Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Best of

          In celebration of the end of the year of the recent fifth anniversary of the launch of this blog, I thought I would issue a “best of the blog” post. 

The following posts were selected, either because they were the most important or best representative of a certain category of posts, or were among the most well-liked or popular thus far, in chronological order:

Retain Gubernatorial Appointments of Senators, from January of 2009,;

Presidents’ Day vs. Washington’s Birthday, from February of 2009,

George Washington the Great, from February of 2009,;

Father Stanley Jaki, Rest in Peace, from April of 2009,;

Lepanto, by G.K. Chesterton, from April of 2009,;

The Rise and Fall of Islamic Civilization, from April of 2009,;

Follow-Up on the Fall of Islamic Civilization, from May of 2009,;

Celebrate Columbus Day, from October of 2009,;

The Pope’s Declaration of Pius XII’s Heroic Virtue Debunks a Liberal Myth, from December of 2009,

Commentary on the Roman Influence on America Exhibit at the Constitution Center, from July of 2010,;

Abolish Daylight Savings Time, from March of 2011,;

Useless Cabinet Departments, from March of 2011,;

More Language for Conservatives to Avoid: Gender vs. Sex, from June of 2011,;

Virtue, Liberty and Independence, from October of 2011,;

The Rev. Monsignor Felix A. Losito, Rest in Peace, from November of 2011,;

Chester Arthur, the Most Underrated U.S. President, from April of 2012,

I opted only to include posts from prior to this year, at this point.  There were a number of entire major categories of subjects not included, such as coins and currency, the War on Terrorism, Pennsylvania politics and my service on the Reading School Board of Directors, that were not included because there were too many posts from which to select a best one and I did not want to make the best of list too long.

I am pleased that this year that the decline in the number of times I posted annually was the smallest, both in real and absolute terms, despite being called upon once again to serve in public office.  Thank you for visiting, especially those of you who are repeat visitors or who post comments or express praise outside of the blog.  Your patronage and support of my blog makes it worthwhile to post.  

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Conservative Analysis of the Two-Year United States Budget Deal

           A bipartisan two-year budget deal was recently approved by the United States Congress, despite some conservative opposition, and was today signed into law by President Barack Obama.

            The budget deal increases spending, but at a slower rate in order to save $23 billion.  In other words, there are no spending cuts in the deal, but it does reduce spending overall from the level at which it would have been had the deal not been reached.  It spares the military more of the sequestration cuts that are threatening its readiness, while keeping the overall sequestration cuts in place by raising other revenue, such as user fees.  There will also be a reduction of cost of living adjustments for future military retirees, a spending reduction that there was some bipartisan support in the Congress to restore later.  The deal also prevents yet another extension of unemployment benefits that were sought by liberal Democrats.

           The measure is expected to avoid government shutdowns over the budget.  However, there will be another contest over the raising of the debt limit within months.  Conservative Republicans in Congress are expected to push for real spending cuts in exchange for an increase in the debt limit.  We conservatives must continue to encourage them to have the political fortitude to follow through on their plan.  We also must work to elect more conservative Republicans to Congress, especially the Senate, in 2014.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas; Think of the Plight of Christians in the Holy Land

           Merry Christmas!  I wish the joy and peace of Christ to all readers.  Thank you for visiting my blog.

            In Christmases past, I posted how relative peace in the Middle East, the overthrow of Iraq’s suicide-bomb-sponsoring dictator Saddam Hussein, and better Israeli anti-terror methods have allowed more pilgrims to travel to Bethlehem and other parts of the Holy Land for the Feast of the Nativity.  Easter is another holiday especially when Christian pilgrims visit the Holy Land, although some arrive throughout the year.  This Christmas, let us think about and pray for the Christians throughout the Middle East who are being attacked or persecuted, particularly in Egypt, Iraq and Syria

Christianity originated in the Holy Land 2,000 years ago with Jesus Christ, and thus long predates Western European Civilization, with which some Muslims associate it to the point of questioning the patriotism of their Christian countrymen.  Islamists are intolerant of any perceived Western or foreign influence in general, and especially of other religions like Christianity.  Islamic law strictly forbids apostasy, which necessarily restricts Christian proselytizing, and Muslim authorities often place limits on the construction of Christian churches.  The numbers of Christians in the Holy Land have decreased significantly in recent years, especially as they have emigrated from the Middle East, in addition to those who have been murdered.  In addition to Christians, adherents of Baha’i and various Muslim minority sects are also persecuted throughout the Islamic world, but the plight of the millions Christians in the Middle East and elsewhere in Muslim-dominant lands has been particularly striking.   

Some Islamic-led governments actively persecute Christians, while others do little to protect them.  Let us call upon these governments to respect religious liberty and upon our own governments to speak up more rigorously for freedom of religion and to pressure Middle Eastern governments particularly to uphold human rights of religious and ethnic minorities, and for all the peoples of the Holy Land to live peacefully with one another.  

Monday, December 23, 2013

Italian Budgetary and Economic Developments

The Italian Parliament has approved Italy’s budget.  According to the Italian News Agency, ANSA, it keeps the deficit to less than 3% of GDP, as required by the European Union.  ANSA reports that the budget includes pension cuts, a local tax to replace the real estate tax on primary residences, a Web tax (to which the European Union objects), as well as modest income and labor tax cuts.  The budget is expected to increase growth slightly.  Additional spending cuts and further crackdowns on tax evasion are planned by the Italian Government, according to ANSA. 
           After posting a flat quarter of economic growth for the first time in two years, Italy is projected, according to ANSA, to return to economic growth and begin to recover in 2014.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

European Union Updates: Germany, Greece, Banking Union, EU Downgrade

German Coalition Government Is Formed
            I had posted earlier this month that Germany’s ruling center-right party, the Christian Democrats, were able to form a government led by Chancellor Angela Merkel, joined by the Left in a grand coalition.  Now, after the parties and the President of the Federal Republic of Germany have approved the deal, the executive has taken office. 

Developments in Greece
The conservative Greek Government ended public funding of Greece’s anti-austerity fascist party.  Greece is projected to begin its economic recovery in 2014. 

Eurozone Banking Union; Downgrade of European Union
The European Monetary Union has agreed to form a banking union, which is a key step in ending its fiscal crisis, which had been exacerbated by a lack of coordination by national central banks of interest rates.  The union will be able to rescue troubled banks, instead of relying on governments to bail them out with taxpayer-backed loans.  Meanwhile, the European Union was downgraded a notch from one of the rating firm’s highest rating.  Its rating is still excellent, but demonstrates the continued threat from the ongoing fiscal crisis.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Cinfici’s Letter to the Editor on the Role of School Boards in Pennsylvania

A letter I wrote to the editor of the Reading Eagle was published verbatim December 5.  I reprint the manuscript below, as it does not contain his capitalization or punctuation errors or interpositions of trendy examples of style, although, thankfully, these did not compromise the point of the letter. 

One of the main reasons I launched this blog, which I am grateful to have, is not to be subject to 200-word limits, liberally-biased and ignorant editors with poor writing styles, or transcription errors.  Nevertheless, I do appreciate the letter’s publication.  Numerous letters of mine have been published over the years, but I have been content to post on my blog over the last five years instead.  This particular subject, given my recent public service, necessitated an exception.

My letter was in response to an editorial that essentially repeated the same point the editors and other critics who do not understand the role of School Boards of Directors in Pennsylvania have been making in accusing the Reading School Board of Directors, on which I recently completed a temporary term, of micromanaging or overstepping bounds.  I note here they had failed to make such criticisms during my previous term of service when the Superintendent was effectively controlled by a small number of School Directors in a true example of micromanaging and overstepping the bounds, but now criticize the current Board for fulfilling its fiduciary responsibility by seeking information from the School District Administration.  Because those micromanaging School Directors falsely accused those of us who sought information to expose the District to openness and transparency – in part to counter their micromanaging – of “micromanaging” ourselves, I have been steadfast in protecting the legal rights of all School Directors to govern effectively in the face of continued similar false allegations. 

Here is a transcript of my manuscript:

Your statement that the duties of school directors are “to establish goals for the district while allowing the superintendent and other administrators to chart the course on how to attain those goals” reflects a common misconception about the role of school boards of directors in Pennsylvania.

            In addition to adopting policies and budgets, school boards are required to do more than set goals, but also to consider whether or not to vote for every expenditure, textbook, major personnel and real estate matter.  

           Moreover, it is the oversight responsibility of school directors to follow up and determine whether or not their policies have been carried out or whether the procedures the administration implements have been effective in achieving these goals, and, if not, to respond accordingly.  A school board of directors is thus not like a corporate board of directors because, as the Auditor General notes, once school directors take their oaths of office, they have a fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayers and are not to be rubber stamps for unelected superintendents.  Therefore, it is the duty of school directors – and not overstepping their bounds or micromanaging – to obtain information to inform their votes and in order to hold administrations accountable. 

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Syrian Chemical Weapons Update

           A recent United Nations report finds – not surprisingly – that Syria’s Assad regime did, in fact, use chemical weapons against its own people on several occasions.

            Meanwhile, the entire identified Syrian stockpile of its most dangerous chemical weapons has been destroyed.  The United States assisted significantly with the destruction of the weapons of mass destruction. Other foreign states are working to destroy the remainder of Syria’s chemical arsenal.

           The Syrian Civil War continues, however, as the government and rebels remain in a stalemate while the rebel camp is divided between Islamists and those Muslims who are not Islamists.  Although it is deprived of chemical weapons, Bashar Assad’s regime continues to commit crimes against humanity with impunity by attacking civilians indiscriminately with conventional weapons.   

North Korean Purge Announcement Intellectually Undermines the Regime

           I thought it would be interesting to examine how the purge of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un’s uncle and his associates, which is obviously an attempt by the young strongman to consolidate power within the regime, might be viewed by the North Korean people, other than strictly through the Communist Party line.  I suspect that if they are able to read between the lines, despite decades of brainwashing by the Stalinist dictatorship, the regime’s official announcement may unintentionally undermine its public support. 

            As was the case with the Czars who were frequently eliminating their advisors because of poor advice, allegedly malevolent advisors reflect on the leaders who trust them.  Considering that Kim Jong-un’s uncle was portrayed as a benevolent and trusted figure, the Communist regime’s allegations about him suggest that even such revered people in the Hermit Kingdom’s ruling family might not necessarily be what they seem.  The North Korean people might begin to suspect that the neither is the young nephew who rules them, nor anyone else closely associated with him.

            The execution of Kim Jong-un’s uncle allegedly for treason for trying to seize control of the regime, as well as for corruption and womanizing, suggest that political power is something that one might be tempted to covet for its own sake – even at the risk of one’s life – instead of being an opportunity for selfless service to country.  Seen in this light, Kim might not necessarily continue to be viewed by the North Korean people as only being concerned for the good of his countrymen. 

           Furthermore, the allegations against Kim’s uncle demonstrate that Communist party leaders have access to money, foreign goods and vices, while the people remain impoverished and constantly on the brink of starvation.  Indeed, not all appears to be well in Socialist Paradise if people steal, or want foreign goods and vices, let alone covet power for themselves instead of exhibiting unquestioning loyalty to the Supreme Leader. 

Foreign Digest: Ukraine, Poland, Central African Republic, Italy

Ukraine Is Being Torn between East and West
            Ukraine is facing decisions about whether to join Europe fully or become a vassal state of Russia.  The democratically-elected Ukrainian government has opted to orient with the dictatorship of Russia in turning down a potentially beneficial free trade agreement with the European Union and eventual membership in that organization.  It succumbed to Russian threats in regard to energy supplies.  The government’s decision has touched off massive street protests and counter-protests to determine the State’s political destiny. 

Crucifixes to Remain in Poland’s Parliament
            A Polish appeals Court has ruled that Crucifixes may continue to be displayed in Parliament, thereby overturning a lower court ruling in favor of a number of Members objecting to the display.  The ruling serves as a reminder that the rights of Man come from God, which is the essential belief that necessarily guarantees the liberty of all.

International Military Mission to Central African Republic
            After a rebellion by Muslims overthrew a Christian-led government in the always-unstable Central African Republic (C.A.R.), and the new government’s inability to quell violence by some of its own supporters, the African Union and former colonial power France have intervened militarily to restore order.  The United States is aiding the international effort by transporting Burundian troops to the C.A.R.

Italian Political Reforms
           The Italian Government issued a decree phasing out public subsidizing of political parties.  It will, however, allow taxpayers to earmark .2% of their income voluntarily to fund parties.  The parties will also now be subject to public audit.  After a series of scandals involving party members embezzling from their own publicly-funded parties, the moves are the first fruits of political reform and will also help Italy eliminate its budget deficit.  Decrees take effect legally, but are required to be ratified by Italy’s Parliament within two months.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Cinfici Completes a Term on the Reading School Board of Directors

           I recently completed my appointment to a temporary term on the Reading School District Board of School Directors.  The term was to fill a vacancy for nearly seven months until the special election to elect someone to fill the remaining two years of the four-year term.

            I had posted about my assistance of the Board on the budget in my post in June of this year, Cinfici Helps Balance the Reading School District Budget to Avert a State Takeover,  It afterward became necessary to correct the budget because of incorrect information the School District Administration gave the Board and then to add additional unexpected revenues from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, which had approved its budget two days after the District.  Much of the remainder of my focus as a School Director was spent on trying to keep the District’s budget balanced, in terms of obtaining accurate information from the Administration as to the District’s finances, as well as finding increased revenues or spending reductions.

            Meanwhile, the other significant accomplishments of my service included initiating the use of metal detectors for Board meetings and helping to get them installed at the intermediate high school, leading the update of the facilities use rental policy and fee schedule, spearheading the hiring of a public relations firm to manage the District website, and shepherding through a major energy savings program that is expected to save several million dollars.  The energy project, which will improve comfort and be a better example to students and the community, will coincide with a more than $40 million deferred maintenance plan the Board initiated for 15 of the District’s schools.

           Thanks in part to my efforts, various other initiatives were advanced to improve the District's finances, facilities and board governance, as well as to give the new Board of School Directors the information it needs to make good decisions in regard to these ideas.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Nelson Mandela Was neither a Political Prisoner, nor Imprisoned for Opposing Apartheid

           One of the main purposes of this blog is to promote good language.  The misuse or overuse of words dilutes their meaning.  When certain terms for evil acts are abused in such a manner, they make the evil seem less evil and the good seem evil, too.  An example is the term political prisoner.

            A political prisoner is one who is imprisoned for conscience.  In other words, a person who is jailed for exercising freedom of speech, press, assembly or religion is a political prisoner, as opposed to a person who is imprisoned for actions, is a “political prisoner.”

            Nelson Mandela was imprisoned because of his conviction for sabotage and was kept in jail for 27 years because of his refusal to renounce violence.  He had been part of efforts by the Marxist African National Congress to overthrow the government of South Africa violently and to replace it with a Communist regime – at a time when International Communism was advancing violently in southern Africa while the South African government, despite its oppression against its indigenous people and others, was the strongest bulwark against such a great tyranny.  Therefore, Mandela did not meet the definition of a political prisoner.  Indeed, Amnesty International, a left-leaning organization devoted to preventing human rights abuses by exposing them, never recognized him as one. 

It is also misleading to say that Mandela was jailed for opposing apartheid, the government-imposed system of racial segregation in South Africa.  Regardless of his political motivations, he was imprisoned for his violent actions, not his view opposing a particular policy or set of policies.  Saying that Mandela was imprisoned because of his opposition to apartheid is like saying that John Brown, who led a raid of the federal arsenal at Harper’s Ferry in 1859, was hanged for opposing slavery instead of for treason. 

We Americans are especially respectful of the right of people to take up arms against tyranny when there is no other recourse, but even we would not describe anyone caught in the act of rebellion as a “political prisoner” or as being “imprisoned for opposing” a particular policy.  When people are jailed for committing violent acts, they are imprisoned for various kinds of militancy, not purely for their political opposition.  

The fact that Mandela, to his great credit, helped heal South Africa’s wounds as its first post-apartheid President and respected representative government and liberty in a post Cold-War period with a vigorous political opposition from diverse ethnic groups and the with the eyes of the world upon him, thereby preventing his country from turning into another Zimbabwedoes not rewrite the story of how he became a hero to the rest of the opposition in South Africa to the apartheid government and a symbol of that regime’s oppression in the first place.  

We should appreciate Mandela’s contributions and mourn his loss without burying good language along with him.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Recent Pennsylvania Education Reforms by Governor Corbett and the GOP Legislature

           A number of education reforms recently approved in Pennsylvania are already having a positive effect.

            I have posted about how Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett, a Republican, did not cut state education funding, as his critics falsely claim, but that the level of state aid to local school districts dropped only because of the end of temporary federal stimulus money – a situation to which I can attest, as a former School Director.  I also posted on how Pennsylvania made some significant reforms of the Common Core curriculum standards (See my post, Keep up the Resistance to Common Core in Pennsylvania, from September of this year,  Now that I have completed my term filling a vacancy on the Reading School Board, I wish to note several other reforms that were approved by the Republican-majority General Assembly and signed into law by Corbett that have been having a significant effect on our School District, as well as others, I am sure, because these reforms have not received the media attention they merit.

            A major reform of the Commonwealth’s regulatory powers over failing school districts was enacted last year and has begun to affect districts by encouraging them to take the necessary steps to avoid losing local control of education.  The new law adopts several new criteria for state takeover of school districts and establishes effective measures to restore them to fiscal solvency to protect local taxpayers.  It is already helping the Harrisburg School District, for example, which was taken over by the state, to become fiscally responsible. 

           Among several other measures were approved as a result of various incidences of waste of public tax dollars, including setting a three-year limit for contracts for superintendents, increasing openness and transparency by requiring school board evaluations of superintendents’ degree of achievement of their goals and their performance be made public, and limiting massive superintendent buyouts to more reasonable severances.  In regard to curriculum, a new state mandate to include Pennsylvania history in fourth grade is also taking effect.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Conservative Analysis of the Iranian Nuclear Deal

            The recent deal between Iran and the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France and Germany is dangerously flawed in several respects.  Although Iran is required under its terms to stop or slow down its nuclearization program, ostensibly for energy, but apparently for weaponry, the deal is unlikely to achieve its intent, which is to prevent Iran, which receives all the benefits from the deal, from producing nuclear weapons.

            The deal was negotiated by the administration of Iran’s new President, who had campaigned on a plan to make a detail to allow Iran to escape the harsh measures that were damaging its economy, but must be approved by the Islamist theocratic dictatorship, which remains intent upon obtaining nuclear weapons and would never agree to give up its “right” to have them.  In other words, the Islamic Republic would not have agreed to a deal that significantly curbed its weapons of mass destruction ambitions.  Indeed, Iran’s leaders are claiming that U.S. President Barack Obama’s interpretations about how tough the deal supposedly is on Iran are false. 

            In return for temporary Iranian concessions until a permanent deal is negotiated, the United States is lifting economic sanctions and unfreezing Iranian assets up front while the steps Iran is taking in compliance of the deal are not irreversible.  The concern that conservative analysts of the deal have expressed is that the West will have lost its leverage should Iran renege because of the difficulty of gaining Russian and Chinese approval for the sanctions in the United Nations. 

            The verification process for the nuclear deal with Iran only includes known sites, without requiring the Iranians to make available for inspection any other suspected site.   The deal also ignores Iran’s ballistic missile program.  Such missiles could deliver nuclear warheads far beyond Iran’s borders.  The dangerous oversight reflects the odd statement of Vice President Joseph Biden during the vice presidential candidates debate in 2012 that an Iranian nuclear weapon would pose no threat because Iran had no means to deliver it.  Biden’s statement thus represented a foreshadowing of a shift in the Obama Administration’s policy from not allowing Iran to have a nuclear weapon to allowing it to have one, as long as it could not launch it from a missile, as if a nuclear bomb is not otherwise dangerous.

            In the pre-negotiations, according to Breitbart News, the U.S. released several Iranian smugglers in exchange for the release of two innocent American civilians held in Iran while three other innocent American civilians continue to be held. In other words, even the usual pre-negotiation acts of good faith were tilted toward Iran’s favor.

            Although the deal was about nuclear weapons, it fails to address Iran’s sponsorship of terrorism, which is one of the main reasons for concern about Iranian obtainment of weapons of mass destruction.  Furthermore, the Obama Administration’s direct negotiation with Iran violates American policy of not negotiating with terrorists.  Moreover, the deal legitimatizes the despotic Iranian regime.

            By accepting the nuclear deal with Iran, the Obama Administration fails to reassure Israel and the Arab states of the Persian Gulf, which now can no longer rely upon American protection and will now have to turn elsewhere or resort to other means.  The Administration has made the U.S. look weak and disloyal and exposed for not truly standing by its own policy, such as by denying Iranian obtainment of nuclear weapons to any degree more than in expressing empty words.  

           The U.S. Congress must now act to increase sanctions on Iran, or at least, should it be unable to override any veto by Obama, to establish a sanctions plan as a kind of insurance policy that would be triggered as soon as any Iranian violation of the nuclear deal is detected. 

Down with Uptalk!

           I have posted frequently on language in regard to incorrect usage because of my concern about how it can undemocratically lead to changes in interpretation of written law, in addition to reducing clarity, being distracting and reflecting poorly on the person who makes incorrect use of words or terms.  Similarly, poor pronunciation or even incorrect pitch can also hinder communication.

            The High Rising Terminal, also known as “uptalk,” is the tendency to end sentences as if they were questions, that is to say, with a higher pitch, which is characteristic of an interrogatory, instead of a drop in pitch, which is characteristic of a declarative statement.  This habit has been observed the last few decades in certain parts of the English-speaking world, from Australia to the eastern United States, and has become most closely associated with a particular dialect in Southern California, where it is reportedly spreading.  It is especially common among young females, but has spread beyond that demographic group.

            The High Rising Terminal can be confusing for listeners because it makes it unclear whether the speaker is making a declarative statement or asking a question.  At the least, it is distracting.  Perhaps the worst effect of the High Rising Terminal is that it suggests the speaker lacks confidence. 

           People should listen to themselves speaking in order to discern whether they are engaging in uptalk, so as to avoid it.  We would be doing others a favor if we politely point out the High Rising Terminal when we hear them using it and encourage remedy of making the necessary distinction in pitch between sentences and questions.  

           Poor language reduces unity among those who share a common tongue, while good language increases it.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Fifth Anniversary of My Blog; Blogger Hit Report

           November 27 was the fifth anniversary of the launch of this blog in 2008.  There were 546 posts during that time.  Thank you for visiting or commenting or complimenting me offline.  I especially appreciate repeat visitors.  Your patronage and support of my blog is much appreciated encourages me to continue to post. 

            In the last year, Blogger tracked approximately 5,500 hits, not including my own, to my blog.  The average of around 500 a month has been steady for several months, which is higher and more consistent than last year, despite a 17% decrease in the number of posts.  Less than 10% of the hits are apparently from referrer sites (automated hits from commercial websites that are intended to tempt bloggers to click on the links to their sites).  Aside from possibly an increase in these, the higher number may be attributable to increased blocking of cookies by visitors because of increased privacy concerns, which would explain a corresponding decrease in hits tracked by StatCounter. 

           Now that I have completed my appointed term as Reading School Director, I expect to have more time to post.  Posts are currently being drafted on Pennsylvania’s education reforms and the Iranian nuclear deal.  Please continue to visit once or twice a week.  Thank you.