Sunday, January 21, 2018

Conservative Analysis of the First Year of the Presidential Administration of Donald Trump


           Yesterday was the first anniversary of the inauguration of Donald J. Trump as President of the United States.  His performance has been mixed, with some significant accomplishments and mostly minor ones, together with several harmful, non-conservative policies, as well as misbehavior with words and deeds that far outweigh the benefits of his administration and cause major damage to America, the Republican Party and the conservative movement.

            Trump’s major accomplishments have been the appointment of conservative judges and tax reform, the only major legislation he has signed into law, but even it was modest in its scope and of mixed benefit and harm.  He has continued the War on Terrorism policies of his predecessors, which have contributed to the prevention of any September 11-scale attack, among other standard foreign policies.  Overall, Trump’s beneficial policies are the sort any other Republican president might have accomplished, without all of his harmful policies and actions.  Some of his actions have been uniquely negative, both for a GOP president or any American president. They include abuses of the office, some of which are transforming the presidency into something constitutionally unrecognizable or are policies that are causing possibly irreparable harm both in terms of US standing in the world and its role as the leader of the free world.  Scandal, profiting from the presidency, white nationalism, authoritarianism and hostile foreign influence have been the hallmarks of the Trump Administration.

On the positive side of Trump’s defense and foreign policy, in addition to continuing the War on Terrorism, Trump launched a missile strike on Syria’s Bashar Assad regime for its use of chemical weapons.  The Trump Administration has continued the defense of freedom of the seas in South China Sea and prohibited federal use of a certain Russian anti-virus software that was a portal for espionage.  Economic sanctions or travel restrictions have been imposed on the rogue regimes of Iran, Venezuela, Cuba, Russia and North Korea and military aid cut off to Burma

            On the positive side of Trump’s domestic policies, in addition to the judicial appointments, are some minor pro-life regulations, deregulation, the extension of a program for private health care for veterans and the management reform of the Veterans Administration.  The tax reform legislation eliminated the individual mandate for health insurance of the federalization of health insurance known as “Obamacare,” cut business taxes and lowered many individual taxes by increasing the standard deduction in place of itemized deductions, thus simplifying the tax code, although some individuals’ taxes will be increased.  But it did not simplify the tax code in terms of reducing the number of brackets, nor did it achieve fairness in regard to the disparity between the lack of taxation of income in the form of employer-provided health insurance versus the purchase of health insurance with after-tax dollars for those whose employers do not provide health insurance.  The tax reform came at a price of a large increase in the federal debt.

On the negative side of the Trump Administration, in terms of defense and foreign policy, there has been a pattern of poor security, in terms of the lack of proper clearances for staff and even the hiring of a foreign agent as National Security Advisor, as well as the poor security at Trump’s Florida resort where he conducts official business, as well as intelligence leaks, including by Trump himself, including to the Russians.  Trump’s pro-Russian policies are evident in his withdrawal of support for non-Islamist Syrian rebels fighting Russia’s ally, his refusal to criticize or punish the Russian Federation for election interference and his failure to defend against further Russian election interference, his lack of criticism of other Russian transgressions around the world, his repetition of Russian propaganda and disinformation and his delay of congressional passage of the aforementioned additional sanctions on Russia, which he signed only in the face of near-unanimous support in Congress, and of their implementation.  Trump had attempted to lift other Russian sanctions.  His support of Russia’s authoritarian leader Vladimir Putin, the ex-Soviet intelligence officer, occurs in the context of Russian overt and covert support on behalf of Trump’s election, and is part of a pattern of anti-American rhetoric, such as making a false moral equivalence between the US and despotic regimes that commit atrocities, and support for foreign authoritarians generally, as well as un-American authoritarian rhetoric and domestic policies, such as his undermining of judicial independence, the rule of law and the freedom of the press.  Disturbing examples of Trump’s support for foreign authoritarians were his congratulation of the Turkish president for his victory in a constitutional referendum, not conducted in the context of freedom, which granted the “Sultan” even more authoritarian powers, and supposedly “pro-life” Trump’s praise of the Filipino President’s open policy of encouraging murder.  Between the pro-Russian and authoritarian rhetoric and policies, Trump has ceded American leadership of the free world by undermining the confidence of US allies, while dispiriting freedom-lovers around the world who look to America as a beacon of liberty.

On the negative side on trade, Trump withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations, thereby missing the opportunity to lower tariffs (taxes), and thereby increase freedom, which ceded economic leadership in the region to Communist China.  He has also launched a trade war by increasing tariffs on imports from friendly foreign states.  These policies make foreign states less likely to engage in trade negotiations with the US, which they now regard as an unreliable partner. 

On the negative side on travel and immigration, the Trump Administration’s expansive travel bans, abuses of the rights of refugees, asylum seekers, and even valid visa-holders, permanent residents and US citizens have led to a decrease in travel by foreigners to the US.  His mass deportations, which include non-criminals, are causing the breakup of families.  These policies are constitutionally suspect and are reflective of the influence of white nationalism on the Trump Administration, as they are directed particularly at non-Europeans.  Examples include Trump’s referral of white nationalists as “very fine people,” his praise of French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen’s nationalist policies, his promotion of a violent British white nationalist organization, pardon of white nationalist supporter Joseph Arpaio for contempt of court and funding cuts to an anti-nationalist hate program.

On the lack of constitutional fealty, in addition to Trump’s undermining of the rule of law, with his criticism that violates the independence of the judiciary and of law enforcement, and of the freedom of the press, with his threats of litigation and other rhetoric and practices, he has violated the foreign and domestic Emoluments Clauses of the Constitution because of his conflicts of interest, which he refused to reveal, as part of a pattern of a lack of transparency, which have allowed him to profit off the presidency and to receive patronage of his businesses foreign states in exchange for favorable policies.  These violations, which also are a practice of unfair competition with private enterprises, are violations also of the constitutional requirement to take care the laws be faithfully executed.  Trump’s businesses also profit from his charging of rent to his security detail.  He uses the presidency to advertise his businesses with his frequent and costly visits to his facilities and his staff has also engaged in this unethical practice.  On a related note, Trump unethically praises and denigrates other private enterprises, which is interference in the market. 

On the negative side of other domestic matters, Trump lies or misleads to an unprecedented degree, has made numerous unbecoming statements that coarsen public discourse and degrade culture, and promulgates conspiracy theories.  He has continued federal funding of Planned Parenthood, the largest provider of abortions in the world, while increasing the debt.  Trump has also continued Obamacare.  He delayed the waiver of the Jones Act, a costly mercantilist regulation, for Hurricane Maria relief to Puerto Rico and then allowed the waiver to expire after one week. 

Trump’s deception, nepotism, profiting off his office, lack of transparency, praise and denigration of private enterprises, and undermining of the independence of the judiciary, the rule of law and the freedom of the press are typical of authoritarian regimes and kleptocracies and are unprecedented to this degree in American presidential history.  Although some checks and balances and popular political pressure have prevented even worse abuses and harmful policies, these safeguards have not yet been adequately used. 

Trump’s presidency, whatever its positive accomplishments, is a threat to the Republic and to liberty in America and around the world because of his manifest unfitness, corruption, and lack of patriotism or respect for the Constitution, regardless of the question of the illegitimacy of his election through deception, intimidation and foreign influence.  His Administration is not conservative, but populist, protectionist, nativist, white nationalist, in favor of big government and authoritarian.  It is thus a mortal danger to the Republican Party and a cancer on the conservative movement, lest it be conflated with Trumpism, especially if most leading conservatives continue to acquiesce to Trumpism to the extent they already have.  It is time that Republicans and conservatives come to the aid of the United States of America and protect the Republic, their party and ideological movement by using constitutional safeguards and by beginning the process of legally ending the Trump presidency.

Foreign Digest: European Union, Italy and Germany


The European Union defends against fake news
The European Union has established an organization to defend against the promulgation of fake news.  The despotic Russian Federation regime of Vladimir Putin has been conducting a disinformation campaign against European states to influence their elections.

Italy: Russian influence on Italian political parties
            United States Senator Ben Cardin issued a comprehensive report last week on Russian interference in elections.  Included in his report was his expression of concern that some Italian political parties, such as the populist Five Star Movement and the far-right Northern League, who oppose sanctions on Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, are vulnerable to Russian influence.  Russian dissident Vladimir Kara-Murza warned last week on a trip to Italy of the ties between those two parties and the Putin regime of the Russian Federation.  Parliamentary elections are scheduled for March 4.  Russia typically supports such parties, overtly or covertly.

Update: Germany; the leading center-left agrees to a grand coalition with the center-right
           The German center-left socialist party today approved the grand coalition agreement with the ruling conservative bloc.  In Germany’s parliamentary elections in December, no party gained a majority of seats.  The ruling center-right bloc of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats and her conservative Bavarian allies earned the most seats, but need to form a coalition in order to govern.  The coalition prevents far-right or far-left parties from joining the Government.

Freedom House Reports a Decline of Freedom for the Twelfth Straight Year; Russia, China and Donald Trump are Cited


           The continued rise of authoritarianism has caused an increase in the number of people around the world who are not free to increase for the twelfth consecutive year, according to the latest report from Freedom House: https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/freedom-world-2018

After a period of increased freedom, liberty is under its greatest threat in decades, with free and fair elections, the rule of law, the freedom of the press and minority rights are all under attack.

            The increased global influence of Communist Russia and China, and the withdrawal of American leadership for freedom, which has accelerated during the presidency of Donald Trump, are to blame, according to the report.  Russia undermines democracy abroad through interference in elections with disinformation, while China supports despotic regimes and makes demands on other countries, including the return of refugees.  Self-rule and freedom have also been diminished by the Chinese Communists in Hong Kong.  Both Russian and China regard representative government and liberty as a threat to their despotic regimes.

           A majority of countries in the world are unfree or partly free and a majority of the global population is not free.  There has been a decline in freedom in a majority of the 195 countries assessed since 2006.  The decline in freedom in Eastern Europe and even the United States under the Trump Administration noted by Freedom House is particularly alarming.

            Freedom House’s report observes that Turkey is no longer partly free, but is now not free.  Turkey had been a secular representative republic, but has become an authoritarian Islamist state.  The Turkish President has followed a similar model to that of Venezuela and Russia of democratically elected officials becoming increasingly authoritarian.  The democratically-elected Burmese Government has been a disappointment, as it has engaged in ethnic cleansing against its Muslim minority.  The report notes progress in a few countries: The Gambia, East Timor, Uganda, Ecuador and Nepal.  Although there was some regression in Tunisia because of the postponement of local elections and a concern about the influence of elements of the former oppressive regime, it remains the only free Arab state, with most being unfree and a few only partly free.  Syria is the most unfree state in the world.  The vast majority of the world’s unfree countries are in African and Asia, as Russia and Belarus in Europe and Cuba and Venezuela in the Americas are the only other unfree countries.  Communist and Islamist states, and especially countries in civil war, account for a large share of the tally of unfree countries and are among the least free countries.    

           It is essential to take immediate action to reverse the global trend toward authoritarianism.  When liberty is threatened anywhere, it is threatened everywhere.  Freedom is also in the interest to the entire world because it leads to peace and prosperity.   The United States must lead the world once again toward liberty, through a principled foreign policy and by defending itself from interference in its public discourse and its elections from foreign adversaries.  It must also serve again as a better example by maintaining its principles, such as the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary, freedom of the press and respect for the human rights of refugees and asylum seekers.  

Saturday, January 20, 2018

2018 March for Life: Love Saves Lives


           The 2018 March for Life was held yesterday in Washington, DC on the 45th anniversary of the United States Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that, together with the simultaneous Doe v. Bolton decision, violated States’ rights to defend the right to life by prohibiting abortions.

            Tens of thousands participated in the 45th annual March for Life.  Combined with the scores of local rallies in a majority of the States, a total of hundreds of thousands marched for life across the Union.  The March for Life is the largest pro-life rally in the world.  

           The theme this year was Love Saves Lives.  There was emphasis on healthy children who were born after doctors had urged abortions.  

           Legislation recently passed the House of Representatives to protect children born after botched abortions, but the bill’s fate is uncertain in the Senate.  Other continued areas of focus in advancing the right to life are defunding Planned Parenthood, which is the largest provider of abortions, prohibiting abortions of babies capable of feeling pain, and increased conscience protections for health care and health insurance providers.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Update: German Center-Right and Center-Left Parties Agree to Form a Grand Coalition


The leading German parties have agreed to form a grand center-right/center-left coalition between the ruling conservative bloc, made up of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right Christian Democrats and the Bavarian conservatives, and the main democratic socialist opposition party.

            The parties reached an agreement today on maintaining the current tax rates, restoring a regulation on health insurance that divides premiums equally between employers and employees, and on the quota on the acceptance of migrants.  The new government is expected to be in place by Easter.  The coalition will assure stability in Europe, as Germany is the wealthiest European state, especially within the European Union, of which Germany is the largest member.  In the parliamentary elections last month, the ruling conservatives won the most seats, but were short of a majority.  A left-right grand coalition previously ruled with Merkel as Chancellor. 

Left-right coalitions of various kinds have become common in Europe in recent years.  The United Kingdom had one, as do Greece and Italy currently.  

Germany is a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and is an ally of the United States also in the War on Terrorism.

Monday, January 8, 2018

A Conservative Won the Chilean Presidential Election


           A conservative won the Chilean presidential election last month, as a former President returns to power after four years of liberal rule.  Conservatives are now the largest party in both chambers of Chile’s Parliament, winning nearly a majority in both, at the expense of the left.

            The election of a conservative in Chile is part of a trend I have been posting about for more than a year, which is the rejection of the Socialist revolutionary trend of the 2000s that had been led by the late Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez that had spread widely throughout Latin America, especially in South America.  Since, then, voters in Argentina and Peru have replaced liberal governments with conservative ones, while the liberal President of Brazil was impeached and removed from office for corruption.  Note: her popular liberal predecessor has been convicted and was recently sentenced to prison for corruption.  Venezuelan and Bolivian voters have also made clear their rejection of socialism, authoritarianism and corruption, but their will has been thwarted by their leftist leaders.  After Venezuelans elected the democratic opposition to a supermajority of the Congress and Bolivians rejected a constitutional referendum to end presidential term limits, the Venezuelan dictator used a special constitutional provision to usurp the Congress and replace it with a rubber stamp assembly while the Bolivian Supreme Court ruled in favor of allowing the President to serve another term, despite the constitutional prohibition. 

           Chile, which has a free trade agreement with the United States, has long been one of Latin America’s most prosperous states.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Recent Attacks in Vietnam and Pennsylvania Were Not “Terrorism”


           There have been more incidents recently that have been called “terrorism” that did not meet the definition of terrorism as the violent targeting of innocent civilians in order to intimidate the populace to acquiesce the demands of the terrorists.  I have posted regularly about such occurrences. 

In Vietnam last week, an armed group was arrested for a bombing, as part of a plot to attack the airport.  The goal of the group was to liberate Vietnam from its Communist tyrants.  The dictatorship mislabeled the insurrection as “terrorism.”  In Harrisburg, Pennsylvania last weekend, there was an Islamist attack on Pennsylvania State Police officers, which authorities referred to as an “act of terror.”  It was an act of violent jihad that may have been inspired by terrorists, but was not itself an act of terrorism.  Both attacks targeted government, not innocent civilians and, therefore, could not generate mass terror among the populace sufficient to intimidate it into demanding the government acquiesce to the demands of the attackers. 

I have made a series of posts on the mislabeling of incidents as “terrorism” because the dilution of the word terrorism makes terrorism seem less evil than it is.  Other incidents may be evil, but not as evil as terrorism.  But another concern is that despotic regimes like Vietnam, Syria, Turkey, Russia and others expand the meaning of terrorism in order to put down not only any armed rebellions, but also to quash any dissent, as any supporters of liberation are labeled as supporters of “terrorists” and their free expression is criminalized.  Similarly, the dilution of terrorism helps terrorists and far-left liberals and isolationists who agree with the terrorists’ point to invalidate counterterrorism efforts by making a false equivalence between terrorism, which is a war crime, and legitimate self-defense. 

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Foreign Digest: Argentina, Peru, Liberia, Italy, South Africa, Iran, North Korea


Argentina
            An Argentine state investigation recently revealed that a prosecutor, who had investigated and found proof of Iran’s complicity in the 1994 terrorist bombing of a Jewish center in Buenos Aires, had been murdered during the leftwing presidency of Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner. 

Peru
            Former President Alberto Fujimori, who was in ill health while serving a lengthy prison sentence, was pardoned at Christmas by the current Peruvian President for Fujimori’s human rights violations.  The former President committed the crimes in the course of crushing the Maoist Shining Path guerillas, the most brutal terrorist group in Latin America.  After his pardon, Fujimori asked the people of Peru for forgiveness.

Liberia
            Senator George Weah, a former soccer star, won the presidential election this week in Liberia, defeating the ruling party Vice President under Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who had been elected in 2005 over Weah, following the second Liberian Civil War.  The election was conducted peacefully and without irregularities.  Weah promised to reduce corruption to make impoverished Liberia more business-friendly.  The expected democratic transfer of power will be Liberia’s first peaceful one since 1944.

Italy
            The President of the Italian Republic dissolved Parliament this week following the completion of its legislative session and scheduled parliamentary elections for March 4.  The dissolution of the assembly was expected after the recent passage of Italy’s new election law.

South Africa
            The Supreme Court of South Africa this week ordered the national legislature to develop rules for impeachment, a necessary step in the removal of President Jacob Zuma from office.  He is accused of public corruption for having embezzled public money for personal gain and for violation of the constitution.  The loyal opposition, as well as some of the dominant ruling leftwing party, supports impeaching and removing Zuma, but a majority of the ruling party still supports him to allow him to continue in office. 

Iran
            Widespread demonstrations in the Islamic Republic of Iran this weekend that began as protests against increases in prices and included public corruption as a target are now turning against the Iranian support for Syria’s Assad regime and other terrorists and the spread of Islamic revolution abroad.  Shi’ite Muslim Iran is the world’s foremost state sponsor of terrorism and its Islamist foreign policy is regionally destabilizing.  It supports rebels in Yemen and is involved in spreading Islamism in Lebanon, the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Iraq and Afghanistan.  The demonstrators have even become counterrevolutionary, in calling for the overthrow of the totalitarian Islamist theocracy.   

Massive protests against the rigged presidential election in 2009 were put down by the mullahs who lead Iran, after the United States under President Barack Obama declined to support them.  Instead, Obama pursued a nuclear arms deal with Iran that included dropping economic sanctions on the Islamic Republic and unfreezing billions of dollars the Iranians used to spread Islamic revolution.

North Korea 
           Like China, whose ships have recently been intercepted by South Korea sending oil to Communist North Korea, the Russian Federation also ships fuel to North Korea, according to reports yesterday that the shipments have been detected by Western European intelligence services.  Both the Chinese and Russians help North Korea, despite China’s and Russia’s support for another round of economic sanctions against the Hermit Kingdom for its nuclear missile program.  Therefore, a more effective international policy against North Korea would have to include placing increased pressure not only on the Chinese, but also on the Russians.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Update: Russian Democratic Opposition Leader Navalny Is Calling for a Boycott of the Russian Presidential Election


           Russian democratic opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who was prohibited by the Russian Federations electoral commission from standing for election for president next spring, called today for a boycott of the elections.  Russian tyrant Vladimir Putin, who controls the commission, is seeking a fourth term.  

           Putins authoritarian regime does not permit free and fair elections, both by barring candidates from being eligibility to be elected, or by imprisoning, killing or driving regime critics into exile, and by generally being intolerant of dissent.  For example, Russia does not tolerate a free press, the freedom of peaceful assembly or even independent polling.  As a result, only the ruling and allied parties have significant representation in the Russian Parliament or were permitted to offer candidates for the last presidential election.  Navalny, who, like other regime critics or dissidents, has been persecuted by the Russian regime on typical trumped-up charges and for exercising the freedom of peaceful assembly, had gathered the requisite signatures to have his name on the presidential ballot under the oft-ignored Russian constitution.  The opposition boycott would remove any legitimacy for Putins reelection. 

           Putin’s regime is now threatening Navalny with more prosecution for the election boycott call.  Election boycotts have long been an effective tool of the democratic opposition in many dictatorships.  The ex-KGB agent Putin, who laments the breakup of the Soviet Union, realizes that he would never obtain political legitimacy if Russia were truly a free, representative republic.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Merry Christmas, 2017


           I wish you all a Happy Feast of the Nativity of Jesus! 

            I especially wish a Merry Christmas those serving America abroad who cannot be with their families.  I pray especially for children in war-torn lands or who are suffering famine or disease, that be comforted by the Child Jesus.  I hope that the commemoration of the birth of Christ inspires more love for babies, born and unborn, and leads to more adoptions.  

           May the Peace of Christ be with you! 

Pennsylvania Governor Wolfe Vetoed a Pro-Life Bill in Time for the Feast of the Nativity


           Pennsylvania’s liberal Democratic Governor, Tom Wolfe, a few days ago, late in the Advent season before today’s Feast of the Nativity of the Christ Child and a little over a week before the Feast of the Holy Innocents, vetoed a bill approved by the General Assembly to prohibit abortions after 20 weeks gestation of the fetus, four weeks earlier than under the Commonwealth’s current law. 

In apparent contradictions about personhood, the acknowledgement of which is essential for liberty, the remains of a fetus of at least 16 weeks gestation are treated equally under the Pennsylvania’s Vital Records law with those of human beings who were born alive and the Commonwealth also has a fetal homicide law.

            On a positive note, Wolf did sign two less controversial bills into law that were authored by Legislators from Berks County, my county of residence.  One required owners of cemeteries to allow public access to them, which was necessary after a local citizen acquired a cemetery and prevented family members from visiting their relatives’ graves, and one to regulate previously-unregulated drug rehabilitation half-way houses, after several recent overdose deaths a local facility. 

           It is hoped and prayed for that the commemoration of the Nativity of the Child Jesus would increase people’s respect for the right to life, in all of its forms and stages, throughout the world.

Update: The Russian Dictatorship Has Barred Democratic Opposition Leader Alexei Navalny's Presidential Candidacy


           In my last post, I observed that Russian democratic opposition leader Alexei Navalny had acquired the requisite signatures to be on the presidential ballot next spring of the Russian Federation against authoritarian leader Vladimir Putin, who is seeking a fourth term.  I also observed that Putin does not respect human rights or tolerate dissent or allow for fully free and fair elections.  Today, the Putin-controlled electoral commission has prohibited Navalny from being on the presidential ballot because of the trumped-up charges against him, the kind of charges against critics, dissidents or opposition leaders typical for Russia and other authoritarian regimes.

           Like other dictators who act is if they are strong and who are intimidating in order to hide their weakness and insecurity, Putin is afraid of free and fair elections because he would not only lose power and perhaps the assets he has used his office to enrich himself with, but also face charges for his crimes against humanity.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Foreign Digest Updates: Austria, North Korea, Turkey, Ukraine, Russia


Austria
Update: Austria agreed to coordinate the issuance of dual passports to Italian citizens in South Tyrol with the Italian Republic, in accordance with an Italian-Austrian treaty.

North Korea
The United Nations Security Council adopted another round of economic sanctions on North Korea because of the Communist state’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs and tests.

Turkey
            There continue to be more purges in Turkey by the authoritarian Turkish government, based upon the pretext of last summer’s failed military coup, with more sackings of government officials and academics.  Tens of thousands have been arrested and hundreds of thousands fired because of alleged ties to a Turkish cleric in exile in Pennsylvania.  The purges, combined with violations of freedom of the press and other human rights violations, have further strengthened the power of the authoritarian leader by suppressing all dissent.  The Turkish military has traditionally safeguarded Turkish secular democracy since Turkey’s founding after the breakup of the Ottoman Empire following the First World War, but it has been thwarted from fulfilling its duty by the Islamist authoritarian regime.

Ukraine
            The United States is sending lethal defensive weapons to the Ukrainian government for the first time as it battles an insurgency by separatist ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine backed by the Russian Federation.

Russia
          The leader of the democratic opposition, Alexei Navalny, despite being persecuted by the Russian dictatorship, has gathered a sufficient number of signatures from the requisite number of cities to have his name placed on the ballot to challenge Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin next spring.  There were more rallies in support of Navalny today, despite the frequent arrests of those exercising the freedom of peaceful assembly.  The ex-KGB (Soviet intelligence agency) Putin is seeking a fourth term.  As freedom of expression is limited and dissent suppressed, elections in Russia are hardly free and fair, but represent an opportunity at least for the opposition to call attention to Putin’s authoritarianism and to give voice to the democratic opposition.

Monday, December 18, 2017

European Digest: Austria, Germany, Romania, United Kingdom and other States


Austria
            A right-wing party won the most seats in the Austrian parliamentary elections earlier this autumn, but not enough to obtain a majority.  It formed a coalition government last week with a far-right pro-Russian party, with the junior member holding the neutral state’s cabinet portfolios for foreign affairs, defense and the interior, effectively giving Russia influence into Western Europe

Already, Austria’s new Government has announced a plan to offer passports to ethnic Germans and even Ladins (speakers of a Rhaeto-Romansch Romance language) in Italy’s South Tyrol Region of Trentino-Alto Adige, which has generated criticism from the Italian Republic

Germany
            The ruling conservative Christian Democrats, who had won the majority of seats in the German parliamentary elections last month, reached an agreement last week to form a grand coalition with the leading center-left party in order to avoid a government with the far-right.  Negotiations continue on the details of forming the executive.

Romania
            There have been public protests over the last several days against a law that could make it more difficult to deter public corruption.  There has been a recent turn back towards authoritarianism in the former Communist Soviet satellites Hungary, Poland and Romania.

            Meanwhile, Romanians are mourning the death of popular ex-King Michael earlier this month.  He was one of the last surviving heads of state or government from the Second World War, together with King Simeon II of Bulgaria.  Under one of his Prime Ministers, Romania joined the Axis Powers while Michael was a young monarch, but by late in the war, he was influential in Romania’s surrendering to the Allies and joining them against the Nazi Germans.  After the Soviet invasion of Eastern Europe, Michael, like other leaders behind the Iron Curtain, was deposed by the Communists in 1947.  The monarchy was abolished and was replaced by a Communist one-party state that was a satellite of the Soviet Union.  The last Communist tyrant was overthrown in a popular rebellion in 1989.

United Kingdom
            An agreement has been reached between the United Kingdom and the European Union for the British to leave the EU by 2019, as per the results of the non-binding referendum last year and its subsequent ratification by Parliament.  The agreement establishes a fund of around $50 billion for the costs.  It maintains the open border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic and safeguards the rights of EU citizens in the UK.  The British goal is to establish a strong UK-EU partnership.

Trend towards provincial autonomy in Western Europe 
           After last month’s constitutional referendums for autonomy in the Italian Regions of Lombardy and Veneto, which I had posted about, Liguria’s Governor has expressed the desire to request one also for his Region, as another wave of federalism is washing over Italy, including in the South.  Similarly, nationalists won last week’s elections in the French Departments on Corsica, which is inhabited primarily by ethnic Italians, who seek greater autonomy for their Mediterranean island.  Combined with the devolution of powers to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in the United Kingdom and the special consideration in particular for Northern Ireland in the above-mentioned UK-EU agreement, a clear trend toward greater autonomy for provincial governments, especially ethnically-distinct ones, is apparent in Western Europe.  The obtainment of more autonomy could also better serve Spain’s Catalonia province than independence.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Foreign Digest: Zimbabwe, Bolivia, Russia, Turkey, Syria and Iraq


Update: Zimbabwe
            The new President of Zimbabwe was sworn in a late last month.  He had served as the Vice President as a member of the Marxist-oriented party that had ruled since full independence for the former colony of Rhodesia from the British in 1980 under former tyrant Robert Mugabe.  The socialist Mugabe negotiated terms for his resignation which included immunity from prosecution for his crimes and a large payoff.  Mugabe had angered his ruling party by attempting to have his much-younger wife succeed him.

            Meanwhile, in an encouraging sign, a prominent human rights activist was acquitted of all charges, after having been prosecuted by Mugabe’s regime for non-violent political expression. 

Bolivia
            The Supreme Court of Bolivia last week nullified term limits for the President.  Bolivians had rejected in February of last year a constitutional referendum to eliminate presidential term limits. 

The socialist Bolivian President was inspired by the Venezuelan socialist regime of late dictator Hugo Chavez that had been elected democratically, but seized authoritarian powers.  The Venezuelan tyrant had been attempting to spread socialist revolution throughout Latin America.  The elimination of presidential term limits is one of the hallmarks of Chavism and a critical step toward authoritarianism.  Rigged elections and restrictions on basic liberty had been typically occurring in an increasing number of states.   A few such democratically-elected left-wing authoritarians have since been voted or forced out of power elsewhere in Latin America, as I have been posting, but several remain.

Updates: Russia, Turkey, Syria, Iraq 
There were more protests in Russia, led by the opposition leader.  There have been many more arrests in Turkey, as the purge continues by the authoritarian Turkish leader, who continues to use last summer’s attempted military coup as an excuse to silence dissent.  The civil war continues in Syria.  In both Syria and Iraq, the last significant pockets of the Islamic State have been cleared.  As I had posted, major strongholds had been liberated by various forces, but a few minor ones had remained, especially in the desert area between the two states.  A few affiliates in Africa and Asia remain loyal to the self-declared caliphate based in Syria that was an offshoot of Al Qaeda in Iraq, while others around the world have kept their oaths to the parent organization.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Ninth Anniversary of My Blog; Blog Hit Report


           I entered my tenth year of posting to my blog, as its ninth anniversary was yesterday.  Thank you for visiting, especially those who visit regularly and those who follow, comment or provide feedback offline.

            The dramatic increase in pageviews to my blog tracked by Blogger, the host of my blog, that first began in July of last year has continued into this year, despite a decrease in the number of posts.  Totals range from over 700 to more than 1,650 per month, not including my own visits, with an average of well over a thousand.  The less specificity about the hits than those tracked by StatCounter, however, make more detailed analysis difficult.  As usual, there is a substantial volume from Europe, in addition to the United States (from which hits are unspecified from which State), as well as pageviews from around the world, including from every inhabited continent.  Every post is viewed multiple times, with the homepage receiving the largest share of hits.

            Being able to exercise the freedom of the (printing) press, in electronic form, is especially appreciated and necessary in these challenging times.  

           Please continue to visit my blog regularly, or follow, comment, or provide feedback or ask questions offline.  Thank you for your patronage!

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Happy Thanksgiving! Thank God for the Safeguards of the Blessings of Liberty


           Happy Thanksgiving!  As always, in addition to personal blessings, I am thankful for you who visit my blog.

A thanksgiving was first federally proclaimed, in commemoration of the one celebrated by the Pilgrims in 1621 in Plymouth colony for the harvest and for amity with the Native Americans, by United States President George Washington, in thanks to God for the blessings of liberty. 

We Americans should be especially thankful that we have been able to keep those blessings to the extent we have, despite the increased threats to them from hostile foreign interference and authoritarianism, in addition the usual ones.  This year, I am especially grateful for the constitutional checks and balances established by the Framers of the Constitution that have safeguarded our freedoms.  In addition to divided government and the separation of powers, the principle of limited government through federalism, have proved at least somewhat effective, especially when bolstered by public pressure, as these principles have been proven only to be effective when Americans are willing to defend them.  All the public servants and fellow citizens who have been making use of them—often creatively to meet novel and unexpected threats—at a time when many public servants have failed to uphold their constitutional duties, have prevented Americans from losing sovereignty and freedom as much as was feared, but vigilance is the eternal price of liberty.  We can be thankful to them for doing their part to protect us from foreign and domestic enemies.

May God continue to bless America!

Foreign Digest: Bosnia: Ratko Mladic Conviction, Burma: Update on Ethnic Cleansing, North Korea: State Sponsor of Terrorism


Bosnia: Ratko Mladic Conviction
            The International Criminal Court late this week sentenced former Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic to life imprisonment for crimes against humanity for his responsibility for ethnic cleansing and genocide against Muslims in Bosnia Herzegovina in its war of independence from the former Yugoslavia from 1992-1995.  The crimes included the largest massacre of civilians in Europe since the Second World War.  The Serb-dominated Yugoslavia was led by a Communist dictator, Slobodan Milosevic, who was using nationalist demagoguery to maintain power in the fractious Balkan state, including backing ethnic Serbs in Bosnia against Muslims and Croats.  Milosevic died while being tried for crimes against humanity, while Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic had also been convicted, like Mladic, of similar crimes against Bosniaks and Croats in the attempt to unite the Serbian parts of Bosnia with Serbia.

Burma: Update on Ethnic Cleansing
            The United States yesterday declared the Burmese military suppression of a Muslim insurgency in its northeast “ethnic cleansing,” as many civilians have been killed and hundreds of thousands have been forced to flee to neighboring states.  It is hoped that the American statement will increase pressure on Burma’s democratic government to stop the abuses by the Burmese military.

North Korea: State Sponsor of Terrorism
            The U.S. yesterday placed North Korea on the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism.  The Communist state’s had been removed by President George W. Bush after a lengthy period of not engaging in terrorist attacks, as a goodwill gesture during negotiations about the Hermit Kingdom’s nuclear weapons program, but, as I had posted in July of 2010 in War on Terrorism Update: Afghanistan, Iran and North Korea, http://williamcinfici.blogspot.com/2010/07/war-on-terrorism-update-afghanistan.html, it continues to harbor terrorists and it threatened in 2014 to blow up movie theaters that played a film mocking the North Korean dictator, which I posted about afterward in January of 2015, A Consideration of Recent Alleged Instances of Terrorism and Related Observations, http://williamcinfici.blogspot.com/2015/01/a-consideration-of-recent-alleged.html

           North Korea joins Iran, Syria and Sudan as the only state sponsors of terrorism on the State Department’s list.  Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Yemen and Cuba had all been removed.  Cuba should also be placed back on the list, as it continues to harbor terrorists, while Venezuela and Russia should be added to it. Venezuela assists the Iranian-backed Lebanese Shi’ite terrorist organization, Hezbollah, which Russia trains while supporting Bashar Assad’s terrorist-sponsoring Syrian regime.  The designation triggers a series of specific economic sanctions and other restrictions.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Update: Zimbabwe’s Dictator Has Resigned


           The longtime tyrant of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, has been forced to resign as president after being deposed as party leader by his own ruling socialist party, following the party-directed coup d’etat late last week that I had posted about. 

            The 93-year-old dictator, who had been placed under house arrest, had attempted to ensure his much younger wife would succeed him as president and party leader.  She was forced out as head of the party’s ladies auxiliary.  The Vice President will accede to Zimbabwe’s presidency amidst jubilation in the streets, as Mugabe can no longer oppress the people of Zimbabwe.

            The ruling Marxist-oriented party must, as the international community should insist, permit freedom of speech, press and assembly and conduct free and fair elections and accept the results if they are in favor of the democratic opposition.  It must not continue the same tyranny with which it was complicit under Mugabe, as the long-suffering Zimbabweans deserve liberty and representative government.  The last day of the dictator ought to be the last day of dictatorship.  

          The celebrations in Harare and elsewhere in Zimbabwe also ought to be heard clearly in South Africa, where the corrupt democratically-elected president has been protected by the most loyal core of his Marxist-oriented ruling party that has dominated electoral politics in Zimbabwe’s southern neighbor since blacks were granted the privilege to vote.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Conservative Analysis of the Pennsylvania 2017 General Election


           Now that the votes have been counted, it is possible to offer a brief analysis of the 2017 Pennsylvania General Election.  As I have noted previously, the vote totals published by the state and county election officials across the Commonwealth immediately after the election do not include absentee and provisional ballots, which can often change the outcome of a close contest, which there often are in statewide Pennsylvania elections.  The professional media lack authority to “declare” election winners and even concessions by losing candidates are not legally determinative. 

            Statewide, a Republican, who had been appointed to the state Supreme Court to fill a vacancy, was elected to Pennsylvania’s highest court, where Democrats hold a majority.  Democrats carried three of the four Superior Court seats in a close race, while the two parties each split the two seats on the Commonwealth Court.  Therefore, Democrats won a majority of the seven seats Republicans, but the GOP was victorious in the most important contest.           

            Although Republicans were competitive in the statewide judicial races, Donald Trump was a factor in the Pennsylvania election, as was apparent in Virginia and other American States, even in local races in the Keystone State.  The Trump effect was especially noticeable in the Philadelphia suburbs, where the election was viewed particularly as a referendum on the party of Trump.  Democrats there were motivated to turn out to vote and to vote against Republican candidates in southeast Pennsylvania, as elsewhere across the Union, which led to historic Democratic gains in county and municipal elections.

            The constitutional referendum to allow counties, municipalities and school districts to reduce real estate taxes for home owners was approved.  The amendment gives those taxing bodies the option of exempting up to 100% of the median value of a primary residence from real estate taxation.  Commercial properties would remain subject to real estate taxes.  It is uncertain how counties, municipalities and school districts would replace the lost revenue.  

           The referendum boosted turnout significantly in Berks County, where I reside, which is a hotbed of anti-real estate tax efforts, which, in turn, helped local Republican candidates.  The referendum likely helped offset somewhat the anti-Trump vote statewide. The absence of an equivalent to boost conservative turnout in the more ideological federal and state elections in 2018 will likely make it even harder for Republicans to be elected who do not break clearly with Trumpism.

Foreign Digest; Burma, China, Philippines, Zimbabwe, Syria


Burma
            Amidst a longtime Muslim insurgency in Burma, there has been ethnic cleansing of Muslims by the Burmese military.  Hundreds of thousands have been killed or forced to flee.  The democratic Burmese government has been slow to address the humanitarian needs of Muslim civilians, let alone to acknowledge genocide or ethnic cleansing.  World leaders have urged Burma to protect Muslim civilians.  The Trump Administration of the United States, however, has declined to describe the Burmese policy as “genocide” or “ethnic cleansing.”

China and the Philippines
            In both China and the Philippines, Donald Trump failed to advocate for press freedoms on his recent Asian trip.  In China, he acquiesced to the demand of the Chinese Communist government not to permit questions from the press at the joint statement of the Chinese and U.S. Presidents, contrary to the practice of past American Presidents.  In the Philippines, Trump offered no response at the joint presidential press conference after the Filipino President called professional journalists “spies.”  Trump, who admires numerous authoritarians and has authoritarian proclivities himself, has praised the murderous Filipino leader for his policy of urging Filipinos to kill suspected drug dealers, which has resulted in the deaths of thousands of people. 

Zimbabwe
            Zimbabwe’s socialist ruling party last week deposed longtime-dictator Robert Mugabe through a military coup led by the Vice President after Mugabe made plans for his much- younger wife to succeed him.  The nonagenarian strongman had ruled the former Rhodesia since 1980.  Mugabe has been forced out as the party’s leader and is being pressured to resign or face impeachment.

Taking over from a white minority government, Mugabe, instead of spreading liberty and representative government, as the Zimbabwean people had joyously hoped, became a tyrant and a thief.  After nationalizing industries and often violently stealing farms from whites, he plunged Zimbabwe into economic ruin, infamously causing the most extreme hyperinflation, necessitating the printing of notes with the record-high denomination of 100 trillion Zimbabwe dollars.  One of the last remaining “Big Men” of Africa, Mugabe and his party have held power by oppression and through rigging elections.  Mugabe had praised Donald Trump during the 2016 United States presidential election.  It is hoped that Zimbabweans will finally be free and that free and fair elections will be held soon, but the ruling party’s record of tyranny makes such an outcome doubtful. 

Syria 
           The Russian Federation again has vetoed the United Nations Security Council resolution, sponsored by the United States, to renew the authorization for the Joint Investigative Mechanism, the agency tasked with investigating the use of chemical weapons of mass destruction in Syria.  It is Russian’s tenth veto on the subject.  The agency has concluded that Syria’s Assad regime, which Russia supports, is culpable for using chemical WMDs in its civil war.  As with conventional weapons, Syria targets civilian populations.  The Baathist regime, which is also backed by Iran, is a state sponsor of terrorism.  Russia has a pattern of supporting terrorists under the guise of opposing terrorists and of labeling opponents “terrorists.”  It also has a policy, through propaganda and disinformation, to undermine confidence in the truth, in order to serve the sinister ends of its tyrant, Vladimir Putin, and the oligarchy that backs him.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

2017 General Election Day in Pennsylvania and Across the American Union


           Tuesday, November 7 is General Election Day across the American Union, including in Pennsylvania.  The most important elections are the gubernatorial contests in New Jersey and Virginia and mayoral elections in many major American cities.   

           In Pennsylvania, the statewide offices on the ballot are for each of the three appellate level courts.  There is one Supreme, four Superior and two Commonwealth Court seats to which to elect candidates.  There are also two retentions on the ballot for Supreme Court Justices, one being conservative Republican Chief Justice Tom Saylor, the other a liberal Democrat. 

            Locally in the Keystone State, in this “municipal” election there are county courts of common pleas and countywide offices and judicial retentions.  There are also magisterial district judge, constable, municipal and school district elections.  Voters will also be electing their precinct Election boards.  These statewide, countywide, municipal and school district officeholders will affect the residents of their respective districts more directly on a wide range of issues than federal elected officials. 

            There are many conservative candidates for these offices.  Although some may be Trumpist, it is not easy to know if judicial candidates are, as they are guarded in expressing their views in order to maintain impartiality.  As for local candidates, because they often limit their expressions to local matters, it is also difficult to know their degree of agreement with Trumpism, unless they have publicly disassociated with Donald Trump or his views.  It is understandable that some conservatives would prefer to avoid voting for Republican candidates generally and perhaps skip contests or write in the names of more preferable candidates because the Party is being dominated by populists/protectionists/nativists/nationalists, but one must use one’s best judgment, guided by good conscience, in voting for the best candidate, meaning one whose character is sound and whose views are the most preferable, if possible.  And certainly it is even more critical at this time to vote for any Republican candidates who publicly reject Trumpism.

            There is also a ballot question in Pennsylvania: a constitutional referendum on real estate taxes which would allow counties, municipalities and school districts to have the option to establish a homestead exemption for up to 100% of the value of a home in that district.  Currently, there is only a homestead exemption on school real estate taxes, worth up to 50% of the median value of homes in that district.  The loss of revenue would be made up through other tax levies. 

           The polls in Pennsylvania are open Tuesday from 7:00 AM to 8:00 PM.  Make plans today to vote in these important elections.

Foreign Digest: Spain: Catalonia Update; and Italy: Election Law Enactment


Update: Catalonia
            Last week, after dissolving the Catalan government following the referendum for independence for Catalonia in October, the Spanish Government established direct Spanish rule in Catalonia through the Vice President, with elections for a new provincial government scheduled in December.  The Catalan Parliament declared independence in the meantime.  Catalan leaders, facing arrest for violating the Spanish Constitution, have fled to Belgium, where they may be subjected to extradition. 

Many businesses addressed in the prosperous province have relocated to elsewhere in Spain.  There was another large pro-union rally in Barcelona last week.  A recent public opinion poll suggests a large plurality of Catalans favor greater autonomy over independence or maintaining the status quo.  Like the European Union, the United States is encouraging Spanish unity.

Italian election law enactment
Italy’s new election law was approved by the Italian Parliament and signed into law by the President at the end of last week.  Its main purpose was to make the elections for both the lower Chamber of Deputies and upper Senate chambers of Parliament similar.  Over one-third of the parliamentary seats will be directly elected first-past-the-post in single-member districts and nearly two thirds will be awarded proportionally in regional districts. 

The law, which is designed to encourage coalition-building, sets a threshold of 3% of the proportional vote for parties and 10% for blocks to hold any seats in Parliament.  Like the old law, the new one still uses party lists for proportional allocation, meaning voters do not have control over which party candidate is elected.  

The law was supported by the ruling center-left party, their center-right junior coalition partners and the main conservative and far-right parties.  It was opposed by the populists, the far-left and others.  The law is intended to prevent a victory for the anti-establishment populists, who insist upon ruling alone, which would be difficult without a governing majority.  The ruling party and the populists are about even in the public opinion polls for a plurality, but the combined conservative and far-right bloc would likely obtain the lead.  Elections are expected in the spring.

Pennsylvania’s 2017 Fiscal Authorization Enactment


           Several months after the approval of Pennsylvania’s fiscal 2017 budget, Governor Tom Wolfe, a Democrat, signed the Commonwealth’s fiscal authorization bill approved by the Republican-led state legislature into law last week.  The state had been borrowing since the beginning of July in the absence of the authorization to spend money. 

The fiscal authorization act includes no tax increases to cover Pennsylvania’s budget shortfall, but includes more borrowing from expected revenue from various funds and yet another significant expansion of gambling.  Commercial fireworks are legalized and will be taxed. 

There have been significant budget cuts over the last several years, but there will be no privatization of the wholesale of wine and spirits, which would have netted the Commonwealth a major increase in revenue from the sale of licenses and more volume of taxation through less illegal bootlegging.  The budget approved at the end of June did not include savings from any significant pension reform.  The increased cost of pensions is a major burden on the Commonwealth’s budget.  Other spending cuts, such as additional welfare reform, or the elimination of corporate welfare and tax credits for various favored industries would also help Pennsylvania’s budget significantly.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

More Syrian Regime Chemical Weapons Attacks; Russia Defends Syria


           The Russian Federation vetoed a United Nations Security Council resolution last week to investigate the latest accusation of the use of chemical weapons of mass destruction by the Baathist Syrian regime of Bashar Assad against the Syrian people in that country’s civil war.

In the meantime, a separate UN investigative body determined that both the Assad regime and the “Islamic State” used chemical weapons in Syria earlier this year.  The Syrian government has repeatedly used chemical weapons against civilian targets, in addition to bombing civilian areas indiscriminately with conventional weapons.  It has also deliberately targeted civilian targets, such as hospitals and aid convoys.

Russia’s Security Council latest veto is the ninth time it has blocked a measure to investigate the use of such weapons in Syria.  It attempts to cast doubt on the allegations as an excuse to oppose taking any meaningful action to stop the chemical attacks.  Russia supports terrorist sponsor Assad because Syria hosts a Russian military base on the Mediterranean Sea and in order to oppose the interests of the United States.  

Syria’s five-year old civil war has claimed at least a half million lives and produced millions of refugees, which has caused the largest refugee crisis since the Second World War.  Both non-Islamist Muslim rebels, such as Syrian Arabs and Kurds, who are opposed to the tyranny of the Assad regime and Islamists like al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, who are attempting to take advantage of the chaos are fighting the Syrian government.  The non-Islamists are backed by an international coalition led by the U.S., while the Assad regime is supported by Russian and Iranian forces, as well as by the Iranian-sponsored Lebanese Shi’ite terrorist organization, Hezbollah.