Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Ivorian Crisis and the Global Trend toward Authoritarianism

The recent elections in Ivory Coast were essentially similar to the ones in Burma earlier this year and Belarus earlier this month. The incumbent dictatorships in those two states remained in power after winning rigged elections. Unlike the dictators of the other two states, the Ivorian president, Laurent Gbagbo, had been elected originally. He lost reelection recently, but had the election results in favor of the opposition candidate overturned on spurious grounds. Thus, like the Burmese and Belarusian dictators, Gbagbo has remained in power after effectively after thwarting the democratic will expressed in an election.

The opposition Ivorian candidate, Alessane Ouatarra, a Muslim, is supported mostly in the Muslim north, while the Christian Gbagbo’s base of support is in the Christian south. Tensions between these two sides led to a civil war in the mid-2000s, although it was not a relatively bloody one by African standards. The current crisis is causing fear of a renewed outbreak of war, as there has already been some violence over the election dispute. France intervened against the government of the former French colony during the Ivorian Civil War. This time, the West African states are threatening to remove the Ivorian president by force if he does not resign. Although Ouatarra is a Muslim, a source who spent years in Ivory Coast until the outbreak of the Civil War informs me that the opposition candidate is not a militant Islamist.

The undemocratic elections in Burma, Belarus and Ivory Coast, like the rule by decree powers granted to Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez that I posted on earlier this month, represent a countertrend toward authoritarianism in response to the more than two-decade-long global trend of democratization. Although representative republics have been established in some states in recent years, like Iraq, there has been a strong authoritarian backlash, most notably in supposedly democratic Russia, while dictatorships have clung to power in several states where their tyranny has been challenged. Russia, Venezuela, Iran and others have developed friendly relations with each other and encouraged the authoritarian trend. Their participation in a de facto Axis of Rogues will be the subject of a future post.

In the meantime, free people and those who wish to be free must stand for self-determination, the rule of law and liberty.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas; Thoughts on Christian Pilgrims in the Holy Land and Arab Christians

I wish all of you a Merry Christmas! Thank you for visiting my blog.

I would like to take this opportunity to note my vindication for something I observed two years ago at the first Christmas since I launched this blog. At that time, I noted that there were more Christian pilgrims in the Holy Land than the year before, which had been the first year of an increase in pilgrims after a sharp decline. This year, the number of pilgrims is at a record high. Tens of thousands of Christians have made pilgrimages to the birthplace of Christ to celebrate His birth.

The restoration of the right of Christians to express their religion by making a pilgrimage to the Holy Land without fear of terrorism is one of the most striking achievements of the War on Terrorism, including the Liberation of Iraq, which removed from power Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein, who had sent aid to Palestinian suicide bombers who targeted and killed Americans. The passage of time since the last Palestinian intifadah and the relative peace that has ensued has also contributed to a sense of security.

The return of pilgrims to the Holy Land should give hope to the beleaguered Christians in the Middle East, as the pilgrims are not only appreciated for the boost they provide to the economy for the local Jews and Muslims, but serve to remind Arab Muslims that Arab Christians are not practitioners of a foreign, Western religion, but are fellow Arabs who have been practicing their Eastern religion for thousands of years. Therefore, Arab Christians ought to be trusted and respected as loyal, integral members of the Arab nation. May God bless the Christians in the Holy Land. Peace to all men of good will.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Foreign Updates: Venezuela, Iraq, Italy


Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez strengthened his increasingly authoritarian rule by getting the national legislature to allow him to rule by decree. The move by the lame-duck legislature bypasses the incoming legislature, in which the minority opposition won enough seats in the recent election to block the government’s initiatives.

When United States President George W. Bush did not oppose an attempted coup against Chavez, liberal Democrats criticized him for supposedly not supporting democracy because Chavez had been elected. If it were not clear enough for liberals to see then that Venezuela was no longer a democracy, it has become increasingly clear ever since.


The Iraqis finalized their government by naming the various ministers and other officers. Shi’ite, Sunni Arab and Kurdish parties were able to form a coalition several months after elections in which no party had won a majority. Nouri al-Maliki, a Shi’ite, will serve again as Prime Minister in the new government.

I daresay Iraq is more democratic than Venezuela. Liberals who had predicted that Iraq would never become democratic, especially during the several months of negotiations to form the coalition government, have been proven wrong repeatedly by the Iraqi people. The liberals are still complaining that it took the Iraqis so long and are characterizing the coalition as shaky because of Iraq's ethnic tensions, as if they are hoping for Iraq to fail in order not to be proven wrong.


After being rebuffed by the Union of Christian and Center Democrats, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who had tried to add them to his governing coalition, has regained the support of several Members of Parliament who had joined the Speaker in a vote of no-confidence earlier this month, according to ANSA, the Italian news agency. Berlusconi had obtained the confidence of Parliament by three votes, avoiding his resignation. His success in adding to his parliamentary majority decreases the likelihood of snap elections, at least until after the federalism reforms are passed in a few months.

The recent passage of Italy's budget and its political stability have helped it avoid a wave of downgrades in European bond ratings.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Conservative Alternatives to Earmarks

Earmarks are the specific designations by legislators of money appropriated by the Legislative Branch of government. Earmarks do not increase the amount of money spent, but designate it specifically instead of delegating the discretion to spend it to the Executive Branch.

Members of the United States Congress justify earmarking because the federal government takes money from the people of their districts. The representatives of the people seek to ensure that the taxpayers’ money is spent in their district, instead of in other districts, which they accomplish by means of earmarking appropriations for specific purposes. Indeed, earmarks are usually made by legislators for their own districts in order that their constituents receive their “fair share” of the benefits of their taxes.

As a result, earmarks are often made by members of Congress for special interests that might be of importance to a particular congressional district, but not necessarily to the federal Union as a whole, which is why money is not earmarked by the open legislative process, but unilaterally by individual legislators. In other words, earmarks are not considered in committee, debated in public, or ever voted upon specifically either in committee or on the floor of either chamber. Congress considers the approval of the appropriations bill as a whole. Although earmarks do not increase spending, they are symbolic of pork (spending by legislators for particular interests in their individual districts).

The moratorium on earmarks proposed by the incoming Republican Congressional majority would, therefore, increase openness and public debate because specific appropriations would have to be considered in committee and debated there, in addition to on the floor. Thus, the merits of the proposed appropriations would have to be considered instead of slipped into bills without any consideration.

Some legislators have objected to the arguments in favor of ending the practice of earmarking on the grounds that failing to earmark would violate the Separation of Powers. They argue that it is the responsibility of the Legislative Branch to appropriate money, not the Executive Branch. However, Congress has been deferring to the President to a large extent for decades, even in appropriations bills, despite the practice of earmarking. Congress appropriates sums of money, but unless Congress specifies how it is to be spent, it delegates to the President the discretion of how the money is spent. The remedy, therefore, is for the Congress to be more specific in its appropriation. Instead of earmarks, it ought to draft more specific language in appropriations bills. Such a remedy would accomplish the aforementioned benefits of a moratorium of earmarks while maintaining the Separation of Powers.

But I have a more comprehensive proposal – one that would be based upon the principle of federalism intended by the Framers of the Constitution: limit all appropriations by Congress only to matters of federal interest. Members of Congress should restrain their urge to spend money and to be seen as having enough clout to “bring home the bacon” and allow the people to keep their money in the first place, instead of allowing the federal government to take money from the people and then contending with each other over the return of that money. The practice of Congress of overtaxing and overspending and then ingratiating itself with its constituents for what morsels of their money it is able to return to the people after the federal bureaucratic middlemen have taken their cut must end.

Therefore, my solution would restore both federalism and fiscal responsibility. It would restore the rights of the states, as well as increase the liberty of the people to spend their money as they see fit.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Beware Clinton Nostalgia

There has been much nostalgia lately for former United States President Bill Clinton. Republicans who were considering a compromise between the current GOP-led Congress and President Barak Obama have been recalling fondly the compromises between the Republican-led Congress and Clinton to cut taxes, balance the budget through spending cuts and reform welfare. In addition, a recent public opinion survey ranked Clinton behind only John Kennedy and Ronald Reagan in popularity among modern presidents. His popularity has even increased. Clinton also recently conducted a press conference at the White House briefing room on behalf of Obama. Finally, Clinton and Obama Administration diplomat Richard Holbrooke was praised in the liberal media after his recent death.

Conservatives should especially beware the Clinton nostalgia. Although Clinton deserves credit for signing key parts of the Congressional Republicans’ Contract with American into law, these acts must be considered in their context. Clinton had raised income taxes, which were not lowered until his successor took office. At the same time, he increased spending, despite the labeling of his tax increases as a “deficit reduction” plan, as I have noted previously. The balanced budget achieved later in his Administration tends to obscure the fact that Clinton’s spending over the course of his two terms in office added nearly a trillion dollars to the federal debt; the temporary budget surpluses of his last years did not make up for the massive deficits he had produced beforehand, despite his drastic cuts to defense and intelligence.

In other domestic matters, Clinton earned the reputation as the “Abortion President” before Obama has since wrested the title from him, he weakened the right to bear arms, and he appointed liberal judges. Except in his trade policy, Clinton was a disaster on foreign policy. His fiasco in Somalia emboldened al-Qaeda by suggesting the U.S. was a pushover that feared casualties more than defeat, he failed to respond adequately to the emerging terrorist threat, he appeased North Korea and he gave missile technology to China.

The praise for Holbrooke is typical of liberals toward fellow liberals who failed. The Clinton Administration did little while a Communist-led genocide campaign called “ethnic cleansing” was being conducted on NATO’s flank in the former Yugoslavia. Only after hundreds of thousands of mostly civilian deaths and even more dislocations did it finally react and force peace negotiations. Holbrooke then negotiated with the Yugoslav Communist dictator, Slobodon Milosovic, legitimatizing this war criminal by using him as a guarantor of the peace accords. The accords accepted the status quo, meaning that instead of insisting upon the right of return for refugees, they ratified the ethnic cleansing inspired by Milosovic. An artificial Bosnian state was created and American “peacekeeping” troops sent in to act as human shields between the divided ethnic groups. Clinton’s policy failed to teach Milosovic a lesson, which required a lengthy U.S. air campaign when the “Butcher of Belgrade” later opened a new ethnic cleansing campaign in Kosovo. Yet Clinton and Holbrooke have boasted about and been praised for their diplomacy ever since, usually without any objection. But then, Clinton does not have a reputation for honesty.

In short, Clinton might have been better in some respects than the current president on domestic matters, although at least Obama has never raised income taxes, but Clinton was far worse on defense and foreign policy. Conservatives are right to recall the beneficial policies of the Clinton Administration, such as his cut of the capital gains tax, and to use them as examples for Obama, but they should be careful not to get carried away with nostalgia for one of the worst presidents in American history and should consider the entire context of his eight years in office.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Berlusconi's Government Wins Its Confidence Vote

The center-right Government of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi won its confidence vote in both houses of Parliament. The lower house today gave its confidence to Berlusconi's government by a 317-314 margin. The vote was sought by the Speaker of Parliament who had split with Berlusconi's People of Freedom Party.

The vote avoids a resignation by the Premier and the formation of a caretaker government. Instead, Berlusconi will be able to try to form a coalition with the Union of Christian and Center Democrats (UDC), a centrist Catholic Party that was a former partner in his previous government. The UDC had joined the opposition on the confidence vote. Failing a coalition with the centrists, Berlusconi would call elections, likely after the federalist reforms demanded by his major coalition partner, the Northern League, are approved early next year.

Italian political stability reassures confidence in the European economy and the European Monetary Union. Instability was the greatest threat to Italy's economy, especially after the approval of its budget, which continues the government's austerity program. Following the bailouts of Greece and Ireland, Pressure remains most immediately on Portugal, while Spain looms as the biggest threat to Europe's economy. The Portuguese are insisting that they will not need a bailout, while Spain is under less financial strain than its Iberian neighbor, but more than Italy.

Monday, December 13, 2010

“Arabian Gulf” vs. “Persian Gulf”

There has long been a controversy over the name of the gulf in the Indian Ocean between the Arabian Peninsula and Iran. The Iranians call it the “Persian Gulf” and the Arabs the “Arabian Gulf.” This controversy has arisen again recently because Iran objects to the United States Navy’s referral of the body of water as the “Arabian Gulf,” as has been its historical practice.

The U.S. Navy’s referral to this body of water as the “Arabian Gulf” validates my argument that the popular name for the Liberation of Kuwait should not be called the “Persian Gulf War,” which was not its official government name. In my post, Media Errors on Afghanistan and Iraq, from May of 2009, I had mentioned more significant factors than the dispute over the name of the body of water in order to make my case: that the war was not fought primarily in or on the shores of the Gulf, unlike the Iraqi-Iranian War, and that the name “Persian Gulf War,” now often called “The First Persian Gulf War” or “Gulf War I” is less distinguishable from the subsequent Liberation of Iraq. I did not mention the name dispute because historical evidence seemed to weigh in favor of the name “Persian Gulf.” But the Naval reference to that body of water as the “Arabian Gulf” proves my point more than I had realized that the war should not be called the “Persian Gulf War” because now it is clear that calling it by that name would violate U.S. practice in favor of the Iran, the mortal enemy of the U.S., whose confidence we ought not to bolster with the honor of using their traditional name. Regardless, the Naval reference also proves that the federal government would not have called the war the “Persian Gulf War” because it would have been inconsistent with its own practice, which proves the point I made in my earlier post that this popular name for the war was made up by the media, not the U.S.

The unelected media, known for liberal bias, as well as factual and grammatical errors, has no authority to name a war. Conservatives should call the first war led by the United States against Iraq “The Liberation of Kuwait” and the second one, which was legally a continuation of the first war because of Iraqi violations of the 1991 cease-fire, “The Liberation of Iraq.” These official names more accurately explain the purposes of these wars than the popular names contrived by the liberal media.

Update: A Federal Judge Rules the Federal Mandate to Purchase Health Insurance Unconstitutional

United States Federal District Judge Henry Hudson granted Virginia’s motion for summary judgment against the federal mandate to purchase health insurance, a key provision of the Obama Administration’s federalization of health insurance.

The judge ruled that the mandate exceeded Congress’ authority under the Commerce Clause of the Constitution because it does not regulate an economic activity, but regulates the passive decision not to engage in interstate commerce by not purchasing health insurance. This provision of the health insurance federalization act would be unprecedented, as Congress has never required a resident of the U.S. to purchase a good or service as a condition of residence.

In the Virginia case, the Obama Administration did not rely upon the ridiculous argument advanced by liberal members of Congress, the liberal media and other commentators, and even the President himself, that the mandate to purchase health insurance is like state mandates to purchase car insurance. As I have noted previously, the mandates to purchase car insurance are imposed by states, not the federal government, and are imposed only upon individuals who choose to exercise the privilege to drive on public roads, not upon all residents.

States do not impose upon all residents a mandate to purchase car insurance under the theory that the failure of an individual to purchase car insurance necessarily increases the cost of car insurance for those who do drive, which was the Obama Administration’s theory in the health insurance case. If the Administration had prevailed, then it could impose a penalty on every American resident for the failure to purchase milk, for example, on the theory that such failure increases the cost for everyone else. The Administration’s argument was based in part on the theory that every individual will necessarily use health care at some point in his life. Regardless of this unproven assertion, the Administration also relies upon the liberal assumption that a person who lacks health insurance necessarily cannot afford to pay for health care himself.

The Obama Administration had argued alternatively that the penalty for failure to comply with the mandate was a tax, for which it would have constitutional authority, even though the act refers to the provision as a “penalty.” Regardless of the language of the act, the judge ruled that the provision was intended as a regulation, not to raise revenue.

Virginia’s lawsuit, which certainly will be appealed by the Obama Administration, is separate from Florida’s suit that has been joined by 20 states, with more expected to join. The Administration similarly had failed to win its motion to dismiss Florida’s suit based upon the same issue.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Update: The U.S. Senate Convicts a Clinton-Appointed Federal Judge

The United States Senate has convicted Federal District Judge Thomas Porteous and removed him from office. The Senate convicted him on all four Articles of Impeachment approved by the House of Representatives. The charges concerned corruption; the judge had accepted money because of his gambling addiction, among other high crimes and misdemeanors. Porteous, a Democrat from Louisiana, had been appointed to the federal bench by President Bill Clinton.

Porteous becomes only the eighth federal judge ever impeached and convicted. What was novel in this case was that some of the behavior for which he was impeached preceded his appointment to the bench, but proved that he and others had lied during his background investigation.

Foreign Updates: Italy, Georgia, Korea


Italy has approved its closely-watched 2011 budget, which continues its austerity program that I have posted about previously. Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s budget decreases spending in order to reduce Italy’s large deficit significantly, while further cracks down on delinquent taxpayers, ANSA, the Italian news agency, is reporting. The only taxes increased were on gambling, ANSA reported. Italy’s fiscal condition is of critical importance to Europe, which is trying to limit the fiscal contagion from Greece and Ireland, both of which have been bailed out by the European Union. Portugal is under the next most pressure, followed by Spain. The latter has by far the largest economy of the four European states under fiscal strain, and thereby poses the greatest threat of contagion. The Italian economy, the seventh largest in gross domestic product in the world, is significantly larger than Spain’s.

Nevertheless, Berlusconi’s government of faces a no-confidence vote on December 14 after the Speaker of Parliament had bolted from the Premier’s center-right governing party and is forming a centrist coalition to deny the government confidence, ANSA reported. In a parliamentary system, a government must resign if it loses a no-confidence vote. Elections would be called. A caretaker government might be formed in the meantime with or without Berlusconi leading it.


Recently leaked cables reveal that the United States suspected Russia of waging a sometimes violent campaign of aggression against Georgia since its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, especially after the election of its pro-Western president, Mikheil Saakasvhili in 2004, the Washington Times reported. Russia had blamed the Georgians for provoking the war between the two states in 2008. The cables validate Georgia’s claims that the Russians had been supporting separatist movements in its southern neighbor in the Caucuses, which necessitated a Georgian defense. Russia was allowed to escape unpunished for the war in which it established puppet states in the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which are widely expected eventually to be assumed back into Russia. See also my post from April of 2009, NATO Forgives Russia for Georgian Invasion.


The new South Korean Defense Minister has threatened to bomb North Korea if the Communist state attacks South Korea again. His predecessor had resigned recently after being criticized for the government’s weak response to the latest North Korean attack, the first one that targeted civilians since the end of the Korean War in 1953. The bloody shelling of a South Korean island followed the North Korean sinking of a South Korean naval vessel by torpedo earlier this year, an attack for which North Korea was left unpunished, except by United Nations sanctions. The UN is not expected to increase sanctions on the rogue regime after the attack because of opposition from Communist China, Communist North Korea’s neighbor and ally. The South Korean threat of a reprisal represents a belated, but sharp shift from the accomodationist policies of the previous liberal government. The North Koreans are usually the ones doing the threatening on the Korean Peninsula. The Communist regime has become accustomed to bullying with impunity, at least in military terms. Sometimes, its threats have even been rewarded with appeasement from their southern neighbors and the United States. A South Korean threat against its northern neighbor might be what is necessary to deter a third attack from the North.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

December Political Updates: Updated 2010 Elections Figures; Rendell Vetoes the Castle Doctrine

Updated 2010 Elections Figures

Now that the last votes are being counted from the 2010 Elections, I can report more specific numbers. The Republicans have gained a net of 63 seats in the United States House of Representatives, which will give them a 242-192 advantage, their largest in over six decades. The GOP picked up the most seats in New York: six, now that the final outcome in all but one race has been determined, which broke a three-way tie of five seats with Pennsylvania and Ohio. Republicans gained six Senate seats, for a total of 47 out of 100.

The GOP also gained a net of five governor’s offices, for a total of 29, among other statewide offices, numerous state legislative bodies and nearly 700 hundred state legislative seats. In Pennsylvania, the Republicans won 122 of the 203 seats in the state House of Representatives to gain the majority for the first time in four years, while retaining 30 out of 50 seats in the state Senate.

Rendell Vetoes the Castle Doctrine

Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, a Democrat, vetoed the Castle Doctrine bill approved by the General Assembly during its lame duck session. Both chambers of the state legislature had approved it overwhelmingly. Governor-elect Tom Corbett, a Republican, has promised to sign the bill into law. It will have to be reintroduced in the new, GOP majority-General Assembly that takes office in January.

Second Anniversary of My Blog; Discovery of Its Much Greater Popularity

I am posting this report in commemoration of the second anniversary of my blog, which I launched on November 27, 2008. I am pleased to report that it is much more popular than I realized, apparently by orders of magnitude.

Statcounter tracks pageviews from visitors that do not block its ability to track them. Blogger, the host of my blog, began in June to track and log all pageviews, but with far less specificity. For the first few months, I did not even notice the existence of Blogger’s statistics. Even once I did, I thought they must have been erroneous, as it was reporting far more activity than Statcounter in terms of pageviews (although some of these were my own until I blocked them in order not to inflate the total), countries of origin and particular posts viewed. Because Blogger was reporting the data more imprecisely, however, I could not make sense of it until a fellow blogger who uses the same host mentioned to me privately about those who block the counter’s ability to track all of their pageviews, much as I block its ability to track my own so as not to inflate the total. It was only then that I suddenly realized that Blogger’s statistical information was, in fact, accurate.

What Blogger’s statistics revealed were helpful once I analyzed them more closely, although because it does not track individual visitors, I cannot distinguish between pageviews and visits. Blogger’s statistics reveal that there have been many more pageviews of my blog, both from the United States and around the world. There have been two and a half times more pageviews from foreign states than I had known, especially in Europe! For example, there have been several score pageviews more than I had known from the Netherlands, Russia and Germany each. There have also been dozens from Latvia, from which I previously had been unaware of any, as well as dozens more from France than I had known. The next highest total comes from Poland. Since I have recently begun to observe Blogger’s statistics on a daily basis, I have noticed additionally that my blog has been visited from several other foreign states, from which I had not been aware of any visits, especially from Eastern Europe. Also, not only are some of my posts even more popular than I had known but, more of them have been viewed.

These findings perhaps reveal that what had seemed like a relative dearth of visits to my blog from Continental Europe was not true. They also explain a number of phenomena: the greater number of pageviews of my profile than I had been noticing that Statcounter had tracked, comments on posts that occasionally did not correspond to the times of any visits that day, and private compliments about my blog from acquaintances that I could not identify as having visited it at all.

The main discovery is that my blog is visited significantly more frequently and by a wider audience than I had known. I am grateful to both Statcounter and Blogger for their tracking services, but especially to you, my visitors. You have made this blog successful these first two years. Thank you!

I recommend to my loyal visitors who are fellow bloggers with the same blog host to also analyze Blogger’s statistics.