BEWARE OF ESTATE TAX
SUPREME COURT FINDS CONVICTS HAS NO CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS TO DNA TESTING
LEAD STORY: Police dogs can't talk, or be cross-examined on what they smell, so why do juries so easily convict suspects based on the say-so of their trainer-psychics?
A Whiff of Injustice: William Dillon was released in November after 26 years in prison when a DNA test ruled him out as the murderer. He was the second Florida man recently freed by DNA after being positively identified at trial by a star police dog, Harass II, whose trainer Bill Preston had sworn could amazingly track scents through water and after months of site contamination. In June, the Innocence Project of Florida said as many as 60 other convicts might have been "identified" by Harass II. According to an Orlando Sentinel report, only one judge (who's now retired) thought to actually test Harass II's ability in a courtroom, and he wrote that the dog failed badly. [Orlando Sentinel, 6-14-09]
LS Ngô Tằng Giao
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Could marijuana save California economy?
Phóng dịch: LS. Ngô Tằng Giao
Quyền ân xá là một quyền dành cho Tổng Thống Hoa Kỳ, được quy định
bởi điều II, khoản 2 trong bản Hiến Pháp Hoa Kỳ. Khoản nói về quyền ân xá
này đặc biệt quy định rằng Tổng Thống của Hoa Kỳ “sẽ có quyền đình hoãn
và ân xá cho các tội phạm chống lại Hoa Kỳ, ngoại trừ trường hợp bị đàn
hạch”. Đặc biệt sự ân xá của Tổng Thống chỉ bị giới hạn bởi Hiến Pháp là
trong trường hợp vị Tổng Thống đang tại chức đồng thời lại bị “đàn hạch”.
Quyền tự ân xá cho mình không bị giới hạn bởi luật pháp, và theo sự giải
thích của Tối Cao Pháp Viện, một Tổng Thống có thể có quyền ân xá cho
chính mình không những chỉ về các tội mà ông ta đã phạm, mà còn về các
tội mà ông ta chưa bị cáo tố nữa. Nhưng cho tới nay, chưa có vị Tổng Thống
nào ân xá cho chính mình vì tội đã phạm hay vì các hành động mà sau này
có thể bị coi là tội phạm.
Khi một Tổng Thống phạm tội nhưng chưa bị truy tố về các tội đó, nếu vị
này chưa bị “đàn hạch” thời Hoa Kỳ sẽ không có thẩm quyền để buộc tội
nếu vị Tổng Thống này sử dụng quyền ân xá cho chính mình. Tuy nhiên
trong những trường hợp vi phạm Luật Quốc Tế thời quyền ân xá của Tổng
Thống không có hiệu lực nữa. Giải pháp duy nhất có thể kết tội một vị Tổng
Thống bị truy tố về một “tội phạm chiến tranh” là vị tân Tổng Thống kế
nhiệm ra lệnh “dẫn độ” vị cựu Tổng Thống và trao vị này cho quốc gia mà
trong đó người ta tin rằng “tội phạm chiến tranh” đã xảy ra. Quyền của vị
Tổng Thống Hoa Kỳ tự ân xá cho chính mình sẽ không có nhiều hiệu lực
nếu bị Toà Án Quốc Tế hay bị toà án nước ngoài truy tố.
Tuy Tổng Thống Hoa Kỳ có thể hành sử quyền ân xá cho chính mình
nhưng cho tới nay chưa có vị nào hành sử quyền đó, dù cho có vài vị bị cáo
buộc là phạm tội và đã có thể sử dụng quyền này. Khi Tổng Thống FORD
nhậm chức ông đã “ân xá” cho Tổng Thống NIXON, nhưng đây không hẳn
là một sự ân xá bình thường vì Tổng Thống NIXON chưa bị “đàn hạch” mà
chỉ từ chức. Hành vi từ chức cuối cùng này có thể coi như một sự tự ân xá.
Tương tự như trường hợp của Tổng Thống CLINTON, ông cũng đã có thể
tự ân xá cho mình về tội “bội thệ” nhưng ông không sử dụng quyền đó. Nếu
một Tổng Thống phạm tội hay bị cáo buộc về một tội khi đang tại chức thời
vị Tổng Thống kế nhiệm thường ra lệnh “ân xá”, tuy nhiên đây không phải
là chuyện thông thường.
Một Tổng Thống có thể tự ân xá cho chính mình và thường được giải
thích là ân xá trước khi bị buộc tôị. Điều đó khiến cho nhiều người đề nghị
là quyền tự ân xá nên được giới hạn lại hay phải được quy định lại để ngăn
ngừa cho đương kim Tổng Thống khỏi vi phạm luật pháp rồi lạm dụng
quyền tự ân xá này trước khi rời khỏi chức vụ. Nhưng nhiều người lại tranh
luận rằng chẳng cần thay đổi điều khoản Hiến Pháp về quyền ân xá của
Tổng Thống Hoa Kỳ làm chi vì quyền này trong quá khứ ít khi được sử
dụng và ít bị lạm dụng.
(1) PARDON là “xá tội”, “đặc xá” hay “ân xá”.
(2) IMPEACH là “buộc tội, kết tội, cáo buộc”. Ngôn từ pháp lý thường được
dịch là “đàn hạch” hay “đàn hặc”. Theo từ điển Hán Việt của Thiều Chửu
thì “đàn hặc” 彈劾là “hạch hỏi điều lầm lỗi”. Theo từ điển Hán Việt của
Đào Duy Anh thì “đàn hặc” là: “chỉ trích tội lỗi của quan lại (censurer).”
(3) EXTRADITE là “dẫn độ”
(4) PERJURY là “thề gian”, “khai gian”, “bội thệ”.
Probate is a court-supervised process for transferring assets to the beneficiaries listed in one's will upon his/her death.
After your death, a petition would be filed with the court (usually by the person or institution named in your will as the executor). After notice is given, a hearing would be held. Then your will would be admitted to probate and an executor would be officially appointed. An inventory of your assets would be filed with the court and notice would be given to your creditors so they could file claims. The process would end once the court approved a final distribution of assets.
Probate can take a lot of time (sometimes several years) to complete. In addition, assets tied up in probate may not be as readily accessible to the beneficiaries. Also the cost of a probate is often very high.
What is a living trust?
A Living Trust is a legal entity created by you by executing a written legal document and declaring you are establishing a trust. With a Living Trust your assets (your home, bank accounts and stocks, for example) are put into the trust, administered for your benefit during your lifetime, and then transferred to your beneficiaries when you die. The assets held in your living trust could be managed by the trustee and distributed according to your directions without court supervision and involvement. This can save your heirs time and money
A trust may be amended or revoked at any time by the person or persons who created it as long as he, she, or they are still competent.
A Living Trust can help ensure that your assets will be managed according to your wishes-even if you become unable to manage them yourself.
In setting up your living trust, you may serve as its trustee initially or you may choose someone else to do so. You can name a trustee to take over the trust's management for your benefit if you ever become unable or unwilling to manage it yourself. And at your death, the trustee-similar to the executor of a will-would then gather your assets, pay any debts, claims and taxes, and distribute your assets according to your instructions. Unlike a will, however, this can all be done without court supervision or approval.
How are your assets put into the living trust?
Once your trust has been signed, an important task remains. To avoid court-supervised probate proceedings at your death, your assets must be transferred to the trustee of your living trust. This is known as funding the trust.
Deeds to your real estate must be prepared and recorded. Bank accounts and stock and bond accounts or certificates must be transferred as well. These tasks are not necessarily expensive, but they are important and do require some paperwork.
A lawyer can help you transfer assets to your trust. For example, you should consider changing the beneficiary designations on life insurance to the trust. As for the beneficiary designations on a qualified plan (such as a 401(k) or an IRA), you should seek qualified professional's advice because there are serious income tax issues.
For more information, email to email@example.com
SOCIAL SECURITY BENEFITS FOR SPOUSE
Even if he or she has never worked under Social Security, your spouse
Note: The benefits for your spouse do not include any delayed retirement credits you may receive.
Your spouse would receive these benefits until your child reaches age 16. At that time, the child's benefits continue, but your spouse's benefits stop unless he or she is old enough to receive retirement benefits (age 62 or older) or survivors benefits as a widow or widower (age 60).
Note: If your spouse will receive a pension for work not covered by Social Security such as government or foreign employment, the amount of his or her Social Security benefits on your record may be reduced.
If your spouse is eligible for retirement benefits on his or her own record, Social Security (SS) will pay that amount first. But
It doesn't matter if your spouse starts getting benefits before, after, or at the same time you do--SS will check both records to make sure your spouse gets the higher amount.
Your spouse can choose to receive only the spouse's benefits now and delay receiving retirement benefits until a later date. If retirement benefits are delayed, a higher benefit may be received at a later date based on the effect of delayed retirement credits.
If your spouse is not already receiving benefits, he or she can apply online for benefits based on age.
If you and your spouse apply online for retirement benefits at the same time, or if your spouse applies online after you start receiving benefits, SS will check his or her eligibility for benefits as a spouse. If qualified, the online application will automatically include a request for spousal benefits on your record.
If your spouse continues to work while receiving benefits, the same earnings limits apply to him or her as apply to you. If your spouse is eligible for benefits this year and is also working, you can use Social Security Service earnings test calculator to see how those earnings would affect your spouse's benefit payments. (Your spouse's earnings affect only his or her own benefits; they do not affect your benefits or those of any other beneficiaries on your record.)
For more information on Social Security Retirement Benefits go to: http://www.ssa.gov/retire2/
For most Americans, Medicare is on the distant horizon. But as you approach retirement age, knowing about Medicare and what it can or cannot do for you could be important to your physical and financial well-being.
You'll be automatically enrolled in the program if you're already collecting Social Security or receiving benefits from the Railroad Retirement Board when you turn 65 -- or if you've been collecting disability for more than two years. But if you're working and not collecting government pension benefits, you need to sign up three months before your 65th birthday.
The Medicare program isn't exactly "free" government-sponsored health care. You'll have to pay deductibles and co-payments out of pocket, and certain services aren't covered at all.
What you'll ultimately pay for your future medical care will depend on the type of Medicare plan you choose, whether you'll have additional health insurance coverage from a former employer, whether you've purchased "supplemental coverage" and how often you make use of the medical services offered by your doctor or hospital.
You have several options, and they're not cut-and-dry. Here's what you need to know to make intelligent decisions about your insurance coverage.
The ins and outs of Medicare
1. The original Medicare plan: parts A & B
2. Medicare Part C: Medicare Advantage plans
3. Medicare Part D: Prescription drug benefit
4. Medigap policies
5. Where to get help
"Unfortunately, answering what Medicare does and does not cover ... well, to do that fully and accurately would lead to a very broad and wide-ranging discussion," says Peter Ashkenaz, a spokesman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. "So what we recommend is that people access the Medicare Web site and download and read the 'Medicare & You 2008' handbook."
However, if you're not willing to wade through 120 pages of government-issue text just yet, here's a synopsis of what you need to know.
The Original Medicare Plan: Parts A & B
The original Medicare plan is designed to help pay for certain medical services and supplies provided in hospitals, doctors' offices and other health care settings. Medicare Part A focuses on hospital insurance while Part B is the program's medical insurance component. All U.S. citizens and legal residents of the United States who have paid Medicare payroll taxes for a minimum of 10 years will be eligible for Part A and Part B coverage upon reaching age 65.
Part A basically helps people better absorb the costs associated with inpatient care in hospitals (including inpatient rehabilitation facilities), inpatient stays in a skilled nursing facility (but not custodial or long-term care), inpatient mental health care in a psychiatric hospital (limited to 190 days in a lifetime), as well as hospice care services and home health care services. Some of the costs associated with these services and procedures will be covered completely by Medicare Part A. Others will require out-of-pocket co-payments or the satisfaction of annual deductibles.
Part B coverage helps pay for "medically necessary" services such as doctors' services, outpatient care and other medical services not covered by Part A. Part B also helps pay for some preventive care services that are designed to prevent or detect illness at an early stage, when treatment is likely to work best. (For a list, see pages 18 to 25 of the Medicare handbook).
As with Part A, Part B has its own separate annual deductible -- $135 for 2008 -- as well as its own co-payment and co-insurance costs. Generally speaking, Medicare will pay about 80 percent of the expenses for Part B-covered services and supplies.
"People expect that Medicare will provide them with health coverage after they retire, and that's true -- Medicare is comprehensive, it's guaranteed. But it doesn't cover all of your costs," says Paul Precht, director for policy and communications at the Medicare Rights Center.
"You need to be aware of the fact that you will spend money out of pocket, either for the cost-sharing under Medicare, or for the cost of supplemental insurance if you don't have that through an employer or if your income isn't low enough to qualify for additional assistance through Medicaid. And it's important to remember that Medicare doesn't have any annual out-of-pocket limits."
You usually don't pay a monthly premium for Part A coverage if you (or your spouse) paid Medicare taxes while working at least 40 calendar quarters. But if you aren't eligible for premium-free Part A coverage -- meaning you have worked fewer than 40 calendar quarters -- you may be able to buy Part A coverage if you meet certain conditions.
Those enrolled in Part B have to pay a monthly Part B premium and an annual Part B deductible. Most plan participants will pay the standard monthly premium amount, which is $96.40 in 2008. The monthly premium amount, however, will be higher for people above certain income thresholds ($82,000 for singles; $164,000 for married people filing jointly). Financial hardship cases can get this premium covered with governmental help. This premium is deducted from your monthly Social Security payment.
Medicare Part C: Medicare Advantage Plans
Formerly known as Medicare+Choice, Medicare Advantage plans are alternatives to the original Medicare plan and are not the same thing as "supplemental insurance" (more about this later). Sometimes called Part C or "MA plans," these plans are run by private companies and are part of the Medicare program.
Basically, Medicare pays an amount of money for your health care into these private Medicare Advantage plans every month. In return, these plans must provide all of your Part A and Part B benefits, and they must cover at least all of the medically necessary services that the original Medicare plan provides.
MA plans can charge different co-payments, co-insurance and deductibles for their services and generally have set provider networks. This means you will likely be limited to seeing only those doctors who belong to the plan, going to certain hospitals for covered services and getting referrals to see specialists. If you use providers who aren't in the network, you may have to pay the entire cost of the services rendered. However, MA plans can offer extra benefits, such as vision, hearing, dental, and health and wellness programs. Most include Medicare prescription drug coverage (usually for an extra cost).
Retirees can currently choose from five different types of Medicare Advantage plans. Most function like HMOs with specific networks of doctors. Other plans, such as Private Fee-For-Service plans, or PFFS, will allow you to go to any doctor if the doctor agrees to accept the plan's terms of payment before treating you. Medicare Special Needs plans, or SNPs, serve certain people who are chronically ill, live in institutions such as nursing homes or have other special needs. (The different benefits offered by the various types of Medicare Advantage plans are outlined on pages 42 to 44 of the "Medicare & You 2008" handbook.)
It's important to call any plan before joining to find out what your services will cost and to make sure that a plan will meet your needs. Some plans, for example, will let you use out-of-network providers (sometimes for a higher cost). Also, be sure to check in advance with your doctors or hospital to determine if they accept the plan. To enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan, you can complete a paper application, call the plan provider by telephone or enroll online. Be aware that there are limitations as to when you can join, switch or drop a Medicare Advantage plan.
Remember, when you join a Medicare Advantage plan, you will have to provide your Medicare number from your Medicare card and the date your Part A and Part B coverage started. You will also generally still pay the monthly Part B premium along with Medicare Advantage plan's premium (if they charge one). That includes coverage for Part A and Part B benefits, prescription drug coverage (Part D, if offered) and any other extra benefits.
Medicare Part D: Prescription Drug Benefit
Medicare offers prescription drug coverage for everyone with Medicare under Part D. But to get Medicare drug coverage, you must take the initiative and join a Medicare drug plan.
Medicare drug plans are run by insurance companies and other private companies approved by Medicare. Each plan varies in cost and drugs covered. Even if you don't take a lot of prescription drugs now, you should still consider joining a Medicare drug plan because, if you decide not to join such a plan when you are first eligible, you will pay a late-enrollment penalty if you choose to join later. The penalty is 1 percent of the monthly premium for each month you don't enroll and it's applied to all future monthly premiums.
"Although there will be a number of seniors out there who don't take any prescription drugs right now and who'll view paying for prescription drug insurance as kind of a waste, they also need to think about the future," says Clark Howard, consumer advice talk show host and author. "Consequently, you are so much better off holding your nose and picking a plan now rather than having to do so in the future and also having to pay a penalty on top of your regular premiums."
There are 2 ways to get Medicare prescription drug coverage:
1. You can join a stand-alone Medicare Prescription Drug plan. These plans, sometimes called PDPs, add drug coverage to the original Medicare plan, to some Medicare Private Fee-for-Service plans, and to some Medicare Cost Plans and Medicare Medical Savings Account plans, or MSA plans. (The latter two plans are part of the catch-all "other Medicare plans" that are not Medicare Advantage plans. Medicare Cost Plans, available only in certain parts of the country, are a variation of the original Medicare plan. An MSA plan combines a high-deductible Medicare Advantage plan and a bank account, much like the consumer-directed health savings account plans that are available in the private sector.)
2. You can join a Medicare Advantage plan (such as an HMO or PPO) or another Medicare health plan that includes prescription drug coverage. Through these you will get all of your Medicare coverage (Part A and Part B), including prescription drugs (Part D). These plans are sometimes called "MA-PDs" and you will usually pay a separate monthly premium in addition to your Part B premium.
Every year from Nov. 15 to Dec. 31, you can switch to a different Medicare drug plan if your plan coverage changes or your prescription needs change. When you join or switch to a new Medicare drug plan, your coverage will generally begin Jan. 1, of the following year.
The original Medicare plan pays for many, but not all, health care services and supplies. To help pay your out-of-pocket costs, you might want to consider getting a Medigap policy, also called Medicare supplement insurance. Note: These plans can't be used to pay your co-payments or deductibles for Medicare Advantage plans.
You can buy a Medigap plan from a private insurance company or you might be able to get this supplemental insurance from a former employer (your own or your spouse's) as a retiree benefit. There are also several government programs that can help you obtain Medigap coverage if you meet certain income requirements or other qualifications.
A Medigap policy is private health insurance that's designed to supplement the original Medicare plan and help pay some of the health care costs that aren't covered -- such as co-payments, co-insurance and deductibles. Each Medigap policy only covers one person, so if you and your spouse both want coverage, you each must buy separate Medigap policies.
Each standardized Medigap policy, however, must offer the same basic benefits, no matter which insurance company sells it. Premiums will vary depending on the plan you choose and the company you buy it from (the typical premium is about $150 per month), but usually the only difference among Medigap policies sold by different insurance companies is the cost.
The best time to buy a Medigap policy is during your "Medigap open-enrollment period." In all states, there is an open enrollment period that lasts for six months and it begins on the first day of the month in which you are both age 65 or older and enrolled in Part B (some states have additional open enrollment periods). For more information about buying a Medigap policy, call your State Health Insurance Assistance Program.
All Medigap policies must follow federal and state laws that are designed to protect consumers and every Medigap policy must be clearly identified as "Medicare Supplement Insurance." Furthermore, Medigap insurance companies can only sell you a "standardized" Medigap policy. There are 12 such policies identified by letters (i.e., Medigap Plans A through L), except in Massachusetts, Minnesota and Wisconsin, where Medigap policies are standardized differently. Also, in some states, you might be able to buy another type of Medigap policy called "Medicare Select," which is a Medigap policy that requires you to use specific hospitals and, in some cases, specific doctors to get full benefits.
Where to Get More Information
It's all rather complicated, but you don't have to go it alone.
"There are a number of programs out there that can help people make decisions with regard to Medicare, and they are generally referred to as State Health Insurance Assistance Programs," says Precht of the Medicare Rights Center, noting that these services are often underutilized. "They, of course, can have different names in different states, but they're generally run out of a state's department of insurance or a state's department of aging, and they offer services that can often provide one-on-one counseling with respect to the coverage choices you'll need."
Human resource departments and union offices are also good sources of Medicare-related information, as is the "Medicare & You" handbook, he says.
Finally, long-term care insurance is another insurance option people might want to consider in addition to the optional Medicare Advantage and Medigap plans discussed above.
"Medicare doesn't cover long-term care -- that is, help with the daily activities of living if you are disabled or have dementia -- basically, all of the day-to-day care you'd need toward the end of your life either at home or in a nursing home," says Precht. "Medicare will only cover your medical care then, but it won't pay for the sort of 'custodial care,' such things like feeding, dressing, bathing, etc."
Being prepared with long-term care insurance could prove financially beneficial to you and your heirs. But this separate insurance is best purchased with the assistance of a financial adviser.