This is What Democracy Looks Like

Today's Note From a Madman

Monday, January 30, 2006

 

A Bush Quote in the Lead

"When he (Osama bin-Laden) says he's going to hurt the American people again, or try to, he means it,"
-Bush, speaking about Osama bin-Laden and his brand new audio tape

So, Bush is protecting us from Bin Laden but who will protect us from Bush? I think he speaks with forked tongue.

-Robert Scardapane



Failure!

Just how does a United States Senator justify the following sentiment?: "Although I voted to end the debate (filibuster) on Judge Alito, I intend to vote against him Only Twenty-five Democrats had the courage of their convictions and stood up tall today to announce that they would oppose Samuel Alito's nomination by the only means they had at their disposal: The Filibuster. About 40 years ago, the minority Republican party used that same tool to block the nomination of Abe Fortis as Chief Justice to the Supreme Court... and he already was an associate justice. Justice Fortis resigned after his defeat.

It would have taken 41 of the 44 votes the Dems have to have forced the majority Republican leaders' collective hands in order to block Alito. Nineteen of them "punked out", and I hope every single one of them faces a stiff, progressive Democratic challenger on their next primary. And if there isn't one available, I'll volunteer to move and do it myself!

"Some Democrats and at least one Republican who voted to end debate are certain to oppose the nominee in the actual confirmation vote on Tuesday."
-The New York Times

Wow... one Republican with a semi-spine. I can hear him now in the campaign trail: "Don't blame me... I voted against Alito."

"Judge Alito has outstanding legal credentials and an inspiring life story, however, I am greatly concerned about his philosophy on some important constitutional issues."
"The president did win the election. I am a pro-choice, pro-environment, pro-Bill of Rights Republican, and I will be voting against this nomination."
-Senator Lincoln Chafee (R-RI), the Republican who ALMOST did the right thing

"Judge Alito deserves to be Justice Alito,"
-Senator Bill Frist (R-TN), senate Majority Leader

And you deserve to be Dr. Frist again of Tennessee, ripping off the Medicare and Medicaid system and your health care company's stock holders at every turn. (I can't wait until Rep. Harold Ford (D-TN) gets Frist's seat back in Tennessee.)

Sens. Robert Byrd (D-WV), Tim Johnson (D-SD), and Ben Nelson (D-NE) are all supporters of Alito, but even without their votes, the Democrats would have had enough votes (41) to bring about the filibuster. All three of these senators are from purple-to-red states and they are all looking out for their political careers. Why is it that we always seem to see Democrats getting scared to the right; Why don't we see Republicans getting scared toward the left? There are, after all, Red senators in Blue States.

By this time tomorrow, Judge Samuel Alito will be Associate Justice Samuel Alito of the United States Supreme Court. It will be interesting to see and hear how President addresses the subject just hours after the vote in his State of the Union address.

The Democratic leadership behind Sen. Edward Kennedy and John Kerry (both D-MA) gave it a shot. Let's hope it isn't a last shot for the Democratic Party.

-Noah Greenberg



NEXT STEP IN MIDDLE EAST MUST BE CAREFUL
by Victoria A. Brownworth
copyright c 2006 Journal Register, Inc.


There's an old adage: Be careful what you wish for. In the past five years George Bush has been flogging his idea of democracy in the Middle East. What the President and many other Westerners have failed to understand, however, is that a democratically held election does not necessarily result in a democratic government.

This first became apparent in Iraq in December when a right-wing Islamist majority vote at the polls produced, unsurprisingly, a right-wing Islamist majority in the Iraqi government. Violence has escalated ever since as moderates and those previously in power have resisted the notion of a different leadership.

The election might have been democratic, but democracy itself has yet to be established there and the U.S. occupation has only served to aggravate the situation since it was resentment and anger toward the U.S. occupation that fostered the right-wing ascendancy in the first place.

The same thing happened last week when Palestinians went to the polls: the right wing prevailed and violence–not between Palestinians and Israelis (although that will surely and regrettably follow if leaders continue to make incendiary statements and take the wrong actions) but between Palestinians and other Palestinians. Violence has been breaking out, specifically in Ramallah, the seat of the Palestinian Authority, but also throughout the West Bank and Gaza.

Most Americans, unless they have ties to Israel or Palestine, understand little of the differences between the former ruling party, Fatah, and the one, Hamas, that assumed the majority January 25.

Fatah, the party of the current Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, was unseated as the majority. The Palestinian government has 132 seats of which Fatah now only holds 41. Taking the lead is Hamas, with 76 seats.

Pundits in the West proclaimed universal shock at the Hamas victory last week, but I wrote here when Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had a massive stroke, that a Hamas victory was all but assured and that Sharon's health would complicate that result even further.

Which it has.

Hamas has acted like and been viewed as a terrorist group by Israel, the U.S. and Europe. For many years Hamas has orchestrated the majority of the suicide bombings against civilians in Israel and in turn Hamas has been the target of "planned assassinations" by Israel, all of which has escalated the violence between Israelis and Palestinians exponentially.

A year ago Hamas agreed to a truce with Israel regarding violence and according to independent human rights groups that truce has been maintained. There have still been suicide bombings, although far fewer, but Hamas has not been the source of them. Since the election Hamas has agreed to maintain that truce.

The problem for the U.S. and Europe has been an approach-avoidance relationship to Palestinian autonomy. Just as the U.S. wanted "free and democratic elections" in Iraq as "proof" that the U.S. invasion of Iraq was justified, so too has the U.S. wanted elections in the Palestinian territories (which the Arab world and many others refer to as Palestine) as "proof" that the Palestinians could operate as a nation and therefore the U.S. could support the concept of Palestinian statehood.

But the U.S., as it did in Iraq, wanted to choose the winner in the Palestinian election, going so far as to fund the Fatah party and make repeated statements prior to the election that the U.S. would not negotiate with a terrorist government, i.e. Hamas.

As half the Americans who voted in the past two presidential elections in the U.S. know all too well, however, democratically held elections are never predictable until the last vote is counted and even then–as was the case in the U.S. in 2000–the Supreme Court might have to decide the winner by a single vote.

Those who follow Israeli-Palestinian politics, like myself, were hardly surprised by the Hamas victory. While the West has signaled Hamas as a terrorist group–and in Western terms they have certainly been that–in the Middle East at large and in Palestine in particular, Hamas is viewed more as a radical political faction that also funds schools and charities and does community work in Palestine that the Palestinian government and Israel have failed to do. To most Palestinians Hamas represents possibility: a group perhaps capable of succeeding where Fatah has repeatedly failed.

As recently as January 27th, Pakistani President Pervez Musharif, the strongest U.S. ally in the region, refused to call Hamas a terrorist organization and also refused to acknowledge when Pakistan would recognize Israel as a sovereign nation until there was Palestinian statehood.

Herein lies the "surprise" factor in the Hamas victory: the U.S. and Europe simply do not understand that for most of the Muslim world, there is no nation on the map called Israel. To the majority of Muslims, Israel is nothing more than an occupying colonialist force, a thief of Palestinian land. Until that "fact on the ground" is recognized, all Palestinian actions will stun the U.S. and Europe.

Thus when George Bush immediately stated that the U.S. would refuse to deal with Hamas, a challenge was posed to the newly elected government. Yet Bush's statement followed his approval of the election, his reiteration that democracy was taking root in the Middle East among previously dictatorial governments. Then he utterly undercut that statement by saying he would refuse to acknowledge the democratically elected majority.

The West cannot have it both ways. Bush wants democracy in nations that have never known democracy, are not democratically inclined, have had ethnic and religious factionalism for centuries if not millennia, but the U.S. version of democracy–230 years in the making–cannot occur overnight and without support.

In addition, the grim reality of Middle East politics are, unfortunately, immutable. There is a war that has waged since 1948 over whether or not Israel should exist. There is a concomitant conflict since 1967 over whether the Palestinian territories belong to Palestinians or Israel. And there is no apparent resolution of these conflicts among the extremist right wing of either side.

Until January 25th the right wing was not in control of the Palestinian Authority. Now it is. And with Israeli politics in flux due to the sudden removal of Ariel Sharon from power due to his massive stroke, moderates who dominated on January 24th may no longer dominate as fears of Hamas and all they have done to Israeli citizenry in the past overwhelm the discourse.

What's needed likely won't occur: The U.S. should recognize Hamas as the ruling party and work to quell Israel's fears. Thus far all Bush has done–his Secretary of State noticeably absent from the discussion as both Bush Secretaries of State have been throughout his presidency when it has come to Middle East diplomacy–is rachet up the tension. Where diplomacy was not only needed but demanded (the function, one might remind the Bush Administration, of the Secretary of State) once again this Administration supplanted its usual rhetoric: it's all about the terrorism.

Which of course is why Hamas was elected in the first place–because throughout the Bush Administration there has been a refusal to deal with *any* elected Palestinian official. President Bush declared the first Palestinian President, Yassir Arafat, the first democratically elected Muslim leader in the Middle East, to be a terrorist. Bush's refusal to deal with Arafat allowed the Middle East peace process to stagnate and even fester. Arafat died after two years of virtual house arrest by Israel in Ramallah; two years in which Palestinians grew angrier and ever more inclined toward violence.

Mahmoud Abbas, who himself declared he would not deal with Hamas after the results of the election were revealed, is now also a virtual prisoner in Ramallah, this time of his own people, not Israel.

If the U.S., Israel and Europe want what the majority of Israelis and Palestinians have declared they want for years, which is a co-existent dual statehood where Israelis and Palestinians can live in relative harmony, then there must be an acceptance of certain realities.

The primary reality of the region is that Israel does and will continue to exist. Regardless of what any Muslim nation wants, that is a fact. Israel is a state. It should be on every map in every Muslim nation. Now, today.

The second reality of the region is that Israel must cede control of the territories to the Palestinians. Gaza is the world's most populous area and as such is a breeding ground for insurgency.

In the territories many Israeli settlers follow the same extremist politics as Hamas: they tote guns, they destroy Palestinian olive groves, they threaten Palestinian children, they view Palestinians as less than human. The tensions over the territories have created two extremist factions in the right wing of both Israeli and Palestinian politics. If the West is surprised by the Hamas victory, it should look no further than its own policies toward more moderate Palestinian leaders and its leniency toward the more right wing factions in Israel. The U.S. cannot consistently back right wing Israeli politics and refuse to deal with right wing Palestinian politics. They feed off each other and the result is the one predictable element in Mideast politics: wave upon wave of violence.

If the U.S. and Europe have an immediate role in what happens between now and the March elections in Israel it is this: diffuse the tension. Threatening to withhold funding to the Palestinians when throughout the last moderate (yet corrupt and ineffectual) Palestinian administration half a billion dollars flowed to prop it up is a mistake.

The Hamas victory is a result of Palestinian frustration combined with Western arrogance and diplomatic ineptitude. Palestinians want a real life–autonomy, economic stability, hope. Thus far their own leadership, shackled by undelivered and undeliverable U.S. promises, has pocketed the money from the West but failed to create a real state for Palestinians. There is no infrastructure: that still comes from Israel. Yet Israel–until very recently run by its own iron-fisted right wing–has allowed its not wholly irrational fears to rule its approach to Palestinian statehood.

There are inevitabilities and immutabilities in the Middle East. Israel exists and so does Palestine. For Israelis and Palestinians to live and work together, Israel will have to cede control of Palestine to the Palestinians. And in turn, Palestinians must agree to the basic tenets of the autonomy of statehood: cessation of terroristic violence.

Concomitantly, Israel must cease its policy of assassination. Assassination is a tool of dictatorship, not democracy, just as suicide bombing is the work of terrorists, not citizens and certainly not elected government officials.

All nations–Muslim and Western alike–must acknowledge the autonomy and statehood of both Israel and Palestine and work to further that autonomy for the betterment of all Israeli and Palestinian citizens as well as for the betterment of the region. Blatantly anti-Semitic and anti-Israel statements like those uttered recently by the Iranian president only serve to foment more violence and foster the illusion that Israel does not exist or can be destroyed.

For decades the U.S. has maintained its allegiance to Israel as the only democracy in the region. But Israel's policy toward the Palestinians has not been one of a democratic nation, but rather one of neo-colonialism and it has damaged its own political structure. The legacy of that oppression–as well as tacit U.S. and European support of it–helped create the results of the January 25th election.

There is potential now for a fresh start: there is a new government in Palestine and soon there will be a new government in Israel. Rapprochement, if not outright peace, is possible. But if the U.S. wants to proffer solutions, it must work determinedly to diffuse the tensions of extremists on both sides and support the moderates in Israel and Palestine who have always desired and supported peace.

It could be a new day in the Middle East. Or it could be just one new version of the old, grisly bloodbath. Thus far Bush has made all the wrong moves, his Secretary of State is missing in action, Fatah and Hamas are in violent confrontation and Ehud Olmert, acting Prime Minister of Israel, refuses to deal with Hamas, for good and historical reasons.

The U.S. has the opportunity to help turn things around for the better. Now. But without real leadership on all sides, that can't and won't happen. Which will mean that democracy will once again elude not only the Middle East, but all those children, Israeli and Palestinian, who deserve more than a future filled with hopelessness and fear.



Media Madman
An AOL Poll


How would you grade Bush's overall performance?
F 46%
A 17%
B 16%
D 15%
C 6%
Total Votes: 149,410


Is the state of the union better or worse since Bush has taken office?
Worse 64%
Better 29%
The same 8%
Total Votes: 148,113



More on HSA's

In tomorrow's State of the Union address, President Bush is widely expected to promote an expansion of Health Savings Accounts, or HSAs, as the new cornerstone of his ownership society agenda. His rhetoric will be about personal empowerment, but his push for insurance that exposes consumers to more individual risk belies the financial squeeze faced by a growing number of middle-class Americans.

Authorized by the 2003 Medicare prescription drug bill, HSAs allow people who purchase a high deductible, or catastrophic, health insurance policy to set aside money in a tax-sheltered account that they can tap for out-of-pocket health expenses. The HSA marketplace has been taking shape over the past two years as insurance companies have teamed up with financial services firms to offer the catastrophic coverage and HSA combination, frequently referred to as "consumer-driven health care." United Health Group has even started a financial institution, known as Exante, while Blue Cross announced last fall that it planned to open its own bank to handle the accounts.
-From Cindy Zeldin's Health Debtor Accounts


Who benefits from consumer directed health care?

Insurance companies as people pay more out of pocket business as they may dump higher cost comprehensive health care financial institutions as they handle the linked HSA accounts that invest money in the market (fees my friends, fees) the wealthy when they have comprehensive health care and purchase additional consumer directed health care with HSA's - it's a tax shelter and if you don't use the health insurance so what!

Who doesn't benefit?

-People with no health care insurance.
-Workers in general who struggle to make ends meet and can't afford higher out of pocket payments.

Do you smell another big Bush rat?

-Robert Scardapane



And in response to "Much like the Social Security Privatization scheme which was 'suggested' by investment companies, and the energy bill which was written by (get ready for a surprise!) the energy companies (like ENRON) and the bankruptcy bill which was written by THE BANKS, one wonders just who thought up the HSA idea. Can anyone say Health Insurers?", Robert Scardapane writes:

Actually, it's the same people! HSA's are financial instruments that are linked to a high deductible health care plan. The money in HSA's are invested in the stock market. Fees, fees, fees! The high deductible health care plan, otherwise known as a catastrophic health care plan, have deductibles that are as large as $3000 with a $1000-$2000 premium. So, you end up paying more money than you do now for most employer sponsored health care plans plus pay much more out of the pocket. The so-called "sweetener" is that you have a HSA account that may earn money if the stock market breaks right (or get trashed if it goes the other way). What a deal!

Okay, I admit that a HSA is a better than a FSA account which earns no money and does not roll over from year to year. But, given that a HSA must be linked to a high deductible health care plan, I say quite simply no thank you. A single payer system remains the most attractive alternate to our hodge podge health care "system".



In response to "IT IS IMPORTANT FOR WOMEN WHO CAMPAIGN AGAINST PLANNED PARENTHOOD AND ABORTION, TO REMEMBER THAT THE FAULT LIES IN THE FAILURE OF THE PARENTS WHO ARE RAISING THE GIRLS WHO USE THE CLINIC", Billie M. Spaight writes:

What planet is Rhian from anyway? Not Earth, that's for sure! She just loves to blame victims for everything that happens to them!

Maybe well-brought up girls can also live in slums because their parents cannot afford any better homes for them. Maybe these well-brought up girls are working the night-shift in horrid places to support parents who are ill. And maybe, just maybe, some psycho decided to attack one of these well-brought up girls.

I lived in a slum when I was young and it was dangerous to go out at night and I avoided it whenever I could. One night I could not avoid it and I was snatched at. I was 11 years old and dressed like a normal child. I didn't even see the pervert coming my way. I was on a familiar, normally safe and well-lit street less than a block away from my grandmother's apartment. Fortunately, I was not raped or hurt in any other way but was embarrassed by what happened.

Another time my sister was trying to earn money to help put herself through college. She was selling jewelry. The two of us were on our way over to our cousin's house to have a jewelry party. We were mugged. Again, we were on a familiar, well-lit street in a neighborhood that was normally quite safe. Fortunately, I only ended up being slapped by the mugger when I shouted at him.

I resent Rhian's implication that my sister and I were not well-brought up because we had these experiences. There is an expression: "Sh**t happens." Rhian should be so lucky that it doesn't happen to her, but she ought to have some tiny bit of compassion for people to whom it does happen.

Sorry, this one she wrote really made me furious!

As for carrying weapons--oh
God! Let's not even go there!!! Where I come from well-brought up people don't even talk about guns, let alone own them! That is reserved for criminals where I come from.


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-Noah Greenberg