Archive for August, 2011

08/31/2011

Former Soviets Still Need Democracy

Five former Soviet states could do a much better job of advancing democracy, by removing their dictators, holding new elections, and by enforcing a two-term limit of no more than 10 years total.

BELARUS: Alexander Lukashenko has ruled the former Soviet Republic of Belarus since 1994. After winning the 2001 election, he abolished presidential term limits in 2004, and essentially made himself dictator for life. Opposition candidates received just 2% of the vote in 2006, in a contest the EU called fundamentally flawed. Policemen severely beat two opposition candidates in the 2010 race, causing EU members to boycott his 2011 inauguration. Belarus must now remove Lukashenko, choose a new leader, enforce term limits, and rightfully join the democracies of Europe.

KAZAKHSTAN: Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan has been in power since the Soviet Union dissolved, under a system which is one of the most corrupt in the world. His regime drafted a constitution that virtually gives him unchecked powers. He took bribes in the 1990s from U.S. oil interests. He won the 1991 election, because opposition candidates were not allowed. Instead of using the electoral process, he extended his rule for four more years in 1995, through a referendum. Although the constitution had a two-term limit, it was amended by his friends in parliament to let him run as often as he wanted. He was re-elected in 1999 and 2005, with 91%, in races criticized by international groups.

UZBEKISTAN: Islam Karimov has controlled Uzbekistan since 1989. When independence was declared in 1991, he became their first president, with 86% support, by manipulating the vote. He limited opposition parties by requiring them to obtain 60,000 signatures to register. He extended his reign in 1995 for five more years via a referendum, and then claimed 91% of the vote in 2000. He let the U.S. use military bases (2001-05). Despite a two-term limit, he won a third term in 2007 with 88% of the vote against no opposition. As one of the worst dictators, Islam Karimov must go.

TAJIKISTAN: Emomalii Rahmon has held power in Tajikistan since 1992. He was “elected” in 1994, and again in 1999, with 97% of the vote. He controls much of the economy. Like others in the region, he used referendums, instead of elections, to remain in office beyond his term. He received 79% of the vote in 2006, and commenced another 7-year term. It is time to remove this dictator and establish a true democracy in Tajikistan.

RUSSIA: Outside pressure from Russia would help to change the politics in this region, but Vadimir Putin also has trouble letting go. When Boris Yeltsin resigned as President, Putin finished his term (1999-00). Putin was then elected in his own right, (2000-04), and re-elected for another 4-year presidential term (2004-08). Instead of stepping down at that point, and leaving government, he became Prime Minister (2008-). After 12 years as President and Prime Minister, Putin still appears to be the one in control, and it’s time for him to set an example by leaving the Kremlin.

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08/30/2011

Wisconsin Redistricting: Gerrymandered

The courts should reject the new Congressional lines drawn by the Republican-controlled Wisconsin House and Senate, because they are the result of gerrymandering and violate the U.S. Constitution.

Every 10 years, an updated census is conducted and the states are then free to draw new Congressional lines to reflect any shifts in population that may have occurred during the previous decade.

Upon receiving data from the 2010 Census, the Republicans at the state capital in Madison, redrew the U.S. House seats for Wisconsin in a way designed to help the GOP hold or gain seats.

One target is the Wisconsin 7th Congressional District in the north, which Democrat David Obey represented for 41 years, from 1969 through his retirement in 2010. Since Obey was replaced by a Republican, the GOP now wants to hold that seat in 2012, so they drew the new lines to help their freshman friend get re-elected.

They did this by removing Democrats from the 7th and replacing them with Republicans from the 3rd. They reassigned Democratic leaning cities like Wisconsin Rapids and Stevens Point from the 7th to the 3rd, and moved rural towns from the 3rd to the 7th.

They accomplished their gerrymandering scheme by manipulating the line of the 3rd Congressional District into a non-contiguous U-shaped area, with the city of Eau Claire on the left wing of it, and the cities of Wisconsin Rapids and Stevens Point, on the right side of it. Rural areas between the two prongs were assigned to the 7th.

Now, the only practical way to drive from the new 3rd District cities of Wisconsin Rapids and Stevens Point, on the right side of the U, to the rest of the 3rd District, on the left side of the U, is to travel through part of the new 7th District, in the center of the U.

Since Congressional Districts are supposed to be contiguous, there is no lawful explanation for the U-shaped formation, other than Republican Party politics. The new Republican map is an obvious case of gerrymandering, a violation of the U.S. Constitution, and it should be challenged and thrown out in court.

08/29/2011

Sub-Saharan African Dictators Must Go

Following the demise of North African dictators in Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt, President Obama should now focus on greater democracy in Sub-Saharan Africa, where many have held office for more than 10 years, and well beyond the growing international standard of no more than two 5-year terms.

CAMEROON: Paul Biya has been in public office in Cameroon since the early 1960s. He became Prime Minister in 1975 and President in 1982. He seized control of his political party in 1983, drove his rival into exile, convicted him of plotting a coup, and sentenced him to death. Biya won 99% of the vote in 1984, because he had no opponent. He survived a coup, before being re-elected in 1988. In a multi-party contest in 1992, Biya claimed a plurality, despite cries of fraud. After a two-term constitutional limit was imposed in 1996, Biya won 92% of the vote in 1997, because his opponents boycotted the election. He won another 7-year term in 2004, again under a cloud of suspicion. Biya called term-limits undemocratic in 2008, and simply removed them. It’s now time for the people of Cameroon to remove Biya.

EQUATORIAL GUINEA: Teodoro Obiang Mbasogo seized power in 1979 in a bloody coup, sentenced the previous leader to death, and became president. After winning a full 7-year term in 1982, he was re-elected in 1989, as the only candidate on the ballot. He claimed nearly 100% of the vote in 1996, 2002 and 2009, in contests marred by fraud. He keeps control by denying a free press and an opposition party. Obiang considers himself a god. It is time for the Equatorial Guineas to end his 32-year rule.

ANGOLA: Jose Eduardo dos Santos, became Angola’s second president in 1979. He won a plurality in the 1992 election, under allegations of fraud, and caused the civil war to continue. He said in 2001 he would step down before the next presidential election, but remained by amending the constitution to allow his ruling party to pick the leader. After 32 years, Santos has to go.

ZIMBABWE: Robert Mugabe, age 87, has been president of Zimbabwe since 1980, when the white government collapsed. Media controls were created in 2002, to ensure ongoing election victories. Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai was arrested in 2003, as Mugabe was accused of running a dictatorship. When Tsvangirai claimed victory in 2008, Mugabe managed to stay in office by creating a power-sharing arrangement in 2009. After 31 years in power, it’s time for Mugabe to step aside.

UGANDA: Yoweri Museveni has been Ugandan President since the prior government was overthrown in 1986. He promised a return to democracy, but held no election for 10 years, and then claimed 75% of the vote in 1996. In 2001, he accumulated 69%, in a race that was not free or fair, according to the Ugandan Supreme Court. Afterward, he said he would not run again, but he then abolished term limits and took 59% of the vote in 2006. He was re-elected again in 2011, with 68%, a tally disputed by outsiders. After 25 years, it’s time for Museveni to leave.

BURKINA FASO: Blasise Compaore of Burkina Faso came to power in 1987 in a bloody coup, during which the incumbent was executed. His opponents boycotted the 1991 election. After he was “re-elected” in 1998, the constitution was amended in 2000 to reduce presidential terms from 7 to 5 years, and to limit presidents to a total of two terms. Compaore argued the changes did not applied retroactively, so he ran and won again in 2005, and was re-elected in 2010. After 24 years, it’s time Compaore left.

Three more Africans have ruled since the 1990s, including: Yahya Jammeh of Gambia (1994-); Denis Sassau Nguesso of Congo-Brazzaville (1997-); and Pakalitha Mosisili of Lesotho (1998-).

President Obama is uniquely qualified to speak directly to the African people regarding the virtues of term limits. He should encourage the U.S. Congress and the EU to suspend all aid to any country ruled by leaders who have been in power more than 10 years, until they choose new leaders, and adopt term limits.

08/26/2011

North Africa/Mideast: More Rulers To Go

Now that Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, have thrown out their dictators, who is next? The answer is: any leader who has been in office for more than 10 years should be packing his bags, and the most senior among them should be getting on the bus first.

YEMEN: Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has ruled Yemen for 31 years, should get on board. He solidified control in 1978 by executing 30 military officers, who he believed conspired against him. He was “elected” in 1983, and every five years afterward, with such large margins, they were suspect. After the 1999 election, he extended his term from five to seven years. In 2005, he promised not run again in 2006, but did anyway, and claimed 77% of the vote. During the Arab Spring, he said he wouldn’t seek re-election in 2013, offered to resign, but then did not. After suffering wounds in a bomb blast in June 2011, he returned. Get on the bus Saleh!

SYRIA: Even though Bashar Assad has ruled Syria for only 11 years, his father controlled the country for 29 years, from 1971 through 2000, and the Assad family has had a grip over the Syrian people for 40 years. Although Bashar was “elected” in 2000 and 2007, no opposition was allowed, and his rule lacks legitimacy. The bus driver has a reserved seat with Bashar’s name on it.

SUDAN: Omar al-Bashir seized control of Sudan in a military coup in 1989. After disbanding his revolutionary council, he made himself president in 1993. He received only 75% of the vote in 1996, even though he was the only candidate on the ballot. In 2000, he won 86%, another suspicious tally. Bashir has been known to imprison political opponents. After 22 years without change, it’s time for Omar to take his bags to the bus station.

CHAD: While in Chad’s military in 1990, Idriss Deby toppled the government and made himself president in 1991. He claimed 69% of the vote in 1996, and 63% in 2001, but the electoral process was criticized by international observers. Worse yet, Deby removed a constitutional two-term limit in 2005, which allowed him to be re-elected in 2006. He took 64% of the vote in a boycotted contest. After 21 years, Deby should get on board.

While other long-term leaders in other parts of the world must also go, there is a momentum in North Africa and the Mideast that  should continue. Let’s do what we can to remove these dictators.

08/25/2011

Low Interest Rates: Correct Fed Policy

The Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve correctly used Monetary Policy to try to turn the economy around, by keeping home mortgage interest rates at their lowest level in 40 years.

Congress created the Federal Reserve System with a Central Bank in 1913 to help prevent recessions and other economic downturns from turning into depressions. Since then, all National Banks have joined the system.

The Federal Reserve has the ability to set interest rates for loans to member banks. When the Fed sets low interest rates, members are able to make loans to the public at correspondingly low rates. The availability of cheap money theoretically allows the economy to expand, provided other factors line up correctly.

Low interest rates at the Fed also help the U.S. Government when short-term loans are needed. Since interest on these loans is later turned over to the U.S. Treasury, the Fed basically provides interest-free money to the government. The principal sums borrowed from the Fed are repaid by the government with money raised from publically sold Treasury Bonds. Interest on the bonds is paid by the U.S. Treasury, until the bondholders are satisfied.

The decision by the Fed to keep interest rates low helps the federal government in terms of the annual deficit and national debt, regional banks in allowing them to offer cheap money, and the public, by enabling them to borrow at relatively low rates.

If the Fed now raised interest rates, while the national economy is still struggling to get out of a deep recession, one consequence would be a contraction, and a worsening of the economic crisis. If the Fed imposed higher interest rates, they certainly would not help, and would likely make the housing crisis worse.

Currently, factors other than interest rates are keeping the housing market from expanding. The Fed should continue to keep interest rates low, until measurable improvements are seen in the housing industry, which unfortunately may take the better part of a decade, no matter who occupies the White House or the Congress.

08/23/2011

Post Office Violates Privacy Rights

As I was purchasing a bottle of wine with some food items, the checkout person at the grocery insisted on scanning my Driver’s License, even though I was obviously old enough to be her grand-father. I realized then that the Right to Privacy was in trouble. But what really got me going, later that day, was the discovery that the Post Office had given my home address to unauthorized persons.

I recently moved from one state to another, and directed the Post Office to forward my mail to the house of a relative, so I could continue receiving it, while I stayed in a motel, and looked for a home. After finding a place, I went online to my cell phone site to update my address, and was shocked to discover they were listing my relative’s address as mine, even though I had not given them that address, and was not in fact living there.

I called the phone company and asked how they got that address. The customer service person said he didn’t know at first, but after speaking with a supervisor, he explained they obtained it from the Post Office. The Post Office had shared my forwarding address with the phone company, even though I had not authorized them to do it. After correcting my address with the phone company, the loss of my privacy still bothered me enough to write about it.

What if the situation had involved a woman who was trying to lose a delusional stalker? By simply giving the Post Office a forwarding address, she would have inadvertently allowed anyone who requested updated information to receive it.

The moral of the story is unless you want to leave an address trail, you cannot give the Post Office a Change of Address Form, since they will share your personal private information with anyone who wants to know where you moved to.

Americans have a right to keep their private matters confidential. While major corporations have always had an interest in securing updated addresses, so they can continue sending junk mail that ends up in the trash as soon as it is received, the Congress should never have given in to them. They should not have authorized the Post Office to release private data. It is sad what has happened to the right to privacy in the Internet Age.

08/22/2011

Military Waste: Spending Taxes on Golf

When a friend showed me an ad placed by the U.S. Army seeking a “Professional Golf Management Trainee,” it reminded me of how much waste there is in the military budget.

This is no joke. The Army has a full-time permanent position for a golf trainee. The starting salary is up to $38,000, but the cost to us is much higher, as the position includes full benefits such as: health and life insurance, 401-K retirement, paid holidays, sick leave, vacation time, and possible student loan repayments. Many vacancies exist in the U.S., and relocation bonuses are possible.

The job is said to be “crucial to support military operations.”

Management trainees undergo 24 months of on-the-job training, and 12 months at an Army installation. The training varies by installation, but focuses on golf course and pro shop operations.

The trainee learns how golf courses operate. Training includes: 1) the conduct of play; 2) how to keep the facilities clean and safe; 3) how to make sure the course meets quality golf standards; 4) how the maintain relations with the grounds crew; 5) how to manage the golf cart fleet; and 6) how to oversee the food and beverage for outings and tournaments.

Along with college transcripts, a degree from a Professional Golf Association Management Program is required, along with three professional Letters of Recommendation.

The above is just one example of the waste in the military budget. Can you imagine what the right-wingers at Fox would say if the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), or National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) considered golf “crucial” to their operations?

If the country is going to cut budgets, let’s not forget there are millions, and probably billions of dollars wasted each year by the military. Military budgets should never be off the table. The politicians should have the courage to examine their spending and eliminate wasteful expenditures not needed for national security.

08/19/2011

Zero Population Growth: Do They Care?

Most of the Republican presidential candidates have relatively large numbers of children, and have not personally shown any concern about population growth, an important global issue.

Former Sen. Rick Santorum, a conservative Catholic, has seven children; former Utah Gov. John Huntsman, a Mormon, has seven; former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney, another Mormon, has five; Texas Congressman Ron Paul, a Baptist, has five; and the queen bee of them all, Evangelical Lutheran Minnesota Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann, has five of her own.

40 years ago, there was a movement on college campuses warning students that unrestrained growth in global population would lead to food shortages, disease, conflict, and other such consequences. It was based on the writings of Thomas Malthus. To save the earth, Zero Population Growth (ZPG), as it was known, encouraged young people to limit families to one or two children.

The Peoples Republic of China also recognized the need to limit unrestrained families. While their large population was growing geometrically, food supplies were only increasing arithmetically. Chinese leaders acted boldly, and moved aggressively, as they adopted a one-child policy, and derailed a potential catastrophe.

In the democracies of Europe and North America, no government mandate was needed, as most young Europeans and Americans understood the math, and voluntarily adopted ZPG principles, limiting their families to no more than one or two children.

While Ron Paul had his children before the enlightenment of the 1960s and 1970s, questions should be put to Bachmann, Santorum, Romney and Huntsman. Why did they have such large families? Do they deny the math and science of the problem?

The answer is these Republicans simply don’t care about Thomas Malthus, ZPG, or others who use math, science, and logic to guide their lives. They are instead blind followers of Biblical teachings, and fundamentalist religious beliefs. If everyone thought like them 40 years ago, the planet would now be in a serious state of chaos.

Although very few openly discuss the ongoing need for Zero Population Growth today, this does not mean the problem was solved. We still need leaders who understand the dangers of unrestrained growth, and have taken the initiative to limit their own families to one or two children. Most Republicans would be in no position to lead on this issue, since even now they just don’t seem to get it.

08/18/2011

Wisconsin Recall: A Democratic Success

Now that the last of the Wisconsin State Senate recall elections has ended, the Democrats can claim an important success, as they won five of nine contests, gained a net of two Senate seats, and reduced the Republican majority from 19-14 to 17-16. No matter what spin Gov. Walker and his right-wing allies put on it, if you ask the Republicans whether they would be willing to go through the recall process again, they would certainly say no.

As soon as Walker completes his first year in office in 2012, and becomes eligible for a gubernatorial recall, petitions will again be circulated to put his name on the ballot, for yet another election. The Democrats will have to field a good candidate to oppose him, as an unbelievable sum of money will be spent to retain Walker.

The Republicans should have learned a few lessons from the recall elections. First, if the legislative agenda is going to include radical proposals, at the very least, they must be raised during the campaign season, and not for the first time once they take office.

Second, when the Republicans see large crowds of ordinary citizens gathering to oppose their legislative agenda, they should ignore them only at their peril. While it is true typical protesters in Madison are not representative of Wisconsinites at large in other parts of the state, they are still a barometer of general attitudes, and again cannot be dismissed out of hand.

Third, outside money alone does not determine the outcome of elections, where the electorate is informed on important issues, and they are motivated to vote accordingly. In fact, ads that contradict what people know to be true, only strengthen their resolve, and make them even more determined to prevail.

Walker is now finally talking about working with the Democrats, but he did not come into office with that posture, and he has only recently shifted his stand, because he knows his head is on the chopping block. Soon the ax will fall, but at this point, it is too early to predict if the blade will actually sever his head.

08/17/2011

Republican Debate Economics (8-11-11)

As the Republicans debated economic issues in Iowa, including the recent increase in the Debt Ceiling, many demonstrated an intellectual dishonesty, as they again pledged not to raise taxes, but simultaneously supported costly military expeditions abroad, two positions that will certainly force the U.S. to borrow billions.

TAXES: Gingrich continued to shovel the idea that tax cuts will led to growth, while Santorum and Cain, respectively, want to reduce to zero the Corporate Income Tax, and Capital Gains Tax.

BORROW-SPEND: The Republican refusal to raise taxes has led to borrowing and spending, which has sunk the nation deep into debt, leaving only two choices: 1) increase the Debt Ceiling and borrow so creditors who lent the money can be paid, or 2) default.

DEBT CEILING: Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann demonstrated a stark ignorance regarding the economy, as she condemned her Republican colleagues for increasing the Debt Ceiling. She confused the issue by saying those who voted for an increase gave Obama money, when in fact all they did was prevent a default on loans already made. The new kid on the block, Herman Cain, also opposed an increase in the Debt Ceiling.

Former Utah Gov. Huntsmann, a voice of reason, said he would never let the U.S. default and called the National Debt a cancer. Former Sen. Santorum also said the Debt Ceiling had to be raised, but Romney just talked about upgrading the Mass. credit rating.

U.S. BUDGET: As to the Budget, Congressman Ron Paul wisely said if there are going to be any federal cuts, military budgets have got to be on the table. Former House leader Gingrich, criticized the Committee of 12, which was convened to resolve budget issues.

FEDERAL RESERVE: Paul’s weakest area is his distain for the Federal Reserve Board. As to monetary policies that have kept interest rates low, Paul was critical, saying they only distort the economy. Apparently, he does not think they will stimulate economic activity. At one point Paul said the U.S. owes the Federal Reserve 1.6 trillion, and the Fed should be audited. Paul’s comments were obviously popular with the partisan crowd, as they booed Santorum for attacking Paul. Gingrich joined Paul saying it is a scandal that the Fed deals with billions in secret, and does not explain who is bailed out, or why.

FREE TRADE & JOBS: On the issue of jobs and trade, Santorum, who consistently supported Free Trade while in the Senate, correctly pointed out the number of Americans employed in manufacturing dropped from 21% to 9%, but he offered no solutions. Romney said we need trade policies that work for us, but he also failed to give any details. When he was asked to explain why people were laid off from companies he owned, he had little to say.

ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY: Regarding the regulation of the environment, Huntsman, who owns a global corporation, said the EPA does not let businesses expand, and accused them of running a “reign of terror.”

HEALTH INSURANCE: On the economics of health, all of the Republicans of course piled on against the law the Democrats passed in 2009. Pawlenty said the Obama health care plan was modeled after Romney’s in Mass. Romney said the Mass plan was for one state, and the President’s is a one-size-fits-all, for the entire nation. He promised to grant waivers to any state that requested one.

As to the mandate to make people buy health insurance, Romney argued all have a personal responsibility to buy it. Paul said the insurance and drug companies love the mandate, and thought only doctors and patients would suffer. Bachmann thinks the government has no authority to force people buy health insurance, a position her activist right-wing friends on the Supreme Court will likely endorse. Gingrich suggested repealing Obamacare, but like the others, offered no answer to the health insurance crisis.