26 March 2005

WashingtonPost.com: "Where Are the Democrats?"

As the dust begins to settle in the Schiavo saga, which will probably be shortly followed by a violent dust storm within the next week, more and more talking heads on television are discussing the ramifications of the Schiavo situation for both major political parties. Already, experts are starting to grade the Republicans and Democrats, and the results are nearly unanimous. The Republicans lost big time on this issue; the Democrats ... who cares. They no longer play a role in Washington politics.

In a discussion this morning on MSNBC, conservative icon Patrick Buchanan and Democratic strategist Julian Epstein discussed the actions of both parties and like usual, the Democrats came out the losers. Buchanan emphasized that the GOP's approach, while flawed at times, was consistent with its pro-life position. This opinion could have easily been disputed, but of course it wasn't. Epstein wasn't able to make any arguments on behalf of the Democrats and even conceded that the Democrats missed a huge opportunity to actually stand for something.

The panel then discussed a Washington Post article by columnist Richard Cohen entitled "Where Are the Democrats?" In Cohen's piece, he exhibits his clear disappointment with the Party of the People for their shameful absence from the Schiavo debate. His column essentially acknowledges that the Schiavo situation is a difficult issue, but one that leaders would face courageously, not avoid. Where was John Kerry and Hillary Clinton?, asks Cohen. He sadly acknowledges that the only national leader for the Democrats during this debacle was Congressman Barney Frank (D-Massachusetts). While Congressman Frank is an honorable and intelligent man, Cohen points out that an openly gay liberal from the northeast may not be the best spokesman for the Democratic Party as a cultural war rages in America.

Cohen never hides his disappointment throughout his column, and he never pulls any punches. Cohen says, "But for me the real loser was the Democratic Party. It showed that it's almost totally without leadership. If there is a national figure (other than Frank) who stood up and took on the GOP in this matter, his -- or her -- name does not come to mind." Ouch!

Richard Cohen's column will probably be the first of many columns in coming weeks that will identify the Democratic Party's weakness on this issue. Before, most have just seen the Democrats as weak on national defense and foreign policy. Then the party's failure to produce a competing plan to the president's has caused an erosion in its typically high approval numbers regarding the issue of social security. Now, the Democrats have another issue to add to their list of weaknesses.

The Democrats need to find their voice, and they must do so soon. If not, they'll sadly be joining the Whig Party in the history books.

24 March 2005

FOX News: Spinning for the religious right

Tonight just after 10:30 PM, Greta Van Susteren, political reporter at FOX News, misled her viewers regarding the Schiavo case.

In a segment regarding Terri Schiavo's situation, Greta stated that an attorney for Florida Department of Children and Families stated a significant change in Terri's condition. The person that they showed on the screen with the caption stating he was a DCF attorney was not, however, an attorney for DCF. It was David Gibbs of Gibbs Law Firm, religious activist and the attorney for the Schindlers.

Greta has abandoned her journalistic integrity during the Schiavo case and has blatantly advocated the position of the parents through her television show, On the Record. As an attorney, Greta should respect the law; as a journalist, she should respect the truth. Unfortunately for her viewers, she's 0 for 2.

Swift Boat Veterans for Terri

The Schiavo case has unfolded before the American public as one of the most tragic of cases that we have witnessed in recent years. Michael Schiavo, Terri's husband, has refused to surrender guardianship of Terri so that he may carry out her wishes, which were to never be kept alive by machines or feeding tubes. Terri's parents oppose those wishes and hope to keep her alive by artificial means.

Perhaps the most unfortunate of this continuing saga is that special interest groups from the far right fringe of the political spectrum have seen this situation as an opportunity to advance their political agendas. They have attempted to hijack the debate and are willing to take any actions necessary. In what I am labeling the "Swift Boat Veterans for Terri" groups, radicals of the right have launched an all out campaign against those who interfere with their wishes. As we have witnessed, there have been attacks on Michael Schiavo, his attorney George Felos, trial court Judge George Greer, U.S. District Court Judge James Whittemore, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, and everyone else that the religious right can name. While some may dismiss this as acts by a few that should not warrant great concern, more people should fear that this is a trend that will continue in years to come. Unless our nation stands up to those radicals responsible for this behavior, America and our freedom will continue to be at risk.

Unfortunately, the mainstream media has failed to aim their focus where it belongs - on the leader of the chaos surrounding the Terri Schiavo saga. Randall Terry, founder of Operation Rescue, president of Society for Truth and Justice, and a suspected domestic terrorist, has recently been brought aboard as the spokesperson for the Schindler family. Mr. Terry has appeared on numerous television programs, but his colorful and violent past is rarely mentioned. Liberals must point out that this man is an alleged terrorist and does not have any place in the Schiavo debate.

Mr. Terry has been arrested countless times for assaulting woman who enter abortion clinics and for harrassing those women and clinic staff members. Terry's real claim to fame came when one of his proteges, James E. Kopp, was convicted of sniper shooting of a physician who provided, in addition to his other services, abortions. This religious extremist was sentenced to 25 years to life for murder.

Every American should be saddened by the situation regarding Terri Schiavo, and we should pray for both Michael and Terri's parents. Her parents have experienced great pain and have obviously been overcome by grief. It should be recognized, however, that the Schindlers have been associating with the wrong types of people. If they are hoping to convince the American people that their motives are pure and simply done out of love, it doesn't help their cause to recruit the likes of Randall Terry. One is judged by the company he or she keeps. It would be a shame if the American public judged the Schindlers in a negative light simply because Randall Terry and his band of merry sinners, the Swift Boat Veterans for Terri, have chosen to exploit them for political purposes.

23 March 2005

Florida Senate defends Terri's right to die with dignity

Following an emotional debate and discussion, the Florida Senate today defeated legislation that would overrule Terri Schiavo's wishes, as determined by "clear and convincing evidence," to not be kept alive artifically by machines or feeding tubes.

The vote by the senate can be found here.

Will Jeb pull an "Elian" with Terri Schiavo?

According to the Palm Beach Post's web site, the Florida Department of Children and Families is considering whether an unusual interpretation of state law justifies taking Terri Schiavo from the Hospice House Woodside against the will of her guardian and husband, Michael Schiavo. This may lead to an event that equals the dramatic abduction of Elian Gonzalez in the summer of 2000.

Lucy Hadi, Secretary of the Department of Children and Families, said this morning that her staff is relying on a state law, s. 415.1051(2), F.S., which would allow the state government to remove Terri Schiavo from her hospice, "by force if necessary," in order to intervene on behalf of a vulnerable adult who is "suffering from abuse or neglect that presents a risk of death or serious physical injury."

The opinion of DCF is disputed by many experts. "My belief is that this would be a misuse of the statute," stated Scott M. Solkoff who chairs the Elder Law Division of the Florida Bar. "Going under Chapter 415 is no different than the Congress subpoenaing Terri Schiavo. It's a silly maneuver designed to accomplish a political purpose."

Only time will tell if Jeb Bush's political appointee will put politics over the law of Florida.

Dean criticizes GOP's political motives ... finally!

Two days ago and throughout the previous week, I have written that Howard Dean has been surprisingly silent during the Schiavo situation. I am pleased to report that Dr. Dean has finally broken his silence.

As reported by the Associated Press, Dr. Howard Dean, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, criticized Senate Republican leader Bill Frist (R-Tennessee), Congressman Dave Weldon (R-Florida), and other GOP physicians in the Congress, who have offered their medical opinions and diagnosed Terri Schiavo by only watching limited footage from a videotape.

Last Thursday, Senator Frist declared, "I question it [Terri's diagnosis] based on a review of the video footage ... And that footage, to me, depicted something very different than persistent vegetative state." Frist's comments were echoed by Congressman Weldon who said, "By my medical definition, she was not in a vegetative state based on my review of the videos, my talking to the family, and my discussing the case with one of the neurologists who examined her." Both Frist and Weldon are medical doctors.

"For Senator Frist to say he could make a diagnosis based on the videotape certainly is not medically sound," declared Dean. "I would not want my doctor making any diagnosis of me on videotape, and I'm speaking as a doctor." Dean also stated, "This is a deeply personal matter and ought to be left up to physicians."

Dean's comments were echoed by Arthur Caplan, chairman of the Department of Medical Ethics at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. "It's disturbing that doctors who would never venture a comment about the health of anybody from a homemade video are sitting on the floor of Congress making declarations." Caplan continued, "My own impression, from a distance, is that they've subverted what they know to be good medicine for the aim of achieving a political goal."

Another doctor in Congress, Representative Phil Gingrey (R-Georgia) made a diagnosis similar to Frist and Weldon. "The tragedy of this situation is that with proper treatment, now denied, Terri's condition can improve." Gingrey's diagnosis conflicts with those found credible by the courts that have reviewed the Schiavo case for the past seven years.

Of course, the national press has revealed that the GOP's motives behind this tragic issue are simply political. This is sad, and more people should say so. The Democratic Party, which has always stood for liberty, should proudly and loudly stand up for the rights of Americans to keep the government out of our end of life decisions. I applaud Chairman Dean for his patriotic remarks on behalf of all Americans and their freedom.

22 March 2005

Man dies alone due to religious protestors

Supporters of the Schlindlers, such as Operation Rescue and the National Right to Life Committee, have taken advantage of the issue regarding Terri Schiavo in order to advance their own political agendas. Unfortunately, their overzealous pursuit of politics has had a negative effect upon others. In what may be perhaps the most disturbing story related to the Schiavo saga, a 73-year-old man was forced to die alone because of the added security at his hospice in Pinellas Park. (This is a story that should be reported by the national press.)

The St. Petersburg Times reported today that Thomas Bone, a patient with terminal brain cancer, was forced to die alone at Hospice House Woodside, because the additional security meant to keep the Schindler protestors from trespassing inadvertently prevented Mr. Bone's granddaughter from entering the facility. According to his family, Mr. Bone's last wish was that he not die alone. When he realized that the end was near, Mr. Bone asked his caretakers to summon his granddaughter, Jennifer Johnson, who was staying at the nearby family living quarters. Upon hearing the news, Jennifer threw on some clothes and rushed to the hospice.

When she arrived, Jennifer was stopped by a guard. Mr. Bone's room was two doors down from Terri Schiavo's room, so security had been increased due to the hostile protestors who were present at the request of Bob and Mary Schindler, Terri's parents. Since she was in a rush, Jennifer failed to grab her wallet with a photo identification. After a few minutes with the guard, Jennifer was able to find a hospice worker who would vouch for her. She then was forced to proceed through a metal detector and finally made her way to her grandfather's room. Unfortunately, she was too late. Jennifer's grandfather was gone. According to the nurse, Mr. Bone had died just one minute before Jennifer arrived.

The religious protestors have obviously gone too far. They claim to be concerned for Terri's life. Well, what about the lives of everyone else that they are hurting?

Religious right targets Republicans

As the Democrats sit back and avoid the debate regarding Terri Schiavo, all-out chaos has hit the Republican Party. The religious right has launched an all out assault on the Republicans who voted against Terri's bill last Friday. Circulating around the capitol is a flyer that states:

WANTED: THE REPUBLICAN 9
TO SAVE TERRI'S LIFE

Between the two lines are the photos and names of Senators J.D. Alexander, Nancy Argenziano, Michael Bennett, Lisa Carlton, Paula Dockery, Dennis Jones, Jim King, Evelyn Lynn, and Burt Saunders.

According to John King from CNN, the religious right is organizing its members and instructing them to contact the "Republican 9" and pressure them to take up and pass the bill that was defeated last Friday.

Additionally, religious extremists have continued an attack on the Pinellas County Circuit Court judge, Judge George Greer. Web sites have been dedicated to his ouster, and the religious right actively compares Greer to Dr. Kovorkian. In Washington, ethically challenged Republican leader in the U.S. House Tom DeLay accused Greer of "murder" and "terrorism." Charges of judicial activism have been leveled at Greer, and he is regularly being called a liberal judge. The kicker is that Judge Greer is actually a conservative Republican.

In today's St. Petersburg Times, local Republicans went on the record attacking Tom DeLay and Congress and defending Judge Greer. Pinellas County Property Appraiser and former Republican legislator Jim Smith called DeLay's remarks "a disgrace," and County Commissioner Bob Stewart stated, "I was absolutely so disgusted with what [DeLay] said." State Representative and former county Sheriff Everett Rice also defended Judge Greer, stating "Those folks that are saying anything bad about Judge Greer, they don't know him, and apparently they don't understand the law and the separation of powers." Rice is also the target of religious extremists, because of his vote against Terri's bill. The attacks on Rice are coordinated through the right-wing "news" publication, The Empire Journal.

Unfortunately, the so-called Christians in the religious right hold absolute disdain and hatred for those with whom they disagree. Perhaps they should ask themselves: WWJD?

21 March 2005

Deaniacs disappointed

After observing the Democratic Party's lack of unity regarding the Schiavo case, many progressives are ready to scream like it's election night in Iowa. Howard Dean was supposed to bring backbone to the Party, but now he is more likely to be found on the back of milk carton than standing up for American families. As a physician, one would expect Howard Dean to be leading the fight to protect the right of Americans to die with dignity without government intervention. Unfortunately, he has simply amounted to a doctor of disappointment.

Tim Russert stated with disbelief tonight on Hardball with Chris Matthews that not one Democratic senator spoke against the Schiavo bill. While Russert understood why no Democrat would jump at the chance to oppose the bill and risk being labeled as opposing life, he was still surprised that no Democratic senator warned of the precedent the new Schiavo law may set and the constitutional issues that may arise. Considering the fact that privacy rights have been under constant assault by the Bush administration, it is shocking that the Democrats didn't see an opportunity to voice broader concerns, such as the current government's view that their judgment is superior to that of America's families.

Hopefully, the Democratic Party will rediscover its vision and decide to once again stand with the people. To see the leaders of the world's oldest political party cut and run from their principles is sad. I now understand why the Democrats are blue.

President Bush flip-flops on the right to die issue

In an amazing discovery of contradiction, it is now being reported that President Bush, who is now repeating the GOP mantra that government must "err on the side of life" in the Schiavo case, once approved a law while governor of Texas that allows patients' lives to be terminated if they are unable to pay their hospital bills. Apparently, the president believes in a "culture of life," as long as it doesn't interfere with the profits of private hospitals and insurance companies.

The 1999 law has recently been thrust into the limelight following the death of 6-month-old Sun Hudson, who was born with fatal defects on September 25th of last year. Unlike the Schiavo case where the next-of-kin has consented to the removal of life support, the Hudson case was unique because the next-of-kin objected. "They made a terrible mistake," declared Sun's mother Wanda on March 15th in response to the hospital's decision to discontinue treatment for her son. The Hudson case is the first where the Bush law has provided for a life to be terminated against the wishes of the family.

But the president's legacy in Texas isn't done just yet. Spiro Nikolouzos is also scheduled to die under the same 1999 Bush law. Mr. Nikolouzos, a 68-year-old man on life support, has been an invalid since 2001 and is currently in a chronic vegetative state. Doctors at St. Luke's Episcopal Hospital have determined that his condition is unable to improve and have decided to refuse treatment. The Nikolouzos family has challenged the hospital's decision and is currently in the courts trying to save Spiro's life. The outcome is still unknown.

President Bush has made strong statements regarding preserving the life of Terri Schiavo, even though it has been found by "clear and convincing evidence" that she expressed the desire to never be kept alive on life support. The president, unfortunately, is unwilling to take a stand for Mr. Nikolouzos and looked the other way as Sun Hudson's life was ended.

President Bush, however, has made his position clear. When it comes to life and death decisions, he trusts the judgment of the government over that of America's families.

Read the infamous GOP memo on Schiavo bill

The following is an exact copy of the memo distributed to Republican senators on the floor of the United States Senate urging them to pass the Schiavo bill, as first reported by ABC News.


S. 529, The Incapacitated Person's Legal Protection Act

* Teri (sic) Schiavo is subject to an order that her feeding tubes will be disconnected on March 18, 2005 at 1p.m.

* The Senate needs to act this week, before the Budget Act is pending business, or Terri's family will not have a remedy in federal court.

* This is an important moral issue and the pro-life base will be excited that the Senate is debating this important issue.

* This is a great political issue, because Senator Nelson of Florida has already refused to become a cosponsor and this is a tough issue for Democrats.

* The bill is very limited and defines custody as "those parties authorized or directed by a court order to withdraw or withhold food, fluids, or medical treatment."

* There is an exemption for a proceeding "which no party disputes, and the court finds, that the incapacitated person while having capacity, had executed a written advance directive valid under applicably law that clearly authorized the withholding or or (sic) withdrawl (sic) of food and fluids or medical treatment in the applicable circumstances."

* Incapacitated persons are defined as those "presently incapable of making relevant decisions concerning the provision, withholding or withdrawl (sic) of food fluids or medical treatment under applicable state law."

* This legislation ensures that individuals like Terri Schiavo are guaranteed the same legal protections as convicted murderers like Ted Bundy.

AP: Excerpts of bill in Terri Schiavo case

The following excerpt was provided by the Associated Press. The complete bill can be found here.

Excerpts of Bill in Terri Schiavo Case

The Associated Press
Sunday, March 20, 2005; 5:37 PM

Excerpts of a bill passed Sunday by the Senate and under consideration by the House of Representatives in the Terri Schiavo case:

"The United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida shall have jurisdiction to hear, determine, and render judgment on a suit or claim by or on behalf of Theresa Marie Schiavo for the alleged violation of any right of Theresa Marie Schiavo under the Constitution or laws of the United States relating to the withholding or withdrawal of food, fluids, or medical treatment necessary to sustain her life."

"Any parent of Theresa Marie Schiavo shall have standing to bring a suit under this act. The suit may be brought against any other person who was a party to State court proceedings relating to the withholding or withdrawal of food, fluids, or medical treatment necessary to sustain the life of Theresa Marie Schiavo, or who may act pursuant to a state court order authorizing or directing the withholding or withdrawal of food, fluids, or medical treatment necessary to sustain her life.

"In such a suit, the District Court shall determine ... any claim of a violation of any right of Theresa Marie Schiavo within the scope of this act, notwithstanding any prior state court determination and regardless of whether such a claim has previously been raised, considered, or decided in state court proceedings. The District Court shall entertain and determine the suit without any delay or abstention in favor of state court proceedings, and regardless of whether remedies available in the state courts have been exhausted."

"After a determination of the merits of a suit brought under this act, the District Court shall issue such declaratory and injunctive relief as may be necessary to protect the rights of Theresa Marie Schiavo under the Constitution and laws of the United States relating to the withholding or withdrawal of food, fluids, or medical treatment necessary to sustain her life."

20 March 2005

Memo reveals GOP's political motives in Schiavo case

This morning on NBC's Meet The Press, host Tim Russert referenced an article in the Washington Post that mentioned a memo that is circulating on Capitol Hill stating that the Schiavo case is "a great political issue" for Republicans to use in the 2006 midterm elections. (If anyone knows where to find the memo, please email me at floridapolitix@yahoo.com.) This document proves that by politicizing the issue, conservatives are not interested in the welfare of Terri Schiavo but instead increasing the fortunes of their fellow politicians.

The Republican memo states the Schiavo bill, which will come before the Congress today and tomorrow, will serve to motivate the GOP's religious conservative base and help their candidates during the approaching campaigns. Most Americans, regardless of their position on the Terri's case, see this issue as a sensitive one involving life and death decisions. Not the Republicans; they see this as an opportunity to win elections. President Bush has returned to Washington early in order to take part in the political show, and Congress is preparing to play along. Apparently, trampling on the body of a woman in a persistent vegetative state is how one acts as a "compassionate conservative."

The Democrats have been absent from the debate. John Harwood, a conservative from the Wall Street Journal, stated on Meet The Press that it is not surprising that Democrats are silent on this issue. He stated that no one wants to be on the side of pulling the feeding tube from Terri Schiavo. This is true. But the problem with the Democrats' situation is that they, like usual, have failed to frame an issue on their terms, or more appropriately, they have allowed the Republicans to frame the issue themselves.

This is nothing new. From social security privatization to the war in Iraq to the Patriot Act to the erosion of workers' rights in the homeland security department, Democrats always begin from a defensive stance because they refuse to come out first on any issue. Like President Bill Clinton said before the Democratic Leadership Council on December 3, 2002, "When people feel uncertain, they'd rather have somebody who's strong and wrong than somebody who's weak and right." The Schiavo case is no different. This is a right of privacy and a right to die with dignity issue. Unfortunately, the Democrats aren't willing to say that.

This is why voters reject Democrats at the polls. Liberals can make all of the excuses that they want and they can even argue that elections are "stolen." But the sad truth is that voters have lost faith in the Democratic Party.

On the issues that are important to voters, the Democrats don't simply appear to be weak; they are weak.