Monday, January 28, 2008

Voting Rights, FL Edition

The disenfranchisement of voters has historically been a central part of American politics. Poll taxes and literacy tests may be a thing of the past, but the disenfranchisement of ex-convicts, tough voter ID laws and other methods are still being used today.

This year, two whole states with their millions of voters, Michigan and Florida, have been disenfranchised. These states moved up their primaries to January without the consent of the national parties, so the Republicans cut the number of their convention delegates in half, while the Democrats denied them a voice in the convention completely. I don't approve of the Republican response, but at least it gives Republican voters in those two states a say in the nomination process, even if somewhat reduced. The Democratic response, on the other hand, is completely unacceptable.

Have no mistake – I am a Democrat myself. This is not an attack for partisan reasons. I truly do believe that the primaries are just as important as the general election, and every American citizen should have the ability to have his say in the nomination process of the party of his choice. Denying this right is extremely undemocratic and appalling. This is a collective punishment of Floridians and Michiganders who have done nothing wrong. How are they responsible for their leaders' decision to move up the primaries? Even the leaders didn't really do anything wrong. Why do South Carolina and Nevada have more of a right to vote in January than Florida and Michigan? "Tradition", which doesn't even apply in Nevada's case, is the equivalent of "because I said so".

Even more disturbing is the lack of an outcry on this issue. A few lawsuits were brought against the DNC, but they were rejected. Disenfranchisement may be undemocratic and immoral, but in this case, apparently it's perfectly constitutional. The courts couldn't change the decision, but the media and the public should have protested it. Floridians, Michiganders and people from all across the United States should have picketed the DNC's national headquarters as well as their state offices.

Now Hillary Clinton's campaign has said she will support seating the two states' delegates. This is just as undemocratic as the DNC's original decision. Michigan's primary on January 15 did not have any Barack Obama and John Edwards on the ballot, and no Democrat campaigned there, and voters didn't really think their votes matter, so they either didn't vote or didn't necessarily vote as they would have in a "real" primary. Florida's primary will take place on Tuesday, and though all the candidates are on the ballot, there was no Democratic campaign there.

It is too late to save the January primaries of Florida and Michigan. The only way to democratically amend the situation is by holding a second round of voting, with ample time to campaign. Of course, this might mean the nominee will have already been selected by the date of the new primaries.

Huckabee and Palestine

Mike Huckabee is a right-wing nut who wouldn't only be disastrous for the United States, he'd be a disaster for Israel, too. Shmuel Rosner wrote an article last week about the reason American Jews are afraid of the former Arkansas governor, but one paragraph showed why the radical "Greater Israel" right wing fringe should love him:

Huckabee reportedly said he supported the establishment of a Palestinian state, as long as it was formed outside of Israel. He meant outside of Biblical Israel and suggested Egypt or Saudi Arabia as possible locations.
Yikes. Is Huckabee trying to make George W. Bush look good?

Romney's Early Floridian Votes

Here's my humble prediction for the Florida Republican primary next Tuesday: Mitt Romney will win a narrow victory over John McCain thanks to early voting. Pundits keep saying early voting helps Giuliani, and it does, but right now he's too far behind for the early votes to push him over the top. It seems to be a close Romney-McCain match-up, and McCain's bump in the polls didn't come until recently.

On the other hand, I wouldn't bet on this race. All three candidates, and maybe even Mike Huckabee, still may win.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Surprise: Dem Drops Out

There are two kinds of presidential candidates that have no reason to withdraw from the race: the ones who still have a chance of winning, and those who came into the race knowing they wouldn't win. For the latter, the whole point of running is to be heard. If they drop out, even the little media attention they received will be gone.

For that reason I was surprised to hear that Rep. Dennis Kucinich is dropping out of the race. In his case, he isn't withdrawing because of a sudden realization that he can't win or that his candidacy is going nowhere. After all, in 2004, he continued campaigning well after John Kerry secured enough delegates for the nomination, finally dropping out only shortly before the Democratic convention. More than anything, his early withdrawal indicates his congressional re-election campaign may be in jeopardy. I hope one of his Democratic rivals in Ohio's 10th District will defeat this marginal, ineffective pol.

National Identity

An article from Ha'aretz, followed by my take on the issue:
Rebranding the left
By Rami Livni (source: Ha'aretz in English or Hebrew)

A worrying change has been evolving among the Israeli left in recent years. The traditional peace-camp solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - two nations, two states - has fallen out of favor, and its supporters' ranks have dwindled. Instead, other voices have been advocating, with increasing confidence, a single bi-national state.

The two-state option is increasingly seen as anachronistic, conservative, overly Zionist and unjust. At the very least, it is seen as an option that has lost its formerly exciting, subversive spirit.

The one-state advocates still don't have a joint program or political front, but the balance within the left is changing. The peace organizations' conference in Madrid exploded last month after radical leftist activists refused to sit in the same hall with Peace Now representatives, claiming they were "an arm of the occupation." They drafted a document focusing on the one-state principle.

The drift toward one state is obvious in the Arab leadership in Israel. The Arab legal organization Adalah has recently revoked its traditional stand and called for the creation of a single constitutional state between the Jordan and the sea. Even Hadash is drawing away de facto from the two-state idea. It is not advocating one state, but it has tucked away what until recently used to be its historical banner.

It would be a mistake to underestimate this process, with the claim that it involves Arabs and a handful of people on Sheinkin and at Tel Aviv University. Even if this idea's supporters are a minority, they are affecting the left-wing's discourse, re-demarcating the borders of what is "just" and "moral" and damaging the sense of justice and inner conviction of a wider left-wing circle.

Granted, even people in the political center, the prime minister and those further right, are already talking about a Palestinian state and dividing Israel, but it is not clear if they are committed to implementing the two-state plan or are merely being dragged toward it due to changing circumstances.

If the two states for two nations vision loses its active, dedicated public of supporters - its activist, ideological engine - its implementation is in danger.

Therefore the two-state solution must regain its inner justification, vitality and moral urgency - or in marketing jargon, it must be rebranded. For only this concept will bring about a radical change in the lives of Israelis and Palestinians.

Its justification derives from being realistic. Advocating one state does nothing more than support the status quo - perpetuating occupation and suffering. The two-state solution is not only more practical, but more just and moral as well.

It is unjust to deny the Jews self-definition in their own state, and immoral to deny the Palestinians self-definition in theirs. Sovereignty, borders, an ethnic-based national identity and an independent government for each nation is the right political order. This is the outline of the historic compromise between the two nations, and the natural and just evolution of the two national movements.

It may appear like a paradox, but only national identity can be a positive force that would save both nations from eternal war. Only an independent Palestinian state, even on a small territory, not a binational state, could channel its people's energies to build a thriving society, a source of identification for Palestinians inside and outside it.

Only such a state would tell the Palestinians' national narrative and process the Nakba memory constructively. It would provide a solution for the Palestinians' identity crisis, which was created following the 1948 war, and end the anomaly of the Palestinian existence without a homeland.

The writer is a journalist.

My two cents? The Israeli One-Staters are still an insignificant minority who don't hold any sway on the sane left. The fear, though, shouldn't be Isratine-supporters in Israel. What I worry more is that foreign governments will start abandoning the two-state solution and try to force Israel into accepting the unacceptable - its own demise. This is why Israeli politicians should move their asses and truly work towards the creation of a Palestinian state beside Israel.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Beaufort Castle Meets Kodak Theatre

This year's Oscar nominations have been announced. The category I'm excited about is best foreign film, where the Israeli film Beaufort has been nominated. The movie tells the story of Israeli soldiers guarding Beaufort Castle in Southern Lebanon shortly before the Israeli withdrawal in May 2000. The film currently has an 85% favorable rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with 11 positive reviews and 2 negative ones.

Interestingly, though, Beaufort was not supposed to be Israel's candidate for the foreign film award. The winner of the best film Ophir Award, the Israeli Oscar, was "The Band's Visit", which tells the story of an Egyptian police band that gets lost in Israel and winds up in a small town in the middle of nowhere. The Israelis and Egyptians speak English to each other, and with more than 40% of the dialogue in English the film was disqualified, and the second place finisher, Beaufort, was nominated instead. "The Band's Visit", by the way, has a 100% positive rating on RT.

The other nominees in the foreign film category are “The Counterfeiters” from Austria, “Katyn” from Poland, “Mongol” from Kazakhstan and “12″ from Russia.

Great Democratic Debate

It's the middle of the night here in Israel, and I'm watching the Democratic debate on CNN. I'm enjoying it immensely. Unlike other debates I've watched, that were pretty boring, this one is very interesting. All three candidates have done very well, mixing in real discussion of the issues with a fascinating kind of bickering and jokes.

Hillary Clinton and John Edwards showed great understanding of the issues, bombarding Obama with criticism. I think Clinton was also successful in emphasizing her experience. Obama was successful in deflecting most of the criticism and showing his sense of humor (not that a sense of humor should be one of the considerations in selecting a president).

Nobody won this debate. John Edwards might have gained the most out of it, reminding voters that he's still around and still serious. I personally don't like him and don't want him as president, or even vice president, but I was impressed by Edwards's performance tonight.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

The Bush Countdown

Exactly one year from now, on January 20, 2009, President George Walker Bush's final term will be over. Americans and non-Americans alike will be able to sigh in relief. Other than Mike Huckabee, Ron Paul, Dennis Kucinich and possibly Fred Thompson, anyone of the current Democratic and Republicans candidates would be an improvement over the current administration.

The 44th President of the United States will have a very tough job. President Bush has badly damaged so much - national security, civil liberties, America's international standing, the economy, welfare, etc. - and I doubt he'll fix any of these during his final year in office. At best, he won't make too much further damage.

I wonder whether the person replacing Bush, which will hopefully be Hillary Clinton, will thank Dubya in the inaugural address, or instead announce the appointment of a special commission to investigate abuses of the constitution during Bush's tenure. Well, okay, I know the latter won't happen but I hope the former won't either.

Hezbollah's Body Parts

Sheikh Hassan Nassrallah, head of Lebanon's Shi'ite terrorist militia Hezbollah, has declared he has the body parts of Israeli soldiers. He graphically described the heads, limbs and even one almost complete body in his organization's possession.

The consensus seems to be that the "body part speech" was shocking and disgusting. He hit a new low, everybody says. I disagree. Talking about body parts is nothing compared to what he has done. Deliberately trying to kill as many Israeli civilians as possible seems to me as something much worse than any of his words.

Anyway, Israel should not negotiate over body parts. These soldiers are dead. Does it really matter where their bodies are, especially when most of their body is already buried and the families have a grave to grieve upon?

Good Riddance

The current Israeli government still sucks, but it is a little bit better than it was last week. Avigdor Lieberman, the Minister of Strategic Threats, has resigned and pulled his semi-fascist party Israel Beytenu (Israel Our Home) out of the coalition.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert should seize the opportunity to show he means business with regard to the peace process. Until now he was only going through the motions while doing nothing on the ground. Here's what he has to do:
  • Get rid of illegal settlements. Reject Ehud Barak's agreement with the settlers, whereby they abandon the illegal outposts in exchange for expansion of legal settlements. The government must destroy all illegal settlements and completely freeze the expansion of the settlements which are legal under Israeli law.
  • Get rid of the Ministry of Strategic Threats. Not only does the name sound like it is straight out of 1984, but aren't strategic threats something the Defense Ministry is supposed to deal with? Besides, it was only created for Lieberman. Just like he shouldn't be a cabinet member, strategic threats shouldn't be a cabinet ministry.
  • Do anything in your power to make the lives of Palestinians in the West Bank as good as possible, so they will see that negotiations rather than violence are the way to a better life. However, don't make the lives of Palestinians in Gaza completely miserable, either. It is both immoral and stupid. It would only bring about more animosity towards Israel.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

The Right to Vote

Good thing I served in the IDF. Otherwise, according to a new bill proposed by Labor MK Eitan Cabel, I could lose the right to vote and my driver's license. Other potential penalties would be for me to be denied the right to study medicine or psychology.

Since I did indeed serve in the IDF and happen to be a member of the Labor Party, even if the bill passes I'll have the pleasure of voting against Mr. Cabel next time he runs for a place on the party's Knesset list. This is an extremely undemocratic bill, and I am ashamed it was authored by one of my party's representatives.

In Israel, every adult citizen has the right to vote. Unlike the United States, even felons are not denied the vote. Murderers, rapists, traitors and spies can vote from prison if they are Israelis. So Nahoum Manbar, who is in prison for selling weapons to Iran, and Yigal Amir, who assassinated Yitzhak Rabin, will be able to vote, but people who did not devote two or three years of their lives to the state will be denied a voice?

I do think that people who do not serve in the military or any national civilian service without a good reason should be punished, but the punishment needs to be proportionate. It needs to last a limited time period, not their entire lives.

Civilian life in Israel should not be determined by military service (or even non-military national service). A person's life should not be destroyed only because he refuses to serve the state. Somebody needs to remind Eitan Cabel that the state exists for its citizens and not the citizens for the state.

Michigan Dems, Vote Ron Paul

Markos Moulitsas of The Daily Kos wants Michigan Democrats to vote for Mitt Romney in the Republican primary next Tuesday. Since the DNC stripped the state of delegates, making the Democratic primary meaningless (Clinton is the only one on the ballot anyway) and anyone can vote in the Republican primary, Democrats can use the primary to their advantage. Kos says that if Romney wins, the Republicans will fight amongst themselves, wasting their time and money on the primary, leading to a Democratic victory in November.

If you want to screw with the Republicans I have a better target: vote Ron Paul. Wouldn't everybody go crazy if he won the primary? Maybe he'd even get a boost ahead of the next primaries, thus winning more delegates to the Republican convention, which would lead to a nuttier libertarian platform.

I'm not sure that trying to screw up the Republican nomination process is so smart. Since any Republican nominee will have a chance of actually winning the presidency, maybe Michigan Democrats should vote for the Republican who would do the least damage as president. It seems to me that John McCain fits this description. On the other hand, voting for the best Republican would make the general election tougher for the eventual Democratic nominee.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Bush's Biggest Fan

The George W. Bush Fan Club has very few members, but it looks like Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is applying for the job of chairman of its Israeli chapter. All the praise the Israeli chief executive lavished upon his American counterpart was way overboard and very embarrassing.

When Bush first landed in Israel, he told President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Olmert something like "this is a very nice ceremony. It's more than I deserve". That's certainly true about Olmert's Bushophilic superlatives.

Bush and Olmert have something in common: they are two horrible leaders whose commitment to pushing the Israeli-Palestinian peace process forward, as opposed to just going through the motions, is still in question. Maybe that's why Olmert loves Bush so much - they're two of a kind.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Hillary Clinton Shouldn't Quit

It seems probable that Barack Obama is going to win the New Hampshire primary by a large margin. As a Clinton supporter, I hope she won't drop out of the race after such an outcome. Citizens in the other states have a right to make their own choices. Just because Democrats in two states prefer Obama doesn't mean Democrats in the whole United States prefer him, too.

John Edwards shouldn't quit either. I don't like him and don't want him to be president, yet I still think voters should have the chance to decide whether to vote for him or not. The same applies to the main candidates on the Republican side as well.

Other than candidates with absolutely no chance of winning, like Dennis Kucinich among the Democrats and Duncan Hunter among the Republicans, candidates should not drop out of the race until the delegate count makes it impossible for them to win.

Friday, January 04, 2008

3 Notes: Obambee and Iowa

The first one tenth of one percent of Americans have spoken. Hopefully, the other 99.9% will make different choices than Iowa voters have made. Senator Barack Obama is not the best candidate among Democrats, while former Gov. Mike Huckabee seems like one of the only candidates on either side who just might turn out to be even worse than President Bush. Both Obama and Huckabee share the same flaw - inexperience. For Obama it's his greatest weakness. For ultraconservative Huckabee it's just the tip of the iceberg.

I actually like some aspects of the caucuses. I like the idea of a public debate between ordinary citizens trying to convince each other why their candidate is better. Nobody should be forced into such a debate, though, and neither should people who cannot attend the caucus be denied a vote. That's why I think some kind of primary/caucus combo might be a good solution. Some people will attend a caucus, while others, possibly the majority, will vote behind a curtain or via absentee ballots. Sure, the secret ballot option might kill the caucus, but allowing more people to vote is worth it.

Other than that, Iowa shouldn't be the first to vote, at least not every presidential election. In 2005, a panel lead by former President Jimmy Carter and former Secretary of State James Baker suggested a system of four regional primaries, where each region would hold primaries and caucuses at monthly intervals, with their order rotating every election year. That's a great idea. The panel also recommended that Iowa and New Hampshire remain the first two states to vote, because they test the candidates in door-to-door campaigning. I disagree with this. Candidates can be scrutinized in the same way in other states, too. One or two states could be selected randomly every presidential election to be the first to vote.

P.S. What do you think about Obambee as a word for the Obama-Huckabee duo? I like it more than Huckobama or Huckabama. Oh, the silliness.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

The Office Pool, 2008

It's two hours after midnight here in Israel, which means it's already 2008 here. What better way is there to start the year than by making baseless predictions? I'll use William Safire's office pool op-ed in today's (or rather yesterday's) New York Times to predict the future.

1. The business headline of the year will be: (a) Big Bounce to 15,000 Dow After Soft Landing (economics and the markets ain't my turf, so this is a wild guess).

2. The Academy Award for Best Picture will go to: (a) “There Will Be Blood” (The truth is I haven't seen any of the movies Safire "nominated", and I'd actually bet on another film I haven't seen that isn't on Safire's list - "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" - the Academy sure loves movies about handicaps).

3. The Roberts Supreme Court will decide that:
(a) gun rights belong to the individual, but the Second Amendment’s key limitation is that gun possession should be “well-regulated”
(b) states can require voter ID to prevent fraud even if it reduces access
(c) lethal injection is not cruel or unusual punishment if it isn’t painful
(d) the “ancient right” of habeas corpus applies to Guantánamo detainees no matter what law Congress passes (I think all four will happen).

4. The fiction sleeper best seller will be: (b) “Shadow and Light,” by Jonathan Rabb, set in prewar Germany (just a wild guess).

5. The nonfiction success will be: (c) “Counselor: A Life at the Edge of History” by Ted Sorensen, President Kennedy’s alter ego (anything JFK-related has good chances of success).

6. The media world will be rocked as: (c) Google challenges telecommunications giants by taking steps to provide both telephone and video on the Internet (seems like the next logical step towards World Domination).

7. In United States foreign policy debates: (b) failure in Iraq will sink stay-the-course Republicans (the surge has improved the situation from dire to just plain old very bad, so Americans will still want to get the hell out of there).

8. The de facto dictator truly leaving the political scene this year will be: (d) Fidel Castro (he just might die during 2008. Chavez, Putin and Mugabe ain't goin' nowhere. One de facto dictator that might leave the political scene who isn't on Safire's list is Musharraf, but this will only happen by force, most likely deadly force).

9. By year’s end, American diplomats will be negotiating openly with: (c) Iran (none of the above is more likely, but if I had to pick one, it makes more sense that the US would start talks with Iran, if it complies with international demands for inspections. Diplomats might also talk to the Taliban and Hamas covertly).

10. The two-state solution to the Arab-Israeli dispute appears when: (b) an Ehud Barak-Benjamin Netanyahu rematch results in a majoritarian, rightist coalition victory (Does Safire mean that the two-state solution will come to fruition? If he does, than I'd say that's not happening in 2008. But if the question is which option will become a reality, the division of Jerusalem into two capitals and Palestinian unity sound like wishful thinking at this point. Unfortunately, a Netanyahu victory is very probable).

11. Assuming the Iowa caucuses to be meaningless pollster-media hype, the January primary state with the biggest influence on the outcome of both parties’ nominations will be: (d) Florida (assuming nobody wins decisively in New Hampshire, Florida, the last state to hold its primaries before Super Tuesday, will be most influential, being the freshest in the minds of Super Tuesday voters' minds).

12. The American troop level in Iraq at year’s end will be: (a) the present 152,000 (even if a Democrat wins in November, Bush is in office till January 20, 2009, so I don't think troop levels will be reduced).

13. The issue most affecting the vote on Election Day will be: (c) health plans: incentivize or socialize (that and Iraq, which doesn't really fit Safire's fourth option, "diplomacy: accommodating realism or extending freedom").

14. The presidential election will hinge primarily on: (b) success or failure in Iraq (unless something unexpected happens, and in politics, expect the unexpected).

15. The Democratic ticket will be: (c) Clinton-Bill Richardson (I expect Clinton to win the nomination, and she needs an experienced running mate).

16. The Republican ticket will be: (a) Rudolph Giuliani-Mike Huckabee (since Safire's other options, Romney-Petraeus and McCain-Bloomberg, are both wildly far-fetched. Regardless of Safire's options, my prediction is that it will end up being Romney-Huckabee).

17. The winning theme in November will be: (c) experience counts (that would definitely be a good theme for a Clinton-Richardson ticket running against a Romney-Huckabee ticket, or for a McCain campaign).

18. The election will be decided on: (a) charisma, (b) experience, (e) money and (f) issues (I think experience and issues should be enough, but the American people think otherwise. I do believe, though, that character won't play much of a role this time around).

19. As 2009 dawns, Americans will face: (a) a leftward march, with the Clintons in the White House and a Democratic Congress (minus the rest of the sentence, where Safire says Congress will be "feeling no tax, entitlement or earmark restraint").