Sunday, February 23, 2014

Update: Revolution for Liberty in Ukraine

           After a violent crackdown on anti-government protests, the Ukrainian Parliament has removed the authoritarian President of Ukraine, who had fled the capital, from power and placed the Speaker, who had been part of the opposition, in charge of an interim government until new parliamentary elections can be held.

            The President, who had been ousted in the 2004 Orange Revolution and later returned to power, chose to accept a Russian loan package for the indebted Ukrainian government instead of a trade deal with the European Union, thereby signifying closer ties with Russia over integration with Western Europe.  See my post from December of 2013, Foreign Digest: Ukraine, Poland, Central African Republic, Italy, controls the natural gas pipelines that lead into Ukraine and offered to continue the flow, which served as a reminder that it could cut it off, as it had before.  The opposition suspected a deal between Russia and the Ukrainian President that benefited him personally, a theory for which the evidence was bolstered by the discovery over the weekend of his lavish palace at the expense of the poor people of Ukraine.  Their concern about Russia was also based on the large presence of Russians in the eastern part of the former Soviet republic and the possibility that Russia would try to occupy militarily or even annex eastern Ukraine.  The opposition also objected to the imprisonment on politically-motivated charges of the former President who had led Ukraine after the Orange Revolution, among other human rights abuses; she has since been freed, along with many of the protesters who had been detained.  Their cause was emboldened further by the harsh measures taken by the Ukrainian government against peaceful protesters.  In short, Ukraine had become, once again, similar to Russia and Venezuela

I had called earlier this month in my post on the Winter Olympics in Russia for the Free World, led by the United States, to stand more strongly for the independence, territorial integrity and freedom of the former Soviet republics and with the people in the streets of Ukraine, which it has. 

The destiny of Ukraine is now once again in the hands of the Ukrainian people.  They must return to representative government quickly through parliamentary elections and, through their chosen representatives in Parliament, guarantee the liberty of all Ukrainians, whether they speak Ukrainian or Russian.  The Ukrainian people can then decide, free of intimidation or bribery, their relations with Russia and Western Europe, which need not be mutually exclusive, while Ukraine’s independence and territorial integrity must be respected by all foreign states.  I congratulate the Ukrainian people on their revolution and wish them success in achieving the goal of liberty and keeping it.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Update: Renzi Is Italy’s New Premier

           As expected, Matteo Renzi was sworn in today as Prime Minister of Italy after re-forming the same grand coalition of the center-left and center-right and the center as the executive lead by the predecessor he ousted through a party conference, Enrico Letta, although with a mostly new cabinet of ministers.

            The new Italian Premier has a full docket, as economical, political and fiscal reforms are urgently needed.  Renzi promises to address one each month.  Italy, the European Monetary Union’s third largest economy, is only beginning to emerge from its deepest post-war recession, has a much-derided parliamentary election law that has been ruled unconstitutional and possesses one of the highest ratios of debt to gross domestic product in the world.  The new center-left prime minister is expected to continue economic reforms that will encourage growth without raising taxes, replace the electoral law with one supported by both his own party and those parties both in government and in opposition on the center-right that can better help a party win and sustain a governing majority, and to reduce spending by streamlining bureaucracy and selling off state assets. 

           Italy’s Parliament is expected to give Renzi its vote of confidence on Monday.  Meanwhile, it started the process of political reform by ratifying the Italian Government’s decree to phase out government subsidies of political parties I had posted about in December of 2013, in my post, Foreign Digest: Ukraine, Poland, Central African Republic, Italy,  No changes in North Atlantic Treaty Organization member Italy’s foreign policy are expected, meaning it will maintain its close relations with the United States.

Honor George Washington by Refuting False Arguments against the Greatest American

           Today, I return to one of my favorite subjects: to honor George Washington on his birthday.  Alas, it has become necessary to refute some of the false arguments made against the Father of our country. 

These myths or unfair criticisms of Washington are based upon various motivations.  They are intended to give legitimacy to radical views, are intended to besmirch the American Revolution, or represent iconoclasm based upon jealousy or insecurity or to defend the misbehavior of others by maligning the reputation of the Father of our country and other Founders.  Although, like everyone, Washington was imperfect, he strove mightily to improve himself and achieved greatness – a greatness that is unparalleled in American history and among only the best in world history – as a result. 

            I have extolled Washington’s virtues and accomplishments in my post of February of 2009, George Washington the Great,  In my post from April of that year, Two Big Myths about the Founding Fathers: The Myth about the Three Fifths Rule and the Myth that Washington Warned against “Entangling Alliances,”, I corrected the frequent error that Washington advised against “entangling alliances” in his Farewell Address, in which he advised only against “permanent alliances.”  There are other dubious, false, exaggerated or unfair accusations against the American Founding Fathers in general, but the purpose of this post is limited to the refuting the specific repeated personal ones against Washington.

Washington Was Not a Deist
            There is a myth that most of the Founding Fathers, including Washington, were deists.  Deists believe that God created the universe, but did not intervene in it, and thus prayer was pointless.  Although Washington practiced the ancient Greek philosophy of stoicism, he attended church, usually worshipping as an Anglican/Episcopalian, prayed and gave public thanks to God.  He believed that God had protected him numerous times in battle and had favored the cause of the American Revolution. 

There Is No Convincing Evidence Washington Committed Adultery
            Washington did maintain a close relationship with a woman, which we know about through his correspondence, although it must be considered in the context that he was among the most prolific letter-writers of all time.  There is no evidence of anything further, or we would certainly know it by now.  Of course, it cannot be proven whether or not someone committed “adultery of the heart,” as President Jimmy Carter put it.  Regardless, what the historical record reveals is that Washington’s wife often joined him at his battlefield headquarters and he was eager to retire from public service, both as general and President, and to return to his farm with her.  The absurd accusation that he died of syphilis is easily disproved by the historical record; Washington contracted a respiratory infection after riding his horse on his farm on a rainy December morning at nearly 69 years of age, which was exacerbated by the medical practice of bleeding the patient.  Moreover, Washington practiced morals and self control and maintained a good reputation.

That Washington Lost More Battles than He Won Does Not Prove He Was a Bad General
            I submit that the fact that Washington lost more battles in the American Revolution than he won, especially considering that he was leading an untrained army against the greatest fighting force in the world, is proof that he was a great general.  Washington practiced Fabian tactics, meaning that he avoided a potentially disastrous direct confrontation with a superior force from an inferior position.  He maneuvered his forces to harass the enemy and seized opportunities to attack when conditions were most favorable.  As a result, when Washington lost, he usually lost barely, but when he won, he usually won decisively, such as at Trenton or Yorktown.  His only major defeat was his first battle, at Long Island, but he executed a great escape and learned from his mistake.  Sometimes, Washington won without even firing a shot, as he did when he drove British forces from Boston by placing cannon on ground overlooking the city.  He was a master at espionage, maintained discipline over his almost unruly army, and was loyal to the civilian authorities who had granted him extraordinary power.  Washington inspired his soldiers with his personal bravery in battle.  Although he was not as great as Alexander, Washington’s successful military record is exemplary. 

          It is right as we honor Washington on the anniversary of his birth to learn more about the great model and source of inspiration and dismiss the ignorant and malevolent accusations that are without merit.  The American people can rightly have George Washington as their hero.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Conservative Thoughts on the Increase of the Federal Debt Limit

The federal debt limit was raised to well over $17 trillion by the Congress and President, without any offsetting budget cuts. 

The cuts to future military retirees’ pensions were restored.  I had posted that there was bipartisan support for restoring them in my December of 2013 post, Conservative Analysis of the Two-Year United States Budget Deal,

The purpose of the debt limit is to give Congress the discretion on whether to raise or lower it. It is not, as liberals argue, automatically to raise it, or else it would not be subject to public debate and a vote.  In anticipation of bills to paid, it is necessary to raise the debt limit to cover those bills, if expected revenues are insufficient to equal the expenditures.  It is prudent to require offsetting spending reductions, however, because of the growth of the federal debt, which now exceeds the gross domestic product.

Conservative Republican members of Congress attempted to enact spending offsets, but their effort failed as the Legislative Branch gave up its leverage with the Executive Branch.  Thus, an opportunity for more spending restraint and fiscal responsibility was lost.  The political climate of blame for the legislative struggles between liberals who wish to spend more and conservatives who wish to spend less was unfavorable for the latter, even though a convincing case could be made that the liberals have been unreasonable in their opposition to budget cuts, which has forced the government shutdown or brought the federal government to the brink of running out of spending authority.  The resolution of the debt limit question gives temporary certainty for the market, as well, until the limit is exceeded yet again. 

Despite the necessity of having to compromise with the liberal Democratic-controlled Senate and President Barack Obama, conservative House Republicans have nevertheless been effective in significantly decreasing the annual budget deficit and slowing the growth of the debt, but a minority opposition party must effectively use the power it has, under the political circumstances.  Greater progress in restoring fiscal responsibility than what Republicans in Congress usually achieve will likely come only after the GOP wins the majority of the Senate in the 2014 General Election.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Nepal and Lebanon Form Governments

            The non-communist republican party that had long been in opposition to the monarchy was able to form a government with the backing of the Marxist-Leninist Communist party, which will keep the Maoist Communists out of power.  The Marxist-Leninists will not join in the government, but will support its vote of confidence, which is necessary for a government to remain in power in a parliamentary system.

            I had posted in November in my post, Foreign Digest: Honduras, Nepal, Germany, Italy,, that because no party had gained a clear majority in the parliamentary elections, the ruling Maoists, who had led a violent rebellion against the monarchy they helped abolish after taking power, would be unable to turn Nepal into a totalitarian state, while the monarchists had clearly lost, which meant that Himalayan state would remain a republic.  With the three main parties usually close in popular support and each  exchanging power since the abolition of the monarchy, and thus unable to provide sufficient direction, Nepalese politics has been deadlocked and remains uncertain.  Nepal has been unable to initiate reconciliation by bringing the former Maoist rebels into the armed forces and to draft a permanent constitution, but the formation of a government gives it a chance to build republican institutions through a constitution that respects human rights and the rights of minorities.

            After a ten-month period of negotiations, Lebanon was able to form a national unity government that includes Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims, as well as Christians.  The unity government was necessary as Lebanese factiousness has been exacerbated by the Syrian Civil War, as the Sunnis and Shi’ites in particular were aligning themselves with their brethren in neighboring Syria, which had long dominated Lebanese politics.  There has been another spike in violence in Lebanon, which has again raised fears of a return to civil war.  It is hoped that Lebanon’s new government will contribute to Lebanon’s peace and greater independence.  

Update: Letta Has Resigned; Renzi Is Expected to be Given a Mandate to Form a Government

Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta submitted his resignation Friday, which was accepted by President Giorgio Napolitano. 

The outgoing Premier, who heads a temporary caretaker government, opted not to submit to a confidence vote in Parliament, as his own center-left party had overwhelmingly voted to call for a new government.  A confidence vote, even if lost by Letta, would have allowed Parliament, specifically, the Chamber of Deputies, the representatives of the people, to cause the Government’s downfall, instead of the party in a return to Italy’s post-war style of revolving-door governments.

Napolitano has ruled out new elections, as the much-maligned current election law, which has been ruled unconstitutional by the highest Italian court, and the significant support for the populist anti-establishment opposition party, would not likely allow any party to win a majority to govern and result in another hung parliament like the one in 2013 that necessitated Letta’s unprecedented center-left-right coalition government.  Thus, the selection of the new prime minister is up to the center-left party, the largest in Parliament, who wants its leader, Matteo Renzi to be the next Prime Minister of Italy.

After consultations with all the parties in Parliament, Napolitano is prepared to give a mandate to the Renzi, to form a government.  In order to gain the required parliamentary majority, another grand coalition executive of the center-left and center-right is necessary, as the incoming Premier will need the support not only of his own party and the centrists, but also of the New Center Right Party, which split with the center-right party that was led by former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and opted to remain in government.  In addition to the typical negotiation over the make-up of the cabinet, the New Center Right is seeking assurances about Renzi’s plans and expressing opposition to inviting a left-wing party into the grand coalition.  Both center-right parties backed Renzi’s plan to reform the election law. 

The center-left party thanked Letta for his service and its new leader who deposed him did offer praise.  The outgoing Premier was also thanked for his reforms by European leaders.  They were joined by United States President Barack Obama, who thanked Letta also for maintaining Italy’s friendship with the U.S.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Letta Will Resign as Prime Minister; Renzi Will Try to Head the Next Government of Italy

           Italy will have a new prime minister, its third consecutive unelected premier since center-right Silvio Berlusconi was elected in 2008 and resigned in 2011.  Prime Minister Enrico Letta, who led a grand coalition government of the center-left and center-right, announced that he will tender his resignation to President Giorgio Napolitano today after his center-left Democratic Party voted overwhelmingly at a conference for a new Italian government to be headed by its upstart leader, Matteo Renzi, the 39 year-old Mayor of Florence.

            Regardless of whether President Napolitano accepts Letta’s resignation and urges him to submit to a parliamentary vote of confidence, the Democrats’ impatience with the pace of reform would make it unlikely the premier would gain enough support from his coalition partners to add to the small minority he retains in his own party for his executive to survive.  The Head of State had chosen Letta, a Member of Parliament, after a two-month long hung parliament had resulted after inconclusive elections in 2013, after having chosen his predecessor, technocrat Mario Monti, whom Napolitano had named a Life Senator as Berlusconi’s Government had been teetering on the brink of collapse amidst Italy’s financial crisis.  This time, however, not only was the choice to lead Italy’s government not in the hands of the voters, but not even in that of Parliament, as the Democratic Party has chosen Italy’s prime minister.  Furthermore, in a politically risky move, it has chosen in Renzi someone to lead an executive who has never served in Parliament or even stood for parliamentary or national election.  In fact, Renzi had stated that he preferred for elections to determine to the next premier, but had had also observed the unlikelihood of a definitive choice before the much-maligned and unconstitutional election law could be reformed. 

            Letta had adroitly managed to keep the unprecedented left-right government together longer than many analysts had expected, despite the removal of Berlusconi by his Democrats from the Senate, after the center-right leader’s conviction on corruption charges.  He had instituted a number of fiscal, economic and political reforms and had proposed additional ones, but impatience grew with the lack of bold parliamentary action as Italy has continued to be stuck in its worst post-Second World War recession.  

           Renzi had struck a deal with Berlusconi on a reform of Italy’s election law that would increase the required share of votes for Parliament for smaller parties to serve in government, lower the large number of bonus seats awarded the party that wins the most parliamentary seats, and reduce block lists in order to allow voters to choose their Members of Parliament more directly.  The proposal also would make the lawmaking function of Parliament unicameral, as the upper chamber, the Senate, would be stripped of its legislative power and largely become an assembly of the Regions and Provinces.  Renzi’s plan, which marginalized Letta, who supported it, would decrease the possibility of another hung parliament by giving the winning coalition a better chance of governing with a majority in the Chamber of Deputies, the lower house.  The plan not only minimizes smaller parties that tend to veto reforms, but also minimizes the obstructionist populist party, which came in third in the 2013 parliamentary elections.  The two main center-right parties, Berlusconi’s and the remnant of his former party that remained in Letta’s government, support the plan. 

Renzi would likely need support from the center-right to gain a mandate from President Napolitano to head a new government and win parliamentary approval for his political reform proposal and other fiscal and economic reforms.  However, they are likely to be calls from the right for the Head of State to dissolve Parliament and schedule new parliamentary elections – that would have to be conducted under the existing law – which could continue the uncertainty over Italy’s direction, a move Napolitano had dismissed previously.  I shall post updates of significant developments.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Conservative Republicans Force the Liberal Democrats to Cut Food Stamps

           The United States Congress passed the agriculture bill, which President Barack Obama has signed into law.  The appropriation measure continues many farm subsidies, shifts funds from a subsidy program that paid farmers not to farm to other programs and increases overall spending, but there was one major concession the liberal Democratic-led Senate and President had to make to the Republican-led House: an $800 million cut in the food stamp program.

           Like other welfare and entitlement programs that have increased dramatically under the Obama Administration, the food stamp program increases dependency on government and remains riddled with fraud.  Federal welfare programs, which are of dubious constitutionality because they violate federalism, are used by the liberal Democrats to benefit their constituency at the expense of those who earn the money, with the ludicrous excuse that taking money from one person and giving it to another, after the federal government middleman takes his cut, is somehow stimulative to the overall economy.  After welfare reform resulted in significant reductions to welfare spending in the 1990s, however, the economy prospered as more people took jobs, thereby generating more taxable income and, in turn, further decreasing federal spending. Therefore, federal welfare programs should be reformed again by eliminating waste, fraud and abuse and tightening eligibility rules, if not be phased out completely, at least by giving block grants to the States to administer the program entirely as they see fit.  In the meantime, there are various proposals by fiscally responsible conservative Republicans in Congress to reduce some of the welfare and entitlement fraud. 

            As with the series of spending compromises over the last two years, about which I have posted, the agricultural appropriation increases spending, but at a slower rate than otherwise would have occurred had Congressional conservatives, especially in the House, where they are the largest group within the majority-GOP caucus, not insisted on them.  Together with the budget cuts that have come about through sequestration, the deficit is significantly lower than during the first two years of the Obama Administration, when liberal Democrats were in the majority of both chambers of Congress and went on a record-setting spending spree.  However, the level of deficit spending remains unacceptably high as the debt has ballooned to nearly $17 trillion.

           In fact, the next dispute will soon be in regard to the federal debt limit, which is once again about to be exceeded.  Conservative Republicans must continue to insist on spending cuts to pay for the current spending in order to stop the debt from further increasing.  We conservatives should remind Congress that the debt undermines market confidence and necessitates burdensome taxes, both now and for future generations.  We must demand that Congress take significant action now to rein in debt and restore fiscal responsibility.  

Foreign Digest: South Sudan, Philippines, Libya

South Sudan
After various cease-fire violations in South Sudan, there has been a reduction in violence.  It is hoped that negotiations between the warring tribes will resolve the crisis that threatens the stability of the world’s youngest republic.  

            The Filipino government reached a peace deal with the largest separatist Muslim rebel group, after decades of fighting.  Meanwhile, the Philippines continues to battle one of the splinter groups of Muslim guerillas, some of which have a history of terrorism.  An al-Qaeda affiliate is among three Islamist organizations operating in southern Philippines

           Libya has reportedly destroyed its chemical weapons.  The weapons of mass destruction were left over from the dictatorship of Muammar Qaddafi, who had not destroyed his entire chemical arsenal.  In contrast, Syria still has not fully implemented its deal to destroy its stockpile of chemical weapons.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Russia Hosts the Olympics near the Georgian Territory It Invaded

Russia is currently hosting the 2014 Winter Olympics in its Black Sea semi-tropical resort at Sochi.  There has been some focus in the media on concerns about security in regard to threats from Islamist terrorists in the region, Russia’s anti-homosexuality law, the lack of readiness of host facilities and other embarrassing problems, but the Russian invasion of nearby Georgian  territory has been forgotten.

            Sochi is not many miles away from Abkhazia, one of the separatist parts of Georgia that Russia invaded in 2008.  The Russians set up puppet governments in Abkhazia and South Ossetia after provoking a war with its pro-Western, democratic neighbor in the Caucuses that had been a Soviet republic.  Only a handful of foreign states recognize the independence of the two breakaway regions that will either continue as de facto Russian protectorates or are expected eventually to seek union with Russia.  After the invasion, there was some thought among critics of Russia’s aggression of organizing a boycott of the Russian-hosted Olympics nearby, but the focus of concerns about the games has been elsewhere. 

As I have posted a number of times, Russia has paid no price for its misbehavior.  In fact, I noted recently in a post how it has economically intimidated another former Soviet republic, Ukraine from becoming closer with the rest of Europe, as states along Russia’s periphery, especially former Soviet republics, are mindful of what happened to Georgia.  One price Russia ought to pay in order to deter further aggression is in people not attending or patronizing the Sochi Olympics in any manner that remotely benefits Russia. 

The Free World, led by the example of the United States of America, must stand more strongly for the independence, territorial integrity and liberty of former Soviet republics and especially with the people, for example, in the streets of Ukraine who are protesting their government’s alignment with Russia and repression of their freedom of expression.  The world should also expect Russia to respect the liberty of its own people, as well as that of its neighbors.