Thursday, February 24, 2011

Insurers raked in $12B profit This will make you feel better with the high preiumen and copays you pay!

The nation’s top five health insurers made nearly $12 billion in profits last year, according to a senior House Democrat.
The insurers – UnitedHealth, WellPoint, Aetna, Humana and Cigna – were more profitable than the top five firms in the energy, construction, aviation, motor vehicle and part manufacturing industries, according to a new fact sheet from Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.).

According to Stark, three of the insurers padded their profits by more than $3.5 billion by boosting premiums. Meanwhile, Stark said, Aetna and WellPoint padded their profits by $800 million by spending less on medical care.

Stark, the ranking member of the House Ways and Means health subpanel, touted healthcare reform provisions that require greater transparency from insurers.

“While insurance companies were proposing double-digit premium increases on consumers, they were earning billions in profits at the same time,” Stark said in a statement. “The health reform law protects consumers from unjustified premium hikes, while ensuring that premium dollars go primarily to medical care and not profits."

The nation's health insurance lobby Thursday afternoon downplayed the report, saying that industry profit margins have been generally declining since 2005. America's Health Insurance Plans said the insurers' average profit margins (4.9 percent) are slim compared to pharmaceutical companies (16 percent) and the entire healthcare sector (21 percent).

The Department of Health and Human Services announced $200 million in grants Thursday to help states set up programs to scrutinize “unreasonable” rate hike proposals. Insurers that show a pattern of excessive rate hikes can be banned from offering plans in new state-run health insurance exchanges opening in 2014.

New medical-loss ratio rules also require insurers to spend at least 80 percent (85 percent in the large group market) of premium dollars on healthcare services.

Arizona Lawmakers Push New Round of Immigration RestrictionsBy

PHOENIX — Arizona lawmakers are proposing a sweeping package of immigration restrictions that might make the controversial measures the state approved last year, which the Obama administration went to court to block, look mild.

Illegal immigrants would be barred from driving in the state, enrolling in school or receiving most public benefits. Their children would receive special birth certificates that would make clear that the state does not consider them Arizona citizens.

Some of the bills, like those restricting immigrants’ access to schooling and right to state citizenship, flout current federal law and are being put forward to draw legal challenges in hopes that the Supreme Court might rule in the state’s favor.

Arizona drew considerable scorn last year when it passed legislation compelling police officers to inquire about the immigration status of those they stopped whom they suspected were in the country illegally. Critics said the law would lead to racial profiling of Latinos, and a federal judge agreed that portions of the law, known as Senate Bill 1070, were unconstitutional.
Similar legal challenges are likely to come in response to the latest round of legislation, some of which cleared a key Senate committee early Wednesday after a long debate that drew hundreds of protesters, some for and some against the crackdown.

“This bill is miles beyond S.B. 1070 in terms of its potential to roll back the rights and fundamental freedoms of both citizens and noncitizens alike,” said Alessandra Soler Meetze, executive director of the A.C.L.U. of Arizona. She said the measures would create “a ‘papers, please’ society” and that a new crime — “driving while undocumented” — would be added to the books.

Despite boycotts and accusations that the state has become a haven of intolerance, Arizona won plaudits last year from immigration hardliners across the country. On Tuesday night, the Indiana Senate voted to allow its police officers to question people stopped for infractions on their immigration status, one of numerous proposals inspired by Arizona’s law.

“If you are ever going to stop this invasion, and it is an invasion, you have to quit rewarding people for breaking those laws,” said State Senator Russell Pearce, the Senate president, who is leading Arizona’s effort to try to make life so difficult for illegal immigrants that they stop coming, or leave.

Opponents said the changes were a drastic rewriting of the core values of the country. In Tucson, a community group was so enraged by what it called the extremist nature of the proposals from Phoenix that it proposed severing the state in two, creating what some call Baja Arizona.

“Denying citizenship to children because they have parents without documents is crazy,” said the Rev. Javier Perez, a Roman Catholic priest and immigrant from Mexico who waited in the legislative chamber into the night Tuesday for a chance to speak. “Honestly, I don’t think anything I say will change their minds, but it’s immoral what they’re doing and we have to say this is against the values of America.”

The measures would compel school officials to ask for proof of citizenship for students and require hospitals to similarly ask for papers for those receiving non-emergency care. Illegal immigrants would be blocked from obtaining any state licenses, including those for marriage. Landlords would be forced to evict the entire family from public housing if one illegal immigrant were found living in a unit. Illegal immigrants found driving would face 30 days in jail and forfeit the vehicle to the state.

The measures are not assured of passage. Although Republicans have a majority in the Legislature, the restrictions on citizenship failed to win approval in the Judiciary Committee this month, so they were rerouted to the Appropriations Committee, where they won passage.

Some state lawmakers said their constituents were furious over the Obama administration’s lawsuit challenging the last immigration law and wanted the state to continue pressing the issue. Gov. Jan Brewer, a Republican, said the state would file a countersuit against the federal government accusing it of not enforcing immigration laws.

Supporters of the crackdown include Katie Dionne, who described herself as an “average, everyday American” who wanted to prevent illegal immigrants from changing her way of life. “If their life is so wonderful why did they leave where they’re from?” she asked senators.

Janet Napolitano, the secretary of homeland security and a former Arizona governor, cites statistics showing that the influx of illegal immigrants across the Arizona border has declined markedly with significant increases in federal resources. But that has done little to ameliorate the feeling of crisis expressed by many Arizona politicians.

The state’s business community, stung by a boycott that has reduced the number of conventions in the state, generally opposes the new round of restrictions. “This will put Arizona through another trial and hurt innocent businesspeople who are just trying to get ahead,” said Glenn Hamer of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

No Matter How Much Greta Van Susteren Pushed, Scott Walker Denied Any Wrong Doing During Koch Prank Call


Fox News Chief, Roger Ailes, Urged Employee to Lie, Records Show

It was an incendiary allegation — and a mystery of great intrigue in the media world: After the publishing powerhouse Judith Regan was fired by HarperCollins in 2006, she claimed that a senior executive at its parent company, News Corporation, had encouraged her to lie two years earlier to federal investigators who were vetting Bernard B. Kerik for the job of homeland security secretary.

Ms. Regan had once been involved in an affair with Mr. Kerik, the former New York City police commissioner whose mentor and supporter, former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, was in the nascent stages of a presidential campaign. The News Corporation executive, whom she did not name, wanted to protect Mr. Giuliani and conceal the affair, she said.

Now, court documents filed in a lawsuit make clear whom Ms. Regan was accusing of urging her to lie: Roger E. Ailes, the powerful chairman of Fox News and a longtime friend of Mr. Giuliani. What is more, the documents say that Ms. Regan taped the telephone call from Mr. Ailes in which Mr. Ailes discussed her relationship with Mr. Kerik.

It is unclear whether the existence of the tape played a role in News Corporation’s decision to move quickly to settle a wrongful termination suit filed by Ms. Regan, paying her $10.75 million in a confidential settlement reached two months after she filed it in 2007.

Depending on the specifics, the taped conversation could possibly rise to the level of conspiring to lie to federal officials, a federal crime, but prosecutors rarely pursue such cases, said Daniel C. Richman, a Columbia University law professor and a former federal prosecutor.

Of course, if it were to be released, the tape could be highly embarrassing to Mr. Ailes, a onetime adviser to Richard M. Nixon whom critics deride as a partisan who engineers Fox News coverage to advance Republicans and damage Democrats, something Fox has long denied. Mr. Ailes also had close ties with Mr. Giuliani, whom he advised in his first mayoral race. Mr. Giuliani officiated at Mr. Ailes’s wedding and intervened on his behalf when Fox News Channel was blocked from securing a cable station in the city.

In a statement released on Wednesday, a News Corporation spokeswoman did not deny that Mr. Ailes was the executive on the recording. But the spokeswoman, Teri Everett, said News Corporation had a letter from Ms. Regan “stating that Mr. Ailes did not intend to influence her with respect to a government investigation.” Ms. Everett added, “The matter is closed.”

Ms. Everett declined to release the letter, and Ms. Regan’s lawyer, Robert E. Brown, said the News Corporation’s description of the letter did not represent Ms. Regan’s complete statement.

The new documents emerged as part of a lawsuit filed in 2008 in which Ms. Regan’s former lawyers in the News Corporation case accused her of firing them on the eve of the settlement to avoid paying them a 25 percent contingency fee. The parties in that case signed an agreement to keep the records confidential, but it does not appear that an order sealing them was ever sent to the clerk at State Supreme Court in Manhattan, and the records were placed in the public case file.

Discussion of the recorded conversation with Mr. Ailes emerges in affidavits from Ms. Regan’s former lawyers who are seeking to document the work they did on her case and for which they argue they deserve the contingency fee. They describe consulting with a forensic audio expert about the tape.

No transcript of the conversation is in the court records.

But Brian C. Kerr, one of Ms. Regan’s former lawyers, describes in an affidavit the physical evidence he reviewed as “including a tape recording of a conversation between her and Roger Ailes, which is alluded to throughout the complaint” that Mr. Kerr and another lawyer, Seth Redniss, drafted for Ms. Regan. That complaint said News Corporation executives “were well aware that Regan had a personal relationship with Kerik.”

“In fact,” the complaint said, “a senior executive in the News Corporation organization told Regan that he believed she had information about Kerik that, if disclosed, would harm Giuliani’s presidential campaign. This executive advised Regan to lie to, and to withhold information from, investigators concerning Kerik.”

Mr. Redniss, in his affidavit, referred to “a recorded telephone call between Roger Ailes, the chairman of Fox News (a News Corp. company) and Regan, in which Mr. Ailes discussed with Regan her responses to questions regarding her personal relationship with Bernard Kerik.”

“The ‘Ailes’ matter became a focal point of our work,” Mr. Redniss continued.

The dispute involves a cast of well-known and outsize personalities; it also includes some New Yorkers who have had spectacular career meltdowns.

Mr. Kerik was sent to prison last year after pleading guilty to federal charges including tax fraud and lying to White House officials.

The law firm Ms. Regan hired to draft her complaint against News Corporation was headed by Marc S. Dreier, whose firm was cast into bankruptcy in 2008 when he was charged with a $100 million fraud scheme. The firm’s suit seeking the contingency fee from Ms. Regan is being led by the bankruptcy trustee handling the dissolution of the firm. Mr. Redniss was a co-counsel to the Dreier firm.

Ms. Regan’s own crash was remarkable in itself. While often controversial for her book choices, which ranged from literary novels to sex advice from a pornography star, her imprint at HarperCollins had become one of the more financially successful in the business.

The end came quickly in late 2006. Rupert Murdoch, the News Corporation chairman, was quoted saying it had been “ill advised” for her to pursue “If I Did It,” a hypothetical murder confession by O. J. Simpson. A novel that included imagined drunken escapades by Mickey Mantle drew another round of outrage.

Then News Corporation said Ms. Regan had been fired because she made an anti-Semitic remark to a Jewish HarperCollins lawyer, Mark H. Jackson, in describing the internal campaign to fire her as a “Jewish cabal.”

In her 2007 suit, Ms. Regan said the book controversies had been trumped up and the anti-Semitic remark invented to discredit her, should she ever speak out about Mr. Kerik in ways that would harm Mr. Giuliani’s image. The new court documents expand upon that charge and link it to Mr. Ailes. Mr. Redniss wrote in an affidavit that Ms. Regan told him that Mr. Ailes sought to brand her as promiscuous and crazy.

“Regan believed that Ailes and News Corp. subsidiary Fox News had an interest in protecting Giuliani’s bid for the U.S. presidency,” he wrote.

In addition to serving as chairman of Fox News, Mr. Ailes has taken a broader role at News Corporation, including oversight of Fox’s local television stations and Fox Business Network.

As part of the settlement in January 2008, News Corporation publicly retracted the allegation that Ms. Regan had made an anti-Semitic remark to Mr. Jackson.

The court records examined by The New York Times this week, which have subsequently been taken out of the public case file, also reveal another interesting footnote. After Ms. Regan fired her lawyers, a seemingly unlikely figure came forward to help settle the case: Susan Estrich, a law professor and a regular Fox commentator whose book Ms. Regan had published, according to Ms. Regan’s affidavit.

Gunman Steals Chips from Rio Casino (ROBBERY ON THE CHEAP? via Taxi & City Bus!)

LAS VEGAS -- Police say a man walked into a casino just west of the Las Vegas Strip, began stealing chips and pulled out a gun after a dealer tried to stop the holdup.

Las Vegas police spokesman Marcus Martin said nobody was hurt during the Thursday morning robbery, and the burglar escaped in a taxi.

Police describe the suspect as a white man in his 40's with a mustache and was last seen wearing a tan jacket and dark pants. The robbery happened around 4:30 a.m.

Martin says the man began grabbing chips from a table game when a dealer slapped his hand away. Martin says that's when the suspect produced a gun.

Police say the suspect fled in a cab and was dropped off at the Terrible's Hotel and Casino on Flamingo Rd. and Paradise Rd. There are reports the suspect may have boarded a CAT bus.

As part of Metro policy, the amount stolen was not released, but a source tells 8 News Now the suspect made off with $35,000 in gaming chips.
The robbery comes two months after $1.5 million in chips was stolen during an early-morning stickup at the nearby Bellagio hotel-casino. A 29-year-old man was arrested in that case earlier this month.


Who would be the better President between Michelle Obama and Sarah Palin?

So far Ms Obama leads 76% to Ms Palin 23%

London Court Grants Swedish Request to Extradite Assange

LONDON —A British court on Thursday ordered Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder, to be extradited to Sweden to face accusations of sexual abuse. The court gave him seven days to appeal the ruing.

Mr. Assange, dressed in the blue suit he has worn to previous hearings, sat impassively as the decision was read.

The verdict will mark a turning point in the three-month battle in the British courts and the media against what Mr. Assange, his legal team and his celebrity supporters say is a conspiracy to stop WikiLeaks and its campaign to expose government and corporate secrets.

The case has been fought against the backdrop of the group’s highest-profile operation yet — the release of a quarter of a million confidential American diplomatic cables that became the basis of articles by news organizations worldwide, including The New York Times.

WikiLeaks supporters, many of whom contend that the case against Mr. Assange is retribution for the cables’ release, have mobbed courthouses over the course of six acrimonious hearings, chanting, “We love you, Julian.” Mr. Assange was initially denied bail and briefly jailed after defying a judge’s request to provide an address.

Swedish prosecutors argued that Mr. Assange, a 39-year-old Australian, must return to Stockholm to face accusations by two women who say that he sexually abused them last August. Under Sweden’s strict sexual-crimes laws, he is accused of two counts of sexual molestation, one count of unlawful coercion and one count of rape. His accusers, both WikiLeaks volunteers, have said that their sexual encounters with Mr. Assange started out as consensual but turned nonconsensual.

Mr. Assange has said the accusations are “incredible lies,” and he has referred to Sweden as “the Saudi Arabia of feminism.”

He has also denied accusations by the Swedish authorities that he fled the country in September rather than surrender to the police; he says he left Sweden with permission. And he has denounced the leaks of two Swedish police documents that provided graphic details of the accusations.

Mr. Assange, and his lawyers have signaled their intent to take their fight to Britain’s highest courts, and even to the European Court of Human Rights. In adjourning a hearing earlier this month to make his decision, Judge Howard Riddle said with a note of resignation that whatever he decided would “perhaps inevitably be appealed.”

The long and costly legal battle has left Mr. Assange isolated in the country house of a wealthy friend, and he is electronically monitored as a condition of his bail.

During the legal fight, many of his closest colleagues have defected from WikiLeaks, and a dozen of them formed a rival Web site, OpenLeaks. The United States Justice Department, meanwhile, has subpoenaed his Twitter account as part of an investigation that could lead to espionage charges.

In one of the frequent interviews from his friend’s house, Mr. Assange compared himself to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. In a recorded speech played this month at a rally in Melbourne, Australia, his adopted hometown, he went further, comparing the struggles of WikiLeaks to those of African-Americans who fought for equal rights in the 1950s, of protesters who sought an end to the Vietnam War in the ‘60s and of the feminist and environmental movements. “For the Internet generation,” he said, “this is our challenge, and this is our time.”

Mr. Assange is also working on his autobiography, which he has said will be worth $1.7 million in publishing deals. “I don’t want to write this book, but I have to,” he said in a December interview with The Sunday Times of London, explaining that his legal costs had reached more than $300,000. “I need to defend myself and to keep WikiLeaks afloat.”

The book, he said, will detail his “global struggle to force a new relationship between the people and their governments.” He said he hoped the book, due out in April, “will become one of the unifying documents of our generation.”

This month, in another fund-raising effort, he organized what he called a “dinner for free speech,” encouraging online supporters to donate to his defense and dine with friends while watching a video message he had recorded. On a Web site to promote the idea, where he was pictured holding a wine glass aloft, he was quoted as declaring, “There are four things that cannot be concealed for long, the sun, the moon, the truth — and dessert!”

WikiLeaks, though unable to process and release new material, has continued to post classified United States diplomatic cables from the cache of the more than 250,000 it has obtained. Recent examples have included documents concerning the opulent lifestyle of the family of former President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia. The documents were widely disseminated during the revolution that ousted Mr. Ben Ali and started a wave of protests in the Arab world.

In recent weeks, some of Mr. Assange’s supporters, eager to see WikiLeaks operating with its founder’s full attention, have been echoing a question asked by a judge at one of the initial hearings in the case. “If he is so keen to clear his name,” the judge, Justice Duncan Ouseley, asked in December, “what stops a voluntary return to Sweden?”

Mr. Assange told friends in Britain he feared that if he returned to Sweden he would be extradited to the United States and perhaps be detained at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, or executed. But one of his former WikiLeaks colleagues said in an interview that he thought Mr. Assange’s reason was more mundane.

The colleague, Daniel Domscheit-Berg, who is one of the OpenLeaks founders, told reporters last week that when Mr. Assange first heard about the sexual abuse allegations in late August, “he was not concerned about the United States.”

“He was very scared of going to prison in Sweden,” Mr. Domscheit-Berg said, “which he thought might happen.” Such charges carry a maximum sentence of four years and no minimum sentence.