I was going to begin today with a post called "One Week on Another Blog" thanking everyone for their enjoyment of & participation in my new venture. However, there's too much going on right now and I'd rather focus my attention elsewhere; nonetheless, let this serve as thanks to those who dove right in for the first week of The Sun's Not Yellow.
Two stories seem to be dominating the start of this week. In an exciting surprise, the House passed its own version of major health care reform by 5 votes. In a grim surprise, one which emerged right away but is continuing to develop, it turns out that the shooter at Fort Hood was a Muslim, and not incidentally so. (The links are to the AP stories.) I hope to discuss both these issues, but particularly the former, in the comments section below the post.
I have not been following the health care debate with enough vigor (and one needs vigor to navigate the intricacies of the various bills and the back and forth of the legislation) to comment extensively now, but informed readers are welcome to clarify particular points. I would have hoped for something more universal than the present reform (it's claimed to cover 96% of Americans), and I have some questions about elements of this particular plan. Among my questions: what's the cutoff for mandates (at what income level would consumers be forced to buy health insurance, as opposed to having it provided), what's the definition of "large companies" required to offer coverage, how stiff are the penalties for consumers and companies who don't purchase, and what's with the projection that a public option's premium will be higher than private insurer's?
I have no illusions about the bill being perfect - and it's also my understanding that this version will have to be reconciled with what the Senate recently passed (please correct me if I'm wrong - how different are the Senate and House versions?). But by the standards of what we are used to, this is a sweeping rehaul, and it's a welcome change. Less importantly, this is a big victory for Obama, or at least a big step on the way to victory. If he ends 2009 with major health care reform signed into law and a new strategy and firmer mission in Afghanistan, I think he can tentatively call his first year in office a success.
The violence at Fort Hood hits close to home, as my cousin serves there when he's stateside (thankfully, he is presently "safe and sound" - ?! - in Iraq). That the alleged killer is apparently alive, and has recently been taken off a ventilator, means that this story is not going away, and its ramifications will continue to grow in the coming weeks and months. What does that mean? The tragedy could be hijacked to fit political ends. Right now, it seems to be the action of one deranged man (though he hid his derangement quite well). His own faith and his opposition to the war obviously played a part in his justification for killing, but to what extent are these "causes" indicative of any larger phenomenon?
I had written several paragraphs more, particularly focusing on the right's tendency to extrapolate, but as so far most commentators have been relatively subdued I'll refrain from casting stones. Suffice to say, we should wait for more information to come out before drawing conclusions about, on the one hand, trauma and conscience being "responsible" for Hasan's actions, and, on the other hand, any connections to the larger world of radical Islam or terrorism beyond the cursory (particularly worrisome are suggestions that this is at all representative of America's Muslim population, a population which is one of the most integrated and moderate of any Western country - to clarify, it clearly is not indicative at all).
So then, a thought for the fallen and their families, and for those who risked life and limb to stop Hasan's rampage. Hopefully, the country can allow tragedy to unify rather than to divide. Criticisms may be in order down the line, but let's keep perspective here: sometimes it's easier to digest something when it's made to fit a larger narrative. I'm as guilty of that impulse as anyone, but real life is not the movies and sometimes a senseless killing is just that. (Of course, sometimes it isn't. We'll know more later.)
Please discuss, particularly the health care debate, below.