Thursday, June 25, 2009

Goodbye, Michael

Turning into a hell of a day for celebrities. Michael Jackson too has reportedly died today.
Entertainer Michael Jackson has died after being taken to a hospital on Thursday after suffering cardiac arrest, according to multiple reports including the Los Angeles Times and the Associated Press. CNN has not confirmed his death.

Jackson, 50, had been in a coma at the hospital, sources told CNN.

Brian Oxman, a Jackson family attorney, said he was told by brother Randy Jackson that Michael Jackson collapsed at his home in west Los Angeles Thursday morning.

Family members were told of the situation and were either at the hospital or en route, Oxman said.

Fire Capt. Steve Ruda told CNN a 911 call came in from a west Los Angeles residence at 12:21 p.m.

Ruda said Jackson was treated and transferred to the UCLA Medical Center.

Ironically, today happens to be my parents' birthday (yes, both of them, it's rather romantic and I'm convinced it's how they've stayed together for nearly 40 years now, it's not like they can forget each other's birthday.)

Beginnings and endings today.

Tech Support For Tehran

No really, that's John McCain's brilliant plan: to get better internets for Iran!
Three U.S. senators said Thursday they will introduce legislation funding a package of assistance to help get around the Tehran regime's information block.

"The Iranian government recognizes that Internet is a threat to its stranglehold over society and is trying to impose its repressive controls over it," Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, said. "The legislation would authorize funds to ensure that Iranians have the hardware, software and other tools to evade the censorship and surveillance of the regime online."

McCain joined fellow Sens. Joe Lieberman, D-Connecticut, and Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, at a news conference to announce the legislation, which they said is an effort to support the Iranian people.

I have an idea, boys. How about we worry about getting Americans better internet first?

Another Milepost On The Road To Oblivion

Because the GOP is out of fresh reasons to hate Barack Obama, the Village provides some. He's just too perfect, the asshole.

Let’s be honest: Barack Obama is better than you are.

He’s a better father — taking breaks from running the world to cheer on his daughters at soccer and basketball games.

He’s a better husband — zipping his wife off for dinner in New York and Paris.

He’s got a better diet — nibbling on vegetables from his homegrown garden to keep his love handles in check.

And he’s got a terrific jump shot.

You? Not so much.

Why haven't we impeached this inhuman monster already?

Why We Must Have A Public Option

Because the private health care options we pay for now are all about profits for insurers, not about getting care.

Health insurers have forced consumers to pay billions of dollars in medical bills that the insurers themselves should have paid, according to a report released yesterday by the staff of the Senate Commerce Committee.

The report was part of a multi-pronged assault on the credibility of private insurers by Commerce Committee Chairman John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.). It came at a time when Rockefeller, President Obama and others are seeking to offer a public alternative to private health plans as part of broad health-care reform legislation. Health insurers are doing everything they can to block the public option.

At a committee hearing yesterday, three health-care specialists testified that insurers go to great lengths to avoid responsibility for sick people, use deliberately incomprehensible documents to mislead consumers about their benefits, and sell "junk" policies that do not cover needed care. Rockefeller said he was exploring "why consumers get such a raw deal from their insurance companies."

The star witness at the hearing was a former public relations executive for major health insurers whose testimony boiled down to this: Don't trust the insurers.

"The industry and its backers are using fear tactics, as they did in 1994, to tar a transparent and accountable -- publicly accountable -- health-care option," said Wendell Potter, who until early last year was vice president for corporate communications at the big insurer Cigna.

Potter said he worries "that the industry's charm offensive, which is the most visible part of duplicitous and well-financed PR and lobbying campaigns, may well shape reform in a way that benefits Wall Street far more than average Americans."

Insurers make paperwork confusing because "they realize that people will just simply give up and not pursue it" if they think they have been shortchanged, Potter said.

Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) questioned the government's ability to make matters clearer, saying federal regulation of mortgage disclosures has made the documents that borrowers encounter in real estate transactions "hopelessly complicated."

Potter's successor as spokesman for Cigna said the company strongly disagrees "with the suggestion that, motivated by profits, the insurance industry has deliberately attempted to confuse or unfairly treat covered individuals."

"At CIGNA we are committed to improving the current system," spokesman Chris Curran said by e-mail.

The report released yesterday alleges that insurers have systematically underpaid for out-of-network care. The issue had been brought to light previously in litigation, committee hearings and other investigations, including a probe by New York Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo. But as politicians and interests groups clash over the current effort to overhaul the nation's health-care system, it took on new relevance.

Cuomo described it last year as "a scheme by health insurers to defraud consumers by manipulating reimbursement rates."

Many Americans pay higher premiums for the freedom to go outside an insurer's network of doctors and hospitals. When they do, insurers typically pay a percentage of what they call the "usual and customary" rates for the services. How insurers determine the usual rates had long been opaque to consumers and difficult if not impossible for them to challenge.

As it turns out, insurers typically used numbers from Ingenix, a wholly owned subsidiary of the big insurer UnitedHealth Group. Ingenix had an incentive to produce benchmarks that low-balled usual and customary rates and shifted costs from insurers to their customers, the report said.

Ingenix got its data from the same insurers that bought its benchmark information, the report said. Insurers that contributed information to Ingenix often "scrubbed" their data to remove high charges, and Ingenix further manipulated the numbers, removing valid high charges from its calculations, the report said.

Several reactions to this article:

Casinos have nothing. Nothing. On insurance companies. You want to talk about rigging the game so the house always wins? Casinos make their money off pulling in large numbers of losers with money. Insurance companies do the same, only they get to collude with all the other insurance companies to make sure nobody wins. Ever. Insurance companies are the only business I can think of where they actively pursue the model that doing the job you pay them for is the worst outcome possible, and it should be avoided at all costs.

What is it with Republicans saying "We're not convinced that government can do this function better. Ergo, we refuse to let government try." That is literally their answer to every problem. They complain that government will put health insurance companies out of business. I fail to see how that would be a bad thing. After all, the problem is the current health care system is broken and requires radical change. The radical change the Republicans want to provide is doing absolutely nothing and letting insurance companies continue to defraud customers at a cost of billions every year, not to mention lives.

We must have a public option. Without it, nothing even begins to count as reform.

Goodbye, Farrah

Several news outlets are reporting at this hour that actress Farrah Fawcett has lost her battle with cancer.

More on this as it comes in.

[UPDATE 1:16 PM] The LA Times has the obit.
Farrah Fawcett, who soared to fame as a national sex symbol in the late 1970s on television's campy "Charlie's Angels" and in a swimsuit poster that showcased her feathery mane and made her a generation's favorite pinup, died today at 62, according to Reuters.

Fawcett, whose celebrity overshadowed her ability as a serious actress, was diagnosed with a rare anal cancer in 2006.

Three months after she was declared cancer-free in 2007, doctors at UCLA Medical Center told her the cancer had returned, spreading to her liver, and she repeatedly sought experimental treatment in Germany.

As an actress, Fawcett was initially dismissed for her role as Jill Munroe in "Charlie's Angels," one of the "jiggle" series on ABC-TV in the late 1970s.

But she transformed her career and some popular perceptions in 1984 with "The Burning Bed," a television movie about a battered wife that brought her the first of three Emmy nominations. She further established herself as an actress in the play and later feature film "Extremities," about a rape victim who takes revenge on her attacker.

For many, the poster of her wearing a wet one-piece swimsuit and a blinding smile endured.

"If you were to list 10 images that are evocative of American pop culture, Farrah Fawcett would be one of them," Robert Thompson, a professor of television and popular culture at Syracuse University, told The Times. "That poster became one of the defining images of the 1970s."
Cancer is always a tough battle, especially to have it go into remission and then come back to claim you like that. Wishes go out to the family and friends.

Yes, Even Scalia Thought This Was Crap

Amazingly enough, the Roberts court sent down an 8-1 decision that school officials strip searching 13-year old girls just might be mildly unconstitutional.

In a closely watched case filled with poignant facts, the court ruled 8-1 that Arizona school officials violated student Savana Redding's Fourth Amendment rights when they searched her down to her bra and underpants. Officials were looking for pain relievers, which they didn't find.

"The content of the suspicion failed to match the degree of intrusion," Justice David Souter wrote for the majority.

The ruling involving Redding, who's now a college student, has been anticipated by schools nationwide, which must balance concerns about student privacy with adult fears of drug abuse and school violence.

The Safford Middle School nurse and administrative assistant who searched Redding in October 2003 told her to remove her stretch pants and T-shirt. They then directed her to pull her bra to the side and shake it, and to pull out the elastic on her underpants.

They were looking for prescription-strength ibuprofen and over-the-counter naproxen, which another student had suggested might be hers.

"What was missing from the suspected facts that pointed to Savana was any indication of danger to the students from the power of the drugs or their quantity, and any reason to suppose that Savana was carrying pills in her underwear," Souter wrote.

The "combination of these deficiencies was fatal" to the legitimacy of the search, the court concluded. This ruling is likely to clarify for other school administrators nationwide how and when intrusive searches of students might be conducted.

Oh, and guess who thought the school was perfectly within its rights to arbitrarily strip search an honor student based on hearsay evidence?
Justice Clarence Thomas was the only member of the court to decide that the search of Redding was reasonable.
Yeah, not like ol' Clarence there has anything against women. Look, if even Scalia thinks the school was wrong, you're out on the windy, windy limb by your lonesome in legal hell, CT.

Still, I hope this puts an end to zero tolerance in schools. There is a limit, and children in schools are still human beings, not prisoners.

Still Crazy After All These Weeks

It's nice to know that with all the chaos going on this summer in the economy and in Iran and the middle East, Michele Bachmann's delusional rants are disturbingly consistent.

Don't ever change, and I mean that.

Default, Cali Style Part 2

Martin Weiss of Weiss Research says that California defaulting on its $59 billion in debt is "unavoidable".
In a new report, Weiss has some rather blunt advice for California muni investors: "Sell all California paper now!" His reasoning? California is facing a $24 billion budget gap with no obvious way to close it.

The state has appealed to Washington for a federal bailout, but it got a cool response from the Obama Administration. The next step is draconian cuts in state services and payroll, but Weiss says that will only deepen the "depression" in California, where the unemployment rate is 11.5%, by further cutting into tax revenue.

Asked to put odds on California defaulting on its $59 billion in outstanding general obligation bonds, Weiss doesn't hedge. "It's unavoidable," he tells Fortune.

If he's right, the impact on investors would be far broader and deeper than Bernie Madoff, General Motors (GMGMQ) or any of the other investment implosions that have occurred over the past year. Municipal bonds tend to be a retail product, which means that those most affected by a large muni bond default are not endowments, banks, or foreign governments but mom-and-pop investors.

A California default would be especially devastating for two reasons: Munis have generally been viewed as a safe haven and California is the nation's largest issuer of tax-exempt bonds. According to Morningstar, assets in California muni bond funds now total $46 billion -- with billions more of California bonds held in national muni funds and individual bond portfolios.

In other words, should California miss a payment, the muni market turns into a chum factory during Shark Week, not to mention California's credit would be through, leaving the state unable to float more bonds without a heavy cost. Everyone out there who invested in California bonds would be holding increasingly worthless paper, and that $24 billion gap would end up growing as tax revenues are eaten up by credit costs.

In other words, California would no longer be a going concern without a bailout. It's not a question of if anymore, but when. One seventh of the population of America and 55 electoral votes will have long memories of internal state politics, but the national reponse to Cali's current disaster may have a much larger impact on everyone.

Even Republicans aren't going to write off California. They may not want to bailout, but you'd better believe they'll have to give one out.

If It's Thursday...

Jobless claims and continuing claims actually went back up from last week to 627,000 and 6.74 million, respectively. Not good. The new normal is still pretty bad. Here's the killer part of the article:
Millions of Americans also are receiving jobless benefits through a federal extension enacted by Congress last year. For the week ending June 6, more than 2.4 million people received benefits under the extension, which adds 20 to 33 weeks on top of the 26 weeks typically provided by states.

About 288,000 people also are receiving benefits under state emergency programs, bringing the total jobless benefit rolls to nearly 8.8 million that week. The extended benefits data lags initial claims by two weeks.

So yeah, more and more people are falling into those unemployment benefit extensions and state emergency fund black holes.

It's only going to get worse, too.

Facing The Consequences

While many of us are struggling just to keep it together month after month, the news this summer in London's financial community is BAB...bonuses are back.

BAB stands for Bonuses are Back, and its arrival in the lexicon of the Square Mile is evidence that bankers are once again looking forward to bumper payouts, just eight months after the sector faced meltdown and governments worldwide were required to prop them up.

It is universally accepted that the vast rewards available to bankers for taking huge risks were the root cause of the crisis, but nevertheless Goldman Sachs's 28,000 staff – 5,400 of them in London – are now looking forward to the biggest payouts in the bank's 140-year history. Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank, Barclays Capital, JP Morgan and Morgan Stanley are also anticipating bumper profits.

Even Royal Bank of Scotland, which is now 70% owned by the UK taxpayer and was supposed to restrict the way it pays bonuses, is back in bonanza mode. In March, a key executive was awarded millions of shares and options, already worth more than £8m. This week it emerged that the new chief executive, Stephen Hester, has a £15m pay package.

Just months after showing staff the door there's a hiring frenzy in the investment banks. Business is booming – in no small part as a result of the financial chaos caused by the bankers. The bond markets are hectic as a result of governments' need to finance their deficits, while economic problems have created (profitable) volatility in the foreign exchange markets. Even guaranteed bonuses have made a comeback.

And of course they have the money to do this. We gave it to them through counter-party deals. We spent tens of billions bailing out the likes of AIG, who turned around and gave that money to the banksters. They are having the best year on record in 2009. They're driving up yet another massive bubble in the markets to try to make the green.

They've gone right back to the same behavior that created the collapse in the first place, because they know if this current bubble pops, the world's governments have no choice but to bail them right back out again or face the complete financial ruin of the globe. The time of Permanent Moral Hazard is upon us.

Banks are right back at the gambling table, only this time they have taxpayer money. They'll keep it all, too. Billions and billions in free taxpayer money to make massive profits and to keep playing the game, that's all that matters now.

We exist to pay the banksters to make stuff up to get rich from. The rest of us are just peons and serfs...and nobody dares to cross the feudal lords that run the world.

And when this bubble pops just like all the others, then what? When what little middle class wealth is decimated by this new bubble and Americans have nothing...then what?


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