Sunday, June 07, 2015

Hiding Something? Mosby Blocks Gray Autopsy

“Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby plans to seek a protective order that would block the release of Freddie Gray’s autopsy report and other ‘sensitive’ documents as she prosecutes the six police officers involved in his arrest,” reports The Baltimore Sun. The rationale Mosby gave the paper is understandable enough: That prosecutors “have a duty to ensure a fair and impartial process for all parties involved” and “will not be baited into litigating this case through the media.”

Except that Mosby herself litigated the case in repeated press conferences as events were unfolding, leading to riots in the city. The truth about hiding the autopsy is probably better explained by what an attorney for one of the police officers said: “[T]here is something in that autopsy report that they are trying to hide.”

Given how the autopsy of Michael Brown largely if not completely vindicated Officer Darren Wilson, it wouldn’t be surprising if Mosby was trying to retain some justification for pursuing the six Baltimore officers so harshly — one has been charged with second-degree murder. It wouldn’t be fun for her to lose her case in the media.



Freedom for Iran's hostages should trump any nuclear deal

by Jeff Jacoby

IN HIS remarks to the White House Correspondents' Dinner in April, President Obama pledged that his administration would work tirelessly for the freedom of Jason Rezaian, the Washington Post reporter who has been held hostage by Iran since last summer on spurious espionage charges.

"Jason has been in prison for nothing more than writing about the hopes and fears of the Iranian people," Obama said. "We will not rest until we bring him home to his family, safe and sound."

Yet just four days later, the president warned Congress that he would veto any bill making approval of a nuclear deal with Iran contingent on the release of Americans in Iranian captivity. Obama may want the mullahs to set their US hostages free. But he wants that nuclear deal more.

On Monday, Obama boasted to a gathering of young Southeast Asian leaders that as a result of his policies, "today, once again, the United States is the most respected country on earth." Could anyone swallow such a risible claim without, as Hillary Clinton might put it, the willing suspension of disbelief? It's hard to think of any nation on the planet that holds America in higher esteem because of the Obama presidency. Iran surely doesn't. Time and again, the White House has bent over backward to "engage" the Islamist regime in Tehran. At every step its overtures have been greeted with scorn.

The seizure of innocent Americans like Rezaian — whose trial, in a closed courtroom, began last week — fits a pattern of hostility that seven years of outreach and indulgence by the Obama administration has failed to soften. "We will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist," entreated the president in his first inaugural address. But Iran's theocratic leaders have not unclenched their fists, not even when it would appear to be in their interest to do so.

The nuclear accord being pushed so fervently by Obama and John Kerry would be a dream come true for the Islamic Republic's rulers — generating tens of billions of dollars in sanctions relief, legitimizing their eventual path to the bomb, and entrenching Iran's malignant regional hegemony. Yet hungry as they are for this deal, they know that Obama is hungrier still. No provocation, no act of aggression, no insult by Iran has been enough to make the White House walk away from the negotiations.

Rezaian isn't the only US hostage in Iranian hands. Saeed Abedini, 35, is a Christian pastor from Idaho who was arrested in 2012 while on a humanitarian trip to Iran to help establish an orphanage. He was convicted in 2013 "undermining the national security of Iran" and sentenced to eight years in prison. Amir Hekmati, a decorated US Marine, was born in Arizona and raised in Michigan. He was seized in 2011 while visiting his grandmother in Iran, accused of spying, and sentenced to death (a sentence later commuted pending a retrial). Robert Levinson, a former FBI agent, vanished during a trip to Iran in 2007. Iran's state-run media reported at the time that he was in the hands of the security services, making him one of the longest-held US hostages ever.

The brazen detention of American citizens is an outrage. The refusal of the White House to call a halt to negotiations until the men are released is a humiliation. Iran has an odious history of abducting guiltless Americans, then using them as bargaining chips to trade for some concession from Washington. You'd think Washington would have learned by now that ransoming hostages only reinforces the incentive to seize more hostages in the future.

It is mind-boggling that the president would threaten to veto a measure making the freedom of the four US citizens the price of any more nuclear talks. Can Obama truly believe that this is the way to make America "the most respected country on earth"?



The Obama Administration’s Transparency Crisis

By Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch

The federal government is bigger than ever, and also the most secretive in recent memory. President Obama famously promised his would be the most transparent administration in history, but federal agencies under his leadership are often black holes in terms of disclosure. I’ll be testifying to the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee today, chaired by Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) on the Obama transparency crisis.

The secrecy at the federal level is pervasive. Judicial Watch has filed nearly 3,000 FOIA requests with the Obama administration and nearly 225 FOIA lawsuits in federal court. Most of these lawsuits are filed just to get a “yes or no” answer from the administration. Agencies have built administrative hurdles and stonewalled even the most basic FOIA requests. The Obama administration’s casual law-breaking when it comes to FOIA is a national disgrace and shows contempt for the American people’s right to know what their government is doing.

Transparency is about self-government. If we don’t know what the government is doing, how can we govern ourselves?

There is a way out. Judicial Watch shows that one citizen group, using the Freedom of Information Act and independent oversight, can help the American people bring their government under control, having obtained numerous, shocking documents that had been denied to Congress.

It was Judicial Watch that uncovered a declassified email showing it was the Obama White House that put out the lie that the Benghazi attack was “rooted in an Internet video, and not a failure of policy,” leading Speaker Boehner to appoint the Select Committee on Benghazi. Judicial Watch has since obtained numerous other Benghazi records which highlight the administration’s extensive cover-up.

It was Judicial Watch which forced out key info about lost and then “unlost” Lois Lerner emails and how President Obama was lying when he suggested his IRS scandal was the result of boneheaded decisions by low level bureaucrats in Ohio. The documents show the IRS hit on the Tea Party was run out of D.C. and included the Justice Department and FBI.

Of course, these revelations have been surpassed in the media by the Clinton email and financial scandals. Judicial Watch has at least 18 lawsuits, 10 of which are active in federal court, and about 160 Judicial Watch Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, that could be affected by Mrs. Clinton and her staff’s use of secret email accounts to conduct official government business.

Most recently, Judicial Watch filed a lawsuit against Secretary of State John Kerry to compel him, as an executive agency head, to fulfill his obligation under the Federal Records Act to obtain and provide Clinton’s emails to the American people.

FOIA is a straightforward tool that gives Judicial Watch, the media, and citizens access to the federal courts in order to ensure compliance with lawful records requests.  This is why we get documents that Congress can’t. Liberals running the media won’t do the hard work that our lawyers and investigators do — not because they don’t know how or don’t have the resources – but because independent investigative reporting has been subsumed by the politics of protecting Obama and his “progressivism.”

Truth fears no inquiry. Crafty, corrupt politicians realize that transparency and accountability go hand-in-hand. If the Obama administration truly had nothing to hide, it would not go to such extraordinary lengths to keep vital information from the public.

Renewed congressional interest in reforming FOIA is a positive sign. Reforms must be significant and provide more access to information to the American people. Additionally, Congress should apply the freedom of information concept to itself and the courts, which are both exempt from executive transparency laws.

Our Founders were keenly aware of the need for accountability and transparency in our government. James Madison wrote, “A popular government without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy, or perhaps both.”

We can only hope that members of Congress today take Madison’s warning to heart. Today’s hearing is a start.



Obamacare’s Muse: The UK’s NHS

As I previously discussed in Townhall Finance, real and sustainable private investment is being held back in large part due to the regime uncertainty caused by such regulations as Dodd-Frank, Obamacare and climate change. In fact, I first pointed this out publicly as one of the guest speakers at a large Tea Party rally on Tax Day 2010 in Appleton WI.

Given the large and rising costs of healthcare in the US (eg 17.9% of GDP in 2014, up 5% from 1999), it is understandable that many Americans voted for reform. But Obamacare will only make the already government-centric American system even worse in terms of costs, prices, quality, innovation and care (including more bureaucratic rationing).

If Obamacare is not repealed and replaced by a more free market style system, then it will over time become more and more like its inspiration or muse of the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) … where each regulatory failure calls forthmore regulation ad infinitum. As a late great economist once pointed out in the context of Hillarycare:

“On the free market, the consumer is ‘king or queen’ and the providers are always trying to make profits and gain customers by serving them well. But when government operates a service, the consumer is transmuted into a ‘pain-in-the-neck’, a ‘wasteful’ user-up of scarce social resources.” – Murray N. Rothbard

It thus seems appropriate to revisit the NHS. In doing this, I not only can offer my perspective as an economist but also as a patient of the NHS in the late 2000s. I have also been a patient of the US health care system in the 2010s, and of the Australian system for many years from the late 1980s. Although all three systems are far from perfect, the UK’s is a distant third place in my experience, including (no doubt surprisingly to most American liberals) the pervasiveness of ‘cold and uncaring’ NHS staff that I encountered from almost day one in the UK.

The NHS has for many years been referred to glowingly by the US liberal elite. One of these admirers of the NHS is former Obama ‘technocrat’ at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), Dr Donald Berwick.

Dr Berwick has described the NHS as: “universal, accessible, excellent, and free at the point of care – a health system that is, at its core, like the world we wish we had: generous, hopeful, confident, joyous, and just.” And he added: “I am romantic about the NHS; I love it.” Perhaps this ‘love affair’ with the NHS is driven by his belief that: “Any health care funding plan that is just, equitable, civilized and humane must redistribute wealth from the richer among us to the poorer and the less fortunate. Excellent health care is by definition, redistributional.”

The NHS has its origins in the rise of western Progressivism (such as UK Fabian Socialism) and Imperial Germany’s mandated health insurance from the 1880s onwards. Again we can see the ‘Bootleggers and Baptists” phenomenon in action, with the ‘Progressives’ and ‘Fabians’ playing the role of the ‘Baptists’ and with the ‘Iron Chancellor of Germany’ and his cronies as the ‘Bootleggers’.

The NHS came into being in the late 1940s, with the express goal of providing the best and most up-to-date health care services available to anyone who wanted it free-of-charge. It was to do this by essentially nationalizing the entire health care sector in the UK. The NHS has since then grown to be the largest employer in Europe, employing more than one million people.

As demand is not constrained by market prices, the NHS has mainly resorted to rationing of services in the face of excess demand, which has resulted in the NHS’ infamous queuing. As Michael Tanner of the Cato Institute has previously highlighted, as many as 750,000 Britons were awaiting admission to NHS hospitals in 2007. Cancer patients, for example, can wait as long as 8 months for treatment resulting in nearly 20% of colon cancer patients, considered treatable when first diagnosed, being incurable by the time treatment is finally offered. The waiting times for many other less urgent procedures have usually been measured in months, with one in eight patients still waiting more than a year.

Less obvious than the quantity of services provided, is the non-stop rising costs to the British taxpayer. Dr Helen Evans of the UK’s Nurses for Reform pointed out that, even in between the 1944 ‘White Paper’ and the 1948 start of the NHS, the budget was already being revised upwards by nearly 75%. In its first year of operation, the NHS actually costed over 230% more than originally estimated. The main driver behind these cost overruns was the assumption that demand would remain roughly constant despite services being delivered ‘free’ at the point-of-use. Nominal charges have been introduced over the years, with negligible impact.

Capital investment in new, expanded and renovated hospitals was minimal until the great ‘Hospital Plan’ of the early 1960s. In fact, a significant proportion of the inherited NHS hospitals predated the First World War and, despite this, not a single new hospital was built during the first decade of the NHS. The ‘Plan’ aimed, over the course of a decade or more, to build 90 new hospitals, drastically remodel 134 more and provide 356 further improvement schemes. Even by the 1990s the ‘Plan’ remained unfulfilled, with only a third of the projects completed and a third not yet started.

Of course, the news headlines are more dominated by quality of service issues. As of 2008 in many NHS hospitals, more than 10% of patients were picking up infections and illnesses they did not have prior to being admitted. And up to 60% of NHS hospital patients could be undernourished during inpatient stays.

All of these worrying themes have continued unabated through to the present. Despite all of this, the NHS is still a ‘sacred cow’ in the UK, and the prospects for even minor free market friendly reforms in the foreseeable future are still very slim indeed.

Given the benchmark of the NHS, the future of Obamacare is perhaps best encapsulated by two former HHS ‘apparatchiks’ who purportedly said:

“National Health Insurance means combining the efficiency of the Postal Service with the compassion of the IRS … and the cost accounting of the Pentagon.” – Dr Louis Sullivan & Constance Horner



For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCH,  POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated) and Coral reef compendium. (Updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten. I also put up occasional updates on my Personal blog and each day I gather together my most substantial current writings on A WESTERN HEART.

List of backup or "mirror" sites here or  here -- for when blogspot is "down" or failing to  update.  Email me  here (Hotmail address). My Home Pages are here (Academic) or  here (Pictorial) or  here  (Personal)


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