Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Is George Bush a Troll?

In the Internet community, a "troll" is a person (or a message) that does nothing but annoy, disrupt, or provoke an online discussion. Trolls are not interested in sharing points of view, convincing others of their point of view, or even providing factual information, but simply want to send out messages that are deliberately annoying or insulting in order to provoke flame wars, disrupt conversations, or simply for the pleasure of seeing what kind of disruptions they can cause. Although the origin of the usage might lie in a way of catching fish, trolls are also like the hairy, ugly creatures of fairy tales because they are mischievous at best and malicious at worst.

In President Bush's most recent radio address (1/20/2007), and in the State of the Union Address he is expected to give tonight (1/23/2007), he has proposed (or is about to propose) to address the problem of health care in the United States through (a) income tax deductions for health insurance premiums and (b) imposing income taxes on "excessive" health insurance benefits. The first proposal is largely meaningless except as a tax break for the rich, but the second proposal is simply ridiculous and, taken together, the two proposals look like a troll.

The first proposal is largely meaningless because most of the people who now have no health insurance also pay no income tax because their incomes are within the standard deduction and personal exemptions. Giving them a tax incentive is buy health insurance shows a total disconnect from reality. So the only people helped by the proposal are the upper middle class who are already paying for health insurance and will benefit from the tax deduction.

The second proposal is ridiculous, because it is based on the idea that it is possible to have too much health insurance. One of the bizarre delusions of a handful of conservatives is that health care costs are rising in part because health insurance encourages people to use more of the health care system resources than they really need, and that there really are people who go to the hospital, or go to the doctor, just for fun and not because of any real illness or medical condition.

The worst thing about the second proposal is that it would probably not affect the wealthy, who don't really need health insurance because they can pay for health care needs out of their own funds, but union workers who have been able to negotiate generous health care benefits through collective bargaining. It is, therefore, not a tax increase for the wealthy, but a tax increase for the working class.

Given the present control of both houses of Congress by the Democratic Party, the odds of these proposals being enacted as law are only slightly more than zero. So why propose them? Because Bush is a troll.

The war in a Iraq is a continuing disaster for the United States, and Bush's approval ratings continue downward toward record lows. What better way to distract Congress and the American People than by trying to change the subject.

And an even better distraction is one that might help to inflame idealogical and party differences. If Bush can get Republicans and Democrats (or moderate and conservative Republicans, or moderate and liberal Democrats) fighting over a domestic issue, all the better.

If this were an isolated instance of what looks like a troll, I would agree that I might have become somewhat paranoid. But the Bush administration has often changed the subject, or made what seemed like antagonistic proposals, that seemed to serve no purpose other than creating disruptions. Why talk about a surge in troops in Iraq when the American people have voted to end the war? Why talk about sending a Democratic Congress re-nominations of federal judges who have already been blocked by a Democratic minority? Why talk about more tax cuts when Congress and the voters are expressing concern about enormous deficits?

There may be complicated political reasons for these actions, but it sure looks like plain and simple trolling.

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