Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Foreign Digest: Hong Kong, Afghanistan, Switzerland, South Sudan

Hong Kong
            The people of Hong Kong are protesting the decision by the Communist Chinese government not to allow an open list of candidates to stand for election for the special territory’s executive.  After China took control of the British-leased territory in 1997, it had promised Hong Kong that it could maintain its liberty and free market system, as well as representative self-government.  A similar promise was made to Portuguese-leased Macau, which reverted to Chinese control two years later.  China has appointed Hong Kong’s leaders since that time, but has broken its promise of transitioning to elective representative self-governance by insisting that candidates it opposes be excluded from eligibility from being popularly elected to the territory’s government.  Freedom-loving people around the world should stand with the people of Hong Kong against totalitarianism. 

            The newly-inaugurated Afghan government has signed an agreement that will allow nearly 10,000 United States troops to remain in Afghanistan for up to two years after the significant drawdown of American forces at the end of 2014.  The residual force is necessary to avoid the mistake made by President Barack Obama in not leaving such a force in Iraq, which allowed the al-Qaeda offshoot, the “Islamic State,” to ally with Baathist holdouts in seizing territory to establish a terrorist safe haven, as predicted.  The U.S. and its NATO allies continue to battle Taliban and al-Qaeda in the Afghanistan-Pakistan front of the War on Terrorism in order to prevent them from reestablishing a safe haven in Afghanistan, from which the September 11, 2001 Terrorist Attacks were planned.

The troop agreement came after the resolution of Afghanistan’s presidential election dispute, in which the U.S. brokered a power-sharing deal.  Its long-time ally, Abdullah, formerly of Northern Alliance, will be second in command.  The U.S. had recognized the Northern Alliance, which controlled northeastern Afghanistan, as the de jure government of Afghanistan, not the Taliban, with which it fought.

            In a recent referendum, Swiss voters opted against socialized health insurance, in favor of maintaining their private insurance system.  The negative example of the federalization of health insurance (“Obamacare”) in the U.S. probably influenced the outcome of the referendum in Switzerland.  Supporters of socialized health insurance usually cite Europe as an example to emulate, which makes especially noteworthy the Swiss rejection of such a scheme.

South Sudan
           The warring parties in South Sudan have reportedly agreed in principle to a power-sharing agreement.  It is hoped it will end the violence that has soaked the fledgling state in blood.  

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Cinfici’s Rebuttal to the Berks County Intermediate Unit President’s Letter to the Editor

The President of the Berks County Intermediate Unit, Dr. John George, responded to my letter to the editor of the Reading Eagle, the manuscript of which I posted in my last post, with a letter of his own.  He misinterprets my point about the Reading School District finances and attempts to refute my other points by dismissing my interpretations of fact as “errors,” yet he fails to be able to deny my central points, some of which he leaves uncontested.

On the finances, George apparently misinterpreted my criticism of the Eagle’s coverage in which I stated the Reading School District’s budget surpluses the last three years disproved the newspaper’s “criticism over that period that the District’s finances were distressed.”  He simply referred to the Auditor General’s report and the curriculum audit as his response.  The former was about the District’s poor financial controls and the latter was hardly focused on finances.  The Eagle had reported the Auditor General’s findings of the District administration’s poor fiscal controls, which left the School Board and everyone else unable to know the true condition of the District’s finances.  Because no one knew exactly where the District stood, my point was that the Eagle and other critics of the Board should have been more skeptical of the declarations of the District’s administrations, especially after Board members pointed out inaccuracies in their statements.  For example, after the District’s Business Manager last year claimed the District was on course for a $900,000 budget shortfall, I asked if his figures included the $300,000 budgetary reserve.  He replied that they did not, but the Eagle neither printed my question, nor subtracted this figure from the total expected shortfall, instead uncritically taking the official administration statements as true.  The Eagle accurately reported similar statements by the District’s administrations over the last three years, but what those administrations were claiming has been proven inaccurate, as the BCIU has discovered instead that each of the budgets approved by previous Boards produced surpluses of millions of dollars.  Therefore, the District was not financially “distressed” and previous Boards – not the BCIU – deserve much of the credit for the District’s $16.4 million budgetary reserve.  My point is not that the District was in good fiscal shape, only that the dire warnings and criticisms were exaggerated or even baseless.  It is noteworthy that George was unable to deny the surpluses and take all the credit for the District’s improved finances. 

I also note here the point I made the last time I spoke on WEEU 850 AM’s Feedback talk-show that the Auditor General’s praise of the District for instituting monthly financial reports vindicated the previous Board, for we had pushed for such a tool in order for the new Board to be able to make better informed decisions.

On the BCIU’s conflict of interest, George’s argument is that because an intermediate unit is a government agency that is created to provide education services to school districts, there is no conflict of interest in favoring itself over private-sector service providers in the budget of a school district of which it has taken over the administration.  Because it is legal does not mean it is not a conflict of interest or that it is a practice in the best interest of the taxpayers.  By favoring itself, an intermediate unit benefits its own budget at the expense of the taxpayers, which also personally enhances the resume of its president. 

This conflict was on top of the one violated by the BCIU doing a study on the District that exaggerated the District’s problems and then recommending itself to by hired to take over the administration of the District.  It was not surprising that this group of education administrators recommended that the solution to the District’s problems was to hire more education administrators.

On the hiring, George dismissed any criticism of his hiring practices by pointing out that the Board approved the hiring.  However, the fact that the School Board approved the hiring recommended by the BCIU does not mean the Board followed proper procedures or that the BCIU’s recommendations were best for the District.  The BCIU mislead the Board into violating its own rules.  The BCIU added new administrative positions to the already top-heavy District’s administration that it filled with its own staff, without having created the positions by resolution, let alone creating job descriptions until after filling the positions.  Approving an organization chart does not ipso facto legally create the position, as the chart is only for establishing which positions are in what departments and the chains of command; the approval of an organization chart is thus not an enabling resolution.  By circumventing the hiring rules that are meant not only to prevent the Board, but also administrators, from engaging in nepotism, patronage and cronyism, the BCIU was able to place its own staff and other hand-picked like-minded personnel in key administrative positions, without having to advertise the positions and open them to staff and other potential applicants.  These rules are meant to be fair by being applied to all and to encourage the best qualified applicants to be hired without necessarily excluding any qualified applicant who is related to or friends with a Board member or administrator.  Furthermore, the BCIU’s hiring practices circumvented the District’s consent decree to follow certain hiring practices to avoid disadvantaging certain racial or ethnic minority applicants.  The BCIU did not hire any such minorities as administrators.  Between taking over the budget and hiring its own staff, and continuing to provide consultation to the District for several months beyond the original contract, the BCIU hooked its tentacles into the District for its own benefit that was not necessarily in the best interest of the District.

On the school renovation bonds, I based my contention on multiple knowledgeable and reliable sources.  Regardless, despite his misleading statements, George was unable to deny that millions of dollars in renovation bond money were not used to fix crumbling elementary schools, meaning that the repairs will have to made in the future at a higher cost than if they had been made at the same time as those of the other schools.  

In short, despite his claims of errors in my letter, George was unable to take credit for the surpluses produced by the previous Boards, to deny the BCIU’s conflict of interest in favoring itself in the District’s budget, to deny it violated the District’s hiring rules or that it failed to fix crumbling elementary schools.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Cinfici’s Letter to the Editor about the Takeover of the Reading School District by the Berks County Intermediate Unit

           The Reading Eagle printed my letter to the editor today.  It noted I am a former Reading School Director.  Below is a transcript of my manuscript:

Your editorial praising Berks County Intermediate Unit Chairman Dr. John George’s administration of the Reading School District continues your unbalanced narrative of negativity about the previous School Board and praise of the new Board for bringing in the BCIU.

Because the BCIU competes with often less-expensive private vendors to provide education services, it apparently had a conflict of interest in promoting itself within the District’s budget.  Furthermore, the BCIU initiated an administrative hiring spree by placing its own like-minded staff and other hand-picked administrators in the already top-heavy District, without the Board having approved the creation of new positions, which violated District rules. 

Among other inconsistencies, you had rightly criticized the District for crumbling schools, but never credited the previous Board’s approval of an over $30 million renovation program for the most deteriorated schools, yet did not criticize the BCIU-led District for borrowing $8 million from the renovation bond funds for other spending, leaving elementary schools to continue to crumble. 

Finally, you credited the BCIU for the District’s $16.4 million budgetary reserve, without reporting the surpluses generated by previous Boards each of the last three years.  The surpluses disproved your criticism over those years that the District’s finances were distressed.  

Monday, September 22, 2014

Obamacare Funds Abortion on Demand

Federal money under the law that federalized health insurance (“Obamacare “) has subsidized insurance coverage for abortion on demand (i.e. for nearly any reason), according to a federal General Accounting Office report, despite United States President Barack Obama’s Executive Order that no federal funds would be used to subsidize abortions, other than for certain limited circumstances. 

Insurance companies that received federal subsidies for health insurance for lower-income people were required to charge separate premiums for abortions committed for any reason other than the limited circumstances and to segregate the funds.  In practice, however, most companies failed to abide by the requirements, meaning that federal money pays for obtain abortion on demand.  The subsidies only are provided in those states that opted to establish state health insurance exchanges.  Twenty-seven states, including Pennsylvania, opted to allow the federal government to establish the exchange instead. 

As I had posted in 2009, conservatives predicted that Obamacare would result in federal funding of abortion and we were dubious that Obama’s Executive Order would be adequate to prevent the subsidization of abortion on demand with federal taxpayer money.  

Report on Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett’s Campaign Appearance in Berks County

           I attended a campaign appearance by Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett in Berks County last week.

            The warm-up speakers praised Corbett for his fiscal discipline, citing unemployment compensation reform as one example that has saved millions of dollars, and for his aid to cities like Reading, while pointing out the lies from his liberal opponents that he cut education spending.

            Corbett boasted that he had kept his promise to balance the budget through fiscal discipline without raising taxes, and, in fact, had cut taxes.  He also explained that there were no education cuts and that state funding of education is at its highest level ever.  I have posted several times attesting that, as a School Director in Pennsylvania at the time, the extra Obama stimulus funds the previous Governor channeled to education were expected only to be temporary.  Therefore, the return to prior funding levels after the end of the stimulus was not a spending “cut.”  Despite Corbett’s liberal opponents’ claims, contributions to the teachers’ pension fund have counted since the 1970s towards education spending. 

Corbett also noted that there have been hundreds of millions of additional dollars in state tax revenue raised because of the natural gas industry, which has contributed to the drastic reduction in the state’s unemployment rate and the creation of well-paying jobs, directly and indirectly, among the more than 180,000 that have been created in less than four years since he took office.  The revenue comes from both state corporate income taxes and the principled impact fee he signed into law.    

            His liberal Democratic opponent in the gubernatorial election has promised that he would raise taxes on the middle class through a proposed constitutional amendment to levy a progressive income tax, Corbett noted.  The Governor observed that his opponent would go back to the tax and spend policies of his liberal Democratic predecessor.  The liberal Democrat would also impose an extraction tax on top of the state corporate taxes the natural gas companies pay, which are the highest in the Union, which could be a disincentive to the industry to continue to operate in the Keystone State, which has become the leader in natural gas production. 

           I have posted previously about Corbett’s numerous other accomplishments, such as welfare reform, tort reform, the Castle Doctrine, the elimination of small family-owned businesses from estate taxes, etc.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett Champions Federalism

           From Medicaid expansion to Common Core, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett, a Republican, has been resisting coercion from the Obama Administration and defending the constitutional principal of federalism, as envisioned by the Framers. 

            Corbett had participated in the successful lawsuit that declared part of the federalization of health insurance (“Obamacare”) unconstitutional because it coerced states into expanding Medicaid.  The decision allowed States to opt out of the expansion of the program.  Medicaid is a costly welfare program that provides free healthcare for the poor that is riddled with problems, which cause many doctors to decline to participate in it.  Although Obamacare lured States with upfront federal money to expand the program, the federal government would not have covered all of the costs of Medicaid expansion in later years, which would cost States billions of dollars, while expanding welfare and increasing dependency. 

            Corbett proposed an alternative, state-created market-based plan for Pennsylvania, which would allow participants to purchase subsidized private insurance.  The benefits will be means-tested, as co-payments increase with income levels, while there will be voluntary incentives to work and choose healthy lifestyles.  The Corbett plan would save the Commonwealth billions of dollars over a period of a few years.  The federal government recently approved Corbett’s plan.

Common Core is the name of educational standards developed by the liberal Gates Foundation, promoted by the National Governors Association.  As I have been posting, many concerns about the quality of the standards and the content of the curriculum and materials based upon it have been raised.  Common Core’s proponents claim the standards would make American students competitive with those of foreign industrialized countries, but the standards are inadequate and even would represent a regression in certain respects.  The standards are promoted as designed to prepare students for college, but they reflect the big business interests of its developers by preparing students only for community college, not competitive four-year colleges, as the standards de-emphasize literature, calculus, critical thinking and liberal arts in favor of bland analysis of informational texts and unproven teaching methods for mathematics, for example.  There are also concerns about liberal bias in the educational materials that are based upon Common Core standards.  Despite the claims of its proponents that Common Core is a set of standards, not a curriculum, all high-stakes tests, including college entrance tests, textbooks and curricula would be based upon them, even for non-public school students. 

The Obama Administration attempted to impose Common Core federally as an educational standard across the Union by bribing the States into accepting Common Core standards – before they were written – as a precondition for receiving economic stimulus money in 2009.  Remember, federal tax dollars are levied on the citizens of the States, so any federal funding given to the States is simply an indirect return of the people’s own money.  A few States declined to accept the coercion, and, as the standards have been developed, more and more States have changed their minds and opted out of Common Core, recognizing it as a federally-imposed curriculum that violates federalism and local control of education, in addition to the concerns about the quality of the standards and other related issues.

            As with Medicaid expansion, Corbett approved a Pennsylvania version of Common Core that addressed some of the public’s and legislature’s concerns about high-stakes testing, mandated reading lists, and violations of student privacy for business interests, but as the federal coercion of a federal curriculum has become more clear, he has recently asked the state Board of Education to repeal Common Core altogether and replace it with state-based adequate standards that would truly make Pennsylvania’s students more competitive than they currently are. 

           Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett’s leadership is allowing the Commonwealth to adopt policies that best suit the needs of its citizens, while affirming state sovereignty and serving as a model for other States.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Thoughts on Vladimir Putin’s Communist Russian Authoritarianism and Soviet Imperialism

Russian Federation dictator Vladimir Putin is not a nationalist, or a national socialist (fascist).  He is a Soviet imperialist who, like other Communists, uses nationalism as a tool to advance his goal of spreading Marxist-Leninism by whatever means necessary.  Putin even appears to the Russian people like the Czars as the defender of the Russian Orthodox Church or of morals for the same reason.  The former Soviet intelligence officer will not be satisfied with uniting the Russian-speaking areas of the former Soviet Empire with the Russian Federation.  As Nazi German dictator Adolph Hitler was not satisfied with uniting German-speaking lands, despite his obsession with racial purity, because he believed his race should rule those whom he regarded as inferior peoples, Putin seeks to conquer, regardless of nationality, under a restored Marxist Soviet Empire, at least.  It is noteworthy that the Russian Federation is the rump of the Soviet Empire, but even the Russian Federation is the remnant of a polyglot empire intent on continuing to rule both Russians and non-Russians.  Unlike national socialists (fascists and Nazis), who emphasize race and racial superiority as the foundation of totalitarian rule, international socialists (Communists) emphasize economic class.  Regardless of the distinctions, both ideologies provide opportunities for bullies and megalomaniacs to conquer.

A pattern has emerged with Putin.  Any legitimate question of Chechen aspirations for independence was suppressed by the authoritarian leader’s dismissal of pro-independence Chechens as criminals and terrorists and his subsequent harsh quashing of their movement, which, I note, caused Islamist terrorists to co-op it.  Georgia’s objections to Russian Federation machinations in its breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia were dismissed by Putin, and the former Soviet Republic’s resistance to Russia was even labeled by him an unprovoked provocation and used as a justification for Russia to invade its neighbor with the excuse to protect minorities.  Currently, the Russian Communist dictatorship minimizes the popular uprising by the Ukrainian people against a corrupt, authoritarian pro-Russian government by labeling it a Western-backed coup d’etat and discredits the Ukrainian nationalist government and its supporters as fascists.  Meanwhile, even within Russia, dissidents or media critics are routinely branded as criminals and charged with violating laws or worse. In short, Putin would have everyone believe that there never is any legitimacy to the slightest criticism of him because all of his many critics are totally evil, while all his actions are justifiable, as he is totally good.  Russians and their sympathizers are thus conditioned by this Soviet-style propaganda pattern to believe the worst about any perceived opponent or threat to Russia’s Soviet imperialism or authoritative rule, while excusing the worst behaviors of Putin’s dictatorship. 

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is not a threat to the Russian Federation.  It is a defensive organization.  That the Communist Russian dictatorship supposedly perceives NATO or its expansion as a threat only reveals Russia’s offensive intent, specifically to reconstitute the Soviet Empire.  

During Putin’s dictatorship, the Russian Federation should not in the first place have been admitted to the Group of Seven industrial powers or treated like an ally, partner or even a state that respects the liberty of its own people, as it had never sufficiently proven itself worthy.  Although there can be cooperation in certain areas, such as against terrorism, Russia did not deserve the full respect it was given.  After it lost Western respect when it invaded Georgia, Putin’s dictatorship should not have been legitimized by being restored to full diplomatic dignity, as if the modest chastisements it endured were unwarranted, and as if to reward it for its aggression.    

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Declaring War vs. Making War on the Islamic State

A declaration of war on the “Islamic State” would be counterproductive to the goal of defeating it.  It would be better legally and diplomatically to make war on the “Islamic State” without declaring war on it.

A declaration of war is an official statement that a state of war exists between one state and another.   The “Islamic State” is not a de jure government or a state, but a jihadist (violent holy war) organization that has de facto control over parts of two states, Syria and Iraq.  Therefore, a state cannot legally declare war on it.  If a state did nevertheless declare war on the Islamist organization, such a declaration of war against the “Islamic State” would legitimatize it as a state, which is what it desires, and entitle it to all the privileges of sovereignty.  Furthermore, a declaration of war would obligate the state that declares war on the Islamist terrorist organization to negotiate a peace treaty with it, which would necessarily require negotiation with terrorists. 

Instead, war should be made on the “Islamic State” without any declaration and the jihadists should be treated like any other terrorists, that is to say, not as soldiers, but as war criminals who forfeit any legal protections.

In the particular case of the United States, the President has the constitutional authority as the Commander in Chief to make war.  Note: the office was created around General George Washington.  As mentioned above, Congress’ power to “declare” war means the power to make a declaration.  In other words, the power is that of making an official statement that has certain legal and diplomatic significance, but is a relatively minor power compared to the power to make war, a distinction specifically made by the Framers of the Constitution, who were particularly interested in providing the Commander in Chief the power to respond to an imminent threat.  Indeed, just as war can be made without a declaration, a declaration of war can be made without any making of war – a situation that occurred, for example, during the Roman Republic.  Therefore, there is no such thing constitutionally as congressional “authorization” of war.  Congress’ war powers are limited mostly to its power to authorize expenditures.  Only in this limited sense, does Congress indirectly or tacitly “authorize” war, and only if additional expenditures are necessary beyond what it has already budgeted.  

Congress may indicate its approval of war, as it often has, such as it did shortly after the September 11, 2001 Terrorist Attacks, in which it gave its assent to President George W. Bush’s announced plan to make war on global terrorist networks that threatened the U.S., of which the “Islamic State,” an offshoot of al-Qaeda, the terrorist organization which had committed the September 11 Attacks, certainly qualifies.  The reason the U.S. did not declare war on Afghanistan’s de facto government led by the Taliban that was providing safe haven to al-Qaeda, is because the U.S. recognized the Northern Alliance, which controlled northeastern Afghanistan, as the de jure government of that state.  Thus, a declaration of war against Afghanistan would necessarily have been a declaration on the Northern Alliance, the American ally.  The President’s constitutional authority as Commander in Chief, coupled with congressional assent for the War on Terrorism, provide more than sufficient legal authority to make war on the “Islamic State.”

Syria Has Circumvented Its Deal to Give up Its Chemical Weapons

Syria’s Assad dictatorship circumvented its deal to turn over for destruction its acknowledged stockpile of chemical weapons and their chemical precursors, as well as its promise not to use chemical weapons.  Syrian Baathist regime forces reportedly dropped chlorine on rebel-held towns earlier this year, according to a global chemical weapons watchdog. 

The report validates allegations by a human rights organization I had posted about in May in my post, Syrian Civil War Update: The Assad Regime Used Chemical Weapons Again:   http://williamcinfici.blogspot.com/2014/05/syrian-civil-war-update-assad-regime.html.  Chlorine, a deadly poison gas, is not classed under international standards as a weapon of mass destruction.  The lethal weapon was first used by the Germans in the First World War.

Syria made a deal to turn over its chemical weapons and chemical precursor stockpiles in order to avoid American-led airstrikes, in a deal brokered by its ally, Russia.  The Assad regime thus avoided punishment for having used its chemical weapons against civilian targets.  It is not surprising that Syria made the deal, now that it is apparent the dictatorial regime could circumvent the deal by using chlorine, in addition to its continued indiscriminate shelling with conventional weapons of civilian areas.    

I shall take this opportunity to note the significance of the removal not only of Syria’s acknowledged chemical weapons arsenal, but also their chemical precursors.  Not only were weapons of mass destruction found in Iraq after its liberation from the Baathist regime in 2003, in the form of hundreds of artillery shells filled with lethal chemicals in their warheads, but also their chemical precursors in the form of mustard gas, sarin and VX, which are nerve gasses and blister agents.  The point is that even absent chemical weapons, both Iraq and Syria’s stockpile of chemical precursors were dangerous, as they could have relatively easily been weaponized by filling warheads with them.  In addition to chemical weapons of mass destruction and precursors, the Iraqi Baathist regime under Saddam Hussein also possessed missiles of a longer range than permitted under United Nations resolutions.  Regardless, Syria’s use of chlorine underscores that there are many dangers beyond WMDs from terrorist-sponsoring states that commit crimes against humanity.