Is Trump Fascist?

There has been rather a lot of name-calling during this election cycle. One of the more recent things I’ve witness is a bunch of people calling Trump a fascist.

He’s also been described as Hitler by many, and, it really must be said, Hitler was not a fascist. (he was a socialist)

Mussolini was a fascist, and he was allied with Hitler. Trump apparently quotes Mussolini, but Melania quotes Michelle Obama, so I’m not sure it proves much.

So, for any intelligent discussion on the subject, we must start by defining our terms.

Socialism, fascism, and capitalism are economic systems.

Capitalism, properly, is characterised by what is known as the “free market” – I’m free to sell stuff, you’re free to buy (or not buy) my stuff. If I’m not selling what people want to buy, I am free to retool or remarket (“adjust to market forces”): if I do that, hopefully I can stay afloat. If I keep selling what nobody wants to buy, the consequences for that are my going out of business. If an exchange is not voluntary, then it has moved out of the realm of capitalism and into something else.

In socialism, the government (on behalf of “the people” in general) controls the “means of production” – basically business or industry. Profit, in the cases where it exists, become more tax revenue for the government to use, which is unlikely to benefit (improve, upgrade, modernise) the business or industry that is profited from. Losses are inflicted on society at large (= taxes go up), and it takes extreme losses (= same business or industry under capitalism would be out of business long before) for the government to do anything about it, and the results are generally worse than if the government had never been involved at all. Communism is basically extreme socialism.

Fascism was described as a “third position” (the first two being those already mentioned). Basically, government and business collude. In classical fascism, the government has the upper hand in the arrangement. The situation where government and business collude but business has the upper hand is described as “neo-fascism”.

Another term that has been used for fascism (and probably more so neo-fascism) is “crony capitalism”. It seems to be mostly this that people are complaining about when they say they don’t like capitalism. It’s not capitalism.

Socialism and classical fascism are pretty closely related.

With this as foundation, then, let’s take a brief look at what people mean when they talk about fascism.

I’m guessing it’s something like the authoritarianism, the heavy-handed law enforcement, the dictatorships, the xenophobia – these are not distinct to fascism. They are things that fascist governments have done. We also see that kind of thing from socialist governments, communist governments, republican governments, parliamentary democracies – I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a form of government that hasn’t exhibited these kinds of traits. The commonality is not fascism.

So is Trump a fascist?

I think it would be a fair assessment to say so. I think “neo-fascist” would be more accurate, but basically, yeah.

At the very very least, having his daughter (who has been delegated control of the Trump hotel chain) prominently in that meeting with the Japanese delegation (the Trump chain wanting to open hotels in Japan) seems a pretty big indicator.

Some of the people whose names are floating around for Trump’s Cabinet positions also seem to point in that direction, but….

One of the earliest names that came out, right after the election, was Forrest Lucas, an oil industry executive who was supposed to be Trump’s pick for Secretary of the Interior (overseeing national parks and suchlike, bye-bye ANWR). Wikipedia has now been updated to state that Trump says he’ll nominate Ryan Zinke to the position. Zinke’s a congressman who doesn’t have a stellar reputation with environmentalists – but he’s not Lucas. Zinke was announced on 13th December.

So I really want to be careful about jumping the gun on cabinet positions, and I can’t say I entirely believe that Trump’s going to nominate whoever he says today that he’s going to nominate, so I’m not really sure I want to say for definite about any Cabinet names until they’ve actually got the position.

So yes, let’s go with Trump is a fascist.

Can you smell a big “but…….” coming up?

Of course you can.

Allow me to call your attention to a meme that does the rounds fairly regularly. It’s something along the lines of “Politicians should be required to wear the names of their corporate sponsors like race car drivers do”.

Getting elected takes a bunch of money. Advertisements, campaign leaflets,, mailing, getting to places to campaign, hiring venues, it all adds up. And large cheques come from businesses, the larger the business the larger the potential income. So far, so not surprising. And if someone gives you a large amount of money, you’re not likely to ignore them if they ask for something.

But it doesn’t end with the campaign trail. When your new congressman gets to Congress, about all he can do is vote on floor votes. To do anything else, he has to pay his “party dues”. This is an amount of money the congressman has to pay his party to be allowed in the door to do anything else. He’ll be given an amount he has to raise, a list of people and businesses to get the money from, and the amount he’s expected to get from each place. Basically, you’ve elected a telemarketer. If I remember correctly, to get on a particular committee or to sponsor a bill costs extra.

If your congressman was already obliged to large donors from the campaign trail, he’s even more so now.

This is true for both Republicans and Democrats.

For more on this, listen to this interview with Patrick Barron from Defining The Machine at The Survival Podcast (introduction to the guest starts at about 9 minutes, and you can easily skip to the 10 minute mark if you want).

The problem does not end there.

You may have heard of the “revolving door” – depressing charts surface every so often – between government agencies and business.

So, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has had people working there who have previously worked for pharmaceutical companies and agro-chemical companies, and has had people working there who then go on to work for those same companies. And a smaller number of people who fit both categories.

You find the same with the CDC and drug companies.

the people who tell you things are safe and/or necessary are the people making the products (or have it on their radar that at a later stage in their career they might want to work there).

And then the person who signs off that there’s no conflict of interest in this situation, is the congressman who’s had to raise money from those companies.

Think it’s only the FDA and CDC and the various chemical industries?

Think the Affordable Care Act didn’t have input from the healthcare industry, for example?

If an industry begs for more regulation, perhaps a specific kind of regulation, it’s unlikely to be for the benefit of the environment or the consumer. The company could unilaterally enact the changes and brag about how good they are in their marketing materials. The legislation might pose a burden to the industry, but one they can account for and absorb. What it does do, though, is significantly increase the barrier of entry to anyone looking to start up a business in the industry. I think that car emissions tests, and cars designed to cheat them, fall under this.

This is what is so headdesk-y about people going on about Trump being fascist. It’s not that they’re wrong about Trump being fascist. It’s that the entire government is fascist, and you’re only complaining about one man. It has been for a long time, and you’re only complaining about it now.

After voting, a friend of mine put up a pretty long post about why he voted the way he did (without using names, though it was made very clear he did not vote for Trump). One of the lines was that he voted “Against fascism. (Really? REALLY?)”

I don’t doubt that he intended to vote against fascism. I don’t doubt that he believed he was voting against fascism. I believe he voted against one fascist. I don’t believe he voted for a non-fascist candidate.

So, what can we take away from all this?

Well, I hope you’re angry.

I hope you’re not angry at me for telling you this, I hope you’re angry that no-one’s explained this to you before. I hope you’re angry at the fascism in the government, but I hope you’re angry at more than just the President-elect. Because he is only a very small tip of a very large iceberg.

More than being angry, though, I hope you start noticing more the “foxes guarding the henhouse” kind of phenomenon. I want you to be suspicious when industry praises incoming legislation that will affect it (like the mogwai begging for food in that classic Christmas movie, Gremlins).

Assuming that we’re not going to be able to change things overnight, I hope that you will be careful when you use the word “fascist” or “fascism”, and I hope you find yourself able to gently rein in your friends who throw around the words in such a way that they become meaningless (something that has happened with the less technical, more colloquial use of the term for more than fifty years).

Plan B – Kind Of

TLF: I entitled this post “Plan B”, but there’s many for whom neither Trump nor Hillary were really Plan A. It seems that many were unhappy with the major party choices in this election cycle, and many decided to vote for the lesser of two evils. Some decided that Hillary was the lesser of two evils, and in some ways I’m sure they were right. Some decided that Trump was the lesser of two evils, and in other ways I’m sure they were right, too.

For those who really didn’t like either of them, the more impeachable of the two won the election.

My interviewee James has mentioned a little on his Facebook and on his blog, about the Electoral College and its job, and also impeachment as another way to remove Trump. I threw a bunch of questions his way about the more immediate of the two, the Electoral College. James posted a lot of information in an article he wrote that was published by The Federalist.

So, on with some questions.

TLF: If the Electoral College Republicans unify behind another Republican candidate, what do you see the fallout being? Some predict the violence we currently have, to escalate considerably. Is this a valid concern, if so is it worth the risk?

JH: If we allow ourselves to be cowed by the threat of violence from people who resist our republican system of government — which is built on the independence of the electoral college, whether people realize it or not — then we’ve already surrendered our republic to them, without even bothering to fight.

Just as Hillary supporters have been forced by our electoral college to accept the result that she will not be president despite winning the popular vote, Trump supporters must be prepared to face the possibility that the electoral college will not make him president despite his party winning the electoral vote.  Every call for Democrats to accept the election results applies equally to the Republicans.

It could get ugly anyway, because people are terrible and democracy is a hot mess. But that threat does not rewrite the Constitution. The electors have a duty to vote for the person they believe best suited to be the next President. If that’s Trump, fine. If not, then they’d best do their duty, and trust the rest of our constitutional order to handle the fallout.

TLF: The Electoral College is supposed to choose a candidate who can unify, both Trump and Hillary have been quite divisive. Is there any alternative figure who has a broad enough appeal that both Democrats and disaffected Republicans could agree to cope with and say “we’d rather have them, thank you” in their communication? (seems like this was a problem with the NeverTrump camp during the R Primaries, no unifying figure).

JH: As for who it would be, in the vanishingly unlikely chance the electoral college does do its job and vote independently: my money would be on Gov. Mike Pence. He’s nobody’s favorite, but he’s one of a small number of Republicans who is fairly popular in all wings of the party right now, and, since he was on Trump’s ticket as vice-president, he enjoys a lot more legitimacy than would, say, Paul Ryan.

TLF: I’ve heard Pence described as Trump’s “assassination insurance”, I’ve heard people talking like they like Pence less than Trump, if that can be believed.

JH: The Pence hatred, I think, really exposes that, for much of the Left, the thing that makes Donald Trump unqualified is not really his lying, his sexual abuse, his lack of respect for the rule of law, or his indulgence of racists. For surprisingly many leftists, that’s just a front: Trump’s true sin is that he might turn out to be a somewhat conservative president, and THAT is what makes him so “traumatic”. Unless you fear even mild social conservatism more than you fear lying, assaulting, demagoguery, Pence is clearly a better president, with much higher general approval ratings, and so saying Pence is worse exposes one’s true priorities. Which means all the upheaval and shock and rage would have happened if any Republican won, not just Trump.

That is an ominous sign for our country.

TLF: It seems like uncharted territory – is writing to an Elector likely to be well-received by them, or annoy them (are the general population’s votes supposed to do that job)?

JH: I can’t see that writing the electors would do any harm. They are public officials now, like it or not, and it’s not like some of them are sitting there saying, “I’m going to vote my conscience unless a constituent writes me to demand that I do.” I’m sure some will be annoyed, but those aren’t persuadable electors to begin with.

TLF: I’ve seen a petition linked a few times on my Facebook to try and get the Electors to vote for Hillary, which seems somewhat unlikely to succeed. Are there any credible efforts worth getting behind?

JH: There are no realistic efforts to get behind; the ball is entirely in their court now… which is sort of the point. Letters might help, and I don’t discourage them, but there probably aren’t enough persuadable electors to take Trump below 270.

That said, the least realistic option of all is asking the Republican electors to switch their votes to Clinton. I am not certain I can express the level of antipathy felt by Republicans for the Clintons, particularly among longtime activists who are veterans of the 1990s battles with President Bill. And most GOP electors are longtime political activists. I am confident that at least 270 GOP electors would sooner vote for Satan, Prince of Darkness, than vote for Hillary Clinton.

270 GOP electors would sooner vote to cut their own legs off with a rusty spoon than vote for Clinton.

They really dislike the Clintons.

TLF: (The conversation took  a little pause here as I tried to think how to round out the post. Letting you know, as the flow of conversation is a little interrupted here.)

Over the past week or so, we’ve seen many calls for the Republican electors to vote Hillary, even some electors receiving death threats if they vote for Trump ( and are the ones I’ve seen).

As you noted, the switch to Hillary isn’t going to happen (nor should it, the “religious beliefs should change” thing was horrifying – had a “your culture will adapt to service us” kind of ring to it).

We’ve also seen the article about the “Hamilton electors“, two Democratic electors who at least seem to get it that the Republican electors are not going to switch to Mrs Clinton, but maybe a compromise is possible.

Any thoughts on these?

JH: I am, of course, pleased that the true purpose of the electoral college has been given some attention in the past few weeks — perhaps the first time that purpose has been acknowledged by a large subset of the political elite in fifty years, maybe a hundred.

The manner in which this discussion has happened, however, is very unfortunate. Rather than encouraging each elector to carry out their duty to vote for the person that elector considers best qualified to serve as president — to vote their conscience — the overwhelming majority of commentators involved in the discussion are calling for the electors to vote for Hillary Clinton.

This undermines the entire conversation, for three reasons:

(1) It is bizarrely impractical and intensely polarizing. The notion of deliberately electing Clinton is personally repugnant to the Republican electors, who control a large majority of the electoral college. It will never happen. The odds of the electoral college doing what I want and voting their consciences to throw the election to the House is a one-in-a-million long shot. The odds they’ll elect Clinton, though, is more like a one-in-fifty-trillion shot. And the thousands of emails being sent to the electors demanding they vote for Clinton are drowning out the dozens of emails being sent to the electors asking that they seriously consider voting for a realistic candidate, like Pence or Romney.  When the electors do get our letters, they are already completely poisoned against the whole idea, because the deluge of (often extremely nasty) “vote for Clinton instead” letters have soured them.  But this is just a political concern, and so it is the least serious objection to the Left’s approach to this question.

(2) It is self-defeating. The core argument for the conscientious elector position is that the electors should vote for a candidate who is qualified to be president, and Donald Trump is not qualified to be president, because he is a lying, fraudulent, amoral, deeply bigoted, probably criminal, corrupt demagogue. But Mrs. Clinton is a lying, fraudulent, deeply bigoted, amoral, probably criminal, corrupt demagogue; she is a tad more polished about the lying, and she’s bigoted against different groups of people*, but there’s no chance she’s qualified for office. If you disagree with me — many left-wing commentators did — that’s fine, but remember that you have to convince 37 of 306 Republican electors to vote against Trump, and every one of them believes what I just said. Telling them to vote Trump down because he’s unqualified and then vote up Clinton instead is like telling Simon Cowell to reject Pitbull because he can’t sing and then vote up Rebecca Black instead.

(3) It completely misses the point. Most arguments for why Clinton should get the electoral vote instead of a far more palatable candidate like, say, Pence (one of the very few nationally-known politicians in America with a positive approval rating right now) revolve around the fact that Clinton won the popular vote.  But the whole point of the electoral college is to circumvent the will of the (small-d) democratic mob by ignoring the popular vote. The only reason we are having this conversation at all is because the Founding Fathers were so scared of popular-vote winners at the national level that they built an elaborate and unique system that was designed, originally, to discourage popular votes from happening at all, and to render those votes minimally relevant if they did. The idea that you would write to the constitutionally-mandated electors and instruct them to ignore the popular will of the voters in their states, not out of a sense of duty to the Constitution, but out of a meek subservience to the popular vote nationwide that completely subverts the Constitution… it completely blows my mind. It’s an argument that could only be made by people who do not actually value (or even understand) the electoral college and the Constitution, but are only using them to attain short-term political goals.

Which is why I joined the right wing in the first place.

Credit where it’s due: the so-called Hamilton Electors you mention are Democratic electors who are not pursuing a Clinton victory, but have resigned themselves to a well-qualified third option that would actually be acceptable — even attractive — to Republican electors. I fear they are largely being drowned out by their fellow pro-Clinton Democrats.  But this is an approach that could actually succeed, under ideal circumstances, and there’s still time, so… maybe they’ll pull something together.

This will definitely be the most attention anyone’s paid to the December 19th electoral college vote in living memory. So many people don’t even realize that the electoral college vote happens on an actual day with actual human beings.  If that’s all we get out of this calamitous election —  a broader awareness of how the college works and why it exists — maybe that’s a foundation we can build on in the future to roll back the tide of democracy.

*(FOOTNOTE: Clinton’s “basket of deplorables” and Trump’s “Mexico isn’t sending their best” comments were both taken a bit out of context, but showcase their respective bigotries pretty well nonetheless. The Left tends not to see Clinton’s bigotries because, generally speaking, the Left shares them. Same problem on the Right, of course.)

TLF: Well, we’ll see what happens on the 19th. I’ll see about throwing James some more questions following that result, so more than likely we’ll be talking about impeachment. I still need to finish up a couple of stories that got alluded to in an earlier post in the conversation (which got less immediate as the election and its aftermath got more immediate), and I have a mostly-written post on “Is Trump Fascist?” which I’m going to try and sneak in soon, I hope you’ll enjoy it, or at least find it interesting and informative.

‘Til next time!

Interview About 2016 US Presidential Elections, Part 3

TLF: Rounding out the conversation for Before The Election, here’s Part 3 of my interview with my friend James. If you haven’t, please go back and check out Part 1 and Part 2. Feel free to suggest questions, in the comments section below, or on Facebook, hopefully we can get to some after Black Tuesday (can I call it Black Tuesday?) is over and done with.

On to the questions!

Tell us more about leaving the Republican party. You weren’t just someone who votes R. You’ve said some about why you left, but it seems like a Big Deal that you decided to. And your route in politics has been a bit twisty since then, so tell us a bit about that.

JH: Well, it was a big deal for me.  I don’t know that it was for anyone else.  When I resigned from my very important office as party precinct vice-chair (literally the lowest-level office you can hold in the local Republican Party), all I got from the party was a, “Thanks for your service, sorry you’re leaving,” email.

I’ve written thousands and thousands of words now about why I left, but I think there’s one piece in particular that drives to the heart of it: a piece I wrote called “Conservatism is Dead (Long Live Conservatism)” which was actually published by The Federalist. The basic gist of the piece was: the Republican Party has traditionally been the party of the conservative movement.  But the conservative movement of Ronald Reagan has now divided into three factions (which I term the “populists,” the “grassroots,” and the “establishment”), that don’t agree with each other about *anything*, and so the conservative movement doesn’t exist anymore.  To me, that means the Republican Party is in its death throes.  It has no solid coalition, the coalition it aspires to have can’t build a 50%+1 national majority even if solidified, it lacks the leadership and (frankly) moral character to set a firm new course toward a new coalition, and really the only serious vision on offer within the GOP right now (besides the fantasies of the same establishment idiots who thought GOP voters wanted to vote for a third Bush) is Trumpism — and I want no part of Trumpism.

So, seeing no future for the Republican Party, and no future for myself with whatever comes out of its ashes, I left.  I’d known the Party was dying for months, but I had hoped somebody I supported could win the GOP’s last primary as a serious national party (Paul or Rubio or Cruz or Fiorina) so that my faction could control and appropriate the GOP’s infrastructure for whatever comes after the GOP.  But Trump won instead, and to the victor go the spoils.  It’s his party now.  With nothing left to fight for, I left.

Since then, I’ve been trying to promote the creation of serious alternative local opposition parties that can win elections. My vision is modeled after the early local oppositions of 1854-1858, which formed as the Whig Party died, and eventually merged together and became the Republican Party.

Actually, if you read up on the fall of the Whig Party and the formation of the Republican Party out of its ashes, an AWFUL LOT of it sounds familiar to the Republican of today.  For example, did you know that, in the election of 1856, there were three major parties? There were the Democrats, of course, who had remained united through all this (they wouldn’t collapse until 1860, as the shockwaves of realignment reached them), and there were the newly-formed Republicans, standing their first national election as a constitutional- and judicial-conservative party that opposed the spread of slavery… and there was the also-new American Party (aka the “Know-Nothing Party”), which ran on a platform of anti-immigration, anti-foreign religions (especially Catholicism), pro-protectionism, and, in general, making America great again.  Sound familiar?

So I’ve been doing what I can to replicate that. A few weeks ago, I joined the Solidarity Party of Minnesota and became its Secretary. The Solidarity Party is a social democratic party that attempts to unite the best parts of conservatism — subsidiarity, distributism constitutionalism, and human dignity — with the best parts of progressivism — solidarity with the poor, concern for the environment, and a peaceful foreign policy.

It’s hard work.  We’re currently trying to identify funding sources, candidates, and districts where we can plausibly run for state offices in 2018 and 2020.  The national party platform is a bit of a work in progress, in my opinion — too broad, and with several missteps both minor and grave — but, despite its flaws, I believe it’s the best programme of action you’re going to find in American politics today.  Their presidential candidate, Mike Maturen, is running a write-in campaign (officially registered in 27 states last I checked) and, of the declared candidates for president, I think Maturen is the best option.  If only he had a chance.  (Cracked profiled him the other day:

So, that’s where I’m at.  As I wrote back in May, when Trump clearly won our primary, forming a new party may not succeed, especially since my goal is to disembowel the Republican Party and take its place as a new major party — in the U.S.’s non-proportional, first-past-the-post, constituency-based electoral system, there is absolutely nothing more difficult than replacing a major party with a new one — but what the hell else am I going to do for the next four years?

Better this than sit around being sad like Paul Ryan.

TLF: I’ve seen some people on my Facebook feed asking how one could overlook the faults of Trump and vote for him, but not wanting any whiff of the faults of Hillary in the responses. Does Donald have anything going for him on his own merits?

JH: Trump is a man with no publicly discernible moral character or integrity. He would be a terrible leader, whom I am able to consider only because of the equal-but-opposite awfulness of his opponent, Clinton.  My fond hope is that, even if he wins on Election Day, our electoral college will do its actual job under the Constitution and choose somebody else because the whole reason the electors exist is to moderate the raging passions of the people and elect presidents who aren’t lawless demagogues. (Actually, I hope the same if Clinton wins.)  But that’s practically unimaginable, because electors are hand-picked for party loyalty, and half of Americans or something don’t even know what the electoral college is, so… aagh.  So many of our problems come from not following the Constitution, or (as here) following the letter of the Constitution while eviscerating its spirit for no good reason.  And I’m digressing.  Point is, I really, really don’t want Trump to be president. (We could impeach him, too. I’d be fine with that. That fraud in his past is cause enough.)

Take all that as my disclaimer, because there are merits to the Trump candidacy.

Trump’s supporters are right to be anxious about large-scale low-skill immigration, particularly when the immigration comes from areas of the world with cultures that are radically different from our own.  This is a complicated issue which is tough to boil down to a paragraph, so it must suffice to say that a country is more than an economy, and immigration advocates, diversity gurus, and economists all tend to forget that.  For a country’s laws, ideals (like free speech), cultural achievements (like our Constitution), moral values (like “women aren’t property”) to survive, we have to have a citizen-culture that overwhelmingly supports those things. Immigrants, of course, are an essential part of renewing the fabric of our culture (we are all immigrants in America!), but immigrants must be fully assimilated in order for this whole thing to work, and assimilation takes time, effort, money, and (above all) communities with the capacity to absorb the inflow.

Right now, America’s foreign-born population percentage is right near its historic high — it’s just shy of 14% today (and rising), and it hit 14% for the first and last time in 1890.  That’s great (my family came over in the 1890s), but it’s has also, historically, represented the limit of what our system is able to absorb before our assimilation mechanisms are overwhelmed and we begin to see serious racial, cultural classist, and economic tensions arise.

Trump’s supporters are also right to be concerned about the deep, deep divide between Trumpland and the world inhabited by our safely-cocooned wealthy elites, who run government, corporations, and the media and feel free to treat every white person outside that bubble with contempt and prejudice that would be called racist if the victims and perpetrators weren’t both white.  The elites, me included, haven’t recognized the hollowed-out cultural hellscape of transient jobs, collapsing families, imploding churches, growing government dependence, and widespread drug abuse as the travesty that it is.  It took until Trump was practically upon us for us to even notice that white American men of a certain age have suddenly seen their life expectancies sharply fall in the past few years, even as all other demographics have seen rises, because of drug abuse, suicide, and general despair.  They want to burn it all down, but not because they’re the Joker — it’s because they’re desperate. (And, I repeat: not all desperation is economic!)

So they picked Trump. Man, I wish they could have found a better tribune than Trump.  But the many unwritten rules of our elite class made it so it was impossible for anyone respectable to arise who could speak for these people and articulate their issues, so we forced them to find someone who holds all the rules, good and bad, in utter contempt.  In that way, I suppose we upper-middle-class people, Democrats and Republicans alike, were the root cause of Trump.

Our bad.

If you haven’t read Charles Murray’s Coming Apart, I think it’s essential reading for understanding what’s going on in U.S. politics today.  If you don’t have time for a book, this Cracked article is… well, it’s not bad, though obviously I prefer to approach the question of Trump with a bit more sociological rigor than Cracked is able to provide.

It’s hard to find other good things to say about the Trump movement, because Trump himself has never met a principle he can’t flip-flop on and lie about, and his supporters can’t seem to agree on the case for supporting him, either.  Also, so many of them are not downtrodden white people but just straight-up racist sexist misogynist xenophobes that it’s hard to sort out the slivers of good from the mountains of bad.  I’m sure there are other good things to say, and that they’ve been said by other, wiser men (like maybe Rod Dreher) somewhere along the line, but that’s all I’ve got for now.

TLF: You’ve been a staunch NeverTrumper since before he got the nomination. Is there anything that would induce you to change your position and give him your vote?

JH: Well, to be fair, I’ve never quite embraced #NeverTrump.  My friends Rachel Lu and Maggie Gallagher have done so with great vigor, and I respect where they stand. I have put a lot of energy into defending them and their consciences from the hordes of enraged Trump supporters (particularly Catholic Trump supporters) who want to excommunicate everyone who isn’t on board the #TrumpTrain.  I think they have a reasonable position that deserves grave consideration.  And so I’ve written a lot of #NeverTrump-themed stuff, and I stand by all of it.  But I’ve been careful not to endorse the position.

Because I also think the #NeverHillary people have some good arguments, and I’ve been considering voting for Trump to stop Hillary. This may not make any sense to many reasonable progressive people, who simply cannot see any comparison between Clinton and Trump… but look at what I’ve already told you about my belief in the written Constitution and fetal rights. Given those premises, it’s no wonder I see Clinton in apocalyptic terms.  I sometimes say things like, “If Hillary Clinton appoints a justice to the Supreme Court, the American Experiment is over,” and I really mean that. (Unpopular opinion I hold: Citizens United is the bulwark of our democracy.)  Given the stakes, I have felt compelled to at least consider voting for the only candidate who can stop her — even with all the awful things I loathe about that candidate.

Even now, I’m not quite sure what I’ll do.  I’ve narrowed it down to two options: (1) I might write in Mike Maturen, who is, after all, my party’s official nominee, and who, if he gets 1% of the statewide vote, gives our party access to public campaign financing, which would be a HUGE deal; or (2) I might cross out the name “Donald J. Trump” on my ballot and write in “Republican Slate of Electors,” indicating that I support the Republican electors for my home state of Minnesota better than the Democratic electors, but that I do not want them to cast their electoral college votes for Trump.

I’ll decide between those two choices probably on election night, while I’m in the voting booth.  I truly don’t know which option will win out.

In the end, though, I decided I just couldn’t cast a straightforward vote for Trump.  It’s tough to envision how that could change.  Clinton can’t be worse than she already is, so the argument for Trump to stop Clinton can’t get stronger.  And Trump himself is such a liar I can’t believe anything he says.

So I suppose I would need to see Trump do something genuinely good despite genuine, recognized personal risk to himself.  Like, if he leaped into traffic to heroically save a baby who had wandered in front of a bus on 5th Avenue, tragically losing his leg in the process… that might sway me that Trump is a better guy than I gave him credit for.  But that’s fantasy land.  It’s not going to happen, and so my vote isn’t going to change.

TLF: James did a couple of posts about voting options over on his blog, that’s worth a look. Also, I’ve learned a lot about the Electoral College from following Tara Ross, who I followed on Facebook for her Daily History posts, and is a big Electoral College defender.

We’ll aim to see you after the election, if the world still exists at that point :)

Interview About 2016 US Presidential Elections, Part 2

TLF: Continuing the conversation from the previous post, my guest James continues his discussion of the two main political parties in the US, and brings their presidential candidates into the discussion.

JH: Where was I?

Right.  Democrats.  Rule of Law.  The Democratic Party has spent the last several decades fighting against the idea that laws — especially the Constitution — actually mean what they say.  They have worked very hard to sell the idea that the Constitution is a “living document” which must be “reinterpreted” in light of “the realities of modern life,” with a meaning that actually changes from year to year.

But who is doing this “reinterpretation”?  Well… it turns out it isn’t the People assembling to pass amendments to the Constitution to change its text and meaning. Apparently it is too much to expect People in a “modern society” to govern themselves. Instead, Democrats hold that the Constitution can be reinterpreted by… Democrats!  When the Democratic Supreme Court justices invent a right to consensual sexual intercourse out of thin air (Lawrence v. Texas), the Democrats instantly declare it a fundamental human right, enshrine it in the platform, build new case law on it, and insist that no judge may ever overturn it.  This despite the fact that a right to consensual sex has no grounding in the text of the Constitution, is explicitly contradicted by both the entirety of American history and the Supreme Court’s own recent precedents (Bowers v. Hardwick), and loses every time it is put to a referendum for a vote.

Now, a right to consensual sex, or at least a government decision to not interfere with consensual sex, may well be a very good idea; I am keenly aware I’m talking to a libertarian, so I’m sure you feel that way.  But declaring it through judicial fiat is not an act of Law; it’s an act of Men.  Yet the Democrats celebrate this as a vindication of their theory.

But it doesn’t go both ways.  The same progressive legal theorists who champion this imaginary right to sexual autonomy are enraged when the Supreme Court upholds actual rights written in the Constitution.  People forget that the question the Court decided in the Citizens United case was, literally, “Do citizens have a constitutional right to join together to publish a video criticizing Hillary Clinton?”  The Obama Administration declared, openly, during oral arguments, that it was asserting a right to suppress the publication of political films, books, and pamphlets, and even to burn copies of books that are published in violation of government edict.  The conservative justices took one look at the First Amendment, laughed, and denied the government’s demand for censorship.  This simple and obvious application of a plainly written law has since become a rallying cry across the entire Left as a prime example of injustice.  This can only be because the Left is no longer even considering the actual Law of the Land in their legal decrees.  (Look at Hillary Clinton’s answers on judicial questions in the 2016 presidential debates, where she makes clear that she will pick judges based on the policy victories they will deliver, not their fealty to the Constitution.)

Nor is this limited to the judicial branch. In the past four years, we have watched the sitting President take an executive action on immigration that plainly violates the text of the “take care” clause of the Constitution, which he himself has conceded could not be taken by an American president bound by the Constitution, but only by a king.  We have watched the same president take the utterly unprecedented action of unilaterally suspending a portion of his own duly-passed signature health care law (the individual/employer mandates in the ACA), on his own authority, because he didn’t like how it was working.  There is no legal logic whatsoever that would prevent a President Trump from using the exact same made-up authority to suspend (say) any tax rates he doesn’t like.  I actually support a generous immigration policy, but the way President Obama implemented this policy is terrifying if you support the rule of law.

The incoming president, Mrs. Clinton, has shown, if anything, even more contempt for the law of the land, not just in her public life (she promises to further expand Pres. Obama’s lawless immigration action), but her private one (like that time she got caught by the FBI criminally mishandling classified information, because she’d set up a private system specifically to prevent American citizens from scrutinizing her activities via the Freedom of Information Act, and the FBI announced in a live press conference that she had committed every element of the crime but still somehow they weren’t prosecuting her).

It’s particularly impressive that all these extra-legal shenanigans took place after years of howls that President Bush, exercising the broad powers granted directly by the Constitution to prosecute a war during wartime as the president sees fit, was somehow “trampling on the Constitution.”

So, clearly, the Democrats are only interested in letting Democrats reinterpret their “living” Constitution.  The Constitution means whatever the Left wants it to mean at the moment.  The People?  They only enter into it when the Left considers it convenient, and only to the extent that the Left considers convenient — the Supreme Court in Obergefell v. Hodges gladly note the fact that same-sex marriage now has majority support (which it does) as justification for their manufacturing a baffling new right in defiance of centuries of law and precedent, but fail to require its supporters to reach the threshold set by the Constitution: two-thirds of Congress plus convincing majorities in three-quarters of the 50 states.

In Canada, this is called the “living tree” doctrine, based on a court case where a judge called it that, and explicitly declared that the Constitution was to be interpreted according to “progressive” principles, thus granting the Left total control of the Canadian political system.  “Living tree” is certainly a more poetic term than “living constitutionalism,” and Canadian case law has at least bothered to clearly announce it, rather than just silently usurp the Canadian constitution.  “Living tree” is also, arguably, justified by the Canadian Constitution itself, which has a lot of loopholes ripe for judicial exploitation.

For example — and this is a true story — one of my favorite hobbies lately has been talking to fellow politically active Americans and saying, “Hey, want to hear a funny joke?”

“Sure!” they say.

“Read aloud Section 1 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” I reply. And they do, and then they laugh and laugh and laugh. Works on both Democrats and Republicans. As bad as things are in the States for the rule of law, we don’t have it half as bad as the Canadians governed by Section 1 of the Charter.

So, I have stayed loyal to the Republicans because the alternative is the total disintegration of our body of laws, which are already badly eroded and have felt for some time like they’re approaching the breaking point.

And then Democrats are alarmed that Mr. Trump has emerged? Trump’s a lawless thug who wants to “reinterpret” the Constitution to suit his goals. Sound familiar?  One example: Trump wants to jail journalists who criticize him. But, as we’ve discussed, Hillary Clinton doesn’t think it should be legal to make films critical of her. Trump’s theory of the Constitution is no different from the Democrats’. The only difference is the identity groups he favors. The Democrats created Trump.

Trump is unacceptable to me because he’s just as bad as the Democrats on this.  The Republicans have always been an imperfect but earnest home for the Rule of Law.  Now both parties have given up on the law. Here in 2016, they’re just competing to see who gets to be dictator for the next few years.  That’s what finally pushed me out of the GOP.

I suppose I should also note that it has always struck me as self-evident that abortion is murder.  My belief in religion has waxed and waned over the years (like most adolescents, I found Bertrand Russell’s arguments against theism incredibly compelling), but my certainty that an unborn child has the same rights as anybody else has never wavered.  There are arguments on both sides of the question, of course, and I have learned them all over the years.  But, truthfully, I don’t think there’s a person alive who doesn’t know, deep down, that the fetus is a human being, and that directly intended abortion is murder. The arguments for killing the unborn are no more sincere than the unconvincing arguments for enslaving Black people two centuries ago.

When you genuinely believe that 1 million infants are being murdered in their mothers’ wombs, every single year for forty years, big issues like tax rates and health care seem like pretty small potatoes by comparison.  Every political effort must be extended toward protecting unborn persons, both in law and in practice.  No other issue or constellation of issues really comes close.

Democrats support a right to abortion with no restrictions whatsoever throughout all nine months of pregnancy.  They believe all these abortions should be funded by taxpayers, as their platform makes clear.  They have spent decades now fighting for infanticide in the birth canal.  Their most “progressive” ethicists argue for infanticide for premature infants (which the Republicans had to fight with the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act) and, at times, for perfectly healthy infants born healthy.

Republicans, by contrast, do not generally practice what their platform preaches — the proper recognition of fetal rights from conception to cradle (and cradle to grave).  They are generally too cowardly to fight for unborn rights when it comes to the hard cases of rape and incest.  But they are the best hope the unborn have.  So I have stubbornly stuck with the Republicans, because what the hell else am I going to do?

But Trump represented a breaking point.  He doesn’t support the rule of law.  And, despite his claim to have suddenly become pro-life, I think he’s pro-choice, and I think he stands a good chance of doing even more damage to unborn rights than Mrs. Clinton. So, if that’s the Republican Party now, I can’t be a part of it anymore.

TLF: More to come on leaving the Republican Party, Trump’s good points, NeverTrump and NeverHillary.

Interview About 2016 US Presidential Elections, Part 1

The US Presidential election is nearly here, and as my last bunch of posts have been about politics, I thought it was something that I ought to cover. Election time isn’t something I enjoy, with months of mudslinging, name-calling, and so on. A lack of charity, understanding, kindness, respect (and I reserve the right to be a bit of a hypocrite during this conversation). Opinions on American politics from those in other countries who perhaps aren’t as informed as they perhaps ought to be to be opining like that. I used to be like that, and since becoming more informed, I’ve tended to keep my mouth shut.

As much as I generally dislike Facebook politics, there is someone whose political posts I actually enjoy reading. Very well-informed, not inflammatory. I even asked to be in the group of his friends that gets to see all his political posts. So I have invited my friend James to have a conversation with me about American politics, and particularly issues around the 2016 Presidential election. (For the rest of the post, I’m in italics, James is in the regular font.)

TLF: So, James, please fill us in on your political background. You’ve been quite active in your party? A lot of my English friends have expressed their distaste for the current Republican nominee. But I think many of them would be dubious about a Republican in a normal year. What is it about the Republicans that had you committed to them for so long?

JH: Well, to be glib, I’ve been committed to the Republicans because the alternative is the Democrats!  Welcome to the era of Negative Partisanship!

I am a strong believer in the rule of law rather than the rule of men.  In the United States, that fundamentally means that I believe the written Constitution must be obeyed in order for the government to maintain legitimacy.  (The U.K., which has no written constitution, does not grapple with this question in quite the same way we do.)  I know that it is often very difficult to submit to the rule of law, especially when you wield political power.  When you really, really, really think there ought to be a law about something, it is profoundly tempting to reinterpret the Constitution to allow it (or mandate it).  This is human nature.

For example, during World War II, the United States famously interned thousands of Japanese-Americans at internment camps.  While the president asserted that he was authorized to do this by unwritten, vaguely implied emergency powers in the Constitution, it quite clearly trampled on any number of actual rights that were actually written in the Constitution — the right to procedural due process, the right to a trial, the right against searches and seizure, their Fifteenth Amendment rights, their Thirteenth Amendment rights, and probably a dozen others.  This was awful.

What’s even more awful is that, in Korematsu v. United States (1944), the Supreme Court, driven by fear and misguided patriotism, ignored their responsibility to the Constitution and affirmed the gutting of Japanese rights.  In order to do this, they had to engage in a great deal of insane troll logic, because their conclusion ran absolutely against the clear text of the Constitution to which they had sworn an oath.  (Much of that insane troll logic, incidentally, continues to influence our judicial system today.)  This is a perfect example of the Rule of Men overtaking the Rule of Law.  I understand why they did it: men are weak and often fail to live up to their ideals.  But I abhor what they did, and one of my most important priorities is defending the Constitution and our political institutions against further subversions of the rule of law.

Korematsu is an especially ugly example, but there are plenty of other cases where lawmakers or judges ignored governing law in order to implement their own policy preferences.  Sometimes those preferences are good, sometimes they’re bad.  Sometimes the issue is important, sometimes not. Yet it is always wrong to twist the Constitution to fit your preferences.

In Griswold v. Connecticut (1965), the Supreme Court struck down an incredibly silly state law against contraceptives.  I agree with the policy outcome — laws against contraception are dumb — but the state clearly had every right under the Constitution to have that dumb law.  It was for the people of Connecticut to change, not nine unelected judges who imagine themselves kings. That’s what the Constitution prescribes. (If you want judges to decide these questions rather than the People, then pass an amendment. I may even support you.)  My favorite Supreme Court opinion of all time is Justice Potter Stewart’s dissent in that case.  He spends a paragraph insulting the law, then says, “But the Constitution doesn’t prevent it.  Sorry, guys.”  (It’s a page long.  Look it up.) [here it is]  The policy outcome was great: the anti-contraceptive law was eliminated and that was good.  The importance was low — nobody got sent to an internment camp over it.  But it was a decision of men, not of the law.  The same fundamental logic that drove Griswold — silly old lovable Griswold — also drove all the most nightmarish Supreme Court decisions of all time.  Korematsu.  Dred Scott.  Roe v. Wade.  Lochner.  Plessy.  And it’s not just the judicial branch: it was the President who interned those Japanese.  It was the President who ordered the unconstitutional evacuation of Indian lands that led to the Trail of Tears.  It was Congress that passed the abhorrent Alien and Sedition Acts.

Once you abandon the law, you abandon all the protections the law provides against the darkness of human nature.  It infects every level.  You HAVE to stick to the law.  The written-down, honest-to-God, this-is-the-compact-we-all-agreed-to law.

There’s a beautiful passage in Robert Bolt’s *A Man For All Seasons* (about St. Thomas More) that has gradually become the bedrock of my whole approach to politics.  I cannot resist reprinting it in full:

Alice More: Arrest him!

Sir Thomas More: Why, what has he done?

Margaret More: He’s bad!

More: There is no law against that.

Will Roper: There is! God’s law!

More: Then God can arrest him.

Alice: While you talk, he’s gone!

More: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law!

Roper: So now you’d give the Devil benefit of law!

More: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?

Roper: I’d cut down every law in England to do that!

More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned ’round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast– man’s laws, not God’s– and if you cut them down—and you’re just the man to do it—do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law for my own safety’s sake!

Okay, so what’s any of this have to do with the Republicans?

The Republican Party is, let’s face it, terrible at following the Constitution.  Like all men, ruled by passions, they find all sorts of excuses to ignore it when, say, a Muslim wants to build a mosque.  And you could list ways the GOP and its voters subvert the Constitution from now until next Wednesday without breaking a sweat.  They talk a good game about the rule of law and originalism and textualism and the Constitution and all that, but then they’re all, “No, it’s actually totes okay to torture these prisoners in violation of statute because, see, it’s not really torture.”  Full disclosure: I’m no better than the average human; I’ve done this. Hell, Justice Scalia did this every time he had a drug case.  The whole edifice of his towering intellectual defense of rule-of-law interpretations of the Constitution went out the window in Employment Division v. Smith and easily half a dozen others.

However, at least they hold the rule of law up as an ideal, and occasionally achieve it.  The Democrats went to war with the very *idea* of the rule of law decades ago, and never let up.

TLF: I remember reading about the Japanese-American internment in George Takei’s autobiography.

After thinking about that Rule Of Law thing for a few days, I believe it was an experience of this that propelled me in the libertarian/anarchist direction. I think it was even part of what had earlier made me not like America’s two main parties, before I really had a chance to like either of them. all being well, we’ll get into those on another day.

JH: I want to hear both stories.

Next post: James talks more about rule of law, America’s two main parties, and bring things up to current events. Please check out James’s blog, I’d suggest starting just after the primaries and working forward to the most recent entry, some of that will be spoilers for the coming posts, so… click your conscience!


It’s been a while since my last post. I had to concentrate on job-hunting, job-applying, job-getting, and job-doing, and I haven’t been left with a great deal of time. I had more ideas to continue the series as I left it, but I’m going to take a break from that for the moment. I am not going to manage my old post-a-day format, but I have a discussion lined up that will probably turn in to a few posts. But I really wanted to get this concept out into the wild first.

Let’s start with a video.

I’m not sure about some of the wording, it says you “cannot” do this in a few places, and it’s stuff people (sadly) do all the time, but I agree that you cannot /in that framework/, and I agree that that framework is the most ethical, the most live-and-let-live, the least stomping on other peoples’ toes, shows the most respect for their autonomy and choices.

Following on from that, then, I’d like to talk a little about law.

I once heard an interview with a guy who had been a law student, and at one point he talked about a principle that his professor had said.

I don’t remember the exact words, but it was along the lines of “don’t make a law you’re not willing to kill for”.


So there was this guy selling cigarettes on the streets of New York. Now, New York has a really high tax, so I think the guy was buying them out-of-state where they were cheaper. Not much different from Brits getting cigarettes and alcohol cheap from the Continent, and bringing them back (the famous “booze cruise”).

In the grand scheme of things, on the scale of “naughtiness of criminal activities”, surely this one doesn’t rate very high. But, New York cops shot him dead. It might not be a capital offense on the books, ended up being a capital offense for him.

The principle doesn’t quite end there, though. Innocent people are often accused and arrested for things. It could easily be that someone entirely innocent becomes the victim of the Death Penalty Sweepstakes.

There has been a notion in the public consciousness for a long time, that if it’s fun, there should be a law against it. I don’t think that many people actually want there to be such laws, it’s more a reflection of extant and historic laws: Prohibition, drug laws, and so on.

Soundtrack for that notion.

It’s easy making laws if your outlook is “that’s good, everyone should have it” and “that’s bad, nobody should do it”. It’s a different prospect entirely if your outlook is “for it to be a law, it has to be so important that it’s worth killing innocent people for”.

So, I remember hearing about old laws in England (possibly off the books by now), like the king who banned mince pies, or the law against playing football (“soccer” for you foreign heathens) on Christmas day. Worth killing people for?

Plenty of sites listing some (usually local) silly laws in the US. for example. Worth killing people for bathing two babies in the same tub at the same time? For peeling an orange in your hotel room?

Stupid laws like this undermine the validity of more serious laws.

Health insurance may well be a good thing (though in the US it seemed to have already inflated the cost of healthcare before it became mandatory), but good enough that those who choose to go without should suffer violence (economic or physical) at the hands of the state? Not a chance.

“Ignorance of the law is no excuse” is only valid if one can reasonably expect someone to know all the laws. There are laws, statutes, codes and so on passed all the time, so even lawyers have to get assistance from other lawyers with different areas of expertise. To me, this is not “playing fair” with the general public.

The precept “for it to be a law, it has to be so important that it’s worth killing innocent people for” scales up to an international level.

I might, for example, agree with you that Assad and Hussein (or any other country’s leader, for that matter), shouldn’t be allowed to kill a bunch of their citizens.

However, has enforcement of this view been worth the virtual elimination of ancient Christian communities in Iraq, the likelihood of the same happening in Syria, all the other deaths, the destruction of historic sites, the other examples of cultural destruction (the museum in Iraq, for example), all those civilians caught in the crossfire?

A policy of non-intervention espoused by true subscribers to libertarian thinking, and suggested in the Philosophy Of Liberty video above, sound really really good right now.

I am not saying that there should be no laws at all (“anarchy” does not mean the absence of rules, just the absence of rulers), but I think we ought to be a lot more discerning about what we accept as laws. This fly wants as little spiderweb in his life as he can possibly get.

But What About…? Part 4b: Healthcare Introduction, Part 2

In Healthcare Introduction, Part 1 yesterday, I started talking about the doctor/patient relationship, and how third-party decision makers (government, insurance companies) shift the medics’ accountability from you to them, shifts the decision-making ability from you to them, and I touched on how this drives the price up. I ended the post introducing another third party, how things become more complicated when an employer gets in on the mix.

When an employee gets paid, that money is the employee’s, and the employer has no reasonable right to any say in how the employee spends the money. Prior to that, there’s things the employer must pay for. Various insurances, Social Security. Various storms flew up with some employers that provided health insurance, when they were suddenly forced to pay for some coverage they found to be morally dubious.

And there’s the distinction. Some have argued that it’s the employees’ health insurance, and the employer should butt out of it. But as the employer is actually paying, they are morally complicit. This didn’t seem to be a big issue until the government stepped in with a gun to the employers’ head, saying “You don’t get a conscience! You must do these things!” On the other hand, if there are options you would choose but your employer won’t, that would obviously be frustrating.

Interestingly, there’s a conversity we haven’t seen much of: if an employer provides insurance that the employee considers morally dubious. I think there’s reasons for this getting less coverage, I also suspect there’s many who suck it up and live with it so as to not bite the hand that feeds them. “It’s better than nothing, there’s good in it that I don’t want them to take away.” Still, the same enforced moral complicity that I mentioned above exists here.

Another problem with third parties choosing what treatments you can and cannot have, is the value judgments. Does someone even deserve treatment. It’s understandable (but heartless) not to want to treat a smoker for lung cancer, but it sucks if you’re the smoker and you’ve paid your NHS taxes/US insurance. Or refusal to do a proper examination on a fat person until they’ve lost weight (a scientifically dubious demand in itself).
Patient: My knee’s shot, I think I might need a joint replacement
Doctor: Lose weight first
P: How?
D: Exercise!
P: On a joint that needs to be replaced?

There are kinds of treatments that the NHS won’t cover, rightly or wrongly. Even rightly, it robs patients of say and choice. To be free, one must be free to make mistakes. Grown-ups capable of making their own decisions should be treated like grown-ups capable of making their own decisions.

In conclusion, the greatest moral freedom, the greatest choices, the lowest cost, and the best care, come when you cut out all the middle men.

Although, a word of caution from the great philosopher Malcolm Reynolds: “About 50% of the human race is middle men, and they don’t take kindly to being eliminated.”

But What About…? Part 4a: Healthcare Introduction, Part 1

Having lived in England for most of my life, and America for a significant number of years, I have had some experience of the different medical systems, some good and some bad. Thus, this subject of healthcare is somewhat personal to me, and it’s easy to get wrapped up in it. I might be a bit more opinionated than usual. There’s a chance your reactions will be more charged than usual (I have seen many heated posts on my Facebook feed when someone dares threaten the sacred cow that is the NHS). Please grant me some extra patience, then, as we discuss this topic.

The US and UK healthcare systems are, in some ways, vastly different. In other ways, they are very similar. Some of the ways they are similar aren’t very good at all. I’ll talk about these some over a few posts.

A pitfall of both the NHS system in the UK, and the insurance system in the US, is it disrupts the business/customer aspect of the doctor/patient relationship. Broadly speaking, the business answers to the one who pays the bills, and if you’re not paying the bills directly, then your say is greatly reduced.

Take birth, for instance. You might not like the hospital version of birth (put you on a clock, monitor so you can’t move like you need to, drugs to speed you up, drugs to stop the pain, highly unscientific breaking of waters, you’re taking too long so cut the baby out). My experience of hospitals in both countries, were that they tended to be like this.

The World Health Organisation put out literature saying that a caesarean rate of more than 10-15% was not medically necessary. I think the 15% was a concession, I seem to recall another document being more hardline with 10%. I checked up on the UK hospitals we used, they were higher than that.

In the NHS, and in the US insurance system, there are people who decide what kinds of treatments they will pay for. Insurance in the US might very well not cover safer, cheaper, maternity alternatives. VBAC is even worse. The NHS at least on paper supports homebirth, though the vibes we got from some of the midwives we were dealing with led us to not trust them.

In neither country are the hospitals and medical staff accountable to you for an unnecaesarean.

I find the “cascade of interventions”-style treatment unethical. Profitable for surgeons and drug companies, yes, ethical, no. I have no desire to fund or support it. If you like it and want to use it, that’s your choice to make. I don’t want to force what I think is best onto you.

But statism doesn’t return the favour. In the UK, I must fund the system I don’t like, and if I want something better, I pay for that on top.

In the US, the governmental interference (“Affordable Care Act”) has caused all sorts of problems. People required to have some coverages they don’t need or want.

That’s not to say there aren’t people who have been helped. There are those, for example, with pre-existing conditions that can get coverage, who couldn’t get it before. The underlying issue of just why a doctor’s visit and a few tests costed (and still costs) an arm and a leg, has been entirely undealt with. Insurance companies decide what they will or will not pay for, and hospitals charge the insurance companies more because they can afford it.

The waters are further muddied when employers are brought into the mix.

I know I’m kind of cutting off in mid-stream here, but come back tomorrow for more!

But What About…? Part 3b: The Coal Industry, Part 2

If you haven’t read The Coal Industry, Part 1, you should go do that. I’m not sure that this post will make a lot of sense without it.

Hindsight is 50/50. The perspective about a decision at the time it is made, and the perspective from later on, are obviously different. I think that there are aspects of an “at the time” viewpoint that we lose when looking at things after the fact. And I think there’s likely to still be quite a lot that is hidden from either perspective. So things are a lot less clear than the notion “hindsight is 20/20″ would imply.

Yesterday, I talked about a bad situation that government had gotten itself into. It bought the coal industry in the late ’40s, and by the ’80s the industry was no longer viable. The government seemed to be in a lose-lose situation, and chose a “lose” course of action

Could this have turned into a win?

I think so. But given my “hindsight” paragraph above, I’m not saying “they should have done this, they should have done that”. I’m not second-guessing those who made a difficult decision. I’m not even saying that anything I suggest would have been a guaranteed success. I’m giving suggestions that would give a chance of a win. That might not be good enough for some, but it’s a lot better than the guaranteed lose that we got, or the guaranteed lose we’d have had if the government propped up the dying industry.


So the mines were losing money. Land as such has value, but that fact didn’t mitigate the money suck. Selling the land off could recoup some money, but let’s get more risky.

1. Gift the land and facilities to those who worked on-site.

Historically, management and workers had not got on very well. Make everyone (at least those that want to) equal partners. Anything they choose to do going forward, they all have the same vested interest. Anyone who doesn’t want to join in, doesn’t have to.

While the government wouldn’t get money from giving away the property like they would if they sold it, it also would stop being a big money-sink.

2. Exempt the property and new owners from tax, for a time.

How much time? 5 or 10 years, somewhere in that range. Should give them time to get something going.

Like the water analogy from the other day, while the miners may have been paying taxes, they were also paid by taxes, so a net loss on the system. Initial taxing would be taking money that isn’t there. So this would be a better situation for the government (no loss), and for the new owners (the former employees, less drain while setting something up).


I called that a radical start, and it is. The miners would have a lot of responsibility thrust on their shoulders, but they wouldn’t have been shafted.

Continuing business-as-usual coal mining would have been futile, so I hinted that they might want to set up something else. But what? I have some ideas, it’s not an exhaustive list. I think if miners and managers had control and had sat round the table and brainstormed ideas, they could have come up with something even better. I don’t believe for a minute that there weren’t some creative and entrepreneurial minds that could have been put to good use. So, some ideas:

1. A museum

Other kinds of mines have been turned into museums. Sygun Copper Mine in Wales and Geevor Tin Mine in Cornwall are two off the top of my head. A coal mining museum could have become a profitable business, too.

Now, would a museum on its own be enough to sustain that many workers? I suspect not, but other avenues of income could of course be pursued.

2. Educational institute

Presumably, all these people working in the mine knew a thing or two about mining. What better way to teach mining and related topics, than with a hands-on course? Have some classroom subjects, sure, go into the mine for some hands-on stuff. Observe the engineering in action. Practical coursework. You could get a world-class institution out of this.

3. Storage facility

These days, an abandoned mine or missile silo might be used for secure off-site data backup and storage. Refit a tunnel to be climate-controlled. This might be a case of hindsight, but looking this sort of thing up, I found this was going on in the days of storing reels of tape.

Which leads to me thinking, if the coal industry hadn’t been on life-support as long as it had, perhaps more TV shows could have been saved from the mass junking that the BBC (and the various ITV stations) did. May have only caught the tail end of it (the BBC stopped in 1978), but ooh, what could have been.

4. Music

This may seem a bit out of left field, but there were coal mines with brass bands (see Brassed Off). I have Welsh mines linked with Welsh male voice choirs, in my brain. Perhaps the stereotype is inaccurate, perhaps there’s some truth there. Concerts and CDs could have been another income stream (you could function-stack it with the museum idea).

5. Authentic sound effects

Record the ambient noise in a mine. Perhaps not the actual blasting close up, but equipment running, miners talking. This kind of sound effect gets used in TV and film. Could royalty yourself a bit of money by recording a bunch of sounds and making them available. Sound effects CDs of all varieties are sold. So why not add this one to the list?

6. TV/movie sets

May be an occasional use, but hey, if you want tunnels, we got the finest! Black “alien planet” terrain, we got that, too! (There are times when Doctor Who could just move in, ha ha.) There are places that get an income from this sort of thing.

7. TV show

Related to 6, collate every anecdote and humorous situation you can from all the people who work there. Pitch it to ITV (at this point, it’s not going to be the Establishment BBC, is it?). And it function-stacks perfectly with 5 and 6.


There was a great deal of untapped potential in the situation. I think that “in the box” thinking is difficult to break out of, and even if there was some entrepreneurial genius working deep in the pit, that genius would have faced enormous hurdles to influence any decision makers. Not that I think things would necessarily have been better in a company, management and boards can be just as entrenched in a mindset (so can workers, for that matter). It would take some humility, “Look, guys, the writing’s on the wall for this industry, can any of you think of anything we can do to get some cash coming in?” The suggestion of giving the mine to those who worked in/at it is the best that I could think of to maximise the chance of profitable brainstorming.

Had the government not taken control of the coal industry, I believe that layoffs and closures would have happened over a much longer period of time, which would have softened the impact on the “safety net” (social security). The pit closures started somewhere between 1981 and 1984 (I suspect earlier in the time frame), full privatisation happened in 1994. The last deep coal pit closed in 2015, open cast mining is still going on. Unemployment rose above 10% in 1980, and dipped below that in 1987 (source for unemployment figures, source for other dates).

More conventional methods could have been employed, like diverting funding to retrain the workers, which only works if there’s a job to go into: some places the coal industry was keeping everything else afloat.

If some of the above worked, plus whatever the mine workers came up with, then perhaps government interference would have brought about a better result for everybody than if they’d stayed out of it in the first place.

The way things happened, though, I don’t think the case could be made for that at all.

Come back next week for something different.

But What About…? Part 3a: The Coal Industry, Part 1

I thought long and hard about what topic to pick to kick this series off with. One of the “usual suspects” that always get dragged up when talking about taxes, like healthcare, police, education, roads, state-provided post-retirement payouts? Or perhaps something that hides behind these things, like warfare or the surveillance state?

I decided to start on a different tack. Something vaguely remembered from childhood, and now better remembered from movies.

In 1947, the coal industry was commandeered by the British government. At the time, it was an important resource.

By the 1980s, the industry was in trouble. Coal wasn’t as important a resource as it once was. Coal from abroad was cheaper than British coal (in part, the true cost of the coal was obscured through subsidies). Far from being a contributor to the economy, it became a drain.

The government of the time, then, was in a difficult position: continue to prop up a dying industry at the expense of all the other taxpayers, or cut them loose and put the workers, and the local economies built around them, in severe jeopardy?

A theme of this series is “Should the government be doing that?” In this case, should the government really be running the entire coal industry?

I think it is obvious that my opinion is “no, they shouldn’t”.

But consider, if the earlier government hadn’t taken control of the industry, the later one wouldn’t have been saddled with the problem. If the industry had been exposed to market forces, then it would have had to react earlier to the changing conditions. Would there still have been closures and layoffs? Most likely, but they would have come more gradually rather than All At Once, thus not overloading the safety net.

The problem government faced in the ’80s, was caused by the government of the late ’40s. It was also affected by foreign governments of the ’80s.

I can’t claim any particular fondness for Thatcher or her government, but never have I heard anyone suggest how this apparent lose-lose situation could have been turned into a win-win, or even a potential win-win.

Tomorrow, I will throw some ideas around to suggest how a better outcome could have been achieved.