The Halftime Report

In general, big news shouldn’t break on Saturday night. It’s not fair. Weekends are for kicking back, not serious stuff. But late on Saturday night, November 7, the House passed its version of healthcare reform legislation, its quite progressive bill – something no one has been able to do since Harry Truman started trying in the late forties in any form, and certainly what the Clinton administration once botched, big time. It was historic.

But then again, it may be futile – an historical curiosity. The legislation must go to the Senate, where they will have to pass their own version of the House bill, which may not be recognizable after they’re through with it, if they pass anything at all – and their not passing anything at all is a real possibility. And then, hypothetically, the two House and Senate bills would have to be reconciled in joint committee, and then the reconciled final version approved by both houses, and then sent to the president to sign into law. So while the vote was historic, this is the halfway point in a voyage that may or may not reach any particular destination. All the crowing about what an achievement this was for Obama and the Democrats is kind of like the crew cheering Columbus somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic, halfway to the New World. Making it halfway there is cool, but it is only making it halfway there. Or there’s another metaphor. It seems odd to be celebrating your unexpected lead at halftime. The game’s not over. And some teams you face always seem to be able to pull off that come-from-behind win in the finals seconds of play – you know, the good teams.

It’s just a structural thing, as Matthew Yglesias explains:

It’s worth taking a moment to appreciate the fact that in a unicameral United States of America, we would now have passed both a comprehensive health care reform bill and also the most important piece of environmental legislation in the history of the world. Now that’s not the world we live in. Instead we live in a world where neither of those things has passed and where their prospects aren’t clear. But think back on this point the next time you hear someone say Obama is struggling with his agenda because he’s not centrist enough, or else that Obama is struggling with his agenda because he’s not left-wing enough.

The reality is that he’s struggling with his agenda because of the way our political institutions are structured.

But this was a bit of a win, or a big deal in the history of such efforts, and the best compact account of what happened my actually be from Sioux Falls, South Dakota:

The President called it “historic”, Republicans called it “unconstitutional.” Saturday night the Democratic-controlled House passed a far-reaching health care reform bill. Now the issue goes on to the Senate.

President Obama hailed the passage of the bill and praised those who supported it: “Given the heated and often misleading rhetoric surrounding this legislation, I know that this was a courageous vote for many members of Congress.”

The measure passed the house late Saturday by a narrow margin. Only one Republican voted for the measure – Joseph Cao, from an overwhelmingly Democratic district in New Orleans.

And the basics:

The House bill requires everyone to have health insurance. Individuals will be required to buy it, employers will be required to provide it or pay a penalty. The bill offers tax credits to allow low and middle income people to afford insurance and the plan will be paid for in two ways. First, with a surtax on people making more than 500-thousand dollars, and families making more than a million dollars. Second, with about 400 billion dollars in Medicare cuts.

In addition, the bill says that a person can’t lose their insurance if they lose their job, and that someone can’t be denied health insurance for a pre-existing condition. But to get all that, Democratic leaders had to yield to conservatives from both parties and accept an amendment that imposes tough new restrictions on abortion coverage in insurance policies.

And of course it contains the dreaded public option – if no for-profit insurance company wants to cover you for some reason, or you can prove you can’t find anyone to cover you at any price, and if your employer just won’t cover you at all in those circumstances, there’d be a Medicare-like thing you could buy into – a government plan that would act just like an insurance company, collecting premiums and paying providers, except it wouldn’t be run for profit, just set up to cover the few million who got left out.

That was the killer of course, or what will kill the bill in the Senate. How can the insurance cartel compete with that? And what does it mean to America that anyone would think that providing healthcare isn’t where corporations should be thinking about making big bucks? It’s the desire to make scads of money that that made America great, and gave us everything from Pet Rocks to Guitar Hero to Viagra. And what if people liked it too much and everyone wanted in? People would think that organizations that weren’t set up to make enormous profits growing exponentially year-after-year were just fine. Then where would we be? Innovation would stop.

That’s why Lindsey Graham, the Republican Senator from South Carolina, says the House bill is “dead on arrival” in the Senate.

But none of it was pretty, as the opening of this editorial in the San Francisco Chronicle explains:

The U.S. House of Representatives overcame a disinformation campaign that clouded the health care reform debate in the summer, and a Republican roadblock that forced Democrats to scrap for every last vote, to pass legislation of vital importance to individuals and the economy.

Passage of the most significant expansion of health care coverage since Medicare was established in 1964 was an enormous first-year milestone for President Obama and a tribute to the blend of persuasion and steel in the leadership of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a San Francisco Democrat who had to bring along a legion of balking moderates to secure the votes needed for passage.

One of the regrettable concessions required to win over moderates was an amendment that further tightened restrictions on federal funding for abortions. Federal law already prohibits direct government funding of abortions. The amendment added to the health care reform bill would prohibit abortion coverage on any insurance plan that is purchased with government subsidies.

The anti-abortion language put a new twist in the health care debate, threatening to drive a wedge into a fragile coalition in support of a 2,000-page bill that attempted to balance the concerns of myriad interests. The National Organization for Women signaled Sunday that it could not support legislation that dealt the “worst blow to women’s fundamental right in order to buy a few votes for reform of the profit-driven health insurance industry.”

But it’s in there – if you buy any insurance from any carrier, and you accept one dime of any government subsidy to do so, know that all carriers nationwide will have removed abortion coverage from all their plans, in order to get you onboard as a paying customer. That would be the law. Find a coat hanger or a back-alley doctor who takes cash.

But that was what had to be in there to get this passed. It’s back to the days before Roe v Wade – and getting there without all that pesky Supreme Court nonsense. There’s the law that makes some things legal. Fine – but there’s also the regulated marketplace, where what is allowed to be sold can restricted to those who have the extensive means to exercise their legal rights, and to no one else. This is no small matter, but it had to be done.

As for other reactions, the top three New York Times on the matter were typical. Obama Presses Senate to Act Quickly on Its Health Bill – good luck with that. News Analysis: The Medical Industry Grumbles, but It Stands to Gain – yeah, they bitched, but even with a public option for the dogs they didn’t want to insure anyway, they get tens of millions of new customers paying them whatever they choose to charge with money provided by the government. And this – If Anything, the Senate’s Task is Trickier. It’s always trickier in the second half of the game.

But it’s the first half of the game that was fascinating, as the Thursday before the vote there was this – Tea-baggers descend on Congress today to ‘scare’ them out of passing health care reform. Yes, Minnesota Republican House member Michele Bachmann called on the tea-bagging protesters to descend on the Capitol building t to “scare” Members of Congress into not passing health care reform. Bachmann said that Democrats got “scared” by the August tea-bagging protests and that all the protesters needed do is “scare” the Democrats again. She told them to bring video cameras – the Democrats would cave, just like they did in August.

But it seems they brought more than video cameras:

The angry folks at the protest – which attracted several thousand conservatives – held up signs with messages of hate: “Get the Red Out of the White House,” “Waterboard Congress,” “Ken-ya Trust Obama?” One called the president a “Traitor to the U.S. Constitution.” Another sign showed pictures of dead bodies at the Dachau concentration camp and compared health care reform to the Holocaust. A different placard depicted Obama as Sambo. Yes, Sambo. Another read, “Obama takes his orders from the Rothchilds” – a reference to the anti-Semitic conspiracy theory holding that one evil Jewish family has manipulated events around the globe for decades.

Some of this was a bit much for Holocaust survivor and Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel – it was the sign showing dead bodies from the Dachau concentration camp stacked in a pile, and compared that to the Democrats’ health care reform plan, prompting this statement from the Elie Wiesel Foundation – “This kind of political hatred is indecent and disgusting.”

He really shouldn’t have said that, considering the responses to Wiesel posted on Politico (unedited):

Rothschilds nothing! Everyone knows that Obama is George Soros sock puppet. Wasn’t Soros Jewish once upon a time? May the Schwartz be with you!

The jews need to clam up and accept the fact that they are in a Chritian country.

This hollowcost thing is totally overblown by the jewish.

Eli Wiesel should just go back to Indonesia. I don’t see him condemnig the terrorist shooter at Fort Hood.

Elie is a whiner. She should stop her whining. You didn’t not complane when the libs were calling Bush Hitler.

You know what? The fact is that at a time in history, The Rosthchild family controlled practically everything. This is a fact. Not anti semitic. I resent the Jewish outrage at everything. I am a tea partier. obama is a Marxist and takes his orders from George Soros… it is similar and these people need to get a life., Why any Jew would support the Obama administation is a mystery anyway. He is a Muslim sympathizer and the greatest threat to Israel ever to sit in the White House. Wake up Jewish community. Take off the blinders.

There are more of those but these stand out:

Elie Wiesel: Newest, most current tool of the sick, perverted, racist, anti-semetic Democrap party. Have you no shame Democraps?

Elie Weisel is disgusting PR-seeking profiteering demagogue who has made a fortune off playing on the world’s guilt trips about the what happened to the Jews during WW2. Most objective WW2 researchers agree now that the beastial Nazi”s, who happened to be anti-capitalist Socialists, killed even more Slavs and Gypsies in their concentration camps than Jews, but you don’t see the Slavs and Gypsies trying to profit off the “Holocaust” like some of the shameless powerful Jews in the media.

I sometimes wonder what has happened to the Jewish people?. The Bible says that they are GODs’ people and Israel is their home land. I see so many Jews seem to have abandoned their faith and I think this has to sadden our Father in Heaven. I see many Jews that are homosexual-actively promoting it as a “normal” lifestyle. I see many Jews involved in the ACLU – which I call the “Anti Christian Liberal Union”, this bothers me as how can one be against their Father and Son in Heaven who are for Life??. I see many Jews in Hollywood making filthy, sinful movies – what happened to the good, Family movies??. I see many Jews full of Greed in Hollywood, Wall Street,etc. I see many Jews involved in abortion groups- how can one support the killing of human fetuses??, especially people who have suffered through the Holocaust??. I am not anti-semitic, I know many will come on here and attack me. I am simply stating what I see and I believe our Father in Heaven is wondering what is happening to his “chosen” people?. He sent his only son to Earth to die for our sins and I think He is wondering the direction our Country is taking??. I am praying for our Country and all the Jews in our Country and pray that our Father will forgive us all for our sins. I hope I have stated what GOD would have wanted me to say?. GOD Bless and Pray for our Country.

Maybe this was never about healthcare reform, as one of Andrew Sullivan’s readers says this:

I don’t know why the bone deep and deliberate ignorance of some people still shocks me, but it does.

I’ve been to Dachau. I have walked through the gates with the words “Arbeit Macht Frei” and looked at the showers and the cramped bunks and the ovens. I have seen the dusty yard where prisoners mustered every morning. I now know that a place can retain horror and despair in its soil. You can feel the evil in the air even fifty years later. I have no idea how anyone survived with their sanity.

There are things for which there are no comparison, things like the Holocaust, rape, the death of one’s child, and yet they are used with frightening regularity. ‘This is like the holocaust’. ‘He is like a Nazi’. ‘This is akin to rape’. No. No. And no. There is no like or akin to these things and using them as political hyperbole shows a breathtaking lack of humanity. Not to mention an inability or disinclination to formulate a reasonable argument.

So the Dems’ health insurance reform plan is equivalent to the poor, tortured souls who lost their lives in Dachau and the survivor who protests the comparison is the “Newest, most current tool of the sick, perverted, racist, anti-Semitic Democrap party.”

There are no words.

Sullivan adds this – “And the GOP leadership, with the sole exception of Eric Cantor, says nothing.”

Of course everyone is as how long it will take Eric Cantor to apologize:

“The Republican Party in its roots is a party of inclusion and we ought to be promoting that and making sure that voices are heard,” Cantor, of Virginia, said in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt,” airing today.

Cantor, when asked about Limbaugh’s comments that “Adolf Hitler, like Barack Obama, also ruled by dictate” and his comparison of the administration’s health-care logo to a swastika, said Limbaugh was wrong.

“Do I condone the mention of Hitler in any discussion about politics?” Cantor said. “No, I don’t, because obviously that is something that conjures up images that frankly are not, I think, very helpful.”

He’s toast. Limbaugh will eat him alive.

But the relationship of the right and the Jews is a tricky business, as Andrew Sullivan also notes:

Because of my horror at the inhumanity of, the Gaza assault, my support for a two-state solution soon enough to rescue Israel from becoming South Africa, and my desire to see the US-Israel alliance become less suffocatingly one-sided, I am deemed an anti-Semite. This is the fate of most goyim who question the Israeli government on any grounds in Washington, so I cannot complain (at least I am not called a self-hating Jew as most Jewish American critics of Israel’s government are).

But when real anti-Semitism emerges, it is hard not to miss it. And if American Jews do not see it in the current Populist right, a faction that loves Israel primarily to bring about the Apocalypse, they need to open their eyes.

Well, the big news on Sunday after the House vote was Joe Lieberman, the one Jew the conservative right just loves, saying two things.

First, he announced he will personally lead the filibuster in the Senate to stop all healthcare reform because someone has to be the hero who stops all this madness. It the public option thing – if a government plan is part of the deal, “as a matter of conscience, I will not allow this bill to come to a final vote.” It is somehow immoral to take the profit motive out of the equation, even for a small bloc of the uninsured. It’s un-American.

Second, he announced his Homeland Security Committee – the Democrats let him keep his chairmanship even after he campaigned for McCain – will, under his orders, open hearings on the Fort Hood shootings, because it was obviously part of the 9/11 thing, and obviously a well-planned plot to infiltrate the military and kill our guys, and not one crazy guy. He will uncover the plot. It was a terrorist attack you see, no different than 9/11.

Well, the guy was trouble:

…a day after classmates who participated in a 2007-2008 master’s program at a military college said they complained to superiors about Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan and what they considered to be his anti-American views, which included his giving a presentation that justified suicide bombing and telling classmates that Islamic law trumped the U.S. Constitution.

“If Hasan was showing signs, saying to people that he had become an Islamist extremist, the U.S. Army has to have zero tolerance,” Lieberman, an independent from Connecticut, said on “Fox News Sunday.” “He should have been gone.”

There’s no question about that, but that doesn’t make it the terrorist attack Lieberman posits, and Army Chief of Staff George Casey warned Sunday against reaching conclusions about the suspected shooter’s motives until investigators have fully explored what the heck happened – “I think the speculation (on Hasan’s Islamic roots) could potentially heighten backlash against some of our Muslim soldiers.” In short, Joe, you’re making trouble, and making things worse.

But there was this NPR piece:

…he psychiatrist [who worked alongside Hasan] says that he was very proud and upfront about being Muslim. And the psychiatrist hastened to say, and nobody minded that. But he seemed almost belligerent about being Muslim, and he gave a lecture one day that really freaked a lot of doctors out.

They have grand rounds, right? They, you know, dozens of medical staff come into an auditorium, and somebody stands at the podium at the front and gives a lecture about some academic issue, you know, what drugs to prescribe for what condition. But instead of that, he – Hasan – apparently gave a long lecture on the Koran and talked about how if you don’t believe, you are condemned to hell. Your head is cut off. You’re set on fire. Burning oil is burned down your throat.

And I said to the psychiatrist, but this could be a very interesting informational session, right? Where he’s educating everybody about the Koran. He said but what disturbed everybody was that Hasan seemed to believe these things. And actually, a Muslim in the audience, a psychiatrist, raised his hand and said, excuse me. But I’m a Muslim and I do not believe these things in the Koran, and then I don’t believe what you say the Koran says. And then Hasan didn’t say, well, I’m just giving you one point of view. He basically just stared the guy down.

Sullivan comments:

So he was actually challenged on these grounds in public and yet no one monitored him or disciplined him for this. He may not have been in any way connected to al Qaeda. But the point is: he didn’t have to be. This kind of Jihad requires no sleeper cell – just a murderous, fundamentalist psyche.

But Jeffery Goldberg has some warnings about that:

Elite makers of opinion in this country try very hard to ignore the larger meaning of violent acts when they happen to be perpetrated by Muslims. Here’s a simple test: If Nidal Malik Hasan had been a devout Christian with pronounced anti-abortion views, and had he attacked, say, a Planned Parenthood office, would his religion have been considered relevant as we tried to understand the motivation and meaning of the attack?

Of course. Elite opinion makers do not, as a rule, try to protect Christians and Christian belief from investigation and criticism. Quite the opposite. It would be useful to apply the same standards of inquiry and criticism to all religions.

And Sullivan leaps back in:

I did not leap to that conclusion in this case as the primary reason for the attack because we didn’t fully know the entire picture – and still don’t. But as the pieces fall into place, it seems increasingly clear that Nidal Hasan’s faith – and the conflicts it presented in the context of the war on Islamist terror – was absolutely relevant in this horrifying massacre of service members. It may well have been combined with individual stress, exposure to others with PTSD, fear of deployment, psychological disturbance, etc. But that it was a critical factor seems to me important to note.

But every case is unique.

If the man is not part of any wider conspiracy or terror group, it is silly to treat him the way we would a Qaeda cell, for example, as Lieberman seems to want to do. And the random murder spree was not designed to wound the US militarily in any strategic way. But religion is poisonous when it fuses with politics and deploys violence to control or punish others – and Hasan’s increasingly Wahabbist version of Islam is about as crude a conflation of religion, certainty and violence as one can imagine.

So maybe Lieberman should look into the crude conflation of religion, certainty and violence everywhere, even on the right:

This applies to the extremes of Christianity and Judaism as well, of course. I do not think you can understand the assassination of abortion doctor George Tiller without grasping the religious motivation of his killer, just as I think a brutal gay-bashing by a thug with Leviticus tattooed on his arm gives you a good idea of the religious motivation for the beat-down. Ditto, I might add, when we discover that it was a fanatical Jewish settler – transposed from America – who gunned down people at a gay walk-in center in Jerusalem.

Religious fanaticism – in Texas or the West Bank or in Gaza – is a dangerous, dangerous impulse in an increasingly fundamentalist age. …

Maybe this one weekend’s news was ever about healthcare reform. The general consensus seems to be that the House bill will die in the Senate, and that everyone will agree Lieberman and the Fox News folks, that what happened in Texas wasn’t one mad man – that’s just politically correct fools’ wishful thinking – but Islam itself out to kill us all, scheming and plotting, scheming and plotting, scheming and plotting.

None of this is very cheery, and it seems that Joe Lieberman wants to prove he, not anyone else, is the key guy who controls America, for the Likud Party or something. It’ll be interesting to see how the Democrats react. Take his chairmanships away? Boot him out of the party? He may switch parties in a day or two anyway. Stay tuned.

But some of us have this uncomfortable feeling that soon there will be a third political party in America – Palin-Bachmann led, with the full support of Beck, Limbaugh and Murdoch’s Fox networks and his Wall Street Journal, with Joe Lieberman as elder statesman. And they’ll call themselves the American Likud Party – nuke Iran to protect Israel, one of the original thirteen states of course, to bring on End Times and the Rapture, and also, in any spare moments, eliminate capital gains taxes and privatize Social Security. And stop healthcare reform at all costs.

How did Joe Lieberman become the most powerful man in America? On the other hand, it really is only halftime.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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1 Response to The Halftime Report

  1. raymond mcinnis says:

    alan, that the house passed the bill is the telling fact. now it is up to the senate, and while it would be foolish to say that “it’s in the bag”, we know that all sorts of pressures can be brought down on the recalcitrant senators — especially lieberman — that will allow a vote that WILL overcome cloture.

    votes like this have been close in the past, because there is so many fears about “unknowns” about the impact.

    however, with medicare already proven — it is a much defended institution, even by the whackos — the population’s fear of jumping into the unknown with this new approach to universal care is much reduced.

    here’s a question: will lieberman be allowed to stand alone — in opposing a national health care system for 300 million people — which a majority in the senate want?

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