So it looks like Ariel Sharon is stabilizing after his massive stroke(s). His political career is probably over anyway, so I'll comment on what that means for Israel.
I don't think Sharon's new party, Kadima, will flounder as much as everyone thinks it will. Likud (the right-wingers that Sharon left) will probably pick former PM Benjamin Netanyahu as their leader. Labor (the party on the left that Shimon Peres left) has already settled on dovish Amir Peretz. I think Israelis liked Sharon's efforts to plot a middle course between ultra-hawks like Netanyahu and doves like Peretz, and so Kadima will probably still pick up a plurality. That doesn't mean much in the ever-fractious Israeli political system (how many countries have parties that believe that their country shouldn't exist?), so Kadima's success will rest heavily on the somewhat untested Ehud Olmert's ability to lead.
As far as the peace process is concerned, Sharon's policy of unilateral withdrawal will almost certainly continue under a Kadima government, which I like. And even though Sharon has moderated himself in the past couple of years, Arabs still see him as the mastermind of the 1982 Lebanon invasion and the settling of the West Bank. These are notions that die hard, and so most Arabs remained suspicious of Sharon even as he made overtures for peace. Arabs might be more willing to open up to Olmert than to someone they've been vilifying for the past twenty years. Olmert's first moves as PM are of the utmost importance - he must work to build a rapport with Abbas and the moderates within the Palestinian Authority if he wants to build upon Sharon's progress.
Charles Krauthammer and author Gershom Gorenberg give views on Sharon. Here's Wikipedia's article on Olmert.
In other news, I want to comment briefly on the mine disaster. What bothers me the most about this tragedy is not the fact that families were told that their loved ones were alive before finding out the awful truth. What angers me is the fact that, as this Post editorial points out, the Sago mine had an atrocious safety record as it was - and nothing was done about it. Eight severe safety citations occurred from September to December of 2005, and yet the mine was still allowed to operate.
This disaster demonstrates the silliness of the deregulation craze and the unworkability of the conservative model of government. Conservatives like to believe that industries can police themselves, but the Sago disaster proves that that simply isn't the case. Companies will cut corners whenever possible if they think that they can get away with it. Since there are no market forces strong enough to punish companies for safety violations, without government intervention they almost always will get away with it. Such is the nature of capitalism. Deregulation is not worth the cost of laborers' lives. Deaths that can be prevented - such as the ones at Sago - should be prevented.
The mining industry is technically still regulated, but these regulations appear to carry no teeth. Most likely, this is because - as the Post points out - the agency that regulates mines (the MHSA) is in bed with the industry itself. Mine inspectors who aren't in a partnership with the industry must be able to punish mine owners for cutting corners when it comes to safety, otherwise regulations are meaningless. The mine received 96 violations in 2005 alone that could reasonably lead to death or injury. Any one of these violations should lead to the temporary closure of the mine so that needed repairs may be completed - instead, the mine was allowed to operate, and the tragic but all-too-predictable disaster occurred.
It is possible to both maintain a capitalist system and provide for the safety of all those who participate in it. Safety regulations do not put an undue burden on mine owners, especially when we consider the high human cost of not implementing such regulations.
We can either use this disaster as an opportunity to create an effective regulatory system, or we can offer our condolences and go back to ignoring worker safety. Somehow, I think Congress will pick the latter. Shame.