N.H. lawmaker sorry for shouting ‘Sieg Heil’ in Legislature

A New Hampshire lawmaker was permitted back in the state’s House chamber after apologizing three times for saluting and shouting “Sieg Heil.”

The outburst by Rep. Steve Vaillancourt, a Manchester Republican who once lived in Berlin, Germany, came Tuesday after the House of Representatives speaker, William O’Brien, shut down debate on voter identification legislation, the Nashua Telegraph reported.

Vaillancourt had left the House, then returned. When he refused to leave, security was asked to remove him.

Fellow Republican lawmaker Gary Daniels said Vaillancourt’s remark showed “a disregard for decorum; a disrespect for the speaker,” and reflected poorly on the legislative body.

“I don’t think this kind of disrespect should be allowed in the chamber,” Daniels said. “There’s no place for it.”

In his initial apology, Vaillancourt insisted he did not say anything about Nazi leader Adolf Hitler, as some had suggested. His apology was not accepted, The Associated Press reported.

It took two more tries for his apology to be accepted.

Mideast Solution: A Confederation

The Palestinians and the Israelis seem to agree on one thing: that the other is at fault. Each side wants recognition by the other that they are innocent victims, that the other side
is wrong. Each side demands that the other relinquish crucial aspects of its identity.

In such a situation, the best solution is to concentrate on a pragmatic approach that will benefit both peoples, yet not impinge on the sovereignty of either the Jewish state or its Palestinian counterpart. Such an approach may lay the groundwork for peace, by focusing on joint decision making on non-politically charged issues.

For some time now, the Israel-Palestinian Confederation (IPC) has pursued this option. It believes that one possible solution involves electing a confederation government comprised of Israelis (both Jewish and Arab) and Palestinians.
How exactly would such a confederation work? Approximately 10 million people live in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza: 6 million are Jews, and 4 million are Arabs. Dividing the entire region into 300 districts apportioned by population should result in a legislature divided approximately 60/40 in favor of the Israelis. However, if the relative birth rates of Palestinians to Israelis maintain its current ratio, in the not too distant future, Palestinians will outnumber Israelis.

The legislature will tackle issues that the Israeli and Palestinian governments, for internal political reasons, find difficult to address. The legislature will also deal with the day-to-day quality of life issues where cooperation is required including, but certainly not limited to, locating public facilities such as water lines, highways, schools and hospitals.

To encourage consensus and to prevent the majority from riding roughshod over the minority, confederation legislation requires a supermajority of 60 percent of the 300 delegates and at least 25 percent of the minority on any given vote. The Israeli and Palestinian governments will be given a veto power. To illustrate this point: in a 300-seat legislature, 180 votes are necessary to pass anything. However, if the balance between Israelis and Palestinians is 180 Israelis and 120 Palestinians, if Israeli sponsored legislation is enacted, it would require that of the 180 votes at least 30 came from Palestinians.

This supermajority voting requirement coupled with protections for the minority as well a veto power for the Israeli and Palestinian governments will foster cooperation, since any legislation promoting the national aspirations of one side at the expense of the other will easily be blocked. As a consequence, the representatives will concentrate on initiatives that improve their constituents’ lives.

The IPC believes that confederation legislation reached by consensus will discourage the governments from exercising their vetoes. If legislation has wide popular support among the two peoples, it may be untenable for the one government to veto the legislation without undermining its own legitimacy.

In this sense, a confederation will serve as a bridge between the Palestinian and Israeli governments
Because neither the Israeli government nor the Palestinian Authority is likely to willingly relinquish its monopoly on governance, initially, the Israeli-Palestinian Confederation will have to hold a private election. This also will establish the independence of the body showing that it is not a tool of either the Israelis or the Palestinians.

Direct representation elections for Gaza, Israel and the West Bank is nothing new. Israel has been a functioning parliamentary democracy throughout its existence, and the recent Palestinian elections have been recognized as honest, open and free.

The 300 representatives will not be targets for an extreme or violent group, because members of those groups are motivated by antagonism against their own or the other’s government. These elements believe they can derail the peace process by forcing their respective governments to act aggressively toward the other. A confederation legislature comprised of representatives who do not represent the entire nation will not be considered a threat and any attack on it will not lead to the desired reaction of causing the Israeli or Palestinian governments to lash out.

While there is now no mechanism for the Palestinians and Israelis to solve daily and long term issues for the benefit of both sides, and there are no rules to resolve conflicts when they erupt, the confederation, once effective in demonstrating that Israelis and Palestinians can govern together, will become the de facto authority to establish rules to settle issues, solve problems, and enhance working and living relations between and among the peoples of the region.

At a UCLA symposium held Feb. 26, 2006, Alan Dershowitz surprised many guests with a general approval of a, “Loose confederation, based on the kind that now exists in parts of Europe with economic and other forms of cooperation involving natural resources and water.”

Dershowitz stated that “The Confederation idea is worthy of consideration as long as it does not mean a one state solution.”

He went on to say, “any kind of a Confederation would require that Israel retains its sovereignty, its ability to defend itself, its ability to reflect Jewish culture and history.”

Former President Bill Clinton in a personal letter to this writer was very encouraging of the Confederation idea, perhaps reflecting on his own experience with Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat,
The European Union is a multinational union of independent states. It is an intergovernmental union of 25 states, each maintaining its own government and identity. Ever since its establishment in 1992 the EU conduct an election every five years for the Common European Parliament. The EU manages to maintain a separate common government for all of the 25 states but yet each one of them has its own separate government.

Switzerland has two chambers in the Legislative Branch. The National Council representing the people and the Council of States representing the cantons.

The Swiss National Council has 200 seats with each canton contributing representatives in proportion to its size. The Council of States has two members for each canton and one member for half canton. The Swiss system is meant to create a balance where the small cantons will be protected from the large.

Indeed, the United States and Canada have a similar formula which combines a federal government overlapping with separate state governments. Each of the 50 states has its own constitution and legislative body. However, each state sends two senators and a proportionate number of congressmen depending on its population size to a common federal government.
The idea of a confederation is widely accepted around the world. It is designed to achieve a mechanism of cooperation while preserving the identity and special needs of its states.

Budget Woes

One year ago, Gov. Gray Davis was calling for across-the-board cuts in every state department except the prisons, mass layoffs of workers and huge bites out of most programs for the disadvantaged.

Davis’ budget-slashing plan of January 2003 was ignored by the legislature and pilloried by the media. In the end, Davis failed to meet the fiscal crisis and lost his job because of it. Now, a year later, some critics are saying Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s budget is little more than Davis redux.

In fact, the Schwarzenegger plan represents a significant departure from business as usual, and offers a template for fundamental change in the capitol.

This is not to say that Schwarzenegger’s proposal is free of the familiar. Just as with the Davis plan, it would hurt local service agencies that rely on Medi-Cal. Although the idea is being challenged in court, such service groups face a proposed 10-percent rate cut.

Paul Castro, executive director/CEO of Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles, which serves 60,000 people a year, said $600,000 would be cut to providers of services like the Multipurpose Senior Services Program.

"Seniors stay at home for about half the cost of putting them in a nursing home, so cutting money to this saves on one side of the ledger but costs more on the other side," Castro said.

Molly Forrest, chief executive for the Los Angeles Jewish Home for the Aging, said she coped with last year’s cuts by trimming expenses and increasing private fundraising for the home that serves 800 residents.

"The governments are not prepared to deal with the fact that people are living much longer," said Forrest, whose fundraising is up 7.8 percent.

But for every idea borrowed directly from Davis, Schwarzenegger and his team came up with fresh principles for saving money that have some Sacramento observers buzzing with hope.

Assemblyman Joe Canciamilla, Democrat leader of the Moderate Caucus, a group enjoying new respect, told me, "This budget is a worthy attempt to correct the craziness that has unfolded here. I would cut even more."

Kim Belshe, new secretary of Health and Human Services, says that of the $13 billion explosion in spending since 1999, half came from programs in her department on which there were no cost controls. Unlike Davis, Schwarzenegger "is not proposing wholesale rolling back of programs, but controlling costs while maintaining services to those most in need."

Schwarzenegger intends to wean California’s legislature away from its taste for Cadillac programs that most other states offer as mere Fords. Think of the governor as repo man.

For example, unlike the basic Medicaid programs created by other state legislatures, Sacramento’s legislators decided Medi-Cal should be better than most private health plans. On the taxpayer’s dime, they created a program that even includes free acupuncture, and they offered the plan to many non-poor. One in five Californians qualified. The result was skyrocketing costs that are unsustainable.

State Finance Director Donna Arduin told me all 6.8 million people will still be eligible, to avoid Davis-style slashing. But costs will be controlled. The non-poor "may be asked to contribute toward their care, or the package of benefits they are offered may be modified." The changes will take two years, while California seeks federal approval. Other states already have these controls.

It’s just sensible stuff. But while Schwarzengger pushes for cost reforms, it’s extremely unlikely he will approve new taxes.

A strong anti-tax mood has settled across the nation. A recent poll in California shows voters willing to accept new taxes only on smokers and the rich — two populations that have dwindled so drastically that Chief Legislative Analyst Elizabeth Hill says taxing them would produce only a fraction of the several billion dollars needed to plug the deficit.

Democratic and Republican consultants and strategists tell me that Schwarzenegger and the Republicans won’t bend on taxes unless the governor suffers a big defeat in March.

In March, the governor wants voters to approve a $15 billion bond that refinances $12 billion in legally questionable bonds approved by the Davis-era legislature to finance its overspending last year. That $12 billion is milk that’s already been spilled. However, Schwarzenegger’s package ensures that those bonds are legal, avoiding potential fiscal chaos.

It’s going to be a tough year. Yet the governor has said that everything is on the table, and if alternatives to his cuts can be found, he wants to hear them. Unlike Davis, he has targeted the prisons for massive cutbacks. Worthy programs like the Multipurpose Senior Services Program still have a real chance to make their case, and people like Castro say they intend to do so.

In the end, however, everyone should hope Schwarzenegger gets much of what he is seeking from the Democratic-controlled legislature. It’s true fiscal restraint, but it’s done with decency.

Jill Stewart is a syndicated
political columnist and can be reached at

Jewish Elderly May Pay More for Drugs

A law that was supposed to ease the burden of prescription drug costs for the elderly may force some Jewish seniors to pay more than they do now.

The Medicare reform legislation, signed by President Bush this week, grants some relief in prescription drug costs for seniors. But other provisions of the law might adversely affect more affluent seniors, including Jews.

Jewish groups still are learning what the law will mean for Jewish seniors and already are looking at ways to amend it. Several Jewish groups opposed the legislation, claiming it did not go far enough to aid seniors. They are looking to join coalitions of other advocacy groups to seek a new Medicare reform bill, or amendments to the current one, before most of the provisions go into effect in 2006.

Other organizations, including representatives of Jewish nursing homes, say the law will grant Jewish seniors some relief and is a step in the right direction.

The Medicare issue is an important one for Jews, since they are older on average than the general American population. According to the National Jewish Population Survey 2000-01, 19 percent of the U.S. Jewish population is over age 65, compared to 12 percent of the U.S. population as a whole.

Because Jewish seniors tend to be more affluent than seniors in the general population, they may be adversely affected by the new Medicare laws. For example, Jewish seniors currently are more likely to be using private insurance, known as Medigap, to supplement what Medicare covers, including prescription drugs. But the new law prohibits Medigap policies from covering prescription drug costs, so seniors who rely on that service may soon have to pay more out of pocket.

The same is true for seniors who are on prescription drug programs through their employers or pensions. Some Jewish policy analysts fear that the prescription drug provisions in private insurance programs will be dropped or downgraded for retirees because of the availability of the optional Medicare program.

While the new law contains subsidies to encourage employers to keep prescription drug benefits for retirees, it’s unclear how good drug benefits must be for businesses to receive the subsidy — and analysts say some employers may downgrade their programs to the minimum required.

Another possibility is that Jewish seniors who currently have low drug costs will pay more to opt into the program when it begins in 2006 or when they turn 65, to avoid penalties for joining later.

B’nai B’rith International opposed the legislation, along with several other Jewish groups. Rachel Goldberg, B’nai B’rith’s assistant director for senior services and advocacy, said the main concern was a gap in prescription drug coverage for seniors.

While the law offers discounts for those who spend less than $2,250 a year on drugs, the next discounts do not start until after one pays $5,100 a year.

"People are going to be really surprised when they look at it," Goldberg said.

The demographics of the Jewish community mean Jews may be among the first to see how the new provisions affect spending on senior services.

Not only is the Jewish community older, but Jewish families also have fewer children than the U.S. average, meaning that there are fewer sources of income to offset growing costs in a family.

"What’s going to happen nationwide, we’re a microcosm of that," Goldberg said. "It’s going to happen to us first."

That includes assisting poorer Jews. While Jewish elderly generally have more money than elderly in the general population, 9 percent of Jews over age 65 live at or below the poverty level, and 18 percent live in households that earn $15,000 or less a year, according to the population survey.

Another 15 percent live in households that earn between $15,000 and $25,000.

People on Medicaid will have to begin paying a small co-payment, and poor Jews who do not apply for Medicaid may have to deplete their assets to receive increased benefits, Goldberg said.

"The low-income portions of the bill are better than we feared, but nowhere near as good as we hoped," she said.

Jewish groups say they’re beginning to educate their membership about the new laws and are working with other advocacy groups to mobilize an effort to repeal portions of the legislation.

Advocates say several factors could help them make changes to the law, including the fact that 2004 is a presidential election year and that a lot of the law’s provisions don’t take effect until 2006.

But there is concern that some lawmakers will be disinclined to reopen the Medicare issue so soon after a long fight on Capitol Hill produced this legislation.

Bert Goldberg, president and CEO of the Association of Jewish Family and Children’s Agencies, said his organization will analyze the law and try to advise seniors how to take advantage of its options.

"We now at least have something that deals with drugs for seniors, and we’ve never had that," he said. "That’s at least something to be pleased about."

Local Jews Win, Mostly

While Republicans swept in the national elections, with the GOP reclaiming the Senate and retaining their majority in the house, in California, Democrats made a strong showing, winning every statewide office.

In Southern California, Jewish candidates overwhelmed in the local races.

In California, where redistricting designed by the Democratic-controlled Legislature left very few competitive electoral races, “The best news is that there was no news,” according to Democrats for Israel Chair Howard Welinsky. He emphasized that top statewide offices were in good hands, noting in particular that “Gray Davis has always been very close to the Jewish community. He literally sits at Stephen S. Wise on Rosh Hashana on the bimah every year.”

Incumbent Jewish assemblymembers from the greater Los Angeles area produced strong re-election numbers. Republican Keith Richman retained his 38th District seat, and would have been mayor of the City of San Fernando Valley if such a thing existed. Jewish Democrats had the numeric advantage in the Assembly though, as Paul Koretz (West Hollywood), Hannah-Beth Jackson (Santa Barbara), Jackie Goldberg (Los Angeles), Alan Lowenthal (Long Beach) and Darrell Steinberg (Sacramento) all won re-elections with at least 60 percent of the votes. “California’s pretty much a status quo situation,” Welinsky said.

Aside from Richman, Jewish Republicans did not fare as well in California. Jewish Democrat Lloyd Levine beat his Jewish Republican opponent Connie Friedman to take over the 40th District seat, vacated because of term limits by former Speaker Bob Hertzberg. Michael Wissot lost out to popular Assembly incumbent Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills).

“We are significantly unhappy about what happened [in California],” said Bruce Bialosky, Southern California chairman of the Republican Jewish Committee. “Unfortunately, California is not heeding the trends that the rest of the country is heeding.”

In an extremely close state office race with the potential to affect the financial relationship between California and Israel, the office of state controller went to Democrat Steve Westly, who took in only 0.4 percent of the vote more than his Republican rival Tom McClintock (the candidate with the funny ads featuring ethnic stereotypes of Scotsmen). The controller is a voting member on the California Public Employees Retirement System and the California State Teachers Retirement System pension funds, which some have suggested should divest the portion of their $250 billion from any country doing business with Israel. During the campaign, Westly said, “I’ve been very outspoken that this is precisely the wrong time to do that.”

Similarly, the state insurance commissioner can exercise significant leverage over insurance companies that owe money to Holocaust survivors or their heirs, by enforcing a law whose constitutionality was recently upheld in court. Democrat John Garamendi, who regained the office he held from 1991-1995, told The Journal during his campaign, “If companies in California don’t comply with this law, I will have no option but to pull the license.”

Six Jewish Appellate Court justices — Judith Ashmann, Arthur Gilbert, Richard Mosk, Dennis Perluss, Steven Perren and Laurence Rubin — won 12-year reappointments to the 2nd District Court of Appeal, which covers Los Angeles and Ventura Counties.

On the national stage, California’s eight Jewish members of Congress, all Democrats, cruised to comfortable victories, despite running in redrawn districts. (For more on the national race, see page 22.)

Incumbents Howard Berman, Susan Davis, Bob Filner, Jane Harman, Adam Schiff, Brad Sherman and Henry Waxman all retained their seats.

Sherman defeated Republican Robert M. Levy in the only California congressional race pitting two Jews against each other.

In the San Francisco Bay area, Tom Lantos, the only Holocaust survivor serving in Congress and a strong pro-Israel voice, easily defeated two opponents with pronounced pro-Palestinian views, Republican Michael Moloney and Libertarian Maad H. Abu-Ghazalah. The latter is a native of the West Bank and a former president of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.

California’s two Jewish senators, Diane Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, both Democrats, were not up for re-election.

The majority of Jewish voters, who in pre-election polls had opposed the secession of the San Fernando Valley and Hollywood from the city of Los Angeles, saw the measures go down to defeat.

Bialosky added that local Republican Jews “could not be happier” about the national results of the elections, citing especially Norm Coleman, the new Jewish Republican senator from Minnesota, and Linda Lingle, the Jewish Republican governor of Hawaii.

Tom Tugend contributed to this report.