Saturday, January 31, 2015

Sergio Mattarella Is Elected Italian President

Sergio Mattarella was today elected President of the Italian Republic to complete the nearly six years remaining on Giorgio Napolitano’s unprecedented second term.  The 89 year-old Napolitano agreed in 2013 to be reelected after the grand electors failed to reach a majority for other candidates, but indicated he would resign before his term expired.

The newly-elected twelfth President of Italy, 73, a Sicilian and former Constitutional Court Judge with strong anti-mafia credentials and a history of placing principle above party, is the author of Italy’s previous parliamentary election law that was replaced by the current one that was subsequently declared unconstitutional.  Mattarella is a former member of the Christian Democratic Party, the center-right party that dominated Italian post-war politics until the early 1990s and that had prevented the Communist Party, the strongest communist party in Western Europe, from winning national parliamentary elections.  He served in the cabinet of several governments in the 1980s and 90s, with various portfolios.  After the dissolution of the Christian Democratic Party in the early 90s, he joined the center-left Democratic Party, the currently ruling party that put forward his name as a presidential candidate.

The New Center Right Party, which is a junior coalition member of the governing Democratic Party’s center-left-center-right executive, joined with the Democratic Party in voting for Mattarella, while the main center-right party cast blank ballots and a smaller conservative party backed a different candidate, according to ANSA, the Italian news agency.  Nevertheless, ANSA reports all the parties’ grand electors, except those of the populists, gave Mattarella a long standing ovation and the main center-right party leader, former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, sent him auguri (augurs, a traditional Italian well-wishing).

The President of the Italian Republic is Head of State and the arbiter of Italian politics.  He not only has the power to dissolve parliament and give a mandate to form a government, but returns any law he finds unconstitutional or not supported by the budget to Parliament.  The appointment of life senators and the granting of pardons are also among the President’s powers, in contrast to the claims of the liberal media, such as the Associated Press, that his role is “ceremonial,” or that his office has no political role.  President Mattarella will play a key role in the continued major fiscal, political and constitutional reforms being considered by the Italian Parliament, of which I shall post updates.

Auguri, Sergio Mattarella!

A Consideration of Recent Alleged Instances of “Terrorism” and Related Observations

There have been a number of instances over the last several months of the misuse or overuse of the word terrorism

As I have posted a number of times, terrorism is a distinctly evil form of illegitimate warfare, whereby the strategy of the attacker is to target innocent civilians in order to intimidate the populace into giving into the demands of the attackers.  The overly broad use of the word to include lesser evils as equal to terrorism, or even the defense against terrorism as “terrorism,” dilutes the meaning of the word and undermines the legitimate right to self-defense against terrorism. 

Not all politically or religiously-motivated violence is terrorism and not every violent act committed even by terrorists is necessarily an act of terrorism.  The question of the applicability of terrorism has sparked a number of recent controversies.  This post is a survey of such recent incidents and an explanation of whether or not they meet the definition of terrorism, as well as related observations. 

            Because of North Korea’s cyber attack on Sony in December in order to prevent the showing of a motion picture, some in the United States Congress are suggesting the Hermit Kingdom should be placed back onto the Department of State’s list of state sponsors of terrorism, which necessitates the imposition of various measures against that state.  The cyber attack was an act of sabotage, not terrorism, as it was not aimed at the masses of innocent civilians, but at a company’s actions to which North Korea objected inappropriately.  However, the Communist regime’s threat to attack movie theaters showing the film did meet the definition of terrorism, as it was targeted at innocent civilians and intended to intimidate not only the company and theater operators, but the populace into giving into North Korea’s demands that the film not be seen.  Therefore, the U.S. should re-list North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism.

            North Korea’s cyber attack exposed the vulnerability of companies to cyber attacks, even more than prior breaches of Internet security at other major American companies.  It reminds Americans of the vulnerability also of civil entities and the need for improved security on the Internet.

The attack on a French satirical newspaper earlier this month was not an act of “terrorism,” as it was targeted at journalists and cartoonists of a leftist, secular satirical newspaper who had made graphic images of the prophet of Islam, not at the masses.  The attackers, who were an al-Qaeda cell, expressed their motivation not to terrorize the French people, even though they belonged to a terrorist organization, but to avenge by murder the acts they considered to be idolatry, sacrilege or blasphemy.  Indeed, the violent jihadists from al-Qaeda’s Yemeni branch only shot specific individuals, although their actions certainly inflicted fear on other witnesses and probably had in indirect effect of terrorizing those who would exercise their freedom of expression in a manner objectionable to Muslims.  The attack by an “Islamic State” cell on a Jewish delicatessen in France, however, was an act of terrorism, as it was targeted at innocent civilians in order to intimidate the French people into opposing the arrest of the attackers on the newspaper.

            The Obama Administration, in attempting to deny an inconsistency in its policy of not giving into the demands of terrorists when it traded five Taliban leaders it had detained for a captured American soldier last year, is arguing that the Taliban is an “armed insurgency,” not a “terrorist organization.”  These terms are not mutually exclusive, as terrorist organizations do not necessarily limit their violence only to acts of terrorism.  Regardless, the Taliban meets the definition of a terrorist organization both because it harbored other terrorist organizations, particularly al-Qaeda, and because it commits acts of terrorism itself in Afghanistan and Pakistan, such as the slaughter of hundreds of schoolchildren in Pakistan last year, and was even behind the attempted bombing of New York City’s Times Square in 2010.  In fact, the Administration designates the Taliban as a foreign “terrorist organization” under another law.  As with its direct negotiations with the Cuban Communist Castro regime that is listed by the State Department as a state sponsor of terrorism, the Obama Administration’s direct negotiations with the Taliban were thus negotiations with terrorists. 

           Ukraine has been referring to the pro-Russian separatists in its east as “terrorists” and is sponsoring a United Nations resolution to declare them as such.  Although the rebels sometimes have made indiscriminate attacks that have killed innocent civilians, including both Ukrainians and others, such as the Malaysian Air flight they shot down last year, their attacks do not appear to meet the definition of terrorism because they are not targeted at innocent civilians, but at Ukrainian soldiers and government officials.  Their insurgency nevertheless represents a threat to freedom, as noted in my last post.  

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Foreign Updates: Cuba, Ukraine, Tunisia and France

            Cuba finally released the political prisoners it had promised to free several weeks ago after its deal with the Obama Administration of the United States to return convicted Cuban spies.  Some of the freed political prisoners already have been subject to typical Castro Communist dictatorship harassment.  Dozens of other Cubans remain as prisoners of conscience.  As I noted in my posts last month, the Cuban regime made no structural changes to increase liberty or respect human rights as part of the exchange.  In fact, in follow-up discussions between the terrorism-sponsoring state and Obama Administration officials, it reportedly has refused any such changes. 

            There has been no progress in the issue of Cuba returning American fugitives, including terrorists.  The return of billions of dollars in property stolen from U.S. citizens has not apparently been emphasized in the Obama Administration negotiations with the Communist regime. 

            There have been more Russian Federation incursions and obvious aid to pro-Russian separatist rebels, which have helped the rebels launch a counteroffensive.  The death toll in the conflict has surpassed 5,000.

            Meanwhile, Russian government forces have shut down the last independent radio station in Crimea, the territory Russia seized from Ukraine after invading it, in violation of a treaty that obligated the Russian Federation to respect Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and setting up a puppet government that handed the territory over to Russia after conducting a referendum of questionable validity.  The radio station’s market was the ethnic Crimean Tatars.  Tatars have lived there before the territory was colonized after its conquest by the Russian Empire.  There has been a pattern in the Russian Federation under Dictator Vladimir Putin of journalists, opposition politicians and dissidents being targeted with criminal probes or charges, and even violence.  Freedom House, a respected organization that assesses countries and certain territories on their level of liberty, recently rated Crimea, like Russia, as “Not Free.”

            The transition of power from the losing party to the winning one after parliamentary and presidential elections under Tunisia’s new constitution has occurred peacefully and smoothly.  The new government, led by nationalists, does not include either Islamists or leftists.  Tunisia has become the first Arab state to earn a rating of “Free” from Freedom House.

           The Socialist government has abandoned its confiscatory tax of 75% on high earners, after the tax failed to generate sufficient revenue by weakening France’s economy and causing high earners to flee the French Republic.

Friday, January 23, 2015

March for Life 2015: Every Child Is a Gift

           Yesterday, the 42nd annual March for Life took place in Washington, D.C., in support of the right to life.  It is held on or around every January 22, the anniversary of the infamous Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton United States Supreme Court decisions that overturned state abortion restrictions.

            As usual, hundreds of thousands of pro-life supporters attended the March for Life, despite the winter weather.  In the days leading up to it, there were also pro-life rallies across the Union that were each attended by hundreds or even thousands in support of the right to life.  The theme of this year’s march was “Every Child is a Gift.” 

On the same day, the Republican-led U.S. House of Representatives passed a measure along mostly party lines to make permanent the prohibition on federal funds for most abortions, a prevision known as the Hyde Amendment that must be renewed annually.  Several Representatives spoke at the rally.  The bill is especially relevant because abortions are one of the immoral practices, along with contraception and sterilizations, which are covered under the federalization of health insurance, known as “Obamacare.”  The “Abortion President,” Barack Obama, a liberal Democrat, has threatened to veto the bill should it pass the Senate.  Other proposals expected to be considered by the new Congress include one to legislate the conscience protections for closely-held corporations that were upheld by the United States Supreme Court last year, the scope of the ruling of which the Obama Administration is trying to narrow, and another one that would extend conscience protections for medical providers who wish to opt out of abortions.

Advocacy on behalf of the right to life, such as through the March for Life, as well as increased support provided to women in cases of unexpected pregnancies, more scientific knowledge and improved technology that has revealed more about human development in the womb, and the passage of more moral laws that have been upheld by the courts have combined to reduce the number of abortions significantly in the U.S. since 1973.  Alas, more than a million babies – a million gifts – are still rejected and put to death annually across the American Union.  This Culture of Death has contributed to the coarsening of society and the decrease of respect for life and love for fellow human beings, especially women and the poor.  Therefore, it is necessary to continue to stand for the right to life until every life is respected, from conception until natural death.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett’s Legacy of Conservative Policies and Reforms

           Tom Corbett, a Republican, today completed his four-year term as the 46th Governor of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania

Last November, I summarized Corbett’s record in a series of posts: Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett’s Record of Reforms and Improvements,, and Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett’s Pro-Life Record,

To update his record, I note he recently signed legislation requiring the NCAA’s $60 million fine against Pennsylvania State University to remain in the Keystone State, dedicated to anti-child abuse measures.  

There were also several partial, temporary accomplishments worth noting.  Corbett signed a voter identification law, which had been implemented on a trial basis before an unfavorable court ruling.  Through his executive actions and court cases, he delayed the redefinition of legal marriage to include same-sex unions.  Corbett delayed the costly expansion of Medicaid, an inefficient federal welfare program and instead substituted a market-based offering that incentivized looking for work and making healthy choices.  

As with anything else in history, perspective will allow a better interpretation of Corbett’s record as Pennsylvania Governor, but his numerous accomplishments in only one term were significant in helping to restore Pennsylvania’s budget and economy and to provide better government and advance conservative principles of fiscal responsibility, security, health and morals, education, environmentally responsible energy, federalism and liberty.  

Iraq Sets Its National Record in Oil Production

           Despite the insurgency by Islamist terrorists, Iraq has emerged from its liberation by United States-led forces in 2003 to set a national record in oil production, the Iraqi Republic’s oil ministry reported.  

           Last month, four billion barrels of oil were pumped per day, on average, surpassing the previous record set in 1979, in the early days of the Baathist regime of Saddam Hussein.  Only Saudi Arabia currently produces more oil than Iraq.  

           The increase in Iraqi production, along with increased American production and reduced global demand because of conservation and economic weakness, is one of the main reasons for the current oil glut and consequent dramatic drop in the price of crude oil.  Nonetheless, Iraq’s budget should benefit from oil revenue.  The new Iraqi government had recently reached an oil revenue-sharing agreement with the Kurdish-held areas.  

Sunday, January 18, 2015

The Movement Across the United States to Require Passage of a Civics Test to Earn a High School or Equivalent Diploma

           There is a new movement across the United States to require students to pass a civics test in order to graduate from high school or earn the General Educational Development equivalent.  Arizona last week became the first state to pass such a measure.  Fifteen other States are in various stages of consideration of a similar requirement. 

The movement is led by the Arizona-based Joe Foss Institute, founded by the eponymous former Republican South Dakota Governor and decorated World War II aviator, in response to concerns about a significant decrease in the civics knowledge among young Americans.  The purpose of the institute is to increase patriotism and knowledge of American civics.  The bipartisan movement is supported by a number of prominent Americans in various fields.  In Arizona, for example, former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who has championed the cause of increasing civics education, publicly supported the measure.  The goal is to have all 50 States require the passage of the test by the 230th anniversary of the Constitution in 2017.

The examination is based upon the same test required for the naturalization of immigrants, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services Citizenship Civics Test.  Students would be required to answer at least 60 of the 100 questions correctly, except that unlike the naturalization test, it will be in the multiple-choice format.  Students may retake the test as often as necessary.  The questions are considered the most fundamental about the American Revolution, Declaration of Independence, Constitution, the federal government, the 50 States of the Union and basic American history and symbols of patriotism.  While the passage rate for immigrants seeking naturalization is over 90%, that of high school students is well under 10%, which is consistent with numerous surveys suggesting a disturbing lack of basic knowledge of American civics by high school students and young Americans. 

With the increasing emphasis on mathematics, science and English, civics has been crowded out in curricula.  Also, critical thinking skills, which are valuable, have been emphasized over memorization skills, which help develop the foundation of knowledge necessary for critical thinking in the first place.  The purpose of public education and state education requirements are in order to promote good citizenship, something that is critically important in a representative republic, especially one with near-universal adult suffrage.  The requirement by all 50 States of passage of the test would also help unite all Americans, naturalized or native born, by providing them with knowledge of our common American patrimony.

I had been concerned about the inconsistency in requiring aliens to pass a citizenship test in order to become citizens and gain the privilege to vote and the lack of any similar requirement for natural-born citizens, but at least the requirement that passage of the test be required in order to receive a high school or equivalent diploma decreases this inconsistency and should help promote better citizenship.  I hope the preparation for the test, for which there already are sufficient materials, will begin early enough as to construct a foundation of knowledge that is built upon every year with increasing age-appropriate layers, in order for those students who opt not to earn a high school or equivalent diploma at least to have learned some of the basics.  I would also urge the inclusion into curricula of state and local history and civics and some requirement of at least minimal knowledge in order to be awarded a high school or equivalent diploma. 

I call upon all States in the American Union to adopt the requirement by 2017 of passage of the naturalization test to earn a high school or equivalent diploma.  

Foreign Digest: Ukraine, China, Syria and Iran

Interpol recently issued an arrest warrant for charges of embezzlement of public funds against the former pro-Russian authoritarian President of Ukraine, who was overthrown by a pro-democratic and pro-Western revolution last year.  He fled to Russia

The property of one of the leaders of the pro-democracy movement in the Chinese Hong Kong was recently firebombed, in addition to the crackdown on street protesters by Chinese Communist authorities insistent on limiting the choices of Hong Kong leaders in elections to those approved only by the Communist Party. 

The fourth anniversary of the civil war in Syria has passed.  The grim toll is now more than 200,000 dead and 3 million refugees, the latter of which are straining the resources and stability of the neighboring states to which they have fled.  Meanwhile, another human rights organization has confirmed the Syrian dictatorship’s use of chlorine as a weapon.  Syria’s partner in sponsoring terrorism, the Iranian regime, has reportedly admitted to supplying arms to Syria, and manufacturing arms there, as well as pursuing its nuclear weapons program in the territory of its only Arab ally.