Shuttle aims Thursday landing

CAPE CANAVERAL( Florida) - Shuttle Discovery's astronauts aimed for a Thursday evening landing to wrap up their successful space station delivery mission, but late summer storms threatened to keep them up an extra day or two.Mission Control said on Wednesday that 'the weather will pose a challenge' for bringing Discovery home. The forecast called for a chance of thunderstorms. Conditions were expected to worsen Friday and remain poor Saturday.

'The weather in Florida this time of year is always a little iffy,' Discovery's commander, Rick Sturckow, said from orbit. 'If things aren't good, the worst that can come out of it is that we have another day in space, which is a great deal.'

In orbit since Aug 29, Discovery has enough supplies to last until Sunday. If the shuttle cannot return to Florida on Thursday, Nasa will consider landing it in California, but not until Friday at the earliest.

Astronaut Timothy Kopra is headed home after nearly two months at the international space station. He said the flight wasn't too long by any stretch. He should have spent an extra month at the outpost, but his ride up ended up being delayed because of shuttle problems.

Buzz Lightyear, by comparison, spent 15 months aboard the space station.

The 12-inch (30 1/2-centimetre) action figure rocketed into 'infinity and beyond' aboard Discovery in May 2008. Once Walt Disney World gets the toy back, it will be feted at a tickertape parade early next month with Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon.

Kopra assured a TV interviewer that Buzz is doing well after so long in space.

'He's very secure. He's in his spacesuit, and I'm quite confident that he'll have a very safe ride home. But we obviously cannot disclose his location upon the space shuttle,' Mr Kopra joked.

He kept a serious face, but his crewmates chuckled. -- AP

Obama's Health Care Speech: Experts Sound Off

Following President Obama's speech on health care reform Wednesday night, the ABC News Medical Unit solicited comments from some of the country's leading health care policy experts. A number of them responded with their thoughts, and while more than half of the responses supported the ideas presented in the speech, many also had at least some reservations. Some of the experts contacted were very pleased:

"No one could hear President Obama's speech and fail to be convinced by the urgency of action on health reform," said Karen Davis, president of the Commonwealth Fund and a nationally recognized economist with a distinguished career in public policy and research. "He painted the need for reform in both human and economic terms…and made it clear that failure is not an option."

Coastguard exercise prompts panic in Washington

The mood of the US capital turned from sombre, to near panic and then to red-faced all in the space of minutes after a terrorism scare unfolding on the Potomac river close to the Pentagon turned out to be a routine training exercise.

The sight of armed coastguard launches tearing across the water and the apparent sound of shots being fired over radio waves on the eighth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks had cable news channels scrambling for their hyperboles. CNN and Fox both began reporting, erroneously as it soon transpired, that shooting was underway on the water just beside a bridge over which Barack Obama had recently travelled.

With rolling news on high alert, the adrenaline rush spread rapidly outwards, intoxicating several federal agencies. The local FBI office, that had not been alerted to the training exercise, poured agents down to the river.

The Federal Aviation Administration grounded all flights at the nearby Reagan airport between 10.08am and 10.30am. About 10 minutes into the national crisis, the first word was given by CNN's breathless presenters that it might all have been a false alarm. Soon after that it was confirmed that the event had been a routine exercise.

Vice Admiral John Currier, chief of staff of the US coastguard, said such exercises are carried out every day, 365 days a year. Ten shots had been simulated by the officers involved, using the highly sophisticated technique of shouting "Bang! Bang!" into their radio microphones.

It was those sounds that were picked up on open radio channels and that first excited the news channels.

Currier said that it was "unfortunate that it escalated to this level", but pointedly refused to apologise for something he described as pre-planned and utterly normal.

The White House has defending the coastguard's decision to hold the training exercise. Spokesman Robert Gibbs said he does not believe the White House was notified about the training exercise.

He said if law enforcement felt there was a need for the exercise it is "best not to second-guess". Gibbs sharply criticised CNN for airing an inaccurate report that shots were fired during the exercise, saying "before we report things like this, checking would be good".

The event bore echoes of the event in April when a presidential jet flanked by two fighter planes circled lower Manhattan, prompting momentary pandemonium on the streets. It turned out to be a photo shoot.

Swine flu vaccine will be free

Quebec's Health Department wants to inoculate each and every Quebecer with the vaccine against swine flu.

The vaccine will be provided for free to every man, woman and child in the province, and the program will be entirely voluntary.

Alain Poirier, the director of Public Health, says the plan is in place and medical professionals will be ready to start giving shots in two months.

The goal is to increase immunity in the population as quickly as posssible.

"Immunization, vaccination is the Cadillac of reducing infectious disease when it is available," said Poirier.

Health ministers will meet in two weeks to decide which groups will get the vaccine first.

On Wednesday federal Health minister Leona Aglukkaq met with medical experts to discuss how to manage severe cases of the swine flu, and to prepare for an anticipated second wave of illnesses this fall.

The swine flu vaccine will include a booster called an adjuvant, to stretch the supply.

"So with one dose you can have four dose if you use this type of booster this type of adjuvant," said Poirier.

So far Quebec's health officials have not decided if the standard influenza vaccine will also be offered for free.

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Larry Gelbart, Who Helped Create 'M*A*S*H,' 'Tootsie' and 'Forum,' Dies at 81

Larry Gelbart, 81, a celebrated writer and producer whose socially innovative TV series "M*A*S*H" helped demonstrate that the half-hour comedy could win huge ratings while addressing contemporary issues such as war and gender relations, died Sept. 11 at his home in Beverly Hills, Calif.

He had cancer. Asked to specify what kind, his wife, Patricia Marshall, said, "Just the lethal kind."

Mr. Gelbart's career spanned nearly every entertainment medium for the last six decades. After starting in radio comedy as a teenager, he entered television during its formative years and joined a renowned stable of comedy writers -- including Woody Allen, Mel Brooks and Neil Simon -- who worked for Sid Caesar on "Your Show of Shows" or "Caesar's Hour."

Brooks, who once praised Mr. Gelbart as "the fastest of the fast, the wittiest man in the business," told the New York Times that his colleague "was always generous with his laughter, even in such a competitive situation. If I came up with something funny -- and I must admit I often did -- he was the first one to laugh, and really loud. Which helped sell Sid on the idea that we should use it."

Mr. Gelbart wrote or co-wrote the Academy Award-nominated screenplays for the comedy films "Tootsie" (1982) starring Dustin Hoffman as a cross-dressing actor and "Oh, God!" (1977) with George Burns as the Almighty.

With Burt Shevelove, Mr. Gelbart shared a Tony Award for writing the book of "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" (1962), a vaudevillian-style farce based on writings by the Roman satirist Plautus. The show, with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and starring Zero Mostel, proved an enormous and much-revived hit.

Mr. Gelbart won another Tony writing the book to the Cy Coleman-David Zippel musical "City of Angels" (1989), which paid tribute to detective movies of the 1940s. Keeping with its humorously hard-boiled theme, Mr. Gelbart said the initial name for the musical was "Death Is for Suckers."

His most enduring accomplishment was "M*A*S*H," which ran on CBS from 1972 to 1983 and starred Alan Alda as a Korean War surgeon at a mobile army hospital. The theme was the absurdity of war and military regulations and was based on a book by a Korean War doctor who used the pseudonym Richard Hooker. The book had also been popularized by Robert Altman's 1970 film version that was widely viewed as biting critique of the Vietnam War.

The CBS show, which Mr. Gelbart and several collaborators helped develop and produce, made the characters even more familiar to millions of Americans.

They included some of the most memorable ever etched on the small screen: the wisecracking surgeons Hawkeye Pierce (Alda) and Trapper John (Wayne Rogers); the bumbling Radar O'Reilly (Gary Burghoff); the sexually repressed head nurse Margaret "Hot Lips" Houlihan (Loretta Swit) who is having an affair with the officious Col. Frank Burns (Larry Linville); and Cpl. Maxwell Klinger (Jamie Farr), the operating room aide who cross-dresses in the hope of a winning a discharge for being mentally unfit.

The "M*A*S*H" finale drew the largest audience ever to watch a single television program, according to "The Complete Dictionary to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows." For his work on the program, Mr. Gelbart shared a 1974 Emmy for outstanding comedy series.

Television historian Robert J. Thompson said the show's impact was enormous. He said "M*A*S*H," along with "All in the Family" and "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" in the 1970s, brought a topical seriousness to television comedy that had been a genre of "talking horses, cars and genies" but managed "to still be really funny." In contrast, the CBS show "Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C" with Jim Nabors as a bumbling Marine, ran during much of the Vietnam War without any mention of combat in Southeast Asia.

Mr. Gelbart's politics ran counter to U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. He settled with his family in England for much of the 1960s in part because of the war, although he later quipped, "I went to escape religious freedom in America."

One of "M*A*S*H"'s creators, Gene Reynolds, once said Mr. Gelbart "not only had the wit and the jokes. He had a point of view. He not only had the ribald spirit, he had the sensibility to the premise -- the wastefulness of war."

Mr. Gelbart said he waged a periodically successful campaign not to use a laugh track on the show.

The son of Eastern European immigrants, Larry Simon Gelbart was born Feb. 25, 1928, in Chicago, and spent his teenage years in Los Angeles. "My mother was extremely witty and caustic, and my father knew more jokes than anyone I've ever known," he told People magazine. "There were two books in our house: the Haggadah for Passover seders and Superman comics. And I never confused the two. Superman always flew from left to right."

His father, a Latvian-born barber with many clients working in entertainment, "just took it in his head that I should be a comedy writer, without checking with me," he told the New York Times. "And one day he was shaving Danny Thomas, and my dad told him he had this very, very clever son who could write comedy, and Thomas said 'Have him write a sketch for me.' " Thomas, who was appearing on Fanny Brice's radio comedy show, smoothed Mr. Gelbart's way into a job writing for the program. After brief Army service in an entertainment unit, Mr. Gelbart contributed jokes and scripts to radio shows hosted by Bob Hope, Red Buttons and Ed Gardner ("Duffy's Tavern").

In 1956, he married singer Patricia Marshall. She survives, along with their two children; two stepsons; six grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren. A stepdaughter died in 1998.

After his years with Caesar, Mr. Gelbart began to focus on a career in theater. Working with composer Moose Charlap and lyricist Norman Gimbel, his maiden effort was "The Conquering Hero" (1961), a musical version of Preston Sturges's brilliant movie farce of a small-town coward during World War II, "Hail the Conquering Hero."

The play met with such punishing reviews that Mr. Gelbart quipped, "If Hitler's alive, I hope he's out of town with a musical."

For a while, Mr. Gelbart had been at work on another stage project, "Forum," that drew big crowds for years and was turned into a film in 1966. New York Times theater critic Howard Taubman called the Broadway production "noisy, coarse, blue and obvious like the putty nose on a burlesque comedian." He also called it irresistible.

At a peak moment of "M*A*S*H"'s success in 1976, Mr. Gelbart quit to focus on other projects. He wrote or contributed to several films, including "Oh, God!," the suburban comedy "Neighbors" (1981) with John Belushi, and "Tootsie" with Hoffman as an out-of-work actor who wins a coveted soap opera role after pretending to be a woman.

In his memoir, "Laughing Matters," Mr. Gelbart wrote of his clashes with the diminutive Hoffman, "Never work with an Oscar winner who is shorter than the statue."

Mr. Gelbart's Broadway shows included the hit "Sly Fox" (1976), based on Ben Jonson's "Volpone," and "Mastergate" (1989), a farce inspired by the Iran-Contra arms-for-hostages scandal of the 1980s. Several other ventures into television were considered unsuccessful, including the NBC marriage sitcom "United States" (1980) with Beau Bridges and the "M*A*S*H" sequel "After M*A*S*H" (1983).

But Mr. Gelbart remained active in his field, and it came as a surprise when an Internet hoax late last year purported that Mr. Gelbart had died. A Los Angeles Times reporter phoned him. "I was dead," he said, "but I'm better now."

Putin hints at presidential bid

Mr Putin did not commit himself, but hinted that he is thinking of coming back in 2012 when President Dmitry Medvedev's current term expires.

The two leaders would not compete, but Mr Putin said: "We'll reach an agreement."

He was speaking in Moscow to the so-called Valdai Club of foreign academics and journalists.

The club holds a series of briefings with senior Russian politicians every year.

Mr Putin tried to downplay any suggestion of rivalry, insisting that whatever happened would be as the result of a deal which they came to jointly.

"Did we compete against each other in 2007 [before the last presidential election]?... No, we didn't. And so we won't in 2012 either. We'll reach an agreement," he said.

Russian President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin
President Medvedev (l) took over from Mr Putin in 2007

"We're people of the same blood, with the same political views.... When it comes to 2012, we'll work it out together, taking into account the current reality, our own plans, the shape of the political landscape, and the state of United Russia, the ruling party."

As ever sensitive to how his behaviour might look to critical outsiders, Mr Putin drew an analogy with the UK, defending the notion of one politician handing the baton of leadership on to a close collaborator without wider consultation.

"When my friend Tony Blair retired, Gordon Brown immediately became prime minister," he said.

"Were the people of Great Britain consulted on this? No, there was a change of leadership in the country and it was the two of them who decided it."

"When my term expired," he went on, "I supported Dmitry Medvedev because I thought he was the best person to be the country's leader, and I was right."

And now, he seemed to be hinting, the time might come when President Medvedev would be asked to return the favour.

If Mr Putin were to stand again, it would probably come as little surprise to most Russians.

His popularity in opinion polls is helped by his high visibility in Russia, which he seems to make a high priority.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin during his summer holiday, August 2009
Mr Putin had a high profile even during his summer holiday

This summer he even posed bare-chested for a photo shoot while on an adventure holiday.

His promise in front of Russian TV cameras, to raise pensions by 30% this December as part of a wider pension reform plan, will no doubt do no harm to his reputation among many older Russian voters.

What remains to be seen is how President Medvedev views the succession question.

Russian analysts continue to puzzle over how he really works "in tandem" with Mr Putin and whether at times they even deliberately play a joint game of "good cop-bad cop" to reach different audiences, or whether their collaboration hides tensions between two camps which represent different viewpoints on where they think Russia is heading.

But whatever the real relationship between Russia's president and prime minister, Mr Putin's comments remain potentially significant.

In the last year the Russian presidential term has been extended to six years.

So if Mr Putin were to come back as president in 2012 and serve the two new terms he would then be eligible for, he could in theory preside over Russia until 2024.

Since he first came to power when President Boris Yeltsin made him his successor in 1999, that would mean the Putin years in Russia might extend to a quarter of a century.

Putin warns against Iran attack

Iran's latest proposals on its nuclear ambitions have brought diverging views from the US and Russia.

Earlier, a US official told the BBC that Washington was unhappy with the proposals, submitted on Wednesday.

Correspondents say parties involved are making their positions clear ahead of the UN General Assembly this month.

President Barack Obama has given Tehran until the end of September to respond to his friendlier overtures or face new sanctions.

But the US and Israel have never ruled out the option of air strikes on Iran to stop it acquiring an atomic weapon.

In contrast to Washington's negative response on Iran's new proposal, Russia's foreign minister described them as a positive step forward and ruled out sanctions on Iran's oil sector.

Terror warning

Mr Putin, speaking in Moscow, said any attack on Iran would be "very dangerous, unacceptable and would lead to "an explosion of terrorism".

"I doubt very much that such strikes would achieve their stated goal," he added.

However, Mr Putin called on Tehran to "show restraint" in its nuclear programme.

"This is a dangerous region and Iran should show responsibility, especially by taking into account Israel's concerns," he said.

The five-page Iranian proposal was submitted to the group of six global powers negotiating over its nuclear enrichment programme - the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, plus Germany.

Vladimir Putin 11.9.09
Mr Putin has warned Iran to show restraint in its plans

Details have been published on the website of the US non-profit investigative journalism group, ProPublica.

In it, Tehran offers to hold "comprehensive, all-encompassing and constructive" negotiations on a range of security issues, including global nuclear disarmament.

But the document makes no mention of Iran's own nuclear programme.

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said on Friday he was seeking an urgent meeting with Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili, after consulting the six powers.

"We are in contact with Dr Jalili's office to arrange a meeting at the earliest possible opportunity," he said in a statement.

"We are all committed to meaningful negotiations with Iran to resolve the international community's concerns about their nuclear programme."

French foreign ministry spokeswoman Christine Fages said they wanted the meeting to take place before the UN General Assembly on 23 September.

Philip Crowley, US Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs, earlier told the BBC's World Today programme that Iran had to prove it was ready to live up to commitments it had made.

"Our concern is that the response itself did not really address what is the core issue of the international community and the core concern, which is Iran's nuclear ambitions," he said.

julastudentkhmer: songkhmer

Senate pauses to remember Ted Kennedy

WASHINGTON -- With solemn words and bittersweet memories, the Senate paused Thursday to remember Sen. Edward M. Kennedy's nearly five decades in Congress and his passionate commitment to health care reform.

"The impact he etched into our history will long endure," Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said. Reid added: "His dream shall never die."

Senators' tributes to the Massachusetts Democrat, who saw expanding health coverage as his lifetime cause, came as congressional Democrats began their push to get back on track with efforts to overhaul the health care system.

The night before, President Barack Obama invoked Kennedy's legacy in a speech urging Congress to deliver the sweeping health legislation. Obama cited a letter Kennedy wrote to him before his death, calling health care "above all a moral issue."

Kennedy's Massachusetts colleague, Sen. John Kerry, cited Kennedy's long fight for universal health care.

"For three decades, including his last days, he labored with all his might to make health care a right for all Americans," Kerry said Thursday.

Kerry said senators would miss Kennedy's booming voice and his big heart.

"On many occasions, he was the indispensable man," Kerry said. "On every occasion, in this chamber and out, he was a man whose heart was as big as heaven, whose optimism could overwhelm any doubters and whose joy for life was wonderfully contagious."

Kerry noted Kennedy's empty desk, draped with black velvet cloth. A glass vase of white roses and a copy of a favorite Kennedy poem, Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken," were perched atop the desk at the rear of the chamber.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said Kennedy's Senate career spanned 10 presidents. Along the way, McConnell said, Kennedy became a fierce partisan whose personable style turned political enemies into friends.

"Ted got along with everybody," McConnell said. "His great weapon ... was simply this - people liked him."

Kennedy died Aug. 25 at 77, succumbing to brain cancer after a 15-month fight. He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery near his slain brothers, John F. Kennedy and Robert Kennedy.

Democrats are capping a day of tributes to the late senator with a resolution to name the Senate's most famous hearing room after the trio of Kennedy brothers who served in the Senate.

The gilded caucus room of the Russell Senate Office Building would be renamed the "Kennedy Caucus Room" under a resolution expected to be approved this week.

AP Poll: Seniors most interested in swine flu shot

WASHINGTON -- Americans are getting more worried about catching swine flu - but the people who most want that vaccine are the age that will be last in line, says a new Associated Press-GfK poll.

As the government races to get swine flu vaccine ready to ship next month, just over half the population - 57 percent - is likely to line up for it, said the poll released Thursday.

Unlike the regular winter flu that kills mostly people 65 and older, the new swine flu - what doctors call the 2009 H1N1 strain - is mostly a younger person's infection. That older generation appears to have some resistance to it.

So the government says that among the first in line for H1N1 shots should be children and young adults ages 6 months to 24 years, and pregnant women. Last, after some other groups, will come the Medicare population.

Yet 82 percent of seniors said they're likely to seek a swine flu shot, the new poll found.

Overall, concern is rising: About 56 percent of people are concerned about themselves or someone in the family getting swine flu, a 13-point jump since the last AP poll on the subject in July.

About 61 percent of parents would give permission for their children to get a swine flu vaccination at school, unchanged from the summer. About half of 18- to 29-year-olds told pollsters they'd line up, too, a 15-point increase from summer.

The government has bought tens of millions of doses of swine flu vaccine and expects to start shipping them in mid-October to state health departments. They in turn will decide how the vaccine is distributed: From in-school inoculations to mass vaccination clinics to more run-of-the-mill drugstore vaccinations.

"Older people do not have the same risk" with this new flu as they do with regular winter flu, said Dr. Gregory Poland of the Mayo Clinic.

If there turns out to be enough swine flu vaccine to go around, seniors will be welcomed to get it, too, he said.

But meantime, they do need to get the regular winter flu vaccine - which is available now in doctors' offices and retails stores. About four in five of the 65-and-up group said they'd likely get a regular flu shot. Overall, the AP-GfK poll showed the population split on whether they or their children would get a regular flu shot in addition to the separate H1N1 version.

The survey of 1,001 adults with cell and landline telephones was conducted from Sept. 3-8. It had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.


Celebrity Watch: Do I love the Beatles? Yeah, yeah, yeah

With the issuing of their remastered back-catalogue and the release of Beatles: Rock Band, the Fab Four have become once again The Most Famous People in Britain. (Beatles: Rock Band? It’s some arcade game shenanigans. For the young folk. Apparently you pretend to be Ringo by waving a mouse. ) So as we enter this Third Age of Beatles (first 1963-69 obviously; second that year that Noel Gallagher kept banging on about them), CW thought that this would be a good time to quickly run through a couple of key Beatles points that we might not have had time as a country to address previously:

1. It’s actually, factually, scientifically incorrect for anyone to say that they don’t love the Beatles. OF COURSE you love the Beatles. DON’T BE STUPID. As the rock critic Dorian Lynskey once pointed out, saying that you don’t like the Beatles just sounds as if you’re trying too hard: “It’s probably an Oedipal thing.” With a back-catalogue that runs the stylistic gamut from Everyone’s Got Something To Hide Except Me and My Monkey to Mr Moonlight, what you’re really saying when you say, “I don’t like the Beatles” is “I don’t like music”. Just admit it. Don’t drag the Beatles into it. That’s passive-aggressive. And it will upset Paul.

2. There is no “best Beatle”. Well there is, obviously — it’s Paul. But then again, NO. They’re the Beatles. They’re all the best Beatle. Even the one who’s obviously not — George.

3. Amazingly there is no Beatles pornography in existence. None. Type “Beatles porn” into Google and every return is audiophiles nerding on about mono-mixes. In all the depths of depravity that mankind has plumbed, enslaved to its idiot libido — in the dispiriting lists of niche sites devoted to chickens, amputees, Jesus and the dead — it seems that the sole, sacred subject upon this Earth is the Fabs. We have never had a porn-John in bed with a porn-Paul in a skin-flick called Meat the Beatles. And that, let’s face it, is quite touching.

UP. Chris Evans

News of Terry Wogan’s retirement from the Radio 2 breakfast show was received in much the same way as Dumbledore’s death at the end of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. ie, beforehand the presumption was that everyone would be devastated; but in the event there was a general sense of “meh, yeah — that seems about right. He’s had his innings, etc. Off you go, old friend”. Controversy, however, has followed the announcement of his successor — the man that the Daily Mirror describes as the “live wire Chris Evans”. Personally, CW can’t see the problem. Wogan gave every impression of broadcasting through space and time from a cricket pavilion during the pleasant summer of 1978. Evans, meanwhile, appears to be sending out his signal from a bar in the “crazy” Britpop summer of 1995. What CW is saying is that this is, in some manner of speaking, progress.

UP. Christine Bleakley

he One Show presenter has announced her latest charity venture: water-skiing across the English Channel for Sport Relief. Uh-huh. CW is actually going to have to say this again: Christine Bleakley is going to water-ski to France. This is, perhaps, the moment where one might quite candidly ask just what the hell is going on with the 21st century. CW remembers that when it was a child, it presumed that the future would be run by a wise, intergalactic senate, issuing edicts about time-warp trousers and crème brûlée in pill form. In the event, however, the 21st century appears to be run by people with celebrities’ names in one pocket and a series of bizarre, random stunts in the other — which they are then authorised to randomly combine and make actual. So who is doing this? CW has never really understood what the Bilderberg Group is supposed to do, but it’s rapidly drawing some big conclusions.

UP. Sylvester Stallone

Good new for everyone who avers, like the White Queen in Through The Looking Glass, that they need to believe six impossible things before breakfast. Sylvester Stallone is bringing back the one-man war-machine John Rambo, in the soon-to-shoot Rambo 5! According to early rumours, the plot is that John Rambo (63) is trying to track down an escaped monster, which has been genetically engineered by the American Government, before it lays waste to major US cities. Anyone with a sneaking suspicion that this might look a bit like a pensioner effortfully pursuing his runaway labrador, Timmy, across the park before it digs up a bed of autumn chrysanthemums, is clearly too cynical for their own good.

UP. Peter Andre

Andre — a man whose title is, as of Wednesday’s court-hearing, “the officially divorced ex-husband of Katie Price” — is gaining vital celebrity allies, in the love-split that has gripped the nation. In an interview this week, Andre revealed: “Emma Bunton sent a lovely message to me . . . Johnny Rotten said some nice things, too. And the director Tim Burton.” CW cannot help but reflect on what an undeniably odd support team this would be in a time of emotional cataclysm. You open the door in your sweaty pyjamas, red-eyed and surrounded by empty ice-cream tubs, and there on the doorstep are Team Sympathy: Baby Spice, a man who covered his face in margarine to promote acne and pronounced that he is an anti-Christ, and the director of the haemoglobin-and-cannibal-pies musical, Sweeney Todd.

DOWN. Sir Richard Branson

CW understands that Sir Richard has a vast and sprawling empire, he’s a very busy man and can’t possibly hope to micro-manage every paperclip, telephone answering machine message and pen that bears his brand. Nonetheless, it couldn’t help but become distressed about the reply it received from Virgin this week, after an inquiry about the installation of broadband. After the usual, “we’ll be contacting you within the next few weeks” rigmarole, the e-mail concluded: “The whole adventure is just beginning — so stay tuned!” CW wants to make it clear to Virgin that it was inquiring about running a simple comms cable into its house — not proposing that WE BREAK INTO JURASSIC PARK AND STEAL A T-REX.

DOWN. Cheryl Cole

You find CW a little down this week — still reeling at how awful is Fight For This Love, the debut solo single of Cheryl Cole. Given that Cole is a member of the greatest British band — Girls Aloud — not to have John, Paul, George and Ringo in it, CW was expecting much, much better. Amazingly, given that it sounds like it was composed on, sung into and possibly inspired by looking at a Nokia N97, the lyrics are even worse than the music. At first, CW thought they were: Is it better is it worse/Are we sitting in a hearse? — quite a question, if one considers just how out of your mind you would have to be to not be totally sure if you were sitting in a black, custom-designed vehicle, with a coffin in the back — but diligent research (0.17 seconds on Google) reveals that the full lyric is, in fact Is it better is it worse/Are we sitting in reverse?

Sitting in reverse. It’s not a phrase that CW has come across before. Is Cheryl referencing the booking process, whereby one has a seat-choice between “backwards” and “facing direction of travel”? CW scarcely thinks this kind of matter is the concern of pop. And, besides, if Cheryl isn’t talking about booking a cheap-day return on a young person’s railcard, the only other explanation CW can make of the phrase is that Cole is trying to find a “posh way” of saying “standing up”. It’s baffling.


CW’s regular service — providing updates on OK!’s moral breakdown — continues. This week, however, even CW is shocked by what it has to report. For OK! has put together a four-page spread on CELEBRITY SEX TRAUMAS — inspired by Katie Price’s revelation in last week’s issue that she had been raped. We have Ulrika Jonsson (“I felt pain, physical pain”), Oprah Winfrey (“I trembled and cried”) and Teri Hatcher (“I didn’t want to touch it”). This all seems to presume that being sexually assaulted is just the latest A-list fad; like Botox or buying a Bichon Frisé puppy. If OK! magazine were a person, it would be on the verge of being sectioned.

UP. Kate Moss

Ah, here’s another picture of Kate Moss, somewhere sunny, smoking a fag. Is CW alone in finding these pictures oddly comforting? Old maids cycling to church, the thwack of willow on leather, a pint of warm beer in the evening, honey still for tea, Kate Moss ’avin a fag; as happy as a dog with its head out of the window of a moving car. It makes CW believe that, contrary to everything it has ever believed — maybe it is quite satisfying being an intern- ational supermodel worth £121 million. Knackers.

DOWN. Chloe Madeley

Chloe — the daughter of Richard and Judy who is becoming a tabloid stalwart when it comes to exposés on her “troubled” Winehouse-lite lifestyle — has been reflecting on her recent mishaps. To wit, being photographed chang-ing marijuana out of a huge bong and then, a few months later, drink-driving at 2am and overturning her Mini. Explaining that she was abroad at that hour to buy tampons — presumably in an attempt to have all women sigh “Totalling a classic car, off your face on Long Island Iced Teas, on a Lil-lets mission: we’ve all been there, love” — Madeley concluded that, should these scandals ruin her fledgleing career as a TV presenter, she’ll “go and work in Disneyland, instead”.

Hmmmm. Celebrity Watch suspects that Disney may conclude that she’s not the most shining avatar of their core brand-values.

Opel works council chief expects GM decision today

FRANKFURT -- The head of automaker Opel's works council in Germany says General Motors Co. is likely to announce its plans for the company's future Thursday afternoon.

Klaus Franz, speaking on broadcaster ZDF's Morgenmagazin TV program says he had some hints as to GM's decision, but at the moment they amounted to "reading coffee grounds."

"A decision is coming, but what's more important is what the decision is," he says, reiterating his support for the bid by Canadian auto parts maker Magna International and Russian bank Sberbank.

"If it stays with GM, or it goes to any decision other than Magna, that will result in protests," Franz said. Opel employs about 25,000 workers in Germany.

GM offers refund to car buyers to win them back

MILWAUKEE -- Looking to regain consumers' trust, General Motors Co. said Thursday new car buyers will be able to return their vehicles within two months of purchase for a full refund, part of a long-awaited new marketing campaign for the biggest American automaker.

The effort will begin next week, seeking to make connections again with American consumers who may be leery of the company since it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection earlier this year. Chairman Edward Whitacre Jr. will appear in the initial burst of ads, telling consumers in a folksy, Texan accent he too had doubts about GM when he joined on this summer. But he likes the cars he found, and consumers should too.

The company's bid to win back customers is a last-ditch effort to survive. GM received $50 billion in government aid to keep operating earlier this year and it has to pay that back to continue operating. To do that, it must sell cars.

And to make those sales, GM has to change how consumers view it in the marketplace. That starts with showing GM's cars are better than competitors, said GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz, who delayed retirement to head GM's marketing efforts. He said there is a "monumental chasm" between the public's perception of GM's vehicles and the autos in its current lineup, and the "May the Best Car Win" effort aims to change that.

The company stands behind its cars now and can offer full money-back guarantees, he told reporters on a conference call Thursday. As recently as three years ago, GM would have been faced with a huge risk if it made such an offer, but the company's slate of models is strong and can take on any competitors, especially foreign-made cars, he said.

"We really are in a position today where we can look anybody in the eye and say 'we are as good as or better than everybody else,'" Lutz said.

To prove that, GM is putting its four remaining brands - Chevrolet, Buick, Cadillac and GMC - directly against foreign competitors, focusing on quality, performance, fuel economy and design. The Chevrolet Equinox will be featured in advertisements directly compared to the Honda CRV, and Cadillacs will target German luxury vehicles, Lutz said.

Whitacre's appearance in the ads will be short-lived as GM shifts focus to its brands, away from the corporation, Lutz said. Individual campaigns for the brands will share common elements but the GM logo and the words GM will not appear, he said. Instead, the brands will be the true focus, since consumers' perception of GM is affected by the company's bankruptcy filing this year.

"We are emancipating the brands and trotting them out in the open," Lutz said.

GM will allow customers who purchase a new vehicle starting next Monday through Nov. 30 to return it, no questions asked, for a full refund within 31 to 60 days from the date of purchase. The vehicles must not have more than 4,000 miles on them and the drivers must be current on their payments. Cars will also be under GM's 100,000-mile five-year powertrain warranty.

The offer applies to brands such as Chevrolet, GMAC, Buick and Cadillac. The Pontiac brand, which GM is phasing out, is not eligible. Leased vehicles are also ineligible.

Major Powers Call for Nuclear Talks With Iran Within Weeks

Major world powers meeting on Wednesday in Germany have urged Iran to return to negotiations over its nuclear program before the U.N. General Assembly opens its new session in New York later this month. Iran's top nuclear negotiator said earlier this week that Tehran has new proposals to ease concerns about its nuclear intentions.

U.S. officials are not calling it a deadline. But they say that if Iran has new proposals that would revive the nuclear dialogue, it should agree to a meeting with the five permanent U.N. Security Council member countries and Germany before the new General Assembly begins debate on September 23.

The major powers, the so-called P-5+1, presented Iran last April with a revised package of economic and other incentives for Tehran to end its uranium enrichment program and return to talks on the future of its nuclear program.

On the eve of a meeting of senior diplomats of the P-5+1 in Frankfurt on Wednesday, Iranian nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili said Tehran has a revised set of nuclear proposals and that it is ready to reengage with the six powers.

State Department Spokesman Ian Kelly told reporters here the four hour Frankfurt meeting of the P-5+1 political directors included discussion of the Jalili remarks and that the participants stressed that a negotiated solution remains open to Tehran.

"With reference to Dr. Jalili's statement this week that Iran is ready to resume talks, they stressed that Iran should respond to the offer of talks in April by agreeing to meet before the U.N. General Assembly meeting. They underlined the right of Iran to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, but that Iran should be aware of the urgent need to restore confidence in the exclusively-peaceful nature of its nuclear program through full cooperation with the international community," the spokesman said.

President Barack Obama has given Iran until the end of this month to take up the six-power incentives offer or face wider international sanctions - including, officials say, possible measures that would target gasoline imports on which Iran is dependent.

Administration officials say they are unsure whether the Jalili remarks herald a policy change by Iran or are merely a gambit to try to blunt international support for new sanctions in advance of the U.N. meeting.

Nonetheless, the State Department says it is ready to review any new Iranian proposal "seriously" and with "mutual respect".

While Iran insists that its nuclear program is peaceful, the United States and its European allies say Tehran is seeking to build nuclear weapons. Those suspicions were reinforced by an International Atomic Energy Agency report last week that said Iran has been evasive about alleged military aspects of its program.

Obama: Health care plan will cost less than Iraq, Afghanistan wars

(NECN: Washington, DC) - President Barack Obama addressed a joint session of Congress, urging them to enact health care legislation. Obama spoke in favor of an option for the federal government to sell insurance in competition with private industry. But he said he was open to alternatives that create choices for consumers.

The President said "the time for bickering is over", and that it is now "time to deliver on health care."

Obama said the changes he has in mind would cost about $900 billion over decade, "less than we have spent on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and less than the tax cuts for the wealthiest few Americans" passed in the 1990s.

The following is a portion of President Obama's speech as prepared for delivery:

It's worth noting that a strong majority of Americans still favor a public insurance option of the sort I've proposed tonight. But its impact shouldn't be exaggerated – by the left, the right, or the media. It is only one part of my plan, and should not be used as a handy excuse for the usual Washington ideological battles. To my progressive friends, I would remind you that for decades, the driving idea behind reform has been to end insurance company abuses and make coverage affordable for those without it. The public option is only a means to that end – and we should remain open to other ideas that accomplish our ultimate goal. And to my Republican friends, I say that rather than making wild claims about a government takeover
of health care, we should work together to address any legitimate concerns you may have.

For example, some have suggested that that the public option go into effect only in those markets where insurance companies are not providing affordable policies. Others propose a co-op or another non-profit entity to administer the plan. These are all constructive ideas worth exploring. But I will not back down on the basic principle that if Americans can't find affordable coverage, we will provide you with a choice. And I will make sure that no government bureaucrat or insurance company bureaucrat gets between you and the care that you need. Finally, let me discuss an issue that is a great concern to me, to members of this chamber, and to the public – and that is how we pay for this plan.

Here's what you need to know. First, I will not sign a plan that adds one dime to our deficits – either now or in the future. Period. And to prove that I'm serious, there will be a provision in this plan that requires us to come forward with more spending cuts if the savings we promised don't materialize. Part of the reason I faced a trillion dollar deficit when I walked in the door of the White House is because too many initiatives over the last decade were not paid for – from the Iraq War to tax breaks for the wealthy. I will not make that same mistake with health care.

Second, we've estimated that most of this plan can be paid for by finding savings within the existing health care system – a system that is currently full of waste and abuse. Right now, too much of the hard-earned savings and tax dollars we spend on health care doesn't make us healthier. That's not my judgment – it's the judgment of medical professionals across this country. And this is also true when it comes to Medicare and Medicaid.

In fact, I want to speak directly to America's seniors for a moment, because Medicare is another issue that's been subjected to demagoguery and distortion during the course of this debate.

More than four decades ago, this nation stood up for the principle that after a lifetime of hard work, our seniors should not be left to struggle with a pile of medical bills in their later years. That is how Medicare was born. And it remains a sacred trust that must be passed down from one generation to the next. That is why not a dollar of the Medicare trust fund will be used to pay for this plan.

The only thing this plan would eliminate is the hundreds of billions of dollars in waste and fraud, as well as unwarranted subsidies in Medicare that go to insurance companies – subsidies that do everything to pad their profits and nothing to improve your care. And we will also create an independent commission of doctors and medical experts charged with identifying more waste in the years ahead.

These steps will ensure that you – America's seniors – get the benefits you've been promised. They will ensure that Medicare is there for future generations. And we can use some of the savings to fill the gap in coverage that forces too many seniors to pay thousands of dollars a year out of their own pocket for prescription drugs. That's what this plan will do for you. So don't pay attention to those scary stories about how your benefits will be cut – especially since some of the same folks who are spreading these tall tales have fought against Medicare in the past, and just this year supported a budget that would have essentially turned Medicare into a privatized voucher program. That will never happen on my watch. I will protect Medicare.

Now, because Medicare is such a big part of the health care system, making the program more efficient can help usher in changes in the way we deliver health care that can reduce costs for everybody. We have long known that some places, like the Intermountain Healthcare in Utah or the Geisinger Health System in rural Pennsylvania, offer high-quality care at costs below average. The commission can help encourage the adoption of these common-sense best practices by doctors and medical professionals throughout the system – everything from reducing hospital infection rates to encouraging better coordination between teams of doctors.

Reducing the waste and inefficiency in Medicare and Medicaid will pay for most of this plan. Much of the rest would be paid for with revenues from the very same drug and insurance companies that stand to benefit from tens of millions of new customers. This reform will charge insurance companies a fee for their most expensive policies, which will encourage them to provide greater value for the money – an idea which has the support of Democratic and Republican experts. And according to these same experts, this modest change could help hold down the cost of health care for all of us in the long-run.

Finally, many in this chamber – particularly on the Republican side of the aisle – have long insisted that reforming our medical malpractice laws can help bring down the cost of health care. I don't believe malpractice reform is a silver bullet, but I have talked to enough doctors to know that defensive medicine may be contributing to unnecessary costs. So I am proposing that we move forward on a range of ideas about how to put patient safety first and let doctors focus on practicing medicine. I know that the Bush Administration considered authorizing demonstration projects in individual states to test these issues. It's a good idea, and I am directing my Secretary of Health and Human Services to move forward on this initiative today.

Add it all up, and the plan I'm proposing will cost around $900 billion over ten years – less than we have spent on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and less than the tax cuts for the wealthiest few Americans that Congress passed at the beginning of the previous administration. Most of these costs will be paid for with money already being spent – but spent badly – in the existing health care system. The plan will not add to our deficit. The middle-class will realize greater security, not higher taxes. And if we are able to slow the growth of health care costs by just one-tenth of one percent each year, it will actually reduce the deficit by $4 trillion over the long term.

This is the plan I'm proposing. It's a plan that incorporates ideas from many of the people in this room tonight – Democrats and Republicans. And I will continue to seek common ground in the weeks ahead. If you come to me with a serious set of proposals, I will be there to listen. My door is always open.

But know this: I will not waste time with those who have made the calculation that it's better politics to kill this plan than improve it. I will not stand by while the special interests use the same old tactics to keep things exactly the way they are. If you misrepresent what's in the plan, we will call you out. And I will not accept the status quo as a solution. Not this time. Not now.

Everyone in this room knows what will happen if we do nothing. Our deficit will grow. More families will go bankrupt. More businesses will close. More Americans will lose their coverage when they are sick and need it most. And more will die as a result. We know these things to be true.

Swine flu outbreak at Washington St. may be easing

PULLMAN, Wash. -- A swine flu outbreak at Washington State University that is suspected of sickening more at least 2,200 students may be tapering off, a campus health official said Monday.

Dr. Dennis Garcia said 40 to 50 students a day have contacted the health service at the campus in Pullman this weekend to report flu symptoms. That's down from roughly 150 a day last week.

Garcia notes many students have gone home for the Labor Day weekend, but there are still signs the outbreak may have peaked.

"It's hard to say exactly what's going on, but it seems like things are slowing down a little bit," said Garcia, senior associate director of Health and Wellness Services at WSU.

Colleges across the country have been seeing spikes in the number of suspected cases of swine flu as dorms fill up and classes begin for the fall semester, putting students in close proximity that makes it easier for the virus to spread.

About 2,200 students at WSU have contacted the health service so far, and Garcia estimated 1,000 more may have gotten sick. None of the students required hospitalization.

Based on estimates from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Garcia said about 5,000 students can be expected to come down with the bug. That's about one-third of the enrollment at the campus.

In accordance with CDC guidelines, the university is no longer testing patients to confirm swine flu infection.

The outbreak at WSU began soon after classes started two weeks ago, and officials at that time thought it might last six to eight weeks. "But if this weekend is any indication, it could be over in another couple of weeks," Garcia said.

Compared with other types of influenza, the swine flu or H1N1 strain is relatively mild, Garcia said. He said most students suffer three to five days of discomfort, such as fever, congestion, sore throat and fatigue.

WSU is urging people who think they have flu-like symptoms to stay home, rest and get plenty of fluids. Officials also are handing out free flu kits, including a thermometer, painkillers, throat lozenges, sport drinks, hand sanitizer and tissues.

Housing woes continue despite 12% decrease in foreclosures throughout city

Fewer New Yorkers were hit with foreclosure notices last month compared with July, but the city's housing woes are far from over.

The number of city homeowners in some stage of the foreclosure process totaled 2,223 in August - down nearly 12% from July, but up about 3% compared with August 2008, according to stats due out today from foreclosure listing firm RealtyTrac.

Michael Hickey, executive director of the Center for New York City Neighborhoods, a nonprofit that coordinates foreclosure prevention efforts, said the latest numbers do not reflect the growing group of New Yorkers at risk of losing their homes.

"We look at broader trends and those continue to be negative," Hickey said. "We expect an ongoing increase in foreclosure activity primarily because of job losses and ongoing challenges in the financial, real estate and insurance sectors."

"Things are not getting worse, but I don't think they are getting better," added Daren Blomquist of RealtyTrac. "We still have rising unemployment, problem loans outstanding and price declines that are putting more homes under water," meaning they're worth less than the purchase price.

Once again, Queens was the city's top borough for foreclosures, with 935 homeowners receiving a notice of either a letter of default, a scheduled auction or bank repossession. The numbers were a bit better than July and than August 2008.

Brooklyn had the second most foreclosure filings at 693, down more than 3% from July, but up about 10% compared with August 2008.

Citywide, Staten Island had the highest foreclosure rate, with one in every 690 homes there in some stage of foreclosure. But the total, 258, was down more than 3% from July and nearly 13% from August 2008.

While many city homeowners are on shaky ground, New York remains far more stable than the country overall. One in every 357 American homeowners received a foreclosure filing in August, compared with one in every 1,496 in New York City.

Nevada continued to endure the nation's highest state foreclosure rate - with one in every 62 homeowners in trouble.

Florida was the second worst, with one in every 140 homeowners imperiled. California was third worst, followed by Arizona, Michigan, Idaho, Utah, Colorado, Georgia and Illinois.

GM stalls on Vauxhall and Opel sale plans

GM has been vacillating over whether to dispose of the unit to Magna, a Canadian car company, RHJ, a Belgian private equity group, or complete a restructuring itself.

European unions leaders fear that job cuts could be more drastic in the event of a restructuring or bankruptcy.

The car maker is expected to announce plans for the division after a board meeting on Wednesday afternooon, having come under pressure from the German government to decide the fate of 25,000 Opel and 5,000 Vauxhall workers.

The German government favours Magna and has rejected a sweetened bid from RHJ. It is currently propping up Opel with €1.5bn (£1.3bn) of state aid and is set to finance any deal made with Magna jointly with Russian state bank Sberbank.

Under the terms of the Magna bid, Magna and Sberbank would get a 55pc stake in Opel. GM would hold onto a 35pc stake and Opel workers would get 10pc.

Berlin's concerns over RHJ are not believed to revolve around the terms of the deal, but rather that the investment vehicle could seek to cut costs sharply and offload the asset.

However, GM, which recently emerged from bankruptcy protection, is thought to prefer RHJ. It is concerned about the potential for GM technology getting into the hands of other car-makers.

The German government-backed trust responsible for overseeing the sale plans is to meet on Thursday, suggesting that GM will have made a decision by then. The trustees, including two from GM and two from Germany, will examine proposals from the US carmaker's new board.

Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, the German economy minister, has said that he expects a "fundamental decision" this week.

Securing the future of GM Europe by the end of this month has long been a target for the US car maker, but talks seemed to have reach a stalemate. However, Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, has been pushing for a deal before the German elections later this month.

Germany has indicated that it may be prepared to provide the entire €4.5bn of support required by Magna, and the UK government has suggested it will support a deal if British jobs are protected.

Report: Iran would not talk nuclear work with powers

After Iranian foreign minister presents 'package of proposals' to Western powers intended to prepare ground for talks, Iranian envoy to UN nuclear watchdog says his country will not discuss nuclear program

Published: 09.10.09, 15:50 / Israel News

A senior Iranian official suggested that any talks with Western powers would not address Tehran's disputed nuclear program, in comments carried by state-run television on Thursday.

Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Tehran's envoy to the UN nuclear watchdog agency, made the statement after Iran on Wednesday handed over a package of proposals to six world powers, Iran's Arabic-language al Alam satellite television reported on its website.

Soltanieh made similar comments last week, before the proposals were submitted to the powers involved in diplomatic efforts to resolve the dispute over Iran's nuclear work, which the West suspects is aimed at making bombs.

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Al Alam quoted him as saying Iran had prepared the package to try to end differences over its nuclear program, while also appearing to rule out any negotiations on the issue.

"Tehran is prepared to have fair and substantive talks about various problems, including the guarantee of access by all countries to nuclear energy and preventing the proliferation of nuclear arms," Soltanieh said.

"But these talks do not include Tehran's nuclear program and legal activities in this connection," he was quoted as saying.

Iranian foreign minister (L) presenting package of proposals (Photo: Reuters)

Iran's Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said on Wednesday Tehran's proposals addressed "various global issues" and represent a "new opportunity for talks and cooperation," without giving details about the content.

The United States voiced hope that Iran's proposals would be constructive and said it intended to study them carefully.

"We hope that what is contained in that response is a serious, substantive and constructive response to the ... proposal," US Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice told reporters after a meeting of the UN Security Council.

Iran, the world's fifth-largest crude exporter, says its nuclear program is aimed at producing electricity and has repeatedly rejected demands to halt enrichment, which can have both civilian and military purposes.

What Obama Should Say Tonight

In our last conversation, you made so many important policy points that I was inspired to spend part of Labor Day weekend reading serious articles about how to fix the health care system. I made my husband read them too. So if you detect a little coolness next time you see him, don’t take it personally.

One thing is certain. Washington is now swimming with really attractive red herrings — ideas that Obama can’t propose and Congress won’t pass.

Washington is swimming with health care ideas that Obama can’t propose and Congress won’t pass.

We’ve spent months now watching Congress struggling with this issue, and if we’ve learned anything it’s that these people will not pass a bill that takes anything away from their constituents. That’s too bad. Their constituents would be better off if their representatives were willing to take away a little in order to get a big reform.

But here we are, where we are.

The Republican leadership is now saying: “Scrap the whole thing and start over.” This translates into: “Scrap the whole thing.”

David Goldhill, whose article in the Atlantic you’ve been touting, wants to give every American catastrophic insurance and a health safety account to pay for everyday medical expenses. This presumes that consumers can make reasoned decisions on how to use their health care dollars, the way they can when they’re looking for a new blender. But let’s pretend he’s right. That would still require a sweeping, top-to-bottom transformation of the current structure of the health industry.
Related Conversations

* Who’s to Blame on Health Care Reform? (Sept. 2, 2009)
* Taking a Stand on Health Care (Aug. 11, 2009)
* Partisan Health Care Politics (July 16, 2009)
* More Related Conversations »

Related Op-Ed

* Anna Deavere Smith: Obama’s Audience Speaks First (Sept. 8, 2009)

If we’re going to go for something that radical, I want to go back to the beloved single-payer option. Which we don’t talk about because it can’t pass.

From what you’ve written, it sounds like you’d like Obama to break loose, stride out to the podium Wednesday night and endorse the bipartisan Wyden-Bennett bill.

Wyden-Bennett is almost as hard to explain as the big health care hairball Congress is currently rolling around. It involves universal coverage, health insurance exchanges and vouchers. It might make the whole system much more rational, tidier, and very possibly cheaper.

And it, too, would be about as hard to pass as the single-payer system we’re not supposed to discuss because it’s impractical.

True, Wyden-Bennett has bipartisan roots. But if Obama actually embraced it, those roots would dry up fast. The right is already attacking it for having too much federal control. The Democrats don’t like the idea of getting rid of Medicaid and employer-based insurance. There’s plenty in it that the talking heads could demonize.

As soon as Wyden-Bennett became possible, it would become impossible.

Obama should ask Congress for the strongest bill he thinks he can get.

You can see this now in the debate over a cap-and-trade bill to control global warming. Republicans like John McCain supported cap-and-trade before. Now they’re running away as fast as their little legs can carry them because A.) the Democrats have added stuff they don’t like and B.) the sucker might actually pass.

I hope Obama asks Congress for the strongest bill he thinks he can get, one that greatly expands medical coverage, protects people from the worst abuses of the insurance industry, and at least sets up some structures that will make it easier to move toward cost control in the future, even if it doesn’t do much right now.

Then, I’d like him to say something like this:

Over the summer, we’ve seen how difficult it’s become for Americans to talk sensibly about big, serious subjects like health care. There are some people in our news media, and some people sitting in this very chamber, who have lost interest in doing anything except whipping the public into hysteria and going in for the kill. Shame on them.

So far, my biggest failure as a president is that I haven’t brought the country the kind of civil politics I promised. So while I’m going to be working very hard with Congress to give you health care reform this year, I also am going to start preparing the ground for the much harder work on this subject in the future. Getting there will require us to talk to each other like adults.

To set an example, I’m going to tell my own party to stop running brain-dead scare ads like the one we’ve got up now in several states saying the Republicans want to end Medicare.

After that, every time a politician or a TV commentator says something that’s both incorrect and insanely divisive, I’m going to hold a five-minute press conference and denounce it. I’m going to be like a stern parent, making the kids put a quarter in a jar every time they say a swear word.

The American people are confused about health care, but they’re very clear about the kind of political discourse they want to see. And it doesn’t look like anything they saw this summer. We’re going to do better, beginning now.

David Brooks: Gail, far be it from me to offer anyone marital advice, but forcing one’s spouse to read serious articles on health care reform strikes me as a very risky move. My own spouse has managed to preserve her self-respect by ignoring the Op-Ed Page on Tuesdays and Fridays and telling her friends that I sell refrigerator warranties.

Whether it’s a single-payer system or a consumer-driven one, both options are better than the status quo.

Starting with your Obama speech, it would be great if he gave it but I’m not sure anybody would believe it. In this case, actions have to precede words. During the 2008 campaign, John McCain proposed a very serious health care reform plan with a risky central plank — cutting the employer tax exemption on health care benefits. Obama proceeded to demagogue the hell out of that, despite the fact that many of his major advisers were on record supporting the idea.

It’s hard to behave opportunistically when it suits you and then once in office call for an all-clear.

On the broader legislative landscape, I’ve become similarly disenchanted with the health debate. The impression one gets is that the country will never accept any benefit cuts. I don’t know if that’s true, but the politicians are acting as if it is. If they are right we are on a one-way ride to Spengler-land because great nations decline when they get buried under their own debt.

That said, I think there are some things that are practical that we can do today. In a recent column I mentioned a Brookings report called “Bending the Curve.” That report took a lot of ideas that are floating around in miniature in the current bills and it implemented them. That proposal would get us a big step toward real cost restraint. I am told, by the way, that the president has read that report and he will be pushing harder on many of the ideas. The crucial test there is whether he is willing to cap the tax exemption on benefits.

Over the long term, I’ve become more and more convinced that we have to make a choice. We either have to go down the road to single payer, as you’d like, or we have to go down the road to a consumer-driven system, as I’d prefer. I like the latter because I think the health care economy is simply too dynamic and complicated to be regulated and driven from the center. Nonetheless, I’ve lived in Europe and I don’t regard single-payer as a civilization-ending disaster.

Both of these options are better than the status quo. And I’m afraid the status quo (in obese form) is where we are headed.

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Barack Obama, Congress, health care
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From The Conversation

Who’s to Blame on Health Care Reform?
Taking a Stand on Health Care
Partisan Health Care Politics
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Is the Honeymoon Over?

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From 1 to 25 of 119 Comments
1 2 3 ... 5 Next »

1. September 9, 2009 1:00 pm Link

TORT REFORM and OPEN MARKET private insurance will solve the healthcare cost issue!!
— Jeff Crocket
2. September 9, 2009 1:04 pm Link

I wish Obama would stop trying to win over the Republicans in Congress. He’s wasting his time, and losing his momentum.
— Heron
3. September 9, 2009 1:09 pm Link

We need a national insurance system to provide low-cost egalitarian coverage to all citizens.The hospital system should remain mixed and the pharmaceutical and medical equipment manufacturers should remain private but with responsible regulation.

The key is to provide everyone with high quality healthcare. Therefore there are two steps that need to be accomplished. One is access the other is quality.

Only public insurance can provide universal access at affordable prices. While private companies perform medical services and produce medical products at higher quality than a public company would because they, driven by seeking profit, innovation constantly.

Therefore we need socialism in insurance(access) and capitalism in healthcare (services/products). The process to getting this is to mandate the inclusion of the PUBLIC OPTION!
— Dylan Young
4. September 9, 2009 1:10 pm Link

There is a huge difference between single “payor” and single “administrator.” Food stamps are a somewhat imperfect analogy; but one reason they work is that we can produce lots of food inexpensively, so that there is more than enough to go around at prices people can afford.

The freaky thing to me is that there seems to be an unstated assumption from some that everything a person earns “belongs” to society and that a person is merely allowed by society to keep some of it themselves.
— Joe
5. September 9, 2009 1:13 pm Link

Good Lord, did David actually post a link — without comment! — to the Institute for Historical Review????? Wow! Surely he could have found a more reputable source of information about Oswald Spengler!
6. September 9, 2009 1:16 pm Link

Yesterday I went to a surgeon to discuss repairing a tear in my abdominal wall, which was the result of an error made in a previous surgery.
The new surgeon ordered a CT scan, which I refused. The radiation from one abdominal CT scan is the equivalent of THREE YEARS of background radiation, and there is a cancer risk.
I explained that I did not want to add to my already excessive radiation exposure, and asked if I could have an MRI instead. He said “Your insurance probably won’t pay for it, because it costs four times as much as a CT scan.” With an MRI there is NO radiation involved! Unlike a CT scan, no cancers will develop as the result of an MRI, but it costs more. To save money, I’m being asked to turn the roulette wheel and see if I will be the statistic.
There has been a lot of negative talk about “unnecessary” and “expensive” tests being a burden on the system. But damn it, this is my life we’re talking about. It is perfectly reasonable that I do not want to do anything which will increase my odds of developing cancer again.
I’m not sure how this type of situation will be handled under the Obama health plan. Does anybody have an answer?
— Claudia Chapman
7. September 9, 2009 1:21 pm Link

That Brooks is considered an important voice says volumes about how pathetic and superficial the level of political discussion is in our culture. He’s merely a right-leaning sophist.
— Sam
8. September 9, 2009 1:29 pm Link

Great health reform ad at a time when we need some humor.

We need to lower the temperature of this debate. Perhaps then, constructive, rational exchange will result in much needed reform.
— Policy Hack
9. September 9, 2009 1:29 pm Link

The national discussion has devolved intto mere ideology when one side only pretends to negotiate, in an effort to gum up the works and also fans civic un-rest; no greater testament of this exists than a grand total of zero votes for reform.

The scenario is reminiscient of the same discussion in the 90’s, when GOP Senators voted against bills which they had sponsored and which had the Senators’ names on them..

Past failures of special interests in Western democracies to deal in economic reality has led to multiple declines in their power.
— robob18
10. September 9, 2009 1:31 pm Link

Joe–I think the food stamp analogy isquite misleading. We produce a large surplus of food, and the price of food, low though it is by historical standards, would be much llower still without government price supports. Providing food stamps, in effect providing very low-cost food for everyone, doesn’t change these basic dynamics. Health care is quite different. We have no surplus of doctors, nurses, equipment or facilities; kjust the opposite, in fact.

In this sort of market, adding tens of millions of people to the system must either increase the cost of scarce services, or, in the absence of a price mechanism, to a supply shortfall, in which medical servces will have to be rationed.

This may or may not be the morally correct thing to do, but pretending that there will no cost to pay for the benefit of making medical services more widely available is ridiculous. O’s problem is that his pretence that we can increase coverage and simultaneously reduce costs is widely disbelieved, and it’s disbelieved because it’s not believable. No speech can change this.
— Bob Royfills
11. September 9, 2009 1:33 pm Link

I’m always fascinated when someone yells out that tort reform is going to save health care. I think that we desperately need tort reform so that folks are not always trying to extrort money from anyone. On the other hand, doctors are not policing themselves. The medical associations are nothing but old boys clubs that serve to protect each and every one of them. Who is going to make them wash their hands unless the threat of being sued isn’t going to hang over their heads. And what happens to the poor souls that get malpracticed on? A half-hearted apology isn’t going to sustain them for the rest of their ruined life.

Come up with something better.
— bb
12. September 9, 2009 1:35 pm Link

What does David mean by a “consumer-driven system”? That is what Republicans claim we have now, yet it has collapsed as surely as the revered “capitalist” economy. Since David has no real opposition to Single Payer, let’s pass it and get on with solving other problems like the out of control military industrial catastrophe and the collapsed job market. Time for Democrats to take control or become another laughing-stock bunch of dorks. We are tired of this.
— Mark
13. September 9, 2009 1:37 pm Link

Tort reform? For doctors (and their families) the cost of medical malpractice insurance premiums and the statistical likelihood of at least two med-mal lawsuits over the course of their careers is a modern-day sword of Damocles. (Or, for the mythology-impaired, meat cleaver of the judges on “Chopped”). Yes, there are frivolous lawsuits out there–but the existence of malpractice insurance is what’s driving most of them. I’m willing to bet that incompetent doctors who “go bare” and also don’t have deep pockets don’t get sued nearly as often as conscientious ones with big fat malpractice policy limits or vulnerable assets. At any rate, the cost of malpractice litigation–contrary to what conservatives would have us believe–contributes less than 1% to the nation’s total health care expenditures, public and private. (I’m a lawyer married to a doctor, so I’m familiar with both sides of the “tort reform” issue).

Tort reform is not a red herring. It’s a red guppy.
— Sandy in Chicago
14. September 9, 2009 1:38 pm Link

As a self-employed individual, I am tempted to agree that employer tax exemptions on health care should be curbed or eliminated. Why do people who work for companies receive greater health benefits at lesser cost than I do, when I am also a hardworking, taxpaying, productive member of society?
Alternatively, you could require health care companies to provide me with comparable benefits to those companies who “buy in bulk” — and provide me with additional tax benefits based on the cost of my health care.
But when push comes to shove, neither of these alternatives will stop the rapid rise of health insurance rates. I am a healthy 26 year old, and I pay $145 per month for piss-poor benefits. (Two years ago, this same plan cost me $90 per month, and no, I haven’t graduated into a new age bracket.)
What we really need to do is provide consumers a competitive government plan that will keep these costs from rising. I pay more for health care benefits that I don’t use than I do for the food that I eat — and were I to really become sick, I would still have to fork over several thousand dollars before meeting my deductible. Something about that isn’t right, and nothing less than a drastic overhaul will fix it.
— Lynda
15. September 9, 2009 1:38 pm Link

The idea of taxing health care provided by an employer is insane. My husband works for a municipality, earning $35,000. Take home pay is $25,000 a year. Our local property taxes, which keep going up to accommodate the education budget, are now $6,000 a year. How can Obama even think of taxing us on the “income” we receive in the form of health insurance, which I might add we make a substantial contribution to?????
— Todd Fox
16. September 9, 2009 1:41 pm Link

Give the conservatives “tort reform” (they’ll find out what it means when a relative is harmed by a health care provider), then go for broke. Lawsuits have a negligible impact on the overall picture - - just look at the numbers - - but they have attained mythical status among conservatives and doctors/nurses. Pull the rug out from under them and THEN let them explain the absurdly high charges that have ruined the economics of health care in this country.
— Steve B.
17. September 9, 2009 1:43 pm Link

Can’t the Times find anybody worth reading ? I want my two minutes back .
— nat turner
18. September 9, 2009 1:44 pm Link

We should have the right arguing for a consumer-driven approach, the left arguing for single payor, and both agreeing on the need for a radical reform.

Instead, we’ve got them all putting useless parches around the current system. It’s sad, and it will send this country the way of California.
— Dan Wilde
19. September 9, 2009 1:44 pm Link

Cut all federal agency budgets by 20% (except for law enforcement and consumer protection agencies) and reduce the deficit. Stop illegal immigration and balance the budget.
— Kevin
20. September 9, 2009 1:44 pm Link

The details confuse most of the people. Obama should simply posit this as a debate between a government sponsored welfare program (with its associated problems) vs. a free market approach (with its associated problems). Pick your poison. It is really a matter of who you trust or distrust the most.
— Larry
21. September 9, 2009 1:45 pm Link

I’m encouraged that meaningful insurance reform has bipartisan support. We’ll be well on our way to something like justice if insurers are made to cover people with pre-existing conditions, allow people to take their coverage with them when they change jobs, and leave practicing medicine to physicians.

I’m a seven-year breast cancer survivor and I just lost my job. My last adventure in COBRA involved a $750 monthly premium, $4,000 annual deductible and $500 out of pocket for meds every month. Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield encouraged me to reapply when I’ve been cancer-free for 15 years.

My former employer has to swallow a 40 percent premium increase and part of it was my fault — insurers now “rate up” small businesses who employ somebody who would not qualify for individual insurance. I don’t think they laid me off because of the insurance cost, but it certainly didn’t help.

They truly want us to slink away and die. Instead, we’re going to the barricades and telling our stories and I’m very encouraged by this.
— Lisa
22. September 9, 2009 1:46 pm Link

Obama Health Care Speech Intercepted, It’s a Fumble

Read the Article at Unbelievably Great Music
— aratunes
23. September 9, 2009 1:48 pm Link

What should have occurred is that members of Congress take trips to countries that have single payer systems and study them really really hard — all the nooks and crannies. Members of Congress should have also gone to their community hospitals and looked into what ails them and the doctors and staff. They should have opened up appointments with their constituents “one at a time” to listen to their concerns — not just the big donors, which is now the case for most, or in larger “community meetings” where only a few can speak. Instead we had a few non-elected and untrained people yell and scream over public airways and rile up a small number of people (almost all older and white, and almost all lower to lower middle class) who made rational public discussion impossible and whose increasingly bizarre “arguments” were not strongly challenged. Now we need full public disclosure of campaign contributions from medical insurance interests. Otherwise we will get a Procrustean Bed health care delivery system and a further impoverishment of our working and middle classes.
— sfbbmom
24. September 9, 2009 1:52 pm Link

Sam, You are much to harsh. Name someone better.
— appaled again
25. September 9, 2009 2:00 pm Link

Can someone explain to me what the rush is all about? Obama is in such a hurry, why? Anyone with half a brain has to be suspicious as to why he insists on shoving “his way or no way” health reform down our throats? When it takes him 6 months to pick out a dog, but he’s rushing a nations health to be signed into law ASAP, you got to wonder, what’s really going on. I haven’t heard of one country’s health care program that has been applauded by it’s people. We, the people of the United States, must stand together and demand the kind of health care WE want, not what this clown of a president wants. He could care less. Anyone who elects Czars like he picks out flavors at Baskins and Robbins and doesn’t limit their power, limits peoples’ practicing of their Christian faith, elects self asserted communists as part of his government (Jones, Czar, who did resign), does not care about what kind of health care you, I, or our families will have access too. Hopefully, the American people are waking up, seeing what this person really is and can be impeached before it’s too late, and our United States turns into the Divided States of America. Gloria K., NJ

Kraft launches surprise $18-billion bid for Cadbury

Kraft Foods (KFT-N) said it was intent on pursuing Britain's Cadbury (CBY-N) , which soared in value after it snubbed a premium-rich bid from the U.S. group, reinforcing hopes of a broader-based pick-up in merger activity.

Analysts said North America's biggest food group might have to raise its £10.2-billion ($17.98-billion Canadian) offer by up to 40 per cent after shares in the world's No. 2 candy and chocolate maker increased by almost half on news of the approach.

Cadbury's stock closed up 38 per cent at 783 pence, having peaked close to its all-time high at 808 and well ahead of Kraft's 745 pence-per-share pitch.

The price spike reflected analysts' views the combination would be a success, chances of a counterbid and bankers' hopes that rallying equity markets and a brighter economic outlook were encouraging companies to view mergers and acquisitions (M&A) prospects with greater confidence.

“If the deal gets done, it sends a positive signal about the M&A market. There is not that much more consolidation to be done in confectionery, but a successful outcome would make global consumer companies more likely to pursue their own M&A targets,” said a senior banking source.

The two firms' product portfolios are largely complementary. Top brands at Cadbury, which had sales of £5.4-billion last year, include Bassett's Liquorice Allsorts, Maynards Wine Gums and trademark chocolate bars while Kraft, which had turnover of $42-billion, is known for Maxwell House coffee, Oreo cookies and Ritz crackers.

Kraft's cash-and-shares offer, outlined in a letter on Aug. 28, represented a 31-per-cent premium to Cadbury's closing share price from last Friday.

“Our initial view is that this represents a competitively pitched offer, but something less than a knockout blow,” said Investec analyst Martin Deboo.

“For a useful comparison, we think that investors need to look as far back as Nestle's acquisition of Rowntree in 1988, where we recall that the exit premium was in excess of 100 per cent of Rowntree's pre-speculation share price.”

Panmure Gordon & Co recommended investors hold out for at least 800 pence a share and Bernstein Research suggested between 855 and 1,070.

One top 20 Cadbury investor who declined to be named said benchmarks set by other deals indicated Kraft would need to offer at least 10 per cent more, “and you could be looking at 20 to 30 per cent higher.”

Kraft offered 300 pence in cash and 0.2589 new Kraft shares per Cadbury share in the hope it can create a “global powerhouse in snacks, confectionery and quick meals”.

Evolution Securities, which sees fair value for Cadbury in any takeover of at least 1,000 pence a share, said a tie-up would put the group neck-and-neck with Mars-Wrigley, with each boasting about 15 per cent of the global confectionery market.

It would still be half the size of Nestle which reported revenues last year of 109.9-billion Swiss francs ($111.7-billion Canadian).

Consolidation hopes helped drive shares in the food and drink sector as a whole up 2.35 per cent, outperforming a 1.3 per cent rise for European blue-chips.

Cazenove analysts said Nestle might make a counterbid for Cadbury, perhaps in a joint approach with U.S. chocolate group Hershey Co (HSY-N) . Nestle CEO Paul Bulcke declined to comment directly but said the company had no major acquisitions planned though was always open to opportunities.

Cadbury said it believed Kraft's approach fundamentally undervalued the British company.

Northfield, Illinois headquartered Kraft said it was not ready to throw in the towel, however, describing itself as “committed to working toward a recommended transaction and to maintaining a constructive dialogue.”

“We think (a deal) makes perfect sense ... subject to the right price for both parties,” Bernstein analysts wrote.

A debt market source said Kraft was most likely to finance a bid with a bridge loan via the bond markets. “We've seen sizeable acquisitions this year for Merck and Pfizer done this way,” the banker said.

Global merger and acquisition activity fell 44.5 per cent to $872.5-billion in the first half of 2009, according to Reuters data – the lowest first half volume since 2003 and the steepest decline since 2001. Lazard is acting as lead financial adviser to Kraft with Centerview Partners, Citigroup and Deutsche Bank also advising.

The Beatles - Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, review

The contemporary view was that this was not just the peak of the Beatles’ career but the high point of recorded music to that date. Ringo remembered it less fondly as the album on which he learned to play chess.

It is where the Beatles really exploit the studio as the instrument, forgoing live playing for sonic adventure. It is impossible to overstate its impact: from a contemporary Sixties perspective it was utterly mind-blowing and original. Looking back from a point when its sonic innovations have been integrated into the mainstream, it remains a wonky, colourful and wildly improbable pop classic, although a little slighter and less cohesive than it may have seemed at the time.

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Some songs, such as Lovely Rita, When I’m 64, Good Morning, Good Morning, Being For the Benefit of Mr Kite and Harrison’s dour, droning Within You Without You, seem undernourished excuses on which to hang florid ideas. But the title track is an improbable scorcher, Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds a glittering gem, Fixing a Hole and She’s Leaving Home lovely chamber pieces, and the concluding A Day in the Life one of the strangest and most beautiful recordings ever, an inner-space odyssey juxtaposing Lennon’s ethereal surrealism with McCartney’s prosaic energy and wrapping it all up in an apocalyptic orchestral climax.

Album tracklist