Friday, December 18, 2009

Democrats Strike Deal on Health Care Reform

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., triumphantly announced on Friday that Democrats had struck a deal with Republicans to provide universal health care coverage to “every single American, at zero additional cost to the taxpayers.”

“The time to act is now,” Reid said. “We must seize the moment and enact meaningful reform that will prohibit insurance companies from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions and ensure that no child or adult lacks for medical care.”

President Obama has set a deadline of Christmas for enacting health care reform. He made the issue a centerpiece of his campaign and passage of such legislation would be a major coup.

The compromise has all the major provisions that Democrats — particularly the liberal wing — have long sought, including a public option, the chance for people younger than 65 to buy into Medicare, and permission for the government to negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies. Reid said that he anticipated the inclusion of such items should please liberal groups who have derided the Democrats for abandoning the core principles at stake in order to garner Republican support, as well as enable them to get at least 60 votes to avert a filibuster.

But Reid pointed out that the compromise legislation also has major sweeteners for Republicans, such as zero increase in cost to the taxpayers compared to the current projections over the 10 year budget window, the period in which Congress calculates costs.

Those eager to benefit from this groundbreaking legislation will need patience and longevity, however. The provisions do not take effect until 100 years after passage of the bill, which is expected to come as early as Monday.

“Some people say that congressmen and women just look to getting re-elected, without any thought of how the next generation will bear the consequences of our actions,” Reid. “But this carefully crafted bill belies that stereotype. With this bill, we are ensuring that our childrens' childrens' childrens' children will never want for necessary medicine or suffer from reprehensible emergency room wait times.”

When asked by reporters why they delayed implementation of the legislation for a century, Reid said that they had initially sought a delay of just five years. “[Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.,] was holding out for a 10-year extension but Joe Lieberman insisted that it be 100 years,” Reid acknowledged.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Zhu Zhu Rescue Shelter Created

SUMMERVILLE, S.C. – Zhu Zhu pet hamsters are the must-have present of the 2009 holiday season. They squeak, run through mazes and even ride skateboards without making a mess, making them darlings of kids and their parents.

But Harriet Wortherby knows that a year from now will be a different story. She remembers the Tickle Me Elmo carnage of ‘97 — when just months after parents shelled out big bucks to secure the furry creatures, millions of giggling Elmos were shoved into dusty corners as fickle children transferred their loyalties to Beanie Babies.

In order to turn the inevitable mass abandonment of the hamsters into something positive, Wortherby has established a shelter for the Zhu Zhus at her 50 acre country estate near Summerville and plans to have the hamsters transferred to deserving children in Africa. The shelter is empty now, but she anticipates it will be filled next year. She plans to set up at safe havens at veterinarians’ offices in all 50 states for people to bring the unwanted hamsters, “No questions asked.”

The program, which she is calling “Zhu Zhus for Zulus,” will be modeled after organizations like Aid for AIDS and Recycled AIDS Medicine Program (RAMP), which donate unused AIDS drugs to HIV-positive patients in developing countries. Once a medicine has been prescribed it is illegal to redistribute it within the United States, but there is nothing to bar its redistribution in another country.

The cost of transporting the hamsters will be considerable, but Wortherby has secured the financial backing of animal lover and actress Katherine Heigl, who plays “Izzy” on the hit ABC show Grey’s Anatomy. Heigl’s charity organization, the Jason Debus Heigl Foundation, recently paid $25,000 to fly 25 Chihuahuas from Los Angeles to the East Coast, where they will be adopted and spared an unhappy fate.

California shelters have reported a glut of abandoned Chihuahuas in recent years, due in large part to the heightened profile the breed has enjoyed because of heiress Paris Hilton, whose pet Chihuahua Tinkerbell is a permanent fixture in her handbag. But while the increase in ownership of the yappy dog has been concentrated in California, the Zhu Zhu phenomenon has infected the entire country, with online auction site eBay reporting markups of 500 percent. That’s why Wortherby said that she chose Africa as the recipient of the hamsters.

Wortherby’s proposal has received some criticism by ecologists, who say that releasing the Zhu Zhus without a preliminary study could be tantamount to bringing an invasive species to the continent.

In addition, an informal survey of a Zulu village in South Africa suggested that Zhu Zhus might not be received as gratefully as Wortherby anticipates. “I’d rather have a goat or reliable electricity,” said Mzambo Nkosi, a sentiment echoed by his neighbors. “Or maybe Oprah could expand her school so that my daughter could attend, too.”

Salty Caramel is also a guest correspondent for The Discust. This article can also be found at

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Indianapolis Woman Covets Google Phone

INDIANAPOLIS -- All Linda Williams wants for Christmas is a Google Phone, but it's unlikely she'll get it. The much buzzed about phones were distributed to select Google employees last week but they are not expected to be sold to the public until 2010. The homemaker and mother of three boys said she began obsessing about the phone after a tech savvy college student, who works part time at the library where Williams volunteers, told her it would "crush the iPhone."

Williams switched her email account from AOL to Gmail earlier this year and has been a Google enthusiast ever since, jetissoning Yahoo! search and spending her free time looking at satellite views of friends' houses on Google Maps. Williams says she aspires to be a "premature user," with the Google Phone, apparently referring to the term for an individual who embraces a new technology before it becomes mainstream, more commonly known as "early adopter."

Her family is a bit mystified by her ardor for Google, which they say is becoming an obsession. Fifteen-year-old son Luke said he found his mom on eBay last month, bidding on a Google Wave invite. Once she got one, which Luke was able to get for free after posting a request on Facebook, Williams was disappointed after realizing that none of her e-mail contacts -- mostly other stay-at-home moms -- had the Wave, which relies on collaboration with others.

Williams ended up creating a wave with herself, embedding a map to her house along with a yes/no poll asking "Who thinks Google Wave is The Bomb?"

After hearing her library cohort talk about the Google Phone, Williams found out more information about the device -- by googling "google phone," of course, which she recounted to her family. "She tells me it's thinner than the iPhone, but right now she uses a pre-paid clunker cell phone that she never even remembers to turn on," said an exasperated Luke Williams. "I'm not really sure why it being 'vastly superior to Verizon's Droid' matters when you just keep it in the glove compartment for emergencies and you don't even know what a Droid is."

Nonetheless, Williams has told her family that the only thing she wants for Christmas is a Google Phone, though she is resigned to waiting until 2010 to get it.

In the meantime, she is busily planning the family's summer vacation to Mountain View, Calif., where Google headquarters is located. Williams said she hopes for a Marissa Mayer sighting, or at least the chance to try the Google vice president's favorite cupcake flavors.