Sunday, August 23, 2009

What Actually Happened in Fatah's Elections?

The US government has been meddling in the Palestinian internal affairs since at least 2003. Its effort is to transform the Palestinian national movement for liberation and independence into a more compliant or puppet government, willing to accede to Israel’s political and security demands.

The tactics employed by the U.S. include military, security, diplomatic, and political components. With the ascension of Hamas after the 2006 legislative election, U.S. strategy has been fixed on unraveling the election results. Its aim for a political comeback of the pro-American camp within the Palestinian political body has been initiated with the convening of Fatah’s national conference this last week.

During the week of August 4, 2009, the Palestinian National Liberation Movement Fatah, convened its sixth national conference in its 44-year history. Fatahhas historically been considered the largest Palestinian faction, but that perception changed when it lost the legislative elections to Hamas in January 2006. As the group wrapped up its conference after eight days, it announced the results of its elections. The international media, particularly western outlets, framed the election as “fresh” and “new” faces ascending to power in the movement. But what actually happened in the vote?

Fatah’s internal structure is unlike most political parties or resistance movements. It is not hierarchical and its members’ loyalty largely follows a system of patronage and factionalism embodied in a 23-member Central Committee. The Central Committee is technically supposed to reflect a system of collective leadership and the political program of a national liberation movement. Even its founder, the late Yasser Arafat, who led the organization from its inception in 1965 until his death in 2004, did not have an official title beyond that of a member of the committee and commander-in-chief of its military wing. But over time, in the eyes of many Palestinians, Fatah’s leadership has symbolized, a system of cronyism, corruption, collaboration with Israel, and political failures, especially since the Oslo process.

Although its internal charter calls for a national conference every four years to elect its leadership, the major questions at the eve of this conference were: Why did it take Fatah two decades to convene this one? Did the election of Fatah’s new leadership reflect the aspirations of the Palestinian people and a new and fresh approach to the political process? And finally, who are the backers of the main individuals who were recently elected to lead it?

Fatah’s Central Committee led by Arafat made the strategic decision in 1988 to negotiate a political settlement with Israel, and accept the United States government as the main broker. For two decades, especially in the aftermath of the 1993 Oslo accords, the Palestinian issue gradually receded from the international agenda, becoming an almost exclusive affair between the U.S, Israel, and the Palestinian leadership whether it was the PLO or after 1994, the Palestinian Authority (PA).

Most neutral Middle East analysts observe that American negotiators throughout several administrations (both Democratic and Republican) have mostly adopted the Israeli point of view and placed most of the pressure on the Palestinian leadership (whether Bill Clinton with Yitzhak Rabin and Ehud Barak, or George W. Bush with Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert.)

During the first term of the Bush administration, Arafat, as the head of the PA, was isolated, while Washington promoted those within the Palestinian leadership such as Mahmoud Abbas (imposed on Arafat as prime minister in 2003), and former security chief Muhammad Dahlan, both of whom embraced the American strategy in the region. In 2005, Bush declared his freedom and democracy agenda, demanding elections in the Palestinian territories, and hoping for a Fatah victory to implement his vision.

However, the administration soon abandoned its agenda of promoting democracy in the Arab world when Hamas won a landslide victory in the January 2006 legislative elections. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice expressed shock about the results saying, “No one saw it coming.” A Department of Defense official told David Rose of Vanity Fair in 2008, “Everyone blamed everyone else,” “We sat there in the Pentagon and said, ‘Who the f*@# recommended this?"

Ever since that election, the American administration employed three different but overlapping strategies in order to undo the results. These efforts by the State Department, the White House and the Defense Department, were scantily planned and poorly coordinated.

Throughout 2006 and the first half of 2007, the State Department used its diplomatic resources and political muscle to topple the democratically-elected Palestinian government led by Hamas. In an April 2008 report, Vanity Fair disclosed that an American talking point memo emerged after a U.S. diplomat accidentally left it behind in a Palestinian Authority building in Ramallah. The document echoed Rice’s demand that Abbas dissolve the national unity government and take on Hamas.

Meanwhile, as detailed by Vanity Fair, neo-con and NSC deputy director Elliot Abrams was plotting a coup in Gaza against Hamas with former Gaza security chief Muhammad Dahlan in the spring of 2007. It included coordination with Israel, several Arab countries such as UAE and Jordan, payments to Dahlan of over $30 million, the training of five hundred security personnel, a campaign to destabilize Gaza, and a torture program against Hamas members and other Islamists.

Dahlan admitted as much to the magazine’s writer, David Rose, saying that he told his American counterpart who was pushing for a confrontation with Hamas, “If I am going to confront them, I need substantial resources. As things stand, we do not have the capability.”

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported on June 7, 2007, that the American administration had asked Israel to authorize a large Egyptian arms shipment, including dozens of armored cars, hundreds of armor-piercing rockets, thousands of hand grenades, and millions of rounds of ammunition. Rose explains that Abrams’s plan stressed the need to bolster Fatah’s forces in order to “deter” Hamas. According to a senior administration official the “desired outcome” was to give Abbas “the capability to take the required strategic political decisions (i.e. fulfilling the Israeli conditions for a political settlement) and dismissing the (Hamas led) cabinet, establishing an emergency cabinet.”

But Dick Cheney’s Middle East advisor, David Wurmser, admitted the failed effort when he told the magazine, “It looked to me that what happened wasn’t so much a coup by Hamas but an attempted coup by Fatah that was pre-empted (by Hamas) before it could happen.”

The third effort, was mainly overseen by the Pentagon, and led by Lt. General Keith Dayton. In a speech before the pro-Israel think tank, the Washington Institute on Near East Policy (WINEP) in May 2009, he said that the Office of the U.S. Security Coordinator, which he has been leading since December 2005, is “an effort to assist the Palestinians in reforming their security services.” But according to the notes of a meeting between Dayton and a Palestinian security chief in Ramallah in early 2007, the real purpose of the mission was revealed when Dayton said, "We also need to build up your forces in order to take on Hamas.”

Since 2007, Congress has given Dayton $161 million dollars to implement his plan. In addition, this year Congress appropriated an additional $209 million dollars to Dayton for the 2009 and 2010 fiscal years, to accelerate his program after receiving high marks from Israeli security chiefs. In the past year alone, more than 1,000 Hamas and Islamic Jihad members have been arrested and detained without trials, with many tortured and killed under interrogation, by U.S.-trained Palestinian security personnel in the West Bank. Amnesty International and many other human rights organizations have condemned these actions and called for an immediate halt to the human rights abuses of Palestinian detainees in PA prisons.

In his WINEP speech Dayton acknowledged this crackdown when he said, “I don't know how many of you are aware, but over the last year-and-a-half, the Palestinians have engaged upon a series of what they call security offensives throughout the West Bank, surprisingly well coordinated with the Israeli army.” He further admitted that during the 22-day Gaza war last winter, U.S.-trained Palestinian security forces prevented Palestinians in the West Bank from organizing mass protests against the Israeli army, which ironically allowed for the reduction of the Israeli military presence in the West Bank in order to redeploy those troops to Gaza. Dayton added, “As a matter of fact, a good portion of the Israeli army went off to Gaza from the West Bank— think about that for a minute, and the (Israeli military) commander (of the West Bank) was absent for eight straight days.”

After a failed coup and brutal military offensive failed to dislodge Hamas from Gaza, the Israeli and U.S. strategy sought to intensify its pressure against Hamas through a suffocating economic siege in Gaza, massive security detentions in the West Bank, financial squeeze in the region and political isolation internationally. Meanwhile, according to several Hamas spokesmen, including the deposed prime minister Ismael Haniyya in Gaza and political chief Khaled Meshal in Damascus, the main obstacle to any national reconciliation with Fatah has been the detention of hundreds of Hamas members and the PA’s security collaboration with the military occupation overseen by Dayton.

The next phase in this effort is to reinvent Fatah and present it as a viable political alternative to Hamas and other resistance movements by improving the living conditions in the West Bank in contrast to Gaza’s devastating siege. But more important, the plan envisions a new Fatah that is considered a reliable partner willing to accomodate Israel’s conditions for a political settlement. The sixth Fatah conference and accompanying elections was thus convened to dispose of its corrupt and dysfunctional image.

For over a year, the Central Committee, the highest body in its structure, could not agree on many major issues, including where to hold the conference (the final decision was to hold it in the occupied Palestinian territories, which means that Israel has a veto on which delegates from abroad would be allowed to participate). They also squabbled about which delegates would be appointed to the conference, which would determine the composition of the new leadership, as well as the political program and the role of armed resistance against the occupation. Abbas and his inner circle vetoed the decision of the committee, and decided to hold the conference in Bethlehem, virtually hand-picking all the participants to guarantee the election outcome.

Historically, the delegates to Fatah’s national conference were elected or appointed by the Central Committee, but at least fifty-one percent came from the military apparatus. Since most of the military wing has either been disbanded or wanted by the Israelis, a large number of the delegates to this conference were security personnel substituting for the military ones. This fact guaranteed that the election results would be skewed towards the security chiefs and their supporters.

The original number of delegates was supposed to be around 700. Then it increased to 1,250 but eventually mushroomed to 2,355. Less than ten percent were actually indirectly elected by the virtue of their positions, while the overwhelming majority was appointed by a small group in Ramallah led mainly by Abbas and other power brokers such as Dahlan and former West Bank security chief Jibreel Rujoub, who used to hang the picture of former CIA director George Tenet above his desk alongside that of Arafat.

The number of Central Committee members was also increased from 21 to 23, with 19 directly elected by the delegates. Abbas was to appoint four members later, but he himself was chosen by acclamation, to avoid embarrassment if he does not garner first place in a direct election. The 18 individuals who were elected at the end of the week-long conference comprised four from the “old guard” who are considered close to Abbas, and 14 new members, three of whom are former security chiefs who’ve been close to the CIA. These include Dahlan, Rujoub, and Tawfiq Tirawi, a former intelligence chief, who is currently heading a security training academy in Jericho under the supervision of Gen. Dayton.

From the outset, this conference was heavily tilted towards delegates from the West Bank. Unlike previous conferences, Palestinians in the Diaspora were hardly represented since Israel allowed only a few people to enter from abroad. While Gaza’s population is equal to that of the West Bank, less than 400 people were selected as delegates from Gaza, while there were over three times as many delegates from the West Bank.

But most of the Gaza delegates did not even attend because Hamas prevented them from leaving the strip, demanding in return that hundreds of its detained members in the West Bank be freed by the PA, which it summarily refused. In short, aside from Dahlan, who no longer lives in Gaza, not a single elected person is from or lives in Gaza. This prompted the entire Fatah leadership in Gaza, including former Central Committee member Zakariya al-Agha, to resign en mass one day after the conference, protesting not only the results, but also the whole election process.

Similarly, Fatah members abroad did not fare well. Only two people were elected to the Central Committee, though more than two-thirds of Palestinians (eight million) live outside of the Palestinian territories, many in squalid refugee camps, with the “right of return”, considered a hot- button issue in future negotiations, up in the air. On the other hand, the overwhelming majority of the new members were either from the West Bank or already living in Ramallah as part of Abbas’ closest aides, affirming the American-led ‘West Bank first’ strategy.

Some of the historic old guard who oppose Abbas’s political program such as Central Committee secretary Farouk Kaddoumi or Hani Al-Hassan did not even attend or run as candidates. Kaddoumi condemned the conference, questioned its legitimacy, and went as far as accusing Abbas and Dahlan of plotting with the Israelis to poison Arafat, eventually causing his death.

Other former members who ran as candidates were defeated and cried foul. Former prime minister and negotiator Ahmad Qurai (Abu Alaa) questioned the credentials of the delegates and the integrity of the election procedure. When Abbas chief of staff, Tayeb Abdel-Rahim lost, he demanded a recount and was eventually declared a winner, after the election committee claimed he was actually tied for last. Many delegates, especially female candidates, all of whom lost, criticized this blatant cronyism. Nevertheless, several popular and “clean” candidates were able to win a seat such as Marwan Bargouthi, who is serving five life sentences in Israel, and Mahmoud Al-Aloul, a former mayor of Nablus.

As Palestinians watched this conference unfold, many were hoping that it would be the beginning of a national reconciliation and the establishment of a unity government. However, it seems that as a result of this conference Fatah itself may further disintegrate, as its Gaza leaders and Abu Alaa are threatening to launch a new faction called “Fatah Awakening,” further increasing division and tension within the Palestinian ranks.

The next step in the strategy of the pro-American camp is to hold presidential and legislative elections in the Palestinian territories next January, hoping to present a rejuvenated Fatah as an alternative to Hamas and other resistance movements. Jonathan Steele of the Guardian further exposed on June 22, 2007 the U.S. "hard coup" of June ’07, as well as its political strategy. He detailed US officials' conversations with several Arab regimes. These were, among others, “ ‘to maintain President Abbas and Fatah as the center of gravity on the Palestinian scene’, ‘avoid wasting time in accommodating Hamas,’ ‘undermining Hamas’s political status,’ and ‘calling for early elections."

In the words of Gen. Dayton, the Palestinian personnel trained by the U.S pledge after their graduation that they “were not sent here to learn how to fight Israel, but were rather sent here to learn how to keep law and order.” The main purpose of these security battalions is to halt any resistance to or rejection of the occupation including non-violent means. He then added that senior Israeli military commanders frequently ask him, "How many more of these new Palestinians can you generate, and how quickly?”

Many of the questions, posed by ordinary Palestinians before the conference, remain unanswered. What is Fatah’s political program in light of the current Israeli intransigence and pre-conditions? What of national reconciliation with other Palestinian factions and the establishment of a national unity government? What is the role of resistance against the occupation, the suffocating siege against Gaza, and most importantly, the continuous collaboration with the Israeli security agencies and military against their own citizens?

These questions persist while Israel’s occupation and its brutal policies, the expansion of settlements, the separation wall, the detention of over 11,000 Palestinians, the expropriation of land, the depopulation of East Jerusalem’s Palestinian residents, and the denial of Palestinian refugees’ right of return, continue unabated.

Simply put, the U.S. wants a Palestinian leadership that will answer these questions in a way that is satisfactory to Israel. As one State Department official said to Vanity Fair regarding American objectives in the Israeli-Palestinian struggle, “We care about results, and we support whatever son of a bitch we have to support. Dahlan was the son of a bitch we happened to know best" ~By Esam AL-Amin

Monday, August 17, 2009

If There Wasn't Something Missing

"Joshua, get off the computer."

The flashing images on the screen continued unabated as Joshua blocked out his fathers voice. It wasn't necessarily that Bio-Menace was an entrancing game, simply that he found it easier to patiently hope his father would go away than to acknowledge his existence.

"Joshua, I told you at dinner that your mother and I were going to go welcome the new neighbors and that we expected you to come with us. You can either save your game now and come back to it when we get back or I can turn it off at the surge protector and you can be grounded for the rest of the night."

Although he attempted to maintain his air of indifference Joshua knew better than to risk calling his father's bluff, he pressed the F5 key to quick save his game just in case.

"1... 2..."

"I am! I just saved! Jeez dad, why do you need me to go with you anyway? I don't give a hoot who the new neighbors are."

Trying to keep a lid on his frustration his father mentally counted backward from 10 before responding with some bait to catch his sons attention. "They have a pretty cute daughter about your age, isn't that reason enough to come along?"

Although his 13 year old hormones reacted unconsciously at the thought of a new girl in the vicinity Joshua knew better than to let his excitement show. Counting backward from 10 before responding he took a low blow "Dad, it's creepy for you to think a girl my age is cute."

Rolling his eyes Joseph turned away, leaving his son in the computer room as he walked down the hall to get get his shoes on. Pulling his lanky body up out of the swivel computer chair Joshua padded down the hall after his father. Meeting up with his parents in the kitchen his dad handed him a hefty watermelon. "For me?" he asked in mock surprise.

"Very funny" his father replied as he held his wife's hand to help her down the stairs. Following along behind the embarrassingly affectionate couple Joshua skipped putting on his shoes in favor of the slippers he was already wearing, he figured he'd be able to break away back to the comforts of home once the grown-ups got lost in their superficial chit-chat. Crossing the street diagonally to the north west it was only 50 or so paces before Joshua found himself standing in front of the new neighbors porch. His parents were already at the door making their introductions so he hung back a few feet closer to their ghetto van waiting impatiently for his chance to pass the giant fruit off on someone and make his escape.

Since he was the closest to the driveway he was the first to see the noisy gaggle of children come around from the back of the house to ride on their bikes in the drive. Quickly noting that these three girls were all quite a bit younger than him he turned his attention back to the adults who were coming off the step and onto the front lawn.

His father politely introduced him to these strangers, Sue and Jay by name, and it was to Jay that Joshua was able to hand off his burden. They seemed like nice enough people, although Jays simple T-shirt and jeans were a stark contrast to Joseph's Sunday best. The strong odor of cigarette smoke clung to Sue like a second skin, a fact that make Joshua smile because he knew it would make his parents far more uncomfortable than it aught to. Laughing quietly to himself at his parents awkward attempts at conversation with these obvious 'non-members' Joshua turned himself about to head for home.

In the fading light of the setting sun he was stopped dead in his tracks by what he saw behind him. Not a dozen feet away, riding a bike that was clearly too small for her, was the most exquisite beauty he had ever seen. Her long legs were tanned a perfect gold and were gloriously displayed by the tiny shorts she wore... in fact on closer inspection she wasn't wearing shorts at all but a skimpy pair of checkered boxers. Her golden hair was pulled back into a ponytail and her eyes sparkled in the failing light like a pair of flawlessly cut sapphires.

As she rode in figure eights on the driveway her sisters darted about on all sides, their giggles filling the air. Their merriment must have been infectious because Joshua found himself laughing out loud at their squeals as each took turns standing in front of their sister and jumping out of the way moments before they were struck. Perhaps it was his laughter that caught her attention causing her eyes to glance up at his own for the first time.

In the years that followed, even for the rest of his life, Joshua never forgot that moment. The way that he felt when his eyes met hers shattered any preconceived notions he had held on life. For him the entire world dropped away, existence winking out like a light, leaving no trace beyond this young woman in whose presence Joshua had been completely reduced to a thoughtless lump of jelly. In all of his years he had never imagined that such perfection could exist in this world.

While the young nerdy kid stood staring at her Ann wondered to herself why these three had come to introduce themselves without the gorgeous blond boy she had seen washing his truck in their driveway while she had unpacked that afternoon. It wasn't that this kid was unattractive, he had a goofy sort of charm and adorable puppy-dog eyes, as much as it was the fact that she had spent most of the evening wondering how she could introduce herself to the mysterious hunk who must have been this boys older brother. Although Joshua wasn't anything to rave about her naturally flirtatious nature kicked in and she found herself smiling and laughing just to see his reaction.

It was the laugh that broke into his trance, if someone had asked him right then what her laugh sounded like he would have confidently stated that it was what it sounded like when angels sang. He gaped at her, astonished by her glory, for a few moments more before he was able to bring himself back down to earth enough to shut his mouth and smile back at her. Her smile widened as she stopped her bike, both legs long enough to touch the ground on either side, and unnecessarily readjusted her ponytail.

He wanted more than anything to introduce himself, in fact the only thing he wanted more was to be able to impress her... something he didn't begin to trust himself to do under the full bore of her enchantment. The gears in his mind spun at a break neck speed to find something interesting or witty to say to her but his thoughts were so jumbled together that he wasn't at all sure he could even remember his own name.

Collecting himself enough to realize that he would quickly look goofy standing there gawking, he spun on his heel and made what he hoped didn't look like a mad dash for his front door. Once inside he leaned back against the closed door, his mind and his emotions spinning about inside of him as though caught in a tornado. Who was this amazing beauty, this perfect angel? How could he be so stupid as to wear slippers instead of shoes like a civilized person? What excuse could he come up with to be able to see her again? Why hadn't he been able to come up with a single thing to say to her instead of running away like a scared puppy? Would she ever be interested in him or would she see right past him like most of the girls his age? These and a thousand other questions played volleyball with his brain as his heart alternated between racing and nearly stopping altogether. Stumbling downstairs to his room, any thoughts of computer games obliterated from his mind, he attempted to focus on a single thought... what could he possibly do to make her fall in love with him?

Friday, August 7, 2009

Socialized Health Care for Dummies

health care

Our health care in America is a joke. It might be wonderful for a select few but for the rest of us it's downright awful. We are currently ranked 36th in the world with every other country who has universal health care ranking above us. We have 46 million people without insurance, doctors wasting time filling out insurance forms, insurance companies dreaming up ways to avoid paying out to people who faithfully paid their premiums for years and 50% of the 1,458,000 personal bankruptcies in the US in 2001 were due to medical bills. Health care should be considered a universal human right that should be made available to all persons regardless of race, gender, sexuality, or ability to pay. What it comes down to is countries who offer universal health care have happier citizens who live longer and are healthier.

For those who still are not convinced, I have provided some arguments that are posed to my friends and I almost daily, along with our replies:

"I, for one, do not trust our incompetent government to do anything, especially run our health care."

I hope anyone that argues that they don't trust the government to run health care is at least consistent and fights just as hard to get the government to disband the armed forces. If you can't trust the government to try and save lives, you shouldn't trust them to take them either.

That goes for the death penalty too, and really, the entire legal system. An error in the legal system especially as it pertains to the death penalty is, at least in my opinion, much more horrible. Your government making a mistake and purposefully killing someone is much worse than making your wait times for medical care slightly longer.

Most people’s views don’t jive with the facts of socialized health care in Canada or Europe, or of the role and usefulness of government in those countries. Many Americans seem to have an automatic fear of government which is based not on reason or clear facts, but of convoluted theories and misrepresentations of the real facts. Actually many government officials and representative are in bed with the insurance companies. So long as people profit when sick people don't get medical treatment, the system will stay broken, and quite inhumane.

"In Canada as well as England and other countries with socialized health care, you sometimes spend months waiting before seeing a physician. Many people would die just waiting in an emergency room."

Socialized health care has been proven to be far more efficient, fair, humane, and equal. It is not at all perfect, and needs improvement, but the US would be wise to adopt a more social health system rather than a private profit based one where insurance company bureaucrats are making medical decisions.

Although a few people do die waiting for treatment we have far more people who suffer and die because they go untreated due to lack of insurance. Not only is that statement about waiting for care patently misleading - (one only waits for non-emergency or elective specialty care which is based on the same principle as ER triage). Europe and Canada are doing very, very well under socialism. In fact the more socialist the country (Denmark, Sweden) the better off they are. Better education, health, longer life-expectancy, lower infant mortality, more productive, less crime, (because the poor have options and support from the community they don't have to resort to crime and violence out of necessity).

Those stories in which people die waiting for treatment, a rare occurrence, are flaunted about by the conservative news outlets, like Fox, which are owned by giant corporations and run by the elite few who make more money than God. This ruling class will do whatever they need to in order to keep the money pouring into their bank accounts. They recognize that higher taxes would drain them of some of their precious wealth and so they use their media power to spread the idea that covering their asses is in everyone's best interests. For example, the CEO of Fox holds stock in almost every major health insurance company; it would obviously be in his direct best interest to keep people from supporting universalized health care as he would end up losing millions when the insurance companies are forced to lower their costs to stay in business. So, of course, he is going to twist the truth and use scare tactics (in the form of hosts like Bill O'Reiley and Glenn Beck) to keep the populace complacent.

"Medicaid and medicare are a mess. Have you ever been on Medicaid?"

Yes we have and it is wonderful. The only reason that Medicaid and Medicare are a mess is due to a major lack of funding; they consistently have their budgets cut... thus why Medicaid has been forced to stop offering adults any dental and optical coverage. The US government already provides the best health care in the US for government employees and veterans, and the elderly (Medicare). It's cheaper, more efficient and provides a higher level of care than is available through private insurance.

"The US treasurer himself said the bottom line is that Obama's plan will cost $1 T more than taxpayers currently spend!"

Actually government health care has proven to be far cheaper and far more accessible than private. For one, overhead costs would be cut due to reduced staffing needs (administration, billing departments, etc.) than currently exist in hospitals and private health insurance companies. Also, socialized health care is not trying to generate a profit, just break even.

The fact is the US has by far the most expensive health care system in the world, has a lower level of care, lower life expectancy, and has far higher percentage of people without any access to care at all. More people in the United States are totally without access than the entire population of Canada. The US is currently paying out the nose for emergency care when it could be paying far, far less for European/Canadian type preventative care which is far cheaper in the long run for all involved. It's better to have free, easy access to a doctor whenever you need it than to have to wait until it develops into a serious, more expensive, problem to get help.

The way it works in Canada is that you get free access to basic health care, for specialty care you may be caused to wait depending on the status of your condition. If it is life-threatening you get immediate, free treatment. For elective or non-serious conditions you may well have to wait, but that is no different from how triage works in a hospital normally - those who need the care the most get treated first. Dentistry, prescriptions, optometric care are privatized and covered at different degrees depending on the province you reside in, but either way are far, far cheaper than in the US.

"Shouldn't the reform come from insurance companies, the doctors and hospitals who so ridiculously overcharge"

Unfortunately the insurance companies, doctors and hospitals will not reform, especially without government intervention. They are corporations whose primary purpose is to make the most possible money for their shareholders. The best way to drive their prices down is to offer some sort of alternative, where people do not have to pay exorbitant fees in order to receive treatment. Once they start to lose customers they will reform in order to stay in business.

"I have a doctor friend in Switzerland who had to go over the border to practice to make any money, because they were paid the same as every other average doctor, no matter how good they strove to be."

The fact that they weren't making 'any money' is a fallacy, obviously the other doctors in Switzerland are able to survive off of their wages. Another reason this argument is ridiculous is due to the fact that American doctors spend years paying off hundreds of thousands of dollars in student loans, whereas in a socialized country such as Switzerland their government pays for their college education and doctors graduate debt free.

Under our current system doctors are paid money based on how many patients they can squeeze into a day, to make even more money they are also paid a commission by pharmaceutical companies for each prescription they write. In socialized countries doctors are paid based on how well they care for their patients as well as their patients overall health. In other words our doctors are paid more if we are sick, by being able to write more prescriptions and taking follow up appointments, whereas their doctors are paid more the better their patients fare.

It is irrational that anyone should make a profit on top of what medical care costs. Doctors and nurses should be paid. Pay the costs, but making money on people who are ill is immoral. HMO's and businesses making money on people who are ill are vultures.

"Many people don't have insurance because they choose to spend the money on another area of their life, not that they can't afford it. They just think the government 'owes' this to them. They refuse to get jobs, because then they would have to give up the freebies. I don't want to pay for your health care."

If health care weren't at all tied to employment it would be the same as education - a right that all people (and their children) have regardless of their employment. Are we going to punish children because their parent can't afford health insurance, maybe can't work or even won't?

Many Americans seem to have a warped view on how social programs work. Their anecdotal evidence is a poor reason to go up against the reality of how socialized health care (and education for that matter) actually functions. The percentage of people in the US who abuse social programs, in the 'they' group, are minuscule, especially when compared to how many people in the US are uninsured, uninsurable, and under-insured, and have serious health and employment problems because they are simply less lucky than others. This view seems rather limited and selfish.

"Socialized health care is not only economically unsound, it is immoral. Stealing is wrong, even if it's for a good cause."

'Stealing is wrong.' Yes. So how about industrial waste and environmental degradation that is stealing our health in the first place? How about pesticides and herbicides that are in our food, and all for maximization of profit? Do you realize how much industrialization has increased the cancer rates in developing and developed countries? Causing this whole health care problem in the first place is our particular brand of capitalism.

Do you pay taxes at all? Because that's the government 'stealing' from you, that's forced charity. As the US becomes more and more liberal, which it will, more and more people will start to see why socialism works and will overcome the McCarthyist fear they have of the word socialism. The selfish might, at that time, want to find a nice island to isolate themselves from all the evil forced charity that will be imposed on their 'extremely moral' selves. As for theft, if taxes are theft, then you'd best be prepared to give up much. Police, fire, roads, schools etc.

"The reason health care was so cheap earlier in the last century was because there was less government involvement. Medicare and Medicaid has been a horrible disaster for our country and have increased the cost of health care to what it is today."

As for profit, look back 20 years. Medical care before the rise of the HMO was cheaper, and the people who made money then were doctors, nurses, hospitals, and people doing medical care, not the insurance companies and drug companies. Ask any doctor who has practiced medicine between 1980 and 2009 when and where they made more money. Doctors are making less money now, nurses pay more money for their own insurance (and they work for hospitals and insurance companies.) And people who hold these views obviously don’t have a chronic or debilitating illness or they would understand what it means to be robbed of their money, homes and quality of life.

Things were much simpler in the 'last part of the last century', they have become significantly more complicated by insurance companies. In reality the 'invention' of the HMO may be the most insidious creation ever developed. Insurance companies have developed entire systems and protocols to stop providing for people they insure so that they may retain more 'profit'... the profit of the insurance company is entirely created to decrease the service provided to the insured. If that's not immoral, what is? Health care isn't about simple economics, it’s about quality of life. If quality of life is money to you, then I hope when you snuggle up with it, it gives you lots of warm fuzzies.

"Big government is the problem!"

Back in the day, you had to subscribe for police coverage, fire coverage, and other things that we now consider city costs. How is medical care much different? Everyone in America is one major illness away from bankruptcy, and if you check yourself or a loved one into a nursing/rest home, you can kiss every dime you ever made or ever saved goodbye. And the poor? They already get the best medical coverage in America. Medicaid: The Unlimited Gold Pot at the end of the social ladder.

When a society has its basic needs cared for and doesn't need to struggle to feed their family when making $6 an hour at Mc Donald's, when they don't have to go bankrupt to pay for a surgery, when they can afford to send their children to university, when their government spends money on the welfare of humans and not on imperialistic military goals then you've got a society where social equality is possible, and where people don't die of tooth infections which spread and get into the blood stream because someone couldn't afford to go to the dentist.

"Socialism is nothing more than moral cannibalism. It is evil and it always destroys the people who live with it."

Unfortunately, a Euro/Canadian style health care system isn't even on the table in Congress right now. All they're trying to do is fix the uninsured/under-insured problem by having affordable coverage. Health Insurance companies currently can charge whatever they want and then refuse to pay for people's medical needs because that way they make less money. As long as medical care is for-profit, it is bad for Americans (unless you run a health insurance company). They want to make money, not help people get better.

Obama is not a socialist. He's not even a liberal. He's a centrist. Almost the entire democratic party and certainly its policies are centrist ones. And again Obama's plan isn't socialized medicine. It's just introducing some much needed regulation so insurance can't decline to cover treatment or choose what kinds of treatments it will cover, as well as a public plan which would force insurance companies to lower their rates to a reasonable level. That's all. No socialization, it's American-style health insurance which people will still have to purchase. It's still a terrible idea, but not nearly as terrible as what is currently in place.

Is socialism evil? No, what's evil is basing a society on extreme selfishness, on giving power to those who are just lucky and born into a situation where they can succeed, and where the majority of people exist mostly to supply the ruling class with ever more money. Unregulated capitalism is as bad an idea as Leninist communism. What we need a healthy balance of the two extremes, and that is socialism. Where personal freedom & human equality are sacrosanct.

"Socialism worked real well for the Soviet Union or Cuba or North Korea didn't it?"

Actually if you look at these examples they are not socialists at all, but communists. Communism is no more socialism than American capitalism is Nazism. You live in a society, and must either learn to live with the fact that we as humans are interconnected, need each other, and never succeed in a vacuum. You need us, though because you're just one person, we don't really need you as much. Socialism is a natural result of our basic nature as social primates. If we care for our community, they will in turn care for us and we all profit. What I see as really immoral is the power that rich people have over the poor to control their lives, to refuse them medical treatment, education, and equality simply because they weren't born powerful. All the while American society is becoming more fractured, most are getting poorer, while the few rich are getting even richer, and turning into an oligarchy.

A special thanks to my friends Craig Fitzner, Mark Olsen, Jillian Phippen and Derek Johnson.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Sacred Vagina

The traditional design of most patriarchal religious buildings of worship imitate the female body. Thus, there is an outer and inner entrance, labia majora and labia minora, a central vaginal aisle towards the alter, two curved ovarian structures on either side, and in the sacred center, the alter or womb, where the miracle takes place, where males give birth.

The central ceremony of patriarchal religions is one in which men take over the yoni-power of creation by giving birth symbolically. No wonder male religious leaders so often say that humans were born in sin - because we were born to female creatures. Only by obeying the rules of the patriarchy can we be reborn through men.

No wonder priests and ministers in skirts sprinkle imitation birth fluid over our heads, give us new names and promise rebirth into everlasting life. No wonder the male priesthood tried to keep women away from the alter, just as women are kept away from the control of our own powers of reproduction. Symbolic or real, it's all devoted to controlling the power that resides in the female body.

~Excerpt taken from The Vagina Monologues~

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Help End The Siege In Gaza


We all know the story of the atrocities committed by the Israeli government against the Palestinian people. There is no question that the occupation is illegal, that there have been innumerable human rights violations, that Israel is continuing to build settlements and their apartheid wall is reaching ever farther into Palestinian land. We are going on 60 years now of what most people would consider ethnic cleansing, while the world at large sits idly by unable or unwilling to stand up to the American backed Israeli war machine.


More than 300,000 Israeli settlers are now living on illegal settlements on Palestinian land. It is against international law for an occupying country to transfer it's own civilians into an occupied territory, the same as they also cannot forcibly remove those people inhabiting the occupied territory... but Israel has completely ignored these laws. The Israeli Occupation Authority (IOA) issues demolition orders on Palestinian homes on a daily basis, leaving thousands of refugees. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) then move in with bulldozers and demolish the homes and use the land to build settlements and highways that only settlers are allowed to travel on.

Israel has decided that things such as fruit, shoes and books are "luxuries" that the Palestinian people do not deserve and have effectively blocked these items and many others from entering into the occupied territories. Human rights organizations and even the United Nations are denied access to the Palestinian people, 90% of whom are now suffering from malnutrition. The Palestinian refugees, over half of whom are children, have limited or no access to clean drinking water, health care, education or even food and clothing.


The time is long past that the people of the world need to stand up in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Palestine. Whether or not our individual nations are willing to make a stand against the Israeli government does not dissolve our responsibilities as individuals to do what is right. As is often the case in these matters people are bound to ask themselves what they could possibly do to help others halfway across the world, to justify that their voice and their opinions matter not at all in the great scheme of things, to 'feel bad' for the weak and the oppressed but to do nothing more. "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."


In exactly this spirit of non-complacency Norman Finkelstein and other prominent activists are enlisting various Palestinian solidarity groups in their planning of an international march on Gaza in an effort to end the blockade of the territory. It is their plan to bring thousands of demonstrators from across the globe to march alongside Gazans as they breach the blockade imposed upon the population together as one people. According to a draft statement of purposes and principles "This march draws inspiration from Mahatma Gandhi. Those of us residing in the United States also draw inspiration from the civil rights movement." According to the statement the march will be set for January 1st, 2010. "We will march the Long Mile across Erez checkpoint alongside the people of Gaza in a nonviolent demonstration that breaches the illegal blockade. We conceive this march as the first step in a protracted nonviolent campaign ... If we bring thousands to Gaza and millions more around the world watch the march on the internet, we can end the siege without a drop of blood being shed."


Regarding the march Finkelstein was quoted as saying "If the likes of Jimmy Carter, Noam Chomsky, Bishop Tutu and Nelson Mandela are at the head of the march; if behind them are students holding high signs of the schools from which they hail - Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Oxford, Cambridge; if behind them are the ill and the lame, the young and the innocent of Gaza; if behind them are hundreds of thousands of others, unarmed and unafraid, wanting only to enforce the law; if around the world hundreds of thousands are watching the internet to see what happens - Israel can't shoot."

My friends and I are planning to form our own delegation to visit Israel and the occupied territories in December and to join in the march on Gaza, to help break the siege and bring this horrible violence and occupation to an end. Please do everything you can to show your support for this worldwide movement by spreading the word, donating to help fund the delegations, or by adding your support and presence to our numbers. If you are interested in joining our delegation or to learn more about what can be done to aid the Palestinian people, please feel free to e-mail me at Crystal.HighRoad@Gmail.Com