Monday, May 26, 2008

Are we at the end of the Rainbow?

It’s sad to see the end of a dream but it looks like that’s what we are witnessing again or at least the beginning of the end. Are we getting closer to the failure of the so called Rainbow Coalition? Shortly after the end of apartheid I told a close friend that I believed South Africa would last as an African symbol of reconciliation and hope for about 10 years before going the way of the former Rhodesia now called Zimbabwe which in 1994 was slipping fast into despair after the promise of the end of white rule in 1980.

After winning an election against Ian Smith, Robert Mugabe started by cooperating with Smith’s party and agreed that white rights would be protected and that the country would continue to prosper but of course that didn’t last and by the mid 80’s to protect his own status Mugabe began a campaign to co-opt or kill off his former allies and solidify his power base through fear and intimidation. With that completed he then turned his attention to white businessman and farmers imposing harsh restrictions on ownership and expansion. He also began to clamp down on the countries banking laws specifically limiting the amount of funds that could be transferred out of the country while also ordering the nationalization of most industries. All of this led to resentment and fear amongst the white community and many left for South Africa but in doing so quickened the pace of decline for Zimbabwe. Instead of embracing those who were left behind Mugabe continue his efforts to destroy what was once called the breadbasket of Africa, by funding numerous wars in neighboring countries while also further ostracizing white farmers who were the nation’s biggest income earners and employers.

The nation went from have to have not almost overnight with income dropping off, huge debt and tourism also falling off but it only got worse and the few remaining white owned farms were then seized and handed over to “war veterans” who came home expecting a pension as promised and received nothing. Mugabe if nothing else is a survivor and quickly realized that to stay in power meant appeasing the unemployed masses and using a sacrificial lamb in the process namely the few white farmers still left. Today we have 80% unemployment, unimaginable poverty and inflation that’s so out of control a new 500 million dollar note was just printed (the equivalent of USD$2.00) so citizens don’t have to use a wheel barrel to buy bread, that is if any is to be found for sale. The promise of Zimbabwe didn’t last 10 yrs after Robert Mugabe came to power and it continues to rot.

This is what I based my prediction on but I was wrong in my sense of timing. I never could have imagined just how powerful Nelson Mandela would be, his sheer will power and gentleness took the country by storm and the rainbow coalition was formed. White’s who supported apartheid wouldn’t be strung up and or given long jail sentences they could simply appear before the truth commission and that was that. The former President wasn’t tried for crimes against humanity or against the state but was allowed to remain in parliament until he retired. It all seemed possible but as Mandela stepped aside due to age and ill health you could almost hear the clock begin the countdown to failure.

Slowly laws were passed forcing white businessman to take on black partners or give up 50% of their business interests. White farmers were told they would have to share their land and the state would set up a commission to determine the land’s value. Larger businesses had to meet quotas for black supervisors and managers regardless of competency or face fines, while colleges and universities were also forced to accept black students whose marks would not normally meet the entry standards. Now while some whites in those early days were resentful there were also a large majority that agreed with the policy’s and believed in the ideals of the rainbow coalition hoping that South Africa would remain the wealthiest country in Africa and in fact harnessing its better educated majority black population grow in stature thereby benefiting every citizen.
What the reality of it all was a huge increase in violent crime, mainly targeting working blacks. The unemployment rate soared in the black community and in the townships things only got worse as the services promised were not delivered in the numbers needed. Businesses that once flourished were slowing failing as unqualified managers were running them into the ground and increasingly the white community was starting to move their money offshore and also their children. Doctors were immigrating to Canada, Australian and Britain as fast as they could while many other much needed professionals were also looking for a new place to call home but there was still hope until recently.

2005 brought the first case of a white farmer to take what he considered to be an unfair settlement for the farmland he was forced to sell to the courts for appeal. He was turned down and he was given 60 days to accept the offer or his land would be seized. This sent shockwaves through the white farming community many of whom had come from Zimbabwe but fortunately the decision was overturned by a higher court which ordered a mediated settlement. For the white farmers it was a sign and many began to immigrate to Canada and Australia with offers to farm there.

Since then South Africa has continued its economic slide continuing to slip in the worlds standings with each passing year. Crime continues to rise and corruption is finding its way into every facet of business and everyday life and now we have riots against foreign workers. Beginning on 11 May with attacks against Zimbabwean workers and growing to include the large Malawian population and the small Somali population these attacks are brutal and reminiscent of the genocide in Rwanda where groups of people would descend upon a poor soul and begin to beat him or her to death, the only thing missing is the machete’s but the most alarming thing about the uprisings is the rhetoric coming out of the government.

The director general of South Africa's National Intelligence Agency, Manala Manzini, said on Thursday that the attacks were unleashed by movements that supported the apartheid government.

Mr. Manzini's comments were echoed by the minister of intelligence, Ronnie Kasrils, who said there were groups that had what he called their own political agenda.
"There was organization... we have names of people who called meetings," he said.

The secretary general of the ruling African National Congress (ANC), Kgalema Motlanthe, has said that many of the immigrants were able to get jobs in South Africa because they were better qualified than locals, whose education was disrupted by apartheid.

Now this is some scary rhetoric coming out of the current government, in essence blaming white’s who supported apartheid and somehow justifying violence against foreign workers due to a lack of education based on a system that ended 14 years ago?

This was not the dream of Nelson Mandela where black South Africans wouldn’t blame whites but would embrace them and move together towards one united great South Africa but it would appear that with Mr. Mandela’s era over all that is to be forgotten and therefore I believe the clock is ticking and the countdown to South Africa becoming the next Zimbabwe is well underway. Perhaps I am wrong, I hope I am wrong but all the signs are there unless God gives us another Nelson Mandela and soon.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Rules? What Stinking Rules?

Rules…there are no stinking rules…well not if you’re Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton anyway. When the DNC rules committee decided to punish Florida and Michigan for moving their primaries up Senator Clinton agreed and like her opponents didn’t directly campaign in either state but she didn’t go as far as the majority in Michigan and left her name on the ballot there.

When she won in both states she began to change her rhetoric, at first it was subtle but after her major losses on Super Tuesday her voice began to grow loader and clearer. When she began to bleed superdelegates after a big win in West Virginia failed to change their minds she realized that Florida and Michigan were her only hope and she became their champion, every vote must count she bellowed both in public and to the press. Her supporters make up a majority of the DNC rules committee that will meet on 31 May to hammer out a deal on what to do about Florida and Michigan that will surely make or break her argument to those remaining superdelegates that are still up for grabs.

Fully counting Florida and Michigan also goes to her other major argument and that is that she is leading in popular votes as if that somehow matters. Again the contest has rules and nowhere in the DNC rule book does it mention popular vote as a way to pick the nominee but that doesn’t seem to matter to Senator Clinton and her supporters.

Jonathon Last of the Philadelphia even wrote a long piece about the way Real Clear Politics is keeping track of six different versions of the popular vote and that currently Senator Clinton is leading in two of the six versions and that with a good turnout and 20 point victory in Puerto Rico on 01 Jun she’d be ahead in four of the six versions, but with a 28 point lead she might even be ahead in all six. Who cares I say…this is no different that Al Gore and Democrats never ending whining that he won the popular vote by 500,000…get over it he lost the election because of the Electoral College rules that both parties have won and lost with for over a century now.

And now we have Florida DNC members taking the National DNC to court to say they were disenfranchised by their own party even though court case after court case has said a private organization can make it own rules (as long as they don’t discriminate based on the usual suspects like gender or race) and the members are free to play by those rules or not be members.

If the DNC wants to change their rules fine, make each state and territory have a primary vice a caucus and make them have the exact same rules in each state (no independent or non-DNC members can vote in DNC primaries) that says there are no more delegates pledged or super. A simple vote adds up to a total number of votes and the person with the most votes after all states and territories have voted wins period. If a candidate drops out his votes drop out with him and cannot be transferred to another candidate but his name is removed from any future ballots and there is no write in names allowed, you either vote for one of the running candidates for your parties nomination or you don’t play that year. Group large and small states together in groups of five based on their region and have 10 rotating election dates so each group is small enough and close enough together so that candidates can visit all the state yet with rotating dates each group has equal importance.

The same applies for the General Election. If Congress wishes to change the rules then fine, let them, screw the tiny population states like New Hampshire or Montana that will never again see a Presidential candidate in their state. At the end of the day if you strictly want a popular vote President then fine.

But and it’s a big but we can’t be messing with the rules in the middle of the game period. Florida and Michigan were warned by Howard Dean both publically and privately but they went ahead anyway, the rules committee sat down and voted on the punishment and all candidates including Senator Clinton agreed with the outcome so to claim to be their champion now is not just disingenuous but a flat out fabrication related to the desperation of her current situation. If the people of Florida and Michigan want to mad at somebody then they should talk to their state governments and state DNC committees that ignored the warnings and forged ahead.

I can only imagine if the Clinton campaign strategy had come off as planned and she had locked up the nomination as expected by Super Tuesday Would we be hearing the same kind of rhetoric today…well really I don’ t need to imagine or guess of course we wouldn’t.

The rules are the rules, popular vote doesn’t matter nor does Florida or Michigan this year I’m sorry to say, but then again if you’re Senator Clinton and your motto is rules…what stinking rules it’s another story and so we await the great decision from the DNC rules committee and hope they are brave enough to demonstrate the conviction of their initial ruling.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Fuzzy Math 101 by Senator Clinton

It would appear that after Senator Clinton’s big win in West Virginia a week ago that she’d made a net gain of 7 pledged delegates but by week’s end that had resulted in a net loss of 5 delegates as the superdelegates began to break hard for Senator Obama. Coming into the Oregon / Kentucky races which occurred yesterday it had only gotten worse with some 30 super delegates having come out for Senator Obama as well as many prominent long time Democratic Party supporters who weren’t superdelegates but Senator Clinton persevered and pledged to fight on saying every vote should count equally and that she was determined to ensure that the people of every state and territory had their voices heard and votes cast. Most pundits began to admire her metal and true grit in the face of the obvious, which was that she was going to lose this battle.
She also began testing out a couple of new tag lines, the first of which went something like neither Senator Obama nor I will reach the magic number of 2209 (instead of the currently accepted 2025) to lock up this nomination which was an obvious reference to the full inclusion of the delegates from the states of Florida and Michigan and an obvious hint to the rules committee who will meet on 31 May to try and resolve the dispute while the second line was that more people had actually voted for her than for her opponent during this primary race. How did she get there…well first she again included Florida and more stunningly Michigan where Senator Obama’s name wasn’t even on the ballet but then she went brazenly forward by not including caucus states. I’m really not sure how you can rail on about counting all votes equally but ignore a whole bunch of states entirely just because they favored your opponent. Both of these tag lines have failed to ignite the intended audience of superdelegates as they continued to trickle towards Senator Obama but the writers in the main stream media continued to applaud her determination to fight on and use every possible argument to win the day.
This past Tuesday we had another split decision and again according to early results posted on CNN Senator Clinton will receive a net increase in pledged delegates to the tune of roughly 9. Does this mean a repeat of last week’s outcome where superdelegates will again move towards Senator Obama who also reached a so called milestone of his own in that he has now received the support of more than half of all the currently allowed pledged delegates available based on his total number and the total number available excluding Florida and Michigan. This is a false milestone but in the face of the numerous and strange way’s that Senator Clinton keeps trying to convince us that she’s somehow winning I suppose it was inevitable.
Adding to last week’s tag lines Senator Clinton has also done some creative math with the Electoral College map and determined that based on the states she’s won (again and always including Florida and Michigan) she would receive 300 Electoral College votes in a general election while Senator Obama would only receive 217. Now this is truly some fuzzy math in that Senator Clinton is including several states that are and will almost always be Republican territory, like Texas for example and ignoring the obvious fact that regardless of which of them is nominated by the Democratic Party they would most likely win both New York and California.
Let’s total this up and see what we get using real math vice the Professor Clinton version of fuzzy math 101.
· Total pledged delegates won – Senator Obama
· Total states and territory’s won – Senator Obama
· Superdelegates pledged – Senator Obama
· Total popular vote in states and territory’s where both Senator’s Clinton and Obama’s name appeared on the ballot – Senator Obama
Anyway you add it up, the sum comes out the same, and Senator Obama is the more deserving of the two final candidates to receive the Democratic nomination to run in a general election for the Presidency of the United States of America.
I believe that Senator Clinton should stay in the race until the final primary has been held on 3 June and after the final results are issued and all of the above questions have the same answer then she should immediately suspend her campaign and without hesitation support Senator Obama. If she does not and decides to take this fight to the convention she will not only hinder the party’s chances in the fall but hinder her chances in the future should Senator Obama fail to win in November. Any attempt to hang on past the final primary will have gone well beyond showing strength of character and determination and will have become a willful suspension of disbelief to quote a famous Senator but then again Senator Clinton has showed us repeatedly that she’s capable of using fuzzy math to achieve the sum she wishes to achieve so stand by for the next twist or wait it’s already here, she’s a victim of sexism but that’s another story.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Hillary vs. The Private Security Company

In the wake of the Sept 2007 shooting by Blackwater staff of Iraq civilians there was a typical response by the Congress, pretend to investigate but actually use the incident to beat the other side with a political stick announce radical changes that make no sense but make for a good sound bite and then do nothing but recently Senator Hillary Clinton now running far to the left as a soon to be ex-Presidential candidate went a step further and put forward legislation to stop the use of Private Security Company’s (PSC’s) from doing what traditionally was done by government forces. Here’s an example of why she’s wrong to lump all PSC activities together.

What does it take to hold multiple elections within 3 years in a country that has suffered through decades of occupation, dictatorship and war?

As the International Security Forces were few and the Afghan Security Forces weren’t ready the UN planning staff turned to a PSC to provide not only security but also all logistical support to the hundreds of UN personnel that had to first conduct voter registration throughout Afghanistan. This was a new role for the PSC and was new ground for the UN as well. While the UN is the most experienced organization at running elections in war torn locations it had never before attempted such a feat without UN peacekeepers to protect the UN civilian workforce.

The PSC set up teams of discreetly armed ex-western military men using Afghan drivers and translators. They worked tirelessly to pave the way for the UN registration teams, coordinating movements using aircraft, helicopters, vehicles and mules depending on the distance, terrain and availability of transportation to ensure that every village was attended too. How exactly did it work?

The PSC teams would conduct an advanced visit to each village and provide information on what the UN was doing and when they would be coming, they would met with the village elder or the senior tribal leader to ensure that the UN personnel would be welcomed as guests and thus protected. Once a village was confirmed as safe the project office in Kabul would be informed and the visit dates confirmed. The team would then return to their regional HQ to pick up the UN personnel and escort them to the village. Many hours of satellite phone time was burned up trying to make this process go as smoothly as it could. Often it didn’t go smoothly as transportation broke down, or didn’t show up, translators simply went home without warning to visit family or if the UN team was later than expected angry village elders refused to allow their people to be registered until proper apologizes had been made. To avoid the possibility of any harm coming to the UN civilians the PSC teams were the face of the voter registration program. They also died to make the program work in one case when two members of the PSC team and their translator were executed and dumped beside a highway after being stopped at an insurgent checkpoint. It was a clear message that not everybody was ready for democracy but the program went ahead.

When it came time to distribute the ballots and the boxes the UN again turned to a PSC company to ensure things got to where they needed to be, weren’t tampered with, polling stations were safe places and that all the ballots, used and unused were safely returned to Kabul for counting. This was not only a great security challenge but also a logistical challenge again involving all means of transport and hundreds of PSC and UN personnel but this time there was also the added burden of independent election monitors.

After almost a year’s effort by hundreds of people, Hamid Karzai became the first democratically elected President of Afghanistan in decades but this was only the beginning.

In 2005 the final piece of the democracy puzzle had to be put into place, the full election of an independent parliament. Once again the UN turned to outsourcing the security and logistics of the voting process. As it was a repeat of the earlier process it went even more smoothly with all the lessons learned from the first registration and voting put into practise, still there were challenges. The biggest challenge was the election monitoring process. This time to ensure that the monitors were truly independent of the UN election team they hired their own PSC’s and moved separately. Fortunately the country was more stable in 2005 and the logistical resources had also grown, as had the ability of the government to regulate and provide some police and military support at each polling station.

At the end of the process, there were many celebrations throughout Kabul, at the UN HQ the relief and happiness at a successful election without any violence was overwhelming while the team members of the Republican Democratic Institute (RDI) celebrated with the PSC teams that protected them and presented the company with a letter of appreciation stating that they couldn’t have done their job without the professional effort of the PSC who provided them with all transportation, polling station access passes, food, water, and armed protection not to mention protecting them before and after the actual election and the vote counting process.

For those involved in the process, it was just another job but the reality was that when the UN, PSC’s and the local security forces all work in concert you can have free and fair elections without violence. PSC’s may have no experience in running an election but they can ensure one is run safely and efficiently. After 12 million Afghan people were registered and went to the polls twice no voters, UN personnel or monitors were killed or injured.

Perhaps Senator Clinton and her colleagues should stop grandstanding long enough to realize that like all industries Private Security Company’s are not only good at some things but a better use of resources in many cases and like any industry they need guidance and a structured set of rules to play by. Is she willing to roll back the clock and say Brinks Guards can longer move money for banks only police can perform any guarding function requiring a weapon in the US? I don’t think cities, counties or states budgets would survive such a measure as police have a different role and certainly a higher cost attached to them.

Before we go too far lets stop and think and perhaps for once let’s not through the baby out with the bathwater just to try and prove a political point.

Friday, May 16, 2008

10 Things I Hate About The World

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Jimmy Who?

When I read a few weeks back that Jimmy Carter was going to the Middle East and would be having a sit down with the exiled leader of Hamas while he was in Syria I immediately decided to write a piece about all his failed attempts to bring peace to the various countries he’d been officially launched into by then President Clinton but my wife had other ideas about the use of my time so the piece kept getting delayed.

Soon it got to the point that Jimmy was actually having his meeting and making his announcements about success and yet my wife was unrelenting in her demand that I set up the lawn furniture and help with the removal of all the drywall in the cottage basement, she just didn’t seem to grasp the importance of putting pen to paper and exposing ex President Carter for the naïve fool that I believed him to be. I tried to explain to her that during his Presidency he was foolish enough to believe the Iranians time and time again when the promised to release the diplomats and their families being held in Tehran. He was foolish enough to believe that he had somehow convinced Egypt to accept Israel’s right to exist ignoring the very reason Egypt choose to make peace (they’d been pounded twice in less than a decade by the Israeli Defense Forces) and even managed to convince the Nobel committee that he deserved the peace prize for this miracle.

No my wife was having none of my arguments about his presidency so I moved on to his big move in Haiti when he was sent my then President Clinton to convince the government of the day who’d come to power in a coup to stand down so the US didn’t have to invade. He proclaimed peace and accepted everything that he heard from strongman Raoul Cedras and from Aristide who resumed the presidency. Like always the peace was short lived and the country soon returned to the anarchy it’s know for 2 decades but Carter had moved on by then. I mentioned his big move in North Korea where he negotiated on behalf of the Clinton administration and was hailed a hero for bringing us an agreement that would ensure the North Koreans didn’t develop nuclear weapons and we all know how that turned out when they announced a decade later that they’d been developing them all along. I mentioned his visit to Darfur when he declared that the US administration was wrong in depicting Darfur as a genocide. I mentioned his recent book and his anti Israel slant on the Palestinian peace process and how meeting with Khaled Meshaal of Hamas was so wrong headed but instead I was sent to the basement with my hammer to work and so the meeting took place and Jimmy proclaimed peace could be had and that Hamas was willing to final recognize Israel’s right to exist in exchange for a few compromises on their part, nothing big of course just allow Jerusalem to become the capitol of the Palestinian state, return to the recognized borders prior to the 1967 war which meant giving back the strategic Golan Heights to Syria and immediately recognizing Hamas’s right to govern. Once again I pleaded with my wife for some time off my hard labor sentence for good behavior so I could write a nice piece on Jimmy’s efforts but she was unrelenting so I had to keep hauling drywall to the dump and pulling out the 2 million nails that had held the old stuff in place while the Jimmy Carter show rolled on.

The very next day I was able to get up early and sneak downstairs to watch some uninterrupted news and saw that the Hamas spokesman had immediately denounced Jimmy Carters statement and said that although the ex President was right about what Israel must give up to achieve peace, Hamas did not agree to recognize Israel’s right to exist and it would never agree to this demand. At this point I began to laugh out loud, thus waking my wife up which allowed me to thank her for not letting me write my piece earlier pronouncing to the world what a horrific event it would be if an ex US president met with the exiled leader of a terrorist organization and actually achieved the peace deal that so many administrations had tried and failed to achieve. The peanut man did what he does best and that is to hear what he wants to hear and ignore the reality of the situation on the ground.

Former President Jimmy Carter held a private meeting with Khaled Meshaal the exiled leader of Hamas, the second worst terrorist organization on the planet who have vowed and continue to vow to wipe Israel from the map and he failed not only to understand their demands but to achieve anything other than to further taint his reputation and legacy. Even Bill Clinton has managed to stay out of the dangerous arena of world politics and not embarrass the current President I’m sure more out of respect for the office than for President George W. Bush.

This I hope will be the last effort of former President Carter to do anything other than the good work of Habitat for Humanity, a worthy cause for which he should be thanked for on a daily basis. Never again should he attempt to solve the world’s problems by meeting with terrorists…perhaps this should be a warning to Barrack Obama about this foolish idea of talking to these lunatics. Never again should we care what former President Carter is up to or waste anymore tax payer dollars on a secret service detail to protect a man in the Middle East who’s working against our nation’s interests.

Finally I’d like to thank my wife for saving me from making foolish pronouncements about the importance of such a meeting since when all was said and done it was ignored by the world and did nothing to move the process along. Thanks for the memories Jimmy now go back to the hammer where you belong and I’ll do the same thanks to my unrelenting wife.