Pacifists Insult My Intelligence. Ariel Sharon Did Not.

It takes a warrior to make peace.  (Sorry Cindy Sheehan.  That’s a warrior, not a warrior’s mom.)

As you may have heard, the former Israeli military leader and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon died today after a lengthy coma.  These days, he may be best remembered in the U.S. for his promising efforts at a true peace with the Palestinians that were derailed by his stroke.  For those of you who don’t know, he had also founded Israel’s hardline conservative party and abandoned it late in life to create a more centrist alternative.

[Photo Credit: Jim Wallace, Smithsonian Institution]

Sharon is the second major world figure to die recently, the other being Nelson Mandela.  If we put these two next to Barack Obama and John McCain, we can learn much.

I can already hear the cries of outrage that I would put those four men’s names together.  To placate the protesters, I’ll offer a small hint about the rest of this post and you can sing along if you like:

One of these men is not like the others.

One of these men just doesn’t belong.

Can you tell which man is not like the others

By the time I finish my song?

Let’s review, shall we?  Sharon forged a broad consensus among Israelis for peacemaking solutions they would never have accepted if the proponent weren’t so credible on national defense.  Much of the Right wouldn’t cross their war hero and Sharon’s agenda pleased much of the Left.  You can see the same thing with McCain’s opposition to torture and Mandela’s peaceful activities after he was released from prison.  (Let’s not forget that Mandela had endorsed violence before entering prison and the government offered him an earlier release if he would publicly denounce the use of violence.  He shrewdly refused the offer.)  All three men are known for their willingness to use violent tactics, which made their recommendations against such acts more meaningful.

(None of this is meant to disparage nonviolence for social change, such as MLK Jr. used.  I am not a dunce.)

On the other hand, guys like Dennis Kucinich lack credibility among everyone but his fellow pacifists because we all know that he’d have to be smoking some (different?) mushrooms to suggest anything but a non-violent solution.  For guys like Kucinich, the solution precedes the problem and therefore the solution will always be the same.

Sadly, the reverse is true as well: it takes a pacifist to make war.  Look at Barack Obama, the agent of “hope and change” who Amnesty International recently designated a war criminal.  When Bush was making war, Democrats and much the media never ceased the criticism.  Now that a liberal is performing the same (or worse) misdeeds as George W. Bush, Obama’s allies in the media and the Left have become largely quiet while the non-libertarian-leaning Right has no reason to complain.  Obama the “pacifist” can get away with more war than Bush ever could, at least in the eyes of U.S. voters.

So… Obama was the man who’s not like the others.

Nevertheless, I wish Sharon would have adopted two of Obama’s typical actions to make his peacekeeping activities more effective: eating healthy and exercising.

The world needed Ariel Sharon a little bit longer.

“Return of the Obamacare Jedi” Insults My Intelligence

Darth Vader ready for Candy

Darthbama feels he deserves a piece of everyone’s candy. (Photo credit: Wandering Eyre)

Once upon a time, in a galaxy not so far away, Darthbama, son of fellow war criminal Darth Cheney (who had become too old and feeble for that heavy mask), had successfully beaten back the Tea Jedi Rebels, who in turn were headed by his son Cruz Skywalker.  (I apologize, but someone had to be the protagonist.  Joeda was out of the picture because Princess Leia Skywalker Clinton viewed his continued visibility as threatening to her future political prospects.)  In their previous encounter, Darthbama had promised the Tea Jedi that they could keep their spaceships after his minions had blown them to smithereens.  You see, Darthbama was the most arrogant warrior in the universe and he used his Hopenchange ™ laser stick to brainwash his opponents.  Or so he thought because, as need not be repeated, Darthbama was arrogant and his tactics did not always function as planned.

Besides the revelations of his obvious lies, Cruz Skywalker had neutralized Darthbama’s strong point.  Darthbama had become commander by becoming a postracial villain.  People supported his ascent as a way of shielding themselves from the label of “racist,” although they forgot that all commanders become black in that ridiculous outfit.  Suddenly, Darthbama had lost his advantage to a newcomer who similarly made his supporters feel racially sensitive.  Neither man demonstrated much wisdom, nor were they good at negotiating or compromise.  However, they both possessed spectacular skill at getting under the skin of Oboehner Wan Kenobi.

And so the two opponents decided to meet.  Before I describe the meeting, I should mention that neither man attempted to bring a substantive resolution to the Intergalactic Subcommittee beforehand.  The vote would have been along party lines: R2, D2 (with C3PO abstaning), meaning that nothing would have moved forward… as usual.  The powers usually granted by Air Force One were not with them and they stuck their tongues out at each other like little children.

Ah yes, they were two little children at the center of intergalactic power.  Their meeting place was old, but well lit, and evidenced the presence of former commanders on every wall.  The two “men” raised no weapons for fear of damaging the antique furniture but Darthbama, in his infinite wisdom, uttered one lone sentence to his adversary:

“Cruz, I am your father.”

With that, the heavens opened, incandescent lights beamed down, and the truth became known to all.  This slogan, conveniently merged with a classic movie scene, came to epitomize interforce relations on that planet.  While people chanted the line not knowing its true meaning, a select few recognized in that line how idiotic the public discourse had become.  Ironically, Cruz Skywalker was Darthbama’s figurative son because both men lacked competence for positions of power and could do little more than exchange snide comments.

Blogger’s note: I apologize for the lack of plot in this fictional work.  Little ever happens in this intergalactic setting and I didn’t want to bore you.  If you wait a few decades, there may be some progress to report.

Obamacare Will Insult My Intelligence Again

Barack Obama signing the Patient Protection an...

Unfortunately, this pen may kill more people than a sword. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve already expressed irritation at how the unemployed in many states are still shut out of health insurance under Obamacare and I’d like to thank everyone who shared that post.  Since it went over so well, I’d like to behave like the movie studios and create an inferior sequel.  Maybe I can cash in once again.

So…

By now you’ve surely heard of the millions whose old insurance was cancelled because of Obamacare and who could not afford the new alternative.  An article in today’s Los Angeles Times opens with a fair assessment of Obama’s response to this problem:

With millions of consumers getting cancellation notices for their current health plans, President Obama announced Thursday that he will encourage insurance companies to continue offering their customers the same health plans next year.

You read that correctly.  Mr. President is “encouraging” insurance companies to do something.  As we all know from the 2008 financial meltdown and auto industry bailout, businesses always respond to “encouragement” from politicians, especially when the recommended actions seem to conflict with their financial self-interest.  Thank you Mr. President for taking decisive action.

But let’s look at this more closely, shall we? Obama has just allowed people the opportunity to keep their insurance for one more year before they face the same inevitable result of losing it… conveniently after the 2014 elections.  Congratulations Mr. President on your shrewd political move.  You now get to look like you have a heart, just like the Democratic senators who are supporting a bill that would permit that same one-year extension.

These good feelings may not last long.

The Republicans, erstwhile defenders of the insurance companies, are already demanding the permanent repeal of the minimum requirements that caused people to lose their old insurance.  They will correctly point out that Obamacare will remain unaffordable in a year for those millions of people.  And then, if they’re not completely incompetent, they will produce the most audacious defense of the insurance industry we’ve ever seen:

We want these minimum mandates repealed permanently because we support universal health insurance.

Thank you Mr. President for giving us a country in which the insurance industry’s wishes are the least horrible option before us.   And thank you for giving us major legislation that you now have to “encourage” businesses to circumvent.

Obamacare Insults the Unemployed’s Intelligence

ORBIS flying eye hospital - recovery room

These tubes are somewhat more straightforward than Obamacare.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you may remember that I’m unemployed and single.  Being unemployed, young(ish), and without health insurance, you might think I’m thrilled about the implementation of Obama’s health care scheme.

I am not.

The legislation was sold as something that would extend health coverage to people who don’t have it, as a warm and fuzzy legislative accomplishment that would ensure basic services for everyone.  And so I thought to myself that I’d visit the website to see what I’d have to pay.  I may not have an income, but I was always pretty frugal and parting with a few saved dollars to get insured might not be a bad idea.  Emphasis belongs on the word “few” because few is a euphemistic term for how many dollars I have.

Fortunately, the website links to a rate estimator (“subsidy calculator”) that asks for some basic information (age, income, number of dependents, etc.)  and spits out some numbers.  As it turns out, my income isn’t high enough to qualify for low-income assistance (Medicaid).   The webpage explaining options for the unemployed offers up this little gem on other reduced rate possibilities:

You may qualify for lower costs for monthly premiums and out-of-pocket costs on private insurance based on your household size and income. Some people with very low incomes may wind up paying very small premiums. You can apply for Marketplace insurance now. Coverage can begin as soon as January 1, 2014.

You can click on that link in the quote if you like; it provides no new information.  And I’m hardly surprised.  The quote admits that “some” low-income people “may” pay very small premiums.  Nothing concrete is promised, and that doesn’t match Obama’s lofty political rhetoric.

So let’s assume I’d have to pay full price.  For the least expensive option, I’d be spending over $2,500 per year.  As you might imagine, this is why I don’t presently have health insurance.

But fear not!  I have discovered the silver lining.  Although Obamacare assesses a penalty to people who don’t enroll in health insurance, the website explains what I can do if I can’t afford the premiums:

If you feel that any Marketplace coverage is unaffordable and you don’t qualify for other exemptions, you can apply for a hardship exemption. If you get an exemption, you don’t have to pay the fee paid by other people who do not have health insurance. Read more about exemptions.

So, for an unemployed person like me, Obamacare expands my health care options by allowing me to apply for exemption from a fee that wasn’t previously required.  Brilliant!

Incidentally, the non-enrollment penalty is “sometimes” called the “individual responsibility provision,”  which accurately describes things.   The mandate to enroll is what Tea Party (radical conservative faction, for my non-U.S. readers) have opposed most vociferously.  However, the requirement was originally a conservative invention in the early 1990’s that was devised as an alternative to Hillary Clinton’s proposals for reform.  Back then, conservatives were selling the mandate as a way to make sure people who could afford it were paying into the system.  After all, hospitals don’t turn away people without insurance or cash; insurance holders end up eating the costs for their uninsured neighbors through higher premiums.  The conservatives didn’t make any attempt to sell this provision as “universal healthcare” and I laud them for their honesty and their recognition that people who can afford it ought to be contributing.

As for me, I look at Obamacare and see a massively expensive government program that in no way accomplishes anything it was promised to do in a country that is too far in debt to afford much of anything.  Low-income assistance (Medicaid) already existed.

Shutting down the government and risking a debt default were rotten tactics, but now I understand the Tea Party’s continued opposition to Obamacare.  I only wish someone on the liberal side would stand up and proclaim some objections that are more damning than what the Tea Party puts forth.  In the meantime, I’ll have to grudgingly respect the Tea Party for having the sense to oppose this law… even if the ideological reasons they offer don’t resonate with me.

Negotiations Insult My Intelligence

English: U.S. President is greeted by Speaker ...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Since I have a lot of non-U.S. readers, I should start by explaining that our government has shut down all so-called “nonessential” functions.  Unfortunately, this doesn’t include the usual bloviating by our elected officials.

Here’s what happened.  One of our major political parties professes a desire to reduce the size of government and a segment of that party has gone radical.  (I believe the segment is supported by over a fifth of voters, so it’s not insignificant.)  They express the desire to prevent Obama’s not-so-popular health care law from going into effect because they believe it represents government overreach.  The health care law wasn’t popular when it passed and Obama and Biden still have to sing its praises because the population as a whole never warmed up to it.  The radicalized politicians are refusing to allow the government to continue spending money until an agreement is reached to void or postpone the health care law.  Because the Republican Party (not Obama’s party) controls the House of Representatives, they have this power as long as the party leadership goes along with it.  On the other hand, Obama is calling this an ideological crusade and claims that they are trying to reverse the voters’ verdict in the last election.

In short, no compromise happened by the mandated funding deadline and the government shut down.  I do not wish to blame either side for this.  Instead, I want to look at how idiotic the concept of negotiations is.  Right now, one side crusades for reducing government spending and eliminating programs.  As long as no political backlash erupts against the Republicans exclusively, we will be living in the radicals’ paradise.  With a government shutdown, these advocates have almost everything they want and more than they could have ever dreamed of getting through the regular legislative process.  Of course the radicals won’t compromise.  Would you give up your paradise for the opportunity to make even more concessions?

It’s also no accident that the Republicans have floated mini spending bills for national parks and other things people are complaining about not having.  If those bills were enacted, the shutdown could continue indefinitely or at least until the next elections.  Since the public isn’t blaming either party for the shutdown, the specter of future elections can’t deter anything.

Politicians are usually morons, but I have to admit that the Republicans have performed a brilliant end run around the legislative process.  Almost every government program the Republicans oppose has died, at least temporarily.  The focus on Obama’s health care plan only disguises this.

Chemical Weapons Insult My Intelligence

English: Two Muslim women in colourful s (the ...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I missed last week’s Weekly Writing Challenge so I suppose I should participate in this week’s.  Fortunately, the topic treats a critical issue of national importance: Miley Cyrus’ twerking debacle.  In the United States, we constantly hear of the value of leveraging our diversity to meet the day’s challenges.  And as it turns out, twerking originates from African American cultures, defined broadly.

It looks like we have some diversity to leverage.

I do not wish to delve into whether yet another overrated “entertainer” has crossed the bounds of decency.  I care about the contributions she can make to her country.  As we sit here debating her sexualized gestures, a much more important debate is taking place over military action in Syria.  We should all find this juxtaposition breathtaking; moreover, an obvious solution to both problems emerges if we just take a moment to think about it.

I suggest that we send Ms. Cyrus to Syria to perform in lieu of military airstrikes.  Let her keep the scant costuming and all the hip movements she wants.  Syria, being a Muslim country, is much less tolerant of such behavior by women than we are; her presence there should sufficiently punish the guilty parties.  I also suspect that the inevitable fear of an encore performance would prevent any further use of chemical weapons.

And for those of us who are sick of hearing about Miley Cyrus, this solution presents an added bonus.  Sending her to a hotspot of international conflict would ensure that we’d never have to hear about her again.  After all, the media usually avoids reporting on anything of real significance.

Motivation Insults My Intelligence

English: President Barack Obama with the Nobel...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Barack Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize only four years ago.  When pressed on the issue of why the committee had selected someone who had just taken office, people praised Obama’s departure from Bush-era policies and hoped the award would influence him to carry through on his promises.

(My regular readers are probably already wondering how I’m going to pull this topic off in my typical nonpartisan way.  I don’t blame them.)

So let’s review: A Democratic president won the Nobel for expressing disavowal of his unpopular Republican predecessor’s policies.  So: politics as usual and telling the people what they want to hear is Nobel-worthy.

I don’t bring this up to attack Obama.  Now that we’ve had the NSA controversy and drones and the continuation of Guantanamo Bay and similar things, I believe we can learn a lot from reviewing the Nobel Committee’s discredited motivations.

Most significant is the presumed ability to influence others who may have loyalties and beliefs one hasn’t considered.  This isn’t limited to the Nobel committee; I’ve seen it in my personal life as well.  “If we embrace you, you will consider yourself one of us; if we exclude you, you will realize the evil of your ways.”  Problem is, how many of us process self-reflections based on what a single individual (or group) believes?

Yeah, yeah, I know… peer pressure and all.  But it’s one thing to urge a person to do something and a completely different action when people assume that their opinion will be decisive.  After all, everyone has many voices clamoring for their attention.

Megalomania, anyone?  Classical and operant conditioning only work when you give me a treat or a punishment.  Your opinion of me counts as neither.

Of course, the Nobel Committee has something that the people in our daily lives do not.  The Committee can reasonably expect to be admired to at least a small extent.  But when people turn their backs on those who express views they disagree with, operating under the assumption that their disapproval (or approval) is meaningful to the person being ignored, someone needs to call the asylum. The people who do this only reveal their incapacity for dialogue and, in so doing, they become less credible people to take cues from.  As we can see from Obama, a person’s words, actions, and beliefs can change independently of the praise or criticism that emerge from so-called influential people.  In healthy individuals, motivation comes from the inside.

Ironically, Obama is no longer telling the American people what they want to hear… and the actions he’s promoting aren’t Nobel-worthy.  So perhaps the Nobel Prize is just a huge popularity contest after all.

“Popularity contest” isn’t the worst thing I could call the Nobel, so I’d like to close with a bit of dark humor.  Here’s the official announcement of Obama’s win from the Nobel website.  The committee’s clairvoyance will startle you:

The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided that the Nobel Peace Prize for 2009 is to be awarded to President Barack Obama for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples. The Committee has attached special importance to Obama’s vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons.

Obama has as President created a new climate in international politics. Multilateral diplomacy has regained a central position, with emphasis on the role that the United Nations and other international institutions can play. Dialogue and negotiations are preferred as instruments for resolving even the most difficult international conflicts. The vision of a world free from nuclear arms has powerfully stimulated disarmament and arms control negotiations. Thanks to Obama’s initiative, the USA is now playing a more constructive role in meeting the great climatic challenges the world is confronting. Democracy and human rights are to be strengthened.

Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world’s attention and given its people hope for a better future. His diplomacy is founded in the concept that those who are to lead the world must do so on the basis of values and attitudes that are shared by the majority of the world’s population.

For 108 years, the Norwegian Nobel Committee has sought to stimulate precisely that international policy and those attitudes for which Obama is now the world’s leading spokesman. The Committee endorses Obama’s appeal that “Now is the time for all of us to take our share of responsibility for a global response to global challenges.”

Oslo, October 9, 2009

So who’s ready for an international party in Syria?  Maybe the U.N. will spring for drinks.

The Public Debate Insults My Intelligence

Lecturn view

(Photo credit: David Michael Morris)

On one of my recent posts, the blogger Rockettattoo commented on an acquaintance who goes overboard on the gun rhetoric.   I decided at the time that I wanted to follow up on a related topic and yesterday’s Trayvon Martin verdict added an extra layer to my thoughts.

If you’ve never read anything on my blog before, you need to know that I don’t like to blather on about controversial issues.  I’m not going to do so now, either.  Instead,  I’d like to rewind to the Giffords and Newtown shootings to find some useful lessons for today.

More specifically, I’d like to focus on the events’ aftermaths.  After the two shootings, we witnessed a popular sport in American politics on both sides of the aisle: using new events as evidence for preexisting beliefs without providing sufficient support for the asserted logical connection.  People who support gun control trotted out the former congresswoman and the murdered children’s parents as nothing more than images to sway our opinion.  Think “emotional blackmail.”  The message was “A shooting happened; therefore, we must restrict legal gun use to make this stop.”  And on the NRA (and allies’) side, the message was “A shooting happened; therefore, we must increase access and/or ownership of guns to make this stop.”  And sometimes, they trotted out the Constitution in a way that reeked of emotional blackmail directed at the patriotic.  (I didn’t smell much in-depth discussion of the Second Amendment’s original intent.)  Like Giffords and the grieving families, the Constitution became a convenient and powerful image that activists mobilized superficially.

Neither side was arguing for any compelling idea and neither side endorsed anything they wouldn’t have supported if these tragedies hadn’t happened.  If the debate were online, we’d probably claim that both sides were trolling.

And if politicians were comedians, we’d refer to these exhortations as tired one-liners.  Unfortunately, the intellectual and rhetorical laziness isn’t funny.  These sound bites devour the mental capacity of people who already demand lightweight political fare, further constricting their ability to exercise responsible citizenship.

With apologies (sort of) to Julien Benda, we are left with a politics of what is possible, not a politics of what will work.  Both sides of the gun control debate would be correct to argue that their solutions might prevent future tragedies.  Shooting everyone up with a large dose of Valium each day might do it too, and so might daily opera classes.  In theory, almost anything might solve the problem.

But there’s no longer any reason given to ask “why not?”  for any given proposal.  Each sides gives us something that might work and, in the absence of serious debate, no side has any reason to be converted to a different view.  And so we are left with gridlock and ineffective laws.

And back to Trayvon Martin.  By now, some people are arguing that the case proves the inability of Black men to get justice in the United States, or at least in Florida.  Others are taking the opportunity to complain about Stand Your Ground laws.  In most cases, the people making these claims already believed the social and legal diagnoses they proffer.  The Martin case only gave them an opportunity to speak.

Similarly, others saw a man being accused of racially motivated murder and listened to activists raising their voices against hate crimes.  Some will use yesterday’s verdict as evidence that the whole “hubbub” about race issues is an unwarranted stain on society.  Again, these people already held such a view before Trayvon Martin’s name entered the nation’s vocabulary.  The Martin case only gave them an opportunity to speak.

So both sides are speaking.  A lot.  Just not to each other…

Ignorance Insults My Intelligence

Happy 4th of July to all of my U.S. readers!   Let us take this opportunity to celebrate our freedoms and obligations under democracy and capitalism.

English: This is a high-resolution image of th...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Those who remain ignorant of history and current events are easily steamrolled by the empty rhetoric of democratically elected officials.  Holding elected officials to high standards requires you to be well informed.

Those who remain ignorant of businesses’ profit motives are easily steamrolled by empty promises of “valuable” goods and services.  Holding businesses to high standards requires you to be well informed.

“Well informed” includes expanding your horizons beyond MSNBC or Fox News or whatever sources reflect your political biases.

Mudslinging Insults My Intelligence

When I say that politics in the United States is crap, I don’t mean something like this.

At least the South Africans’ crap represents a serious human issue.  All we get is mudslinging plus a heavy dose of changing the subject with a side of meaningless blather that flows like diarrhea.  You get dumber from watching American politicians in action, regardless of their political persuasion.

So, instead of overly simplistic slogans and overwrought attacks when discussing important issues like health care, let’s enact a law to allow our more vituperative politicians to hurl hypodermic needles at each other.  Although the needles would be a lot more expensive than mud (even if Congress can obtain used needles from hospitals at a reduced rate), our political discourse would finally be taking its cues from at least one major issue.

Hypodermic needle with needle cap

Hypodermic needle with needle cap (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The second benefit of having our politicians sling needles instead of mud is more basic.  Although mudslinging politicians are often rewarded with reelection again and again and again, the public keeps claiming that it wants the frivolous attacks to end.  If we discourage the verbal barbs and permit these politicians to put themselves into such regular and close proximity to various communicable diseases, it could help Washington reduce its abundance of acidic speech through a sort of natural selection.

This game of dodgeball (dodgeneedle?) would also be more intellectually stimulating than the average presidential debate.  The corresponding South African protest may have looked outlandish, but at least it encouraged discussion of a major problem.

Sometimes you need a little symbolism.  Washington, heal thyself!

Author’s note: It also insults my intelligence when writers uses the phrase “modest proposal” in the title or body of their work.  It has been overdone and it doesn’t make the writing sound more intelligent or informed.  Therefore, please thank me for treating you like adults; there’s a huge difference between throwing needles and eating children.

You’re welcome!