Sunday, October 30, 2011

European Monetary Union Update: Commentary on the Latest Deal

     A deal was reached late last week to resolve the financial crisis for the European Monetary Union, which is the single currency (euro) zone of the European Union (EU).

     The key provisions included a large-scale increase of the funds for the Monetary Union's rescue fund and further measures to encourage the purchases of sovereign debt in order to keep interest rates from increasing to unmanageable levels and to recapitalize banks.

     In exchange for the latest tranche of bailout funds for Greece, which has undertaken a severe austerity program coupled with higher taxes that have weakened its economy, Greece will essentially execute a partial default.  Private bondholders of sovereign Greek debt will only receive 50% of their investment.

     Because much of the funds for the bailout come from the strongest economy in the Eurozone, Germany, the negotiations over the bailout stirred up more popular resentment between the Germans and Greeks, an issue I had raised in earlier updates.  There has even been discussion that the failure of the EU, which was intended to be modelled after the United States of America, could result in conflict that threatens the peace of Europe.

     Spain was praised by the EU for its austerity program to reduce its debt.  The  Monetary Union demanded Italy present a satisfactory plan to increase its meager economic growth, which it did after Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi worked out a deal with his junior coalition partner to increase the retirement age from 65 to 67 by 2026, make it easier for employers to fire workers and privatize state assets, among other reforms.  It will also support infrastructure projects, but the long-planned bridge from Italy to Sicily is now in doubt.  Italians felt humiliated by the demands from the Germans and French and noted that the economy of France was barely better than Italy's.  As noted previously, Italy is the third largest in the EU and the eighth largest in the world, which makes it even more of a firewall for the Eurozone than Spain.  Like many members of the EU, it is undertaking an austerity program.  Italy's deficit will be eliminated by 2013, at which point it will begin to pay down its debt that is 120% of its GDP.  Only Greece's 150% is higher.  Greece's target is 120% over the next several years. 

     The United Kingdom, which is a member of the EU, but does not use the euro, is attempting to use the crisis as an opportunity to claw back some of its sovereign powers it had surrendered to the EU.  Its demands that a deal be struck urgently and its advice on how to strike one were met with resentment from the French Prime Minister, but the Monetary Union crisis could affect the UK significantly.

     As I have previously warned, the crisis has encouraged its supporters to insist upon further European integration, which means an even more centralized European superstate that reduces the sovereignty of its members instead of an orderly breakup of the grand folly and a restoration of state sovereignty.

     There are doubts about the effectiveness of the deal as a solution to the euro crisis.  The Greek economy is weak and the Greeks violently oppose even modest sacrifices, such as not retiring until after their mid-50s.  Italy's governing coalition is teetering on the brink of collapse with snap elections early in 2012 likely.  Reforms are difficult to enact there with its fractious parliamentary system, but while the coalition government has successfully enacted a series of significant reforms, it has lost much of the margin of its governing majority to a faction led by the Speaker of Parliament and confidence in the Prime Minister amidst his personal scandals has decreased.  Thus, there are doubts about its ability to enact the ambitious reforms it has proposed.  Meanwhile, there have been fresh concerns about Portugal's ability to avoid a default.

     Even if the latest deal represents a comprehensive solution to the euro crisis, as opposed to a continuation of the muddling through the European Monetary Union has undertaken heretofore, the crisis is exposing the euro project's flaws even more than I have posted about before.  The diversity of Europe, which is arguably the most culturally diverse continent on Earth, is not a basis for unity, especially without Christianity.  Europe could be united to a significant degree in Christendom by a universal Church, but a shared secular commitment to peace, liberty and representative government is not enough to unite a continent around a vague concept of Europeaness.  The particular differences between Northern and Southern Europeans have clearly been identified as the cause of the crisis.  Because of the warmer climate in the Mediterranean, Southern Europeans do not work as hard as their Northern European neighbors, a fact that is reflected in their strikingly different cultures. 

     It is no surprise, for example, that the Germans expect the Greeks to work harder and sacrifice more to pay for their overspending and that the Greeks resent being made to make such sacrifices by foreigners.  Both are feeling the loss of sovereignty that is keeping them bound in an unhappy marriage from which neither can separate.  In short, the European Monetary Union has not only failed to unite Europeans, it has increased their divisions.

Blog Milestone: The Visit from the 100th Foreign State to My Blog

     The latest milestone for my blog was the visit from the 100th foreign state to my blog tracked by Statcounter since April of 2009, not counting the 50 states of the American Union.  This figure represents over half of the 194 sovereign states of the world, in addition to the United States of America.  In addition, there have been visits from Hong Kong, the Palestinian Territory, the Distict of Columbia, Puerto Rico and Guam.

     Blogger has tracked an additional 11 foreign states of origin of visitors to my blog since November of 2010.  I have noted in previous reports that the web host for this blog tracks far more pageviews, especially from outside the U.S., than Statcounter, but  the latter's greater specificity allows for better statistical analysis.  I shall post an annual analysis of Blogger's tracking, but continue to use Statcounter's tracking for my main reports.

     Thank you for visiting and for your comments.  I recommend viewing the comments on earlier posts, as I sometimes post addenda there for recent posts or if a point is too brief for a follow-up or update post.  Please visit regularly.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Newt Gingrich Is Right to Call for Lincoln-Douglas Style Debates

     Former Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, Newt Gingrich of Georgia, a candidate for the Republican nomination for President, recently called for a series of Lincoln-Douglas style debates in place of the usual “debates” moderated by members of the media.

     No one has ever seen a true presidential candidates’ debate, and few, if any, have seen one for any other federal or state elected office. I have long hoped for precisely such a serious proposal to replace the dreaded media spectacles we only get to witness.

     Since the 1960 Presidential Election, the typical presidential “debates,” like those for most federal and state elected offices, are nothing more than joint press conferences. They are dominated by the moderators or other arrogant members of the press who ask questions trying to trip up a candidate or pit one against another. In short, the outcome is heavily influenced by the media instead of by the candidates. A Republican “debate” moderated by a liberal press corps is especially the modern equivalent of throwing Christians to the lions. Furthermore, these candidate spectacles are superficial, dominated by personality and style over substance and by the question of who supposedly interrupted whom (which is usually only interjecting), with much of the focus on candidates’ gaffes. These “debates” only exacerbate the pernicious trend toward ever more populism in politics and especially in presidential elections.

     I have participated many times as a candidate for elected office in what is correctly identified as a candidates’ “forum.” In a forum, candidates are usually given a brief time to make an opening and closing statement and answer a few questions. The questions are not necessarily from the media. A forum is, nevertheless, not the same as a debate, as it is dominated by the questions and there is little time to respond to the other candidates, especially when there are several, but at least they are not misidentified as “debates.”

     A Lincoln-Douglas or similar-style debate would be a formal, structured event in which each candidate has several minutes to express an argument for or against an agreed-upon resolution, with a series of rebuttals. There is no moderator and no media to influence the outcome, only the candidates. Such a real debate is not superficial, but in depth, and less influenced by personality and style than by substance. The candidates’ thinking would emerge more clearly from such a format. Furthermore, Gingrich’s proposal is to conduct a series of debates, as Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas famously did in the 1858 election for U.S. Senator from Illinois, whereby a series of issues could be debated.

     The current style is an inappropriate one to choose the Chief Executive and Commander in Chief. The presidency was created around General George Washington and before the establishment of political parties and even the thought that candidates would campaign publicly for the office. The winner was not supposed to be determined by populism, but by his character, wisdom, ideals and experience.

     I do not believe that candidates’ debates for any office would be necessary in the first place, as the campaign itself is a public debate, except for the fact that the campaigns are otherwise mostly presented to the public through the filter of a superficial media. However, if there are to be debates, it would be better that they be true debates instead of the phony ones we currently must suffer.

Report on Senator Pat Toomey's Remarks

     Pennsylvania's Junior United States Senator Pat Toomey, a Republican, spoke last night at the Berks County Republican Committee Fall Dinner, near Reading, which I attended.  He commented on the severe fiscal challenges facing the U.S. and the complicity of the Senate's liberal Democratic majority and updated us on his role on the Congressional Super Committee.

     Sen. Toomey called the Senate dysfunctional under liberal Democratic leadership and noted as an example that for three years it has not approved a budget, although required to by federal law, despite the massive and ever-growing federal debt.  The freshman Senator explained that instead of voting for an increase in the debt limit and allowing the spending to continue at its current rate, which is what Congress had always done heretofore, he and the other fiscally conservative members of Congress voted against the measure to slow down the rate of spending.  The resultant bipartisan deal to increase the debt limit with offsetting spending reductions also called for the creation of the Select Committee, known as the Super Committee.

     Even though Sen. Toomey voted against the bill, his fiscal conservatism and expertise won him the nomination to the bipartisan, bicameral Committee, which he observed represents a great opportunity for significant spending cuts.  The law that created the Committee requires that both houses of Congress vote, without filibuster or amendment, on whatever proposal the Committee approves by a simple majority vote.  Sen. Toomey predicted that if the Committee were to come to an agreement, Congress would approve it and the President sign it.  The Committee has been engaged in long negotiations, he reported.  Sen. Toomey pointed out that the $1.2 trillion in spending cuts over 10 years, although a huge figure, would represent only 3% of federal spending over that period and cited the Senate's failure to approve such a reduction as further evidence of its dysfunctionality. 

     Sen. Toomey also explained how raising taxes would not solve the debt problem, as it is too large even to be eliminated even by raising income taxes on all earners to 50%, even assuming that such an increase would not harm the economy and thereby reduce revenue.

     The Junior Senator from Pennsylvania warned that the U.S. was on the path toward becoming like Europe, but there was still the chance it could avoid the same fate as Greece, for example.

     Sen. Toomey expressed the importance of electing fiscal conservatives to the majority in the U.S. Senate in 2012 and also defeating President Barak Obama in the presidential election.  In the meantime, he noted the significance of the statewide judicial and local elections coming up in Pennsylvania on November 8 that affect the citizens directly in many ways and urged the people to elect conservatives to every office.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Use Dollar Coins and $2 Bills

     I have been posting recently about the taxpayer money-saving benefits of United States dollar coins. Similarly beneficial is the $2 Federal Reserve Note. The $2 bill is not only still in circulation, it is still printed when necessary by the United States Treasury’s Bureau of Engraving and Printing.

     In fact, the $2 bill is becoming increasingly popular, which necessitated the printing of the 2003 Series and the 2003A Series, the latter of which was printed in 2006. The necessity was created because the 1995 Series of the $2 bill, the first since the introduction of the $2 Federal Reserve Note in 1976 was used up (because paper notes only last a few years) or hoarded. The 1976 Series, with its Bicentennial reverse featuring Jonathan Trumbull’s signing of the Declaration of Independence, was the successor to earlier $2 notes of various kinds that featured Monticello on the reverse with Thomas Jefferson on the obverse. Inflation and immigration by people accustomed to two-denomination notes have increased the popularity of the note. Another contributing factor is clever business marketing, whereby entrepreneurs take advantage of the note’s novelty by giving $2 bills as change as a way of promoting their business by word of mouth. 

     Like dollar coins, $2 bills save taxpayer money because for every $2 note printed, one less $1 note must be printed. Also like dollar coins, $2 bills are convenient for tolls and make nice tips or presents for children. Using a combination of them would be an especially wonderful present. If the $1 bill were ever withdrawn from circulation, as some have proposed, it would be good to get more accustomed to the $2 bill, which is still regarded as a novelty by much of the public or even as unnecessary.

     When receiving cash from the bank, instead of $1 bills, ask for some dollar coins and $2 bills, and then use them. Business owners would especially increase the usage of these coins and currency by giving them out as change. By using them, you would be saving the United States money, literally and figuratively.

Conservative Praise for Two More Obama Policies

     I posted earlier this month that United States President Barak Obama had submitted three free trade agreements to the Congress for ratification that had been negotiated by his predecessor. Although it took nearly three years, his expected signatures will finally provide an economic boost, increase economic liberty and improve foreign relations. There are two other Obama Administration policies that also merit conservative praise.

     First, the Obama Administration has taken a firm stand against marijuana. It has strongly declared the physical and mental dangers of the drug that science is increasingly discovering, as well as the social and economic costs. Although the Administration is not opposed to prudent research into any possible medicinal value of cannabis as a non-smoked prescription drug, it has cracked down on California’s liberal medical marijuana policy. The Golden State system has been abused – to the detriment of the rest of the Union, to where much legally-obtained California marijuana is transported – by strip-mall doctors who prescribe marijuana, which they can obtain at nearby storefront shops, for illegitimate reasons. The principle of federalism, which accepts states’ rights, is not being jeopardized by the Obama Administration policy because California’s actions are harmful to other states. Indeed, the United States has a duty to act in this matter. 

     Second, President Obama is sending up to 100 American troops to Uganda as advisors to help the Ugandans combat the insurrection by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). The LRA, which the U.S. State Department has described as a “barbaric cult,” is accused of many atrocities for which it has been charged with crimes against humanity, and has been supported by the terrorist-sponsoring Islamist regime of Sudan. Although the LRA insurrection is not directly related to the War on Terrorism, its actions are undermining the stability of several states in the region that are front-line allies in the fight against militant Islam, namely: Uganda, Kenya, Chad and South Sudan. South Sudan recently became independent from Sudan, as I posted in July, but Sudan might be tempted to renew its support for the LRA in order to weaken its breakaway neighbor, with which it has a territorial dispute, if not to regain it completely. The Administration’s actions, which represent a continuation of U.S. policy of opposition to the LRA since the Administration of President George W. Bush, were the result of bipartisan Congressional resolution calling for greater action against the LRA. 

     I have posted that Obama has continued many Bush Administration policies in the War on Terrorism, as well as temporarily continued its tax cuts, while also posting many criticisms of the radical President and most of his other policies. Although Obama is a danger to the Republic, it is only fair to give him credit for good policies. When a liberal follows conservative policies, it is helpful to the cause of liberty to declare such a validation of those policies.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Good News from the World Trade Center Site: St. Nicholas Church to be Rebuilt

     It was reported today that a deal has been reached to rebuild St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church near the World Trade Center. The church had been destroyed by the September 11 Terrorist Attacks.

     The agreement, which was brokered by New York Governor Mario Cuomo, ended a ten-year dispute between St. Nicholas parish and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. The church must be relocated from its original location because of reconstruction needs at the site. The news is in time for the Feast of St. Nicholas on December 6 – one of the most important dates on the calendar. 

     The news of the deal comes on the same day as a report that the controversial Islamic Center I had posted about, is facing eviction for failure to pay its rent. One of the reasons the center was controversial was the simultaneous apparent resistance by government officials to rebuilding St. Nicholas, an inconsistency which is now finally reconciled. Like the Islamic Center, the St. Nicholas Church will have a center for interfaith dialogue and healing.

     May God Bless St. Nicholas Church and its parishioners.  May they fulfill their goal of improving relations between faiths and healing those harmed by September 11.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Virtue, Liberty and Independence

     “Virtue, Liberty and Independence” is the official motto of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Although there are other excellent state and territorial mottos in the United States, the Keystone State’s is arguably the best.

     Pennsylvania’s motto first appeared in 1778 on its coat of arms, which was made official nearly a century later. The coat of arms is emblazoned upon the Commonwealth’s flag. The motto also appears on the quarter dollar coin honoring Pennsylvania for the 50 State Quarter Series. The three timeless principles contained within that glorious motto are worthy of examination.

     Virtue is a particular moral principle, or, in this case, a set of moral principles. Note the word chosen for the Commonwealth’s motto was not “values,” which suggests a relativist philosophy that holds that morality is determined by the individual. Instead, the word “virtue” reflects the belief of the universal moral absolutes of Right and Wrong. Virtue is the principle of doing what is right. 

     Liberty means more than freedom, but also the rights, privileges and immunities of every person or citizen. The word presupposes the Natural Law established by the Creator, as expressed in the American Declaration of Independence. Note “Liberty” follows “Virtue” in Pennsylvanias motto, as it does not imply license to do whatever we want, but the freedom to do what we ought. Indeed, public virtue leads to liberty. 

     Independence is the state of not being dependent on another – in this case, another sovereign state for the purpose of governance. Pennsylvania declared its independence from the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland in 1776. When it joined the federal Union in 1789, the Commonwealth did not surrender its independence, but retained sovereignty under the Constitution over internal matters. Pennsylvania maintains its independence when it stands for its sovereign rights.

     In adopting its motto at the time of the War of American Independence, Pennsylvanians recognized that independence is exercised by self-government, but only in liberty, by the practice of virtue.

U.S. Congress Passes Free Trade Agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama

     Both houses of the United States Congress approved free trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama. The agreements will eliminate tariffs placed on U.S. exports, as well as eliminate the tariffs imposed by those states on American imports – an economic boost of billions of dollars. 

     The agreements, which had been negotiated by President George W. Bush, were submitted by President Barak Obama, who is expected to sign them into law. 

     The votes in each chamber of Congress reflected bipartisanship, as Republicans hold the majority in the House of Representatives and the Democrats in the Senate. The votes also disprove the contention by some liberal Democrats that conservative Republicans were opposing Obama’s proposals out of partisanship; the votes prove that ideology determines support or opposition to proposals. The Republicans provided Obama the overwhelming majority of the votes necessary to pass the agreements, although a significant number of Democrats joined each vote in each chamber. 

     There was some Congressional criticism of Obama, however, for delaying the submission of the agreements to Congress for nearly three years. I have noted in earlier posts that the opportunity cost for not submitting them has contributed to economic weakness.

     The agreement with Colombia, in particular, is a reward for its successful efforts to fight Marxist narco-terrorists, as well as other guerillas and drug cartels, and to establish a peaceful, just free market and representative government. 

     Once the agreements are signed, a contiguous free trade zone will have been established from Canada to Chile. The United States would have free trade agreements with 20 foreign states. Obama would be the fifth consecutive President to sign such an agreement, starting with Ronald Reagan.

     Reagan successfully negotiated a free trade agreement with Canada, which the U.S. had sought since the late 19th Century. George H.W. Bush proposed a Western Hemisphere-wide free trade zone, except for Communist Cuba. George W. Bush was responsible for free trade agreements with more states than all other Presidents combined. He signed agreements with 13 of them into law, in addition to implementing one negotiated by his predecessor and negotiating the latest three.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Follow-Up: Dollar Coins Are Not a Waste of Money

     Since my September post, Dollar Coins Are Not a Waste of Money,, I have since learned some interesting news. According to the United States Mint, some people were buying large quantities of presidential dollar coins by credit card in order to gain rewards points (e.g. frequent flyer miles) and then cashing the dollars in at banks. As a result, the Mint no longer accepts the purchase of dollar coins by credit card, as the intent of minting these coins was for them to circulate.

     This abuse may account at least in part for why the coins are not circulating as much as hoped and are instead piling up at Federal Reserve warehouses. Thus, their lack of circulation may not all be attributable to the coins’ unpopularity. Indeed, even apart from such abuses, the idea that a coin is necessarily unpopular because it hardly circulates is not true. It may seem paradoxical, but the absence of a coin from circulation suggests its popularity, as it is an indication that a coin is being hoarded by the public.

     The Kennedy Half Dollar, for example, is seldom seen in circulation precisely for this reason. Consequently, the Mint stopped striking the coin for general circulation in 2002; only uncirculated and proof Kennedy Halves are still minted for collectors – at an even higher seigniorage than coins struck for general circulation. A similar phenomenon occurs with the seldom-seen $2 Federal Reserve Note, which is either exchanged because it is not considered practical or it is hoarded as a novelty, yet there are no calls to eliminate either Kennedy Halves or $2 bills as wasteful of public money.

     Meanwhile, I also learned of an organization dedicated to promoting the dollar coin. The Dollar Coin Alliance proposes the withdrawal of the $1 bill as the only way to encourage greater usage of the dollar coin, as many foreign states have done with their lowest denomination notes because of inflation. In addition to some of the points I made in my last post on this subject about the cost-effectiveness of the dollar coin versus paper $1 Federal Reserve Notes, they observe that paper bills cause businesses financial loss by getting stuck in vending machines. 

     I shall continue to follow this issue and to post about any significant further developments.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Two-and-a-Half Year Blog Report

     Since I began tracking pageviews of my blog with Statcounter in April of 2009, it has been visited over 3,600 times.  Thank you for visiting!

     As always, I do not count my own visits, and a visit is strictly defined as at least one pageview an hour apart from the previous one.  If I counted all pageviews, there would be considerably more hits to report. 

     Blogger has recorded far more pageviews than Statcounter, especially from outside the United States, but the latter's tracking is more specific, which allows for better statistical analysis.  Since my last report, a few interesting observations can be made. 

     Although the Rise and Fall of Islamic Civilization continues to be the most popular post (with over 720 visits), Commentary on the Roman Influence on America Exhibit at the National Constitution Center has been visited nearly 200 times in just a little over a year good for third place behind The Economy, Deficit and Debt at the Inauguration of George W. Bush, with nearly 270.  After a slow start, the post has been visited the most this calendar year.

     Statcounter has tracked visits from 96 foreign states.  Brunei, Mali, Namibia, and Mongolia were the most interesting sources of visitors since the last report.  Among other noteworthy hits, there were visits from the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, the National Leauge of Cities and the South African Broadcasting Corporation.

     Again, thank you for your patronage of my blog and for your comments.  Please visit regularly.