Thursday, October 03, 2019



The Deep State

From the time of the campaign all the way until now, the president has been under repeated attacks from elements of America’s intelligence agencies, including the CIA and FBI. Many of the people, like Brennan, Clapper, Comey, McCabe, and Strzok, have been removed. But there are still many more who have not been identified and “weeded out.”

The president has appointed various people he was told would clean house. Former Indiana Sen. Dan Coats, an old friend of mine, was named director of national intelligence. But he quickly became a mouthpiece for the agency he was running rather than a reformer of the agency. Thanks for nothing, Dan.

Early in his administration, a CIA official resigned and wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post lambasting the president. He was promptly hired to be a commentator for NBC News. More recently, an intelligence analyst at the State Department used his resignation to make a big splash in the news.

The current controversy reportedly originated with an employee at the CIA. The current head of the CIA is Gina Haspel, a career officer and the first woman to lead the CIA.

The president was told, and we were all told, that she was the ultimate professional who would not tolerate any nonsense. Clearly, she needs to call in all agency supervisors and review the rules regarding their involvement in partisan politics.

It is worth remembering that even before the inauguration, then President-elect Trump was expressing his frustration with the intelligence community. At the time, Senate Democrat Leader Chuck Schumer bragged to Rachel Maddow, “Let me tell you: You take on the intelligence community — they have six ways from Sunday at getting back at you.”

If this abuse of our intelligence agencies cannot be ended, then the globalists have won and we have lost the country. I pray and still believe that is not true. But the jury is still out.

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Why Cats Pay a Lower Price for CAT Scans

Once a year, I bring my ill-tempered three-legged tabby cat (named Hopper) to the veterinarian. No one ever has a good time or particularly enjoys the cacophony of hisses, growls, and whiny meows. All the same, I can’t help but feel an “Alice in Wonderland” sort of feeling while talking to my feline’s healthcare providers. Most procedures and medical tests for our furry friends are the same as ours. But unlike the human healthcare system, prices are transparent and upfront in pet care. While no one likes hearing that Fifi’s surgery will cost $600, having costs out in the open keeps prices tethered to reality and under control. Lawmakers can throw patients everywhere a (figurative) bone by opening healthcare markets to competition and encouraging price transparency.

When most owners bring their furry nincompoops to the veterinarian, insurance simply isn’t a part of the conversation because nearly 2 million cats and dogs are covered by insurance policies in the U.S., compared to more than 180 million cats and dogs owned in total.

Compare this less-than-2 percent coverage rate for our pets to the predominance of human health insurance. Around 90 percent of Americans have health insurance, with most plans covering at least some routine doctors’ visits and predictable expenses such as medications. Americans pay even less money out-of-pocket for medical care (as a percentage of expenditures) than most of their Canadian and European (i.e. Germany, United Kingdom, Sweden) counterparts.

When the government and/or insurers are footing the bill, providers have little reason to disclose prices. Patients asking a doctor’s office or hospital for the price of, say, a CAT scan or an appendectomy will probably be stonewalled. With no price transparency and other people paying the bills, costs skyrocket out of control and healthcare expenditures climb far in excess of the rate of inflation. From 2008 to 2018, healthcare prices in the U.S. climbed 21.6 percent while prices for goods and services overall grew by 17.3 percent (measured by GDP deflator).

But not so in the pet healthcare sector, where consumers are exposed to price and veterinarians have a real incentive to keep costs low. Because pet insurance accounts for such a tiny sliver of the veterinary healthcare market, the prices that they pay for claims reflects prices that consumers are willing to pay rather than the third-party driven “prices” of the human healthcare market. For the past several years, Nationwide’s pet health insurance division has partnered with Purdue University researchers to track trends in pet insurance payouts. The researchers track a “basket” of the most commonly-utilized procedures to see how the typical veterinary visit has changed in price over time. According to their research, these ordinary expenses declined by 6 percent from January 2009 to December 2017 after adjusting for inflation.

This decrease is corroborated by less reliable sources, such as the American Pet Products Association (APPA) annual consumer spending surveys. For virtually every year tracked (accessible via web archive), cat and dog owners reported spending less money on average routine and surgical visits. The data is jumpier than the Nationwide and Purdue rigorous analysis of 30 million insurance claims but confirms an interesting – and counterintuitive – trend.  In a system where consumers and patients’ “representatives” have enough skin in the game, healthcare prices behave like they would in most other markets.

There are, of course, differences between pet and human healthcare. Owners are far less likely to spend money treating Fluffy for cancer than they would for their own chemotherapy treatments. All the same, prices continue to decline in real terms as a rapidly growing percentage of pet owners regard their companions as members of the family and worthy of medical care. As these numbers increase further, policymakers should take notice and keep tabs on price trends. Perhaps increasing consumer exposure to prices and empowering them to pay medical expenses directly via Health Savings Accounts would lead to the same declining prices seen in the veterinary world.

I’m not sure what medical surprises await Hopper in the next few years, but prices are all but guaranteed to come up for discussion in future vet visits. This norm may be unpleasant, but it sure seems to keep costs under control. Humans and their pets can benefit from a price structure that encourages competition and cost control.

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Enough with Existential Crises

BY STEPHEN KRUISER

I think we can trace most of modern American society's ills back to when men decided to start hugging. OK, a lot of it can go back to when women began watching football too, but I'll try to maintain some focus here.

I remember the first time I got a man hug and I wasn't at a funeral, which used to be the only events at which they were acceptable. I knew that some sort of testosterone-based Pandora's box had been opened.

The next thing I knew, everyone had feelings and the Super Bowl became less about football and more about making the womenfolk happy with seven-hour-long halftime concerts.

Now I hug a lot, but only because people don't expect it from me and I know it makes them uncomfortable.

Back in 2015 and 2016 when I was -- to put very mildly -- a Trump skeptic, I did keep telling people that I didn't think he posed an existential threat to the Republic. I'm a grown-up who has been through too many false apocalyptic political narratives to fall for them anymore.

In yesterday's Briefing, we looked at the first installment of a full-court press by the media to woo Republicans to getting behind impeachment. The plea was a predictable one: Trump must be removed from office or the country that survived a civil war, the Soviet Union, and the heresy of New Coke will cease to exist.

That press picked up speed on Monday, with various "save the country" pleas to Republicans -- specifically GOP senators -- to save the country.

When they're not making their prom pitches to Republicans with grandiose visions of saving the country, the MSM and Democrats are concern trolling for the future of the GOP.

Jeff Flake -- my least favorite former senator -- wrote an op-ed for The Washington Post that worried about Republicans' "souls."

Nobody's soul is at stake, especially the GOP's.

The future of the United States is most certainly not in danger because of anything the president is doing. The hysteria is more boring than agitation-inducing at this point.

Look around you. The world isn't ending. The United States isn't in its death throes. The baseball season is ending and that is sad, but we can work through it.

I'm dismissive of my political opponents these days because they're more in need of diapers than careful consideration of their opinions.

My good friend, Ricochet Editor-In-Chief Jon Gabriel, summed it up rather nicely on Monday:

Impeachment has been the left’s goal since December 2016 — before Trump took office. Ukraine is just another bite of the apple after the Mueller report failed so spectacularly.
The media hysteria over Ukraine feels a lot like the recent Greta hysteria. There’s no time to absorb facts, discuss options, or weigh pros and cons. We need to act now or else!

Hysteria is a poor strategy. It didn’t work for climate change or Kavanaugh or the many other panics we’ve been subjected to since Trump took office. How Trump’s detractors think this will end well is beyond me.

That's just it: they don't think. They feel. When that's all you do, everything is the end of the world.

And when everything is the apocalypse, nothing is the apocalypse.

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Feds paid $1 billion in Social Security benefits to individuals without a SSN

The Social Security Administration paid $1 billion in benefits to individuals who did not have a Social Security Number (SSN), according to a new audit.

The agency’s inspector general found errors in the government’s documentation for representative payees, otherwise known as individuals who receive retirement or disability payments on behalf of another person who is incapable of managing the benefits themselves.

The audit released Friday found thousands of cases where there was no SSN on file.

Over the last decade, the agency paid $1 billion to 22,426 representative payees who "did not have an SSN, and SSA had not followed its policy to retain the paper application."

“Furthermore, unless it takes corrective action, we estimate SSA will pay about $182.5 million in benefits, annually, to representative payees who do not have an SSN or paper application supporting their selection,” the inspector general said.

The inspector general also found the agency paid $853.1 million in benefits since 2004 to individuals who had been terminated as representative payees by the agency.

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Impeachment Coup and Civil War?

Donald Trump shared a warning from Pastor Robert Jeffress about a "Civil War-like fracture" given that Democrats are, again, undertaking what has all the markings of a coup d'├ętat to remove him from office. The point was to assert that using deep-state operatives to overthrow a presidency is tantamount to insurrection.

Jeffress said, "Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats can't put down the impeachment match. They know they couldn't beat [Trump] in 2016 against Hillary Clinton, and they're increasingly aware of the fact that they won't win against him in 2020, and impeachment is the only tool they have to get rid of Donald Trump. And the Democrats don't care if they burn down and destroy this nation in the process."

In fact, he continued, "I don't pretend to speak for all Evangelicals, but this week I have been traveling the country and I've literally spoken to thousands and thousands of evangelical Christians. I have never seen them more angry over any issue than this attempt to illegitimately remove this president from office — overturn the 2016 election and negate the votes of millions of evangelicals in the process. And they know that the only impeachable offense President Trump has committed was beating Hillary Clinton in 2016. That's the unpardonable sin for which the Democrats will never forgive him." Jeffress predicted, "If the Democrats are successful in removing the president from office, I'm afraid it will cause a Civil War-like fracture in this nation from which this country will never heal."

Democrats have only two things to offer in 2020: socialist redistribution of wealth by way of an endless list of "free" stuff in return for votes, and impeachment to appeal for votes from those suffering severe Trump Derangement Syndrome. And, on top of that, they are openly proposing to confiscate guns. Unfortunately, these combined threats to Liberty make the reference to "civil war" relevant.

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Australia Foreign Minister says helping White House probe in national interest

Australia’s offer to help U.S. President Donald Trump investigate a report into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election was in the national interest, Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said on Wednesday.

The New York Times on Monday reported Trump had asked Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison for help investigating the origins of what became Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s efforts to aid Trump in the 2016 national elections.

A spokesperson for Morrison on Tuesday said the prime minister had agreed to help, drawing criticism from Australia’s opposition Labor party.

But Payne said cooperating with Australia’s closest ally was prudent. “We are working in Australia’s interests and we are working with our closest and most important ally,” Payne told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. “We should assist them as we can, we should ensure that assistance is appropriate and that’s what we’re doing.”

Trump is under mounting pressure amid an impeachment investigation by the U.S. House of Representatives into reports that he sought to influence foreign governments to go after his political adversaries.

The Democratic-led House began the inquiry last week after a whistleblower raised concerns that Trump tried to leverage nearly $400 million in proposed aid for Ukraine in exchange for an investigation of former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden.

Biden is seeking the Democratic nomination to run against Trump in the 2020 election.

The Mueller report was triggered in part by former Australian foreign minister Alexander Downer.

Downer was allegedly told in 2016 by George Papadopoulos, a Trump campaign aide, that Russia had damaging information about Hillary Clinton.

Downer reported the details of the conversation, which Papadopoulos denies, to the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation.

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IN BRIEF

GIULIANI SUBPOENAED: "Democrats on Monday subpoenaed Rudy Giuliani, the president's personal lawyer who was at the heart of Trump's efforts to get Ukraine to investigate political rival Joe Biden's family. ... With Congress out of session for observance of the Jewish holidays, Democrats moved aggressively against Giuliani, requesting by Oct. 15 'text messages, phone records and other communications' that they referred to as possible evidence. They also requested documents and depositions from three of his business associates." (Associated Press)

HONG KONG BATTLEFIELD: "Hong Kong police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at pro-democracy protesters throwing petrol bombs in the Asian financial hub on Tuesday as its Chinese rulers celebrated the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic. ... The South China Morning Post and television reports said at least one person was wounded in the chest by police firing live rounds." (Reuters)

MANUFACTURING CONTRACTION CONTINUES: "A gauge of U.S. manufacturing slumped to the lowest level in more than 10 years in September as exports dived amid the escalated trade war. The U.S. manufacturing Purchasing Managers' Index from the Institute for Supply Management plunged to 47.8% in September, the lowest since June 2009, marking the second consecutive month of contraction. Any figure below 50% signals a contraction." (CNBC)

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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.

Email me  here (Hotmail address). My Home Pages are here (Academic) or  here  (Personal).  My annual picture page is here 

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