I knew this would happen eventually - I'm on YouTube!

This is Pepper Von's Thursday night Cardio Funk fitness class at Step One health and fitness club. I'm there in the back; Sadie (in pink) and Nancy (in green) are at the front; awesome dancer Hannah Collins is on the far left; Nani and Denise and Flora are all there too!

All of Pepper's classes are great!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Conan O'Brien On "Between Two Ferns"

What English Sounds Like to Foreigners



Caption:
An Italian singer wrote this song with gibberish to sound like English. If you've ever wondered what other people think Americans sound like, this is it.
The nice thing about this video is that it allows English-speakers to drop their linguistic baggage and really experience the culture shock other folks, like the Italians, must have felt in the 50's and 60's when American rhythm-and blues and rock-and-roll came blasting into the Meditteranean.

Restoring The Glass-Steagall Wall

The Glass-Steagall Act saved the world from Depression for nearly 80 years. It's celebrated elimination nevertheless created opaque markets, where all kinds of septic practices could flourish without restraint, as we have recently discovered, to our sorrow. Restoring Glass-Steagall would help clarify markets and thus leads to market trust and stability. Otherwise, it's caveat emptor: the law of the jungle for everyone!:

John McCain lost the 2008 presidential election because of the financial crisis—at least that's what his chief strategist, Steve Schmidt, suggested. "We were three points ahead on Sept. 15 when the stock market crashed. And then the election was over," Schmidt said in a postmortem earlier this year. McCain was tarred with the regulatory failures of the Bush years, and it didn't help that he had been a longtime acolyte of the Senate's dean of deregulation, Phil Gramm, who once derided Americans as "a nation of whiners." McCain also seemed to have few new ideas of his own about how to address the financial panic.

More than a year after the election, the Arizona Republican is looking to repair that reputation by joining up with Democratic firebrand Maria Cantwell to propose something that will be anathema to both Wall Street and the Obama administration. According to two congressional sources, the two maverick senators want to reinstate Glass-Steagall Act, the Depression-era law that forced the separation of regular commercial banking from Wall Street investment banking. The senators' proposal echoes a failed amendment introduced in the House last week by Rep. Maurice Hinchey of New York.

...Bankers and regulators, Volcker said earlier this month, "have not come anywhere close to responding with necessary vigor" to the crisis. He wants to ban federally guaranteed commercial banks from risky trading in derivatives and other arcane instruments that could precipitate another huge bailout some day. That too is a proposal no one who currently controls the levers of power in Washington is considering. But among those who now support Volcker is Arthur Levitt Jr., the former chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission. "I tend to be in the Volcker camp in saying banks should either be investment banks or take deposits and make loans," Levitt told me in an interview this week.

Obama administration officials have dismissed the idea that the financial sector should or can be changed in more fundamental ways than they are now proposing. You can't turn back the clock, they say, and the new requirements they plan to impose on big banks to hold more capital in reserve, put up $150 billion for a rainy-day rescue fund, and disclose more of their risky trades should be enough to keep the financial sector from imploding again. Many of these requirements, among others, are contained in two giant bills making their way through Congress—one that passed the House last week and another that will be debated in the Senate in the new year. "I think going back to Glass-Steagall would be like going back to the Walkman," says one senior Treasury official.

But Obama and his economic team are also coming under increasing attack from their own liberal, reformist base for paying more attention to health care and other issues than to the causes of the biggest crisis since the Great Depression. Among the harshest critics has been Cantwell, who has pressed Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner to take a firmer stand in preventing loopholes in derivatives legislation. "I think they've [the Obama team] said the right things, but they've left it entirely up to a Congress which is seduced by lobbying pressures," says Levitt. "Health care has become such a compelling initiative that everything else has taken a back burner."

...Indeed, after last year's crash some experts concluded that the repeal of Glass-Steagall had little to do with it. After all, everybody—investment banks, nonbanks, insurance companies—had gotten into trouble: firms, in other words, that were not ostensibly changed by the repeal. Some even argued that the absence of Glass-Steagall made the cleanup easier: it allowed Bank of America to buy Merrill Lynch, for example.

But that critique missed a larger point that McCain, Cantwell, and other critics are now trying to address. The blinding complexity and interconnections created by modern capital markets—especially because of the way nearly half a trillion dollars in derivatives trades linked the firms to each other—demanded that there be strong firewalls and capital buffers between Wall Street institutions and their affiliates, and between banks and nonbanks and insurance companies. Otherwise there would be no islands of safety—no healthy institutions left to come and rescue the day, as commercial banks traditionally had done since the days of J. P. Morgan's famous bailout in 1907. The repeal of Glass-Steagall took things in precisely the opposite direction, eliminating most of the firewalls and inviting staid commercial banks into the buccaneering world of Wall Street trading. Representative Hinchey says it "was a recipe for disaster because these banks were empowered to make large bets with depositors' money, and money they didn't really have. When many of those bets, particularly in the housing sector, didn't pan out, the whole deck of cards came crumbling down and U.S. taxpayers had to come to the rescue."

Today the walls between firms still seem low indeed, and trading in derivatives that are "over the counter" (that is, out of public sight) continues at an astonishing pace, having risen back up to nearly $600 trillion worth. One big danger sign ahead is that the biggest banks have gotten even bigger in the aftermath of the catastrophe, and under the new rules requiring swap dealers to post capital for margin requirements, the big banks are likely to monopolize even more of this derivatives market and become that much richer and more powerful. That won't necessarily be a problem—unless the next crash proves once again that they cannot be allowed to fail, and the government must step in. Until McCain and Cantwell decided to speak out, very little that is currently under consideration by Congress or the executive branch would have changed that.

Efimov Trimers

Craig sent this story. VERY interesting!

When I first heard of quarks, I could not picture how such things could interact, or be put together.

It looks like quarks bothered other people too - people like Dr. Efimov.

This is the first reasonable thing regarding trimers I've ever heard. Probably the most significant physics story of the year!
When physicist Vitaly Efimov heard his theory had finally been proven, he ran up to the younger scientist who had verified it and gave him a high five.

Efimov had predicted a quantum-mechanical version of Borromean rings, a symbol that first showed up in Afghan Buddhist art from around the second century. The symbol depicts three rings linked together; if any ring were removed, they would all come apart.

Efimov theorized an analog to the rings using particles: Three particles (such as atoms or protons or even quarks) could be bound together in a stable state, even though any two of them could not bind without the third. The physicist first proposed the idea, based on a mathematical proof, in 1970. Since then, no one has been able to demonstrate the phenomenon in the lab - until recently.

A team of physicists led by Randy Hulet of Rice University in Houston finally achieved the trio of particles, and published their findings in the online journal Science Express.

"It was very exciting, because after 40 years of this prediction being out there, it was finally verified," Hulet told LiveScience.

Hulet presented his work at a meeting in Rome in October that Efimov also attended.

"He gave me a high five after my talk," Hulet recounted. "He was so enthusiastic and so excited to see this prediction become true."

Efimov had calculated that the triplet of bound particles was possible, and that it was repeating: New bound states could be achieved at higher and higher energy levels in an infinite progression. All of the bound states would occur at energy levels that were multiples of 515.

To prove that they had really created the trios, called Efimov trimers, the researchers produced one set of three lithium atoms bound together, and then reproduced it with a binding energy 515 times the first one. (Essentially, binding energy indicates how tightly the particles hold onto one another and how much energy it would take to pull them apart.)

The researchers used a setup called a Feshbach resonance that allowed them to tweak the energy levels of their atoms. They found that when they hit multiples of 515, the particles would bind, but at other energies they wouldn't, proving that the trios really were Efimov trimers.

"It's an amazing effect, really," Hulet said. "A lot of people didn't believe [Efimov] at first. It was a very strange prediction."

The theory is unique because it's a solution to a special case of what's called the "three-body" problem. Scientists have solved the "two-body" problem - that is, they have calculated exactly how two objects should move based on their starting positions, masses and velocities. Scientists can also calculate this scenario for many masses, but a pure solution to the general three-body problem has been elusive.

"Physicists can handle two-body problems quite well, and many-body problems fairly well, but when there are just a few objects, like the three bodies in these Efimov trimers, there are just too many variables," Hulet said.

The Efimov calculation isn't the solution to the general case, but rather a solution to a specific case of three bodies. Thus, discovering a real-life example of three particles fulfilling his prediction is an important step to learning more about few-body physics.

Someone In Arizona Needs To Go To Jail For Awhile

Database trouble:
PHOENIX, AZ -- More misconduct has been alleged against Arizona Republican Party executive director Brett Mecum, who is now the subject of a criminal complaint alleging he used the Republican's voter database to stalk a young female graduate student.

The affidavit, filed last month with the local sheriff's office, alleges that Mecum "is using Voter Vault to stalk." Voter Vault is used by the Republican Party to micro-target the party's message and to canvas specific demographics. The complainant was celebrating her acceptance into an East Coast graduate school on August 29 at her home when Mecum showed up uninvited. She reveals details about Voter Volt in her sworn affidavit:
I did not invite Brett Mecum. He is rather creepy and intimidating around women. I did not want to expose my guests to that kind of individual. I was shocked to see him show up at my party. He had never been to my house, and I had never told him where I lived. I asked him how he found my address, and he responded "I looked it up on Voter Vault, I called a staffer to look it up for me there."
Other local women are alleging that Mecum's behavior from the night described above fits an ugly pattern. According to the sworn affidavit, the young woman whose doorstep Mecum showed up on felt threatened:
[Mecum] alluded to power, connections, and authority as a result of his position as Executive Director of the Arizona Republican Party. I have also seen what malicious things he has done to others and do not want to be subjected to similar retaliatory actions.

According to the affidavit, the complainant only came forward because she "would be helping other women by stopping this behavior." She went on to say, "I am concerned for my safety and the safety of other women who have either been or might be stalked by him using Voter Vault. Like me, they were likely threatened by him if they report his harassment and are afraid to come forward"

...Pullen said later in his statement,
"He used Voter Vault. The Republican National Committee owns Voter Vault....It's a private list. We own the list. We can do what we want with the list, quite frankly.
Mecum has been treated favorably by the court system in the past. He was arrested in May at the Arizona Republican Party headquarters for criminal speeding after his photo was snapped as he drove 109 miles per hour on a local freeway in the wee hours. The case was later thrown out when Mecum was lucky enough to have his case assigned to a judge who just happens to believe that freeway cameras are unconstitutional. Ironically, Mecum had been on a radio talk show in February and told the host that speeding tickets are just "another Democrat tax" and went on to say
"If you're rich, you can afford to speed because you can go as fast as you want, pay the fine, and there is no actual penalty." (In Mecum's case, the penalty was a few hours in jail.)

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

It's About The Leadership

Or lack thereof:
So what's the difference? Why with 60 votes are Democrats so ineffective, but with 50 votes Republicans excel?

What the GOP lacked in numbers, they made up for in backbone, cunning and leadership. Say what you will about George Bush, he wasn't afraid of a fight. If anything, the Bush administration, and the Republicans in Congress, seemed to relish taking on Democrats, and seeing just how far they could get Democratic members of Congress to cave on their promises and their principles. Hell, even Senator Barack Obama, who once famously promised to lead a filibuster against the FISA domestic eavesdropping bill, suddenly changed his mind and actually voted for the legislation. Such is the power of a president and a congressional leadership with balls and smarts.

How did they do it? Bush was willing to use his bully pulpit to create an environment in which the opposition party feared taking him on, feared challenging his agenda, lest they be seen as unpatriotic and extreme. By going public, early and often, with his beliefs, Bush was able to fracture the Democratic opposition (and any potential dissent in his own party) and forestall any effort to mount a filibuster against the most important items in his agenda.

It's not about the votes, people. It's about leadership. The current occupant of the White House doesn't like to fight, and the leadership in Congress has never been as good at their jobs, at marshaling their own party, as the Republicans were when they were in the majority. The President is supposed to rally the country, effectively putting pressure on opposition members of Congress to sit down and shut up. And the congressional leadership is supposed to rally its members to hold the line, and get the 51 votes necessary for passing legislation in a climate where the minority is too afraid to use the filibuster. When you have a President who is constitutionally, or intellectually, unable to stand for anything, and a congressional leadership that, rather than disciplining its own members and forging ahead with its own agenda, cedes legislative authority to a president who refuses to lead, you have a recipe for exactly what happened last night. Weakness, chaos, and failure.

Howard Dean Leads A Charge

Kill it!:
In a blow to the bill grinding through the Senate, Howard Dean bluntly called for the bill to be killed in a pre-recorded interview set to air later this afternoon, denouncing it as “the collapse of health care reform in the United States Senate,” the reporter who conducted the interview tells me.

Dean said the removal of the Medicare buy-in made the bill not worth supporting, and urged Dem leaders to start over with the process of reconciliation in the interview, which is set to air at 5:50 PM today on Vermont Public Radio, political reporter Bob Kinzel confirms to me.

The gauntlet from Dean — whose voice on health care is well respsected among liberals — will energize those on the left who are mobilizing against the bill, and make it tougher for liberals to embrace the emerging proposal. In an excerpt Kinzel gave me, Dean says:
“This is essentially the collapse of health care reform in the United States Senate. Honestly the best thing to do right now is kill the Senate bill, go back to the House, start the reconciliation process, where you only need 51 votes and it would be a much simpler bill.”

A Dark Day For Liberals, But....

At least one good thing is happening:
A third of The New Republic's staff will be let go, FishbowlDC sources have confirmed.

"I'm still rooting for information myself," said a TNR writer on background."A third of the staff, that's correct."

It is uncertain at this point whether it is a third of the editorial staff or a third of total staff. The writer added, "I guess this was bound to happen at some point. Everyone's downsizing. Whatever."

Just Call Me A Health Care Reform Pollyanna!

Terribly bad, dark day in liberal precincts. Through gross incompetence, the inability to fully-comprehend Joe Lieberman's dark malice, Harry Reid managed to hand all power to that same Dark Prince:
Worse yet, the months of dithering on the bill accomplished the worst possible scenario: the whiplash effect of raising, and then subsequently lowering, expectations. The neverending litany of mixed messages coming from both the Senate and the White House left the left-of-center Democratic base with false hopes that emanated from the false starts of those entities, who vacillated between bold and contemptibly timid.

The GOP, for what it is worth, was always through with you, despite your numerous attempts to find ways to please them and appeal to them. This will still get scant, if any, Republican votes, no matter how much the bill was neutered in response to their criticism. And they will still, after all this, find ways to call you dangerous socialists about 23,000 times between now and November of 2010.

The "independent voter", meanwhile, has seen the spectacle of the past several months. They have seen Senate Democrats, "led" by their Majority Leader, adopt six different bargaining positions a day, where reports of negotiation (and/or capitulation) were met with an immediate forceful denial from some spokesperson, only to be confirmed within hours.

They have concluded that Democrats cannot govern worth a damn. They may well be right.

So, congratulations, guys. It takes a tremendous amount of skill to singlehandedly imperil a Congressional majority and return bargaining power to a political party that has been spending the last five years circling the drain. Perhaps John Boehner and Mitch McConnell will send you a "thank you" card.
Terribly bad stuff, but, oddly enough, I lean towards optimism on all this. I think I’m optimistic because I’m still in relatively-good health and so have less to lose than less-fortunate folks (like almost everyone around me).

This health-care reform legislation will be clearly and immediately seen to be an unworkable fiasco, and so round two will start, ASAP. Serious progress, if it ever comes, will have to await even larger LIBERAL-Democratic majorities (no more Blue Dogs). And those large majorities could well come, because health care is in a state of chronic and advancing crisis. The health-care crisis is just going to get worse, unless the core issues are addressed (and they haven’t been, although the reform, such as it is, is a step in the right direction). People will continue to die from neglectful and expensive health care.

If I’m lucky, I’ll continue to evade trouble long enough to see some serious legislation get passed.

I like Ed Kilgore’s Option 2, at this link:
(1) Forget about Lieberman and go after Snowe and/or Collins. It would obviously be satisfying to most Democrats to deny Joe Lieberman the opportunity to be King of the Senate and Arbiter of Health Reform, or more to the point, the chance to screw up or kill the legislation down the road....

(2) Give Lieberman what he wants and then fix the legislation later. The key argument here is that the very items Lieberman is objecting to--an option for some younger Americans to buy into Medicare, and any sort of public option--are budget savers which could without question be added later (say, next year) via the budget reconciliation route, which only requires 50 votes....

(3) Threaten Lieberman with loss of his seniority unless he votes for cloture. Without question, it was a major mistake for the Democratic Caucus to allow Lieberman to maintain his seniority after the 2008 elections without an ironclad pledge that he would support the Caucus on all procedural votes, including cloture votes....

(4) Reframe the bill to use reconciliation. This is the strategy many progressives have been urging all along, for the obvious reason that it gets rid of the need for more than 50 Senate votes and also would make it vastly easier to craft a Senate bill that's close enough to the House bill to avoid friction in a House-Senate conference....

(5) Go back to the drawing board. Before resorting to any of the above unsavory options, health reform supporters will undoubtedly make some effort to devise yet another compromise that can obtain that 60th vote without losing existing supporters....

To You, And Yours!

From Deborah McMillion-Nering.

Can't Sleep - Memento ft. Anita Kelsey

Monday, December 14, 2009

Tropical Cyclone Laurence

The forecasts are showing Tropical Cyclone Laurence is unusually potent and will bring lots of rain as it blunders into Australia's interior over the next week.

Basta!



Worrisome, yet understandable:
There are only so many times one can hit the repeat button, but I just cannot get enough of this video because I am still in shock: Somebody actually hit Silvio Berlusconi. The Italian Prime Minister had become this larger than life figure mainly through his masterful manipulation of the Italian press and media, 90% of which he owns.

The Italian Prime Minister had cultivated an image of himself as an untouchable and unbeatable force. He not only runs his country, but he practically owns everything in it!

...Yesterday, seeing him battered and bleeding on my television screen was like discovering the mortality of a supposedly immortal character in Greek mythology.

But it was only a matter of time before someone let Berlusconi know how people really feel about him. Of course attacking the Prime Minister with a metal statue of Milan's Duomo is a tad bit dramatic, but we could not have expected anything less spectacular from the Italians!

...Despite the obvious security questions which naturally surface with the assault on Berlusconi, (who would have thought it would be so easy?!), the attack symbolizes something deeper: Italians have had enough. For the past few years, but especially in recent months, Berlusconi's reckless and pompous behavior have made a mockery of both Italy and the Italians.

Furthermore, his repulsive infatuation with women is so offensive and derogatory it takes sexism to a whole new level because it is being conducted by a head of state. Stacking his Parliament with attractive, but unqualified former beauty queens and actresses in countless and meaningless positions is an insult to women the world over. Berlusconi objectifies and exploits women with impunity. It is no wonder that earlier this month, thousands of Italians marched in the streets of Rome demanding he resign.

The era of Berlusconi has just received a massive blow. Silvio's seemingly unbreakable image has been broken, and in the process the people of Italy have reclaimed their self-respect from their buffoon Prime Minister.

Watch the footage above. And feel free to hit repeat all you want.

Kelley Jakle On "The Sing-Off"

The Sacramento community musical theater talent gets a wider audience:
Kelley Jakle remembers being in fourth or fifth grade in Sacramento when the boy-band craze took off.

"I was on board," she said. "I was at that quintessential age when boy bands were everything."

Maybe not everything, but she did have the posters on the walls and ceiling, said Jakle, now a 20-year-old junior at the University of Southern California.

Starting tonight, she will share the spotlight with one of those boy-band idols: Nick Lachey, a member of 98 Degrees.

Lachey is the host of "The Sing-Off," NBC's latest talent show-style offering.

It features eight a capella groups, including Jakle's SoCal VoCals.

A graduate of Loretto High School in Sacramento, Jakle has been singing since she was walking around the house as a toddler, belting out songs.

As a teen, she did musical theater, flew to Seattle to try out for "American Idol" and sang "The Star-Spangled Banner" at sporting events, including a 2006 San Francisco 49ers game.

...Over four days – today through Wednesday, and next Monday, all at 8 p.m. – the group will be shown competing against others for a $100,000 prize and a recording contract.

Not that Jakle's counting on the win.

"We have to just take it day by day, work hard," she said. "It's an honor just to be on the show."

...Home audience voting is another factor in the show, and one that has Jakle doubly regretting this year's closure of Loretto.

"It was a shock," she said. "I would have been so excited to have an alma mater watching the show."

Jakle, speaking between rehearsals for the show, was excited nevertheless. Years after dedicating her walls to boy bands, she's now onstage with – sigh – Nick Lachey.

"He's a good-looking guy, and I'm glad he's still in the industry," she said. "He's got a lot of talent and a lot of charisma."

So do the competitors, she said.

She couldn't reveal any songs ahead of time, but urged people to watch tonight on Channel 3 (KCRA).

"There's going to be a lot of great performances from a lot of groups around the country," she said.

Jakle's singing can be heard online at www.myspace.com/ kelleyjakle, www.myspace.com/ bythewayrocks and scvocals.com.

That Was The Implicit Deal, After All

The fact that Obama now has to make the deal explicit is a bad sign. The banksters don't get it. Don't they understand? Sad. But even a mule will eventually get it if you hit it with a baseball bat hard enough and often enough. What's the excuse of the banksters?

When Obama says "I did not run for office to be helping out a bunch of, you know, fat-cat bankers on Wall Street," that's technically true, but his entire modus operandi since he took office has been to do exactly that:
Even as another major bank announced it was repaying its bailout money, President Obama today told executives from the nation's largest financial institutions to return the taxpayer's largesse in an additional way -- increase lending to small businesses to help the economy create more jobs.

"My main message in today's meeting was very simple: that America's banks received extraordinary assistance from American taxpayers to rebuild their industry, and now that they're back on their feet we expect an extraordinary commitment from them to help rebuild our economy," Obama said after a White House meeting today that he described as "candid and productive."

That sort of pay-it-forward duty "starts with finding ways to help creditworthy small and medium-sized businesses get the loans that they need to open their doors, grow their operations and create new jobs," the president said.

Just A Few Civil Republicans Left

And their voices are feeble:
George H. W. Bush was "deeply offended" by Republican congressman Joe Wilson's shout of "You lie!" to President Barack Obama during Obama's address to Congress in September, and the former one-term president is calling on US politicians to rise to "a certain decorum and civility."

During an interview with Parade magazine, Bush expressed disappointment with what he sees as a degrading American political debate.

"There has to be a certain decorum and civility," Bush said, adding that Rep. Wilson's shout of "You lie!" during the president's address on health care to a joint session of Congress "smashed" the decorum of Congress. "I thought, 'How have we gotten here?'"

In The Center Of Nevada

On the long, long drive between Las Vegas and Reno, there are many godforsaken valleys, but in the most godforsaken valley of them all, right in the middle of the center of desolation, it's always startling to find the bright lights of the Shady Lady brothel. I've been tempted to stop (out of curiosity about where they get their water in such a place), but I always race past at 75 mph.

Now, the Shady Lady will feature a larger selection.

And now I'll race past at 80 mph (unless someone can explain the water, of course):
Technically, male prostitution wasn't expressly prohibited before, but health codes required "that prostitutes must undergo 'cervical' testing for sexually transmitted diseases," leaving those without a cervix out of a job. Bobbi Davis, owner of the Shady Lady Ranch, hired an ACLU lawyer to ask that the language be changed, and the health board approved the request. Davis intends to have male prostitutes working for her in the new year. Like her female employees, they'll decide whether to accept men, women or both as clients.

Although Davis and other brothel owners will probably be happy to have a new revenue stream in tough economic times, you know that whenever the subject of men having sex with men comes up, somebody's going to A) be unhappy and B) say something remarkably stupid on the record. In this case, the outrageously offensive overstatement of the day award goes to George Flint, longtime lobbyist for the Nevada Brothel Owners Association (and a former Assemblies of God minister), who called the decision "Pearl Harbor for the brothel industry." He predicts "fallout and backlash" because "Some may feel it's a repugnant thing to do or something that does not have the appetite of the state as a whole." As opposed to female prostitution, which everyone's thrilled about? Yep, if you ask Flint. "We've worked hard for years to make the traditional brothel business in this state socially acceptable and something we can be proud of that most Nevadans accept," he said. But clearly, a population that's cool with female prostitution, gambling and drive-thru wedding chapels will find the idea of men selling sex unacceptably tacky. Of course.

Keep It Classy

Family feuds are the worst:
Flynt accused his brother Jimmy Flynt's sons in federal court of tarnishing his image by launching Flynt Media Corp. and producing a series of videos he says are nothing but cheap knockoffs.

"The junk they publish hurts my reputation, which in turn hurts my revenue," the gruff, gravelly voiced porn king testified in U.S. District Court this week, where a Flynt family feud is playing out before a stone-faced jury and a no-nonsense judge.

...He testified that his nephews, Jimmy Flynt Jr. and Dustin Flynt, were a pair of bumbling, incompetent employees that he only kept on the payroll for years out of a sense of family obligation.

..."I felt they were doing a horrible job," said Flynt, who owns Hustler magazine and other publications, operates Internet Web sites, retail stores, produces films, owns pricey real estate and even markets a line of clothing.

Their father, who isn't named in the lawsuit, is fighting his own battle with Flynt in Ohio, suing his brother for attempting to evict him from a building in Cincinnati where he operates a Hustler retail store.

Larry Flynt, whose privately owned company has been said to be worth tens of millions of dollars, testified Wednesday that he terminated his brother last year to save money for his legal battle against the nephews.

...Jimmy Jr., 37, and Dustin Flynt, 34, testified that when they named their company and began producing videos with "FLYNT" in large letters on the boxes they had no intention of being confused with their uncle.

Although not household names to mainstream audiences as their uncle is, both insisted they are celebrities within the more insular world of porn and would be quickly found out if they tried to pass their work off as his.

"There was nothing to gain in trying to trick the trade," said Jimmy Flynt Jr., who bears a striking resemblance to his square-jawed uncle.

They also said their videos are classy, the design of the boxes less cluttered and more modern than what their uncle's company puts out and the sex is done tastefully.

"With the new line we are looking to bring back the class and elegance of erotica," said Dustin Flynt.

For his part, Larry Flynt acknowledged that although he long ago trademarked his well-known Hustler brand, he never got around to trademarking his name.

"I just never heard of someone using someone else's name," he said.

Still, he said, that name often appears on Hustler-produced videos, frequently on the top of the box, in the words "Larry Flynt's Private Collection."

And that, Flynt and his lawyers say, is an assurance to purchaser that they're getting the highest-quality porn their money can buy.

So, It's Been A Little Too Quiet In The Neighborhood...

It's been awful quiet in my neighborhood lately. Too quiet!

When I arrived home, there was evidence someone had casually tried to break into my garage. The garage is blocked from opening from the outside, but someone had been trying!

This morning, I had to bring out Sparky's old pooper scooper. Three big diarrehic piles of human excrement, mixed in with the gravel, were sitting by the back gate.

Nice!

Hopscotch Around The Southwest

Albuquerque to Phoenix to Ontario to Sacramento!

Visit With Cousin Fred

Fred's got a nice view outside his front door!

Fun visit!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Trying To Figure Out The Vampire Thang

My sister has the "True Blood" HBO TV series (starring Ana Pacquin) on DVD, so we watched the first two episodes.

Fun!

Like the T-Shirt slogan says "Only a vampire can love you forever"!

Dinner At Jasmine Thai and Sushi House

After Old Town, we ate at my high school classmate Steve Zaintz' Jasmine Thai and Sushi House. To my surprise, Steve's close friend and our mutual acquaintance Jeff Brofsky was also there (we've all rendezvoused in Las Vegas several times, but like they say, what happens in Vegas stays in my blog)..

We were joined by my nephew Aaron and his girlfriend Angelica.

Excellent, excellent food (I ordered #46), and a fine atmosphere too!

Marc Valdez & Steve Zaintz, West Mesa High School Class of 1974, and fellow classmates in Mr. Norton's Physics class.

Christmas Shopping In Old Town

Statue of Sheepherder Fox at the Albuquerque History Museum.


We spent a pleasant afternoon Christmas shopping amongst all the Native American gee-gaws and trinkets in Old Town, Albuquerque's go-to place for these sorts of things. Unlike most shopping expeditions, I was very quick and decisive about shopping choices.

So much fun, we plan to make this joint activity a new family tradition!