Archive | December 29, 2012

Senate approves $60.4 billion Superstorm Sandy aid bill

Senate approves $60.4 billion Superstorm Sandy aid bill


The U.S. Senate on Friday approved a $60.4 billion aid package to pay for reconstruction costs fromSuperstorm Sandy, which ravaged mid-Atlantic and northeastern states, after defeating Republican efforts to trim the bill’s cost.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid urged the Republican-controlled House of Representatives to quickly take up the bill, which includes $12 billion to repair and strengthen the region’s transportation system against future storms.

“There is no time to waste,” Reid said.

Both chambers have to agreed on a package by January 2, when the current term of Congress is expected to end, or restart the process of crafting legislation in 2013. The Senate approved the bill 62-32, with most Republicans voting no.

“We beat back all of the crippling amendments,” said Senator Charles Schumer, a Democrat fromNew York, which suffered the largest monetary damage in the storm.

“The century-old tradition of different parts of the country rallying to help those who are beleaguered because of difficult natural disasters continues,” Schumer said.

The bill’s chances in the next few days could depend on whether President Barack Obama and congressional leaders reach a deal to avert the “fiscal cliff” of tax increases and spending cuts set to begin taking effect in the new year.

House Republican leaders have not yet decided whether to take up the Senate bill, a Republican aide said.

The bill also provides $17 billion in Community Development Block Grants to help rebuild homes, schools, hospitals and other buildings destroyed by the late October storm, help small businesses and improve the power infrastructure.

Senate Republicans complained the $60.4 billion reconstruction package requested by Obama is more than the annual budgets for the departments of Interior, Labor, Treasury and Transportation combined.


Senator Dan Coats, an Indiana Republican, offered an alternative that would have provided $23.8 billion in funding to help victims of the storm through the end of March and give Congress time to determine additional needs.

“Let me just say, we simply are allowing three months for the Congress of the United States, the representatives of the taxpayers’ dollars, to assess, document and justify additional expenditures that go beyond emergency needs,” Coats said just before his amendment was defeated.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers, a Republican from Kentucky, would still prefer to pass a stop-gap bill to meet immediate needs and wait to do another package after better estimates come in, a committee aide said.

The Congressional Budget Office has estimated about $8.97 billion of the Senate bill would be spent in 2013, with another $12.66 billion spent in 2014 and $11.59 billion spent in 2015.

The Senate bill is considerably less than the $82 billion in aid requested by New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, the states that bore the brunt of damage from the storm.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a Republican, was in Washington this month, lobbying lawmakers for the larger amount.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s disaster relief fund now has less than $5 billion available.

The damage to New York and New Jersey coastal areas was on a scale not seen since Hurricane Katrina slammed the Gulf Coast and flooded New Orleans in 2005. Two weeks after that storm hit, Congress approved $62.3 billion in emergency appropriations.

Lawmakers passed numerous subsequent emergency funding requests over several years to cover damages from Katrina, which topped $100 billion. A number of Gulf State Republicans supported the Sandy relief bill.

Republicans were successful in requiring offsetting spending cuts for $3.4 billion in mitigation work to prevent future disasters. Some Democrats said this would set a precedent for future disaster aid bills.

unior dos Santos feels he still has something to prove against Cain Velasquez

Junior dos Santos feels he still has something to prove against Cain Velasquez

The sheer force of Junior dos Santos’ right hand pounding into the focus mitt held his coach – and the resulting booming sound it made – sent precisely the message the UFC wanted prior to his bout with Cain Velasquez on Nov. 12, 2011, at UFC on Fox 1.

To anyone who saw or heard those thudding pops, there was no doubt about what dos Santos was capable of doing: He was perhaps mixed martial arts’ best knockout artist and that little sequence at an open workout in Anaheim, Calif., served as a reminder of how serious a threat to Velasquez’s heavyweight belt he could be.

What wasn’t so well known was that dos Santos did little more than throw punches at the workout simply because he wasn’t physically able to do anything else.

Much has been made of the knee injury that Velasquez suffered before he made his title defense against dos Santos on national television, as if dos Santos’ victory should simply be tossed aside.

A reporter asked Velasquez at Thursday’s final news conference for UFC 155 about regaining the title. When he used the phrase “your belt,” dos Santos sneered before interrupting.

“It’s my belt,” he said, firmly.

What’s been lost in the talk of the Velasquez injury is that dos Santos fought – and won – with a serious knee injury of his own. Two weeks before the bout, he was on crutches. And two days before, he wasn’t comfortable going through the light media-designed workout the UFC had scheduled for him.

He was in pain and didn’t want to injure his knee any further. He wasn’t about to drop to the floor and risk putting his knee at additional risk.

“It was pretty bad,” dos Santos said of his own injury.

To dos Santos and those closest to him, his 64-second knockout victory over Velasquez proved he’s the best heavyweight in the world. But to many, the lingering message of UFC on Fox 1 was simply that an injured dos Santos was better than an injured Velasquez.

Dos Santos and Cain Velasquez are both healthy for their UFC 155 fight. (Getty Images)So, dos Santos heads into the main event of UFC 155 Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden to defend the championship for a second time feeling like he has a lot to prove. His history would suggest that’s not a good thing for his opponents.

UFC president Dana White came to the rescue of his champion Thursday when the talk about Velasquez’s injury began to discredit dos Santos’ victory. White could hardly believe when someone questioned whether the first fight should be thrown out when regarding what might happen Saturday in the rematch.

“You don’t throw the first fight out,” White said incredulously. “I mean, [dos Santos] won by knockout. It would be pretty weird to throw that first fight out. But there’s no doubt you’re going to see a different Cain Velasquez this fight.”

That’s what makes the fight so compelling. Many were let down by the quick ending to the first fight. The bout was the main event of the UFC’s first foray onto network television and there was a 40-minute buildup for a fight that barely lasted 40 seconds.

Many of the most ardent MMA fans were crushed. They’d been hoping for an epic back-and-forth match that would convince them of their sport’s greatness.

What they failed to realize, though, is that the reason casual fans love to watch heavyweights is because the big men bring the big knockouts.

Dos Santos delivered a powerful knockout, yet somehow hasn’t been embraced as a result.

He’s the antithesis of a trash talker, a nice, soft-spoken guy who learned to speak English by listening to Katy Perry songs and watching American television.

He’s added bulk to his physique, but insists he’s retained his quickness. That would allow him to better defend against Velasquez’s take-down attempts while allowing him to still throw with frightening power.

Velasquez may take him down, dos Santos conceded, and may even take him down repeatedly. But dos Santos knows the one thing that every knockout puncher knows: He won’t have to land more than one shot in order to win.

That’s the intrigue in this fight: Velasquez may be better than he was in their first meeting. He may even be far better than he was in November 2011.

He might dominate the majority of the fight Saturday. But one right hand is all that dos Santos needs.

Dos Santos knows it. White knows it. And most of all, Velasquez knows it.

In a combat sport, that one-punch power is always the biggest difference maker. Dos Santos recently earned his jiu-jitsu black belt and refers to himself not as a striker but as “a total mixed martial artist.”

But it’s his knockout power that has the potential to not only end the night early a second time but to finally – finally – give dos Santos the credit he deserves.

Excelsior! Stan Lee Turns 90

Excelsior! Stan Lee Turns 90

Believe it or not, the legendary comics creator was not born of fire on some distant warlike planet but rather right here on Earth. Stanley Martin Lieber came into our realm via New York City (where else, really?) on December 28, 1922, and little did this child of Romanian-born Jewish immigrants know that he would grow up to be one of the most famous pop culture icons the world has ever known … or did he?

Young Stanley took to books and movies, particularly ones with Errol Flynn (whom one could say was often cast in superheroic roles). As a teenager in the Bronx, Stan worked such odd jobs as writing obituaries, delivering sandwiches, ushering at the Rivoli Theater and selling subscriptions to the New York Herald Tribune, all the while dreaming of one day writing the Great American Novel. That goal — or at least its particular format — somewhat mutated into something else … something arguably much more unique, influential and everlasting.

In 1939, with the help of his uncle Robbie Solomon (a precursor to the Daily Bugle’s Robbie Robertson? Discuss!), Lee became an assistant at the new Timely Comics division of the pulp magazine and comic book publishing company owned by Martin Goodman, a position that at first involved little more than picking up lunches for the writers and artists, making sure the inkwells were filled and the occasional bit of proofreading. He made his own comic book debut with the text filler “Captain America Foils the Traitor’s Revenge” in “Captain America Comics” No. 3 (May 1941), a work for which he used the pseudonym “Stan Lee” (with the original plan being that he’d used his real name for more “literary” work).

Timely editor Joe Simon and his creative partner Jack Kirby left the publication in 1941 following a dispute with Goodman, which prompted the publisher to promote the 19-year-old Lee as interim editor. Lee entered the U.S. Army a year later, earning the extremely rare military classification of “playwright” as he wrote manuals, training films and slogans and indulged in the occasional cartooning. He returned to his post at Timely Comics in 1945 and continued to write stories in a variety of genres, including romance, science fiction, medieval adventure, Westerns, horror and suspense. By the end of the 1950s, Timely was generally known as Atlas Comics … and a dissatisfied Lee was considering leaving the business.

Lee found his true calling at the end of the ’50s, when Martin Goodman called upon him to create a new superhero team in response to DC’s success with the Justice League of America. Lee figured he had nothing to lose since he was planning on changing careers anyway, so he let his creative muse run wild, coming up with a bickering family of superheroes prone to such everyday challenges as boredom, paying their bills and impressing their girlfriends. “The Fantastic Four” #1 was published in November 1961, written by Lee and illustrated by Jack Kirby.

And the rest, as they say, is history (and sometimes a very convoluted and contradictory history that required the occasional reboot, as any Marvel fan will tell you). Lee went on to create some of the most popular comic book characters of all time, including the Amazing Spider-Man, the Mighty Thor, the Incredible Hulk, the Invincible Iron Man and the Uncanny X-Men. He gave birth to what was referred to as the Marvel Revolution, rebranding the former Atlas Comics as the scrappy — and immensely popular — comics equivalent of an “indie film” company as compared to DC’s big-budget Hollywood studio. He became the figurehead for Marvel Comics, often lending his voice to animated series based on various Marvel properties and even appearing in the occasional issue in which he interacts with his fictional characters.

Lee is still going strong today as he witnesses his creations getting the five-star Hollywood treatment, which culminated this year into the ultimate superhero mashup, “The Avengers.” Fans have come to look forward to what kind of cameo Lee will be making in the latest Marvel movie, whether it’s an overenthusiastic truck driver in “Thor” (this writer’s personal favorite), trusty mailman Willy Lumpkin in “Fantastic Four” or even a Hugh Hefner lookalike in “Iron Man.”

And there will be many more cameos, public appearances and humorous and inspiring speeches, if all goes according to his superhero plan. At the end of September 2012, Lee had a pacemaker inserted into his body, a surgical procedure that resulted in the cancellation of some planned convention appearances but which was ultimately done, according to Lee himself in a statement, to insure that he would live for 90 more years.