Friday, March 11, 2005

Tax Advice - Personal Finance

Don't miss these most-overlooked deductions, credits - Financial - Financial Services - Personal Finance: "With a tax code thousands of pages long, it's no wonder Americans miss out on hefty sums every year in the form of missed deductions and credits."

"In 2002, the then-named General Accounting Office, Congress's investigative arm, found that taxpayers who could have itemized but didn't sacrificed $945 million, or about $438 per taxpayer on average.

And these days, even nonitemizers need to pay attention, as the number of above-the-line deductions grows, including the teachers' expense deduction for $250, the student-loan interest deduction of up to $2,500 and the higher-education tuition deduction up to $4,000.
Taxpayers need to watch out for overlooked credits too.

"The difference between a deduction and a credit is monumental. A deduction simply reduces your taxable income. A credit is a dollar-for-dollar offset against your tax liability," said Mark Steber, vice president of tax resources at Jackson Hewitt, a tax-services provider. Credits "have a much greater impact on your bottom line," he said.
"...While we may know we're missing them, we don't always know where to look. Jog your memory with the following list of often-overlooked deductions and credits.''
Read the rest for some helpful reminders.

Anecdote from Nordlinger

Jay Nordlinger's Impromptus on National Review Online:
"Jay, I [Jay's reader not Anderson] was in a chat room discussing politics/flirting with a girl. Well, she made some quip about how we pay to rebuild Iraq, but the terrorists don't pay to rebuild the WTC and this is Bush's fault. So I said, 'Well, they're terrorists, they blow up buildings, we kill them, and then we help whoever's left rebuild. Sure it costs more money, but it's why we're the good guys and they're the bad guys.'
Her response: 'You must be a Republican.' Man, that says a lot. Does it ever!"
Nordlinger cuts to the chase and his columns are insightful and hilarious. Mr. Nordlinger is a well published music critic in NYC as well as a political writer and is a frequent contributor to The New Criterion and other mags.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

The New York Times News Analysis: For Bush, a Taste of Vindication in Mideast

More shocking pain from The New York Times > International > Middle East > News Analysis: For Bush, a Taste of Vindication in Mideast: "...predecessors in the Oval Office, his father and Bill Clinton, both spoke of the latest signs of progress in an appearance at the White House. The first President Bush was restrained, pronouncing himself 'very pleased,' but cautioning that much work remained to be done.
Mr. Clinton was more ebullient, noting that the Iraqi elections 'went better than anyone could have imagined.' In Lebanon, he said, 'the Syrians are going to have to get out of there and give the Lebanese their country back, and I think the fact that the Lebanese are in the street demanding it is wonderful.'
Asked about huge demonstrations on Tuesday, sponsored by Hezbollah, that demanded just the opposite, Mr. Clinton said: 'I find it inconceivable that most Lebanese wouldn't like it if they had their country back. You know, they want their country back and they ought to get it.'"


"...even as sharp and consistent a critic of Mr. Bush's foreign policy as Senator Edward M. Kennedy, the Massachusetts Democrat, gives Mr. Bush some credit for the latest stirrings of liberty along the eastern Mediterranean.

"What's taken place in a number of those countries is enormously constructive," Mr. Kennedy said on Sunday on the ABC News program "This Week." "It's a reflection the president has been involved."

Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, Democrat of Connecticut and a frequent ally of Mr. Bush on national security affairs, was in the audience for his speech on Tuesday and was more effusive.

"Look, this moment in the Middle East has the feel of Central and Eastern Europe around the collapse of the Berlin Wall," he said in a telephone interview. "It's a very different historical and political context, and we all understand that democracy in the Middle East is in its infancy. But something is happening."

Mr. Lieberman said Mr. Bush deserved credit for at least two things: the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and the continued American military presence in Iraq, which he said showed "the proven willingness of the United States to put its power behind its principles."

Indeed, Mr. Bush cast the United States' current posture in a long, bipartisan tradition of American foreign policy, from Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points to Franklin D. Roosevelt's Four Freedoms, Harry S. Truman's Marshall Plan and Ronald Reagan's unwillingness to accept Soviet hegemony in Eastern Europe."

ABC News: The Note: Follow The Money

I do receive ABC News "The Note" every morning in my email inbox and find it interesting and sometimes useful. Sometimes it just for the gossip as here ABC News: The Note: Follow The Money:
"Former HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson bolts through the revolving door, per the Wall Street Journal.
'Mr. Thompson, the secretary of Health and Human Services during President Bush's first term, will join Deloitte & Touche USA LLP and the law firmAkin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP. At Deloitte, he will help establish a practice area focused on solving health-care problems that will involve insurers, states and other entities. At Akin Gump, Mr. Thompson will advise companies and health-care providers about regulation and policy. The firm's clients include hospitals, cancer-treatment centers and pharmaceuticals makers.'"

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Law Professor on Laptops & Note Taking

"I suspect that use of laptops during class time for playing games, surfing the net, eBay auctions, day trading, and online gambling are rumors, though I do wonder why one of your colleagues the other day jumped up from his seat during class and yelled 'you sank my battleship!'

In addition to the above mentioned items, keep in mind that typing everything I say is counterproductive to learning. It is probably best for most students to take short notes, otherwise you spend your time trying to type everything without spending any time thinking in class. In any one class there is probably less than a page of noteworthy material. The rest is designed to help you think through a problem. "

Playgirl Editor Blue

DRUDGE REPORT FLASH 2005�: "'Siding with the GOP when you live in the bluest state around is almost like wearing a Boston Red Sox jersey at a New York Yankees' home game,' says Zipp in the April issue of PLAYGIRL. 'I cannot tell you how many times a person assumed I voted for John Kerry in 2004. Most of the time, I don't have the heart to tell them, or the energy to discuss my reasons for going red this election year. But this is Playgirl magazine so it's about time I was the one who bared what's underneath.'

How could a member of the media who produces adult entertainment for women possibly side with conservatives from the red states? Zipp spells it out. 'Those on the right are presumed to be all about power and greed: two really sexy traits in the bedroom. They want it, they want it now, and they'll do anything to get it. And I'm not talking about some pansy-assed victory, I'm talking about full on jackpot, satisfaction for all.'

'The Democrats of the Sixties were all about making love and not war while a war-loving Republican is a man who would fight, bleed, sacrifice, and die for his country. Could you imagine what that very same man would do for his wife in the bedroom?' asks Zipp. "

Do note the source here was Matt Drudge; surprised he's a reader of Playgirl.

Jack Kemp: "Leave personal accounts on the table"

Jack Kemp: Leave personal accounts on the table:

"'Meet the Press' moderator Tim Russert asked Durbin: 'So as long as the president insists private and personal accounts are on the table, will you not sit at the table?' Durbin responded: 'I don't believe that we can. ... If the president takes privatization off (the table) ... we're ready to sit down on a bipartisan basis and put everything on the table.' Durbin is saying Democrats are willing to sit down at the table to play only if the president allows them to stack the deck against him.
If the alternative is tax increases, cutting benefits or making people work longer, the country would be much better off if the Democrats filibuster the president's personal-accounts proposal to death this year than if he gives in to their pigheadedness and takes personal accounts off the table. Let the Democrats obstruct passage of personal accounts, if they have the courage, and then let's go to the American people on the matter in the 2006 elections. That's the way democracy works, and we know that whatever the people decide will be right."

David Brooks on Wolfowitz

The New York Times: Giving Wolfowitz His Due: "If the trends of the last few months continue, Wolfowitz will be the subject of fascinating biographies decades from now, while many of his smuggest critics will be forgotten. Those biographies will mention not only his intellectual commitment but also his personal commitment, his years spent learning the languages of the places that concerned him, and the thousands of hours spent listening deferentially to the local heroes who led the causes he supported.
To praise Wolfowitz is not triumphalism. The difficulties ahead are obvious. It's simple justice. It's a recognition that amid all the legitimate criticism, this guy has been the subject of a vicious piling-on campaign by people who know less than nothing about what is actually going on in the government, while he, in the core belief that has energized his work, may turn out to be right. "

Politics at Early Stage on Social Security Reform

OpinionJournal : "...Social Security reform is being proclaimed dead before it has even arrived. There have been no votes in Congress and no opportunity for politicians to stand up and be counted. Until there's an up-or-down vote on whether to reform the system fundamentally, politicians will be free to criticize without fear of paying a political price for it. Once there is a vote, some red-state Democrats will have a reason to support reform.
...that's what happened with welfare reform. Of course, that is what might now give Republicans pause. To get Democrats on board and get a legislative victory, Republicans must also avoid the policy trap that ensnared President Clinton in 1996. Welfare reform has been an unmitigated policy and political success for Republicans, but only because the GOP didn't repudiate its principles to get it. "

Monday, March 07, 2005

Reid versus Kerry With Swords Drawn

"Reid and Kerry crossed swords two weeks ago at a closed-door meeting of the Senate Democratic Steering and Coordination Committee with a group of labor leaders, and while accounts vary, there's little doubt that things got tense between the new Senate Democratic leader and the party's 2004 presidential nominee. "

"...Kerry was unhappy with the posture of the Democrats and told Reid that they needed to be far more aggressive in fighting President Bush, needed to set up what amounted to a perpetual campaign and needed a plan to prevent Bush from seizing the middle ground in the Social Security fight.

Reid responded that he had set up a campaign-style war room and taken other steps to put the Democrats in fighting mode and made it clear he wasn't going to change course just because Kerry thought something different was needed.

The most extensive account of the exchange noted that Reid had questioned how Kerry had run his presidential campaign in Nevada last year -- he lost the state -- but two other sources say that did not occur.

But several of those in the room described it as an awkward and tough exchange that left no one in doubt as to who was in charge of Senate Democrats. "Reid kind of shot him down," said one person privy to the exchange, adding, "You would never have seen [former Senate Democratic Leader] Tom Daschle do that."

John Fund on the Trail- of Felons

John Fund on felon's right to vote: "The Constitution grants states the authority to determine 'the Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections,' but Hillary Clinton and John Kerry are pushing a Count Every Vote Act that would, among other things, force states to allow voters to register at the polls and declaring Election Day a federal holiday. And then they want to force every state to let felons vote--even though the 14th Amendment specifically permits states to disfranchise citizens convicted of 'participation in rebellion, or other crime.'"

Republicans in Congress have their own partisan motivations for opposing any enfranchisement of felons. Leaving the matter to the states probably will mean more felons regaining the right to vote than Republicans would like but fewer than Democrats desire. And that's probably about the right solution." See his column here.

WSJ On Nuclear Option Sen. Byrd

OpinionJournal : "It may well be that the filibuster flap will cause Democrats to raise the roof and use Senate rules to obstruct other legislation. But the alternative is for Republicans to let a Senate minority dictate who can sit on the federal bench--even after two elections in a row in which Democrats lost Senate seats in part because of the judicial filibuster issue. Elections ought to mean something. If Republicans allow a repeat of the last two years, their own voters will start to hold their timidity against them.
Meanwhile, rhetoric does matter in politics, as Herr Byrd has learned from his wacky Adolf allusions. As Republicans move to explain what they're doing to give nominees their Constitutional right to a vote on the Senate floor, we suggest they refer to the tactic as the Byrd option. "

I hope Sen. Byrd does retire before he becomes even more of an embarrassment to our friends in West Virginia and to himself after such a lenghty career.

A Thoughtful Editorial that Starts with a Joke

From our daily local bird cage liner, Parents should remember that the learning profile of each child is different: "A silly old joke goes this way: What happened to the agnostic, dyslexic insomniac? The answer: He stayed up all night wondering if there is a DOG. It makes me smile.
Parents, teachers, and administrators are not smiling about a more serious question full of that joke's philosophical, psychological, biological and cultural baggage: What, if anything, is wrong with my child? That question is no joke."

Read the whole article on a very serious topic.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Another | Um, `Could Bush be right?'

Chicago Tribune Um, `Could Bush be right?':
"Washington's muscular diplomacy unarguably is playing a crucial role throughout the Mideast. For one repressive regime after another, the sight of American soldiers at long last enforcing United Nations resolutions--and bestowing democracy on a subjugated people--surely must concentrate the mind.

History written in headlines can reverse course just as fast. We are a long way from knowing whether the still unfinished liberation of Iraq helps transform a troubled region. But for the foes of freedom, the Mideast must feel like a suddenly smaller place."

Environmentalism and Economics

Why good economics is good environmental activism. from Environmentalism isn't dying, but a revolution is happening - 03/06/05: "Around the world, economists also are beginning to understand that the one sure marker of a clean society is a wealthy society -- because economic growth means more efficiency, less waste (pollution) and more resources to deal with remaining problems. As wealth increases, so does public desire for environmental amenities. Entrepreneurs are finding ways to capture the value of those amenities and even profit from them -- a far more sustainable approach than relying on the goodness of a government bureaucracy. Environmentalists like Shellenberger and Nordhaus keep insisting that the answer is for environmental donors to kick in ever greater gobs of money to progressive causes."

Another Foolish Question: What do Democrats think about the Minimum Wage Law?

: "Asking Democrats if they favor an increase in the minimum wage is like asking Martha Stewart if she'd mind sharing some decorating ideas."

...the people most likely to lose their jobs because of the minimum wages are not middle-class teens but poor adults. The federal floor has the perverse effect of inducing companies to lay off the very people it is supposed to help -- while channeling money to those who need it least. The bottom line, Neumark writes, is that "minimum wages deliver no net benefits to poor or low-income families and, if anything, make them worse off."

Kennedy and his fellow Democrats may think they're doing poor people a favor. But with friends like these . . . ."

Is the New Medicare Drug Plan as Bad as Claimed?

The New York Times > National > Defying Experts, Insurers Join Medicare Drug Plan: "The new Medicare drug benefit passed a major milestone in recent weeks as a substantial number of big insurance companies said they would offer prescription drug coverage to Medicare beneficiaries next year, defying the predictions of many industry experts.

Some companies intend to offer the new benefit nationwide. Others will offer it in certain states or regions. It is too soon to know how many of the 41 million Medicare beneficiaries will enroll. But it is increasingly clear that they will at least have access to drug coverage offered by commercial insurers, Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans, and pharmacy benefit managers. "

The new law relies heavily on competing private plans to deliver the Medicare drug benefit. If too few plans participate, the government can intervene. But the Bush administration and business groups want to avoid that at all costs because they do not want the government to manage the benefit, set prices or decide which drugs are covered. "

"It's a reasonable risk for a new line of business," said Robert E. Meehan, vice president of Horizon Blue Cross and Blue Shield of New Jersey. "In the last eight weeks, some of the early naysayers have come around and said they will be involved in the new program. We could have five well-known providers offering drug coverage to Medicare beneficiaries in New Jersey."

One reason for the keen interest, he said, is that "there's a lot of money at stake." The Bush administration estimates that Medicare payments to private plans for the drug benefit will total $59 billion in 2006 and will double in five years.

"The demographics are positive," Mr. Meehan said. "Lots of people are coming into Medicare. But seniors don't like to switch insurance coverage. If our competitors pick up these people, it might be hard to persuade them to switch to our plan."

President Bush's commitment is also a factor. "We have a strong sense that he wants to make this work," Mr. Meehan said. "If Bush had not been re-elected, we may have re-evaluated our decision."

Justice Scalia; Love Him or Hate Him - The Man Can Write!

Following is part of the dissent written by justice scalia in the recent case on the death penalty for minors. The bold is from my emphasis and the portions are drawn from FindLaw for Legal Professionals - Case Law, Federal and State Resources, Forms, and Code:
"In urging approval of a constitution that gave life-tenured judges the power to nullify laws enacted by the people's representatives, Alexander Hamilton assured the citizens of New York that there was little risk in this, since '[t]he judiciary ... ha[s] neither FORCE nor WILL but merely judgment.' The Federalist No. 78, p. 465 (C. Rossiter ed. 1961). But Hamilton had in mind a traditional judiciary, 'bound down by strict rules and precedents which serve to define and point out their duty in every particular case that comes before them.' Id., at 471. Bound down, indeed. What a mockery today's opinion makes of Hamilton's expectation, announcing the Court's conclusion that the meaning of our Constitution has changed over the past 15 years--not, mind you, that this Court's decision 15 years ago was wrong, but that the Constitution has changed. The Court reaches this implausible result by purporting to advert, not to the original meaning of the Eighth Amendment, but to 'the evolving standards of decency,' ante, at 6 (internal quotation marks omitted), of our national society. It then finds, on the flimsiest of grounds, that a national consensus which could not be perceived in our people's laws barely 15 years ago now solidly exists. Worse still, the Court says in so many words that what our people's laws say about the issue does not, in the last analysis, matter: '[I]n the end our own judgment will be brought to bear on the question of the acceptability of the death penalty under the Eighth Amendment.' Ante, at 9 (internal quotation marks omitted). The Court thus proclaims itself sole arbiter of our Nation's moral standards--and in the course of discharging that awesome responsibility purports to take guidance from the views of foreign courts and legislatures. Because I do not believe that the meaning of our Eighth Amendment, any more than the meaning of other provisions of our Constitution, should be determined by the subjective views of five Members of this Court and like-minded foreigners, I dissent."

...Today's opinion provides a perfect example of why judges are ill equipped to make the type of legislative judgments the Court insists on making here. To support its opinion that States should be prohibited from imposing the death penalty on anyone who committed murder before age 18, the Court looks to scientific and sociological studies, picking and choosing those that support its position. It never explains why those particular studies are methodologically sound; none was ever entered into evidence or tested in an adversarial proceeding.

...In other words, all the Court has done today, to borrow from another context, is to look over the heads of the crowd and pick out its friends."

...Though the views of our own citizens are essentially irrelevant to the Court's decision today, the views of other countries and the so-called international community take center stage."

...However sound philosophically, this is no way to run a legal system. We must disregard the new reality that, to the extent our Eighth Amendment decisions constitute something more than a show of hands on the current Justices' current personal views about penology, they purport to be nothing more than a snapshot of American public opinion at a particular point in time (with the timeframes now shortened to a mere 15 years). We must treat these decisions just as though they represented real law, real prescriptions democratically adopted by the American people, as conclusively (rather than sequentially) construed by this Court. Allowing lower courts to reinterpret the Eighth Amendment whenever they decide enough time has passed for a new snapshot leaves this Court's decisions without any force--especially since the "evolution" of our Eighth Amendment is no longer determined by objective criteria. To allow lower courts to behave as we do, "updating" the Eighth Amendment as needed, destroys stability and makes our case law an unreliable basis for the designing of laws by citizens and their representatives, and for action by public officials. The result will be to crown arbitrariness with chaos."

Academics and Political Causes

Rocky Mountain News: Columnists: "Richard Rorty is a philosophy professor at the University of Virginia. He's also editor of an unabashedly socialist magazine, Dissent, and a hero of the academic left. Here's his political assessment of academe: 'The power base of the Left in America is now in the universities, since the trade unions have largely been killed off. The universities have done a lot of good work by setting up, for example, African-American studies programs, Women's Studies programs, and Gay and Lesbian Studies programs. They have created power bases for these movements.'"

Movements? If you had any illusions that these programs were simply "studying" these areas, now you know better. Like Churchill's Ethnic Studies program, they're all "movements." And American universities have become "the power base of the Left."

Self-important academics believe themselves to be beyond reproach, sitting as philosopher-kings, dispensing their wisdom to the ignorant masses. Nonsense. They're ordinary people, government employees dependent on their customers and the taxpayers for their income, and ultimately accountable to their bosses and the citizens who elect the Board of Regents. Academic freedom is not absolute."

The Iraq effect? Bush may have had it right

The Iraq effect? Bush may have had it right

"The movements for democratic change in Egypt and Lebanon have happened since the successful Iraqi election on Jan. 30. And one can speculate on whether Iraq has served as a beacon for democratic change in the Middle East.
During the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, President Bush said that 'a liberated Iraq can show the power of freedom to transform that vital region.'
He may have had it right

China - America's Greatest Foreign Policy Challenge

Chinese Premier Pledges to Hold On to Taiwan ( "BEIJING, March 5 -- Premier Wen Jiabao vowed Saturday never to allow Taiwan 'to separate from China under any name or by any means' as the Chinese parliament opened its annual session and prepared to enact an anti-secession law targeting the self-governing island. "

Hu did not mention the anti-secession law, but he said, "We will not have the slightest hesitation, falter or concession on the major principal issue of opposing secession."

As he spoke, his government announced it would increase military spending by 12.6 percent in 2005, the latest in a string of double-digit budget increases aimed at modernizing the army and preparing it for a possible conflict with Taiwan.

CIA Director Porter J. Goss expressed concern about China's military buildup last month, saying that it "could tilt the balance of power in the Taiwan Strait" and that "improved Chinese capabilities threaten U.S. forces in the region." The United States has pledged to help Taiwan defend itself, and President Bush said in 2001 that he would do "whatever it took" to defend the island against a Chinese attack."

On Justice Kennedy re Death Penalty Decision

Wrong on All Counts ( "Kennedy occupies the seat that 52 Senate Democrats prevented Robert Bork from filling in 1987. That episode accelerated the descent into the scorched-earth partisanship that was raging in the Senate Judiciary Committee at the very moment Tuesday morning that Kennedy was presenting the court majority's policy preference as a constitutional imperative. The committee's Democrats were browbeating another appellate court nominee, foreshadowing another filibuster.
The Democrats' standard complaint is that nominees are out of the jurisprudential 'mainstream.' If Kennedy represents the mainstream, it is time to change the shape of the river. His opinion is an intellectual train wreck, but useful as a timely warning about what happens when judicial offices are filled with injudicious people. "

Tom Friedman has a Great Idea! Seriously

Tom Friedman in Arms Sales Begin at Home: "Mr. Bush should simply say to France, Germany and their E.U. partners that America has absolutely no objection to Europeans' selling arms to China - on one condition: that they sell arms to themselves first. That's right, the U.S. should support the export to China of any defense system that the Europeans buy for their own armies first. Buy one, sell one.
But what the U.S. should not countenance is that at a time when the Europeans are spending peanuts on their own defense, making themselves into paper tigers and free riders on America for global policing, that they start exporting arms to a growing tiger - China."

For all of Europe's complaining about what the Bush team stands for, my ears are still ringing with the remark that a German columnist recently made to me in Berlin: "What do we stand for?" he asked. What is Europe's foreign policy? America is saying that the largest strategic issue of our time is peacefully managing the rise of China. We have to get this right. Having a strong Europe on our side - not on both sides - would be a big help.

If Europe wants to go pacifist, that's fine. But there is nothing worse than a pacifist that sells arms - especially in a way that increases the burden on its U.S. ally and protector."