Friday, March 30, 2012

Pennsylvania Welcomes Home Veterans of the Vietnamese War

     Today, veterans of the Vietnamese War, which ended in 1975, were finally welcomed home officially in Pennsylvania.

     Ceremonies were held across the Commonwealth, including in Reading, to welcome home the veterans who were never officially celebrated as heroes and instead often faced hostility upon their arrival home after having served their country with honor in a noble cause for liberty.  The Pennsylvania General Assembly passed a resolution declaring March 30, 2012 as Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day.  Numerous state and federal elected officials participated in the events.  My father was among the Vietnamese War veterans who spoke at the ceremony in Reading at the Vietnamese War memorial in City Park.  The day was justly intended to right the wrong of the disrespect shown to the veterans of the unpopular war and to emphasize the necessity of supporting and honoring the troops, regardless of the popularity of their cause.

     Although the United States never lost a battle in the Vietnamese War, the Communist North Vietnamese took over the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam).  Nevertheless,    the war represented a campaign in the broader Cold War between the Communist Soviet Union and the U.S.  The American victory in the Cold War was partly gained by the Vietnamese War, despite the Communist takeover of South Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, as it prevented further Communist advances and forced the Soviets to expend resources it could less afford to expend than the Americans.  The defeat of Soviet Communism liberated tens of millions of people around the world. 

     Let us continue to oppose tyranny and support liberty around the world, including in Communist Vietnam and Laos.  Let us never allow opposition to a war to be expressed as hostility to the soldiers tasked to fight it for their country.  I thank all the American and allied veterans of the Vietnamese War for their service to the cause of liberty.  Welcome, home Vietnamese War veterans.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Corbett Signs a Principled Natural Gas Impact Fee

     Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett, a Republican, recently signed the bill to impose an impact fee on natural gas drillers, thereby keeping his promise not to impose a tax on the industry in addition to the high state corporate taxes it already pays.

     As I have posted repeatedly, natural gas drillers do pay state business taxes in Pennsylvania, as well as various local government taxes, in addition to the increase in tax revenue the industry generates from landowners’ royalties and from employment and other economic activity. The push from the left to get the drillers to “pay taxes” implies otherwise. What the liberals meant is that they wanted to single out one industry to pay an additional tax, even though the industry is of enormous fiscal and economic benefit to the state. 

     A responsible impact fee differs from a tax because it is intended to offset the extra expenses generated by the industry subject to the fee, not simply to raise revenue like a tax. However, a small portion of the money from the natural gas impact fee will be diverted for other purposes, which arguably makes it a tax to that extent. Nevertheless, it generally maintains the principled practice of imposing mostly a fee, not a tax. 

     In addition, the new law eliminates the power of local governments to prohibit drilling. This provision is sound because natural gas drilling is a statewide interest while local concerns about the impacts are addressed by the new law. Counties and local municipalities benefit much from the industry because of increased local taxes and road improvements made by the drilling industry. Thus, the new law offsets the burdens of the industry from local government, while allowing it to keep the benefits.

     Meanwhile, all Pennsylvanians are benefiting not only from the extra tax revenue generated by the industry, but from lower electricity prices, in addition to those who are receiving lower natural gas bills. Thousands of Pennsylvanians are benefiting through employment by the industry or by the economic activity the presence of natural gas drillers generates. As natural gas burns more cleanly than coal, natural gas drilling is an environmentally safer method of electricity generation. The Commonwealth’s new impact fee and environmental regulation strike the proper balance between economic and environmental concerns. While Pennsylvania is benefiting from the Marcellus natural gas play, the new law lays the groundwork for the future drilling of the larger Utica play that underlies it.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Corbett Signs the Voter ID Requirement into Pennsylvania Law

     Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett, a Republican, signed a bill into law that requires all voters in the Commonwealth to present photographic identification in order for their votes to be counted. 

     Voters without ID may cast a provisional ballot and then present an ID within six days for their votes to be counted.  The Commonwealth will make obtaining photo IDs easy.  The law addresses widespread concerns about voter fraud. 

     Democrats opposed the bill, dismissing the concerns as exaggerated.  As someone involved in politics, I can confidently report, as I have posted before, that the problem of voter fraud is much more widespread than the number of cases that are successfully prosecuted.  I was victimized in a Democratic area by voter impersonation during my 2000 state legislative campaign, for example, and I have observed firsthand and become aware of numerous reports of irregularities of all kinds over the years.  Liberal Democrats are likely to run to court, as usual, to block the popular legislation that was publicly debated and duly passed, but a large majority of the U.S. Supreme Court has such laws constitutional.

     Reducing voter fraud prevents the dilution of honest votes, increases confidence in the outcome of elections and in the counting of the votes and restores the benefit of public accountability that popular elections in a representative republic are intended to produce.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Follow-Up on the Obama Administration’s Violation of Religious Liberty

     The “accommodation” offered by the Obama Administration on its mandate that employers provide their employees health insurance coverage for sterilization, contraception and abortifacients falls short of adequately protecting religious liberty.

     See my post from last month, The Obama Administration Plans to Violate Religious Liberty,
     The accommodation no longer requires employers to pay directly for sterilization, contraception and abortifacients, but requires insurers to provide them free of charge, which means that their cost will be passed along in higher premiums. Thus, religiously-affiliated organizations (e.g. hospitals, charities, schools) would still be complicit in sterilization, contraception and abortion because their employees’ access to them would be by virtue of their employment. Also, religiously-affiliated organizations that self-insure would be required to provide them. Insurers who oppose sterilization, contraception and abortifacients would be required to provide coverage of them. Individual employers who oppose them for religious reasons would be required to provide the coverage. Those employers, including religiously-affiliated employers, who refuse would be levied heavy fines, which is tantamount to a tax on the free exercise of religion.

     Abortion and contraception are moral issues. Because religious doctrines require morality, religious objections to moral issues are therefore legally valid objections under the free exercise of religion. Religious liberty does not depend upon the whim of executive policy to make exemptions; freedom of religion is natural law that is guaranteed in the state and federal constitution, and enforced by legislation. 

     A pattern of hostility to freedom of religion has been discernible in the Obama Administration’s policies. It has favored the term “freedom of worship” over “freedom of religion.” The former expression refers narrowly to worshipping at a particular house of worship, while the more robust latter expression refers to the liberty to act publicly in accordance with one’s belief. The Obama Administration has denied licensing to Catholic charitable organizations for providing foster care for victims of human trafficking because of the Catholic Church’s opposition to placing children with same-sex couples. The Administration recently lost a case unanimously before the United States Supreme Court in which it tried to narrow the ministerial exemption which allows congregations to hire their own ministers. 

     There has been much misinformation in the debate about the Obama Administration mandate and the subject of contraception in particular. A few points are necessary to be made. Women who take prescribed contraceptives for certain health reasons are not necessarily contracepting. Pregnancy is not a disease; abortion is not healthcare. Providing “free” contraception to all women encourages sex outside of marriage. The objections of Catholics and Orthodox, however, are broader than that valid concern; they oppose artificial contraception in all instances because of their belief in the unitive and procreative purposes of the marital act. 

     Some of the misinformation on this controversy centers particularly on Catholics, who have been the most vociferous in their opposition to the mandate and who operate the most hospitals and schools of any religious denomination in the U.S. Contrary to some contentions, the Catholic Bishops opposed the federalization of health insurance bill signed into law by Obama in the first place. Indeed, during the debate over the plan by the Obama Administration and the liberal Democratic majority in Congress to federalize health insurance, the fear expressed by the plan’s opponents that it would lead to mandated insurance coverage of abortion has turned out to be well founded, as some contraceptives work in a number of ways, including the inducement of abortions (i.e. they are abortifacients). Also, there have been exaggerations about how many Catholics contracept. Regardless of the number, the point is that those devout Catholics or Orthodox who oppose contraception cannot be made to subsidize it without violating their religious liberty. 

     As I have continued to note, the issue of the contraception mandate is part of a broader issue of the general mandate by government to provide health insurance. Such a mandate from the federal government violates the Commerce Clause, which allows it only to regulate interstate commerce, not commerce within states – let alone decisions not to engage in commerce. It thereby violates the principle of federalism established by the Founding Fathers. Although it is right that Catholics and Orthodox oppose the contraception mandate, together with a great many others who are sympathetic to them because of the clear violation of religious liberty, Catholics should also oppose the general mandate and the federalization of health insurance on the grounds that it violates the principle of subsidiarity, in which it is held that local authorities are best suited to handle matters of local concern, such as providing health care for members of one’s family or community. The contraception mandate is exposing the dangers of the centralization of power. It is only one of many such regulations to come should the federalization of health insurance not be overturned or repealed.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Elections in Authoritarian Russia and Iran Produce Similar Results

     Although there were some key differences, the elections in both Russia and Iran were remarkably similar. Predictably, the authoritarian regimes in both states won. 

     In Russia, Vladimir Putin was returned to the office of the presidency. He had remained the power behind the Premier in the meantime. His election followed a recent parliamentary election in which his allies easily won. Both elections were characterized by state control of the media, limits on freedom of assembly and intimidation of opponents, which created an atmosphere of little competition, except mostly from fringe candidates. Both elections were also marred by widespread fraud. The parliamentary elections produced the largest public protests of Putin’s regime. The Russian people would have to rise up much more forcefully after the presidential election in order to effect real change in Russian government. 

     In the parliamentary elections in Iran, the hard-line theocratic forces defeated an attempt by the President to gain independence from the mullahs. Those opposed to the theocracy, and increasingly even moderates, are barred even from running for office. The elections suggest that the Islamic Republic’s crackdown on dissent has been unusually effective. There were fewer allegations of fraud this time because there was less competition tolerated.

     Iran’s regime is similar to Communist regimes. The mullahs, like Communist Party officials, are the real powers, despite elections for civil officials. The officials owe their allegiance to the mullahs in Iran, just as they do the Communist Party in Communist states. Communist Putin’s authoritarian regime is also reminiscent of Communist regimes, but it is less overt, as it maintains more of a fa├žade of democracy. The freedoms of religion and speech are somewhat tolerated, but not of assembly or press, while the rule of law is arbitrary. There is no question, however, that both Russia and Iran are dictatorships, to one degree or another. Therefore, these periodic elections are not likely to liberate the Russian and Iranian people until these peoples are able to bring much greater pressure on their governments for freedom.

Unintended Obama Economic Stimulus: Increased Gun Sales

     There was another report of increased gun sales because of United States President Barak Obama. This time, the reason is the fear of his reelection. Obama is hostile to the right to keep and bear arms. 

     I had posted about an increase in the sale of arms early in Obama’s Administration, in October of 2009 in my post, Two Unintended Positive Consequences of Obama’s Policies, I was right that the increase in gun sales is one of the few areas in which Obama has successfully stimulated the economy.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Rep. Frank Wolfe Proposes to Restore February 22 as a Federal Holiday for Washington's Birthday

     United States Representative Frank Wolfe (R-VA) has proposed to restore George Washingtons Birthday as a federal holiday on February 22 to replace the diluted Presidents Day holiday.

     PresidentsDay – an unofficial name for the federal holiday originally intended to honor Washington – never falls on February 22, Washingtons birthday, but is instead celebrated on the third Monday in February.  In 1971, Congress changed several holidays to Mondays, including Washingtons Birthday.  Wolfe cited the historical precedent of the return of VeteransDay from a Monday to November 11, the date of Armistice Day, the date commemorating the end of the First World War.

     Wolfe expressed concern that the loss of a day honoring the Father of our country contributes to the lack of historical education among American youth today and also relegates the day as a three-day weekend most noted for commercial sales. He notes that Washington is the only president intended to be honored with a federal holiday and that the date was celebrated in Washington’s lifetime – even before the creation of the presidency.  Wolfes proposal, which is supported by the Mount Vernon Association, would honor Washington not only as the greatest American president, but as a soldier and statesman.  

     I have expressed concerns similar to those raised by Wolfe.  See my posts, Presidents Day vs. Washingtons Birthday from February of 2009 and Eliminate the Presidents Day Holiday from February of 2010.  I note that the day is intended to honor Washington for all his contributions to America, not only his presidency.  I also observe that currently the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is the only American honored with a holiday on his birthday (although also celebrated on a Monday, the date can fall on Kings birthday), but not Americas greatest Founding Father. 

     See also my post from February of 2009, George Washington the Great

     I urge my fellow conservatives to join me in support of Wolfes proposal to restore Washingtons Birthday as a federal holiday on February 22, not only because George Washington uniquely deserves a holiday, but to educate all Americans about his greatness and the legacy he has left us, for which we should be most grateful and most vigilant to maintain.