Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Foreign Digest: Nicaragua, Turkey, Syria and Russia


Nicaragua
            There have been more protests and killings by the authoritarian Marxist Sandinista government of Nicaragua.

Turkey
            There have continued to be purges up to the second anniversary of the attempted military coup and the constitutional amendment granting the President more powers has now gone into effect, which he is using already to crack down on all dissent as presidentialism has supplanted rule by a prime minister.  Secular, democratic Turkey, which had been a model state, has become Islamist and, especially, authoritarian. 

Syria
            Israel has continued to strike military targets in Syria because of threats to its security from the Syrian regime of Bashar Assad or its allies, Iran or the Iranian-sponsored Lebanese Shi’ite terrorist organization, Hezbollah.  Iran and Hezbollah, together with the Russian Federation, are backing the tyrannical Assad in a civil war against non-Islamist Muslim and Islamist rebels, as well as Kurdish rebels.  The United States leads an international coalition of Western and Arab states against the Islamist terrorists, al-Qaeda and the “Islamic State.”  

Russia
           A Briton was killed last week and another sickened because of contamination from the Russian Federation chemical attack in the United Kingdom last month against a Russian émigré and his daughter.  The authoritarian and oligarchical regime of Vladimir Putin murders critics or potential witnesses to its crimes abroad, just as it does at home.

Conservative Thoughts on the 2017-2018 Pennsylvania Budget


           Last month, the 2017-2018 budget for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania was approved by the Republican-majority General Assembly and signed into law by the liberal Democratic Governor.  The budget, which was the result of compromise between divided branches of government, contains mixed results from a conservative perspective, as expected.

The $37 billion budget, which was approved on time, includes an increase in spending over the rate of inflation, when all spending is added together, despite statements and reports to the contrary that did not include all spending.  It includes more spending on education and school safety, as well as increased funding for scholarships for non-public schools.    

The budget was approved without any tax increases, except for an increase in hospital assessments.  Governor Tom Wolfe was forced by the legislature to abandon his annual demand for an additional tax on natural gas extraction. 

There was still no privatization of alcohol, which would increase revenues significantly, or pension reform, which would reduce expenditures dramatically.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

On Independence Day 2018, Americans See Democracy Weakening


As Americans celebrate the 242nd anniversary of the independence of the States, Freedom House, https://freedomhouse.org/, has issued a new study, the Democracy Project, https://www.democracyprojectreport.org/, which suggests a weakening of democracy in America.

On the positive side, a large majority of Americans do recognize the benefits of liberty and representative government and support equality.  However, a majority of Americans consider democracy in their country to be weak and a larger majority consider it to be getting weaker, with a clear danger of authoritarianism, such as has been rising around the world, even among popularly-elected governments.  A disturbingly significant portion of Americans do not even recognize the benefit of representative government at home, while a majority of Americans do not appreciate the benefit of promoting it abroad, except among those who are better educated. 

The survey was conducted in partnership with the George W. Bush Institute, https://www.bushcenter.org/explore-our-work/index.html, and the Penn Biden Center.  

Education, both formally and informally and through public discourse, greater public virtue and certain reasonable political reforms are necessary to increase support for freedom and representative government and to strengthen the institutions meant to safeguard them in order to secure the blessings of liberty for all Americans, now and in the future, as well as to be an example to the rest of the world.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Foreign Digest Updates: Macedonia, Nicaragua, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Iran and Turkey


Macedonia
            Macedonia’s parliament last week ratified the name-change agreement with Greece. There will be a referendum later this summer to approve the Slavic republic’s name change from “The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” to “The Republic of North Macedonia” to avoid encouraging any separatism in neighboring Greece’s northern province of Macedonia.

Nicaragua
Deadly attacks continue to be committed by the paramilitary forces that support the Marxist authoritarian Sandinista government

Ethiopia and Eritrea
Ethiopia and Eritrea have begun peace talks after Ethiopia accepted a border agreement it had signed in 2000, ending a twenty-year war that cost tens of thousands of lives.

Iran
            There have been significant daily protests over the last several days against the tyrannical Islamist Iranian regime, including against its war on behalf of the Bashar Assad regime of Syria.

Turkey
            Turkey conducted presidential elections earlier this week—under a state of emergency—that were neither free nor fair.  Despite these advantages, the Islamist authoritarian President barely managed a majority of the vote, but will now assume greater powers.  Through the state of emergency, which was imposed after the attempted military coup in 2016, he has been able to increase his consolidation of power in the presidency at the expense of the office of prime minister and to make the Turkish state less secular, as tens of thousands of Turks were fired or imprisoned.  Turkey had been founded in 1918 after the defeat of the Ottoman Empire after the First World War as a modern, democratic, secular state.  The Turkish military had long been the safeguard of the state as such, but now Turkey is no longer a free country – the first such unfree member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in several decades.  Turkey’s goal of joining the European Union will not be realized, as it does not share any European values. 

           Turkey, like the Russian Federation and Venezuela, is an example of the global rise of authoritarianism, as all three elected leaders who subverted representative government, imposed autocracy and denied their

citizens liberty. 

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Pennsylvania Now Requires a Civics and History Test for Students


The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania now requires that students take a United States history, government and civics test, after the passage of a bill by the Republican-majority General Assembly and its signing into law by the Governor.

The test is similar to the rigorous federal naturalization test.  Students from Grades 7-12 will be required to take the test annually, but are not required to pass it in order to graduate.  Those who receive a perfect score will receive a certification.  Teachers will have flexibility on the administration of the exam.  Schools will be required to report how many students have passed the test.

Surveys have repeatedly shown an especially disturbing lack of basic knowledge of civics by both American students and even adults who are no longer students, and a less than adequate knowledge of U.S. history.  The problem has been exacerbated by the curriculum focus on English, mathematics and science, even though the purpose of obligatory education and public education is better citizenship and a more informed electorate.  In response, there has been a movement across the Union over the last few years to require civics tests for high school graduation, which I posted about in January of 2015, in The Movement Across the United States to Require Passage of a Civics Test to Earn a High School or Equivalent Diploma, https://williamcinfici.blogspot.com/2015/01/the-movement-across-united-states-to.html.   

I would add that state and local history and civics are also necessary and even more lacking, but Pennsylvania’s new requirement is progress toward eradicating ignorance among the Commonwealth’s citizens, including its voters. 

Monday, June 18, 2018

Foreign Digest: Macedonia, Colombia and Nicaragua


Macedonia: name dispute settlement
            An accord was reached late last week between Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia which ends a quarter-century-long dispute over the name of the Slavic state on Greece’s northern border since its independence in 1993.  The Macedonian Republic’s new name will be The Republic of North Macedonia.

            Greece had been concerned over separatism in its homologous province bordering the renamed Republic of North Macedonia.  The objection by the Hellenic Republic over its northern neighbor’s name blocked Macedonian entry into the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Colombia: conservatives won the presidential elections
            The center-right candidate won the Colombian presidential election yesterday, keeping the presidency of the hands of the conservatives, but of the faction of the former President Alvaro Uribe, and not of Uribe’s successor.  Alvaro had disagreed with his successor over the amnesty for the Marxist narco-terrorists, whom were defeated after a more-than half-century war in large part through Uribe’s efforts, backed by the United States.  The center-left candidate was a former guerrilla.

Nicaragua: update on protests 
           The death toll from protests against the authoritarian Marxist Sandinista regime has reached 170, but a truce has been negotiated, at the urging of the Catholic Church, between the government and the protestors.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Another Follow-Up to Conservatives and Republicans Are Organizing against Trumpism


           The list of organizations of prominent conservatives and Republicans who oppose Trumpism (populism, protectionism, isolationism, white nationalism and authoritarianism) continues to grow.  See me post last month, Conservatives and Republicans Are Organizing against Trumpism, https://williamcinfici.blogspot.com/2018/05/conservatives-and-republicans-are.html, which I followed up on with an additional post later that month.  

           Republicans Fighting Tariffs https://terribletariffs.com/ opposes the protectionist policies of Donald Trump, the pretender to the American presidency, as these are tax increases that reduce economic freedom, are inherently harmful economically, in addition to inviting retaliation from trading partners, and damage relations with allies, who, in turn, are harmed economically and thus less able to import American goods.  

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Foreign Digest: Nicaragua, Ethiopia and Jordan


Nicaragua
            There have been more protests and more deaths because of the oppression of the authoritarian Marxist Sandinista regime.  The Sandinistas are additionally relying upon pro-government thugs to attack peaceful protestors.

Ethiopia
            Ethiopia’s authoritarian government continues to liberalize.  It recently ended the state of emergency it had imposed last year after protests against the government.  The Ethiopian government also reached a border agreement with Eritrea, ending a military conflict by making concessions to its neighbor.  It had earlier freed political prisoners.

Jordan
           After protests against the Prime Minister’s plans to raise taxes, the King last week installed a new premier who abandoned the plan.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Italian Elections Update: Italy Has a New Left-Right Populist Government


           The Italian Republic’s new left-right populist government was sworn into office today, nearly three months after inconclusive parliamentary elections in which no party won a majority. 

The new executive is a coalition between the anti-establishment populists, who were the single party that won the most votes and seats in the March 4 elections, and the far-right anti-migrant party, which was the largest party of the right-wing bloc that collectively won the most votes and seats, edging out the conservatives, who are not supporting the government.  The third largest right-wing party is supporting the government.  The center-left, who governed, through three premierships, for a five-year term with a smaller center-right party, were the second largest individual party, well behind the populists and the right-wing bloc.  The new Prime Minister is Italy’s sixth unelected premier.  The heads of the two parties are each vice-premiers, with the right-wing one also holding the portfolio of the Interior ministry, in order to execute his plan to deport significantly more migrants fleeing war and persecution.  The new government is expected to win confidence votes soon in both chambers of Parliament.

The ruling coalition had changed its designee for Minister of the Economy after the President objected over the weekend to the designee’s secret plan to change Italy’s monetary unit from the Euro, the currency of the European Monetary Union, back to the lira, as the parties did not campaign on leaving the euro and thus had no mandate even to start such a process, in addition to the need for international obligations that would necessitate an orderly negotiated process for leaving the eurozone.  The populist party leader also gave an assurance that leaving the euro was not the incoming executive’s goal.  I had summarized the positive and mostly negative elements of the populist program in a post last month.  The coalition government has a slim majority and will likely be unstable.

With the latest developments this week, the Italian stock market and bond improved, as have international markets, as uncertainty has ended and the fears about the potential disruption of Italy’s abandonment of the euro and perhaps even of the European Union, which would likely end the project, have eased.  There remains uncertainty about the populist Italian Government’s plans to exceed E.U. spending limits, despite the massive public debt of the Italian Republic.  Italy has the eighth largest economy in the world, which is the fourth largest in Europe and the E.U., and the third largest in the eurozone, but its debt is second only to Greeces in proportion.  The swearing in of the new government not only avoids an unprecedented summertime vote, but will allow Italy to avoid a large increase in the value added (sales) tax because of E.U. rules through the adoption of a budget.

Italy is a strong ally of the United States as both a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and in the War on Terrorism.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Memorial Day Thoughts on the Principles That Have Been Worth Fighting For


           On this Memorial Day, which commemorates those members of the armed forces who died for the United States of America, it is appropriate to consider some of the principles they fought for which are under assault today.

            Liberty, including freedom of speech and the press; the rule of law versus the rule of man, the independence of the judiciary, as part of the separation of powers; federalism and equality have all been either violated or rejected by federal officials and their supporters in favor of authoritarianism.  In addition, economic freedoms have been jeopardized in several ways. 

           If those who fell for their country would not have died in vain, then we Americans must recognize these principles, identify the threats to them and defend these and other principles necessary to maintain our freedom and representative government.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Italian Election Update: Italy Has Been Saved from a Trumpist-style Populist Anti-Migrant/Anti-European/ Pro-Russian Government


           The premier-designee of the left-right populist coalition has renounced the mandate from the President of the Italian Republic to form a government after the Head of State expressed concern about the coalitions proposed cabinet minister for the economy.  The minister-designee opposes the Euro, the currency of the European Monetary Union, of which Italy is a member.

            The prospect of the Trumpist-style populist anti-migrant/anti-European/pro-Russian government had set off panic throughout Europe, caused the price of the Italian bond to spike and jeopardized Italy’s credit rating.  Italy is the third largest economy in the Eurozone.

            The President will now form a government to guide Italy until new elections after the summer vacation season, to avoid a lack of a budget that could trigger a dramatic increase in the European Union’s value added (sales) tax.  Italians have never voted during the summer.  There is no provision for absentee balloting.  There may be an amendment to the election law in the meantime to give a bonus number of parliamentary seats to the party or bloc that wins a plurality in order to make it easier to form a government.  

           The anti-establishment populists were the single party that won the most votes and seats in the Italian parliamentary elections March 4, but well short of a majority necessary to win a vote of confidence to form a government.  The right-wing bloc of parties won the most votes and seats overall, but also short of a majority.  The anti-migrant pro-Russian right-wing party, which won the most votes and seats within that bloc, attempted to form a government with the populists, as together they would have a bare majority, without the support of the conservative party it edged out, which came in fourth overall, behind the outgoing center-left party.  The left-right populist coalition would likely have been unstable.

Russian Federation Military Forces Shot Down the Malaysian Airliner over Ukraine in 2014


Russian Federation military forces invading Ukraine were responsible for shooting down the Malaysian Airline commercial jet in 2014, according to international inspectors, despite Russian denials.  The Netherlands and Australia are holding the authoritarian, oligarchical Russian regime of Vladimir Putin responsible.  The aircraft had taken off from the Netherlands and many passengers were Dutch or Australian.  Ethnic Russian separatists supported by the Kremlin had been suspected, but the inspectors conclusively established Russian military culpability.

Follow-Up to Conservatives and Republicans are Organizing against Trumpism


           In addition to the organizations I posted about in Conservatives and Republicans are Organizing against Trumpism, https://williamcinfici.blogspot.com/2018/05/conservatives-and-republicans-are.html, which conservatives and Republicans have joined or formed, some partisan, some bipartisan, against Trumpism and in defense of liberty, the rule of law, equality and the truth, there is another, the Alliance for Securing Democracy, http://securingdemocracy.gmfus.org/.

           The organization is a bipartisan, transatlantic initiative to defend against and deter efforts to undermine representative government, such as by authoritarians like Russian Federation dictator Vladimir Putin.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Cinfici’s Speech at the May 23, 2018 Reading School Board Meeting on Fiscal and Budgetary Matters


           I spoke at the Reading School Board meeting yesterday about the accomplishments of a former colleague who recently passed away and about related budgetary matters, which was covered in the Reading Eagle: http://www.readingeagle.com/news/article/reading-school-board-oks-tentative-budget-with-tax-increase.

            I noted how when I served as a Reading School Director the second time in 2013, the Administration was not providing the Board with regular financial statements, withholding other information, providing false information and changing information at the last minute.  I observed that the current Board had no idea how difficult it was to make budgetary decisions under such circumstances.  Because our Board did not want our successors to face a similar situation, my late colleague, who chaired the Finance Committee, and I worked with the Administration to produce a comprehensive document so the Board could make more fully informed budgetary decisions, something I note I had also done when I served the first time from 2005-2009.  The monthly financial statement was singled out for praise by the Pennsylvania Auditor General as exemplary of the Reading School District’s financial and board governance turnaround, for which my colleague deserved credit.

            Speaking of the difficult budget process of 2013, I took the opportunity to tell the Board, which was considering whether to spend its fund balance or raise taxes to close a budget shortfall, but not apparently considering any spending reductions, that there were a number of items the Board considered to cut spending or increase revenue without raising taxes that the Board did not have the time to consider more fully.  I invited the current Board to look back at those ideas and work its way through them before reaching its final decision on the budget.  I did not have time to mention there were additional ideas.

            I mentioned other items my colleague and I supported and had hoped our successors would adopt that I have repeatedly raised.  The first was adopting a Board policy to eliminate non-competitive contracts for professional services by requiring periodically requests for proposals.  Observing that this matter was tied to Reading’s pay-to-play scandal and is costly to the District, I stated that the taxpayers had a right to know that the Board’s hiring was based upon merit, not who knows somebody or who makes the most political contributions. 

The second was the formation by the Board of an Audit Committee to improve oversight and financial controls.  I noted the Board already had something somewhat similar in its Board Policy (which are like its constitution or bylaws), but, as in other respects, it was not following its own policy. 

I urged the Board to consider these ideas and thanked them for the opportunity to present them.  I shall continue to follow up to promote sound fiscal policies and practices and spending decisions to make the best use of taxpayer dollars for the poor, urban District’s quarter-billion dollar budget.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Foreign Digest: Venezuela, Nicaragua, Italy and Argentina


Venezuela: another un-free election
            In an election that was neither free nor fair earlier this week, the Socialist authoritarian President of Venezuela was reelected to another term.  Boycotted by the democratic opposition, the election attracted a low turnout, despite promised government food handouts to voters.  The starving Venezuelan people, suffering under the catastrophe of socialism, did not take the bribes. 

The democratic opposition had won a supermajority of the Venezuelan Congress, but some of them were barred from being seated and the dictatorship supplanted the Congress by establishing another legislature packed with appointed and unfairly elected regime supporters.  Basic freedoms are not respected and people are imprisoned for their political beliefs.  The United States has imposed economic sanctions and other Latin American states and organizations have called for human rights and representative government to be respected in the once oil-rich state.

Nicaragua update: human rights violations
            A Latin American human rights organization determined this week that the forces of authoritarian Marxist Sandinista government of Nicaragua fired indiscriminately into the masses of protestors during the demonstrations last month against a proposed change to insurance.  Scores of people were killed in the protests.

Italy and Argentina: pro-life protests 
            Posters in Italy appeared last week pointing out that abortion is the leading cause of the murder of women.  They were removed under pressure.  Abortion was legalized in Italy forty years ago, but it is rarely carried out because most doctors and other healthcare providers cannot perform abortions in good conscience.  

           Thousands of Argentines earlier this week protested a proposed law to legalize abortion in Argentina.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Italian Elections Update: Populist Program and Government Proposal


The anti-establishment populist and anti-migrant far-right Italian parties have reached an agreement on a populist program for a government and on an unnamed prime minister and cabinet.  They are now obtaining support for their program from their general membership and will seek the approval of the President of the Italian Republic tomorrow.

The anti-establishment populists were the party that won the most votes and seats in the Italian parliamentary elections on March 4, while the far-right party came in third, but was first among the right-wing bloc that won the most votes and seats overall.  Together, they have a slim majority.  The two center-right parties in that coalition are not participating in the talks or plan to support the formation of the left-right populist government. 

The program is a mix of good and bad ideas, with the bad outweighing the good.  It not only is worrying the rest of Europe, but the financial markets, as the Italian bond has been battered by the prospect of the populist government for ItalyItaly risks not only its progress on reducing its debt, and, therefore, the confidence investors have in it, but its relationships with the European Union and the Western Alliance, as well as its international prestige.

The good points in the left-right populist program are military modernization; a low, flat income tax, coupled with a crackdown on tax evasion; anti-corruption policies, including tougher penalties, a prohibition on conflicts of interest for Cabinet members and the elimination of exorbitant pensions for members of Parliament; reductions in the size and cost of government and other political reforms, such as increased federalism (devolution of power to Regions and even to Communes); and limitations on gambling.
           
            The program includes remaining in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, but favors dropping economic sanctions against the authoritarian, oligarchical Russian Federation regime of Vladimir Putin for his invasion of Ukraine.  The language of the program recognizes only Islamism as a threat, while failing to recognize Putin as a threat, whom the populists see only as a partner, despite his invasions of Georgia and Ukraine, which they do not mention.  The pro-Putin parties even encourage him to be an interlocutor in the Middle East, where he has been inflaming matters by backing Iranian-backed terrorists like Hezbollah and Syria’s Assad regime.  The program offers no criticism of Putin for his other machinations, such as aiding the Taliban, supplying oil to North Korea and interfering with elections in Europe and the United States.  The left-right populists who claim to be democratic are silent also about Putin’s authoritarianism, kleptocracy and money-laundering.  The program also includes a reduction in Italian international peacekeeping because the populists are unable to recognize obvious threats to Italy or what is in the Italian national interest, like typical isolationists anywhere.  Italy has been prestigious for being one of the world’s leading peacekeepers. 

The anti-European left-right populist program includes remaining in the European Union and keeping the single currency, the euro, but renegotiating Italy’s relationship with the E.U., including certain E.U. treaties.  Although it would be prudent to renegotiate the relationship and treaties, it is the motivations of the populists that are disturbing.  Their first objection, based upon the excuse of sovereignty, is over the E.U.-imposed constraints on Italian public spending because of the Republic’s high debt, to which Italy has agreed.  They want to renegotiate the subject with the E.U. to pay for their spending spree of tens of billions of dollars on welfare, infrastructure and the undoing of pension reform, among other things.  The populists also want to renegotiate migration and freedom of movement with the E.U.  They claim they would respect human rights, despite their anti-migrant bias, while cracking down on human trafficking and increasing repatriation.  Yet, these policies would keep migrants from being able to flee the war, persecution or famine.  Italy has gained international prestige for leading the European effort to save thousands of migrants in the Mediterranean, for which the E.U. has supported Italy.

Another renegotiation in the left-right populist program would be of the high-speed rail line proposed between Lyon, France and Turin, Italy that the Italian Republic agreed to.  The rail line has been violently opposed by environmentalists, socialists and anarchists.  

There would no longer be any extra aid to impoverished Southern Italy in the left-right populist program because of all the extra welfare that would be doled out all over Italy

The populist program would make vaccinations no longer mandatory.

            There was no mention of any proposed change to the new election law (e.g. awarding a bonus number of seats to the party that wins the most seats, in order to make attaining a majority easier) the elimination of provinces or the proposed bridge between Italy and Sicily.  

           The left-right populist government and program would, because of its slim majority and the fractiousness of the parties, likely be unstable, but yet damaging to Italy.  

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

The 2018 Pennsylvania Primary Elections


Today are the Democratic and Republican Primary Elections in Pennsylvania.  Voters will be choosing nominees for the state offices of Governor, Lieutenant Governor and the General Assembly (all state House of Representative districts and half the State Senate districts) and for the federal offices of United States Senate and U.S. Representative.

There will also be elections for the party offices of State and County Committee, elected at the county and precinct level, respectively.  

In the Trumpified Republican Party, Republican primaries in Pennsylvania, as elsewhere across the American Union, have often become contests of who can be the Trumpiest.  There are, however, a few candidates who are not Trumpist (populist, protectionist, nativist and isolationist).  It is therefore necessary for conservatives not only to vote for the most conservative qualified candidates who are likely to be elected in the General Election, but also either those candidates who are not Trumpist or are the least Trumpist, as best to represent the Grand Old Party and the conservative movement.

Polls are open until 8:00 P.M.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Foreign Elections Digest: Tunisia, Lebanon, Armenia, Malaysia, Iraq and Italy


Tunisia
            Tunisia held municipal elections earlier this month for the first time under its new constitution, the first such elections since 2011.  They had been delayed for various reasons, including the adoption of an election law.  Although the moderate Islamist party won the most offices, the election was an important step in Tunisia’s transition from dictatorship to a constitutional parliamentary republic.  Tunisia is the freest Arab state.

Lebanon
            Lebanon held its first parliamentary elections in nine years a week ago.  They had been extended since 2013 because of the inability to elect a president. 

            The pro-Western ruling party, whose government is backed by Saudi Arabia and the West, lost seats, both to the Iranian-backed bloc led by Hezbollah, which is a Shi’ite terrorist organization sponsored by Iran, and an anti-Hezbollah Christian party.  Hezbollah’s bloc now has more than a third of the seats in Parliament, enough to veto legislation.  However, the outgoing Prime Minister will likely be able to retain power through a weakened coalition.  Hezbollah is part of the current coalition, despite leading the Shi’ite-dominated opposition bloc.  It is backed by the President, as some Christians have made an alliance with it against the Sunni Muslims.

Elections are sectarian in Lebanon, as the Constitution divides executive power and parliamentary seats by sect, with half the seats reserved for Christian sects and the rest for Muslims and Druze.  The President is always a Christian, the Prime Minister a Sunni Muslim and the Speaker of Parliament a Shi’ite Muslim.

             The Lebanese parliamentary elections were the first since the start of the Syrian Civil War, which has occasionally spilled over into Lebanon and which has caused a million Syrians to seek refuge in the small Arab state.  There have been occasional attacks by Islamists.  Lebanon has long been influenced by interference from Syria’s Baathist regime of Bashar Assad, which Hezbollah is backing it the Syrian Civil War.  The war has divided Lebanon politically.  Lebanon itself has had a long history of sectarian violence.

            A weakened economy and corruption were other major issues in the elections.  There was a decrease in turnout, despite the long gap since the previous election and a new election law that allowed proportional representation.            

Armenia
            The opposition leader was elected Armenia’s Prime Minister last week by the Armenian Parliament, as expected, after protests forced his predecessor’s resignation, even though the ruling party has a large majority of the seats in the Parliament.  Also, as expected, there will be no change in policy vis-à-vis the Russian Federation or the West.  The new premier intends to negotiate peace with neighboring Azerbaijan over the ethnic Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh that has been the source of armed conflict between the two former Soviet Republics since the dissolution of the Soviet Union.        

Malaysia
            The ruling party of Malaysia last week lost the parliamentary elections for the first time in sixty years, as a billion-dollar corruption scandal involving the ruling Prime Minister caused his political downfall.  A former Prime Minister, who had been part of the ruling party, will be the new premier.  Although the nonagenarian former Prime Minster was somewhat authoritarian and Islamist, his election was significant for its anti-corruption theme.  Since last year, corruption has caused the removal from office by various means of the leaders of South Korea, Brazil, Zimbabwe and South AfricaMalaysia was the first since then to remove its leader through election.

Iraq
            Parliamentary elections were held yesterday in Iraq, under extraordinary security.  They are the first elections since Iraq, aided by a U.S.-backed international coalition of Western and Arab states, liberated its territory from the Islamic State Islamist terrorists.  Some cells of the group remain, but although there has been some violence targeting the elections, there is significantly less overall violence than before.  It is hoped that Iraqis can overcome their sectarian divisions.

Italy
            The President of the Italian Republic was preparing the end of last week to name a new government of his choice, led by a new Prime Minister, to guide Italy through another parliamentary election this summer because of a hung parliament.  But then the anti-establishment populist party and the anti-immigrant far-right party appeared to make significant progress toward agreeing to form a government after the conservative party of former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, which won the fourth most votes and seats in the March 4 parliamentary elections, decided it would not support such a coalition externally, but abstain.  The abstention would allow for the formation of a government, as the two other parties would have enough seats on their own.  Therefore, the President has given the two parties more time and they have been working throughout the weekend to form a government.  They are reaching agreement on common points and must decide on a third person to be premier and on cabinet posts.

            The populists won the most votes and seats, while the anti-immigrant party was the largest party within the right-wing bloc, which won the most votes and seats overall, but short of a majority.  In third place overall was the ruling center-left party.  Berlusconi’s center-right party, which was in second place within the right-wing bloc, governs with the far-right party in Regions and local jurisdictions.  The third party in the right-wing bloc, a small conservative party, is also not joining the coalition.

A summer election would be a first for Italy, which does not allow absentee voting.  Italians abroad do have several constituencies.  The other reason there is urgency is because without a budget, which requires a vote of confidence, under European Union rules, Italy’s value added tax would increase dramatically.  Avoiding another vote and having a stable government would be good, but the populism of the two “Trumpist” parties attempting to form a government is disturbing, as they are both pro-Russian (pro-Vladimir Putin), anti-immigrant and protectionist.  They also oppose the European Union’s budget constraints on Italy, despite Italy’s massive debt.  Italy has been in a weak economic recovery and its migrant crisis has been easing.  Nevertheless, these problems, as well as corruption, have increased populist sentiment among Italians. 

Foreign Digest Updates: Yemen, Syria and Russia


Yemen
            Some United States military forces have recently begun assisting the government of Yemen against pro-Iranian Houthi rebels.  The U.S. has been firing missiles from drones at al-Qaeda Islamist terrorists during the War on Terrorism, but is now acting against one of the major participants in the multi-sided Yemeni civil war as it tries to check Iranian influence in Yemen and elsewhere.

Syria
            Iraqi forces have been hitting Islamic State positions in western Syria, in coordination both with Syria and the American-led coalition of Western and Arab States fighting Islamist terrorists like the Islamic State and al-Qaeda.  Meanwhile, Israel again hit Iranian military positions last week in Syria after warning that it will not allow the Islamic Republic of Iran to make Syria a forward base from which to attack the Jewish State.  Iran had placed forces in a threatening manner near the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights.

Russia
           Thousands of Russians again took to the streets today to protest Internet censorship by the authoritarian, oligarchical regime of Vladimir Putin.  There were dozens of arrests, as basic freedoms, such as that of peaceful assembly, are not tolerated in the Russian Federation.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Foreign Digest: Armenia, Italy, Spain and Russia


Armenia
            Armenia is in the midst of a peaceful quasi-revolution that is taking place within the constitutional framework.  The President, who was constitutionally term-limited, was appointed Prime Minister by the Parliament a few weeks ago to circumvent the provision, as there are no term limits for premier and the move was coupled with a weakening of the presidency and corresponding increase the power of the Prime Minister.  After mass peaceful protests, the premier resigned last week and his ruling party permitted the opposition leader to be nominated for Prime Minister and implied it would allow him to become premier.  The former Soviet Republic is not a fully free state, although it is tolerant of peaceful assembly. The Armenian Government, although not hostile to the West and maintains a relationship with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, is pro-Russian.  Because the opposition leader has stated there will be no foreign policy changes, the Russian Federation is not openly attempting to thwart the democratic uprising, at least for now. 

Italy
            The attempt to form a government between the populist party, which was the individual party that won the most votes and seats in the Italian parliamentary elections in March, and the main center-left party, which came in a distant second, has failed.  This attempt, which came from an exploratory mandate from the President of the Italian Republic last week, followed the failure of a similar mandate to form a government between the populists and the right-wing bloc the week before, which together won the most votes and seats.  The President will hold another set of consultations this week to attempt to resolve the two-month impasse by exploring whether some other combination of parties can obtain a majority to win the required vote of confidence.  Both the populists and the far-right leader of the largest party within the right-wing bloc have called for new elections in June. 

The far-right leader of the anti-immigrant party, who would be premier if his bloc wins a majority, has suggested an amendment to the current election law to award a bonus of seats to the party that gains a plurality.  Late last week, he again called for a coalition government between the right wing bloc and the populists, but this time for only one of limited duration—until December, in order to amend the election law, and to oppose the sales tax increase and the European Union budget.  However, other parties are typically reluctant to changes in the law in a way that would be perceived to benefit a rival party.  As expected, the populists have already rejected the proposal that would likely prevent them from governing and, therefore, reject also the call for such a time-limited government.  Today, they issued a counter offer of a government between the two parties with a third person as premier, but without the main conservative party of former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

Spain
            The Basque separatist terrorist organization, which has long since abandoned violence, is disbanding as an organization.  The organization, which killed several hundred people from the 1960s to the 2000s, was active in Spain and France.  The Spanish Government intends to continue to investigate and prosecute the organization’s leaders.  The Basque Country of Spain enjoys a degree of autonomy. 

Russia 
           There was another wave of protests across the Russian Federation late last week against the authoritarian, oligarchical rule of Vladimir Putin.  The regime arrested thousands of peaceful protestors, including again the main democratic opposition leader, Alexei Navalny, and several journalists.  Basic freedoms are not tolerated by the Putin regime and elections in Russia are hardly free and fair.

Cinfici Was Polled on the Pennsylvania Republican Gubernatorial Primary and Donald Trump


I was polled at the end of last week by Susquehanna Polling and Research on the Pennsylvania Republican gubernatorial primary and on Donald Trump.  I do not know if the poll was a public one or an internal one commissioned by one of the gubernatorial candidates.

I responded that I disapproved of Trump’s performance as President.  Like any president, some of his policies have been beneficial and some harmful, but his overtly poor character and illegitimate election through deception, intimidation, hostile foreign assistance and other election law violations means that he can never merit overall approval.  Furthermore, regardless of whether his policies are good, Trump is damaging the Republican Party and the conservative movement.

On the gubernatorial primary, I responded that I had a favorable opinion Laura Ellsworth and did not express a favorable opinion of the other candidates.  I responded that I would likely vote for her.  Even though she may be somewhat less conservative, the pro-life, pro-right to keep and bear arms attorney and business leader was the only candidate not to vote for Trump, which has become an essential standard of measurement.  Alas, in Pennsylvania, as elsewhere, GOP primary elections have become contests of who can be the most Trumpist.  Therefore, I responded that I was dissatisfied with the overall field of candidates.  I also responded that I disapproved of the television advertisements in the gubernatorial primary, even though I have not viewed them, as I have read about them.  As Trump is, the ads have been personal and negative, even though character has been abandoned as an issue by the Republicans who nominated and elected to the highest office in the land and are following the leadership of and defending someone who manifestly is of poor character.  

I was surprised I was not polled on my opinion of Governor Tom Wolf, the liberal Democrat running for reelection.  I would have expressed an unfavorable view.  Wolf has been up to his usual efforts to single out one industry upon which to impose an additional extra tax, on top of the impact fee, on Pennsylvania’s lucrative natural gas industry.  Such a tax would be in addition to the applicable business taxes the industry already pays, which are higher than those of many other States.  Wolf is unpopular, but Trump is dragging the Republican Party down in Pennsylvania to such a degree that Wolf nevertheless leads his Republican rivals in the polls.  Last year’s county and municipal elections in the Keystone State were a harbinger of doom for the Trumpified GOP.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Conservatives and Republicans Are Organizing against Trumpism


           The assault on liberty, the rule of law, equality, the free market and even the truth by Trumpism (the populism associated with Donald J. Trump of protectionism, nativism and isolationism laced with authoritarianism), has inspired many conservative and Republican Americans to organize across the Union over the last year to defend these ideals.

            Several organizations have been established since Trump’s inauguration as President either by conservatives and Republicans that are conservative in ideology or openly Republican or that are nonpartisan and include conservatives and Republicans because they are organized around shared principles or goals. 

These new organizations are in addition to those that are more centrist ideologically which include current or former prominent conservative Republicans who are joining with others across America to liberalize ballot access for non-major-party candidates, either by forming organizations to support such candidates or a centrist political party.  Note: “centrist” may not necessarily mean moderate, but adhering to views of the center-left and center-right part of the spectrum, as opposed to the European-style far-right of Trumpism and white nationalism.  The goal of the conservatives and Republicans involved in these organizations is to challenge Trumpist Republican nominees for office without necessarily advantaging the Democratic Party and the far-left. 

These new organizations are also in addition to various federalist organizations devoted to promoting federalism or which are federalist political parties, either already organized as such or in the process of organizing to become a political party.  The danger of the centralization of power is revealing how necessary the check of the States versus the federal government is in the federal American republic.

The new organizations include nonpartisan organizations which include prominent conservative and Republican Americans, among others, but are focused on particular shared goals that are of interest to conservatives.  One example is The Committee to Investigate Russia (https://investigaterussia.org/).  It is disseminating information about how ex-Soviet intelligence officer Vladimir Putin’s Russian Federation has been interfering in American elections, such as on behalf of Trump, as well as elections in allied states, and the various congressional and criminal investigations in to the Russian interference.  Another example is the Renew Democracy Initiative (https://www.renew-democracy.org/), which is a think tank devoted to defending democratic freedom and prosperity.  It also includes several prominent international conservatives.

There are also nonpartisan organizations of conservatives that are based upon a center-right ideology, but are appeal to a broad spectrum of beliefs because of their commitment to shared principles.  A notable example is Stand Up Republic (https://standuprepublic.com/), which is defending the American republic by promoting liberty, equality and truth.  Stand Up Republic is advocating for thorough investigations of Russian Federation interference in the U.S. presidential election and its continued interference in American political discourse, as well as for increasing and strengthening economic sanctions against Putin’s authoritarian, oligarchical regime.  The organization has also effectively opposed Trumpist candidates.  Stand Up Republic is also organizing in States, including in Pennsylvania.  It has a sister organization, Stand Up Ideas (https://standupideas.com/), which is focused on strengthen Americans’ commitment to democratic norms and ideals through education and leadership development.

Another set of organizations are those that are openly Republican.  The most noteworthy example is Republicans for the Rule of Law (http://www.ruleoflawrepublicans.com/), which is defending the Special Counsel who is investigating and prosecuting the Russian interference on behalf of Trump in the American presidential election and any conspiracy by Trump and his campaign with the Russians.  There are even state Republican organizations that are openly non-Trumpist, such as New Way California.  The conservative and moderate members of such organizations intend to avoid conceding the Republican Party to Trumpists by supporting authentic Republican ideals and center-right candidates who hold to them.

            Both Republicans for the Rule of Law and Stand Up Republic have been particularly effective thus far in defending the Special Counsel.  The Senate Judiciary Committee last week approved bipartisan legislation to protect the Special Counsel from unjust firing and other Republican members of Congress have at least warned Trump against taking such action.  The efforts of both organizations to defend the Special Counsel, a combat-wounded veteran Republican with a long, distinguished record of public service and a sterling reputation, have helped somewhat to counteract Trump’s efforts to discredit the investigation through the discrediting the Special Counsel and the prosecutors and investigators employed by him.  

Besides the Republican or federalist organizations, the other organizations are examples of the movement of conservatives to work together with non-conservatives to defend shared principles, despite profound differences in ideology and on policies.  This common commitment demonstrates not that principles like the political independence of law enforcement are liberal, but that they are universal.  Expressing support for certain basic principles of republican government thus does not give any political advantage to liberals, as it validates the parts of conservatism that are held in common with others as principled and reasonable, as well as validates those conservatives who reasonably defend and advance such principles, in contrast to those who have revealed themselves in the age of Trump to have been without principle or abandoned them for political expedience.  

The challenge caused by Trumpism to conservatives and Republicans is encouraging many of them to learn more about the foundations of the American Republic, the Constitution, the law and politics and to hold fast to the principles of patriotism, liberty and representative government.  The significant remnants of the center-right who are organizing in whatever fashion they prefer to defend these principles against Trumpism are bringing honor to the conservative movement and inspire hope that it will rebound from its present state and emerge more principled and respectable.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Foreign Digest Updates: Nicaragua, Italy and Russia


Nicaragua: the Marxist government gives into protesters
            The Marxist Sandinista Nicaraguan Government acquiesced last week to the demands of protestors who had opposed the increasingly authoritarian government’s plans for insurance.  The demonstrations earlier this month were deadly because of the regime’s crackdown.

Italy: update on the Italian Parliamentary Elections
            The President of the Italian Republic gave an exploratory mandate over a week ago to the President of the Senate, a member of the leading conservative party, to see if a coalition government could be formed between the right-wing bloc, which won the most votes and seats in the parliamentary elections in March, and the anti-establishment populists, who were the single party that won the most votes and seats.  After the failure of this mandate, because the populists refused to govern with the Senate President’s party, that of former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, the President granted an exploratory mandate last week to the President of the lower Chamber of Deputies, who is a member of the populist party, to try to form a government between his party and the center-left party, which won the second most votes, but which was the party’s worst ever result.  The liberals are split over whether to remain in opposition or to try to negotiate the formation of a coalition government with the populists.  There are some areas of agreement between the two parties, but clear differences between the anti-European populists and the pro-European liberals.  A likely result is the failure of this mandate, followed by the calling by the President for new elections.  Both the leading right-wing party and the populists suggest a return to the urns in June.  Based upon polls and the results of regional elections, the right-wing bloc is confident it will again win the most votes and seats, with probably more than it did in March.  The question then would be whether it can gain a majority and which of its two main parties would gain the most votes and thus make a claim to the premiership.

Russia: more protests
           There were more protests in Russia over the weekend as demonstrators took to the streets to protest censorship of the Internet by Vladimir Putin’s oligarchic, authoritarian Russian Federation regime.  There have been protests over the last few months against corruption and the barring of the democratic opposition leader from being a candidate for President.  The freedom of the press and assembly are not respected by the regime and elections in Russia are hardly free and fair. 

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Foreign Digest: Turkey, Nicaragua and Hungary


Turkey
            The authoritarian Islamist Turkish Government continues its crackdown after the attempted military coup in the summer of 2016, with hundreds of more arrests earlier this month and another extension of the state of emergency that permits the government to exercise even more powers than usual.  Tens of thousands of Turks have been fired or arrested because of alleged ties to the coup plotters.  The crackdown has given the excuse to the increasingly authoritarian Turkish President to quash all dissent.

Nicaragua
            There have been deadly protests over the last several days against the Nicaraguan government’s insurance policies.  The Marxist Sandinista regime had been dictators who took power in 1979 until they lost an election at the end of the Cold War.  They returned to power in the 2010s by winning elections, but, as I have posted previously, they have been somewhat authoritarian, inspired by the socialist revolution of the late Venezuelan Dictator Hugo Chavez.  Chavez was elected President of Venezuela, but became authoritarian, as his Socialist successor.

Hungary
            There were more protests over the weekend against the increasingly “illiberal” government since the election a week ago that the democratic opposition regarded as not totally free and fair.  In Eastern Europe, as in Latin America and Turkey, there has been a trend towards authoritarianism.  In addition to the Russian Federation, the former Soviet satellites of Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic are among examples of the disturbing drift from liberty.   

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Foreign Digest: Brazil, South Korea, South Africa, Hungary and Syria


Brazil, South Korea and South Africa
            There have recently been several investigations and convictions of former elected Presidents around the world for financial corruption. 

            The former liberal President of Brazil was convicted of corruption and last week began serving his prison sentence.  His successor from the same liberal party had been impeached and removed from office last year for corruption.

The former President of South Korea was convicted of corruption earlier this month.  She had been impeached and removed for corruption.

The former President of South Africa, the leftist who was removed from office last month for corruption, was last week placed under investigation for the same charges.

Hungary
            The far-right anti-immigrant, authoritarian President of Hungary was reelected last week to his third consecutive term and fourth overall. The elections were not completely free and fair, as he has admitted to being “illiberal.” Thousands of protestors took to the streets this weekend to protest the electoral law.  Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic have become less free and, except for Poland, pro-Russian, despite being members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Syria
            After international observers again reported recently that the Baathist Syrian tyrannical regime of Bashar Assad used chemical weapons, including the banned sarin gas, in addition to chlorine, against civilians in Syria’s civil war, the Russian Federation again blocked any action last week by the United Nations Security Council and tried to cast doubt on the obvious facts.  In response, the United States, France and the United Kingdom launched military strikes this weekend against Syrian chemical weapons of mass destruction program (WMD) targets.  The North Atlantic Treaty Organization expressed support for the raid.  The strikes were more robust than those by the U.S. last year that were in response to the Syrian use of chemical WMDs.  However, Donald Trump, the pretender to the American presidency whose election the Russians had supported, telegraphed the strikes to the Syrians and signaled to Syria’s Russian backers ahead of time that they would be limited in scope, focused on chemical WMDs and not regime change.

Russia and Iran are allies of the Assad regime in the war, along with Hezbollah, the Lebanese terrorist organization sponsored by Iran and SyriaRussia claims its intervention was intended to fight “terrorists” but it backs the terrorist-sponsoring Assad and focuses primarily on targeting non-Islamist rebels.  Syria and Russia commit war crimes by targeting innocent civilians with conventional weapons like barrel bombs in heavily populated areas and by deliberately targeting hospitals.  Russia has long maintained a base on Syria’s Mediterranean coast.  Despite a deconfliction protocol with the U.S., Russian forces have occasionally attacked American positions.  

The Syrian civil war started in 2011 as Syrians rose up against tyranny.  The war has claimed half a million lives and made ten million people refugees, thus creating the largest refugee crisis for Europe since the Second World War.  In addition to non-Islamist and Kurdish rebels, some of which are American-backed, Islamist terrorists like al-Qaeda and its offshoot, the Islamic State, also participate in the multi-sided war.  An international coalition of mostly Western and Arab states led by the U.S. has been targeting the Islamists in Syria and Iraq.  Turkey opposes the Syrian regime but focuses its efforts against the Kurds.  Israel occasionally strikes Hezbollah or Syrian WMD targets.  There has been no international threat to remove the Syrian regime or even to punish it for its non-WMD atrocities.