Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for January 7th, 2007

More reasons we need national health insurance

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The LA Times reports that health insurers simply won’t insure people in some jobs, even though the people are perfectly healthy:

Health insurers in California refuse to sell individual coverage to people simply because of their occupations or use of certain medicines, according to documents obtained by The Times.

Entire categories of workers — including roofers, pro athletes, dockworkers, migrant workers and firefighters — are turned down for insurance even if they are in good health and can afford coverage, according to the confidential underwriting guidelines of four health plans.

Although Blue Cross of California, the state’s top seller of individual policies, does not exclude applicants based on occupation, three others do: Blue Shield of California, PacifiCare Health Systems Inc. and Health Net Inc. Actuarially speaking, they say, certain workers pose too big a risk.

All four health plans look at prescription drug use to decide to whom they will sell individual policies. Dozens of widely prescribed medications — including Allegra, Celebrex and Prevacid — may lead to rejection, according to the underwriting guidelines that the health plans provide to insurance brokers but not to the public.

In fact, eight of the 20 top-selling prescription drugs in the U.S., including No. 1 Lipitor, a cholesterol fighter that racked up $12.9 billion in global sales in 2005, make the lists of two health plans.

Such restrictions are legal in California, and state regulators have no authority to stop them. Health plans defend their restrictions as necessary to keep premiums down.

“This is something that has been actuarially determined to keep insurance affordable for a very, very broad range of people,” said David Olson, a spokesman for Woodland Hills-based Health Net.

But at a time when Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and state lawmakers are seeking ways to expand coverage to many of the 6.6 million uninsured Californians, consumer advocates said such policies were too restrictive.

“This isn’t cherry picking; this is ignoring whole orchards of people,” said Jamie Court, president of the Foundation for Consumer and Taxpayer Rights.

Read the rest of the report at the link.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 January 2007 at 9:53 pm

The best unknown Mac apps

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Via Lifehacker, this list of Mac apps.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 January 2007 at 2:23 pm

Posted in Software

The Alternative Minimum Tax may be eliminated

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And high time, too:

A bipartisan group of senators on Thursday introduced a bill calling for the death of the stealth tax that lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have criticized.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), ranking Republican and former committee chairman Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) and three other committee members introduced legislation to fully repeal the alternative minimum tax (AMT) as of 2007.

“This bill is really a bellwether for one of the Finance Committee’s biggest priorities this year. This Congress intends to provide tax relief to middle-income Americans in a fiscally responsible way, and the AMT is the right place to start,” Sen. Baucus said in a statement.

The bill is similar to one the group introduced in 2005.

On the House side, Charles Rangel (D-NY), the new chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, has said repeatedly that fixing the AMT is a priority.

The AMT imposes a higher bill on taxpayers than the regular tax code. The tax, originally intended for the wealthy, now threatens to catch tens of millions of middle-class taxpayers unless lawmakers increase the AMT adjusted gross income exemption levels, since the original levels were never adjusted for inflation. (For more on how the AMT is calculated, see below.)

So far, Congress has been issuing temporary annual “patches.” For tax year 2006, for instance, in addition to allowing certain personal credits to offset AMT liability, they raised the AMT adjusted gross income exemption levels to $42,500 for single filers, up from $40,450, and to $62,550 for joint filers, up from $58,000.

But if no other changes are made, the exemption levels for tax year 2007 will drop to $35,750 for single filers and $45,000 for married filers, and the personal credits will be disallowed.

As a result, the number of taxpayers nabbed by AMT will jump from 3.5 million in 2006 to 23 million for tax year 2007 and to 39 million by 2017, according to the Tax Policy Center. That assumes President Bush’s tax cuts implemented since 2001 expire as scheduled. If they don’t, then 53 million taxpayers – or about half of all taxpayers – will pay the AMT by 2017.

Those hardest hit: married couples with kids who take a lot of the deductions and credits disallowed under AMT. The Tax Policy Center estimates that by 2010 nearly 90 percent of married couples with two or more children and an adjusted gross income between $75,000 and $100,000 will be subject to AMT.

The cost of full repeal is not cheap, and it could thwart the chances of balancing the federal budget by 2012.

The Tax Policy Center estimates that repealing the AMT would cost $945 billion between now and 2017, assuming the tax cuts are allowed to expire. If they’re extended, the projected cost over 10 years rises to $1.7 trillion.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by LeisureGuy

7 January 2007 at 10:44 am

Books, Movies, and Videos

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It occurred to me that a single post that collects links to all the books, movies, and videos mentioned would be quite useful. So here it is. The links take you to the post where the book, movie, or video was originally mentioned so you will have the context. That post will take you to sources—for books, typically to a list of secondhand copies sorted by price, low to high.

I’ll keep this up to date as I go forward, so it will serve as a central reference.

Books – Fiction

Books – Nonfiction

Movies

Videos

Written by LeisureGuy

7 January 2007 at 10:39 am

Posted in Books, Movies & TV, Video

Why Negroponte was forced out

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Here’s an interesting view, via a friend in the Netherlands:

Contrary to the bland stories in The New York Times and Washington Post of Friday, Negroponte did not go voluntarily to State from his job as director of intelligence. In fact, there was tremendous administration pressure to get him out of his current job. The chief cause of the quarrel involved Negroponte’s balking at at request from Vice President Cheney to increase domestic collection by the National Security Agency on U.S. citizens.

Negroponte flatly refused, Cheney bridled, and from then on the pressure built to get rid of him. (The White House did not return phone calls, but there is nothing new is that.)

The Bush people, chiefly Cheney and the president, were already annoyed by the fact that the Negroponte group has been busy producing drafts of reports that predict utter disaster in Iraq and which are utterly opposed to any increase of troops. Cheney and Bush both flared in wrath over this. Of course, intelligence is simply evaluated information. Its purpose is to help inform decisions by policymakers, as Pat as so often pointed out. But this this administration perceives objectivity as a inadequate commitment or as an absence of complete loyalty.

The new national director of intelligence Adm. “Mike” McMConnell, has my sources at NSA tearing their hair out. In the view of some very sharp analysts there he was “among the worst directors this agency ever had,” in the words of one.

But the rift over increased domestic surveillance was the real reason Negroponte was forced out. I am frankly shocked by seasoned reporters at the NYT who would swallow statements such as Negroponte was never comfortable being a spy and therefore wanted to return to being a diplomat. That is like the Steeler’s coach saying he is resigning to spend more time with his family.

Rice, of course, has been looking for a deputy since last June when Zoellick resigned to go to Goldman Sachs. She first asked for Nick Burns, a very canny and experienced guy and that request was squashed by Cheney. Burns will resign, I’m told. She asked for Phil Zoellick who is her special advisor and that went nowhere. She finally negotiated with Bush first and then Cheney and got approval for Negroponte. She can use his expertise on the Middle East.

One further note.

Regarding Cheney’s recent trip to Saudi Arabia. Cheney went there to get the Wahabis to start ratcheting up actions against the Hizbullah in Lebanon and elsewhere in the region. Saudi relations with Syria have cooled dramatically since the Hariri murder. As senior CIA officials told me in 2001, Hariri was a Saudi agent for a long time. But one former CIA official told me that Saudi police the other day arrested a man because he put up Nasrallah’s picture up on his wall. What CIA officials I talked to see is a major shift in the terrain — a growing region-wide alliance between the Sunnis that will act as a counter to the growing power of the Shia thanks to the mindless U.S. backing of them Iraq.

My sources on this are excellent — 8.5s out of 10s.

Richard Sale

Written by LeisureGuy

7 January 2007 at 8:20 am

Even the Washington Post notices Bush’s lies

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An editorial:

President Bush wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed Wednesday that “it is also a fact that our tax cuts have fueled robust economic growth and record revenues.” The claim about fueling record revenue is flat wrong, and it is shocking that the president should persist in making such errors. After all, tax cuts are the central plank of his domestic policy. How can he fail to understand the basic facts about them?

This is not just our opinion. Harvard’s N. Gregory Mankiw, an economic conservative who served as chairman of Mr. Bush’s Council of Economic Advisers, has tested the hypothesis on which Mr. Bush’s claim is based: He looked at the extent to which tax cuts stimulate extra growth and the extent to which that growth generates extra tax revenue that offsets the initial loss of revenue from the tax cut. Mr. Mankiw’s conclusion: Even over the long term, once you’ve allowed all of the extra growth to feed through into extra revenue, cuts in capital taxes juice the economy enough to recoup half of the lost revenue, and cuts in income taxes deliver a boost that recoups 17 percent of the lost revenue. So a $100 billion cut in taxes on capital widens the budget deficit by $50 billion, and a $100 billion cut in income taxes widens the budget deficit by $83 billion.

If Mr. Bush does not believe Mr. Mankiw, perhaps he may believe the Congressional Budget Office. In a period when it was run by Douglas Holtz-Eakin, another economic conservative who worked in Mr. Bush’s White House, the CBO estimated the extent to which a 10 percent reduction in personal taxes might pay for itself. On the most optimistic assumptions it could muster, the CBO found that tax cuts would stimulate enough economic growth to replace 22 percent of lost revenue in the first five years and 32 percent in the second five. On pessimistic assumptions, the growth effects of tax cuts did nothing to offset revenue loss.

If Mr. Bush believes neither Mr. Mankiw nor the Congressional Budget Office, he should at least respect his own Treasury. Prodded by the White House, Treasury economists have calculated how much extra growth would result from making the Bush tax cuts permanent. They have concluded that economic output would rise by about 0.5 percent in the first six years and by an additional 0.2 percent in the “long term.” Since the federal government collects around 18 percent of gross domestic product in taxes, enlarging GDP by 0.7 percent would result in extra tax revenue equivalent to 0.13 percent of GDP. That would offset less than a tenth of the revenue that would be lost because of the tax cuts.

Mr. Bush’s op-ed included nice statements about bipartisan cooperation. But the Democrats would be more likely to cooperate with the president if he stopped making things up.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 January 2007 at 8:08 am

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