- Associated Press - Monday, December 12, 2016

Des Moines Register. December 9, 2016

Women should register for Selective Service.

President Barack Obama said last week he supports requiring women to register for Selective Service when they turn 18. Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa, the first female veteran in the U.S. Senate, agrees.

“It is my hope that we will always have an all-volunteer force. However, I believe women should sign up for Selective Service like their male counterparts,” she said in a statement to the Des Moines Register editorial board.

Under current law, men ages 18 to 26 are required to register for a possible call to involuntary military service. Women have been exempt, which made sense when they were prohibited from serving in many military positions. But in December 2015, Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced all occupations would be open to women. There are no exceptions.

“They’ll be allowed to drive tanks, fire mortars and lead infantry soldiers into combat,” Carter said. “They’ll be able to serve as Army Rangers and Green Berets, Navy SEALs, Marine Corps infantry, Air Force parajumpers, and everything else that was previously open only to men.”

Equality isn’t just about what you’re allowed to do, but also what you’re required to do. And women should be required to register with Selective Service.

Yet in late November, members of Congress dropped this mandate from a defense policy bill. The measure was fiercely opposed by some conservative lawmakers and interest groups. All members of Congress should recognize that times have changed and update the draft law to apply to women.

If they will not do that, perhaps they should eliminate the registration requirement altogether.

It has been more than 40 years since the United States used the draft to compel people to military service. It is hard to imagine that 21st-century Americans would tolerate essentially forcing our young people into a war. This is not the country it was during the Civil War, when the first system of conscription was used to build fighting forces. And when Americans think of a draft, they think of the Vietnam War, a dark period in this country’s history

In January 1965, in the midst of the conflict, 5,400 young men were drafted to serve in the military. By December of that year, more than 45,000 were called. Eventually the monthly draft call reached 35,000 for an unwinnable war that killed and injured thousands of young soldiers.

Americans rebelled. They dodged the draft, engaged in civil disobedience and marched on Washington to protest the war. Registration for Selective Service was suspended in 1975. The government worked to upgrade its capability to rapidly mobilize a military force in an emergency, but the registration requirement was resumed in 1980.

Now men who do not register by the age of 26 can permanently lose access to federally funded job training programs, federal government jobs, college loans and grants. They may even lose their ability to renew a state driver’s license.

If the United States is going to continue to impose requirements and penalties related to military service on men, the country should impose them on women as well. That is true equality.

___

Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier. December 8, 2016

Branstad a good fit for China job.

During a Sioux City rally two days before the Nov. 8 presidential election, President-elect Donald Trump declared Gov. Terry Branstad “our prime candidate to take care of China.”

On Wednesday, Trump announced Branstad - Iowa’s six-term governor and the longest-serving state chief executive in U.S. history - was his nominee as ambassador to China.

What taking care of China entails we’ll wait to see, but Branstad was a welcome choice.

Trump had been doing everything possible to offend China. On the campaign trail, he warned it to “behave” on trade and currency issues or face 45 percent tariffs. Since his election, he broke with diplomatic protocol and spoke on the phone with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen - a first since the U.S. officially recognized China in 1979.

China subsequently denounced Trump in a front-page editorial of its overseas People’s Daily.

But Chinese spokesman Lu Kang applauded the Branstad nomination.

“I would like to say that Mr. Branstad is an old friend of the Chinese people and we welcome him to play a greater role in promoting Sino-U.S. relations,” he remarked. “The U.S. ambassador to China is an important bridge between the U.S. government and the Chinese government. No matter who is in this position, we are willing to work with him to push forward the sound, steady development of Sino-U.S. relations.”

President Xi Jinping and Branstad, indeed, are “old friends,” having forged a real bond because of Iowa’s longstanding agricultural ties to China that date back to Gov. Robert Ray’s visit to China in 1974.

Xi began his ascent in China as an agricultural official in Hebei province, Iowa’s sister state. He was part of its delegation that met with Branstad - and Iowa farm families - during his first visit to the U.S. in 1985. He also visited with Branstad in China in 2011. A year later, Branstad hosted a dinner for Xi, who had become vice president, at the state Capitol in Des Moines.

Branstad has made seven visits to China, the most recent a week after the election when he met with the agricultural minister in Hebei.

According to Chinese media, its agricultural imports from Iowa increased by a factor of 13 between 2000 and 2010 - a period, ironically, between Branstad administrations - to $6.3 billion.

Branstad, whose son, Eric, managed Trump’s Iowa campaign, will have his work cut out for him.

As Jie Dalei, an assistant professor at the School of International Studies of Peking University, told the Washington Post, the appointment “could help communication, but won’t have much impact at the decision-making level.”

“(Trump’s) tweets and remarks certainly have attracted the most attention,” he said. “Compared to that, the appointment of an ambassador to China, though very thoughtful, is unlikely to fix the damage caused by the uncertainty of his tweets and Taiwan call.”

U.S. businesses in China are already feeling the heat from Xi. An American Chamber of Commerce in China business survey found 77 percent of companies feel unwelcome compared to 44 percent a year ago, including 83 percent in technology.

In regard to the economic competition, we expect Trump will do another about-face - this time on the Trans-Pacific Partnership. During the campaign Trump criticized the multinational trade pact to undercut Chinese influence, but it has support of congressional Republicans and the Obama administration.

The reset of relations with Taiwan will be the most contentious problem facing Branstad.

Taiwan is the island refuge established by Chinese nationalists who fled the mainland in 1949 amid the Communist revolution led by Mao Zedong.

The mainland government calls itself the People’s Republic of China. It considers Taiwan a breakaway province and is committed to reunification. Taiwan, a democracy, calls itself the Republic of China.

In 1992, both sides agreed to only one China, just not what it means. President Tsai has not endorsed that agreement.

The U.S. and most foreign states also recognize “One China” - the Beijing government - while maintaining unofficial ties with Taiwan.

So when Trump called Tsai “the president of Taiwan” on Twitter, it annoyed Beijing. Then again, it wasn’t a first. The U.S. sells arms to Taiwan, and the Clinton administration granted a visa to the Taiwanese president in 1995.

“One China” may not make sense, particularly when Taiwan is a thriving underdog worthy of support, and China can be a detestable big bully. But détente has been the cautious option to possibly inciting confrontation.

Also, cordial relations with China may help rein in nuclear North Korea.

We congratulate Branstad on his nomination. He isa good choice, one that possibly bodes well for Iowa agriculture.

But with Trump looming as the proverbial bull in the China shop, Branstad may need to frequently call upon his friendship with Xi to keep all the precarious pieces of U.S.-Sino relations together.

___

Quad-City Times . December 9, 2016

Pensions are out of date.

Gov. Terry Branstad said last week he’s open to transitioning state employees away from the pricey Iowa Public Employees’ Retirement System (IPERS), the state’s largest retirement program. And one only must gaze east across the Mississippi River to see why it just might be time for state employees to assume the same risk as everyone else.

Conservative organizations are licking their collective chops now that Republicans own Iowa’s House, Senate and executive mansion. Public employees are, unsurprisingly, among the targets of the GOP’s new dominant trifecta. Health care, retirement and other benefits continue to sap cash from other much-needed programs.

And it’s the 90 percent of Iowans, not working in government, who foot the bill and suffer the under-funded schools, failing mental health network and eroding infrastructure. They are the ones assuming the risk of their own 401(k) while funding the no-risk pensions enjoyed by public workers. The number of defined benefit pension plans in the U.S private sector plummeted from 207,000 in 1975 to just 43,000 in 2014, says U.S. Department of Labor. The few that remain are widely failing or begging Congress for a bailout. Meanwhile, public employees enjoy protection from market forces thanks to the taxpayer. It’s simply unfair.

All the while, that $36 billion in unfunded pension liability is a ticking time bomb that’s already exploded in nearby states that refused to defuse the situation, even if only for future or new hires. At the very least, it’s time for a deep dive into the future of a pension system that, by and large, only exists among public sector employees. Just 3,900 employees have received $70 million in retirement benefits in Scott County alone, says data released last week by IPERS officials. Statewide, the program would need $400 million to be fully funded, even as investment returns were nearly 7 percent last year.

The solution might be a 401(k)-like system. It might be additional tiers for future employees that substantially reduce state contributions. Whatever it is, something’s got to give.

Rock Island city officials tag 60 percent of that municipality’s budget on pension benefits for police and firefighters. In a local context, it’s a staggering amount robbing resources directly from where it’s needed most. As a whole, Illinois spends about 20 percent of its general operating funds just to keeping its failing pension afloat. Illinois’ pension is quite literally eating the state.

Iowa is nowhere near that kind of death spiral. It’s less populated, more rural and, as a result, its government is a fraction of the size of Illinois’ workforce. But pensions suck millions from local government coffers each and every year.

Branstad made clear he’s not advocating for the change. He’s simply open to the discussion, he said. And that discussion is all but a sure bet when Iowa Legislature gavels in come January.

It’s time for a hearing to discuss the fact that 10 percent of the population enjoy benefits not available to everyone else. It’s time to toss away the out-of-date claim that public employees earn less than their peers in the private sector. It’s time to recognized that the very existence of high-cost public contracts skews employment and income data and burdens taxpayers throughout the state.

Unions can scream from the rooftops about the wrong-headedness of taking away benefits instead of reintroducing them to the private sector. A lovely, but wholly unrealistic, bit of dogma.

The battle’s been fought in Wisconsin. It’s brewing in GOP-run states throughout the country. Even Democratic governors in staunchly Democratic states, intent on cutting skyrocketing pension and health care costs, are waging war against entrenched unions and their legislative lapdogs.

Public employee unions don’t have to like it, but public pension systems are going the way of the dodo. Branstad and Republican lawmakers are looking to bring that debate to Des Moines.

Iowa officials can hash it out now. Or they can wait and suffer the same fate as neighboring states that rejected reality.

____

Burlington Hawk Eye. December 8, 2016

Crime news is public news.

It was disturbing to read Wednesday the West Burlington police kept quiet about a theft of an ATM machine at Great River Medical Center.

Police Chief Frank Newberry confirmed to reporter Andy Hoffman three guys entered the hospital through a physician’s door during business hours Nov. 17, went to the lobby of the sprawling complex and made off with the ATM box.

When asked why the WBPD kept this information quiet, Newberry wouldn’t say. There’s a lot wrong about that. There’s a lot wrong about why the public wasn’t informed. Iowa law stipulates the “date, time and specific circumstances” of a crime are public record. It doesn’t allow law enforcement to sit on information for nearly a month and finally fess up to it when asked by a reporter. We’re convinced the public wouldn’t know about it now had Hoffman not asked.

That’s troubling, and the West Burlington City Council should send a message, and admonish, the hired help that how this was handled was inappropriate. The public can’t help if the public doesn’t know. And the public has a right to know. The public must have confidence and trust in public officials to be transparent. After all, the public pays the bills.

Our story also included information to call WBPD or Crimestoppers and provided the numbers for both. It’s a little late for that. Had news of the theft been made public immediately - as should have happened - perhaps witnesses in the lobby could have come forward with information that might have contributed to an arrest. Newberry said there were people who saw what happened. We’re guessing there also were people in the parking lot who saw something that afternoon.

Law enforcement wants citizens to help when crimes are committed. Citizens cannot do that if we don’t know a crime was committed.

Moreover, government secrecy doesn’t serve the public’s best interest, whether it’s a crime committed at the local hospital or a secret city council meeting about spending the public’s money. It never has. It never will. Sadly, however, it happens too often.

And the people of West Burlington are correct to now wonder what other public matters the police are sitting on. That government sat on the information and when asked about it, Newberry declined to say why is perhaps the most troubling aspect of this.

The public is owed an explanation. Moreover, the public is owed a commitment it won’t happen again.____


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