Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Social Security: The Ponzi Scheme Debate, Its Unconstitutionality and Fascist Inspiration and the Latest Developments

     Now that the general election is over, I can focus on posting more to my blog. One of the topics on which I had made notes during the campaign was about a subject that arose during the 2012 United States presidential election campaign, which has commenced prematurely. There was some debate about whether Social Security is a Ponzi scheme and whether it is unconstitutional. The debate was touched off by comments by Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry, the Governor of Texas.

     In a Ponzi scheme, the initial investors earn high returns on their investments, paid for by the additional investments of newer investors, and not by any profit generated by the fund manager, for without additional investors, there would not be sufficient funds to pay back the original investors. Such a fraudulent criminal scheme only works as long as there is a sufficient number of new investors to satisfy the demands by the original investors of a return on their investment, or else the scheme collapses for lack of sufficient funds. Whether or not Social Security meets the legal definition of such a scheme, it would undoubtedly not be permitted by law because of other problems, at least in many states. For example, an individual can pay Social Security payroll taxes (i.e. a premium) for his entire working life, but die the moment before he reaches retirement age and receive none of the money back. Any pension or old age insurance plan with terms like Social Security would be recognized as a rip-off for this reason alone, among other deficiencies, such as its lack of safeguarded reserves or its low rate of return on investment.

     Indeed, any government-run program can be ended by the government without any obligation to keep whatever promises it made. That a government program is not as safe as a legally-enforceable private plan is an implicit point in the scare tactics made by liberal Democrats every election against Republicans they claim would eliminate or cut Social Security, as if the government-run pension plan is like a private plan that is based upon a legal obligation to pay back the retiree the funds he contributed through the premiums he paid, when, in fact, the program is funded by nothing more than a tax which generates revenues the federal government uses as it pleases without any obligation to pay the taxpayer back even one cent. Thus, the liberal Democrats make the conservatives' point that government-run insurance plans are unreliable.

     The debate inspired Terry Jeffrey to write an article for the Conservative News Service that explains the constitutional questions about Social Security, which may be viewed at the following link, where it was republished: http://townhall.com/columnists/terryjeffrey/2011/09/14/authors_of_social_security_believed_it_was_unconstitutional.
     I would add another historical insight to the discussion: the Fascist origin of Social Security. According to the American Italian Historian Association, United States President Franklin Roosevelt sent a delegation to Fascist Italy in the 1930s to study Dictator Benito Mussolini’s socialist retirement pension plan. The American Social Security program was modeled on that fascist program.

     Shortly after the Ponzi scheme debate, Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (R-MI) unveiled his plan to reform Social Security without cutting benefits, raising the payroll tax or privatizing the program. An article about his proposal can be viewed at the following link: http://cnsnews.com/news/article/gop-prez-candidate-calls-reforming-social-security-personal-retirement-accounts. The plan would fund voluntary requirement accounts for older workers funded by federal spending cuts. The accounts would be based upon a mix of bonds and stocks, which would thus represent a conservative risk and would pay competitive returns.

     Meanwhile, there continues to be a congressional debate about whether or not to extend or even expand the 2% cut of the payroll tax which funds Social Security that was approved last year by Congress for 2011 as a temporary economic stimulus measure. The Democrats who support the extension of the cut that was proposed by United States President Barak Obama are accusing the majority Republicans, who had supported the temporary measure, of opposing a tax cut by not supporting its extension. The concern on the part of some conservatives was the loss of revenue to support Social Security and their opposition to the liberal Congressional Democrats’ predictable proposed offset: to increase the tax on the wealthy. The conservatives argue that an increase of taxes on the wealthy, who are often employers, would be counterproductive to the stimulative intent of the payroll tax cut. The Democrats did propose to include employers, who must match employee contributions, but who have been left out of the current tax cut, in the expanded tax cut, if the employers hire new workers. Such a proposal would be fairer and more economically beneficial. There is hope that a compromise can be reached on the payroll tax that neither increases workers’ taxes nor the federal debt, perhaps by offsetting spending cuts.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Third Anniversary of My Blog/One-Year Blogger Hit Report

     Thank you, dear visitors, for making this blog successful over its first three years. I especially appreciate the comments you post or pass along to me privately. Please continue to visit or comment. As always, your ideas are welcome.

     I shall summarize in this post the findings from the tracking by the blog host, Blogger.com, as the blog’s anniversary is nearly coincidental with the point at which I began to track hits to it through Blogger. In the year since I first started noticing Blogger’s tracking of hits (pageviews) to my blog, I have observed a number of interesting developments. As I have noted in previous reports, Blogger tracks far more visitors than the tracking service I have been using since April of 2009, StatCounter, especially from Europe, although the former tracking service is far less specific than the latter. Nonetheless, a number of statistics can be determined from the data provided by Blogger.

     Not counting my own pageviews, Blogger has tracked around 6,100 pageviews in one year – a rate of nearly 17 a day, which is more than twice as many as tracked by StatCounter. The far-more specific StatCounter allows the tracking of actual visits (pageviews at least one hour apart), which averages more than four a day. The increase in hits in recent months tracked by both services is much more pronounced in Blogger’s tracking than StatCounter’s.

     Blogger has tracked pageviews of every post to my blog. Indeed, all posts have received more hits than have been tracked by StatCounter. The most-visited posts tracked by Blogger are similar to those visited over the same period by StatCounter, with several interesting exceptions. There were disproportionately more hits (several hundred more, combined) for the following four posts, among others: First Anniversary of My Blog; Happy Thanksgiving; The Santorum-McCain Enhanced Interrogation Policy Controversy; Cinfici’s Interview on Rick Santorum’s Presidential Candidacy; and Freedoms, Rights and Prudence in Regard to the September 11 Site Mosque and the Koran Burning.

     Blogger has tracked more pageviews from all over the world, including the United States, than StatCounter, especially from Europe and Asia. The most hits from outside the United States have been tracked by Blogger from Russia, Germany, Netherlands and France (340+ to 600+ each). Like StatCounter, Blogger has also tracked many pageviews from Algeria, Malaysia and the United Kingdom, although the former has tracked more from those states than the latter. However, Blogger has also tracked scores of hits from Ukraine, Latvia and Poland, which StatCounter has not. There have been more pageivews tracked by Blogger than StatCounter from Eastern Europe, in particular. The tracking of the two services was relatively similar for Canada, Australia and India, but Blogger tracked significantly more hits from Slovenia, Singapore and Italy than StatCounter. Blogger has tracked hits from 10 states from which StatCounter has not tracked any pageviews since I began using its service in April of 2009; in addition to Latvia, there were a significant number of hits from China and Georgia among this group.

     Again, thank you for visiting my blog.  I hope all of you had a great Thanksgiving Holiday. I did, as I recover well both from the recent election and from health problems. I am thankful for my health and the many well-wishes I have received. I have also been focused in the meantime on advising policymakers who have requested my advice in regard to the Reading School District in terms of greater openness and transparency and better financial controls. I hope they are successful in implementing these reforms for better government.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Guatemala and Spain Elect Conservatives

     I have been posting about a popular global rightward shift in elections over the last two years. Sometimes, the shift toward the starboard side has been slight – so slight that the conservative candidate has occasionally lost the election by being unable to form a coalition, despite gaining a parliamentary plurality. Guatemala and Spain, however, have each confirmed the trend to the right in a decisive manner.

     In Guatemala earlier this month, voters returned the conservatives to power by electing former General Otto Perez Molina president. Molina was part of the regime charged with atrocities during the Guatemalan Civil War, but he has never personally been associated with any crimes. He was part of the team that negotiated the peace accords with the Communist rebels and he had a record of respecting the constitution and human rights. Molina’s campaign promise to crack down on crime appealed to Guatemalans beleaguered by crime. He will also have to work to improve his impoverished country’s budget.

     The results of the elections this weekend in Spain were even more dramatic. Spanish voters not only ousted the Socialists, but gave the conservatives a parliamentary majority. Conservative leader Mariano Rajoy will be able to become Prime Minister without having to form a coalition. He will also have a free hand to enact further austerity measures to avoid the need for Spain to be bailed out by the European Monetary Union. The Spanish economy has declined during Socialist rule, while Spain’s debt had risen until the adoption of the government’s austerity program. Having a parliamentary majority will give investors confidence that the incoming Spanish government can pass the necessary fiscal and economic reforms.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Monti Is Sworn in as Italian Premier

     Economist and Former European Commissioner Mario Monti was sworn in as Prime Minister of Italy today, officially ending the premiership of Silvio Berlusconi. The respected Monti takes the helm of the Italian ship of state as it navigates through the tempest of the European debt crisis, at which Italy is now in the eye. 

     Monti saluted Berlusconi’s service, according to ANSA, the Italian news agency. Berlusconi resigned after the passage of reforms he proposed to stimulate economic growth because of the European loss of confidence in his center-right government’s ability to implement them. The outgoing Prime Minister’s party, the People of Freedom, backs Monti, but its coalition partner, the Northern League, does not, although ANSA reports that Monti has stated that he will continue the League’s policy of fiscal federalism. The main centre-left opposition party and some most centrist parties also back the national unity government that comprises only technocrats, not politicians. 

     Monti was appointed a life Senator by President Georgio Napolitano in order to pave the way to his appointment as Prime Minister, as it would have been seen as less representative to appoint a non-politician as Premier without calling for snap elections. The new Prime Minister’s executive is unusual in that none of its cabinet ministers are Members of Parliament. It remains unclear when elections will be held, but Monti’s new government will face a confidence vote in Parliament Friday, which he is expected to win easily.

     ANSA reports that Monti outlined his agenda before Parliament today for reducing Italian debt and boosting economic growth. He will reexamine Italy’s taxes and spending, particularly the escalating costs of government, which he attributed to high benefit pensions for government employees and redundant provincial administrations, ANSA reported; he proposes tax reform and disincentivizing early retirement, for example. Monti plans to sell state real state assets and urged local governments to privatize public services and sell off interests in municipal companies, according to ANSA. The Italian news agency also reports that Monti would deregulate professional services and crack down even more heavily on tax evasion. 

     Monti’s appointment has won international praise. The expectations are high that he will achieve positive results, despite the difficult challenges.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Conservative Analysis of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's Record

     Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has submitted his resignation to the Italian President, as promised, following the passage in Parliament of the reforms he proposed to increase Italy's economic growth in the midst of the European debt crisis.  The reforms include the selling of state assets, the liberalization of Italy's labor market to make it easier for companies to terminate employees and the gradual increase of Italy's retirement age.

     The 75-year old Berlusconi served three times as Premier over the last 17 years.  In earlier stints, he was able to lower taxes, but was blocked from implementing more serious reforms by centrist coalition partners.  In his third government, in addition to the reforms approved yesterday, he was able to sign numerous fiscal reforms into law, including major budget cuts, a decrease in Italian bureaucracy and a crackdown in tax evasion while keeping taxes as low as he could.  All of these reforms were undertaken in a country known for resisting reforms. 

     As I have noted repeatedly, Berlusconi's fiscal reforms met with praise every time from European leaders, only to be undermined always immediately afterward by fears and speculation.  It was to end the fears and speculation to save Italy from bankruptcy that he sacrificed his premiership.

     The foreign policy of the pro-American Berlusconi included the sending of more Italian troops to Afghanistan and his leadership in the NATO mission to defend the Libyan people from dictator Muammar Qaddafi.  His government dealt with an influx of refugees from Tunisia and Libya because of the Arab Spring. 

     Other parts of Berlusconi's successful record included dealing with the Naples sanitation crisis and the earthquake in Abruzzo, cracking down on the Mafia, defending Italy's practice of placing crucifixes in school classrooms and the Italian language within the European Union.

     Berlusconi will remain a Member of Parliament, where his centre-right People of Freedom Party is the largest party.

     Berlusconi was done in not only by fear and speculation, but by his own financial and sexual scandals, as well as the fractiousness of his coalition.  He became the object of derision that magnified the decrease in confidence in Italy's ability to oversee the necessary reforms to maintain its solvency, despite Italy's inherent economic strength. 

     Although the world is hopeful that Italy's incoming technocratic government led by Mario Monti will succeed in boosting Italian growth while making the further necessary fiscal reforms until elections are held, it must be stated that Italy's recovery will have been accomplished on the foundation built by Berlusconi.

Friday, November 11, 2011

European Monetary Union Update: New Governments for Greece and Italy

     Major developments are occurring with greater rapidity in the financial crisis in the European Monetary Union as fears mount about the stability of the eurozone. 

     Greek Prime Minister Georgios Papandreou resigned after winning a confidence vote to allow the formation of a new coalition government.  The new government of national unity will include the three main political parties in Greece: Papendreou's Socialists, the conservatives and the nationalists.  It will be led by Lucas Papademos, a former high-ranking official of the European Central Bank who is known for his support for fiscally responsible policies, which is an unusual position in Greek politics.  Papademos will be tasked with implementing Greece's austerity program in order to continue to receive bailout funds from the European Central Bank.  It is uncertain whether there will be snap parliamentary elections in February, as originally planned.

     Meanwhile, even as the Greek drama has played out, more and more focus of attention has been placed on Italy because of its size as the third largest economy in the European Monetary Union and eighth largest in the world, which makes Italy too big to fail for the Monetary Union.  I have noted in earlier updates how every time the Italians pass an austerity measure it is praised for making sufficient reforms by Monetary Union officials who soon afterward panic and urge more reforms as urgently necessary. 

     After Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi proposed a major economic growth package that include serious reforms in order to ensure Italy balances its budget on schedule by 2013, Monetary Union officials again praised the Italian government.  However, soon afterwards investors began to doubt Italy's ability to implement the reforms because of the increasing instability of Berlusconi's fractious centre-right coalition government as its parliamentary majority has been shrinking.  Fears and perhaps speculation drove Italy's borrowing costs to 7%, the same figure that triggered bailouts for Greece, Ireland and Portugal.  However, as the Monetary Union and United States President Barak Obama have noted, Italy is not Greece because its large economy is inherently sound, despite its current low gross domestic product.  In a strong statement on the matter that sought to reassure markets while urging the Europeans to solve the crisis, Obama observed that Italy has a liquidity problem, not a solvency problem, like Greece has.  The European Central Bank, led by new President Mario Draghi, has been purchasing billions of dollars worth of Italian bonds in a so-far unsuccessful attempt to lower Italy's borrowing costs.  Draghi, however, has been careful not to be seen as overly soft on his home country by loaning it too liberally.

     Berlusconi has offered to resign as soon as the pro-growth reforms are passed in order to make way for a new technocratic government.  The reform package cleared the Senate today and will be voted on tomorrow by the lower house of the Italian parliament.  The new centre-right government is expected to be led by Mario Monti, an economist and former European Commissioner.  Monti is politically independent and widely respected.  It is hoped that his government would give Italy the political stability it needs to continue its austerity program while encouraging economic growth.  It is unclear whether there will be snap parliamentary elections in Italy.

     The problems in Greece and Italy are adding to the pressure on France and Belgium, the latter of which remains politically unstable.  Although Italy is considered the firewall of the Monetary Union, having eclipsed Spain in that role, a collapse of France would doom the euro for good.  The French and Germans are plotting a new European financial architecture that excludes the peripheral states whose economic weaknesses are currently threatening the euro project.  Europhiles across the continent continue to urge greater European integration as the solution while the chorus of eurosceptics has grown in size and volume.  As the euro's costs increasingly are seen as outweighing its benefits, the latter group has increasingly urged Europeans to consider what had been unthinkable: the abandonment of the single currency.

Joe Frazier, In Memoriam

     Former heavy-weight boxing champion of the world Joe Frazier died recently in Philadelphia of liver cancer at the age of 67.  Smokin' Joe was most famous for his bouts in the ring with Muhammad Ali, but was also known for his patriotism, charity and good Samaratinism. 

     Born in South Carolina in 1944, Frazier moved to Philadelphia to train for his amateur boxing career which began in 1962.  It culminated with a gold medal in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.  He then embarked on a meteoric professional career, winning the boxing championship in 1970 and retaining it in the Fight of the Century a year later by defeating the great Muhammad Ali.  Frazier, famed for his devastating left hook, held the title during boxing's golden age until losing to George Forman in 1973.  The Frazier-Ali rivalry was renewed in 1974 when the Philadelphia pugilist failed in his challenge to wrest the title from Ali and again the following year in the legendary Thrilla in Manila.  Frazier last boxed professionally in 1981, retiring to run a gym and train other successful boxers.  He also ran Smokin' Joe's restaurant.

     Unlike other boxing champions, however, Frazier did not enjoy great financial success, partly because of bad investments and partly because of his charity.  A patriot, he campaigned for Republican Ronald Reagan for President of the United States in 1980 and 1984 and for Democrat and later Republican Frank Rizzo for Mayor of Philadelphia.  When his longtime rival Ali was given the honor of carrying the torch for the 1994 Olympics in Atlanta, Frazier objected because of Ali's conscientious objection to the draft during the Vietnamese War.

     Joseph Frazier was an inspirational figure with the heart of a champion.  May his example continue to inspire others to professional success and to good citizenship.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Analysis of the 2011 General Elections in Pennsylvania and Across the Union

     The 2011 General Elections in Pennsylvania were remarkable for being unremarkable in terms of any discernible trend toward one political party or the other. The same is true for the elections across the United States.  Although there were a few hotly-contested races, the elections were generally low-key and therefore attracted little voter turnout, despite the significance of the offices sought.  Races were determined by local factors instead of by any voter mood toward the President of the United States or Congress.

     Starting here in Reading and Berks County, the Democrats won competitive city races for Mayor and School Director where they enjoy a 5:1 voter registration advantage while Republican incumbents won all the contested countywide races despite the slight Democratic registration advantage.  There were no Republicans who challenged any Democratic incumbents.

     Even though the Democratic Party enjoys a significant registration advantage across Pennsylvania, the two political parties split the two statewide appellate judicial races, with a Democrat capturing the open seat on Pennsylvania Superior Court and a Republican winning the open seat on the Commonwealth Court.  The Democrats won the most significant contest of the year in the Keystone State for the majority of the County Commission in Montgomery County; The suburban Philadelphia county that has trended away from the Republicans in recent years will now be governed by a Democratic majority for the first time since 1871.  Elsewhere across Pennsylvania, however, Republicans made historic gains in several rural and western counties previously ruled by the Democrats, which reflects the growing GOP trend in those areas.

     Although Republicans gained a small number of legislative chambers in the American South (i.e. the Houses of Representatives in Mississippi, for the first time since Reconstruction, and Virginia), Democrats held down their expected losses in the Virginia Senate and even made a few gains in offices across the Union.  Two significant conservative referenda, such as in regard to labor in Ohio and in regard to the right to life in Mississippi were easily defeated.

     I shall take this opportunity to comment further on my race for Reading School Director.  Although I did not win the election this time, I was honored by the 2,600 votes I received in the low-turnout election and the broad bipartisan support my candidacy attracted from numerous Democratic elected officials and voters, organized labor, conservatives and Republicans.  I was pleased to run with a bi-partisan ticket.  Several of my Democratic running mates who shared my platform of increasing openness and transparency, improving financial controls and eliminating wasteful spending to keep taxes down were elected to the Reading School Board with a mandate for reform.  I congratulate them and wish them success in office. 

     I greatly appreciated all the support I received.  Thank you to all of you who volunteered for me or supported my candidacy in any way or voted for me.  I intend to remain closely involved with local politics to contribute my counsel and ideas for better government.

Monday, November 7, 2011

The 2011 General Election in Pennsylvania

     General Election Day is November 8 in Pennsylvania, as well as in other states in the American Union.  There are many important state and countywide, magisterial district judge, municipal and school director elections on the ballot.

     There are races of state Superior and Commonwealth Courts, which are the two appellate courts in Pennsylvania.  As the state Supreme Court hears only a relatively small number of cases, these courts are usually where the final rulings are made on all appeals for all manner of legal cases.  There are pro-life candidates for appellate court who would not legislate from the bench, but would interpret law according to its original intent.

     County Commissioners are on the ballot across the Commonwealth, as well as county row officers and judges of the Courts of Common Pleas.  There are elections for municipal offices such as for mayor, councilmen, township commissioners and the like.  All of these county and municipal offices directly affect residents in innumerable ways.  Additionally, there are races for school boards.  Like County Commissioners and municipal officers, School Directors have the power to tax and to make expenditures of public money, as part of their role in providing public education in their school districts.  In many of these races, there are conservative candidates on the ballot who would be fiscally responsible with taxpayers' money and who would defend liberty and act in virtue. 

     Although these type of elections are often dismissed as off-year elections, they are significant because they are the ones that affect people the most directly and frequently.  They also provide the opportunity for people to gain experience needed for higher office. 

     In local elections, each person's vote carries more weight than in statewide elections.  I urge conservatives to vote for the most conservative candidates.  If there are no candidates on the ballot, write in the name of a conservative or even your own name.  Urge other conservatives you know to vote.  We can make significant progress in promoting good government and advancing liberty.

Friday, November 4, 2011

The Reverend Monsignor Felix A. Losito, Rest in Peace

     The Reverend Monsignor Felix A. Losito passed away yesterday at the age of 80 in Reading, Pennsylvania from complications suffered from a fall in July.  The holy priest was most known as the founder of National Shut-In Day.  He was also the author of five books, among many other accomplishments.

     Losito was born in Wickatunk, New Jersey in 1931, the son of immigrants from Italy.  He grew up in Kennet Square, Pennsylvania and entered St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia in 1948.  Even as a young seminarian, Losito began to exhibit early signs of sanctity that set him apart from his classmates.  He was ordained to the priesthood in 1958.

     Father Losito's first assignment was to Our Lady of Pompeii Parish in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania and then to Holy Family Parish in New Philadelphia.  He was appointed pastor at Immaculate Conception Parish in Kelayres, where he served for six years.  In 1968, Father Losito was appointed administrator pro tempore of Holy Rosary, the Italian national parish in Reading, in 1968 and pastor four years later.  He served as pastor there until his death. 

     Observing the abandonment of the elderly and others who were shut in, Father Losito founded the National Shut-In Society in 1970.  It became a Pennsylvania state holiday and was proclaimed by United States President Richard Nixon in 1972.  Inspired by Blessed Pope John XIII, Father Losito chose as the organization's motto, Visit someone who cannot visit you.  The society remains active to this day.

     A second claim to fame for Holy Rosary Parish during Father Losito's pastorate arose from a boxing program sponsored by the parish that not only led to conversions, but produced a two-time world boxing champion, Steve Little.

     Father Losito was named a Monsignor by Pope Paul VI in 1976.  His reputation for  preaching, spiritual guidance and his personal example continued to grow during his active pastorate.  Monsignor Losito was assigned many posts in the Diocese and community and received numerous awards during this time as his parish became known as an oasis of sanctity.  Over the years, a series of famous religious figures came to speak at Holy Rosary Parish and there were regular spiritual activities.  In addition to ministering to the lonely, he worked tirelessly to aid the poor, defend the right to life, promote education and conserve Italian heritage.

     Monsignor Losito began writing The Shut-In Corner, which later became The Spiritual Corner, for the Allentown Diocesan newsletter, the AD Times in 1989.  His first book, Attaining Heroic Holiness Through Speech: The St. James Master Plan, was published in 1997.  It was the subject of a sermon on the Eternal Word Television Network.  Monsignor Losito's second book was entitled Love is the Measure of All Holiness, which was a compilation of his articles in The Spiritual Corner.  He penned two children's books, Donato the Little Donkey and Donato the Little Donkey II.  Monsignor Losito's fifth book, His Love is Unstoppable, published in 2004, was a second volume of his articles in The Spiritual Corner. 

     The Reverend Monsignor Felix A. Losito devoted his life to serving God by spreading the good news of salvation through Christ.  Although his legacy of accomplishments are considerable, the greatest legacy of this exemplary priest is the faith he nurtured in his spiritual children. 

     May Monsignor Losito rest in peace and may his example continue to inspire holiness in all those who were familiar with his spirituality and all who will come to know of him through his good works.