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This Is What Democracy Looks Like

Today's Note From a Madman

January 6, 2009


Lead, Follow or Get Out of the Way

Lead, follow or get out of the way. So goes the statement which applies to so many walks of life, but particularly to politics and especially as it stands today. In just a mere few days and hours (fourteen days and four hours as I write this), a leader who actually chooses to "lead" will be sworn into office.

Can we wait that long?

Gone forever will be the Bush(43) administration who facilitated such terms as "Islamo-facists" and statement including, “If we had had specific information as to the time and place of the (9-11) attacks, we would have moved heaven and earth to prevent them”.

At least we hope so.

However, standing in the path to our national redemption is the obstacle course known as the Right Wing. The Righties, who ran our nation off the prosperity road and into our current depressed embankment, will be led by the likes of Fox News Channel in the media and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Over the past eight Bush-years, we have seen the outgoing administration attempt to - and succeed in - muddying up the water with issues designed to divide rather than unite. In their corner sat their allies in both the House of Representatives and the US Senate for the lion's share of the time.

We've seen issues brought to the forefront which, in the old days, would have been either dismissed by the fourth estate as nonsensical or had their supporters in Congress ridiculed for bringing onto the Capital floor. We've seen some of those Bush-issues blow up in the GOP's collective faces (immigration; the attempted theft of our Social Security fund; etc.), the worst of them all was the hijacking of our national government in order to create a bill for a single person: Terry Schiavo.

There are many left in government who were members of the hijackers of our nation. Even in its most volatile years, for example, no more than twenty percent of the US House of Representatives are replaced by the opposing party's candidate. While Congress itself has a near single-digit approval rating - even lower than our current, and the worst President we've ever had - our local Congressional representative is considered by their constituents as "okay".

How many of those left in their cozy Executive Building offices - those with their million dollar expense accounts, major medical plans and fat pensions - will decide to lead? How many will follow? And how many will have the common courtesy and common sense to just get out of the way?

Even with the extremely thin margin of victory by Al Franken in his race against senator Norm Coleman for Coleman's Senate seat (formerly the seat of the late Paul Wellstone), the Democrats still don't have a filibuster-proof super-majority to get things done.

Could that be a good thing? Surely it could if - and it's a BIG IF - those in the minority GOP decide to negotiate and compromise rather than simply stand in the way.

There is a faction in the Republican Party which seems to have the philosophy that no progress and finger-pointing is better than some or any progress at all, and with enough votes (to prevent the magic number of sixty required to break the filibuster), they can achieve that lowly goal.

It's called Obstructionism and it may just be the only policy of the GOP while they're in the minority.

Waiting in the wings are a bunch of Republican Presidential hopefuls led by - believe it or not - another Bush. With the news that George H. W. Bush would like to see his next son, the former Governor of Florida, Jeb take a shot at the White House, making the Democratic majority wait to pass legislation - or not pass it at all - could be just the medicine the GOP doctors ordered. Since 2001, when "W" took over, nothing other than lining the pockets of the Bush "base of haves and have mores" has been done and progress, by any measure, became stifled.

Politically, nothing could be worse for the GOP than a successful Democratic agenda, one that puts dollars back into middle class pockets and health care into the homes and medical offices nationwide.

Who will lead the new GOP? Will it be the likes of McConnell and House Minority Leader John Boehner or will someone step forward and, in the spirit of compromise, make their party a part of the solution and not the major part of the problem?

Conversely, who will follow? Will those in the GOP content enough to collect a salary, pension and health care benefits not want to rock their "haves and have more" boat stay silent and blindly follow McConnell, Boehner and their ilk?

It would be better if they all just got out of the way and let those serious enough about changing the way things are done enact that change.

But they won't do that. They'll stand in the way and scream about "taxi and spend liberals" and again, try to pull the wool over our collective eyes in time for 2012.

-Noah Greenberg

And here's some more...

Do you see the Republican strategy on the stimulus evolving? First, they invited the banks to back their trucks up and take away the money appropriated through TARP. Even though Congress attached strings, the Republican administration refuses to enforce the restrictions and, as we heard last week, the banks are refusing to tell us what they are doing with the public’s money. But, those were bankers, friends of the administration.

Then, when it came to the car manufacturers, it was the Republicans who led the charge to demand a plan, and wanted all kinds of restrictions. Believe it or not, these conservative capitalists actually wanted the Congress to change the contracts between the companies and the unions. Of course, when the Democrats proposed legislation last year to change mortgage contracts and require renegotiations, we heard that contracts are sacrosanct, they are inviolate, the government simply cannot modify them. Now, it seems that government can do so when the impact is to fall on unions and on workers and benefit big business. Now, when Obama is proposing a stimulus package that will put people to work, the Republicans (Sen. McConnell) insist that they will look at every detail. They didn’t do that with the TARP – that had to be passed in three days, remember - so why now?

The goal, I believe is to prolong recovery from the recession so as to position Obama and the Democrats as incompetent in the 2010 elections. We learned from Karl Rove and others that the name of the Republican game is winning. Once they win, then they reward their friends – like banks, investment banks, some but not all brokerage houses, construction companies like Halliburton, security companies like Blackwater, etc.

The name of the game is win, and they will accept any cost to the country in order to win an election. Unfortunately, it takes 61 votes in the Senate to blunt this strategy, and I don’t think the votes are there. Look for the stimulus package to die a slow and painful death in a Congress where Democrats have a majority. Try explaining that to the American people in 2010.


by Victoria A. Brownworth
copyright c 2009 Journal-Register Newspapers, Inc.

During the presidential campaign, every candidate was eager to declare his or her staunch support of Israel. Although some, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton among them, acknowledged favoring a two-state solution to the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, the bottom line was always that Israel had the right to defend its borders and the U.S. would retaliate against anyone who attacked Israel.

That stance has been a fundamental foreign policy position of the U.S. for the past few decades. The U.S. grants more than $3 billion in military aid to Israel annually–more than to any other nation. That aid is specifically to maintain a U.S. presence in the Middle East with the only established democracy in the region.

That U.S. policy position has not shifted despite the recent war against Gaza being waged by Israel. Although the international community, including all Arab nations (including American allies Egypt and Jordan) and the majority of the European Union (except for Germany), has been uniformly outraged by Israel’s actions, the U.S. government as well as the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. have remained steadfast in their support of Israel.

The U.S. has blocked any resolutions against Israel in the U.N. Security Council which met on Jan. 3 to address the crisis.

On Jan. 4, Vice-President Dick Cheney was equally stalwart in his response when he spoke with CBS’s Bob Schieffer on “Face the Nation.”

Starting on Dec. 27, Israel launched air strikes against Hamas leaders it asserted had broken a six-month cease-fire agreement brokered by Egypt. According to the Israeli government, Hamas was shelling southern Israel–notably the town of Siderot and its environs–with mortars and rockets.

While the rocket launches had not injured or killed anyone prior to the Israeli invasion of Gaza, they created a constant sense of panic in Siderot proper and the surrounding area, with air-raid sirens going off perpetually as, according to Israeli President Shimon Peres, up to 80 rockets a day were launched at the town. Cheney told Schieffer that the U.S. would continue to block any U.N. resolution on the Israeli attack and that the U.S. would not call for a cease fire at this time. He reiterated the Bush Administration’s position that Israel has the implicit right to self-defense.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), the second-ranking Democrat in the Congress, echoed Cheney in an interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos on the Jan. 4 “This Week.”

Durbin said Israel has the right to defend itself and the U.S. supports those efforts. Ranking Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) told Stephanopoulos he agreed with Durbin and added that it was important to remember that Hamas was a terrorist organization.

This is the pivot of the conflict: Hamas. When Israel withdrew from Gaza in August 2005, removing all Israeli settlement despite intense opposition from settlers and many Israelis, the action was supposed to be a major concession to the Palestinians. The quid pro quo was that they got total control of Gaza while Israel kept titular control of the West Bank where Israeli settlements were far more vast and the investment greater. In 2005, the Palestinian Authority led both the West Bank and Gaza under the leadership of President Mahmoud Abbas.

But then leadership shifted in 2006 in Gaza and Hamas won the elections there. This split the Palestinian leadership and also effectively made Gaza a rogue state with regard to the West and Israel. Hamas, which has taken responsibility for the majority of the suicide bombings in Israel over the past decade and does not recognize the right of Israel to exist, is considered a terrorist organization. Hamas is supported and funded by Iran, which also does not recognize Israel. It is presumed that the weapons being used against Israel by Hamas have been provided by Iran.

The conflict that arose after the Hamas leadership took power created huge problems for the Palestinians living in Gaza. Israel continually closed the border to Gaza and Egypt permanently closed its border, effectively blockading the small, densely populated country of 1.5 million in an area about 25 miles long and four miles wide.
Israel denied visas. Supplies–including food, fuel and medicine–were limited. Work visas were rescinded. Throughout, the shelling and rockets continued, which reinforced Israel’s use of border blockades.

According to human rights organizations, the situation in Gaza was dire more than 18 months ago. On January 21, 2008 an illegal entry was blasted into the border wall between Egypt and Gaza. More than 50,000 Gazans fled into Egypt, bringing back any and all supplies they could carry. The border opening was maintained for nearly a week before Egypt began arresting and subduing Palestinians and the border closed.

It was the circumstances last January that led to an Egyptian-brokered cease-fire between Israel and Gaza which had been enforced for the past six months. But when the terms of the agreement were violated–each side says by the other–Israel began its all-out offensive.

The situation has been changing day to day. After a week of intense air strikes which killed more than 400 Gazans and injured over 2,000, more than two-thirds of whom were civilians, Israel began a ground invasion after sundown on Jan. 3.

Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, leader of the far right Likud Party, spoke to ABC news on Jan. 4. He insisted that Israel intends to stop the Hamas shelling of Israel by any means necessary. Netanyahu, who is running to be Prime Minister again when elections are held in March, is opposed to a two-state solution and has previously insisted that the Palestinians “must not have a state” because they cannot be trusted.

On Jan. 4, Israeli forces had fully transected the Gaza strip, effectively separating Gaza City from the rest of the territory and continuing air and ground assaults. According to Shimon Peres, Israel intends to rout Hamas from Gaza and will employ any and all means to do so.

It’s always dicey to suggest that a nation does not know what it is doing when it claims to be protecting itself, but recent history suggests that like the U.S. in Iraq, the current Israeli government indeed does not. The war on Gaza is a tactical, political and humanitarian error of grave proportions.

The invasion of Gaza replicates Israel’s disastrous June 2006 invasion of Lebanon in which thousands of Lebanese were killed, thousands more injured and hundreds of thousands forced to flee the country. The shaky democratically elected government was displaced due to the war, the infrastructure shattered. In its stead, Hezbollah–which Israel pledged to rout from Lebanon–took control of the government. Hezbollah has been in power ever since Israel was forced to withdraw from Lebanon after a six-week war because there was no stomach for re-occupying Lebanon.

Israel claimed victory, but a series of internal investigations of the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) took place soon after Israel’s withdrawal, and scandal ensued. The war was a huge mistake.

The scene in Gaza looks remarkably–and tragically–like the scene in Lebanon. As in Lebanon, Israel has refused to allow reporters into Gaza to report from the front lines. As in Lebanon, three to five civilians are being killed for every Hamas fighter being taken out. As in Lebanon, international opinion except for the U.S. is staunchly against Israel. As in Lebanon, Israel will be forced to either re-occupy or withdraw after a few weeks. And far from having routed the alleged terrorists–in Lebanon Hezbollah, in Gaza Hamas–Israel will have further entrenched the very agents it sought to eradicate.

The Bush Administration, as it has with so many foreign and domestic policy issues, has utterly failed at even attempting to broker peace in the Middle East. Even America’s own agencies conclude that Mid-East terrorism has increased exponentially as a result of the U.S. war on Iraq. Under President Bush, the alliance with Israel has been one in name and dollars only. There was no effort to broker peace with Lebanon prior to the invasion in 2006. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice only became involved four weeks into the six-week war.

This time the U.S. cannot drag its heels.

When Barack Obama takes office on Jan. 20, the current crisis–which will no doubt still be ongoing–will become his problem to address. Hillary Clinton will not yet be confirmed as Secretary of State, although no opposition to her appointment is expected. But the lag time will be one of more than a month from now–enough time for the number of casualties to rise to horrific levels, as in Lebanon.

The Bush Administration needs to act now–not wait for Obama to take office. Cheney’s laissez-faire attitude toward the war we’re ignoring cannot and must not be maintained. Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon and now Gaza–each of these incursions by the U.S. and Israel has proven disastrous and unwinnable. The reality is, diplomacy–not military action–is the only answer to the seemingly insoluble problems in the Middle East. Even our own military has come to that conclusion.

Collective punishment is never an answer–and that is what is going on in Gaza. Hamas was elected to lead the Palestinians and they have done a lousy job, making life for the Palestinians under their rule far worse than it was before. Hamas would no doubt have been defeated–as would Hezbollah in Lebanon–in the next election had Israel bided its time.

But instead, the current war has strengthened Hamas’s position and re-popularized them with the Palestinians as well as Arab nations who were previously opposed to them. Few question that Hamas leaders are indeed terrorists–hiding bombs in children’s schools and hospitals is proof enough of that. But when Israel acts similarly by bombarding those same outposts and threatening myriad civilians, then it is they who become the bullying power in the eyes of the world.

The U.S. must show its true solidarity with Israel and broker immediate talks and demand a cease fire. Continued war in Gaza has no end point as the Lebanon and Iraq disasters have proven. As long as Gazans are forced to live under inhumane conditions, their rage will be palpable and felt in Israel first, via rocket attacks and suicide bombings.

In the past, diplomacy has brought about long stretches of peace and negotiations. But Israel and Gaza cannot do this for themselves–they have not been able to thus far. A third party must engage the two nations and the U.S., perhaps with Egypt and Jordan, is the obvious choice.

Obama will have to take over whatever diplomatic efforts are begun when he takes office, but for the Bush Administration to shirk its responsibility at the eleventh hour is, even by its own perilously low standards, indefensible.

The war in Gaza must stop. A cease-fire must be proposed. Everyone–Hamas, the Israeli government and the U.S.–must work toward a solution that protects Israelis and Gazans alike. Without that effort, the killing will just go on until there is no one on either side left standing.

In response to, "The problem that still persists with Hamas in charge in Gaza is that they don't speak of Peace - only the destruction of Israel," Ginger H. writes:

I don't know who said this, but it's true:

"If Palestine laid down its arms, there would be peace.
"If Israel laid down its arms, they would cease to exist."

I don't think anyone who's kept up minimally with this ongoing battle can disagree with that sentiment.

And in response to, "I am a big supporter of Israel but believe that Israel must accept terms set up by the International community. Negotiations must take place but a solution - one that can be enforced - must take precedence. And that includes both on Israel and Gaza," David McReynolds adds:

On Israel, I am not so strongly a supporter of Israel, but quite critical in fact. That is distinct from the Israelis. While the government and virtually all the political leadership is heartbreakingly corrupt, there is a vitality to the culture which comes across sometimes in cinema. "The Band Visits", a slight wistful comedy made in Israel about an Egyptian band that gets lost and ends up at some god-forsaken Israeli city, was touching. "The Bubble", which is allegedly a gay film but in fact is about Israeli/Palestinian relations, shows the vitality of the Israeli youth, who oppose the Occupation.

And my "in box" is filled daily with contacts from Israelis who are struggling to be heard, who protest, who march, who despair.

However I don't think anything will get Israel to actually move (how many agreements has it simply ignored, such as the ones on the settlements?) until the US cuts off funding. We are underwriting Israel and as long as Israel knows it can count on that, the shanda of things like Gaza will continue.

Should both sides make concession? My God, they have to! But will Israel? Not yet.

In response to, "Oil as a Weapon," Lew Warden opines:

“It’s only about oil!,” was the big Lib battle cry along with “No weapons of mass destruction,” when Bush (no buddy of mine) embarked on his Iraq venture. What’s the matter? Getting expensive to keep your back sides warm in Al Gore’s untimely Winter of Global Warming? All you accomplished was to contribute to our problems in Iraq and Afghanistan, stiffen the Muslim’s resolve, embolden Bush to “spend his political capital” on furthering the Republican dream of destroying Social Security, and divide the nation while the money sharks looted our national treasury and destroyed our economy with debt.

Now we’ll see how far Obama gets with his and the Dem’s vaunted Afghanistan plans. No port of entry to unload troops, equipment and supplies. Just airplanes vulnerable to rocket attacks. Not even any friendly contiguous territory to ease our logistical problems. India and Pakistan at each other’s throats again. And Hamas/Iran still playing the “condemn Israel” game with the bodies of the Palestinian people.

Nice going, boys. You built a bonfire, only now the big winds are going to blow it out of control. ([‘m wondering if the Reps and the Press will launch an attack Obama like the Dems and the Press did on Bush in 2005?)

And your bleat about “the international community” is pitiful. You “one world, one government” idiots cling to the UN like the Scofield Kid’s comment about the cowboy he had killed in the stinking privy in Clint Eastwood’s classic “Unforgiven:” “He hung on to his s t like it was money!”

Bon appetite!

Someone, please translate this for me.

Thank you, in advance. -NG

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-Noah Greenberg