Friday, August 02, 2019

Robert Mueller’s Feet of Clay

If your knowledge of the Robert Mueller fiasco in the United States is informed by any news service then you are ignorant of the facts. Therefore, let me give you the unvarnished facts as I see them.

First fact: Donald Trump is the most innocent politician in the world. How do I know this, you might ask? Nineteen, Hillary-loving, radical Democrat activists with law degrees, posing as impartial lawyers, investigated the heck out of him for two years on an unlimited budget and with the power to coerce witnesses, to threaten their families, to financially ruin them and to jail them. And yet they came up with squat. There is no other politician in the world who would have survived this kind of inquisition. None. Hence my conclusion that Trump is cleaner than Mother Teresa.

Second fact: Mueller had nothing to do with his own probe. He was titular. He came in each day to have coffee and engage in sheltered-workshop activities. Andrew Weissmann led the probe. He was the de facto Special Counsel. He hired all of the conflicted activists to assist him. He oversaw the writing of the report and the public statement that Mueller made after the report came out; sensibly instructing the doddery Mueller to take no questions about the report of which he had only passing acquaintance.

Third fact: Mueller escaped Weissmann’s supervision to attend Congress where he proceeded not only to reveal his ignorance of the report but of information about the events which precipitated the probe, which he was supposed to have led. For example, he knew nothing of Fusion GPS, the firm commissioned by Clinton’s lawyers to recruit Christopher Steele (the ex-British spy) to find, or as it turned out make up, Russian dirt on Trump.  I doubt you could find a backwoodsman out of telecommunication range with less knowledge.

Fourth fact: The Weissmann report set a French Revolutionary standard of jurisprudence by explicitly finding no prosecutorial evidence of obstruction of justice by the President but of finding insufficient evidence to exonerate him. To wit: the presumption of innocent defenestrated in the space of a few words in a dodgy and tendentious report. Look, take my word for it, I have never murdered anyone but I doubt you could find a court that would completely exonerate me from having ever murdered someone, somewhere, at some time. I’ll just have to live with it.

Fifth fact: It is curious on its face to suggest that someone trying to impede a process designed to bring false charges against him (in this case conspiracy to collude with a foreign power) is obstructing justice. But, be that as it may, Trump’s only ‘crime’ was to sound off in understandable frustration. A thought crime, as Orwell’s Winston Smith might put it. He did nothing of practicality to impede the Weissmann probe. He allowed White House staff to give testimony. He supplied all of the millions of pages of documents requested. He allowed the probe to run its course.

Sixth fact: The Democrats can’t let it go, however baseless is the case against Trump (and, vindictively, his family) because they have nothing else to run on. Theoretically they could run on policies on health care, climate change, inequality and immigration. But, in all of these areas, their agenda has been hijacked by callow far-left fruitcakes; prominently, though not only, by ‘the squad’: Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, Rashida Tlaib and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Thus, you get the complete takeover of health insurance by government and the provision of this insurance at taxpayers’ expense to illegal immigrants; you get the Green New Deal, confiscatory taxation, reparations for descendants of slaves, and open borders. And you see all of the twenty-plus Democratic candidates for president putting up their hands in unison for most or all this agenda; which, without doubt, has President Kennedy turning in his grave and would have only been a wet dream for even President Obama.

Seventh fact: The relentless attack on Trump the man has been become all the more vehement as his polices have produced enormous economic success. And, to rub it in, particular beneficiaries of this success are blacks and Hispanics, whom the Dems like to think are welded on to them. The Dems are caught in a pincer. Fighting against successful policies with looney-tune policies. Distraction is their only option.

Eighth fact: Western civilisation is disintegrating. As just a few disparate examples: witness police in the US being shirt-fronted and doused with water and doing nothing about it because they know that no one has their back among the great and good; witness the erosion of free speech in the UK; witness the overturning of the sanctity of millennia-old traditional marriage in the blink of an eye; witness the inculcation of gender confusion among school children; witness the erosion of the presumption of innocence when it comes to sexual assault allegations; witness Christian and Jewish clerics playing footsie with disciples of a noxious creed; witness economically-damaging and, more critically, culturally-undermining immigration policies. And, finally, in this abridged list, witness identity politics retribalizing nations. However, be sort of comforted, despite all of this woe, things have not yet gone so far downhill that a majority of Americans will vote for suicidal polices or be swayed by patently inane manoeuvrings to impeach Trump.

Ninth and best fact: Trump will win again.



When murders increase, so does support for capital punishment

Jeff Jacoby

WHEN ATTORNEY GENERAL William Barr announced last week that the federal government would resume executing Death Row inmates after a hiatus of more than 16 years, opponents were swift to object.

Within hours of Barr's announcement, Representative Ayanna Pressley introduced a bill to abolish capital punishment for federal crimes. The American Civil Liberties Union said it would challenge the new policy in court. And more than a dozen Democratic presidential candidates condemned the Trump administration and the death penalty. Among them was former Vice President Joe Biden, a longtime supporter of executing murderers who had switched his position just two days earlier.

The Justice Department has scheduled five men to be executed in December and January. Alfred Bourgeois, Dustin Honken, Daniel Lee, Lezmond Mitchell, and Wesley Purkey were all convicted of unspeakably cruel and depraved murders. Their victims ranged in age from 2 to 80, and most were tortured and terrorized before they were killed. There is no question about the guilt of these killers, nor any claim that they have been denied scrupulous due process of law.

Those who deplore Barr's decision make no attempt to argue that these men deserve to live. Instead, they denounced capital punishment itself, and accuse the administration of changing its policy out of "raw political calculus" (Slate) and as "one more stunt to distract Americans" (The Atlantic).

Of course politics were involved in Barr's move. But in carrying out the executions, the federal government will also be doing justice and upholding the rule of law. It wasn't the Trump Administration that convicted and sentenced these killers. It was independent judges and jurors who saw the evidence, observed the witnesses, heard the lawyers, and then concluded — unanimously — not only that the defendants were guilty of capital murder, but that death was the proper punishment.

If anyone is being political, it is Democrats like Biden, who favored the death penalty when it had widespread public support, and didn't turn against it until it became unpopular among Democrats. As chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee in the 1990s, Biden championed a crime bill that created 60 new death penalty offenses. "We do everything but hang people for jaywalking in this bill," he proudly declared at the time. That measure passed by sweeping majorities in the Democratic-controlled House and Senate, and was signed into law by a Democratic president, Bill Clinton.

What has changed since the Clinton era? Why has there been such a marked decline in the share of Americans who say that they support the death penalty for murderers? Death-penalty abolitionists credit themselves with making better, stronger, or more effective arguments. Here's a more likely explanation: Public opinion shifted because of murder rates, not policy debates.

In the 1990s, when Americans approved the death penalty by sky-high percentages, Americans were also being killed with sky-high frequency. There were fewer than 10,000 homicides annually in the United States in the early 1960s, but three decades later there were more than 24,000. The nation's murder rate soared over the same period from 5 per 100,000 to 9.5 per 100,000.

It was against that background that support for capital punishment, which had been falling since the 1950s, began to climb. In 1966, Gallup found that only 42 percent of the public favored executing murderers: an all-time low. In 1994, the year Clinton signed that crime bill, pro-death-penalty sentiment had risen to 80 percent: an all-time high.

And just as Americans embraced the death penalty when killings were on the rise, they backed away from it as killings decreased.

After hitting 9.5 in 1994, the murder rate began a downward plunge that criminologists are still trying to understand. It sank all the way to 4.4 in 2014 — and as it did, so did public approval of the death penalty. According to the Pew Research Center, the fraction of Americans supporting capital punishment dropped to 49 percent in 2016, the lowest level in four decades.

And since then? In 2014, the pendulum shifted again. Murders and the murder rate began moving back up. Sure enough, support for the death penalty did too. It rose to 54 percent in 2018.

To be sure, correlation doesn't prove causation. But six decades of correlation are hard to discount: The willingness of the public to put murderers to death rises and falls with the threat murderers pose. If homicides are back on an upward trend, more and more Americans will want killers put to death — and more and more politicians will decide they do, too.



A Sign of Hope for Affordable Health Care

The forthcoming rule will allow employees to pay for their health care needs using funds deposited by their employer.

A final rule on health reimbursement arrangements set to take effect in August could expand opportunities for American workers and their families to attain affordable health care, increase access to health care for employees of small businesses, and create new competitive market forces that will increase coverage charges for all.

The rule, which would loosen many of the restrictions that have limited the scope and utility of health reimbursement arrangements, represents a large step in shifting the rigid defined-benefits insurance structure toward a defined-contributions structure that allows patients to direct their health care spending.

“We want more decision-making and power in the hands of the consumer and worker over how to finance their health care,” said Brian Blase of the National Economic Council in summarizing the goal of the rule change.

A health reimbursement arrangement is an employer-based, tax-advantaged account that allows employees to pay for their health care needs using funds deposited by their employer. Employees can then use the funds to pay for health care expenses as agreed upon with the employer in the terms of the arrangement.

Funds deposited by the employer will not be taxed, and funds used by employees will not be taxed as income. Furthermore, funds in the account may roll over year to year depending on the terms set by the employer.

This rule change will create two new health reimbursement arrangements—the individual coverage HRA and the excepted benefits HRA—and allow funds in a health reimbursement arrangement to be applied to purchasing health insurance plans.

Small employers who cannot afford a traditional group plan, or employees dissatisfied with their employer’s group health plan, instead can be offered a health reimbursement arrangement to purchase a plan from the individual market.

Health reimbursement arrangements, which don’t have the administrative expenses of normal health insurance plans, can be much less costly than traditional employer-based group health insurance, an important consideration for small businesses.

Blase said a quarter of small businesses in 2010 stopped offering health insurance, and he expects changes in this rule will reverse that trend. In fact, he expects that in five years, 800,000 businesses will take advantage of these new plans, and 90% will be small businesses, covering 90 million workers and their dependents.

The administration expects that with hundreds of thousands of new consumers shopping for individual plans, the individual market will expand and grow robust competition in favor of the consumer.

Excepted benefits HRAs, capped at $1,800 annually, can be used for benefits that are exempted from the Affordable Care Act and Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act provisions and, importantly, can be used to purchase limited-duration health insurance plans.

Because they are exempted from minimum essential coverage requirements, these plans can be offered at low prices with high deductibles but broad networks.

Excepted benefits arrangements must be offered along with traditional group plans. An employee who turns down an employer’s traditional group plan would be able to use tax-advantaged funds in an excepted benefits plan to purchase a short-term limited-duration plan.

Blase noted 27% of employees of small businesses choose to turn down their employer’s group health plan because it was a bad fit for their individual needs.

With an excepted benefits plan, employers still will be able to contribute to employee health even if they turn down the employer’s group health plan, giving both employee and employer increased flexibility in their health care choices.

In August 2018, the administration finalized changes to rules governing short-term limited-duration plans to make them less cumbersome to use, lengthening their maximum duration to one year, renewable up to three years. The previous administration had limited these plans to no longer than three months.

Individual Coverage HRAs, in contrast to excepted benefits plans, have no limits on tax-advantaged contributions. They can be used to cover out-of-pocket expenses or services not otherwise covered by an existing health insurance plan. The new rule should make them much more practical and easy to use.

The Affordable Care Act added certain provisions to the Public Health Service Act that were nearly impossible for health reimbursement arrangement to comply with, including a ban on annual and lifetime limits on spending, and the requirement to cover a large selection of preventative health services without cost sharing.

These plans also were not previously integrated with individual market plans, so they would be ineligible even if used to purchase a fully compliant health plan on the individual market.

As long as health reimbursement arrangement funds are used to purchase a compliant plan on the individual market, it will satisfy the requirements of the Public Health Service Act under the new rule.

According to Blase, compliant plans “can be grandfathered coverage … on Obamacare exchange coverage, or off Obamacare exchange coverage.”

He said the administration expected “the vast majority of people” would “use the individual coverage HRA to purchase an Obamacare plan off the exchange.”

Blase said the rules could do for health coverage what 401(k) and 403(b) did for retirement planning. This rule change greatly expands the potential uses of these accounts and makes it much more affordable for small businesses to offer their employees health care coverage.

If Blase’s expectations pan out, Americans will be directing a large part of their own health care spending, shifting the market power away from the insurance companies to patients, where it belongs.



For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCHPOLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated), A Coral reef compendium and an IQ compendium. (Both 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 THE PSYCHOLOGIST.

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