Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Bad Samaritan (and the daily, o.k., weekly updates)

The other day, I was stupidly wondering if there was such a thing as a "Bad Samaritan". It doesn't seem to me to be a phrase that is in common usage. I wouldn't say that a Bad Samaritan is necessarily someone who doesn't stop to help another - the help was what made the Good Samaritan good - if he had continued walking down the road, he would have been an Apathetic Samaritan. No, a Bad Samaritan is someone more insidious, someone who actively throws someone else under the bus (think T.O. with the Eagles or Linda Tripp viz a vis Monica Lewinsky).

Come to find out that, of course, the Bad Samaritan already exists in popular culture. Indeed, besides the eponymous DC comic character, we have the book by economist Ha-Joon Chang, decrying capitalism and identifying "rich countries" as bad samaritans (timely!).

Despite these minor cultural references, the phrase is not commonly used. I promise to change this. I hereby am instituting a new "feature" on this here blog, in honor or Marv Albert's "Close Plays of the Month", I will begin the "Bad Samaritan of the Week" award.

Well, next week.

On to the updates.

The Taxes Update

The McCain/Levin Options Bill

Not much new to report since my last post. There are some reactions from the interwebs:

OMB Watch, while noting that the bill is unlikely to reach the Senate floor (not so sure about that), thinks this is a good start to reducing book-tax differences. Well, it may reduce a book-tax difference, but it results in a massive windfall for the IRS, at the expense of corporations who are using stock options to presumably incentivise their employees. It's a stealth tax on corporations (and by extension their shareholders)

The Health Care Tax Update

Lots has happened since my last post on this topic.

Surtax = explicitly limited to millionaries, and probably a nonstarter in the Senate

Repeal of tax exclusion for employer-provided health care = dead, in terms of direct tax, but back-door tax (sorry, "fee") on employers who provide "gold-plated" insurance

Sin taxes on soda, fatty foods, lipo, abortions... = all on the table., although Megan Mcardle hates the idea and the NY Times economix blog questions whether they work.

They probably don't work, at least not at any level that will be politically palatable. Also, they're regressive and I'm not generally a fan of taxes on such personal behavior when it is not precisely clear that the failure to tax is costing society at large.

Some more good links on the tax debate:

Conor Clarke at the Atlantic thinks taxing health care will lower costs in the long run (he's right).

This Washington Post piece is contra.

I linked to it above, but this piece by Len Burman at the Tax Vox Blog is remarkable, going over whether a fee imposed on health insurers, rather than a direct tax on health insurance benefits (with some subsidies for lower income people) is a regressive tax. Really a brilliant post.

Finally, another post from the Tax Vox Blog pointing out, as I have before, that Obama has really painted himself into a corner by promising deficit-neutral reform that also brings costs under control, without imposing taxes on the "middle class".

Unfortunately, this is all a bunch of silliness since there won't be any real vote on any real bill until after the August recess. Still, the level of detail into the tax policy issues is fantastic.

Especially for a tax geek.

The Baseball Update

Yeah, Papi tested positive for steroids. Here is the piece by Michael S. Schmidt (can't believe he is only 25 years old). Here is Papi's statement. Here is some video from NESN.

I don't really care, except that I guess I wish he hadn't been so strident in some of his statements following the A-Rod disclosures. Perhaps he really was blindsided by this as he says.

Anyway, Nomar Garciaparra gave a fascinating (and wide-ranging) interview today after the Sox-A's game. He noted something I had never heard before - that some players essentially told the testers to mark them down as positive for steriods (apparently by refusing the test) so that the overall positive tests came in above 5% (the threshold for mandatory testing starting in 2004). If you listen carefully, it sounds almost as though Nomar is intimating he is one of those guys. Either because it's true, or because he tested positive and is setting up his cover story now.

Oh, and go to hell Dan Shaughnessy. Wonder what the odds are that CHB had this column sitting in his rusty file cabinet for the past 4 years, just waiting, panting, foaming at the mouth, hoping the day would come when he could finally publish it.

The Death Update

Harry Patch, Britain's last living WWI veteran, died this past Saturday, July 25. He was 111. This comes just a bit after WWI's other surviving WWI veteran, Henry Allingham died.

Every once in a while I'll see an article or short piece of the "last" veteran of something, sometimes a war, sometimes, the last person who did a particular job, whatever. If you do the math (WWI ended in 1918, soldiers should have been about 18 minimum to serve), all remaining WWI vets must be at least 109. Actually, god bless Wikipedia, here is the list. Nearly 70 million men served. There are 3 left.

Anyway, the obit is here

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