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Sunday, March 28, 2010

Heath Care For Congress

Do you feel Members of Congress should be forced to enroll themselves in the health care plan they vote for?

Congressman John Fleming of Louisiana has proposed an amendment that would require congressmen and senators to take the same healthcare plan they force on us (under proposed legislation they are curiously exempt).

Congressman Fleming is encouraging people to go on his Website and SIGN HIS PETITION.


Posted by Elvis on 03/28/10 •
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Facebook And Job Hunting

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Facebook is cool, but…

Uncouth Facebook postings closing doors for job candidates

By Jacqui Cheng
ARS Technica
August 20, 2009

Some of us had the luck of doing stupid things online before most employers knew what social networking was. (I’ll admit it: in my early working days, I said some not-nice things online about some of the people I worked with.) These days, however, those looking for jobs have had many years to build up an unsavory history across the Internet, and EMPLOYERS now know how to do their homework. In fact, nearly half of the employers in the US now search for job candidates on social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace, according to survey results from CareerBuilder. The job-finding firm said that the numbers reflect a twofold increase over those who reported doing so in last year45 percent in 2009 versus 22 percent in 2008 - and cautioned that many employers choose not to hire based on information they find online.

Facebook was the most popular site for researching job candidates this yearno surprise there, since Facebook has exploded in popularity as of late. “Professional” networking site LinkedIn came in second at 26 percent, MySpace came in third at 21 percent, 11 percent read blogs, and seven percent followed candidates’ updates on Twitter. Paranoid yet about any of your recent tweets?

If you’re looking for a job, you probably should be. More than a third of survey respondents said that they found info that caused them not to hire the person applying for the job, including “provocative or inappropriate photographs,” content related to drinking or using drugs, and finding postings that badmouthed previous employers, coworkers, or clients. Other candidates showed poor communication skills on their social networking profiles, made discriminatory comments, lied about their qualifications, or shared confidential information from a previous employer. The one that made us cringe? “16 percent dismissed a candidate for using text language such as GR8 (great) in an e-mail or job application.”

On the other hand, some candidates are doing a good job of presenting their professional side when posting online. Half of those who screened candidates via their social networking profiles said that they got a good feel for the person’s personality and fit within the organization. Other employers said that they found the profiles supported the candidates’ professional qualifications or that they discovered how creative the candidate was. Solid communication skills, evidence of well-roundedness, and other people’s good references (we assume this one came from LinkedIn) helped boost people’s credentials, too.

For most of us, it seems like common sense not to talk trash on your Facebook wall or post drunk pictures where potential employers can see them, but people are still CATCHING UP TO THE IDEA that their future bosses are on the same sites as they are. Anecdotally, I have worked at many an office that has casually looked up interns and new employees online, only to find sides of them that were less than flattering (one intern publicly declared that our company’s parent company could “f-ing suck it!” immediately after we offered her the job).

Some may argue that employers shouldn’t use information they found through a little bit of online stalking - something we’ve heard in our FORUMS - after all, what someone does after hours is his or her own business. At the same time, it’s hard to deny that discovering truly alarming information - such as leaked workplace secrets would be good cause for choosing another candidate. These days, everyone hunting for a job needs to exercise some judgment on what to post online and WHO THEY LET ACCESS IT if they want to stay in future employers’ good graces.

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Posted by Elvis on 03/28/10 •
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Saturday, March 27, 2010

Help For Unemployed Homeowners

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Housing Program Enhancements Offer Additional Options for Struggling Homeowners

March 26, 2010
DEPARTMENT OF THE TREASURY

Refinements to Existing Administration Programs Designed to Help Unemployed, Underwater Borrowers While Helping Administration Meet its Goals

Today, as part of its ONGOING COMMITMENT to continuously IMPROVE HOUSING RELIEF EFFORTS, the Administration announced adjustments to the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) and to the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) programs.  These program adjustments will better assist responsible homeowners who have been affected by the economic crisis through no fault of their own.  The program modifications will expand flexibility for mortgage servicers and originators to assist more unemployed homeowners and to help more people who owe more on their mortgage than their home is worth because their local markets saw large declines in home values.  These changes will help the Administration meet its goal of stabilizing housing markets by offering a second chance to up to 3 to 4 million struggling homeowners through the end of 2012. Costs will be shared between the private sector and the Federal Government; the Federal cost of these changes will be funded through the $50 billion allocation for housing programs under the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). 

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Answers to Questions About New Mortgage Modification Program

By Ron Lieber and Jennifer Saranow Schultz
NY Times
March 26, 2010

The federal government announced new initiatives on Friday to help people who are having trouble paying their mortgages. Here are some questions and answers about the efforts.

Q.I am currently unemployed. What sort of mortgage payment reduction can I qualify for?

A.The company servicing your mortgage will be required to offer at least three, and up to six, months of reduced payments. During that time, you wont have to pay more than 31 percent of your monthly income toward the mortgage.

You have to live in the home to qualify, and the mortgage balance has to be less than $729,750, with a monthly payment that represents more than 31 percent of the gross monthly income of all borrowers who signed your mortgage, before you subtract anything for taxes or deductions. If one person in the household works and one is unemployed, you will not be eligible if the loan payment is under 31 percent of your current total household income.

Also, you need to prove that you are receiving unemployment benefits and ask for help within 90 days of any late payments.

The lowered payments would revert to the regular amounts once you got a job, if you became employed before the three- to six-month period ended.

Q.I’m underwater, since my mortgage is for more than my home is worth. What sort of help might I get from my mortgage company?

A.The company that controls your mortgage might reduce your principal, something that wasnt happening much before. The government is offering additional incentives for companies to do so.

Your property will need to be worth at least 15 percent less than the value of your first mortgage for you to qualify. If your mortgage has already been modified to lower your interest and monthly payments, you may still be eligible.

To qualify, you need to live in your home, have a mortgage under $729,750 and have a mortgage payment more than 31 percent of your gross monthly income.

Any principal forgiveness will take place in three equal amounts over the course of three years but only if you make your mortgage payments on time.

But banks are not required to participate.

Q.What about the new refinancing option with another lender for people who are underwater?

A.If you’re current on your payments with your existing mortgage provider, you may be able to refinance into a loan through the federal governments Federal Housing Administration program and have some of your principal forgiven. Here, too, you will need to be occupying your home to qualify; you can’t be an investor or landlord. You will have to documentyour income to apply.

Your current mortgage holder is not required to writedown any principal, but if it does decide to participate, it will have to agree to writedown at least 10 percent of the value of your first mortgage. And your current loan cannot itself be an F.H.A. mortgage.

Also, your payment under any new F.H.A. loan must be less than 31 percent of your gross monthly income, and your total household debt cant be more than about 50 percent of your income unless you have an excellent credit history.

Q.Who decides how much my home is worth and how?

A.There will be a reappraisal, which raises an odd scenario. Normally, when selling your home, you want the appraisal to be at a high value. Here, however, the lower the value of your home the more likely you are to be underwater enough to qualify for help.

Q.What if there is a second mortgage on my home?

A.There are now additional incentives in place to writedown amounts on second mortgages to help people become eligible for the F.H.A. refinancings. You may be eligible for help with a second mortgage even if you’ve already qualified for help with a first mortgage.

Q.Is there someplace I can go to get more details?

A.More information is available on the Treasury Departments Web site.

Q.How will a loan modification affect my credit score?

A.A loan modification may not affect your credit score - at least in the near future.

If your mortgage holder writes down some of your principal, theres a chance that wonҒt be a black mark on your credit report, but the exact impact is still unclear.

As of November, the credit reports of borrowers who had been participating in earlier mortgage modification program werent necessarily affected just by virtue of their participation. ThatҒs because the Treasury Department and the Consumer Data Industry Association, which represents credit reporting agencies, created a new code for loans modified under a federal government plan. They recommended that lenders use the code but did not require it. In the near term, FICO is ignoring that code in its credit scoring formula.

Its possible, however, that banks will treat some or all of the new principal forgiveness programs in a different way that could harm participants’ credit reports. A spokesman for the Consumer Data Industry Association said he was still working out what code or codes ought to apply. The federal agencies involved do not tell lenders how to report participation in the programs.

Meanwhile, if you participate in the temporary payment reduction program for unemployed people, you will probably see some damage to your credit report.

Q.When should I call my mortgage servicer?

A.For unemployed borrowers, this should all start in the next couple of months. Some servicers may already have a program in place. The other programs may not begin until the fall.

Your lender is supposed to contact people who are eligible for help, but its probably best to call in periodically yourself for updates if you think you may be eligible.

Q.Are lenders and servicers really going to be prepared to handle the volume of inquiries?

A.Many people attempting to modify their mortgages so far have been frustrated by long hold times, conflicting information and lost paperwork. These new programs wonҒt make it any easier for the companies involved. Make sure to writedown the names of everyone you speak to about your mortgage and save copies of all paperwork.

Q.I dont need any help. Am I paying for all of this through my taxes?

A.The money is coming out of existing TARP funds, so there is no new money going toward these initiatives. So far, at least.

SOURCE

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Obama home-foreclosure relief: Do I qualify for a mortgage refinance?
Do you qualify for help under President Obama’s latest foreclosure prevention effort, announced Friday?

By Mark Trumbull
KNDO
March 30, 2010

Here’s a quick take on who may be eligible under the new home-loan programs, which include aid to borrowers who become unemployed and incentives for lenders to reduce loan balances for underwater borrowers. The information comes from Obama administration statements and a Friday analysis of those plans by economists at Goldman Sachs in New York.

Three months of mortgage relief for the unemployed

For three months, jobless mortgage holders get temporary forbearance on their mortgage loan. They’ll still have to pay 31 percent of their monthly income, but not the full amount they usually have to pay each month on the loan. Loan servicers participating in the Making Home Affordable Program—which includes many big lenders—are required to offer assistance to all jobless borrowers who meet eligibility criteria.

To be eligible, you must show that you are drawing unemployment insurance benefits, that you live in the home, and that the loan was originated before Jan. 1, 2009. The loan balance must be below $729,750. You can’t be more than 90 days delinquent in your payments.

FHA refinance loan

Participation in this Federal Housing Administration program is voluntary, with the government providing incentives to encourage lenders to offer principal (loan balance) relief to borrowers at high risk of foreclosure. The target group is borrowers deeply “underwater,” with loan balances far above the current value of their home. The idea is to get a win-win outcome, where borrowers stay in their homes and lenders don’t lose as much as they otherwise might by foreclosing.

Lenders must agree to reduce the principal balance by at least 10 percent on a first-lien mortgage. After refinancing, the first mortgage can’t be larger than 97.75 of the home’s value (the current FHA limit) but the total loan-to-value ratio (with a second lien) may be as high as 115 percent. In many cases, this will mean substantial write-downs (losses) for both first- and second-lien lenders.

To qualify, borrowers must be current on their existing mortgage payment, occupying their home, and qualify under standard FHA underwriting guidelines including a FICO credit score of at least 500. The new loans can’t result in a monthly payment higher than 31 percent of borrower income. Many borrowers won’t qualify, but many also will.

Other mortgage relief

When evaluating what to do about at-risk loans, mortgage servicers in the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) will be “required to consider” principal writedowns if the loan-to-value (LTV) ratio is greater than 115 percent. They will compare whether this would result in a higher “net present value” of the loan (to the bank or investors who own it) than other loan-modification options under the HAMP program.

So if your loan is being reviewed under the HAMP program, you’ll be considered. This program will allow some homeowners with negative equity to reap a reduction in the principal balance in steps over three years, if they remain current on payments.

To encourage lenders to opt for loan-balance reductions, the government will offer lenders 10 cents per dollar of principal written down above 140 percent LTV, 15 cents between that level and 115 percent LTV, and 21 cents for LTV reductions below that. Second liens that are more than six months delinquent will get a standard 6 percent incentive payment, according to the Goldman Sachs report.

When will all this start? Soon, the administration says, but there’s no set date. Some parts will be operational within the next few weeks, and all the elements (not all of which are discussed here) should be in place by this fall, the Obama administration says.

For updates and more information you can check the White House’s “home affordable” website. The site also has interactive steps to help you determine whether you’re eligible for government-backed programs.

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Posted by Elvis on 03/27/10 •
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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Truth Has Fallen and Has Taken Liberty With It

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“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.”
- George Orwell

Truth Has Fallen and Has Taken Liberty With It

By Paul Craig Roberts
Information Clearinghouse
March 24, 2010

There was a time when the pen was mightier than the sword. That was a time when people believed in truth and regarded truth as an independent power and not as an auxiliary for government, class, race, ideological, personal, or financial interest.

Today Americans are ruled by propaganda. Americans have little regard for truth, little access to it, and little ability to recognize it.

Truth is an unwelcome entity. It is disturbing. It is off limits. Those who speak it run the risk of being branded anti-American, anti-semite, or conspiracy theorist.

Truth is an inconvenience for government and for the interest groups whose campaign contributions control government.

Truth is an inconvenience for prosecutors who want convictions, not the discovery of innocence or guilt.

Truth is inconvenient for ideologues.

Today many whose goal once was the discovery of truth are now paid handsomely to hide it. Free market economists are paid to sell offshoring to the American people. High-productivity, high value-added American jobs are denigrated as dirty, old industrial jobs. Relicts from long ago, we are best shed of them. Their place has been taken by the “New Economy,” a mythical economy that allegedly consists of high-tech white collar jobs in which Americans innovate and finance activities that occur offshore. All Americans need in order to participate in this “new economy” are finance degrees from Ivy League universities, and then they will work on Wall Street at million dollar jobs.

Economists who were once respectable took money to contribute to this myth of the “New Economy.”

And not only economists sell their souls for filthy lucre. Recently we have had reports of medical doctors who, for money, have published in peer-reviewed journals concocted studies that hype this or that new medicine produced by pharmaceutical companies that paid for the studies.

The Council of Europe is investigating big pharmas role in hyping a false swine flu pandemic in order to gain billions of dollars in sales of the vaccine.

The media helped the US military hype its recent Marja offensive in Afghanistan, describing Marja as a city of 80,000 under Taliban control. It turns out that Marja is not urban but a collection of village farms.

And there is the global warming scandal, in which climate scientists, financed by Wall Street and corporations anxious to get their mitts on cap and trade and by a U.N. agency anxious to redistribute income from rich to poor countries, concocted a doomsday scenario in order to create profit in pollution.

Wherever one looks, truth has fallen to money.

Wherever money is insufficient to bury the truth, ignorance, propaganda, and short memories finish the job.

I remember when, following CIA director William Colby’s testimony before the Church Committee in the mid-1970s, presidents Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan issued executive orders preventing the CIA and U.S. black-op groups from assassinating foreign leaders. In 2010 the US Congress was told by Dennis Blair, head of national intelligence, that the US now assassinates its own citizens in addition to foreign leaders.

When Blair told the House Intelligence Committee that US citizens no longer needed to be arrested, charged, tried, and convicted of a capital crime, just murdered on suspicion alone of being a threat, he wasnt impeached. No investigation pursued. Nothing happened. There was no Church Committee. In the mid-1970s the CIA got into trouble for plots to kill Castro. Today it is American citizens who are on the hit list. Whatever objections there might be don’t carry any weight. No one in government is in any trouble over the assassination of U.S. citizens by the U.S. government.

As an economist, I am astonished that the American economics profession has no awareness whatsoever that the U.S. economy has been destroyed by the offshoring of U.S. GDP to overseas countries. U.S. corporations, in pursuit of absolute advantage or lowest labor costs and maximum CEO performance bonuses, have moved the production of goods and services marketed to Americans to China, India, and elsewhere abroad. When I read economists describe offshoring as free trade based on comparative advantage, I realize that there is no intelligence or integrity in the American economics profession.

Intelligence and integrity have been purchased by money. The transnational or global U.S. corporations pay multi-million dollar compensation packages to top managers, who achieve these performance awards by replacing U.S. labor with foreign labor. While Washington worries about the Muslim threat, Wall Street, U.S. corporations and free market shills destroy the U.S. economy and the prospects of tens of millions of Americans.

Americans, or most of them, have proved to be putty in the hands of the police state.

Americans have bought into the governments claim that security requires the suspension of civil liberties and accountable government. Astonishingly, Americans, or most of them, believe that civil liberties, such as habeas corpus and due process, protect terrorists, and not themselves. Many also believe that the Constitution is a tired old documentthat prevents government from exercising the kind of police state powers necessary to keep Americans safe and free.

Most Americans are unlikely to hear from anyone who would tell them any different.

I was associate editor and columnist for the Wall Street Journal. I was Business Week’s first outside columnist, a position I held for 15 years. I was columnist for a decade for Scripps Howard News Service, carried in 300 newspapers. I was a columnist for the Washington Times and for newspapers in France and Italy and for a magazine in Germany. I was a contributor to the New York Times and a regular feature in the Los Angeles Times. Today I cannot publish in, or appear on, the American mainstream media.

For the last six years I have been banned from the mainstream media. My last column in the New York Times appeared in January, 2004, coauthored with Democratic U.S. Senator Charles Schumer representing New York. We addressed the offshoring of U.S. jobs. Our op-ed article produced a conference at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. and live coverage by C-Span. A debate was launched. No such thing could happen today.

For years I was a mainstay at the Washington Times, producing credibility for the Moony newspaper as a Business Week columnist, former Wall Street Journal editor, and former Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Treasury. But when I began criticizing Bushs wars of aggression, the order came down to Mary Lou Forbes to cancel my column.

The American media does not serve the truth. It serves the government and the interest groups that empower the government.

America’s fate was sealed when the public and the anti-war movement bought the governments 9/11 conspiracy theory. The government’s account of 9/11 is contradicted by much evidence. Nevertheless, this defining event of our time, which has launched the US on interminable wars of aggression and a domestic police state, is a taboo topic for investigation in the media. It is pointless to complain of war and a police state when one accepts the premise upon which they are based.

These trillion dollar wars have created financing problems for Washingtons deficits and threaten the U.S. dollar’s role as world reserve currency. The wars and the pressure that the budget deficits put on the dollars value have put Social Security and Medicare on the chopping block. Former Goldman Sachs chairman and U.S. Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson is after these protections for the elderly. Fed chairman Bernanke is also after them. The Republicans are after them as well. These protections are called ғentitlements as if they are some sort of welfare that people have not paid for in payroll taxes all their working lives.

With over 21 percent unemployment as measured by the methodology of 1980, with American jobs, GDP, and technology having been given to China and India, with war being Washington’s greatest commitment, with the dollar over-burdened with debt, with civil liberty sacrificed to the war on terror, the liberty and prosperity of the American people have been thrown into the trash bin of history.

The militarism of the U.S. and Israeli states, and Wall Street and corporate greed, will now run their course. As the pen is censored and its might extinguished, I am signing off.

Paul Craig Roberts was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury during President Reagans first term. He was Associate Editor of the Wall Street Journal. He has held numerous academic appointments, including the William E. Simon Chair, Center for Strategic and International Studies, Georgetown University, and Senior Research Fellow, Hoover Institution, Stanford University. He was awarded the Legion of Honor by French President Francois Mitterrand.

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Posted by Elvis on 03/24/10 •
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Sunday, March 14, 2010

Movie - Up In The Air

...one of the best movies to deal with the inhumanity of the way corporations cut work forces.

James Berardinelli
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Up in the Air is a wonderful little film (the word “little” being relative, of course). It was the best thing I saw at the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival, and it stand up as well away from the peculiar atmosphere of the festival as it did within the hermetically sealed environment. This is George Clooney’s third film of the Oscar season (the other two being The Men Who Stare at Goats and the animated Fantastic Mr. Fox) and the one most likely to be acknowledged by the Academy. With director Jason Reitman behind the camera making his follow-up to Juno (a more successful one, I might add, than Diablo Cody’s), this is far from 100% formula, and that’s the reason why the marketing campaign is being handled carefully. The film needs to build word-of-mouth to find an audience, and I’m here to do what I can to help along the effort.

Reitman brings the same mixture of comedy and drama to this movie that he brought to Juno. There’s some funny, laugh-out-loud material here, but the characters and their situations are well-developed. None of the three principals ever veer in the direction of caricature and Clooney is especially convincing as the lead. Playing a role 180 degrees opposite to the one he essays in The Men Who Stare at Goats, Clooney reminds us why he is among this generation’s most consistent and reliable actors.

It helps immeasurably that Clooney’s supporting female duo is in top form. Vera Farmiga, who, not unlike Tilda Swinton, has the uncanny ability be entirely credible as a sultry siren or a frumpy housewife, provides Clooney’s perfect foil. She’s in “upscale” mode here; their verbal jousts are memorable and the sexual chemistry between them sizzles. No less impressive is Anna Kendrick, whose performance as the ingnue getting some hard life lessons allows us to forgive her appearing in the Twilight series. She’s easily dismissed in those; here, she shows that she has acting chops and knows what to do with them.

Clooney plays corporate layoff officer Ryan Bingham, a man whose most salient quality is his impermanence. He spends his days traveling from city-to-city and, for a fee, he delivers news of layoffs to soon-to-be-departed employees. He lives his life in hotels, airplanes, and airports, saying “All the things you hate about flying are warm reminders I’m home.” In the past year, he has spent 322 days on the road and 43 “miserable” days in the one-bedroom unit he rents in Omaha. He has no time for relationships or possessions, and his one goal in life is to collect 10,000,000 miles so he can become the seventh member of that oh-so-rare club.

Two events add chaos to Ryan’s ordered existence. The first is a chance meeting with fellow traveler Alex (Vera Farmiga), who expresses herself this way: “Think of me as yourself, only with a vagina.” In Alex, Ryan finds someone with whom he might actually be able to develop a semi-normal relationship, even if it is predominantly in hotels and airports. Meanwhile, at home base, Ryan’s boss, Craig Gregory (Jason Bateman), has decided to implement a radical new strategy proposed by new hire Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick) - using teleconference technology to allow remote layoffs. Determined to prove to her that this is not the way to go, Ryan brings Natalie on the road with him with unexpected results.

Up in the Air is one of the best movies to deal with the INHUMANITY of THE WAY corporations CUT WORK FORCES. The parody is razor-sharp and unflinching. Reitman nails his targets one-by-one and drives home each spike with resolute force. Ryan represents a fascinating specimen - a product of modern technology and today’s culture - whose goal is almost the exact opposite of the “American dream.” He doesn’t want the house, the wife, or the children. He is almost estranged from his two sisters. And his relationships consist of one-night stands in airport hotels. He’s a master at what he does yet, because of the way Clooney plays him, we sympathize with this guy, even though he thrives on the misery of others. All of the charisma and intelligence and wit almost make his lifestyle seem bizarrely desirable until those moments when the curtain is peeled back and we see the chilly loneliness that resides within Ryan’s cupboard.

At times, Up in the Air looks and feels a little like a romantic comedy, but that’s illusory. Ryan’s relationship with Alex is a secondary plot - a way to illustrate things about him and to provide some tightly-scripted dialogue. (There is a brilliant sequence in which Alex and Natalie detail their very different expectations of the ideal mate.) The movie earns its ending; it may come as a surprise to some viewers, but it is foreshadowed and makes perfect sense in hindsight. Up in the Air never cheats and delivers an almost perfect mix of humor, satire, and underplayed drama.

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Posted by Elvis on 03/14/10 •
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