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January 30, 2009

Senate Passes (S-CHIP) Health Insurance Bill for Children

Yeah – finally a government by the people for the people!!!

Yesterday the Senate overwhelmingly approved legislation to provide health insurance to 11 million low-income children — a bill that will for the first time spend federal money to cover children and pregnant women who are legal immigrants.

During the presidential campaign, then Senator Obama pledged to provide coverage to every American child.

The State Children’s Health Insurance Program (S-CHIP), which is aimed at families earning too much money to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to afford private insurance, currently covers close to 7 million youngsters at a cost of $25 billion.

Lawmakers voted 66 to 32, largely along party lines, to renew the joint state-federal program and spend an additional $32.8 billion to expand coverage to 4 million more children. The expansion would be paid for by raising the cigarette tax from 39 cents to $1 a pack.

President Obama is expected to sign a final version as early as next week.

Democratic lawmakers, noting that President George W. Bush twice vetoed similar legislation, praised the vote as evidence of the changing Washington landscape.

“Low-income, uninsured kids all across America have been waiting for Congress to fulfill the promise of the Children’s Health Insurance Program for them,” said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (Mont.). The program “works to get low-income, uninsured kids the doctor’s visits and medicines they need to stay healthy, and approval of this bill opens the door of the doctor’s office to millions of children who live without proper health care today.”

Governors, business executives and consumer advocates lobbied for the expansion, arguing that more and more families have sought the assistance in this weakened economy.

“During this economic turmoil, it is critical that we maintain and strengthen this important lifeline to our nation’s children and that we help financially strapped states respond to the growing need for affordable health-care coverage,” said Cindy Mann, executive director of Georgetown University’s Center for Children and Families.

Karen Ignagni, president of America’s Health Insurance Plans, agreed that “we’re not seeing bipartisanship” but said she is optimistic that the public’s overwhelming desire for improvement in the health system will force the two parties to the bargaining table. “People are talking about how to do it as opposed to whether to do it,” she said.


A Few Tips To Help Beat The Recession

1. Cut your spending. Make this a priority. Weigh whether you really need that new flat-screen TV, and maybe going on a luxurious overseas vacation can wait one more year. Making sacrifices this year and living on a tighter budget will leave you much better off in the long run.

2. Reduce your debts. Pay a lump sum on your credit card, and reduce any loan repayments. Make sure that you are paying the lowest rate possible on any loans you have including student loans.

3. Slash your household bills. Make sure you have the cheapest deals for your gas and electricity. If you have a cell phone see if there are cheaper options available. Chances are if you have been under the same contract for more than two years there might be a better deal out there for you.

4. Put money away for a rainy day and make sure you have a cushion of cash savings.  Try to have 6 months worth of total monthly expenses saved.

Normally, when a recession strikes, interest rates are cut. This can be good news for homeowners as it means the price of mortgages will fall.

There are some good mortgage rates available, but don’t take the risk if you cannot afford to. Taking a fix rate might mean that you miss out on a possible rate cut, but it does give you the peace of mind of knowing what your monthly mortgage payment will be.

5. If your budget gets really tight then there are some drastic options available for reducing your monthly repayments. You could move some of your loan to interest only for a short time. Or increase your mortgage term from 25 years, to 30 or 40. Don’t skip mortgage repayments.

6. Don’t change jobs. Companies make cutbacks when their profits get hit and staff is usually the first to be axed from the balance sheet. New employees can often be first in the firing line.

January 29, 2009

President Obama Loves ‘Single Ladies’

President Barack Obama has admitted to being a “Single Ladies” fan.

In a behind-the-scenes video from the presidential inauguration festivities, posted on singer John Legend’s Web site, the President was captured telling Beyonce that he’d done her dance routine from the “Single Ladies” video for the First Family.

“Mr. President, you didn’t tell Beyonce about ‘Single Ladies?’ Your rendition?” wife Michelle asked as they greeted the singer and stars including Jay-Z and Mary J. Blige.

“I’m not like Justin [Timberlake], I didn’t put on the outfit,” President Obama answered, referring to a recent “Saturday Night Live” clip, which saw Justin dancing in a leotard and tights to “Single Ladies.” “I didn’t want my girls thinking that I couldn’t, dance y’know – I got a little something.”

In the clip, First Lady Michelle, Vice President Joe Biden and his family joined the President in thanking the stars for their efforts during the campaign.

“You have been so great throughout the race, I am very grateful,” the President told John, and Michelle had kind words for the singer as well.

“You worked hard for this,” she said.

“You worked harder,” John responded.

President Obama is no stranger to showing off his dance moves. He previously tested them out on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” during his campaign.

Watch Obama dance to Snoop Dogg’s ‘Drop it like it’s hot’:


January 27, 2009

Economy: Republicans Impressed By President Obama Despite Differences

President Obama won praise from some of the House’s most conservative lawmakers as “engaging” and “respectful” during his meeting with congressional Republicans Tuesday.

Rep. Bob Inglis (R-S.C.) said that Obama was sincere and “impressive” during his meeting with Republicans Tuesday afternoon.

“There’s real desire in this room to figure a way back to prosperity,” Inglis wrote on Twitter. “[The president] and Republicans here [are] expressing deep concern about unemployment.”

“If [the] President carries this on it does open door for a new tone!” Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.) exclaimed.

“Sharp differences are muted,” Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas) Twittered.

Inglis said that a comment by Obama that he would rather be a one-term president who addressed the economy than a two-term president who did not went particularly well.

“President Obama is speaking to House Republicans right now on Democratic stimulus bill,” wrote Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) on Twitter. “Good sales man, bad product.”

The Twittering lawmakers still took shots at the House Democratic leadership, drawing contrasts between Obama and fellow lawmakers.

“His speech doesn’t match the process that Pelosi and Reid are implementing,” Hoekstra wrote.

“At least Obama has talked about the stimulus for an hour. Which is about an hour longer than Dem leadership has spent with us on this,” Burgess said.

White House Pushes Citi to Give Up $45M Jet

Change and accountability has come to the White House.  Can I get a collective “YEAH”!

The Obama administration pushed struggling Citigroup to reverse their decision after a Treasury Department official called the company on Monday and “told them it was unacceptable to accept delivery of a new $45 million corporate jet.

The move comes as new Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner tries to quickly bring more accountability and oversight to the much- criticized TARP program he now oversees.

Citigroup has already received some $45 billion in government bailout funds, which is why a New York Post report about the scheduled delivery of the new jet sparked outrage.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Monday the president believes private jets aren’t “the best use of money at this point” with America facing a financial crisis.

Citibank spokesman Michael Hanretta said on Tuesday that the company has “no intent to take delivery of any new aircraft.” This came after the company initially said on Monday it could not comment on whether it was purchasing the jet, citing security reasons.

Hours later after the Obama administration contacted them Citi reversed course, issuing a statement saying it signed a contract in 2005 for a replacement aircraft as part of a plan to reduce the number of planes it owns and cut operating costs. “Refusing delivery now would result in millions of dollars in penalties”. “Citi is exploring all its options for these assets, including the potential sale or lease of the aircraft.”

The luxury jet that was to be purchased is a Dessault Falcon 7X, which seats 12. It is so exclusive that Dessault says only 21 are operating around the world, and that the price is listed at $45 million.

January 26, 2009

Towns Are Sad to See Their Prisons Leaving the Scene of the Grime

CHARLESTON, Maine  – One morning recently at the town hall here, Selectwoman Terri-Lynn Hall set out some fresh coffee, crackers and dip for the cleaning crew. “I also make ’em turkeys, bake ’em hams, and serve spaghetti,” she said — “with homemade sauce.”

One of the crew, Rex Call, put down his mop and helped himself to a piping hot mug of joe. “I’d rather be working here than sitting in the cell all day,” said Mr. Call, who — when he’s not out on work-release — is serving two years in state prison for car theft.

Although many people fight fiercely to block prisons from coming to town, Charleston and other communities are feeling an opposite impulse these days. They are fighting to keep their prisons from going away.

Many states, including Maine, Ohio, Washington and New York, want to close or consolidate prisons to save money. Here in Maine, Gov. John Baldacci wants to mothball part of Charleston Correctional Facility and relocate nearly 40% of the inmates, which would cut work-release crews.

But this farming town of 1,500 wants its criminal element to stick around. Town leaders say they don’t know what they will do without the free or ultra-cheap labor the jailbirds provide. “Oh my goodness, gracious, they are such an asset — they are our public-works department,” said Ms. Hall.

Last year, Charleston’s prisoners did 39,337 hours of community work, prison officials say, roughly the equivalent of 19 full-timers. Inmates maintain the five local cemeteries, set up election booths and hang Veteran’s Day flags. They built the log-cabin “snack shack” at a local park, and helped bust up beaver dams in a stream that runs along Bacon Road.

When a minimum-security prison was built in downtown Wooster, Ohio, a decade ago, “we took a lot of heat” from people who didn’t want it, says Capt. Charlie Hardman of the sheriff’s department there. But now that budget cuts could close the facility, he says, “People are concerned. Who is going to pick up the litter?”

Originally, Sandra Hull was antiprison. She heads Main Street Wooster, a downtown-revitalization group — and a building full of criminals wasn’t her idea of an improvement. “I didn’t really want them there,” she says.

‘Wonderful Neighbors’

Today, she wants them to stay. They turned out to be “wonderful neighbors,” Ms. Hull says. Among other things, prisoners shovel snow in front of local shops.

Closure is also being fought by city officials and the local Habitat for Humanity. Habitat’s truck driver, Jesse Smith, has a bad back, so he uses convicts to help him lug around fridges and other heavy items. Sometimes, he says, the inmates gripe about prison life. “I tell these boys, ‘Don’t get an attitude, you’re the one who done it,’ ” Mr. Smith says.

County Commissioner Jim Carmichael says closure is being considered because the prison isn’t profitable, and it’s not fair for cities and towns to get “free labor at a cost to the county.”

In the small city of Medical Lake in eastern Washington, Mayor John Higgins pleaded with his state representative to help keep the nearby Pine Lodge Corrections Center for Women from shuttering. The state is thinking about closing the 350-inmate prison by 2010.

“We use the inmates to run our recycling center — four women five days a week, seven hours a day,” saving the city at least $150,000 a year in labor costs, says Doug Ross, the city administrator. “I don’t exactly know how we’re going to run it without the crew.” Female felons from Pine Lodge also split and stack wood for senior citizens.

Emily Echols, who is 35 and serving time for burglary, shovels snow at a center for disabled adults and doesn’t want to leave Medical Lake. “I’m not too happy,” she says. “I feel like I’m part of this little community,” referring to the town. In addition, moving means “more upheaval and trying to start over again in another prison.”

Inmates typically get little or no pay for their work, but they can earn reduced sentences. Depending on their job, they can also learn a trade, such as construction work or forklift-driving, “rather than just sitting and rotting in a jail,” said Jim Zecca, director of solid waste for Madison County, N.Y. His county is home to a minimum-security state prison that Gov. David Paterson is looking at shuttering to help close a $15.4 billion budget gap.

Mr. Zecca said inmates generate $200,000 in annual revenue for the county by rummaging through its landfill for copper and other valuable scrap. “I just hate to see it go,” said Mr. Zecca of the prison.

There’s a long history of putting prisoners to work. Inmates make license places in Colorado, mattresses in Louisiana and orange safety vests for highway crews in North Carolina. Typically, only prisoners from minimum-security facilities qualify for jobs outside prison walls.

In most instances, work-release inmates are nonviolent offenders who are already near the end of their sentences, giving them very little incentive to stray from the rules. Typically, work crews are supervised by at least one prison official.

Occasionally there is trouble. After all, “You are dealing with an inmate population,” Mr. Zecca says. Once, inmates clearing brush at a local park wandered away, but were eventually found because they got lost in the woods.

At Charleston’s prison, escape attempts in general are rare, officials say, partly because of the nearby wilderness. “If you escape, it’s almost like walking into ‘Deliverance’ out there,” says prison supervisor George Peterson, referring to the movie in which four friends get stalked in the woods by a toothless mountain man.

Once, Mr. Peterson says, an inmate fled and hid in a swamp, but was munched on by so many insects that when the guards found him, he was “screaming to go back to prison.” Mr. Peterson also says work-release inmates sometimes manage to persuade people in town to toss beers over the prison fence.

Some inmates use work-release to try to right previous wrongs. Andrew Sargent, 25 years old, landed in the clink in 2006 after breaking into a convenience store in Dexter, near Charleston. When Dexter’s tiny police department needed its station repainted, Chief Art Roy called for a prison work crew — but specified that he didn’t want to see Mr. Sargent on it, because he had caused trouble in town.

Determined to show he’d changed, Mr. Sargent wrote the chief a letter apologizing for his convenience-store break-in, which involved the theft of cigarettes.

“He had a new attitude,” says Chief Roy.

Mr. Sargent ended up being such a good worker that the chief says he now plans to give him a job reference when Mr. Sargent goes free this month.

Original article by Jennifer Levitz of the WSJ

January 22, 2009

Inauguration Pictures: Congratulations America and POTUS # 44!

 Being in Washington, DC during the Inauguration weekend was especially special.  The depth and breath of the experience cannot be described by words – it’s a sensation that flows through the mind and body and yes Chris Mathews – I felt a tingle down my leg!

Without a doubt President Barack Obama was the ONLY star in town – no one else mattered much.  Just seeing his motorcade drive by was enough to cause men and women to go buckwild and faint right there in the streets.

The thing that touched me most was the togetherness, unity and reaching out to each other by all there.  There was no ‘incident’, no fuss, no fighting, no quarreling even as people accidently stepped on toes or elbowed you in the ribs.  People were polite, cheerful and helpful. 

If you fell someone was there to help you up.  Complete strangers greeted each other with warm embraces and greetings.  During this weekend in Washington race, age, religion or creed did not matter – they were simply forgotten.  There was a sense of unity that I have never experienced in any other setting – ever; and I have been in some loving settings.

The tone truly comes from the top and our President set the tone.  He said,  “out of many we are one” and we listened and we heard him loud and clear. We were one in DC!

A picture is worth a thousand words – here are are few thousand words!

inauguration-swearing-in-capitol-hillinauguration-the-crowdObama Inauguration

inauguration-the-reflecting-poolUS Obama Delawareinauguration-swearing-in-obamasinauguration-swearing-in-kissinauguration-swearing-in-malia-sasha-grandma-auntieObama Inaugurationinauguration-motorcycles-pa-avenueinauguration-obamas-walkObama Inauguration Home States BallObama Inauguration



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