Friday, January 29, 2021

Coronavirus - Andrew Cuomo and nursing homes deaths

Last year tyrannical Dem. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued as executive order forcing nursing homes to admit people known to have been infected by the coronavirus. The following stories show the consequences. His action caused far more people to become infected and die as a result.

Morning Dispatch: Cuomo Under Fire for Undercounting Nursing Home Deaths

New York Post: COVID-19 deaths in NY nursing homes were 50 percent higher than claimed

Update Jan. 30: Cuomo won't apologize (link).

"Attorney General Letitia James found that [Cuomo's] administration had drastically undercounted nursing-home deaths."

"Residents who died of COVID-19 in the facilities themselves were listed as nursing home deaths, while residents who died after being transported to a hospital were not included in that tally."

Cuomo added, “If you look at New York State, we have a lower percentage of deaths in nursing homes than other states. A third of all deaths in this nation are from nursing homes. New York State, we’re…about 28 percent, but we’re below the national average in number of deaths in nursing homes. But who cares — 33, 28, died in a hospital, died in a nursing home — they died.”

If 28%*1.5 = 42%, which is higher than other, maybe all, states.

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Coronavirus - new drug

New, more effective drug to treat COVID-19

Aplidin, also known as Plitidepsin, has gone through a Phase II clinical trial against COVID-19 and is now awaiting the start of Phase III testing. It comes from sea squirts, marine creatures that look like plants and have tubular openings allowing them to draw in and expel water. Their only known habitat is around the Spanish island of Ibaza east of Spain in the Mediterranean Sea.  

Filing income taxes for free

Many Americans can file their taxes for free. Here’s how to do it.

This is a good and comprehensive article about filing for free.

One of the larger VITA/TCE organizations is AARP Tax Aide. Before and part of and last year, operations were always in-person. This year not near as many sites are available and it is mostly virtual. The filer gets help on line or by phone.  

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Journalists and free speech

Journalists celebrate the destruction of others' free speech

"Last year [ ] police were lambasted for trying to control violence at Black Lives Matter and Antifa protests. Journalists disdained tear gas and arrests in favor of addressing the "systemic racism" supposedly responsible for the disorder. After the January 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, some raised questions about police failure to stop the mayhem, but once again, progressive journalists are focusing elsewhere. They've identified a new root cause of mob violence: free speech."

"They've cheered the social-media purge of conservatives and urged further censorship of "violent rhetoric" and "disinformation." It's a remarkably self-destructive move for a profession dependent on freedom of speech, but the journalists now dominating newsrooms aren't thinking long-term — and can't imagine being censored themselves. The traditional liberal devotion to the First Amendment seems hopelessly antiquated to young progressives convinced that they're on the right side of history." 

To which I add, "And feeling morally superior!"

"It wasn't enough to ban Donald Trump from Facebook and Twitter if he and his followers could move to Parler — so Parler had to be shut down, too. Big Tech obliged, succumbing to pressure from the media and their Democratic allies in Congress. (Google and Apple removed Parler from their app stores, and Amazon forced Parler offline by booting it off its web servers.) This unprecedented suppression was denounced by conservative and libertarian publications like the Wall Street Journal and Reason, and by a few independent journalists like Glenn Greenwald, but the usual solidarity among the press against censorship was missing."  

Monday, January 25, 2021

Democratic bullies

Dems Urged Not to ‘Waste a Second’ Negotiating 

This is the preferred way of far too many Democrats. Throw money at it. Bullying. Authoritarian. A reasonable compromise is off limits. Bernie Sanders and his ilk epitomize their attitude.

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Janet Yellen on cryptocurrency

Nominee Secretary of State Yellen on bitcoin

"Incoming Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has revealed some reservations about cryptocurrency, especially as it could relate to crime and terrorism." 

Is the ex-Chairman of the Federal Reserve really worried about criminals using cryptocurrency? If yes, she needs to look more closely at the $US. Suitcases of $US are used by drug dealers!!

Friday, January 22, 2021

Hank Aaron, RIP

Sadly, Henry Louis "Hammerin' Hank" Aaron died today. Wikipedia. 😢 Aaron died in his sleep at the age of 86, two weeks shy of his 87th birthday. He was my baseball hero from 1955 until he retired. I didn't have another one until Greg Maddux circa 1993.

Hank Aaron is one of the greatest baseball players of all time. He is 5th all-time in WAR for position players (non-pitchers). His 755 career home runs stood as the MLB record for 33 years, surpassed only by Barry Bonds' 762 attained in 2007. The most homers Aaron hit in one season was 47. He hit 44, his uniform number, four times. Three of those times he led the league in HRs and RBIs. Bonds hit 50 or more homers in a season only once, with 73. Aaron led the league in batting average twice. (Bonds also did). He was NL MVP in 1957. The Braves won the World Series in 1957. He led the Braves in hitting during the World Series -- 11 hits, 3 HR, 7 RBI, .393 BA. However, fidgety Lew Burdette was MVP of the World Series by pitching and winning 3 complete games, 2 shutouts, against hitters like Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Hank Bauer, and Elston Howard. Burdette gave up only 2 earned runs, making his ERA 0.67.

Hank Aaron has the most career RBIs and total bases. He is 3rd in career hits with 3771, behind only Pete Rose and Ty Cobb. He was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame when first eligible in 1982 with 97.8% of the vote.

Hammerin' Hank wasn't a flashy player, and the Milwaukee Braves was a small market team. So he didn't get the level of attention that his peers such as Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle did. He was very consistent. His highest number of strikeouts in a season was 97. He was an excellent fielder and baserunner. He was quiet and dignified. After his playing career he was an executive with the Braves and a successful businessman. 

My favorite baseball story about him involved Yogi Berra, the talkative Hall of Fame Yankee catcher who could get in the minds of hitters. Berra said, “Hey kid, you're holding your bat wrong. It's suppose to be with the label up.” Without bothering to check the positioning of his bat, Hank replied, “I didn’t come here to read.” Link.

Biden undoes Trump

Biden undoes some Trump reforms and plans more with Executive Orders. Biden’s transition team announced he would end three significant policies designed to protect America.

1. Travel Ban. The first is a reversal of the so-called “travel ban.” Signed in the early days of the Trump administration, the president banned people from several Muslin countries. At the time, Democrats labeled the policy as racist and discriminatory despite the fact that the vast majority of Muslim nations were unaffected by the executive order.

2. Southern Border. Biden said he wouldn’t end Trump’s southern border policies during the election. However, a new statement from the Biden transition team told thousands of migrants in Central America not to come to the US “at this time.”

3. Paris Climate Accord. The third Trump policy that Biden says he’ll undo is on climate change. On day one, Biden will sign an executive order that puts the United States back in the Paris Climate Accord initially signed by former President Obama in 2016.

These are only a few of the changes Biden plans to make in his administration’s early days. However, many more are being announced. Biden wants to undo the Trump tax cuts, be friendlier with Iran, China, and the United Nations organization like WHO, stop the Keystone XL pipeline, make college educations free and more. Biden is and will be the puppet of Progressives and other power-hungry statists.

Canada is the USA’s largest foreign energy supplier. That won’t change with the end of Keystone XL, but it does mean a lot of Canadian oil will have to be inefficiently moved in tanker trucks, causing unnecessary pollution for the sake of a political gesture. Biden's pandering to environmentalist will also cause the loss of 1,000s of well-paying jobs. What a jerk!

This might exaggerate, but the numbers are still significant.

Monday, January 18, 2021

Pre-existing conditions

Glenn Kessler of the Washington Compost says that soon-to-be ex-President Trump has lied about pre-existing conditions. Link

Far more truthful is that Kessler's article is a big fat lie, as was Kamala Harris saying basically the same thing while debating before the November election last year. Both Kessler and Harris talk as if pre-existing conditions is a widespread concern, whereas in fact it is an extremely narrow concern. It pertains to so few people that Kessler and Harris make a mountain out of an ant hill.   

Like I argued here, Harris absurdly claimed that Trump/Pence would take away health insurance from people who have pre-existing conditions. Harris' vague lie said, "you have Donald Trump who is in court right now trying to get rid of – trying to get rid of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which means that you will lose protections, if you have pre-existing conditions. ... If you have a pre-existing condition, heart disease, diabetes, breast cancer, they're coming for you."

Trump/Pence have not done or advocated any such thing. They got rid of one small part of the ACA --the mandate to buy health insurance by reducing the penalty to $0 for non-compliance. They did nothing to eliminate the ACA's health insurance exchanges, or cancel the insurance of people with pre-existing conditions. Insurers on the Obamacare health insurance exchanges cannot refuse an applicant for pre-existing conditions and are prevented by law from ending somebody's coverage because the insured has pre-existing conditions.

Insurers who sell Medicare Advantage and Medicare supplement policies cannot refuse coverage to a person when they first become eligible for Medicare. Medicare itself does not deny coverage to people with pre-existing conditions. These rules concerning Medicare, Medicare Advantage and Medicare supplement policies existed long before the Affordable Care Act. A total repeal of the Affordable Care Act would thus not alter those programs.

In summary pre-existing conditions pertain to only a very small segment of the population -- those below age 65 trying to get individual insurance outside the the Obamacare health insurance exchanges and those over age 65 who have a Medicare supplemental policy (not Medicare Advantage) and want to switch carriers. These are the only two situations an insurer can underwrite and decline to provide new coverage. 

Even when people lose health insurance due to a job loss, insurance in the form of Medicaid or CHIPs (link) may be obtained not subject to pre-existing conditions.

Kessler falsely asserts, "Trump had nothing to do with the ACA, signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2010." That is irrelevant. When the ACA was modified like Trump wanted, nothing about pre-existing conditions was modified. 

Kessler asserts, "Before passage of the ACA, even minor health problems could have led an insurance company to deny coverage." This makes a mountain out of an anthill, due to the very few times an insurer can decline to provide new coverage.

Ironically then, Kessler's article is what is worth four Pinocchios.

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Teachers unions and political power

John Stossel: Teachers Unions Fail Science. Stossel echoes Thomas Sowell (link) on the effects of poor public school education on black American children. The following in italics are quotes from the article.

Is your child's school open now?

Probably not — because teachers unions say that reopening would "put their health and safety at risk."

Closed schools hurt low-income students most because they have fewer learning alternatives. The privileged get around union restrictions.

Almost all of California's government-run schools are closed, but California Governor Gavin Newsom sends his kids to a private school that stayed open.

Union demands include all sorts of things unrelated to teacher safety. The Los Angeles union demands: defunding the police, a moratorium on charter schools, higher taxes on the wealthy and "Medicare for All."

It's revealing that government-run schools fight to stay closed, while most businesses — private schools, restaurants, hair salons, gyms, etc., fight to be allowed to open.

Why is that? [Heritage Foundation's Lindsey] Burke points out that government schools "receive funding regardless of whether or not they reopen."

So, union workers get paid even when they don't work. Not working seems to be a big union goal.

Yet, the teachers unions keep winning. They will win more now that Democrats control the federal government. Congress' last stimulus package forbids any funds to be used to expand school choice: no "vouchers, tuition tax credit programs, education savings accounts, scholarship programs, or tuition assistance programs."

So, students lose. Parents lose. Taxpayers lose. America loses.

Unions win.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Thomas Sowell: Is Truth Irrelevant?

Thomas Sowell: Is Truth Irrelevant?  Thomas Sowell notes how many noticed the riots which took place January 5, but paid so little attention to the riots that took place in various cities across the country last year. For too many people, especially in the media, what is right and wrong, true or false, depends on who it helps or hurts politically. Too many media people who are supposed to be reporters act as if they are combatants in political wars. The following in italics are quotes from Sowell's article.

Someone once said that, in a war, truth is the first casualty. That has certainly been so in the media — and in much of academia as well. 

Unfortunately, too many American educational institutions — from elementary schools to universities — have become indoctrination centers. The riots that swept across the country last year are fruits of that indoctrination and the utter disregard for other people's rights that accompanied those riots.

At the heart of that indoctrination is a sense of grievance and victimhood when others have better outcomes — which are automatically called "privileges" and never called "achievements," regardless of what the actual facts are.

Facts don't matter in such issues, any more than facts mattered when smearing [Abraham] Lincoln.

Any "under-representation" of any group in any endeavor can be taken as evidence or proof of discriminatory bias. But those who argue this way cannot show us any society — anywhere in the world, or at any time during thousands of years of recorded history — that had all groups represented proportionally in all endeavors. 

Whites are "under-represented" in the NBA and NFL. About 80% of players in both organizations  are black. Is that due to discriminatory bias?

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Thomas Sowell: A Vote at the Crossroads

Thomas Sowell: A Vote at the Crossroads

Thomas Sowell says how Democrats will take advantage of its political power in the Senate and beyond now that they have won the two Senate seats for Georgia. When he wrote this, the seats were not yet decided. The following in italics are quotes from Sowell's article.

Senate Democrats' leader, Senator Charles Schumer, has already announced what he has in store, if the Democrats get a majority in the Senate. So has President-elect Joe Biden. And it goes way beyond specific policies. It includes institutional changes that can be permanent, and almost guarantee one-party rule in this country, as far out as the eye can see.

Among the groups likely to be hurt most by Democrats' dominance of both houses of Congress and the White House is the black population that has been the most loyal to the Democrats for many generations.

There is no more vital interest of black Americans than the education of black children. The whole future of the race depends on the quality of that education, more than on any other single factor.

In many public schools in low-income minority neighborhoods, most of the students cannot pass tests in mathematics or English. In some ghetto schools, nobody passed either test.

When charter schools succeed where traditional public schools fail, that is welcome news to everyone to whom black education matters. But it is bad news to failing public school bureaucrats and to teachers unions, since charter schools attract students from unionized public schools.

These politicians are almost all Democrats. President-elect Biden has already assured teachers unions that there will be no more federal money for charter schools. 

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Income tax for 2020 (2021 tax season)

IRS expects hectic tax season, local tax preparer gives tips to be ready 

Filing one's 2020 U.S. personal income tax return -- due April 15, 2021 for most-- will be different for many people than it was a year ago. As the article points out, there are the stimulus payments. They are not taxable, but they are reportable since they are a (refundable) tax credit.

Two other big differences will be:
1. Unemployment compensation. It is taxable.
2. Self-employment income vs. W-2 wage income. Those having self-employment income, e.g. doing odd jobs or contract work, will need to file Schedule C. This could be the first time for many people. There are differences between sole-proprietor and self-employed, but they matter little regarding income tax. Those people should be aware of the Qualified Business Income Deduction (QBID, IRS link).

With a cursory view,  the QBID appears to be a significant tax break. That may or may not be the case actually, depending on one's particular situation. I wrote about this in 2019: IRS pinches middle and lower income self-employed

To save money some filers might be seeking the cheapest way to file. This IRS File Free page offers two ways. Needing Schedule C and a high enough income on Schedule C might preclude using the first way. 

The second way, Free File Fillable Forms, for income above $72,000, is relatively difficult. It handles any Schedule C situation. It is almost like filing a paper return, except it is done online. You need to know what forms you need, and it won't coach or guide you. The first way does coach or guide. 

Like the first link above says, filing a paper return could delay a refund for several months. Contra the first link above, some people with income not shown on a W-2 should not file Feb. 1. They should make sure they have all documents, e.g. 1099-B, 1099-Div, 1099-Misc before filing. These typically become available later in February and maybe not until March.

Thursday, January 7, 2021

Coronavirus - profits from vaccines

Yahoo Finance says: Pfizer, Moderna expect billions in profits from COVID vaccines. That's a scandal

Why is it a scandal? The author Michael Hiltzik says:

"The companies stand to earn billions of dollars in profits from their COVID vaccines this year, according to investment analysts' projections. Since it's unlikely that the vaccines will provide 100% cures or eradicate the virus causing the disease, there will be more profits in later years.

While no one is saying that the companies should collect no profit at all from the COVID vaccine, that leaves open the question of how much is enough?

I’ve written already  about the stranglehold that Pfizer and Moderna have maintained on the manufacturing of their COVID vaccines, even though American taxpayers have paid billions of dollars for the basic research and early development of the technology.

Although the vaccine is to be delivered free to Americans, the government is paying what looks like top-dollar for the drugs. Pfizer's government contract for 100 million doses sets the unit price at about $20 per dose. Moderna's two contracts for 100 million doses each are set at about $15 per dose.

The actual production cost is much less. Pfizer's profit margin on its vaccine will be 60%-80%, Geoffrey Porges of SVB Leerink has estimated.

That's plainly excessive for a product with a guaranteed worldwide demand, especially one based heavily on government investment."

Firstly, Hiltzik is wrong about Pfizer receiving billions of dollars of government money for the research and development of the vaccine. Pfizer paid it from its own pocket. "Pfizer, with its German partner BioNTech, will be given $1.95 billion for 100 million doses, but received no federal funding for the research and development of their vaccine" (link).

Also, the author fails to consider the question more broadly, which he seems to believe is irrelevant. How much profit from a successful drug does a drug developer need to offset losses from developing drugs that do not make it to market? It takes a huge amount of money to develop a drug and then test it in clinical trials. If the drug doesn’t make it to market, and hence generate enough revenue to offset the sunk costs, then the company has a huge loss. Indeed, the number of losses easily outnumber the number of successes. So huge profit margins on a successful drug are to a large extent eaten up by losses on unsuccessful drugs.

The author seems to believe that a drug company should make only a small profit margin, e.g. similar to a grocery story, on its successful products, while absorbing huge losses on its unsuccessful products. He  regards each drug in isolation, having little or no concern about the unsuccessful ones. Unlike a drug developer, a grocery store can make do on a small profit margin on most sales because it doesn’t have the burden of losses to offset or overcome that a drug developer does. 

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Another smear of Turbotax and H&R Block

MarketWatch opines: Furious TurboTax and H&R Block customers demand their $600 stimulus — IRS says some checks were sent to inactive bank accounts

It's not clear that MarketWatch is furious, but it is echoing allegedly furious customers of  TurboTax and H&R Block. Are MarketWatch or said customers justified in being furious? I think not.

If said customers did not assure that the bank account info they gave to TurboTax and H&R Block was up-to-date (such as the card's expiry date or the bank account changed or closed), then said customers deserve the blame. Not TurboTax nor H&R Block. Nor should the IRS cast blame on TurboTax or H&R Block.

The IRS says it is using the banking information the IRS has on file from those returns filed with TurboTax or H&R Block. "Because of the speed at which the law required the IRS to issue the second round of Economic Impact Payments, some payments may have been sent to an account that may be closed or, is or no longer active, or unfamiliar.” In other words, the IRS pretends to be innocent.

Said customers deserve the blame because it is their responsibility to keep their info up to date. TurboTax or H&R Block could send the customers a prompt, but TurboTax or H&R Block should not be held responsible for updating their customers' info. How can either know what the new correct info is? They rely on what the customer supplies them.

WRAL, a television station in North Carolina, also piles all blame on H&R Block, TurboTax, and Chase. Used H&R Block to file your taxes? They probably got your stimulus check. Citing the article:

"Carlos Peppers said he grew concerned when he learned his check was being deposited into a bank account with a number he didn't recognize.

"To me, when I looked at it the first time, it looks like it is fraud," Peppers said.

The account belongs to H&R Block, which Peppers used to file his taxes last year.

Numerous H&R Block and TurboTax customers had their money deposited into a refund transfer account that is usually set up for transferring tax refunds.

"I am kind of heated because I have questions like, 'Why couldn’t y’all deposit this into my account?' because this is taking up my time," Peppers said." END QUOTE

So what likely happened? Peppers had changed his bank info with H&R Block after the first stimulus check. So H&R Block used that updated bank info. However, then Peppers closed or changed that bank account without informing H&R Block about it. So H&R Block used outdated bank info given by Peppers to send the second stimulus payment. The check didn't clear what was supposedly still Pepper's account and landed into an H&R Block account for transferring tax refunds. Then Pepper didn't recognize it as an H&R Block refund transfer account. However, if Pepper had updated his bank account info with H&R Block, the stimulus money would have gone directly to Pepper's bank account like he expected rather the H&R Block refund transfer account!

Update Jan 9.  This story shows the IRS caused the error in many cases. "Customers of many tax preparation companies, including TurboTax, H&R Block, Jackson Hewitt and others, noticed earlier this week that their stimulus checks had been deposited into bank accounts they did not recognize. The companies soon notified taxpayers that the IRS had erroneously deposited the payments into temporary “pass-through” accounts from previous years that customers no longer had access to."

NBC News also blamed the error on the IRS. Despite that, Dem Sen. Ron Wyden couldn't resist a swipe at Republicans. “These difficulties are a symptom of Republicans’ decade-long effort to gut the IRS budget and keep the agency from doing its job,” Wyden said. “I will make improving IRS customer service a key component of our Democratic reforms.”

Sunday, January 3, 2021

Football playoffs and more

In the final week of the regular season, the Cleveland Browns will play the Pittsburgh Steelers in Cleveland today at 1:00pm EST. For the Browns it is a win or most likely die situation to make the playoffs. The Browns are tied W10-L5 with 4 other teams vying for 3 wild card spots in the AFC. Playoff picture from CBS Sports.

In college football yesterday #3 ranked Ohio State (W7-L0) beat #2 ranked Clemson (W10-L2) 49-28 to earn the chance to play #1 ranked Alabama (W12-L0) in the National Championship Game on January 11.

I am not a big football fan, but I will watch the Browns-Steelers game. It could hardly be a more exciting time for Ohioans who love football, with maybe an exception for Cincinnati Bengals fans. Two Ohio teams in big games. The Pro Football Hall of Fame is in Canton, Ohio, largely because pro football was born in Ohio 100 years ago. Pro Football Hall of Fame history. 

Two dear friends (husband and wife), my wife, and I visited the Hall about 5 years ago. It was the first visit for all. We all enjoyed it, even both wives. My petite wife stepped into a leg cast of Leonard Davis (6 feet 6 inches tall and 355 pounds) and was dwarfed. 😮 Much room left over (image). 

I was reminded of Super Bowl XX in 1986, which the Chicago Bears won and when I lived near Chicago. That Bears team included four future Hall of Fame players – Richard Dent, Dan Hampton, Walter Payton, Mike Singletary – and was coached by Hall of Fame tight end "Iron Mike" Ditka. It also included 335 pound lineman and occasional fullback William "The Refrigerator" Perry, who played for Clemson in collegeand colorful QB Jim McMahon. Several players danced and rapped in the oft-televised "Super Bowl Shuffle."  

The Ohio State-Clemson game reminds me of 4 years ago. We attended a Science Cafe Cleveland talk. At the time, Ohio State was to play Clemson in the National Championship Game. The guest speaker was from Clemson University and her talk was about sleep. During the Q&A a member of the audience asked - my paraphrase - I have a son at Ohio State and a daughter at Clemson. Who should I root for? The guest speaker responded, "Take a nap." The audience roared with laughter. 😄 😄

The Science Cafe talks are very enjoyable and about a wide variety of topics. They have been halted due to the pandemic. I eagerly await their resuming. My wife and I have attended talks about space travel, cybersecurity, police operations, the effect of worms on soil, prosthetics, etc., etc. The speakers are often from nearby Case Western Reserve University (CWRU), but there are sometimes guest speakers from elsewhere. CWRU's website has several articles or links about the pandemic here

Update Jan 3: The Cleveland Browns beat the Pittsburgh Steelers, 24-22. It's onto the playoffs as a wild-card team.