Moral Masquerades

There is nothing so bad but it can masquerade as moral.

— Walter Lippman, A Preface to Politics (1920)

This week’s featured articles: “Hunger Games: Who’s Right About Food Stamps?” and “Pots, Kettles, and Projections from the Religious Right“.

This week everybody was talking about government shutdown

On Sunday’s interview shows, Republicans and Democrats alike were predicting the government would avoid shutdown, which will happen a week from tomorrow unless Congress passes something. But nobody was presenting a plausible scenario for how that is going to happen.

Friday the House has passed a continuing resolution to fund the government at sequester levels until December 15, except for anything having to do with ObamaCare. The Senate will probably remove the ObamaCare provisions and send it back to the House. Nobody seems to know what will happen then.

and ObamaCare

The reason Republicans are so desperate to get ObamaCare derailed right now is that the exchanges start up October 1. When Americans start dealing with the reality of ObamaCare rather than the monsters-under-the-bed conjured up by right-wing propaganda, they’re going to like it. And that might be good for America, but it will be bad for the Republican Party.

This week, Republicans finally got around to offering the “replace” part of their plan to repeal-and-replace ObamaCare. As Bloomberg’s editorial notes, it doesn’t really replace anything: ObamaCare lowers the number of uninsured Americans by about 25 million (more if red states would implement Medicaid expansion) and the Republican plan doesn’t.

The Republican plan is basically the same hodge-podge of proposals they floated in 2009. The CBO looked at them back then and …

CBO begins with the baseline estimate that 17 percent of legal, non-elderly residents won’t have health-care insurance in 2010. In 2019, after 10 years of the Republican plan, CBO estimates that …17 percent of legal, non-elderly residents won’t have health-care insurance.

So President Obama has passed into law a plan to cut in half the number of uninsured Americans. Republicans counter with a plan that does not address that problem at all.

The most outrageous piece of the ObamaCare debate right now are the ads being run to get young people to “opt out” — in other words, to stay uninsured. These ads are being funded by the richest men in America, the Koch brothers, who have a combined net worth equal to Bill Gates.

If those young people who opt out have a major health problem, will the Koch brothers be there to help them? Don’t be silly. I tend to shy away from using the word evil, but this is evil. Rich people are trying to achieve their political goals by encouraging poorer people to do something that could ruin their lives.

and the Navy Yard shooting (i.e. guns)

It’s hard to argue with Dr. Janis Orlowski’s response:

There’s something evil in our society that we as Americans have to work to try and eradicate. … I would like you to put my trauma center out of business. I really would. I would like to not be an expert on gunshots and not to be an expert on this.

The gun issue seems to epitomize the entire liberal/conservative debate these days. On the one hand, you have liberals advocating a policy (gun control) that might or might not work. It seems to work in other countries (like Australia), but maybe America is different somehow. On the other hand you’ve got conservatives, who offer nothing.


Meanwhile, in as polite a way as possible, Starbucks asks people not to bring guns into their shops. And pro-gun commenters go ballistic.

and Food Stamps (but I wish we were having a more factual discussion)

Fox News would have you believe that Food Stamp recipients are freeloading surfing bums. MSNBC wants you to think they’re hungry kids. I decided to look at what the House’s proposed $39 billion in cuts actually are in “Hunger Games: Who’s Right About Food Stamps?

and Syria

The weirdest thing about Syria is the disconnect between the American people and the pundit class. The people think it’s great that we might get rid of Syria’s chemical weapons without entering another messy war. The pundits find this solution weak.

Meanwhile, the plan is puttering along. Syria submitted its chemical-weapon inventory to international organization in charge of destroying chemical weapons.

and you also might be interested in

It looks like it must be an Onion news parody, but it isn’t: An op-ed in Fortune says it’s time for the 99% to “give back” to the 1%.

All proper human interactions are win-win; that’s why the parties decide to engage in them. … For their enormous contributions to our standard of living, the high-earners should be thanked and publicly honored. We are in their debt.

Here’s a modest proposal. Anyone who earns a million dollars or more should be exempt from all income taxes. Yes, it’s too little. And the real issue is not financial, but moral. So to augment the tax-exemption, in an annual public ceremony, the year’s top earner should be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.

As I recall, the original “modest proposal” was also pitched as a win-win interaction.

If you like the Fortune piece, this WSJ op-ed is right up your alley: A hedge-fund manager expresses his moral superiority over his son, who’s feeding the homeless.


Peter Beinart argues that the formative political/economic experiences of 20-somethings will place them outside the Reagan/Clinton boundaries that have defined the last few decades of politics.

and let’s end with something fun

I remember being a grad student: At certain points, any kind of time-consuming project seemed more interesting than finishing my thesis. So rewriting and re-performing “Bohemian Rhapsody” to explain string theory makes perfect sense.

I think this will be hard to beat for Gonzo Labs’ 2013 “Dance Your Thesis” competition. (Only one more week to get your video in.) Watch the 2012 winners here.

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Comments

  • Ed Josephson  On September 23, 2013 at 2:06 pm

    > This week, Republicans finally got around to offering the “replace” part of their plan to repeal-and-replace ObamaCare. As Bloomberg’s editorial notes, it doesn’t really replace anything: ObamaCare lowers the number of uninsured Americans by about 25 million (more if red states would implement Medicaid expansion) and the Republican plan doesn’t.

    First, ObamaCare does no such thing. Advocates of ObamaCare predict that it will lower the number of uninsured Americans. Don’t confuse a politician’s promises with facts.

    Second, the Republican plan offers quite a lot. I don’t get health insurance from my employer: I pay for it myself. And the Republicans’ plan would help me a lot more than Obama’s: Obama has cut my tax deduction for the premiums I pay; Republicans would increase it.

    > The Republican plan is basically the same hodge-podge of proposals they floated in 2009. The CBO looked at them back then and …

    You need to provide better citations to back up your claims. Your link to the Republican plan is a PR release that has less than one sentence describing the plan, but based on that you declare it as basically the same as the 2009 proposal. Your link to the CBO analysis is actually a link to a liberal pundit’s editorial about the analysis. You can’t provide factual support for your opinion by referencing someone else’s opinion.

    Also, the ObamaCare bill was over 2,000 pages long. Don’t you think that would qualify as a “hodge-podge of proposals”? Mandates, exchanges, taxes on medical equipment, taxes on insurance benefits, surtaxes on people with high incomes, dictates for what insurance includes, dictates for how it’s marketed … the list goes on and on. It’s so confusing that, 5 years later, very few people understand it and Obama has excused corporations from implementing pieces of it. Calling ObamaCare a hodge-podge wouldn’t even begin to describe it.

    > The gun issue seems to epitomize the entire liberal/conservative debate these days. On the one hand, you have liberals advocating a policy (gun control) that might or might not work.

    Or might make things worse.

    > On the other hand you’ve got conservatives, who offer nothing.

    Once upon a time, there were Nazis who wanted to march in Skokie, IL. On the one hand, there were people who wanted to outlaw them. On the other hand, there were believers in the First Amendment “who offer[ed] nothing”.

    Sometimes, offering nothing is the right thing to do. You shouldn’t dismiss it. You should debate it.

    > The weirdest thing about Syria is the disconnect between the American people and the pundit class. The people think it’s great that we might get rid of Syria’s chemical weapons without entering another messy war. The pundits find this solution weak.

    Did you read that article you cited? It said “just 26% think Syria will give up control of its chemical weapons, while 57% think it will not”. So they don’t think it’s great that we’ll get rid of chem weapons without war. They just think it’s great that we won’t go to war.

    > If you like the Fortune piece, this WSJ op-ed is right up your alley: A hedge-fund manager expresses his moral superiority over his son, who’s feeding the homeless.

    What?! Nowhere does he say such a thing or even imply it! He’s pointing out that productive economic activity does more to help the poor than charity does. He’s making a practical argument only – and a fairly strong one; he makes no claims about morality. Feel free to disagree with him, but it’s not fair to him or to your readers to misrepresent him.

  • David Wiegleb  On September 23, 2013 at 3:25 pm

    Frankly, I find Rick Perlstein’s analysis more convincing than Beinart’s.

    http://www.thenation.com/blog/176267/peter-beinart-right-about-new-new-left

  • Ed Josephson  On September 23, 2013 at 5:17 pm

    Another weird thing:

    > I tend to shy away from using the word evil, but this is evil.

    In keeping with your shyness, you discuss the matter of the mass murdering tyrant Bashar al-Assad, who has the fresh blood of 100,000 people on his hands, without using the word “evil”.

    But let the Koch brothers mouth off about health insurance – health insurance, for Pete’s sake – and you’re so provoked that you call it evil.

    I have to say, your evaluation of evil is very different from mine.

    • weeklysift  On September 23, 2013 at 7:25 pm

      I have no trouble describing Assad as evil. You seem to trivialize health insurance. Lack of insurance kills people by the tens of thousands every year. See http://www.commonwealthfund.org/Publications/In-the-Literature/2011/Sep/Variations-in-Amenable-Mortality.aspx

      • Ed Josephson  On September 23, 2013 at 8:31 pm

        > I have no trouble describing Assad as evil.

        But you didn’t. And you did call someone evil for a far lesser offense.

        I’m not disputing that the Kochs’ campaign is evil. But it’s silly for you to suggest that you’re reluctant to label something ‘evil’, and then use the word for such a trivial action.

        And it *is* trivial. The Koch’s aren’t denying anyone insurance. They’re giving unsolicited advice. People can take it or leave it. And the fact is that insurance is like Las Vegas: most people lose more money from the premiums than they gain from the benefits. This is doubly true for young people with no pre-existing condition. Almost all of them would benefit from taking the Kochs’ advice. Will you give the Kochs credit for the thousands of dollars they save these people? Didn’t think so.

        And what happens if those people get sick? They’ll still get treatment. Health insurance is not the same as health care.

        So what are the Kochs really doing? They’re not giving advice that could lead to someone’s death. They’re giving advice that people risk being freeloaders. That’s obnoxious at the very least and perhaps it rises to the level of being evil.

        But if YOU, Doug, decide to CALL it evil, don’t feed us a line about how reluctant you are to use the word. You’re using it pretty readily.

      • weeklysift  On September 25, 2013 at 6:39 am

        Let me add the part I thought went without saying: I tend to shy away from using the word evil in the context of American politics. How American political figures compare morally with genocidal dictators is not something I usually have to think about, thank God.

        There is a lot of talk about left/right political maneuvering in the Sift, and very seldom does the word evil appear. I disagree with lots of things people do and positions that they take without calling them evil. (For example, the word does not appear in this week’s article on Food Stamps, despite the easy opportunities the issue offers.)

        I saved money myself by not having health insurance during the summer between graduation and getting my first real job. I now look back on that and say, “Wow, was that stupid.” I can’t imagine trying to persuade a young man to make a similar choice today, just so I could score political points.

        I believe the anti-ObamaCare campaign has gone way outside the normal moral range of American politics, so I reached for a word I don’t usually use in that context.

  • Joe Irvin Conover  On September 23, 2013 at 10:56 pm

    Ah, Doug, you hit a nerve. Good for you.

  • felix  On October 3, 2013 at 7:36 am

    The give-back-to-the-1% op/ed is not in Fortune, it’s a Forbes online contributor. Forbes contributors are so random and poor quality that I’ve given up on reading anything forbes.com. Forbes staff articles are ok, but 99% of the forbes.com links that get spread around are random baseless provocation by a “contributor”.

    • weeklysift  On October 4, 2013 at 8:49 am

      You are correct. I apologize for the mistake, and I’ll be more careful in quoting Forbes (and misquoting Fortune) in the future.

      • Ed Josephson  On October 4, 2013 at 9:26 am

        While you’re at it, why don’t you try saying something about it? You give us a link and I suppose you expect us all to be outraged by the article. But you don’t even attempt to rebut a single point in it. Have you nothing rational to say about it? Are we all just supposed to emote?

      • weeklysift  On October 6, 2013 at 6:39 am

        I guess it has been a long time since I posted “Why I Am Not a Libertarian”. https://weeklysift.com/2011/08/22/why-i-am-not-a-libertarian/

      • Ed Josephson  On October 6, 2013 at 11:34 am

        It’s not enough to post a list of libertarianism’s flaws: it’s easy to do that for any philosophy, even the one you hold today. Instead, you have to explain why letting a small group of people impose its desires on a large group of people is morally (or, if you’re just a Utilitarian, practically) superior.

      • weeklysift  On October 7, 2013 at 6:42 am

        You’re going to have to explain what “a small group of people impose its desires on a large group of people” has to do with the article in question. It looks like a complete non-sequitur to me.

      • Ed Josephson  On October 7, 2013 at 8:30 am

        You list libertarianism’s flaws, but every political philosophy has flaws. The question is never “is philosophy A perfect?”, it’s “is philosophy A better than philosophy B?”

        I don’t know what your philosophy B is, but it’s some flavor of statism and I’m guessing it’s not too far from the status quo. The status quo is that a relatively small number of people (535 Congressmen, 1 President, the special interest groups who influence them) impose their views on 300 million people.

        So if you want to explain why you’re not a libertarian, you need to explain why what you are – a statist – is better.

  • Anonymous  On July 7, 2014 at 10:26 am

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