Author: Mitchell Blatt (Page 1 of 22)

“Free market” healthcare is a pipe dream of utopians

The healthcare market can’t function like a free market. Those who think it can are capitalist utopians.

Republicans voted yesterday to move forward the process on an unformed version of the Trumpcare healthcare bill. The concept behind Trumpcare (also known as “Obamacare repeal”), as expressed by Republicans, is to make the healthcare market function more like a free market. Cut down on regulations and make end users pay more for their own healthcare, the argument goes, and there will be more competition and lower prices.

There’s just one problem: the healthcare market can’t function like a free market. Those who think it can are capitalist utopians who haven’t learned from history—the flip-side of communist utopians.

Go directly to my explanation of why the principles of free markets are incompatible with healthcare.

Whenever communists are faced with the inevitable failures of communism and radical socialism—whether it be that of the Soviet Union, Mao’s China, Khmer Cambodia, or present day examples like Cuba, North Korea, and burning Venezuela—they just as inevitably respond with one phrase, “True communism has never been tried.” No amount of data-points, no amount of evidence of human nature will ever convince them that communism doesn’t work. Nor will they be convinced that even if “true communism” hasn’t been tried, the many failures of revolutionary movements to implement true communism prove communism is fundamentally impossible to implement.

So it is with free market dogmatists. If high quality healthcare could be provided to the vast majority of people on the free market at reasonable prices, then you could look around the world for examples of a free market healthcare system working. If government regulations and universal healthcare distribution fundamentally destroys prosperity, then there would be no examples of prosperous countries with universal healthcare. American conservatives are hostile to the idea of explicitly looking to other countries (particularly “socialist” European countries) for guidance—“American Exceptionalism” and all—but looking at the world and at history is at least a good means to learn what works and doesn’t work in human civilization. It’s actually a very conservative thing to do to consider what works in practice, rather than relying on idealistic theories. After all, how do we know that communism doesn’t work?

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Donald Trump wants Republicans subservient to him

Jonah Goldberg writes about a “cult of personality” around Trump again this week. It’s a well-trodden subject, especially at National Review, in my own writings, and even from Trump’s own mouth (“I could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue…”).

So far he hasn’t been able to translate his rabid base of supporters into much besides a solid 39 percent base of approval and a protective wall of Republican Congressmen who mostly want to do as little as possible to hold him accountable.

For all the Republicans have been leaking information favorable to Trump, going on TV making farciscle excuses, and (some of them) using questioning of Jim Comey to defend Trump, Trump has been shockingly ungrateful to Republicans for their help.

Over the past few weeks, he has attacked Jeff Sessions, his first Senate supporter, for recusing, questioned the allegiances of Ron Rosenstein, the Deputy Attorney General who put his credibility on the line to help Trump fire Comey, and publicly threatened to primary Sen. Dean Heller, who is facing one of the toughest reelection fights of a Republican Senator in 2018, while sitting next to him.

Trump is noted for his views on “loyalty”–which got him in trouble with Comey–but it’s all about loyalty for he, not for thee.

But if there’s one thing Trump is in no short supply of, it’s narcissism and brazenness. This afternoon, the long-time Democrat demanded Republicans rally around him.

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Poland, Trump, and Hungary: This is what illiberal democracy looks like

The election of Trump, the Law and Politics Party winning a majority in Poland in 2015, and Viktor Orbán’s government in Hungary; what they all have in common is not merely a right-wing bend, but a contempt for liberal democracy. So goes the narrative, which has been particularly on display since Trump’s speech in Poland, that “illiberal democracy” is threatening the underpinnings of democracy in the Western world and beyond.

Some of the more conservative-minded would say this argument is the resentment of the losers. Trump, Szydlo, and Orbán won their elections fair and square. Why should they be dismissed just because you disagree with them? “If a democracy now needs to be a tool for spreading liberalism, conservatives are by definition, not democratic,” Sumantra Maitra wrote for Quillette.

Here is the thing: the problem isn’t simply with policy preferences but with the normative structures of democracy itself. These governments are taking actions to solidify their own power, not just to advance ideological interests of the people, but to advance the personal and party-based interests of the leaders or the ruling parties in ways that strike at the legal and moral underpinnings of democracy and rule of law.

A few examples will illustrate what exactly is meant by illiberal democracy. In Poland, the ruling party is trying to enact a measure that would give them control over the composition of the judiciary. As reported by Politico Europe:

Poland’s parliament, under the leadership of the conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party, passed a law dissolving an independent body responsible for the nomination of judges. At the same time, PiS submitted a draft law that would force the entire Supreme Court into retirement and give the country’s justice minister the ability to decide which judges can stay in their current roles.

Currently, Poland’s federal judges are appointed by a professional panel of lawyer. The Law and Justice party attacked the judges as leftists—the party chairman called the judiciary a “stronghold of post-communists”—and it is easy to see how a panel made up of lawyers could be attacked as “elitist” and biased to be more favorable towards political liberalism than the public, due to expected leanings within the field. Perhaps there is a case to be made for having judges appointed by the president, prime minister, parliament, or some combination thereof, as is done in places like the United States and South Korea. Although there are problems with the system in the U.S., which has resulted in the politicization of judicial appointments, there is a case to be made for some level of political accountability in the process.

The problem is that the manner by which Law and Justice is planning to implement this program appears meant to give their party control over the composition of the court

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Peter W. Smith’s blog revealed

Smith defended Trump, attacked Russia investigation as “tinfoil hat” conspiracy theory on personal blog

Peter W. Smith, the Republican operative who was trying to obtain Clinton emails from hackers, kept a blog until shortly before he ended his life, where he strenuously defended President Donald Trump and the Republicans from allegations about the Russia investigation.

On the day before Smith committed suicide in a Rochester, Minnesota hotel room, he posted, “Three Agencies, Not 17, Behind Russian Interference Allegations.” The post calls the Russia investigation “just part of the Democratic storyline that Hillary Clinton had the election stolen from her by Russian interference” and criticizes the directors of the FBI, CIA, and NSA as “all are suspect in terms of their credibility.”

It was one of eight blog posts Smith wrote defending Trump from Russian interference-related allegations or raising questions about the investigation between the day of the election and the day of his death. Other blog posts Smith wrote were supported the Republican Party and the Trump agenda. In all, he wrote 22 posts.

Smith’s blog reveals a man avidly interested in politics, strongly supportive of Trump and the Republicans, who offered political advice and opinion on a variety of issues. The issues he cared about the most, judging by the frequency of posts, were the investigation and Clinton’s emails.

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U.S. should fight against Russian incursions, not work with them

The Trump administration and the alt-right generally has been pushing for making good with Russia. The argument seems hinged as much on unfounded fears of Russia as on possible benefits that could come out of it (which are few).

Recently we saw two examples of this: one with Trump’s meeting with Vladimir Putin at the G20, another with revelations about Donald Trump Jr’s meeting with a Russian lawyer, which Trump Jr said was about Russian adoptions.

At the G20, Trump had a meeting with Putin that stretched for over two hours. The Trump administration said Trump raised the issue of Russia’s hacking and dissemination of emails during the 2016 U.S. presidential election at the meeting, as one would expect the U.S. president to do, but they were vague as to whether Trump accepted Putin’s denial of such hacking, as Russia’s foreign officials said he did, and as he himself has done in public multiple times, including the day before the meeting.

Still, Trump doesn’t want to be perceived as having done little or nothing, so he tweeted that he “discussed forming” some kind of “impenetrable Cyber Security unit so that election hacking, & many other negative things, will be guarded..” (No word on whether Baron Trump will be appointed as the first chief of the unit, since he’s “so good with computers.”)

Besides the fact that a “Cyber Security unit” is an extremely vague term that sounds more like a useless facade with less power than the UN Human Rights Council and the fact that, according to his tweet (even taking it at face value), they merely “discussed” it, and the fact that Trump’s statements are notoriously unreliable anyway, the whole idea that the U.S. should set something up with Russia to protect itself against hacks by Russia is delusional.

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Trump Warsaw speech confuses more than clarifies

Donald Trump came home from his first G20 meeting as president with U.S. policy towards Russia, Syria, and Europe in the same state of confusion as when he left. On issues from election interference, Syria’s ongoing civil war, and defense of its allies, the administration made contradictory statements and lacked credibility.

Start with his big Warsaw speech the day before the G20 started: He spoke of values threatened by terrorism, violence, and tyranny, but he didn’t define those values or the threats. Since his first foreign trip, he has been vague as to what he thinks constitutes terrorism. In Saudi Arabia, a country that is funding militants and spreading Wahhabism, he called for nations of the world to “drive out the terrorists and extremists.” As one might have expected, he took the opportunity in Warsaw to emphasize the fact that he made a speech in Saudi Arabia.

But who was he referring to when he said “drive out the terrorists?” Are the groups fighting to overthrow Assad terrorists? Clearly some of them are affiliated with terrorist groups, including al-Qaeda, and even those that are not are engaging in anti-government violence to achieve political goals, which falls under the definition of terrorism. Yet Trump has appeared to have good chemistry with the Saudis, bragging (and vasty exaggerating) about the prospect of selling them millions of dollars of weapons. He even appeared to side with Saudi Arabia in its geopolitical conflict with Qatar, before he even knew what was happening. (Read Blatt and Maitra’s piece on the Qatar situation in The National Interest.)

It wasn’t but three paragraphs later that Trump’s call for states to stop supporting terrorism ran up against the reality of Syria. He said, “We urge Russia to cease its destabilizing activities in Ukraine and elsewhere, and its support for hostile regimes — including Syria and Iran.” By implication, this policy would help the militants and terrorists fighting in Syria; without Russia’s support, the Syrian regime would be much weaker.

The call for Russia to stop supporting Iran and the labeling of Iran as a “hostile regime” also plays into Saudi Arabia’s goal for domination of the Middle East. Rather than opposing terrorism, Trump is simply buying the Saudi framing of “terrorism” as an excuse to push Saudi self-interest—even at the expense of U.S. interests.

This follows months of confused policy from the Trump administration on Syria. As Bombs + Dollars has documented, the Trump administration has vacillated between withdrawing American opposition to Assad and calling for Assad’s overthrow. In the span of one week in April, the White House went from saying U.S. policy was not focused on getting Assad out to calling for Assad’s ouster and then bombing an airfield.

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Facebook speech code: No, white men aren’t a “protected class”

Facebook treats everyone equally. Leftists wants whites and men to be at the bottom of the hierarchy.

A new misleading article is going viral on leftist and liberal-leaning social-political websites. ProPublica reports that white men are a protected class on Facebook, and that criticism of white men is considered hate speech.

Sure enough, hateful attacks against white men are considered hate speech and subject to possible deletion–just as a group of liberals have long said they wanted social media to take a harder stand on hate speech. So, too, are attacks on black men, white women, black women, Asian men, Asian women, Hispanic men, Hispanic women, Muslim men, and Muslim women considered hate speech.

Attacks on any such ethnic-gender (or religion) combination group are hate speech. ProPublica’s problem and that of those sharing the article is that they don’t want whites or men to have equal rights.

There’s nothing confusing in Facebook’s position. It’s spelled out in black and white–literally–in the slides:



How did a policy of policing hate speech impartially, without favor, turn into allegations of pro-white bias?

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Otto Warmbier Story: Don’t make North Korean policy off the news

Making good policy requires sober analysis. Emotionally-charged words devoid of any real meaning do a disservice to the pursuit of sound policy.

North Korea represses 25 million people. Its government has killed hundreds of thousands of the people who live there by policy-induced starvation, assassinations, and death camps. It is building nuclear weapons, and just a few months ago it brazenly assassinated the exiled brother of the dear dictator on foreign soil. But now it is the death of an American tourist that has caused National Review to call for kicking North Korea out of the United Nations.

Calling the death of Otto Warmbier an “act of war,” National Review calls for ratcheting up pressure on the rouge regime to punishing levels. That’s all well and good–North Korean tyranny deserves to be resisted–but why did it take the death of an American to inspire such passion?

To be sure, National Review mentions the horrible crimes North Korea commits against Koreans and others in its article. But it is only now that they said the U.S. should emphatically step up its game: “North Korea’s brazen murder of an American citizen is reason to reevaluate.”

North Korea’s ongoing campaign of torturing refugees wasn’t reason to reevalutate? Its sinking of the Cheonam wasn’t reason to reevaluate? Its continued threats to turn Seoul into a sea of fire?

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The triumph of bullshitting: Why Trumpcare probably won’t hurt Trump

What happens when a “populist” conidate becomes president and has to account for the contradictions between his rhetoric and his real platform? What happens when a bill is on his desk and he has to either sign it or veto it and can’t do both? With the Republican majority in the U.S. Senate trying to push through TrumpRyancare in a span of two weeks, we may soon see.

Slate‘s Jamelle Bouie says that for Trump to sign Trumpcare, Medicaid cuts, tax cuts for the rich, and the rest of his typical Republican agenda, he will lay bare the phoniness of his “populism,” alienating him from the “working class” voters who are credited with powering him to victory. I’m not so sure.

Bouie cites recently released studies of cultural-identity politics views and the 2016 election. Of particular interest is Lee Drutman’s study, which plotted voters on quadrants by economic views and social views in order to arrive at four groups: traditional conservatives (conservative on economic and cultural issues), traditional liberals, and, most important, “populists” (liberal on economic issues and conservative on cultural issues). You might associate these groups with particular candidates: Mitt Romney and House Speaker Paul Ryan in the traditional conservative camp, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama traditional liberals, Gary Johnson a populist, and Donald Trump a “populist.”

As you can see, “populists” are a big group, and Republicans seemed to do win more of them than did Democrats, despite the fact that those voters should agree with the Democratic economic agenda more than with the Republicans.

The data bares out that Trump won the vast majority of “populists”:

Why didn’t Republicans win “populists” in 2012 or 2008? One key point: Even as Romney and Ryan might well be more conservative/right-wing than the general public on cultural issues, they are not as conservative, and importantly, not as vocal in expressing those views, as Trump is.

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Post-election survey finds ethnocentric, identity politics factors in election

Trump supporters don’t terribly like immigrants or Muslims, and white Democrats like African-Americans more than white Americans.

Those are some of the findings of a large-scaled post-election study by John Sides, professor of political science at George Washington University. The survey data comes from multiple surveys by YouGov of 45,000 respondents, including 8,000 respondents who were interviewed both in 2011-2012 and 2016. One of the questions asked voters to rate certain ethnic and religious groups on a thermometer scale:

A few things that can be said:
– For all groups surveyed, immigrants and Muslims rated second to last and last, respectively, but the difference was much greater with Republicans and Trump primary voters.
– Trump voters ranked white people more favorably than any other group ranked them and ranked minorities (excluding Jews) lower than every other group.
– While Trump voters ranked Jews slightly lower than did Republicans as a whole, their rating of Jews is lined up pretty evenly with the rating of Jews by Democrats, white Democrats, and the population at large–around 75.
– Democrats ranked blacks, Hispanics, and Jews noticeably higher than they ranked whites. Even white Democrats ranked blacks and Jews slightly higher than they ranked whites. The gap in the ratings of whites by Democrats as a whole is thus due partially, but not entirely, to the fact that there were many more blacks and Hispanics represented in the survey sample of “Democrats” (as opposed to “white Democrats”).

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