Zardari leaves Pakistan with a legacy…

English: Asif Ali Zardari.

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari.

In the last week, Pakistan has held it’s Presidential elections in which PML (N) nominee Mamnoon Hussain won in a landslide 432 to 77 against Pakistan Movement for Justice party nominee Wajihuddin Ahmed.

Why is the election of Hussain such a big deal?  Political handoffs take place all the time.

This is the first, in Pakistani history, that a democratic change, by the will of the people has come.  For Pakistan, a nation nearly a century old, this is it’s first true democratically willed exchange of power.

Pakistan itself was conceived in 1930 by a proclamation by British Indian politician Sir Muhammad Iqbal, the nation itself formed in 1940 as a sovereign state for Muslims that was originally part of British-controlled India.  Since then, it has been fraught with political problems and disaster that left many wondering if Pakistan would ever become democratically governed.

Pakistan received official independence on 14 August, 1947 from British India, becoming a British controlled dominion under control of King George V of the United Kingdom, under the title of “Emperor of India.”  He later renounced this role and styled himself as the “King of Pakistan,” a title passed to his daughter, the incumbent Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom, who styled herself as the Queen of Pakistan.

In 1956, a revolution created and installed an Islamic Parliamentary Republic, which was supposed to be civilian run, but in the process, a military coup took over the revolution and installed the army’s commander-in-chief, Ayub Khan, as the ruler of Pakistan.

Pervez Musharraf

Former Chief Executive and President General Pervez Musharraf

In 1970, free elections were held, heralded as a transition from a military junta to a democratically elected civilian government, but the sitting military government refused to hand power to the elected successor.  Internal fighting in the nation sparked an independence movement which led to a secession of east Pakistan into the nation now known as Bangladesh.

Power was handed to a civilian government which didn’t last long, and Pakistan soon found itself under martial law again with the coup led by army General Zia-ul-Haq.  Zia, who died in a plane crash 1988, was succeeded by Pakistan’s first female Prime MInister, Benazir Bhutto, followed by Nawaz Sharif after a scandal which cost her her seat.  During Sharif’s time in office, Pakistan’s military nuclear weapons testing led to destabilization and the Kargill War of 1999, in which point Army Chief of Staff General Pervez Musharraf assumed power in a bloodless coup.

Ruling as both civilian and military leader of Pakistan, he executed his duties often under one title, as a civilian or commander in chief independently, theoretically, while being the same person.  He resigned from his Army post amid massive protests for elections, but continued on as President of Pakistan until the return of Benazir Bhutto in 2007, returning from a self-imposed exile to see that Musharraf’s dictatorship was unseated.  Assassinated in the twilight hours of 2007, Musharraf heeded calls for an election, which saw him replaced with Bhutto’s husband, Asif Ali Zardari.

President Zardari took the helm of Pakistan during some of it’s most trying times –and became a friend of the United States in the war on terror, which was extremely unpopular amongst voters in Pakistan, particularly since the capture and killing of Osama Bin Laden, which took place in an initially secret strike in Abottabad.

Which leads to today.  For the first time in it’s history, a democratically elected government of Pakistan is set to hand authority and power over to a new democratically elected government.  This is history in the making, particularly for a newer, nuclear-powered nation.  What can the future hold for a stable, and flourishing Pakistan?

If North Korea and Cuba have been trading arms…

North Korean Missiles aboard the DPRK Ship Chong Chon Gang.  (Courtesy of Yahoo)

North Korean Missiles aboard the DPRK Ship Chong Chon Gang. (Courtesy of Yahoo)

…could this lead to a new Cuban Missile Crisis?

Panama found a North Korean vessel with several missiles (stated to be “outdated”) in its hold bound from Cuba back to the Juche-state that is banned from importing almost any type of weapon by sanction.

The Cuban government, in a televised statement, stated they were headed to North Korea for “repair” and return back to the communist state.

Let’s leave the “repair” aspect of this alone — and assume for a moment, that that’s true.  This means that North Korea and Cuba could very  well have been doing this for awhile, freely — with nobody’s knowledge.

Imagine another Cuban Missile Crisis, with arms once again aimed at the United States by a nation less than 100 miles away from the US Coastline.  Except this time, the arms and the figurative “button” are now in the hands of authoritarian North Korea — and a government hell-bent on proving a point to it’s people that it can, indeed “rain holy fire” down on the nation that the Juche and Songun state has made out to be it’s blood-enemy.

chong-chon-gang

DPRK Ship Chong Chon Gang

Could this be a flue warning sign of something that could come in the future?  Could this have also blown open a cover of how North Korea’s been getting stuff?

“Intellectual Disarmament”

James Albaugh is president and chief executive...

James Albaugh, President & CEO of Boeing Integrated Defense Systems.(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

…a phrase coined by Boeing’s James Albaugh, should be a major concern for intellectuals, academics and theorists in the world, in my opinion.

The United States academic system, particularly the University-level education system, is among the best and brightest in the world.  Armed with more Ph.D.’s, Ed.D.‘s, J.D.’s, MBAs and MS’s than in some COUNTRIES, the University system in America is unique — and perhaps, even special.  But we’ve got major flaws that, if not addressed, could wind up becoming our undoing.

Right now, the US has one very special “weapon” in its arsenal.  And that’s the F-1 visa.  Our great nation allows students from other countries to come to our nation, study and achieve a quality education, and then return to their nation and, with any luck, achieve great things.  Not only does our economy benefit from this arrangement, by receiving the tuition and fees from the visiting student, but it would stand to reason the student also eats, buys music or engages in some other forms of recreation — even to a small degree.  All of these things come together to form a fairly beneficial process to both parties.

However, the problem therein lies that that’s exactly what happens.  Often, they don’t have an incentive to stay in the USA.  They receive their American education, and return home.  An education subsidized by American taxpayers.  Now, is there anything “wrong” with this… not “as such,” of course not.  America, in my opinion, has the duty and obligation to the world to be a place where those who want to raise themselves up in the world can come and do so.

But what incentive are we giving those hard working students to STAY in America?  Often, as soon as their Visa runs out, they HAVE to go home.  Other nations recall their students as soon as they finish their course of study.  Why aren’t we, as a nation, saying “Look, we’ve given you the tools to succeed… why not stay HERE, and let us help you succeed anymore?”

Albaugh put it very well: Other nations, be it the nation the student hails from, or others, see graduating students and are actively attracting them.  Why aren’t we, as a nation, offering foreign students and other intellectuals/academics an “easy in” to America, particularly after they’ve spent several years here already?  Will America continue to stay innovative if such  trends continue?

Between government cuts (particularly in Defense) and the hemorrhaging of talented minds that are educated here and otherwise leave — what could this hail in the future?

$11 Minimum Wage? Hmmm… YES, but…

English: Exterior of a Wal-Mart Supercenter in...

English: Exterior of a Wal-Mart Supercenter in Madison Heights, Virginia. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the labor-rights movements right now is calling for an $11/hour minimum wage in the United States — bringing the per-hour cost of labor much closer to a living wage figure.  While I completely agree that a double digit minimum or a living-wage should be a goal, I see several problems with this.

The first I see is the small business.  Small business owners often don’t make a lot of money, particularly when they first start out — often taking what’s left after all the bills are paid, and that’s NOT assuming the company has some sort of “rainy day fund.”  Small business owners may find such a surge in output to employees that they may find little money left in the till after the bills and payroll are made.  This would be unfortunate.

The second, I see being much more sinister and calculated.  We already know “Big Box” companies like Wal-Mart and Meijer have a reputation for dolling out hours “just below” full-time to avoid having to pay their employees’ health care, or other benefits, but get almost the same benefits of having a full-time labor force.  Often very underpaid, they wind up having to go on forms of assistance to get medical care.  While it’s arguable and readily easy to assume that a company like Wal-Mart could fairly easily absorb such a rise in wages, my fear is that they will cut hours.  All of a sudden, the 38-hour employee finds himself at 27 hours.  Or worse, the full-time 40+ hour a week person finds himself at 30 hours, and now, his or her benefits cut as a result.

However, COSTCO, the Big-Box retailer that’s known for paying it’s employees very handsomely, enjoys a successful and relatively happy workforce, with a CEO who, while underpaid compared to his CEO-brethren, still lives a very comfortable life.  I feel he deserves recognition as such in any such a debate.

Is this pure conjecture — surely.  But is it out of the realm of possibility?  I don’t think so.  Big-Box retailers in general are known for looking for ways to cut costs while keeping productivity high.  My fear is a wage increase could make an already lame situation much worse.

SCOTUS’ Summer 2012 “Flood Week” Decisions…

English: The inscription Equal Justice Under L...

English: The inscription Equal Justice Under Law as seen on the frieze of the United States Supreme Court building (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

With the Supreme Court’s final week of the season upon us, several high profile decisions will likely be rendered — many of which will no doubt have major ramifications in the future.  I think I have an idea of what they’ll do; and I believe the following is going to be announced in short order:

Affirmative ActionWhile I don’t agree with it, it’s true that people of color are NOT on equal footing.  Despite having a Black Commander-in-Chief, people of color still earn, on average, 64 cents on the dollar compared to their white, similarly credentialed counterparts.  I agree that race can never be a BFOQ, so until this problem is solved, I believe minorities deserve special protection.  I expect this to be upheld.

Voting Rights:  Drawing from above, it’s obvious that discrimination still exists — even in the 21st Century.  I expect Federal Oversight in areas that discrimination is historical will continue.  I expect this to be upheld.

Same-Sex Marriage:  Probably the hottest item for the news this season for the Supreme Court, and one I care about too, is Same-Sex Marriage.  Generally, the Court has ruled in favor of civil rights historically — but one with such a broad re-definition of the legal rights involved in marriage and benefits I think is unprecedented.  I see the following happening relating to Same-sex Marriage:

– DOMA will be ruled unconstitutional.  It’s a discriminatory law, and I believe a violation of the Equal Protection Clause — so I expect it to be dissolvedwhich brings us to the next item in the ruling:

– California’s Proposition 8 I expect this to be upheld.  I expect the Supreme Court’s majority opinion to be that that Same-sex marriage should be a States’ Rights issue, and allow States to determine the law when it comes to redefining marriage — allowing States to keep laws on the books that allow for it, and those who have laws against it to do so as well.  That said, I also believe that, in accordance with DOMA being wiped out, that those who are married, Same-sex or otherwise in States that allow it, will now be entitled to receive Federal benefits.

These are just conjecture — based off my experience and personal expectations.  Take them as you will.

Trans-Pacific Partnership — what’s the deal?

Seal of the Office of the United States Trade ...I’m deeply disturbed by something Senator Elizabeth Warren has brought to the floor of Congress just recently.

The US Trade Representative is currently conducting negotiations on renewing a trade agreement with several allied nations, called the “Trans-Pacific Partnership.”  Historically, and even under the Bush Administration, this had Congressional oversight.  Apparently, under the Obama Administration — the Administration who’s buzzword is ‘Transparency,” that’s no longer the case.

The US Trade Representative is REFUSING Congressional requests for review — in any capacity, including “scrubbed” versions, with individual country names redacted, but the policy proposals visible.

Why would a treaty involving commerce, and indeed, including representatives from companies like Bank of America, Comcast, TimeWarner, be so secretive?

Indeed, the only Representative in Congress who’s SEEN the agreement, has said the following:

Florida congressman Alan Grayson.

“There is no national security purpose in keeping this text secret.”
 — Represenative Alan Grayson (D-FL)

Repeatedly asked for the text that Senator Warren refers to, she, and Congress, have been categorically DENIED.  Why is the US Trade Representative not allowing for either a) Public transparency or b) Congressional transparency when the only member of Congress YET to review it, says there is no concern for National Security?

“…’transparency would undermine the Trade Representative’s policy to complete the trade agreement, because Public Opposition would be significant.’   In other words, if the Public knew what was going on, they would STOP it.”
 — Senator Elizabeth Warren, quoting the US Trade Representative

“If transparency would lead to widespread public opposition to a trade agreement, then that trade agreement should not be the policy of the United States.”
— Senator Elizabeth Warren

See her speech to Congress here.

DUI at 0.05 as opposed to 0.08 justice or overreaching?

drunk-driving-stop-293x300The National Transportation Safety Board (“the NTSB”) wrote a report today recommending all 50 states in the United States lower the level of driving under the influence from 0.08 to 0.05 Blood-Alcohol Content.  The responses from each side of the argument have been interesting to say the least. Swift action, including the revocation of driver licenses was also indicated as a punishment to those to keep repeat offenders from becoming habitual drunk drivers.

The report published by the NTSB also noted that lowering the intoxication threshold would save anywhere from “500 to 800 lives per year.”

Indeed, there is precedence for this figure.  A decade ago, the laws were changed to criminalize driving under the influence at 0.08 BAC.  Alcohol-related deaths on the road plunged from 20,000 in 1980 to 9,878 in 2011.

Even the lowest levels of alcohol seem to impair drivers, the NTSB has said.  In an NTSB study, people were given alcohol and drove in simulators.  At 0.01 BAC, drivers in simulators demonstrate attention problems and lane deviations. At 0.02, they exhibit drowsiness, and at 0.04, vigilance problems.

quote-open“This recommendation is ludicrous,” Sarah Longwell, managing director of the American Beverage Institute, said in a statement to CNN.

“Moving from 0.08 to 0.05 would criminalize perfectly responsible behavior. …A little over a decade ago, we lowered our legal limit from 0.1 percent after groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving assured the country that, based on all the science, 0.08 BAC was absolutely, unequivocally where the legal threshold should be set for drunk driving. Has the science changed? Or have anti-alcohol activists simply set their sights on a new goal?” Longwell asked.

Signs of a failing infrastructure?

Livonia Water Tank Explosion

One of the things I’ve started to notice is the failure or sheer disasters associated with infrastructure or other related items lately.  A ten million gallon water tank in my neighborhood explodes, dousing the neighborhood in massive amounts of water — which, due to the pressure blew water mains all around, the Texas fertilizer plant explodes, a refinery in Detroit on Fort Street catastrophically fails and blew its top off last evening, causing evacuations around the neighboring city.

Fort Street Refinery Fire in Detroit

The sudden apparent-surge in explosions in things that one would think are regulated makes me wonder if we have a serious two-fold problem: a lack of oversight, and a failing infrastructure.

Infrastructure isn’t just roads, highways and avenues…  It’s pipes.  It’s tanks.  All of these things, particularly when they’re related to anything hazardous.  All of this stuff requires oversight and inspection.  Is it just a freak occurrence in quick succession, or is it a symbol of things to come?

Are Athlete Fraudsters Liable for Reimbursing Funders?

Lance Armstrong finishing 3rd in Sète, taking ...

Lance Armstrong finishing 3rd in Sète, taking over the Yellow Jersey at Grand Prix Midi Libre 2002 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Late Tuesday afternoon, the United States Government filed a lawsuit against former Olympic-Gold Medalist cyclist Lance Armstrong, citing the fact that he defrauded them out of millions of dollars in his doping campaign.

The Government, citing the False Claims Act, state that he defrauded the United States Postal Service by doping, and under that law, the USPS is, technically entitled to triple the amount of funds spent, or money in excess of US$120 Million; as the Government is contesting US$40 Million.

The United States asserts in its suit that a use of performance enhancing drugs is a violation and breach of contract of the agreement he signed with the USPS, originally in 1998 – through 2004.

Should any entities who chose to fund people be entitled to collect monies if they were unable to  prove during that time that the athlete/etc in question was doping, or taking other performance enhancing drugs?  While I agree it’s a great deterrent, when people make bad investments, often they are told they “are out of luck.”

Could such a ruling, for instance, be worked into such a precedent as Bankers and Executives for financial companies making and funding bad loans to be held responsible for them; and repayment as well?