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It Aint Over Till Its Over

Many pundits predict that the 2008 presidential election will be close no matter which Democrat runs against the probable Republican nominee, John McCain. If true, that may portend ill for the conduct of the race, which could be tougher and uglier than when one candidate enjoys a large majority of support. As both candidates try to attract the nation’s growing number of independents, party leaders must conduct massive voter registration drives. Current excitement over the primaries already has attracted more first-time voters than usual. Since participation is vital to democracy, citizens and civic-minded organizations (including churches) also should register voters and encourage voting in November. Voter turnout, however, is hardly the final step in the election process.

Rather, in light of the 2000 and 2004 elections, a host of practical and mechanical concerns—regarding ballots and voting machines able to produce a paper record for a recount—needs attention now. Just as crucial is the need to prevent irregularities at the polls that in effect disenfranchise some voters. Given the record turnout in primary after primary this year, how is it that Ohio failed to have enough ballots on hand for its voters? Which other states, cities or towns will be unprepared for the inevitable? Consider too the inadequately trained officials at local polling places. To ensure fairness and accuracy on election day, trained election monitors should be on hand. Elections are the finale of a long, arduous process. It takes years of effective planning to produce one day of grass-roots democracy at the ballot box.

Inhuman Conditions

“We have no food, there is a lack of doctors and medicines, the hospitals are full of dead people, and people are treated in the streets, under inhuman conditions.” That firsthand description of daily life was voiced by the Rev. Manawel Mussalam, the pastor of the Catholic parish of the Holy Family in Gaza. It is similar to the description supplied by eight nongovernmental organizations based in the United Kingdom in a report issued jointly on March 5. Save the Children, the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development (known as Cafod), Christian Aid and Care International, among others, have painted a picture of horror in Gaza. Of the approximately 1.5 million people living in the territory, fully 80 percent are dependent on aid organizations for survival. Humanitarian groups and legal observers are concerned that the blockade of Gaza by Israel is in violation of international law, inasmuch as it constitutes collective punishment of an entire people. The embargo has worsened problems of poverty and unemployment, which is 40 percent and rising, and has undermined the school system. Daily blackouts can last from eight to 12 hours.

Whatever may be said to deplore the activity of militant terrorists and intransigence of political leaders, not to mention the use of apparently indiscriminate military force, the humanitarian crisis in Gaza demands a solution. The European Union has been called upon by its own citizens to provide one. The involvement of the United States is considered completely inadequate by those who are suffering most, the people of Gaza. This must change.

A Change and a Chance

Russia’s pantomimed presidential election concluded on March 2 with a result as predictable as snow in Norilsk. Dmitri A. Medvedev, President Vladimir Putin’s former chief of staff and handpicked successor, won over 70 percent of the vote in an election observers described as unfair but probably still reflective of the country’s wishes. Among U.S. policymakers, there is uncertainty about what Mr. Medvedev’s election means for the Russia/U.S. relationship, especially since Mr. Putin is staying put at the Kremlin, albeit in the technically subsidiary post of prime minister.

Whatever else Mr. Medvedev’s election may mean, it should lead to a reassessment of a U.S. policy toward Russia that has helped to strain relations between the two countries. Mr. Medvedev indicated on the campaign trail that he is interested in moving Russia away from some of the authoritarian practices of Mr. Putin, allowing for greater political and economic reform. Washington should take him at his word for now and should signal in return a new determination to fix its relationship with Moscow. To that end, the United States could exempt Russia from the obsolete Jackson-Vanik Amendment restricting trade, or revisit its decision to place a largely unnecessary missile defense system in eastern Europe, or indicate a renewed desire for further reductions in the nuclear arsenals of both nations.

Each of these overtures, long advocated by independent U.S. policy analysts, would assure Russia that the United States has at last abandoned its adversarial mentality and would help thaw a frost in the U.S./Russia relationship that, if left unchecked, augurs a renewed cold war.

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