Rulers and Servants

Money must serve, not rule!

— Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium (2013)

The Distress of the Privileged got its 300,000th page view on Saturday. If you liked that post, check out my recent article “Political Empathy” in UU World. It isn’t exactly a sequel, but builds on some of the same ideas.

This week everybody was talking about Pope Francis

which I discuss in detail in “What to Make of Pope Francis?

and neocons were wailing about not going to war with Iran

For about a decade, it’s been an article of faith among neocons that war with Iran is inevitable: The Iranian leadership is insane, you can’t negotiate with them, all they understand is force, and so on. Sooner or later they’re going to build an atomic bomb, so we’d better attack sooner rather than later. As recently as a week ago, John Bolton told us, “an Israeli military strike is the only way to avoid Tehran’s otherwise inevitable march to nuclear weapons.”

By and large, the people saying this are the same ones who sold us the Iraq War — Saddam was likewise insane and building nuclear weapons, we’d be welcomed as liberators and all that. So it’s a continuing mystery why they get major-media platforms from which to make “expert” predictions that never pan out in reality.

The recent interim nuclear deal President Obama worked out with Iran creates a real possibility that sane Americans might get what we want — Iran without nuclear weapons well into the future — without blowing up anything or killing anybody. This comes on the heels of a deal to get rid of Syria’s chemical weapons, again without firing a shot. (Neocon Brett Stephens described this as “the administration … worming its way out of its own threat to use force to punish Syria’s Bashar Assad.”)

If that possibility becomes real, then the whole neocon worldview collapses, as it should have years ago, when it became clear that everything they had predicted about the Iraq War was false.

The result has been a lot of, well, squealing like stuck pigs. Neocons used their inexplicable media power not to dissect the agreement and find its flaws, but to shout “Munich!” and “Worse than Munich!” at the top of their lungs. I agree with Daniel Drezner’s assessment:

the Munich analogy has been degraded to the point where #worsethanMunich deserves it’s own Alanis Morisette song that permanently devalues the term.

Reading these articles will teach you virtually nothing about the content of the agreement or how it might yet go wrong. Instead, you’ll get a lot of polemic, a lot of bad historical analogies, and more in the endless neocon series of scary-but-divorced-from-reality predictions.

and everybody wondered whether healthcare.gov is fixed yet

The White House says it will work for more than 80% of users, that it can handle 800,000 users a day, and that it will continue to improve.

The important thing, though, is the back end: Does the data you enter get delivered accurately to the appropriate insurance company, who can then cover you? It’s going to be a while before we can assess that. Ezra Klein (who has been following this more closely than just about anybody) comments:

So there remain reason for concern. But here’s what’s indisputable: HealthCare.gov is improving, and fast. Or, to put it differently, HealthCare.gov will be fixed. In fact, for most people, it is probably fixed now, or will be fixed quite soon.


And if you’re wondering how the government is going to convince 20-somethings to sign up for ObamaCare, it isn’t. Their moms are going to do it.

and “abolition porn”

It’s tough to get people’s attention when, like John Derbyshire, you’ve been booted out of the gated community of respectable right-wing commentators for being too racist. Yeah, you can still write for Taki’s Magazine or VDare, but who reads those anyway?

Never fear, the true scum can always rise to the top: Derbyshire started his November 20 column talking about “12 Years a Slave” (which he admits he hasn’t seen), labeling it “abolition porn” and going on to argue that slavery wasn’t really as bad as all that.

Bang! He’s back on the national radar. ThinkProgress, Alternet, Rightwing Watch … nobody on the Left could resist such artful trolling. Congratulations, John. You made us look.

and you also might be interested in …

Salon’s Sean McElwee summarizes the reasons to believe that growing inequality comes from changes in political power, not changes in technology.


OK, it’s the holidays. You eat, you get depressed about gaining weight and sitting in front of the TV, so rather than go jogging you think: Why bother? I can’t possibly run far enough to burn off that second piece of pecan pie.

New research explains why you should bother. Exercise doesn’t just burn calories, it changes the way your body operates. A mere seven-day experiment showed a significant difference between over-eating-and-sedentary young men who did short-but-vigorous daily exercise and those who didn’t.

the volunteers who had exercised once a day, despite comparable energy surpluses, were not similarly afflicted. Their blood sugar control remained robust, and their fat cells exhibited far fewer of the potentially undesirable alterations in gene expression than among the sedentary men.


As the Hobby Lobby case moves to the Supreme Court, I appreciate Annalee Flower Horne‘s Quaker perspective on giving people “conscience exemptions” from following the laws that apply to everyone else.

Many Quakers are pacifists, so they object to being drafted into combat roles or even (for a smaller number of them) paying taxes that fund wars. They deal with this moral conflict by agreeing to alternative non-combat service or “by making sure they don’t make enough money to incur tax liability.” In other words, they recognize that conscience has a price, and they willing pay that price.

Now along comes Hobby Lobby, demanding a consequence-free exemption to paying for birth control on the grounds that it violates their conscience. …

If the Green family’s conscience really forbids them from meeting their legal obligations under the Affordable Care Act, then they have the option to arrange their lives so as not to incur those obligations. They can choose not to run a two billion dollar corporation.

But if they’re not willing to make those sacrifices–if their ‘conscience’ only compels them so far as they can follow it for free–then they are not conscientious objectors.

And they and their fake conscience objection can get the hell off my lawn.

I gave my opinion on this subject in July: “Religious Freedom” means Christian Passive-Aggressive Domination.

One more Annalee line worth quoting:

I won’t even ask which version of the bible they’re reading where Matthew 25.36 reads “I was sick and you sued not to cover my medical care.”


Polling three years before a presidential election is mostly about name recognition. So sure, VP Biden is the Democratic front-runner if Hillary Clinton decides not to run.


The most sinister aspect of NSA spying isn’t the crimes they might find, it’s the legal-but-embarrassing stuff that they can use to intimidate or discredit people they don’t like.

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Comments

  • samuraiartguy  On December 2, 2013 at 1:33 pm

    On THIS-

    “The important thing, though, is the back end: Does the data you enter get delivered accurately to the appropriate insurance company, who can then cover you? It’s going to be a while before we can assess that.”

    In New York State, we have NYState of Health… our State Exchange. After a decidedly rocky start… the site is more functional. But the back end doesn’t seem to be there just yet. After a month and a half of repeated glitches, I was finally able to complete my own application. Being self-employed, the really quite wretched Blue Cross Blue Shield plan terminates at the end of the year, and I have some skin in this game.

    “You and your family cannot pick a health plan right now. You will get a letter or an email telling you when to log onto your Marketplace account to pick a health plan. Call 1-855-355-5777 to find out how to pick your plan if the Marketplace has not contacted you by the middle of December 2013.” – NYState of Health

    THAT seems to have to do with that Back End just mentioned. Similarly, the options for changing My plan at BC/BS are skunked too, other than the plan names, you cannot view ANY of the plan details, and not with a polite “not available at this time” error – the links just FAIL.

    It feels like the insurance carriers, with their priorities fixed in collecting premiums rather than deliver health care services, seem to have their armies of lawyers and accountants staying up late to figure out how to screw over subscribers and subvert the intention of the ACA any way possible to protect their profits.

  • @tahiya (@tahiya)  On December 2, 2013 at 1:42 pm

    I’ve solved the Hobby Lobby conundrum personally. I like the store so every dollar I spend there I send an equivalent donation to the ACLU. They fight for their opinion, I’m fighting back for mine.

  • Jeff  On December 2, 2013 at 3:23 pm

    Annalee Flower Horne doesn’t even need to mention an important part about Hobby Lobby’s Faux Conscience — that prior to the the ACA mandate, they ALREADY COVERED the services that are now so morally objectionable. Exactly how does one justify such a “convenient conscience”? It was morally ok to provide contraceptive coverage when it was due to market forces, but is unacceptably immoral when required? How do you do that? Or maybe it’s ok to cover managers and executives, they just don’t want to have to pay for the unwashed masses. I can’t even wrap my head around this.

  • Bobby Lee  On December 5, 2013 at 12:26 am

    I sometimes wonder if the NSA had something on John Roberts, that forced his vote on the Affordable Care Act. I’m not a conspiracy theorist (and I agree with his vote), but it was so unexpected that it begs the question “Why?”.

    • weeklysift  On December 5, 2013 at 9:13 am

      The conspiracy theory assumes an NSA working hand-in-glove with the administration’s domestic policies. I doubt they’re that tame.

      • Bobby Lee  On December 5, 2013 at 12:11 pm

        Technically they do work for the President, though. The ACA is often touted as Obama’s biggest achievement. One imagines he would anything within his power to keep the court from striking it down.

        What is your alternate theory for Roberts’ reversal of his plutocratic ideals on that one important vote?

      • weeklysift  On December 6, 2013 at 9:06 am

        First, Roberts’ opinion (by basing the ACA on the government’s taxing power rather than the commerce clause) DID advance his plutocratic ideals. There’s a basis in that opinion for undoing a bunch of commerce-clause-based stuff in the future. For liberals, that opinion is a time bomb.

        But I also think Roberts is an institutionalist. Reversing the ACA on such a flimsy basis as the other conservative justices had constructed would have been a nakedly political act that would have made the Supreme Court the center of the presidential campaign: You can’t have health care because of the Supreme Court. I don’t think he wanted that.

        What he really wanted, I think, was President Romney nominating Ginsberg’s replacement and cementing his conservative majority into the distant future.

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