Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Useless Cabinet Departments

     Presidential Cabinet-level Departments have grown in both number and size over the last 150 years, while they have generally become more and more useless even as they grow more burdensome.

     Beginning in the mid-Nineteenth Century, more and more departments have been created by the federal government and the secretaries who head them made part of the Cabinet. Few of these beyond the original five created by President George Washington, the Departments of State, War (now Defense), Treasury, Justice, Post Office (now an independent agency), are tasked with constitutional federal functions and even of those few that are, none of them ought to rise to the level of the Cabinet. 

     In fact, much of the work of these Cabinet Departments is not even appropriate for government, let alone the federal government. There is nothing federal about housing or agriculture, for example. 

     These Cabinet Departments were often created as boondoggles for patronage jobs for political parties. They were created as such or later elevated to cabinet status in order to please some political constituency.

     The Cabinet is supposed to advise the President on matters of state. But, does it matter what the Secretary of Education thinks of the latest international crisis? Furthermore, each Cabinet Secretary, no matter how insignificant, inexperienced or unknown to the public is in line to the presidency, according to the Presidential Succession Act.

     Cabinet Departments are headquartered in Washington, D.C. in massive buildings full of bureaucrats. It is striking how wasteful they are, considering they serve no valid purpose:

     No commerce takes place at the Department of Commerce, except maybe if office vending machines are counted. 

     No agriculture takes place at the Department of Agriculture.

     No one is educated at the Department of Education.

     No healthcare is administered regularly at the Department of Health and Human Services.

     No housing is provided at the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

     No energy is produced at the Department of Energy. In fact, it uses energy. 

     I propose the downgrading to the level of agencies the few Cabinet Departments that manage appropriate federal functions and the elimination of most of the rest of them that have been created since George Washington.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Foreign Updates: Portugal, Haiti, Italian Crucifixes in Schools

     The opposition of the minority conservative party to the Portuguese government's austerity plan will plunge Portugal into a political crisis.  As I had posted previously, the conservatives objected to the Socialist-led coalition government's plan to raise taxes on the poorer classes.  The political crisis will probably tip Portugal toward asking for a financial bailout from the European Union.

     Haiti's former dictator, Jean Bertrand Aristide, has returned to his home country from exile.  I hope that he will share the same fate as Jean Claude Duvalier, who was arrested by the Haitians, as I noted in my post in February.

     Italy won its appeal to the full panel of the European Court of Human Rights on the issue of crucifixes in public schools.  I had posted about this subject several times.  Backed by numerous predominately Catholic and Orthodox secular states, the Italians were successful in arguing that the crucifix is a symbol of Western Civilization, from which European values arise, not the imposition of any religious belief.  The Holy See had argued that Europe needs to reaffirm the Christian roots of its culture.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Conservative Commentary on the Libyan Crisis

     The United Nations Security Council has just approved the imposition of a no-fly zone over Libya.  The unprecedented support for such an action by the Arab League against a fellow Arab state made the difference in the international organization's opinion.  The measure had been introduced by the British and French in response to the indiscriminate bombing of cities by Libyan dictator Colonel Muamar Qaddafi. 

     Contrary to the claims of isolationists, domestic strife is often a cause of international concern, in addition to the necessity of evacuating fellow countrymen.  The Libyan Civil War is an example.  Libyan refugees have overburdened neighboring Tunisia.  Libyans have joined Tunisians and Egyptians who have poured into Italy's Lampedusa Island, between North Africa and Sicily.  Italy has gained a committment from the European Union to share the burden for the North African refugees.  Also, international trade has been interrupted as Libya's oil production has plummeted while oil speculaters have taken advantage of fears of further supply decreases in order to increase the price of oil.  A general international concern is that instability is a danger to peace and commerce, especially in Muslim countries where al-Qaeda or other Islamists might try to take advantage. 

     Moreover, foreign states must not become morally complicit in crimes against humanity such as are being committed by Qaddafi's regime, which is why they have imposed economic sanctions on Libya, frozen its assets imposed bans on travel by members of its regime, or withdrawn their diplomats.  The United States Navy is enforcing the arms embargo on Libya.  The French and British even recognized the Libyan opposition government.  Meanwhile, the international community is threatening the prosecution of the Qaddafi regime for crimes against humanity, as is its responsbility in order to deter such abuses in the future.  There has also been an international effort at humanitarian aid for the Libyan people in the rebel-held areas.

     Qaddafi's regime has lost any legitamacy it might have had.  After taking power from King Idris al-Sanusi in a military coup d'etat in 1969, Qaddafi became a Soviet client state and a state sponsor of terrorism.  The U.S. listed it as a terrorist sponsor and imposed economic sanctions.  After a U.S. bombing in 1986, in retaliation for a deadly Libyan bombing in Germany that targeted American soldiers, a member of the Libyan regime orchestrated the bombing of an American civilian airline over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988.  The terrorist was caught and later succesfully prosecuted, but any orders from Qaddafi were never proven, although recent defectors are now claiming that he was behind the terrorist attack that killed hundreds.  Libya did agree to pay reperations for the bombing, as well as a bombing of a French airliner.  After the Liberation of Iraq, Libya agreed to give up its weapons of mass destruction (WMD), which included a nuclear program and chemical weapons and materials.  It also renounced terrorism.

     The international community legitimatized Qaddafi's regime by establishing diplomatic relations and ending its sanctions.  However, Qaddafi's regime continued to be problematic.  Its human rights record was horrendous, it lashed out at Switzerland over a minor private matter and engineered the early release of the Lockerbie bomber.  Meanwhile, it failed to eliminate all of its chemical weapons, as it had promised.  The Western hopes that Qaddafi's son would be a more moderate successor have been thoroughly dahsed by his support for his father's brutal crackdown on the opposition.  Indeed, there has been a growing fear that if Qaddafi vanquished the opposition, he would revert to terrorism and devloping WMDs.

     The actions approved by the U.N. Security Council are serious and risky and may not succeed in protecting Libyan civlians or the rebels, let alone liberating Libya from its tyrant.  The no-fly zone may be too late.  But the world could not turn its back on the slaughter of innocents and the brutal suppression of a legitimate opposition while leaving such a despot in power.  It is hoped that the U.N. action will end the bloodshed and deter further crimes against humanity.  The sale of arms to the Libyan rebels ought to be considerd, in addition to sharing intelligence with them. 

     I hope that the American and other pilots participating in the no-fly zone will be safe and that the nightmare of the Qaddafi regime will end for the people of Libya with the dream of liberty.

Italians Celebrate 150 Years of Unity

     Today, Italians are celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Risorgimento, the “resurgence,” the Unification of Italy. The Italian Republic is planning to observe this major event in world history with a series of commemorations this year.

     It may be surprising to many Americans to learn that there had never been an independent state ruled by Italians covering the Italian peninsula until 1861. From the Fall of Roman Empire in 476 A.D. until then, Italy was dominated by foreigners while Italians were also divided into many independent Italian states ruled by, nobles, the Pope or by the people in the form of small republics.

     Italians like Dante and Macchiavelli dreamed of a unified Italy. There was a feeling among the people of the Italian peninsula and Sicily of geographical, religious and cultural unity from their common ancient heritage, despite some differences in culture because of foreign influences. Meanwhile, Dante and Petrarch had helped to unify Italy linguistically by establishing the Tuscan dialect as a literary language instead of Latin. Tuscan, with influence from the Sicilian School of Poetry, thus gradually became the modern “Italian” language.

     Napoleon established a “Kingdom of Italy” that included northern Italy, but it was ruled by the French. Nevertheless, the idea of a foreign-ruled Italian state only increased Italian nationalism, the object of which was to unite the Italians.

     The revolt intended to unify Italy led by Giuseppe Mazzini in 1848 against the Austrians, who were dominating much of northern Italy by that point, failed. Eleven years later, however, the Savoyard King of Sardinia-Piedmont, Vittorio Emanuele II, began a new effort at unification when he traded Savoy to France for French help in driving the Austrians out of Lombardy. Other northern Italian states soon joined to his side, while Giuseppe Garibaldi and his Thousand overthrew the Spanish-ruled Kingdom of the Two Sicilies based in Naples by 1861. Garibaldi saluted Vittorio Emanuele as the first King of Italy. The Kingdom of Italy was declared on March 17, 1861.

     Venezia and the Tyrol were won from Austria in 1866 and the Papal States were added in 1870, at which point all Italian states were unified except for San Marino.

     The Unification of Italy served as a model for the reunification of Germany ten years later.

     After 1946, the monarchy was abolished and Italy became a Republic.

     I congratulate the Italians on their accomplishment and wish them continued unity.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Conservative Commentary on the Pennsylvania Special Election

     Because the Democratic candidate won yesterday's Special Election in Pennsylvania's 11th Senatorial District, liberals are potraying it as a referendum on Governor Tom Corbett.  They are exaggerating the significance of the election.

     The District, wherein I reside, has a nearly two-to-one Democratic voter registration advantage over Republicans.  It had been held for 38 years by the late Democratic Senator whose death created the vacancy.  The Democratic candidate was a popular former Berks County Commissioner who was known for preserving farmland.  She had escaped criticism for her votes to increase taxes 18% and 34%, which have resulted in an unnecessary surplus of $100 million, as well as her votes to increase spending, until the Special Election. 

     The Republican effort to inform the voters about her taxing and spending record resulted in her underperformance of the voter registration margin by several percentage points.  The fact that she was not pro-life, unlike the late Democratic Senator who held the seat, might have contributed to some degree, although it was not a major overt part of the GOP campaign.

     Governor Corbett's budget only came out a week before the election, after he had made a campaign appearance for the Republican candidate.  In it, he proposes to cut spending without raising taxes, as he had promised during his campaign.  However, the Reading Eagle, the only daily newspaper in the district, focused on the cuts to education while largely ignoring the many other, often less controversial, cuts in his budget.  Additionally, one of its reporters then took the GOP candidate's remarks (at the appearance I had posted about of Lieutenant Governor Jim Cawley) about Governor Corbett keeping his campaign promises out of context in order to make it appear as if he were gleeful about the painful cuts. 

     Another factor in the background was fear among organized labor that Pennsylvania would see a replay of the reduction of collective bargaining rights for workers as in Wisconsin, even though Governor Corbett had firmly declared that it would not happen in the Keystone State.  Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker had explained that his state enjoyed the strongest civil protection law in the Union.  Moreover, both the Democrats and labor were motivated to regain momentum after the 2010 Elections.

     Given the Democratic voter registration advantage and the popularity of the Democratic incumbent, the results of the Pennsylvania Special Election for the 11th Senatorial District suggest that Pennsylvanians prefer cutting spending to raising taxes, despite the negative portrayal of Governor Corbett's proposed budget.

Monday, March 14, 2011

A Severance Tax Would Be an Extra Tax on Marcellus Shale

     Proponents of a severance tax on natural gas drillers in the Marcellus Shale formation in Pennsylvania are implying that the gas drillers are not currently paying any state tax.  They claim, for example, that Governor Tom Corbett and the Republicans in the General Assembly would not tax the gas drillers.  However, their claim is false because the proposed severance tax would be in addition to the corporate taxes the drillers already pay, like all other Pennsylvania corporations.

     The severance tax proponents argue that because most other states in the American Union impose a severance tax, Pennsylvania should, too. However, they do not consider that the Commonwealth’s corporate income tax is among the highest in the United States and the world. Pennsylvania is unusual in that it taxes both income and assets (i.e. the Corporate Net Income Tax and the Capital Stock and Franchise Tax). The lack of a severance tax, therefore, helps to balance the high corporate taxes, thus making Pennsylvania attractive enough for gas drillers, who could take their rigs to more competitive states, to operate in the Keystone State.

     As I have noted in previous posts, severance tax proponents would kill the goose that laid the golden egg by imposing a severance tax in addition to Pennsylvania’s high corporate taxes. Natural gas drillers operating in the Marcellus formation not only pay corporate taxes to the Commonwealth, they employ tens of thousands of workers who, in turn, pay state and municipal income taxes. The drillers also pay royalties to landowners, thereby increasing the value of land, which, in turn, increases the amount of county, municipal and school real estate taxes paid. In addition, the drillers improve roads, which lessens the need for government to expend public money for that purpose.

     Environmental violations, which are usually cited as an excuse to impose a severance tax on Marcellus gas drillers, may be addressed by lawsuits or civil fines, as with any other industry.

     Indeed, proponents of a severance tax on top of the taxes corporations already pay would unfairly impose a special tax on one industry that no other industry pays.  In short, no one is proposing that gas drillers not be taxed, only that they not pay an additional tax.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Pennsylvania State Senate Special Election

     There will be a Special Election for the 11th Senatorial District of Pennsylvania on Tuesday, March 15 in order to fill a vacancy created by the death of a Democratic Senator who held the seat for 38 years.  The seat is based around Reading and much of the greater Reading area in Berks County.

     The current composition of the Senate, with the vacancy, is 30 Republicans, 19 Democrats.  State Senate seats seldom change party hands in the Keystone State.  This election is the only one in the Commonwealth scheduled until the General Election in November, other than the Primary Election.

     The Republican nominee is Larry Medaglia, who serves as the Berks County Register of Wills, and is a cousin of mine.  He is fiscally conservative, pro-life, pro-gun and committed to advocating for the City of Reading. 

     It was his candidacy for which the Lieutenant Governor, Jim Cawley, appeared in Reading last week, which I posted about.

     Vote on Tuesday, March 15.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Abolish Daylight Saving Time

     Daylight Saving Time should be abolished.  It is not only inconvenient, dangerous and costly, but unnecessary.

     It is inconvenient to have to change the clocks twice a year, but this inconvenience extends to the disruption of sleeping and eating patterns.  Many people forget to change their clocks, which presents other sorts of inconveniences.

     The disruption of sleep is also dangerous in many ways.  A further danger to safety is the increase in darkness in the morning hours, which leads to more traffic accidents.

     As a conservative, I am particularly disturbed by the costliness, in terms of time and production, to business and even to government of all the clock-changing, which is especially magnified nowadays with computerization.  Much unnecessary computer programing and operation is necessitated by this outdated custom.

     But my biggest reason for opposing Daylight Saving Time is that it does not save any daylight, as even the most arrogant government cannot change the rising or the setting of the sun.  There is still the same amount of daylight under Daylight Saving Time as under Standard time, just at a different time.  Moreover, it is implemented at the wrong season, as the time when more daylight in the morning would be appreciated would be in the wintertime, not the summertime. 

     I propose a common-sense solution: adjust work or school schedules seasonally instead.

Friday, March 11, 2011

March of 2011 Personal Notes

     I apologize, dear readers, for not having posted as frequently as usual during the last several weeks, as I have been unusually preoccupied with local political matters. 

     One major example is that I have decided to seek election to the Reading School Board again, but will hold off on commenting further until I have more time. 

     Also, I had the honor of introducing the Lieutenant Governor of Pennsylvania, Jim Cawley, whom I have known since our time in the College Republicans, at tonight's Spring Dinner of the Berks County Republican Committee. 

     I did, however, post a response to a comment that I appreciated from a visitor from the Philippines to my post from April of 2009, the Rise and Fall of Islamic Civilization  As you can see, I can post the link to previous posts, which I hope will make visitors more likely to view them, instead of relying upon them to use the archive or search functions on the left-hand column, although the link can be established only in posts, not in posted comments.

     I hope to post a several more times over the next few days about some timely issues.  Please visit again soon.  Thank you.