Clinton Makes Major Financial Pledge At Climate Summit, Calls Out China

Clinton makes major financial pledge at climate summit, calls out ChinaOn the eve of President Barack Obama’s arrival at the global climate summit in Copenhagen, Denmark, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that the U.S. would help raise $100 billion a year by 2020 to help developing nations combat climate change, provided that other affluent nations live up to the "transparency" demanded by the U.S.

The declaration was a clear attempt to re-energize the pursuit of a global agreement after nearly two weeks of contentious debate that has produced minimal results.

Clinton referred directly to China when she indicated that there are strings attached to the U.S.’s pledge.

"I have often quoted a Chinese proverb which says that when you are in a common boat, you have to cross the river peacefully together," she said. "Well, we are in a common boat. All of the major economies have an obligation to commit to meaningful mitigation actions and stand behind them in a transparent way."

It is still unclear whether China plans on participating in the proposed agreement or if they will even remain at the summit, Fox News reports.

Meanwhile, Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.) said last week that the Senate would pass its own version of climate change legislation in the spring of 2010.

Senator Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) responded, "there are maybe 25 votes in the Senate for cap and trade. You need 60. John Kerry misled the people. He said something binding would happen by April 22. That is not going to happen. Wait and see if I am right or John Kerry."
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House Democrat Introduces Controversial Immigration Reform Bill

House Democrat introduces controversial immigration reform bill Representative Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) introduced an immigration reform proposal last week that has already garnered significant criticism from anti-immigration advocates.

The Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America’s Security and Prosperity Act of 2009 is the first significant proposal on the issue introduced in Congress in the last two years.

It contains far-reaching provisions, including a route to legalization for the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants—who would be required to pay a $500 fine, learn English and pass a criminal background check—and a suggestion to strip police officers of their federally-sanctioned powers to detain individuals for immigration and visa violations, according to The Chicago Tribune.

Moreover, the legislation draft calls for providing 100,000 extra visas for people from countries with high rates of illegal immigration and for expediting legal immigration for close relatives of U.S. citizens and lawful residents.

The proposal has come under fire from conservative groups that have labeled it "an amnesty."

Among the most vocal critics is the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which described the bill as a "wholesale sell-out of the interests of the American people."

The organization’s president, Dan Stein, stated that "at a time when some 25 million Americans are either unemployed or relegated to part-time work, the last thing the Democratic majority ought to be focused on is a massive amnesty and immigration expansion bill."
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Lieberman's Wife Under Fire For Lobbying Activities

Lieberman's wife under fire for lobbying activities Senator Joe Lieberman (I-Conn) has emerged as one of the biggest obstacles for the Democrats on the road to a healthcare reform, a position that may have resulted in increased attacks on his wife Hadassah Lieberman.

Mrs. Lieberman has worked as a consultant for pharmaceutical companies including Pfizer and ALCO, which critics claim creates a conflict of interest.

Now they have begun calling for a major breast cancer alliance—the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation—to drop the senator’s wife as its ‘Global Ambassador.’

"We are asking Ellen DeGeneres, Christie Brinkley and other high-profile celebrities who are associated with Komen to demand that no more money raised for cancer treatment be given to Hadassah Lieberman or any other ex-Pharma/Insurance strategists," said Jane Hamsher, founder of the Firedoglake blog.

The critics in turn have come under fire from many on the right side of the political spectrum who decried attempts to go after lawmakers’ families for political reasons.

Mrs. Lieberman herself pointed out to the controversy as a setback for feminism and women’s right in America.

"It’s been surprising to me as an old feminist to watch this kind of cheap attack," she said, quoted by The Washington Post.

She added, "The reality of many women is that many of us have careers and ideas and thoughts that preceded our marriages."
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Trying Alternative Medicine Is A Waste Of Time!

It must have been 27 years ago that I had my first experience with so-called “alternative medicine.” I was 13 and had been suffering chronic daily headaches and mid-back pain for half-a-dozen years. I was already seeing Philadelphia’s best mainstream medical professionals, taking a plethora of prescription meds, being put through dozens of tests, scans, protocols…. to no avail.

My father (who is an osteopath) then took me to see a chiropractor, and do you know what happened? Within minutes my back and neck felt so much looser! My restricted movement was returned within normal ranges. And I also started taking natural supplements. Over all, it was an amazing feeling…

I went back several times that week for adjustments and, at home, attempted the exercises I was instructed to do. But the pain, and my suffering, returned and continued on. This is not surprising. In fact, it is a common occurrence when people try alternative therapies.

Why This Happens
The problem is that many people turn to alternative therapies as a last resort. They have had little success with mainstream medicine, have become desperate and now are expecting a miracle cure or at least a fast turnaround of their signs and symptoms.

While I served as director of the Integrated Energy Medicine healing center in Philadelphia, I did thousands of examinations, consultations and treatments using alternative therapies and herbal medicines. I would have been delighted to offer patients both a miracle cure and fast results… if such were possible. And many times I was successful in “curing” someone in short order. But with other cases, the sheer depth, difficulty and timeline of the problem made that task impossible.

Let me explain why some patients experience great success while others simply have little to no change in their signs and symptoms and find alternative therapies to be a waste of time.

A Different Model
In general there is a vast philosophical and procedural difference in the approaches of mainstream medicine and alternative therapies. Mainstream bio-medicine uses a disease-based model of health. That is, patients see their primary care physician when they are ill, the doctor diagnoses the illness (disease) and then prescribes a protocol of curing that disease. Often there is no cure… but pain and other signs and symptoms are “managed” by prescription medication and/or surgery.

Alternative therapies, on the other hand, work from a wellness model. That is, the focus is on returning the body to homeostasis (balance) and maintaining that balance to ensure good health and long life. They proactively accomplish this through diet, exercise, mind/body techniques, herbs and supplements, massage and so on. All are methods of alleviating pain, illness and disease by restoring balance to the body. If you have back pain and take a supplement, the pain will probably remain… for a while. But if you follow a protocol of regular supplementation with safe stretches and perhaps acupuncture or chiropractic care… the body will rebalance and the issues will resolve. But this takes time.

Generally speaking, many alternative therapies aim at rebalancing the body to restore health. Chinese medicine uses herbs to balance blood, energy, body fluids and organ function. Acupuncture uses needles to open meridian lines and correct energy imbalances. Chiropractic uses manual adjustments to realign the spine to allow correct functioning of the nervous system.

Don’t Try… Do!
So why does the title of this article claim that alternative therapies are a waste of time? Well, actually, they are not. But the “trying” of alternative therapies most certainly IS. You see, there is a difference between “trying” and “doing.” Trying means “you didn’t do” something. Let’s examine some common statements I’ve heard in my practice, and what they really mean.

Statement: I tried to call you and cancel my appointment. Translation: I did not call you.

Statement: I tried acupuncture, but it didn’t help. Translation: After a few visits I was not cured and so decided not to continue and follow the protocol to the end.

Statement: I’ve been really trying to eat right and do my exercises. Translation: I eat right once in a while, and I exercise when I remember to do it.

Trying means not doing. And if you are not fully engaged in the doing of alternative therapies… seeing them through to the end… following the protocol… doing what you have been instructed to do… then they will not “work.” Not because they failed you, but because YOU failed you.

You see, the therapies themselves are not the problem (unless you have chosen to follow the wrong therapy for your health issue). They are also not time-consuming. Rather, it is the body that takes time “to allow" the method to take hold and effect change and reestablish balance. But this takes time because the body likes to stay where it is, as it requires little effort to do so. After repeated treatments, or a period of time spent doing exercises or taking herbal supplements, the body finally realizes that it is actually easier to be in a state of homeostasis (balance) than to exist in a state of imbalance. It then “lets go” of its old unhealthy holding pattern. Now it can fully embrace a healthy pattern, and positive change can take effect.

Think of it like working out at the gym. If you are out of shape and lift weights you will be sore. But little by little you will be less sore after the exercise. If you only lift weights once in a while, your muscle size, shape and density will not visibly change.  But if you stick with it (“do” it), you will notice your body changing in positive ways.

Internally this is what is happening with alternative treatments. Each day, each treatment, each bottle of supplements, each breathing exercise and dietary change brings you one day closer to the body allowing them to take hold and the body stepping out of its own way to effect a cure.

They’re No Last Resort
The worst part is, people still look to alternative therapies as a last resort, and mainstream pharma drugs and surgery as a first choice. This is perverse. Using the big guns for the beginning of a problem (depending on severity) is ridiculous. My feeling on maintaining a balance between mainstream and alternative medicine is this: Everyone needs to get a physical each year, including blood and urine tests. If a problem is found they should seek alternative, non-toxic, non-invasive methods to balance the body. After a period of time they should have more tests run to see if the problem is better or worse. If better, continue with alternative medicine. If worse, and in the red zone of health, then turn to mainstream medicine for help. Not the other way around.

As it stands, alternative practitioners tend to get chronic cases, and after years or decades of toxic drugs and surgeries have truly damaged their patients’ body. And they are left to balance these bodies, in short time, at low costs and with high hopes.

It’s time people reframe their minds on this issue. So the next time you feel un-well, seek out alternative therapies first. But you must DO it and not simply TRY it. It takes time, effort, discipline, but in the end being balanced means being healthy.

And taking personal responsibility to do what needs doing—and not depending on a doctor to do it for you—is the greatest gift you could ever give to yourself.

—Dr. Mark Wiley

Expert Offers Portfolio Advice As Dollar Keeps Falling

Expert offers portfolio advice as dollar keeps falling As the U.S. dollar has fallen some 15 percent against the euro since March 2009, and it is widely expected to continue to weaken further, financial experts believe those who would like to protect their wealth and assets may consider changes to their portfolios.

Paul J. Lim, senior editor of Money Magazine, says he believes buying foreign stocks to diversify one’s portfolio is a smart way to reduce the risks associated with a falling greenback. In a recent article he pointed out that only 10 years ago U.S. stocks made up more than a half (54 percent) of the world’s stock market value. But today they only account for about a third.

"As investors shift out of the U.S. market, they exchange dollars for the currencies of countries where they’re doing their buying, reducing demand for the buck," he wrote.

Lim went on to add that the long-term decline trend suggests it may be a good idea to keep between 25 percent and 50 percent of one’s stock portfolio in foreign shares.

Meanwhile, other financial experts—such as those associated with the National Inflation Association—recommend buying gold and other precious metals as the dollar keeps loosing value.

Last Thursday morning, gold for February delivery traded at $1,115.90 per ounce on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange.
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Sea Water and Sea Salt

When I get near sea water I always bring two gallons home. Here is why:

These are major components of sea water (salts) according to the order of magnitude of these elements:

Natural chlorine55.2 percent
Sodium30.4 percent
Sulphur as SO47.7 percent
Magnesium3.7 percent
Potassium1.1 percent
Carbon as carbonic acid0.35 percent
Bromine0.19 percent
Boron0.07 percent
Strontium0.04 percent

There are 40 more minor elements in sea water, which no doubt contain every known or unknown trace element of nutritional significance. (From Dr. Royal Lee, The Significance of Sea Salt)

A small amount of sea water in the diet is beneficial. I take a tablespoon each day in a glass of water.

Popularity Of Marijuana Growing Among Teenagers, Study Finds

Popularity of marijuana growing among teenagers, study findsThe use of marijuana has become more prevalent among U.S. teenagers, even as they have cut down on cigarettes, binge drinking and using methamphetamines, according to a recently released national study.

Scientists who conducted the research for the National Institute on Drug Abuse speculated that the result may stem from the national debate over the possible medical use of marijuana, which may have made the drug seem safer to teenagers.

The government has used the study to call for intensifying the efforts against substance abuse.

"We must redouble our efforts to implement a comprehensive, evidence-based approach to preventing and treating drug use," said Gil Kerlikowske, the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, also known as the White House drug czar, quoted by the Associated Press (AP).

However, there are those who argue in favor of legalizing marijuana, citing its medicinal properties such as helping to treat chronic pain and nausea.

According to ProCon.org, an online resource that aims to present controversial issues in a nonpartisan way, a total of 13 U.S. states, including Alaska, Montana and Rhode Island, have legalized medical marijuana. Meanwhile, Arizona and Maryland have favorable laws, such as allowing medical use defense in court, but have not legalized it.
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The Senate’s Christmas Gift

Senate Democrats are working overtime to get an Obamacare bill passed before Christmas. They no longer even pretend to be doing it to reform healthcare. Now they’re just doing whatever it takes to get a bill passed, even if it costs somewhere between $848 billion and $2.1 trillion, depending on which math you use.

Never mind that the Realclearpolitics.com average of polls shows that Americans oppose the Democrat’s healthcare bill by a 54.2 percent to 39.7 percent margin. Democrats have gone all in, as the saying goes, and nothing is going to stop them.

As an unnamed Democratic strategist told Byron York of The Washington Examiner, “Once you’ve gone this far, what is the cost of failure?”

Comparing Democrats to bank robbers—how appropriate—who have gone past the point of no return, the strategist said, “They’re in the bank, they’ve got their guns out. They can run outside with no money, or they can stick it out, go through the gunfight, and get away with the money.”

Of course, money is what it’s all about. Not saving it mind you, but stealing yours.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D.-Ill.) told The Hill that Democrats will have the 60 votes needed to pass a bill this week. They’re buying off reluctant Democrats left and right.

For Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu the price was $300 million in federal aid to her state. As columnist Charles Krauthammer said on Fox News, if Landrieu got $300 million, Sen. Ben Nelson (D.-Neb.)—said to be holding out for removal of a provision in the bill that allows federal funding to pay for abortions—gets a Caribbean island, or two. Or, if some news reports are correct, a threat to close a military base in his state if he doesn’t join in.

Sen. Joe Lieberman (I.-Conn.) is back on board. We don’t yet know what he got in return, aside from a lot of face time on television. In an effort to get one or more Republicans to sign on so the bill can be cast as bi-partisan, Maine Republican Senators Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe are being courted as well. Look for Maine to get a bundle of cash for snow plows or something.

Meanwhile, Joe and Jane Citizen only get dunned. If you are a family with an annual income above $88,200 and your employer doesn’t provide coverage, prepare to fork out $15,200 a year for a federally-mandated insurance fee, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) as reported by CNSNews.com. And few employers are going to provide coverage for their employees once the plan kicks in.

Why? There is an incentive not to. If employers don’t pay their share of their employees’ premiums they’ll have to pay $750 per employee fine. That’s much less than the employer contribution on a complete health plan.

What’s more, there are tax increases in the bill. Lots of them. According to the Heritage Foundation, Medicare taxes increase from 2.9 percent to 3.4 percent, the top marginal tax rate goes from 35 percent to 39.6 percent and, in the House version of the bill, a surtax of 5.4 percent is put on incomes above $500,000.

Following is a list from the Heritage Foundation of other tax increases currently in either the House or Senate bill or proposed by the Barack Obama administration to “pay” for healthcare reform:

  • An excise tax on high-cost "Cadillac" health insurance plans that cost more than $8,500 a year for individuals or $23,000 for families.
  • An excise tax on medical devices such as wheelchairs, breast pumps and syringes used by diabetics for insulin injections.
  • A cap on the exclusion of employer-provided health insurance without offsetting tax cuts.
  • A limit on itemized deductions for taxpayers with a top income tax rate greater than 28 percent.
  • A windfall profits tax on health insurance companies.
  • A value-added tax, which would tax the value added to a product at each stage of production.
  • An excise tax on sugar-sweetened beverages including non-diet soda and sports drinks.
  • Higher taxes on alcoholic beverages including beer, wine and spirits.
  • A limit on contributions to health savings accounts.
  • An 8 percent tax on all wages paid by employers that do not provide their employees health insurance that satisfies the requirements defined by the Secretary of Health and Human Services.
  • A limit on contributions to flexible spending arrangements.
  • Elimination of the deduction for expenses associated with Medicare Part D subsidies.
  • An increase in taxes on international businesses.
  • Elimination of the tax credits paper companies take for biofuels they create in their production process—the so-called “Black Liquor credit.”
  • Fees on insured and self-insured health plans.
  • A limit or repeal of the itemized deduction for medical expenses.
  • A limit on the Qualified Medical Expense definition.
  • An increase in the payroll taxes on students.
  • An extension of the Medicare payroll tax to all state and local government employees.
  • An increase in taxes on hospitals.
  • An increase in the estate tax.
  • Increased efforts to close the mythical “tax gap.”
  • A 5 percent tax on cosmetic surgery and similar procedures such as Botox treatments, tummy tucks and face lifts.
  • A tax on drug companies.
  • An increase in the corporate tax on providers of health insurance.
  • A $500,000 deduction limitation for the compensation paid by health insurance companies to their officers, employees and directors.

And the kicker is the taxes go into effect immediately after Obama signs the bill. The healthcare benefits don’t start until 2014.

All the taxes are designed to confiscate the wealth of Mr. and Mrs. Citizen and drive them into a public option—even as Senate Democrats say the bill doesn’t include one, yet.

On Dec. 16 the president went on television and said if Congress doesn’t pass a healthcare bill the Federal government will go bankrupt. Poppycock. If a healthcare bill is passed it’s Mr. and Mrs. Citizen that go belly up.

The spend-and-tax policies of Obama and the Democrats—stimulus bills, TARP bill, healthcare bill, etc.—are what is pushing us toward economic collapse.

Face it. The healthcare reform plan Democrats are ramming through is nothing more than the greatest transfer of wealth and most massive power grab in the history of the world.

Frankly, I don’t consider that much of a Christmas present.

Republicans Prepare To Dig In Heels On Clean Water Restoration Act

Republicans prepare to dig in heels on Clean Water Restoration ActDemocratic Representative James Oberstar, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, has decided to defer introducing the Clean Water Restoration Act until next year due to heavy criticism from the GOP.

Oberstar’s proposed legislation would allow the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in conjunction with the Army Corp of Engineers, to protect and control all of the nation’s waterways, according to The Washington Times.

Currently, the EPA only monitors "navigable" waters that are large enough for ship traffic. The Clean Water Restoration Act would allow the government to regulate 20 million acres of U.S. wetlands and 59 percent of the nation’s streams that do not flow year-round, regardless of whether or not they are on private property.

The proposed bill has recently come under heavy scrutiny after reports surfaced that Oberstar would try to quietly pass the legislation through the House before the end of the year. Nearly 30 Republican Congressmen publicly criticized the bill in a letter written to Majority Leader Harry Reid and Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

"The government wants control of all water," said Senator John Barrasso (R-Wyo), quoted by Fox News. "That also means that they want control over all of our land including the private property rights of people from the Rocky Mountain west, the western caucus and the entire U.S.," he said.

Oberstar said he plans on introducing the bill in early 2010.
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Holistic Salt Cave Opens In Cleveland As Alternative Health Option

Salt caves are said to help with one's allergies and sinusesThere’s a salty smell in Cleveland’s air and it has nothing to do with food.

The Europa International Salon and Spa has opened what is called a "salt cave," which some believe has anti-inflammatory properties that can treat the common cold and allergies, WKYC.com reports.

"I had somebody here sleeping for 20 minutes. And she got up, and said she had the feeling as if she slept for eight hours, completely relaxed, pink cheeks and healthy," spa owner Tanya Sigal told the news provider.

Salt therapy, which is also known as halotherapy, has reportedly increased in popularity in some Eastern European spas with many enthusiasts claiming the caves can treat various conditions, including some allergies.

Sigal added that the cave, which is surrounded in natural Himalayan salt, was a good way to relax and rid a person of stress, which may be heightened in many given the rising unemployment rate and weakened economy.

This kind of treatment could help serious conditions as well.

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Enzyme May Lead To Alternative Approach To Treating High Blood Pressure

Enzyme may lead to alternative approach to treating high blood pressureAn enzyme called ACE2 may help doctors develop an alternative therapy for patients suffering from hypertension, a new study has found.

According to researchers at the Northwestern University School of Medicine, ACE2 can break down angiotensin II, a protein that causes blood vessels to constrict and may raise blood pressure to dangerous levels.

Currently there are traditional therapies that can block the formation of angiotensin II, but ACE2 is novel because it can break down hazardous protein that is already formed in blood vessels.

"This therapeutic approach can be superior to existing therapies that block the activity of the renin-angiotensin system…and therefore provide a more complete and effective suppression of this system to treat not just hypertension but many other medical conditions where angiotensin II overactivity is undesirable," said lead researcher Daniel Batlle.

The Mayo Clinic reports that diet and exercise are the best ways to naturally lower blood pressure. There are also several supplements that may be used to help treat hypertension including calcium, cod liver oil, omega-3 fatty acids and garlic.

Relaxation techniques such as yoga or deep breathing have been known to relieve stress and temporarily lower blood pressure.
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GOP Senator Stalls Healthcare Debate With Parliamentary Tactic

GOP Senator stalls healthcare debate with parliamentary tacticOn Wednesday, as Democrats pushed forward to meet self-imposed deadlines, Senate Republicans tried to halt the healthcare debate by insisting that a 767-page amendment be read out loud in its entirety.

The amendment, introduced by Independent Senator Bernard Sanders from Vermont, would call for a single-payer, government-run public health system.

As the bill was being introduced, Republican Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma objected to a request to bypass the reading of the amendment, a courtesy that is nearly always granted in Congress, TheHill.com reports. Sanders was soon forced to withdrawal the bill, which would have taken up to 10 hours to read aloud.

A Republican aide confirmed to CNN that GOP members had discussed the parliamentary tactic at their caucus meeting and had expected the move.

Coburn immediately defended the decision, blaming Democrats for trying to hurry a much needed debate. "It’s unfortunate that (Majority Leader Harry) Reid waited until the last minute to introduce his bill and now wants to rush it through the Senate," he said.

Reid quickly responded, stating that the tactic only pushed back other time-sensitive pieces of legislation.

"The only thing that Sen. Coburn’s stunt achieves is to stop us from moving to the [defense] appropriations bill that funds our troops," he told CNN.
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Judge Decrees ACORN Funding Cut-off Unconstitutional, Conservatives Outraged

Judge decrees ACORN funding cut-off unconstitutional, conservatives outragedA federal judge has ruled that the U.S. government’s decision to cut off funding to the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) was unconstitutional.

U.S. District Judge Nina Gershon issued a preliminary injunction against the government, saying that it is in the public’s best interest to continue to fund the controversial and embattled anti-poverty group, according to the Associated Press (AP).

In its lawsuit, ACORN claimed that Congress’ decision to cut off its funding was unconstitutional because it targeted an individual organization without due process.

Gershon agreed, stating in her ruling that ACORN raised a "fundamental issue of separation of powers."

"They have been singled out by Congress for punishment that directly and immediately affects their ability to continue to obtain federal funding, in the absence of any judicial, or even administrative, process adjudicating guilt," said Gershon.

Meanwhile, two congressmen have called on the Justice Department to appeal the decision, calling it "nothing short of preposterous," according to Fox News.

Representatives Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) wrote a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder explaining how the ruling would set a dangerous precedent.

"The district court’s decision is troubling in many respects, but most significantly, if allowed to stand, it would effectively excise from the Constitution Congress’ express Spending Clause power to refuse to appropriate federal funds to an organization that has shown itself likely to misuse those funds in the future," the letter states.
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The Lollipop Tree

Every year around this time our home becomes a veritable museum of Christmas art and artifacts—and I love it!

Decorations that my wife and I have collected over the years and from around the world come out of boxes and fill the Christmas tree. Her extraordinary collection of Santa Clauses is carefully unwrapped and she begins the lengthy process of deciding which one goes where. Thanks to gifts from family and friends, and her own enthusiastic shopping, she owns nearly 100 visitors from the North Pole. They range from a life-sized Father Christmas to the handcrafted Santa fairies on the mantel above our fireplace.

There are music boxes and carousels everywhere. A Santa train, pulling a colorful elves’ workshop, makes its merry way around one corner of the living room. (I confess, I have as much fun tooting the whistle, ringing the bells and having Santa call out a cheerful “Merry Christmas!” as any child who visits us.) Candles are in the windows, wreaths are on the doors and a colorful garland with big red bows is draped over the front door.

There are twinkling stars near the ceiling in our family room, thanks to some tin decorations we brought back from Mexico a while ago. In the living room, Mickey Mouse and his friends play Christmas carols on a xylophone. Everywhere you look there are things that twinkle or light up or play Christmas carols.

But of all the items we bring out of storage for Christmas, none gives me more pleasure or fills me with more nostalgia than a simple plywood Christmas tree my father made more than 50 years ago.

Each year we take the Lollipop Tree out of its box, put various colored lollipops in the spaces on its branches, add a string of red baubles around it and put it on display somewhere in the house.

Over time my Lollipop Tree has become a bit battered and stained. There are chips in some of the paint. And compared to all of the bright, shiny, electronic marvels that fill every corner of every room, it is very plain and simple. In fact, it looks old.

But I am thrilled to have it. It brings back vivid memories of my father’s one venture into entrepreneurship.

Back in the early 1950s we lived in an old farmhouse in northeastern Ohio. The land had been sold to neighboring farms long ago. But there were several sheds and a large barn on the property. All that space got my father wondering what he could build there.

The idea he came up with was the Lollipop Tree. The tree consisted of two pieces of plywood cut in the shape of a Christmas tree with a base on the bottom. Slots were cut in each tree, half running from the top down, half from the bottom up.
When slid together, you had a four-sided tree that stood on its own.

Two large vats of paint filled one side of a shed. One held red paint, the other green. The trees hung on racks, with their tops pointing down, as they were lowered into the green paint. Later, when they dried, the process was reversed and the bases were dipped in the red paint. Then, after the base dried, the edges of each limb were hand-painted in sparkly silver, to imitate snow.

Next came the scary part, at least to a 9-year-old. There were two large stapling machines, each one taller than me, on the opposite wall. The operator would guide each tree around a pattern, step on a foot pedal and—wham!—a staple was banged into the tree. The noisy process was repeated again and again until each branch had two staples in it, about an inch apart, pointing slightly upward. The machine was set so 1/8-inch of the staple was exposed—perfect for sliding a lollipop into it.

And man did we have lollipops. They arrived by the thousands in huge cardboard boxes. They were yellow, orange, red, green and purple. Each one was wrapped in cellophane. There were always dozens of broken lollipops in each box. My friends and I were allowed to eat the fragments, but there were so many remnants we couldn’t eat them all. It wasn’t long before we completely lost our appetite for the colorful candy. Mine has never returned.

When the tree was assembled and each branch held a colorful lollipop I thought it was one of the most beautiful Christmas decorations I had ever seen. Sadly, the market did not agree. My father sold a few to friends and neighbors. A couple of stores in our small town agreed to carry them and he sold a few more. Dad used the last of his savings to run an ad in a popular magazine of the time. I don’t remember the exact results, but I do know he did not sell enough to cover the cost of the ad.

The temporary help he had hired was let go. The fans and heaters in the sheds were turned off. The stapling machines were sold to someone who could use them. And Wood Enterprises’ first (and only) enterprise was shut down. As Christmas approached the vast majority of lollipop trees were stacked in our sheds, along with paint, lollipops, shipping boxes and who knows what else.

I never knew how much money my dad lost on his one and only effort to launch his own business. He would work for somebody else the rest of his life. Nor do I know what happened to his inventory of lollipops and the trees to hold them. I thought all of them were lost forever until I got a call from a cousin several years ago. In preparation for a move to another state she was cleaning out a long-neglected closet. In the back of it she found a Lollipop Tree in its original box. Would I like to have it?

Would I! I asked her to send it to me right away. It arrived in plenty of time for Christmas. As soon as it did, I rushed out to the nearest candy store and bought dozens of lollipops in various shapes, sizes and colors.

Every Christmas since then I conduct a small and private ceremony as I get dad’s Lollipop Tree out of storage. I set it up and go through my collection of lollipops, carefully selecting which ones will go on the tree this year. (As I travel, I keep buying more lollipops, especially when I see unique shapes and sizes in other countries.)

This year the Lollipop Tree is on a stand in the hallway that leads into my home office. As a result, I pass by it several times a day. Every time I do my mind drifts back to memories of Christmases past.

This Christmas, I hope your home is filled with wonderful memories of long-ago holidays. Chances are you’ll be with children and grandchildren who have no memory of the time before iPods and Xboxes. They won’t care to hear about the times when our Christmas pleasures could be as simple as fragments of broken lollipops.

Nowadays, I love seeing them roll their eyes at my stories and exclaiming “Oh, grandpa!” when they suspect I have been exaggerating a tad too much.

But there is no exaggeration today. The story of the Lollipop Tree is completely true. And so are my wishes to each and every one of you for a very Merry Christmas.

Until next time, keep some powder dry.

—Chip Wood

Conservatives In Dem Caucus Push For More Concessions

Conservatives in Dem caucus push for more concessionsAppearing on weekend talk show programs, prominent lawmakers that caucus with the Democrats have called on the party to offer more concessions in exchange for their support of the healthcare reform bill.

Senators Joe Lieberman (I-Conn) and Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), told CBS Face the Nation that they will continue to oppose the bill if the Medicare "buy-in" option for those aged 55-64 is not removed.

The proposal was an attempt to introduce an alternative to the government-run insurance option.

According to Nelson, the Medicare buy-in idea is "the forerunner of the ultimate single-payer plan," and he also said he could not support a bill without tighter restrictions on federal funding for abortion. Meanwhile, Lieberman cautioned that "we don’t need to keep adding on to the back of this horse until the horse breaks down and we get nothing done," quoted by CNN.

The Connecticut legislator added that the Democrats will have to eliminate a government insurance program focused on home healthcare for the disabled and ensure better cost-control provisions, according to the news provider.

Given the unanimous opposition from the GOP, Senate Democrats need all 60 votes in their caucus to have a chance of passing the healthcare bill.
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House Passes Nearly Half A Trillion Spending Bill

House passes nearly half a trillion spending bill Despite the growing federal deficit and debt, the House of Representatives voted 221 to 202 to approve a spending bill last week that provides $447 billion in funding for several government departments and agencies for the next budget year.

The partisan nature of the vote stems largely from the fact that, as several media outlets have pointed out, the bill reflects in large part the priorities of Democrats who currently control all branches of government.

Among its provisions, the legislation includes measures that authorize billions in mandatory federal spending on Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, and $3.9 billion in earmarks to fund 5,224 projects in various lawmakers’ home districts, according to the watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has called the bill a "tough choice" for "tough budgetary times," saying it will help create jobs by expanding access to capital and credit, and investing in infrastructure development and clean energy.

However, the move was blasted by House Republicans who called the 2,444-page bill an irresponsible spending increase at a time of escalating government deficits, according to The New York Times.

"When are we going to say enough is enough?" asked Minority Leader John Boehne of Ohio, quoted by CNN, while Representative Jerry Lewis of California complained that "there is no question that the era of big government has returned to Washington," according to The Times.
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House Approves Expansion Of Government Regulatory Power

House approves expansion of government regulatory powerThe House of Representatives has voted on a bill that contains provisions for far-reaching financial regulations and creates a consumer protection agency.

The Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2009 passed along party lines 223-202, and in addition to the Consumer Financial Protection Agency it will also vastly expand government powers over the financial system, including the right to break up companies that become too big and to regulate complex derivatives, which some say contributed to last year’s financial crisis.

Media reports suggest that among some of its key provisions is the requirement for big Wall Street institutions to pay $150 billion into an emergency fund that will be tapped into when a troubled company needs to be rescued.

Democratic National Committee chairman Tim Kaine has praised the vote, saying "[the act] will make our system more stable, while reining in the irresponsible practices that nearly led to the collapse of the global financial system."

He also took aim at the GOP which refused to back the bill, accusing the party of siding with their financial industry "friends" against the interests of the American people.

Meanwhile, opponents of the legislation have said it will hurt small businesses and stifle innovation, and is yet another example of big government. .

"This house has been on a spending spree, a bailout spree and a regulatory spree that I could never have imagined in any of my prior 18 years here in Congress," complained House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio.

The Senate is expected to take up the bill early next year.

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A $261 million job, 50-year Bonds and a Saab Story

*Man, that’s a lot to pay for a job. No one was surprised that Michael Bloomberg won reelection for a third term as the mayor of New York City. But what he paid for the dubious privilege was impressive—$102 million of his own money. Add that to the $74 million he spent on his first campaign back in 2001, and another $85 million in 2005, and you get $261 million he’s doled out to be called “Your honor.” That’s a lot of money for you and me, but a pittance to a man worth $17.5 billion.

*Loan China money for 50 years? Here’s another news item that struck me as strange. Last month investors snapped up nearly $3 billion worth of 50-year bonds offered by the Chinese Ministry of Finance. The notes pay 4.3 percent interest. Why would China offer the bonds? It certainly doesn’t need the money. And why would investors tie up funds for 50 years for such a lowly return? Neither side of this trade makes sense to me.

*A real Saab story. Sorry, but I couldn’t resist the pun. Looks like the once-illustrious Swedish car maker will soon be but a faded memory. General Motors (GM), which acquired the car company several years ago, is looking for a buyer. If one isn’t found soon GM says it’ll fold the company. Estimates are that Saab will sell 10,000 cars in the U.S. this year—half as many as Honda sells in a week. Looks to me like the market has spoken.

—Chip Wood

Research: Yoga Contributes To A Healthy Heart

Research: Yoga contributes to a healthy heartAccording to a study published in the upcoming issue of the International Journal of Medical Engineering and Informatics, the practice of yoga may boost heart health.

Researchers at the Indian University of Technology found that heart rate variability, a proven sign of a healthy heart, has been shown to be higher in yoga practitioners than in non-practitioners.

In healthy individuals, heart rate variability, which refers to the beat-to-beat changes in heart rate, tends to be quite high. Contrastingly, low heart rate variability is commonly associated with cardiac abnormalities found in unhealthy hearts.

In their preliminary study, the researchers concluded that "there is strengthening of parasympathetic (vagal) control in subjects who regularly practice yoga, which is indicative of better autonomic control over heart rate and so a healthier heart."

Experts find that diet and exercise are the most successful ways of defending oneself against heart disease. Preventative measures include a reduction of sodium intake, a diet that is low in saturated fats, cholesterol and trans fats, as well as regular exercise to maintain a healthy weight, The New York Times reports.
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Government Set To Announce Transfer Of Gitmo Prisoners To U.S.

Government set to announce transfer of Gitmo prisoners to U.S.In an attempt to meet the self-imposed January deadline for closing the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, the government has said it will purchase a nearly empty state prison in Thomson, Illinois, and transfer up to 100 prisoners currently held at the Cuban base.

The official announcement to buy the Thomson Correctional Center came Tuesday.

An anonymous government official was quoted by the Chicago Tribune as saying that the decision "is an important step forward as we work to achieve our national security objectives," adding that it will help remove "a deadly recruiting tool from the hands of al-Qaida."

State officials have also pointed out that the plan would create about 2,000 new jobs and bring some $1 billion in federal funds to the area. Meanwhile, administration officials put the estimated number of new jobs at 3,800.

Just days after taking office last January Obama signed an executive order to shut down the Guantanamo Bay prison within a year and to ban harsh interrogations techniques. Since its opening in 2002, the detention center has come under international criticism from governments and human rights groups alleging prisoners were held there without due process and may have been tortured.

In recent months nearly 100 of the 210 detainees at Guantanamo have been cleared to be transferred to their home countries and other nations, and five are awaiting trial in New York.
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Dissatisfaction Could Cost Democrats In 2010, New Poll Suggests

Dissatisfaction could cost Democrats in 2010, new poll suggests Looking ahead to the 2010 elections, a greater percentage of voters would now prefer to elect a Republican to Congress rather than a Democrat, according to the latest George Washington University Battleground Poll.

Of the 1,000 registered voters surveyed, a total of 42 percent said they would vote for a Republican while only 40 percent said they would vote for a Democrat. This is the first year that Republicans have led on the generic congressional ballot since 2002, according to CQPolitics.com.

It is also an abrupt change from July of this year, when respondents favored Democrats over Republicans by a 3 percent margin.

The poll found furthermore that 56 percent of voters believe the country is on the wrong track and 68 percent disapprove of the job performance of Congress members.

Barack Obama’s approval rating also took a significant dip compared to the last poll. "The economy is starting to take a toll on [the president] and his party’s image," said Celinda Lake, longtime Democratic pollster.

"Voters are very anxious about the economy and looking for solutions that will put people back to work. Democrats can point to a number of successes, yet will ultimately be judged on whether Americans see and feel the recovery in their own communities," she added.

Republican pollster Ed Goeas agreed, stating "the political landscape continues to deteriorate for President Obama and the Democrats in Congress, no matter which direction you look; generic ballot, presidential job approval or issue handling, Republicans have made gains that more than even out the playing field for the 2010 elections."
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Obama Gives Himself High Rating, Laments Unemployment Statistics

Obama gives himself high rating, laments unemployment statisticsIn an interview with Oprah Winfrey that aired Sunday, President Barack Obama gave himself a "good, solid B+" grade for his first 11 months in office.

Obama credited his administration with stabilizing the U.S. economy, winding down the war in Iraq and settling on the best possible plan for a temporary surge into Afghanistan. He also said that America has "reset" its prestige in the eyes of the world and has made progress on halting nuclear development in North Korea and Iran.

The president told Oprah that the only things standing in the way of him receiving a better grade are slower-than-expected progress on healthcare reform and the double-digit unemployment rate.

Obama also said that he was not concerned with the recent dip in his approval rating.

"It was inevitable," he said. "We have 10 percent unemployment. I told Michelle when we got here that in six months my poll numbers will start crashing, so we can’t play to the polls. I’m concerned with where we’ll be in two to three years."

Meanwhile, in a 60 Minutes interview that also aired on Sunday, President Obama spoke out against critics who called his Afghanistan deployment model confusing and contradictory due to the firm deadline of troop withdrawal.

"Forty million people watched" the speech, he said, quoted by The Los Angeles Times. "There shouldn’t be anything confusing about that. . . . That’s something that we executed over the last two years in Iraq. So I think the American people are familiar with the idea of a surge."
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