Saturday, November 30, 2013

Foreign Digest: Honduras, Nepal, Germany, Italy

Honduran Presidential Elections
            The conservative ruling party of Honduras retained power, despite economic problems and a high crime rate, as a conservative was elected to replace the outgoing conservative President.  The party had taken power after the Chavist former president was removed from power after trying to extend his term unconstitutionally.  The conservative victory prevents the leftists inspired by former Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez from gaining more ground in Latin America.  The incoming leader is expected to work aggressively to address Honduras’ problems.  Honduras will continue to work with the United States in anti-drug efforts.

Nepalese Parliamentary Elections
            No party won a majority in the Nepalese parliamentary elections.  Of the three main parties, neither the Maoist Communists, nor the Marxist-Leninist Communists gained a plurality, while the old republican opposition party won the most votes.  The result means the ruling Maoists, who had abolished the monarchy, will be unable to turn Nepal into a totalitarian state.  As the monarchists also lost, Nepal will remain a republic, at least for now, as the elections produced no clear direction of leadership.

Formation of the German Government
            Chancellor Angela Merkel, the leader of the conservative Christian Democrats, was finally able to form a grand coalition government with the left in order to retain power, as I had predicted.  Although her party won the most votes in the German parliamentary elections, it came up short of a majority.  Merkel had previously led a coalition government.  Germany’s policies, which are of critical importance for the European Monetary Union amidst its debt crisis, are expected to continue.

Withdrawal of Forza Italia from the Italian Government 
           As expected, former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi removed his newly-re-formed Forza Italia party from the Government of Premier Enrico Letta after the vote in the Senate to remove him from his seat in the upper chamber of the Italian Parliament because of his conviction for fraud.  Letta’s center-left-right executive will remain in power, however, as several ministers from Berlusconi’s old party, the center-right People of Liberty Party, remained loyal to the grand coalition, as did a sufficient number of Members of Parliament to secure the confidence vote for the Government.  Letta's Government will continue its policies of fiscal responsibility through a mix of spending cuts, economically stimulative spending programs and tax cuts, as well as electoral reform.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Pennsylvania Governor Corbett Signs a Major Transportation Funding and Prevailing Wage Reform Bill into Law

           Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett announced today that he would sign a major transportation bill into law Monday.  The Republican Chief Executive had made the bill his highest priority for the fall session of the General Assembly.  The GOP-led legislature approved the bill yesterday, giving Corbett a big political victory.

            The transportation act funds $2.4 billion in repairs to roads and bridges, as well as adding more funds for mass transit.  The repairs to the Commonwealth’s bridges were critically needed, as trucks have been forced to re-route because of weight restrictions on many state bridges that are structurally deficient.  In addition to the state transportation department, money is being appropriate to counties, which own a majority of the deficient bridges in the Keystone State

            The transportation funding measure does not raise taxes, but taxes will increase significantly because the cap on gasoline taxes has been raised.  Vehicle registration fees and fines will also be increased.  For motorists, however, gasoline taxes and these other vehicle fees, are more like user fees, like tolls are, than taxes.  Such user fees or flat-rate taxes should be adjusted regularly for inflation instead of waiting many years, as the revenue in real dollars decreases, for politicians to have to play the heavy and increase them dramatically.  Gasoline taxes in the Commonwealth have not risen since the 1990s.  Because many goods are shipped by truck, increases in gasoline taxes are inflationary, but by eliminating the detours, the bridge repairs will reduce fuel consumption.  The funding of other road improvements and the building new roads and bridges in the transportation act will further decreases gasoline use, which will mitigate the inflationary affect of fuel costs because of the increase in gasoline taxes.  Additionally, the road repairs will reduce damage to vehicles because of Pennsylvania’s infamous potholes. 

            Road and bridge work is one activity that has been shown to be economically stimulative.  Not only does it create temporary construction jobs, but it gives customers or employees easier access to existing businesses and encourages the building of new businesses.

           Conservatives won a major victory in the bill with implications beyond transportation in the form of prevailing wage reform.  Pennsylvania law had required the payment of high union wages for all contracts over the threshold of $25,000.  That threshold had not been changed for 50 years.  The new law raises the threshold to $100,000, which will save taxpayers a significant amount of money. 

Sunday, November 17, 2013

European Monetary Union Update: Ireland, Spain, Italy, Germany

           Ireland will no longer require any European Monetary Union bailout funds, nor will it need any reserve fund from which the Union could make emergency loans to the Irish RepublicSpain is also making progress toward repaying its loans from the Monetary Union.  

           Although Spain and Italy were warned by the European Union that they risk exceeding budget deficit targets, there has clearly been significant fiscal improvement in the Monetary Union’s periphery, thanks to austerity measures, in contrast to Europe’s economic powerhouse, Germany, which has been relying on its favorable balance of trade.  There have also been signs an economic recovery in Europe may finally begin, which will ameliorate the fiscal crisis through higher tax revenues from economic growth.  

           Despite a split within the largest center-right party in Italy, the PDL (People of Liberty), some of the members of which will be joining former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s revival of Forza Italia (Forward Italy), with the rest remaining in the PDL or forming a new party, the center-right bloc will remain united behind their leader, Berlusconi, including in regard to the upcoming vote to remove him from the Senate because of his conviction on corruption charges.  The split suggests those remaining with the PDL, including Deputy Premier Angelino Alfano, would continue to support the shaky grand coalition government led by center-left Prime Minister Enrico Letta.  The Government has been successful in replacing real estate taxes with other measures.

           Meanwhile, the Germans have been making significant progress on forming another grand coalition between the center-left and center-right under conservative Chancellor Angela Merkel, as expected.  Political stability in these two major members of the European Monetary Union is essential for investor confidence, as well as to continue the Union’s policies, backed largely by Germany, of supporting the eurozone’s weaker members.

Progress on Many Fronts of the War on Terrorism

           There has been much progress the last several months in many fronts in the global War on Terrorism, against all types of terrorists, especially in Mali, Somalia, Turkey and Colombia, but around the world.  As most terrorists are Islamist or Communist, they have particularly suffered defeats.

In Africa, both Mali and Somalia are continuing to make progress versus al-Qaeda.  Mali is also making gains in the northern region within the Sahara Desert against the Tuareg militants who were loosely-allied with the Islamists.  Malian forces liberated a key town from them in the region this month.  Somalia’s government is winning more territory from al-Qaeda affiliate al-Shabab, thanks in part to continued American, Ethiopian, Kenyan direct military support, as well as other indirect foreign aid.  Meanwhile, although Islamist militants continue to operate in Libya, the United States was able to capture an al-Qaeda leader there recently who had been wanted for the 1998 bombings of the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania

In Asia, as Yemen continues to battle against al-Qaeda, in addition to Shi’ite and Communist rebels, the U.S. has continued its campaign of lethal drone attacks against high-level al-Qaeda targets, as it has in PakistanTurkey concluded a peace agreement with the Marxist Kurds, who had a history of terrorism, in April.  The Philippines government won a victory last month in bloody urban warfare over separatist Muslim terrorists, while its dwindling Communist guerillas, who have a history of committing terrorist acts, have been forced to declare a truce after Typhoon Haiyan. 

In Europe this month, anarchist bombers were caught in Spain after they had bombed churches there, new Red Brigade communist militants were convicted by an Italian court of a series of attacks in Italy, the British arrested a terrorist plotter before he conducted his attack and the Russians killed a leading bomb-maker and other Islamist terrorists in Dagestan.

There has also been significant progress in Colombia versus FARC, the Marxist narco-terrorists, who recently have agreed to a peace plan after nearly fifty years of bloody guerilla warfare and a campaign of terrorism.  Meanwhile, Peru has continued to destroy the remnants of the ruthless Shining Path Communist terrorists.

Terrorism continues to be a scourge around the globe, in addition, of course, to the Middle East.  Uighur Islamist terrorists conducted an attack in, Peking, China’s Tiananmen Square recently, while Iraq has had to ask for American help in battling al-Qaeda terrorists there who have been conducting almost daily terrorist bombings.  Nigeria continues to struggle against its vicious al-Qaeda affiliate, while India is plagued by various terrorists on several fronts, including Islamists, Communists and others, some of whom have struck again recently.  The American-led War on Terrorism goes on in Afghanistan.  But the recent successes around the world are undeniable.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Analysis of the Syrian Chemical Weapons Deal

Syria’s agreement to give up its chemical weapons arsenal avoided a likely military strike by the United States and other Western powers.  The United Nations inspections requirements in the deal appear to have been effective thus far, as the known Syrian stockpile of weapons of mass destruction is being dismantled. 

The deal must have been preferable for Bashar Assad’s tyrannical regime to the alternative of taking its chances absorbing military strikes.  Therefore, the Americans and others can at least convincingly make the case that its threats successfully resulted in Syria’s abandonment of its chemical weapons, but Russia appears to have gained diplomatic prestige at the expense of the West by brokering the last-minute deal.  Of course, the possibility that Syria will cheat on the deal remains a concern, especially given the despot’s acceptance of the deal, although it would again place itself at risk of being struck by the West if it were caught using them against civilians again.

However, Syria suffered no military punishment for using its WMDs against civilians, although tough economic sanctions on the Alawite-led Baathist dictatorship will continue and aid to the rebels has increased, including direct American military aid to the rebels identifiable as non-Islamist.  Meanwhile, Assad’s regime is allowed continue to kill civilians by indiscriminately killing them with conventional weapons.  

I had posted three times on the Syrian civil war in August to September, which I shall summarize and update here.  The two-year war has claimed over a hundred thousand lives as Syrians have rebelled against Assad’s longtime dictatorship.  The conflict has attracted the participation of Islamists, both from Syria and abroad, who have clashed with the other Syrian rebels, thereby complicating the rebellion’s strategy, as well as making aid efforts by foreign governments to the rebels difficult because of concerns about doing anything to the benefit of jihadists such as al-Qaeda.  Although the terrorist-versus-terrorist fighting is helpful in the overall War on Terrorism, the opportunity to remove a state sponsor of terrorism and deprive Iran of an ally is being jeopardized by the complication.  The war has spilled over into several volatile neighboring states, as have millions of refugees, who risk destabilizing Jordan particularly, as far as to Italy.  In the best interests of Syria and the world, increased aid to the non-Islamist rebels is urgently needed to bring the conflict to a peaceful and just end as quickly as possible without a victory by either side of the terrorists that can allow the Syrian people to determine their own destiny.

Conservative Perspective on the Recent United States Fiscal Compromise

           Now that the implementation of the individual mandate of the federalization of health insurance has begun, a better perspective on the bipartisan, bicameral fiscal compromise reached last month between the United States Congress and President Barack Obama can be observable.   

The deal authorizes federal spending, including to implement the plan, by extending the continuing resolution that funds the federal government, thereby ending the partial shutdown.  It also increases the debt ceiling, which allows the government to borrow more to fund its current deficit-spending.

The impasse had saved conservatives in Congress from having to vote to fund the health insurance plan, to which they object on both moral and fiscal grounds, but politically, because they were unfairly blamed for the shutdown, the deal was a loss for the Republicans.  See also my post from last month, Federal Government Shutdowns are Partial, Routine and Bipartisan,  Despite criticisms by liberal politicians, the media and others that the shutdown would be fiscally costly, it has been attributable for a lower than projected deficit for October, which is a fiscal consolation for conservatives.  Most congressional conservatives did not vote in favor of the deal, thereby maintaining their principles.

In terms of policy, however, the deal was partly successful for conservative Republicans, despite the compromise on terms largely favorable to the liberal Democrats.  Although the Republicans, who control only the House of Representatives, had hoped to achieve much more, such as spending cuts to offset the increase in the debt ceiling or to defund Obama’s health insurance plan or to make other changes to the plan to federalize health insurance, such as eliminating the Legislative Branch’s self-exemption from the plan, the GOP did gain one concession: protections against fraudulent applications for one of the plan’s programs, which had been completely absent in the plan.  Without the protections, more and more people would easily become dependents on government, whether they were poor or not.  At least the spending will not increase as much as it otherwise would have because of the solitary concession won by conservatives.

The concession is significant not only because it will save money and limit the expansion of government, but because Obama had insisted on no preconditions, especially in regard to his health insurance plan, to his demands of continuing to fund the federal government without reducing spending and raising the debt ceiling.  In this sense, he lost on principal, as the Republicans were able to salvage the congressional leverage inherent in the requirement of congressional approval of increases in the debt ceiling, which Democrats sought to end by allowing the debt to increase by executive will.  Therefore, while the Republicans made a compromise from a position of weakness that appeared to have gained them little at a high political cost, as they conceded the larger matters of the deficit, debt and health insurance, they did not cave on principal, in contrast to the Democrats, despite the stronger position of the latter. 

Furthermore, the Democrats, too, had hoped to achieve even more, such as ending the federal sequestration that has helped reduce the deficit significantly.  Moreover, any deal that includes any spending cuts without raising taxes, as some liberal Democrats had sought, is at least a philosophical victory for conservatism, even if the deal increases spending overall.  In this case, it is important to remember that spending would have increased and the debt had been raised anyway had conservatives not objected in the first place and opposed funding the federal government without spending reductions or reforms to the health insurance plan. 

The implementation of the federalization of health insurance had begun at the time of the federal shutdown and the fiscal deal.  Although conservatives had hoped to use the fiscal controversy as a means to draw attention to problems inherent with the plan, in some ways the fiscal crisis distracted public attention from the problems initially, some of which would only become more apparent afterward.  Now that these problems have become obvious to everyone, the Democrats are the ones who are suffering politically more than the GOP.  Indeed, conservatives who made their objections to “Obamacare” central in the fiscal controversy have already been vindicated, as the public can now see more clearly why they had warned about the problems of the plan.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Conservative Analysis of the 2013 Elections

           The results of the 2013 Elections were mixed, but nonetheless some trends can be discerned and some lessons drawn.

            In Virginia, the conservative Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli lost a close race for Governor.  He nearly pulled off an upset over his liberal Democratic opponent, who, as a former Chairman of the Democratic National Committee, was far better funded.  The Democrat won with a plurality, not a majority of the votes, as a Libertarian candidate won several percentage points worth of votes.  Cucinelli had led the States’ lawsuit against the federalization of health insurance passed by a liberal Democratic United States Congress and signed into law by liberal Democratic President Barack Obama.  The suit was partly successful in some respects, but was unsuccessful in getting the individual insurance mandate unconstitutional.  The recent disastrous implementation of the mandate and its resultant cancellation of many insurance plans that people wished to keep, as Obama had promised they could, was the main reason for the underperformance of the Democratic candidate, as Cucinelli made the election a referendum on the plan, which was also opposed by the Libertarian gubernatorial nominee.  Virginia limits its Chief Executive to a single four-year term.  The Democratic nominee will succeed a Republican Governor, Bob McDonnell, who was successful in balancing the budget and cutting taxes, meaning that Virginians were not rejecting conservative government based upon the record of the incumbent.  Meanwhile in the Old Dominion, the GOP held onto the office of Attorney General by electing a Republican to succeed its gubernatorial nominee, but Democrats picked up a seat in the legislature, which was enough to deprive the Republicans of a veto-proof two-thirds majority.  The Republican Delegates will still easily be able to block the most liberal proposals of the next Governor.

            Governor Chris Christie was re-elected in a landslide that was unprecedented for a Republican in New Jersey, where Democrats enjoy a significant voter registration advantage and where Democrats have dominated statewide elections this century.  Although regarded as a moderate conservative, he generally performed in office and campaigned as a conservative, although with a bipartisan tone that reflected his success in obtaining common ground with members of the Democratic majority in the legislature.  Christie overcame labor union resistance to balance New Jersey’s budget without raising taxes.  He was also credited for his leadership in dealing with Superstorm Sandy and for advocating successfully for the Garden State’s share of federal disaster funds.  Christie did have some coattails – albeit short ones – as the Republicans gained a small number of legislative seats, leaving them slightly less in the minority than before. 

            As expected, Democrats won various races for mayor across the Union, including in New York City for the first time since 1989, despite their overwhelming voter registration advantage.  However, a Republican won the only statewide election in Pennsylvania, for Superior Court, despite a large Democratic voter registration in the Keystone State.  There were few referenda of particular interest to conservatives, except one for “gay marriage” that won in liberal Illinois.

            The liberal media and other commentators claim the 2013 Elections prove that the only Republican who can win is a moderate like Christie, but the results suggested that there was no trend of voter rejection of conservatism in either New Jersey or Virginia.  The voters in both States apparently were willing to reward competence and punish incompetence, as Christie easily won because of his effective conservative record while a majority of Virginians voted against the Democratic gubernatorial nominee because of the incompetence of Obama’s federalization of health insurance and other objections to the plan. 

           The results also suggest that whatever blame voters may have assigned to Republicans in Congress for the recent partial federal government shutdown that occurred when the Democratic-led Senate rejected the Republican-led House of Representatives plans to fund the government without providing funds for the federalization of health insurance, voters do not necessarily blame other Republicans, but their frustration with the Democrats over health insurance is discouraging them from voting for other Democratic candidates.  In fact, now that the health insurance plan is being implemented, perhaps voters who were originally upset with the Republicans in Congress are beginning to understand why the GOP insisted on de-funding the plan. 

Monday, November 4, 2013

Conservatives: Vote Tomorrow in the 2013 General Election

           Tomorrow, November 5, 2013 is General Election Day in Pennsylvania and in other States across the Union.  A number of statewide races are taking place, but the government offices that affect people most directly and most often are also on the ballot.

           There are gubernatorial elections in New Jersey and Florida of interest to conservatives, while in Pennsylvania there is an important Superior Court race.  That court is usually the one that makes the final decisions in the vast majority of all criminal and civil cases to which the Commonwealth is not a party.  There is also a Supreme Court retention on the ballot.

           There are local races across Pennsylvania for county offices (judges, county commissioners and other offices), magisterial district judges, municipal offices (mayors, township supervisors or commissioners or city council, etc.), school directors and election boards.  As always, there are conservatives, or at least conservative-leaning candidates, on the ballot for many of these offices.  As I was quoted in todays Reading Eagle,, these offices affect people more directly than federal or statewide offices, and in numerous critical areas, while these local governments often impose higher taxes than the federal or state governments.

           One correction to the article is necessary, as I contrasted the turnout in statewide elections such as for presidential electors not presidential elections, as the people do not vote directly for President and Vice President of the United States.  Also, I want to clarify a point I had made that was not made clear in the article, that although it is true that ones vote is diluted if there is a larger turnout, my observation that it counts for more in a local election than a statewide election remains true because even if there is a 100% turnout in a local election, each vote is more valuable because there is still a smaller number of votes cast.  I made the additional point in the article that local elections are opportunities to hold elected officials accountable.

           When conservatives win these statewide and local elections, they advance conservative principles in providing good government, while gaining the experience and records to seek higher offices.  I urge my fellow conservatives to vote tomorrow for the most conservative qualified, viable candidates on the ballot.