Friday, July 21, 2017

Flavors of Freedom



What David Brooks meant to say ("Republicans Can't Pass Bills"):
Freedom is like ice cream: it comes in many different flavors. For example, you can have freedom in the future or you can have it right now.
Freedom in the future is what philosophers whose names escape me refer to as "freedom as capacity". Thus you should encourage your friend to practice the piano hard, which will increase his piano-playing capacity. In the same way you should feed your kid nutritious meals, make her do her homework, and see that she plays sports and performs volunteer work, so that she will have the capacity of getting into the college she likes. 
I have no idea how philosophers refer to freedom in the present, so I'll call it "freedom as detachment", which sounds kind of Buddhist but is not. This is when you let people alone to do what they want, based on the belief that people are freer when they are unimpeded. It is defined as a kind of absence—the absence of obstacles, stumbling blocks, speed bumps, and things that get in the way.
Back in the day, when the Republican Party used to be interested in running the government, it embraced both flavors of freedom, but its congressional priorities were all about freedom of capacity. When you consider the party's major legislative accomplishments since 1988, you can see it working to provide people with more capacities.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Nothing Changes, by Donald J. Trump


Giorgio de Chirico, "Le Muse Inquietanti" (The Disturbing Muses), 1945. Via.

by
Donald J. Trump


I. Song of the Pre-Existing Condition
Nothing changes.
Nothing changes.
Once you get something
for pre-existing conditions, etc., etc.

Once you get something, it’s awfully tough
to take it away. But what it does, Maggie,
it means it gets tougher and tougher.
As they get something, it gets tougher.
Because politically, you can’t give it away.

So pre-existing conditions are a tough deal.
Because you are basically saying
from the moment the insurance,
you’re 21 years old, you start working
and you’re paying $12 a year for insurance,
and by the time you’re 70, you get a nice plan.
Here’s something where you walk up
and say, “I want my insurance.”

It’s a very tough deal, but it is something
that we’re doing a good job of.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Pierre Bourdieu, bitchez

Pierre Bourdieu could. Or at least he could explain it.
Shorter David Brooks, "Getting Radical About Inequality", New York Times, July 18 2017:
Recently I took a friend with no more than a high school diploma to her name to listen to some music. Insensitively, I brought her to a well-known conservatory, where one of the faculty members was presenting all of the first book of Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier on the harpsichord. Suddenly I saw her face go dark and panicky as she looked at the program and its unfamiliar words like "prelude", "fugue", and "C major". Quickly, I asked her if she wanted to go somewhere else and with a fearful gesture she assented and we went to the Pops, where they played Strauss's Beautiful Blue Danube
Well, not really. He doesn't refer directly to last week's "How We Are Ruining America With Our Filthy Elitist Capicollo Sandwiches" at all, in fact; but it's carrying on the same argument, about how people like him use a set of cultural signifiers to shut out the mob from their councils and amusements and he feels bad about it, I guess, but at least that proves there's no need to redistribute the money, we just have to redistribute the Italian delis.

Only in a different key, you see, appealing to the late, (sort of) cultural-Marxian sociologist Pierre Bourdieu ("I’m not in the habit of recommending left-wing French intellectuals, but..."), who, believe it or not, kids, turns out to think exactly like Brooks! I mean, except for the Marxian part:

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Sometimes it rhymes



Trump really said that in June, "I'm talking about a plan with heart!"

So I was working on my weekly listen-folks-they-can't-pass-that-GOP-health-bill post when things got noisy around the old demesne and the TV went on and what do you know? I'm too late! Senators Jerry Moran (Wet-KS) and Mike Lee (Stegosaur-UT) announced that they're not voting for the bill, effectively taking it off the able and throwing it onto the compost heap, and we're now starting all over.

I've long thought this was bound to happen sooner or later, because voters all over the country are starting to realize what the Republicans have been trying to do to them, especially over the Medicaid, but McCain's health emergency seems to me to have been the immediate as opposed to proximate cause. His recovery from inside-the-skull surgery was going to delay the vote by a couple of weeks at least, likely more, which was going to allow the public to spend more time digesting the bill.

Meanwhile, the Congressional Budget Office delayed its report on the bill, which was supposed to be out on Monday, meaning they would be have time to score the unspeakable Cruz-Lee  "Consumer Freedom Option", a double-whammy device to destroy the individual health insurance market in the United States, for reasons best known to Senators Cruz and Lee (they must think health insurance is immoral because it involves sharing), by dividing it into two tiers, a low-premium one that will never pay a claim for healthy people and an astronomical-premium one for those who are already sick (like Senator McCain, though of course he's old enough for Medicare if he retires and has enough money to buy a fabulous Advantage supplemental), so that only the very rich will be able to buy it at all until it dies of those death spirals we keep hearing about.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Maybe this is what will turn Trump's base against him



I see from reporting by Mark Landler and Maggie Haberman that the Emperor has been looking presidential, or at least respectable, again, this time in secret aboard Air Force One on the way to Paris last week, where he was cheerfully schmoozing with the members of the crooked, failing, fakenews press, almost as if he didn't think they were overrated morons, haters and losers, part of the elite conspiracy against him. Why, he was practically like JFK, except for the witty and well-informed part, and the listening to others ("he was not anxious to speak, to convince," wrote Ben Bradlee in his 1975 Conversations with Kennedy; "he wanted to listen, to hear, and that he did most remarkably. Very seldom in my life have I been listened to so well"):

The president had taken off his tie but kept on his jacket — a wardrobe change that for him qualifies as casual Friday — and he was in a happy-hour frame of mind. Expansive, engaging, even at times ebullient, Mr. Trump held forth for an hour, addressing reporters by name and alighting on topics as different as Chinese history and Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.
It was a loose, good-humored side of Mr. Trump that the public rarely sees amid the fusillade of angry speeches and venomous tweets that have characterized the president’s first six months in the White House. And it came to light only because he retroactively put the session on the record, asking a reporter the next morning why she had not quoted his remarks.
Haberman herself was that reporter next morning, as we learn from Politico, and apparently this happens a fair amount of the time, where "nervous-looking staffers" try to keep his remarks in background and he overrules them and insists on being quoted.

I wonder why the public "rarely sees" how fond of journalists and anxious to please them Trump is.

Please check the comments. This post isn't finished adequately (h/t Jordan, who noticed), and it would be nice to make it an open thread so I can find out what I had in mind.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Poddy looks into the Kristol Ball of Counterfactuals

A-and socialism, kids! Just across the horizon! Well, maybe not quite. Image, late 19th–early 20th c., via Wikipedia.

Shorter John Podhoretz, "Hillary's White House would be no different from Trump's", New York Post, July 15 2017:
Trump hasn't done anything in office, other than nominating a Supreme Court justice and sending a raid to Syria, and Clinton wouldn't have been able to do anything either, with both Houses of Congress run by Republicans. Of course she would be more boring than Trump, since she is evil but not a sower of chaos, but we wouldn't know what we were missing. The Clinton family melodrama would resemble that of the Trumps in its ethical compromises, with Clinton Foundation donors hovering around the White House, which is identical to President Trump spending every weekend hovering around the golfers and hotel guests filling his personal coffers.
And the wealthiest appointments list in US history with a web of conflicts of interest that The New York Times and Pro Publica are as yet nowhere near finished covering? J-Pod is pretty clearly confusing the reality with the noise that Republicans would undoubtedly be accompanying a Clinton presidency with, as he sort of acknowledges:

For the record: Little Donald takes a Big Meeting

Elaine Tin Nyo, "Icebox Plums", 2009



And below the fold a possibly clearer method of telling the story of the June 9 meeting between Russian agents and the Trump campaign that I was trying to tell yesterday:

Saturday, July 15, 2017

There's the beef!

Drawing by Clay Bennett/Chattanooga Times via Democratic Underground.

This is not my idea—I got it from Paul Campos at LGM—but nobody seems to be picking up on it, including Campos, and it seems to me a bit of proof positive that Donald Trump Jr.'s NOTHINGBURGER meeting of June 9 2016 was, in fact, a very precise part of the sequence that led to the successful efforts of Russian intelligence services to get Big Donald elected president of the United States. From the story lobbyist Rinat Akhmetshin told AP about his participation in the meeting (via Vox):
During the meeting, Akhmetshin said Veselnitskaya brought with her a plastic folder with printed-out documents that detailed what she believed was the flow of illicit funds to the Democratic National Committee. Veselnitskaya presented the contents of the documents to the Trump associates and suggested that making the information public could help the Trump campaign, he said.
It's that there are some documents we all have access to that detail the flow of funds to the DNC, illicit or otherwise. They look like this,


and they're what you find if you put "contributions" into the search box at the WikiLeaks DNC emails dump posted July 22 2016.

In other words, what Akhmetshin is saying, wittingly or not, is that the information Natalya Veselnitskaya brought to Trump Tower that day consisted of printouts from the hack of the Democratic National Committee conducted by "Fancy Bear" between January 2015 and May 2016. That's what she and Akhmetshin were offering the Trump campaign in return for help, should Trump become president, in lifting the sanctions imposed on Russian oligarchs by the Magnitsky Act.

These particular emails weren't in point of fact anything the Trump campaign could use, because none of the contributions were illicit, which is why you don't hear much about them. Of course Kushner, Manafort, and Little Donald didn't know that yet. And they could easily have imagined that there might be other emails among the 20,000 that were useful in other ways. Like they could be curated into looking like proof that the DNC was improperly tipping the scales in Hillary Clinton's favor against candidate Bernie Sanders, as the later Podesta emails included the texts of Clinton's very highly paid Goldman Sachs talks, which could be made to look as if she was secretly promising to be their White House puppet, and so on. Something like that.

So this really was the meeting where the whole plan, quid and quo, took shape.

Cross-posted at No More Mister Nice Blog.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Brooks Looks at Li'l Don

Doesn't always take a conspiracy theory to connect the dots. Via openclipart.
Heredity or environment? Where does sociopathy come from? David Brooks ("Moral Vacuum in the House of Trump") lays out the case from Friedrich Drumpf the Rheinland draft-dodger and British Columbia brothelkeeper to Donald Trump, Jr., enthusing over an illegal in-kind campaign contribution from foreign nationals connected to an iffy government the way you might about a trip to the mountains—"I love it especially later in the summer"—and pictures it as a kind of evolutionary development in the moral tone:

I repeat this history because I don’t think moral obliviousness is built in a day. It takes generations to hammer ethical considerations out of a person’s mind and to replace them entirely with the ruthless logic of winning and losing; to take the normal human yearning to be good and replace it with a single-minded desire for material conquest; to take the normal human instinct for kindness and replace it with a law-of-the-jungle mentality.
It took a few generations of the House of Trump, in other words, to produce Donald Jr.
That's ridiculous, really. You'll never convince me that Li'l Donnie is in some sense more evil than old Fred, Woody Guthrie's "Old Man Trump" sucking up government money and profiteering off the blood and sacrifice of World War II veterans to create exploitative housing, whites only, in Queens:

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Two Katakana Poems


Ukiyo-e print by Utagawa Hiroshige, via.

Love Song

Let me tell you, my eyes are crowded.
Let's go out, I'm totally ok
Let me do it and I'm aware of what you are doing. Letting my eyes out.

Let me hurt and let's go out.



I'm Sorry I Do Not Care

I do not think that I am sure that you will not be able to take advantage of it.
I do not care, I do not care, I'm sorry I do not care.
Oooo I am an Illustrated Owon I Wanna Waiter I Wish I Was a Waiter I Wish I Was a Waiter I Wish I Wrath I Where I Want
I'm sorry I can not believe it. I'm sorry I do not care. I do not care.
You do not have to worry about it. I'm sorry I do not care. I do not care. I do not care.
You do not have to worry about it. Oh Oh Oh Oh Oh Oh I Wanna Waiter Oh Oh
I do not know how to get it. I do not know how to get it. I do not care if I do not know how to get it.
I'm sorry I can not believe it. I'm sorry I do not care. I do not care.



Smut has been getting some lovely results with hiragana vowels (traditional Japanese phonemic characters). These use katakana (traditional Japanese phonemic characters for transliterating foreign languages). 

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Repeal and repine

Updated early afternoon.

Drawing by Daryl Cagle via Juven Jacob.

Last week McConnell was in Kentucky telling the troops he might fail to put that health bill past his whole caucus—
“I’m in the position of a guy with a Rubik’s cube – trying to twist the dial in such a way to get at least 50 members of my conference who can agree to a version of repealing and replacing Obamcare,” McConnell told Kentucky voters at a town hall-style event on Thursday, according to NBC. “That is a very timely subject that I’m grappling with as we speak.”... 
“If my side is unable to agree on an adequate replacement, then some kind of action with regard to the private health insurance market must occur,” McConnell told constituents at a Rotary Club lunch on Thursday, according to the Associated Press.
“No action is not an alternative,” he added. “We’ve got the insurance markets imploding all over the country, including in this state.”
—which sounded to me like he'd already failed. And what he was offering as the next step, stabilizing "the insurance markets", sounded a lot like doing some of the things that need to be done to repair the ACA, to clean up some of the damage from Republican sabotage that has caused premiums in the individual marketplace to go up for the government that subsidizes them, and for those buyers who are too well off to receive subsidies. With no tax cuts, but no Medicaid devastation either. For which he would certainly be able to assemble a bipartisan majority in the Senate, even though he'd lose a serious number of Republicans.

It also sounded that way to Juliet Eilperin and Amy Goldstein at the Washington Post, and, as they noticed:

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Let them eat tacos

Sweet potato, sage, and fried egg tacos, via Serious Eats.

Shorter David Brooks, "How We Are Ruining America", New York Times, July 11 2017:
So I'm deeply concerned about how the college-educated class has arranged things so that their children retain their privileged status right from infancy, where their women have jobs that make it easier for them to breastfeed their babies.
Hahaha no I'm not, but (paragraph 6) Richard Reeves is, as his recent book Dream Hoarders explains: structural factors beginning with the municipal zoning that keeps the well-off segregated in the pleasant parts of Portland and San Francisco where the good schools and jobs are, and college admissions criteria that favor their kids.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Thanks, Rich, for cluing me in. Even if it was unconscious.

Starbursts for Rich Lowry! The original bombshell, Hedy Lamarr, via Nerdist (because this one was a lot smarter than Sarah Palin, you might be astonished to learn how much smarter.)

There was another bit of Rich Lowry/National Review idiocy I wanted to write about that has suddenly turned much funnier, or more serious, depending on how you look at it:
Meanwhile, the New York Times has another “bomb-shell” report about Russia, this time a meeting between a shady Russian operative and Donald Trump, Jr. and some others from the campaign.
Uh, Rich, are you entirely sure you want to dive into this?
Two quick points.
One, this jumped out at me given that we are about a year into this thing:
While President Trump has been dogged by revelations of undisclosed meetings between his associates and Russians, this episode at Trump Tower on June 9, 2016, is the first confirmed private meeting between a Russian national and members of Mr. Trump’s inner circle during the campaign. It is also the first time that his son Donald Trump Jr. is known to have been involved in such a meeting.
The first!
Oh, Rich! What's betraying him here is his authoritarianism. When he sees "first confirmed private meeting" he thinks that means "confirmed by the authorities". He thinks nobody really knows if any of the other ones took place at all—it's all beastly rumors! Maybe nobody met anybody at all!

But what the Times means is, in fact "confirmed to a Times reporter by one of the participants in the meeting":

Sunday, July 9, 2017

The Normalizing: Trump is just like LBJ

I really want Megyn Kelly to yell, "The Virgin Mary was white!" so I can say, well, not in Poland. Image of the Holy Virgin of Częstochowa from before 1714, in the collection of Radomysl Castle, via Wikipedia.

In 1966, Lyndon Johnson gave a speech about the Polish nation, then celebrating the millennium of the establishment of Christianity in the country:
Time and again she has endured suffering and sacrifice, only to recover and to rebuild. In all of this, her proud and resourceful people left an indelible mark on Western civilization.
According to Rich Lowry in the National Review, that's exactly the same as what Trump said on Wednesday:

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Bret Stephens Solves North Korea

Image via Sizzle.
Shorter Bret Stephens, "On North Korea, Trump's on the Right Track", July 7 2017:
All the boring and conventional thinkers are trying to get Trump to take a path in the middle between the usual two extreme options for dealing with North Korea's nuclear weapons program—more sanctions or military strikes. Because how can more sanctions accomplish what fewer sanctions have failed to accomplish? And military strikes are off the table because of something I think Michael O'Hanlon probably says at some point in this very long piece, though I haven't found it yet. What they really want him to do is split the difference and put more diplomacy into it. But all these people are seeing the problem wrong. We don't need to get rid of the nukes, we need to get rid of the regime. This always works. How do we change the North Korean regime? All we have to do is persuade the Chinese government to cut off fuel supplies to the country and put Kim Jong-un under permanent house arrest in Beijing when he comes over to complain. Then everybody in Pyongyang will breathe a sigh of relief and be normal and keep their nukes to themselves instead of using them to upset everybody and probably selling them to Iran and so on. How do we get the Chinese to do this? Sanctions on Chinese banks, of course, and frightening them by selling more arms to Taiwan. Which is exactly what Trump is doing, I think. Now all they need is a grand strategic reason for doing it, and looks like I just took care of that myself!
Swear to God:

Friday, July 7, 2017

Wry and Ginger

Via Freaking News.

Looks like nobody wants to have a drink with David Brooks after he finishes the column on Thursday afternoon ("The Golden Age of Bailing"):

All across America people are deciding on Monday that it would be really fantastic to go grab a drink with X on Thursday. But then when Thursday actually rolls around they realize it would actually be more fantastic to go home, flop on the bed and watch Carpool Karaoke videos.
Told him you were really swamped with work, did you? He knows better than to believe that. Who has work to do at 5:00 on a Thursday? Oh, really?

Bailing is one of the defining acts of the current moment because it stands at the nexus of so many larger trends: the ambiguity of modern social relationships, the fraying of commitments, what my friend Hayley Darden calls the ethic of flexibility ushered in by smartphone apps — not to mention the decline of civilization, the collapse of morality and the ruination of all we hold dear.
See, Hayley Darden (a Wheaton graduate, says Dr. Google, nonprofit social entrepreneur and changemaker, August wedding registered at Bed Bath and Beyond) had a drink with David Brooks, and she got a shoutout in paragraph 2! That could have been you! Too late now, sadly.

Bailing begins with a certain psychological malady, with a person who has an ephemeral enthusiasm for other people but a limited self-knowledge about his or her own future desires. In the abstract, the offer to meet up with an interesting person seems great, or at least marginally interesting. The people pleaser wants to make everybody happy so says yes to every invitation, with the unconscious knowledge that he can back out later.
He's handing you the insanity defense. The limited self-knowledge defense anyway. The regret for missing an appointment with this celebrated and fascinating and INFLUENTIAL man will probably poison your life forever. Don't worry about it. Really, his feelings aren't hurt at all. Don't give it a second thought. He's not brooding or anything. He's super-busy himself. In fact he's really glad you cancelled.

And it’s true that sometimes bailing doesn’t hurt. I’m delighted half the time when people bail on me. They’ve just given me an unexpected block of free time.
He's just worried about you. And your moral tone, you know:

There was a time, not long ago, when a social commitment was not regarded as a disposable Post-it note, when people took it as a matter of course that reliability is a core element of treating people well, that how you spend your time is how you spend your life, and that if you don’t flake on people who matter you have a chance to build deeper and better friendships and live in a better and more respectful way.
There is nothing worse than David Brooks taking a break from weighty observations on politics, morality, and social theory to his idea of lighthearted comment on contemporary manners. But it gives me an excuse to post this palate cleanser:



Driftglass finds something to say about this pathetic pool of reproachful tears (in his archives, from 12 years ago, when he had a similar feeling one Friday), but really, please.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Copernicus—Think of that!

Something very funky about that Krasinski Square setting, chosen, some thought, because it's a lot smaller than the Zamkowy Square where Obama addressed enraptured crowds in 2014, and easier to fill up with President Duda's bussed-in supporters. But looks a lot like a postmodern staging of a Wagner opera. Reuters photo via New York Daily News.

The Emperor discusses his plans for North Korea in response to its test of what seems to have been an ICBM that could carry a nuclear weapon to Alaska or Hawaii if they could make one small enough to fit it, which they apparently will one of these days if things go on the way they do:
“I have some pretty severe things we’re thinking about," Trump said at a news conference in Warsaw. "Doesn’t mean we’re going to do them. I don’t draw red lines."
"It’s a shame they’re behaving this way and they’re behaving in a very dangerous manner, and something will have to be done about it," Trump said.
He has no idea what he's doing because Mattis hasn't told him yet; perhaps the Secretary thought it would be more prudent to wait until after the Putin meeting, since, as we know, Trump can't be trusted to keep information to himself.

Also he thinks he doesn't draw red lines but he drew one just last week, the very same as the old Obama red line that he has mocked so much:

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

For the Record: Tweet-Length Sentences

"Let's make the world great again—together!" Danilovgrad billboard, January 2017, via Business Insider.





Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Annals of Derp: Brooks Stabs at an Answer, Answer Fights Back

The new Brooks backyard.
Happy Independence Day! Here's former New York Times columnist David Brooks to celebrate by swallowing 50 hot dogs' worth of American history in ten minutes, without once mentioning any of the things we traditionally think about on the Fourth of July, like self-evident truths, or letting facts be submitted to a candid world, or fireworks.  Instead he wants to know, "What's the Matter with Republicans?", in the context of the fact that as Trump and the Republican Party work to take away benefits from the American working class, Trump's base of 40% or so remains faithful to him and Republican candidates win special elections in Kansas, Montana, Georgia, and South Carolina:

What’s going on? Why do working-class conservatives seem to vote so often against their own economic interests?
Let's see, how can we think about this question without addressing any of the discussion that has taken place since Thomas Frank asked it 13 years ago? I know! Put it down to the good old frontier ethos!

Monday, July 3, 2017

Maybe there's a plural working class

Most of them would already be voting Democratic, of course, but maybe not all.

Ziga Vertov, Man with a Movie Camera, 1929, via Gegensmith.

Hate to keep picking at the scab of the 2016 election, but there's some really compelling new data out that isn't getting interpreted, I think, as usefully as it could be, in a survey for the Democracy Fund Voter Study Group that was briefly reported on NPR yesterday morning.

The big general thing they found, in a YouGov poll taken in the weeks just after the election, with a sample of voters they had studied just after the 2012 election, was about the nature of the Trump electorate, which was that—surprise!—it was completely incoherent, dividing into five categories that had pretty much nothing in common with each other other than their disapproval of Hillary Clinton:

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Postmodern Day Presidential

George Raymond Wagner, known as Gorgeous George, 1915-63, via Wrestlepedia.

So on Independence Day weekend 2017, in his sixth month in office, President Donald J. Trump broadcast this to the wider world:

The footage, if you need to know, is from the World Wrestling Entertainment network video of Wrestlemania 23, April 1 2007, which featured a Battle of the Billionaires between the champions (Bobby Lashley and Umaga respectively) of WWE executive Vincent McMahon (whose wife Linda is now head of the Small Business Administration) and then reality TV star Donald J. Trump, and originally showed Trump savaging McMahon, in a righteous rage, after McMahon's evil subterfuge of trying to replace the guest referee, Stone Cold Steve Austin, with his own son Shane.

After which Umaga won, of course, and McMahon had to submit to having his beautiful hair shaved off his head. Which you couldn't help appreciating the dramatic justice of, if you were seven years old and refused to believe that the entire event was scripted and staged. My son was eleven, but we still watched, because it was funny, or seemed funny at the time.

A much longer excerpt with audio is here, via Hollywood Reporter:

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Annals of Derp: The Infinite-Deductible Plan

Updated in tribute to the late Kenneth Arrow


Image from 25 Cognitive Biases.

Shorter Bret Stephens, "A Price for the G.O.P.'s Health Care Insanity", June 30 2017:
A colonoscopy will cost you $372 in Australia and $3,059 in the US, so obviously the problem in America is insurance, as Kenneth Arrow crisply explained in 1963, because nobody's going to shop around for the best price on their hip replacement if the Blue Cross is going to be paying for it anyway. Thus the Affordable Care Act is a colossal failure, so the Republicans should stop trying to repeal and replace it and instead double the limits on health savings accounts. I am not a crank.
No, that problem isn't insurance, because Australians don't shop around for the best deal on a colonoscopy either. They can't, because the government controls prices for medical services, as part of the operation of its publicly owned and funded Medicare system of universal health insurance, as do the other cheaper countries Stephens references, Spain, UK, and New Zealand. Thanks to these and other countries, we know a lot more about this now than Kenneth Arrow did in 1963, although Arrow knew a whole lot more than Stephens does, see below. Controlling health costs requires an active government effort, which is why the US is always dead last in doing it even as it provides mediocre care.

Update: Kenneth Arrow, who died last February, was the Nobel-winning economist who demonstrated from the model-theoretical standpoint in his 1963 paper that health care is a special case for which a laissez-faire market approach is "intolerable", and that government is obliged to step in, most likely acting as insurer, to make up for this. Krugman cited him in 2009 to warn against making the Obama plan too market-oriented. For Stephens to be quoting the work in defense of a system where everybody pays cash is like quoting Galileo to prove the Sun revolves around the Earth. I can't imagine what he thought he was accomplishing.

Stephens really does make that psychotic break from denouncing the death-spiraling Obamacare in the usual distorted terms to saying the Republicans should stop trying to do anything about it: