Sunday, August 30, 2015

Follow-Up on Medals for the Three American Heroes

           In my last post, I called for the three Americans who heroically led the thwarting of a terrorist attack by an Islamist on a passenger train in France to receive military and civilian medals.  I am pleased to report that the Airman and National Guardsmen are each to be awarded medals by the United States Air Force and the National Guard, respectively.  All three of the American heroes have been awarded medals by the French Republic, but the civilian member of the trio deserves a civilian medal from the U.S. government, which I continue to call upon it to award.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Three New American Heroes Deserve Medals

           As terrorists have made the world their battlefield, off-duty members of the armed services, and even civilians, can be on-duty ad hoc soldiers in the War on Terrorism at any point. 

The three Americans, together with two other passengers, who subdued the Islamist terrorist yesterday on a train in France all were acting bravely as soldiers in the war.  One is an active-duty soldier (an Airman), another a National Guardsman and the third a civilian.  Their heroic deeds saved many from death or injury.  The two servicemen should be awarded military medals for valor, including a Purple Heart for the one who was wounded, and the civilian a civilian medal for their actions.  They deserve not only decoration, but appreciation and admiration.  

Not only did these heroes save lives and achieve a victory in the War on Terrorism, but made Americans proud.  May their heroism serve as a model for all of us if ever faced with such a situation.  They are the latest in a line of such ad hoc soldiers during the war, such as the passengers of Flight 93 on September 11, 2001, or the passengers aboard the planes who subdued the shoe and underwear bombers, all of whom also deserve civilian medals.  With Americans acting like these three heroes, like those before them, the terrorists do not stand a chance.  

May God bless the three new American heroes!

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Update on the Syrian Civil War and the Use of Chemical Weapons

           Three years after U.S. President Barack Obama warned Syria’s dictatorial regime of Bashar Assad against using chemical weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) in the Syrian civil war, the regime continues to use chemical weapons with impunity, as well as to bomb civilian areas indiscriminately.    

Syria’s dictatorship had used chemical weapons after Obama’s warning, but signed a Russian-brokered deal in 2013 to give up its known stockpile of chemical weapons, which allowed the Assad regime to escape punishment for using WMDs.  The weapons were removed, but doubts have remained about any undeclared weapons or stockpiles of prohibited chemicals, such as nerve agents, that can be used for WMDs.  Indeed, some of the prohibited chemicals have been used in WMDs in Syria, whether by the regime or the “Islamic State” Islamist terrorists.  The U.S. was successful recently in winning adoption of a United Nations resolution to investigate the use of chemical weapons in Syria, but any more meaningful measures in the Security Council are vetoed by Russia, which is an ally of Syria.  As I posted previously, the Syrian regime also uses deadly chlorine gas, which is not classified as a prohibited “chemical weapon” under the agreement, despite its history of being used as such since the First World War.  See my posts, Syria Has Circumvented Its Deal to Give up Its Chemical Weapons, from September of 2014,, and Foreign Digest: Ukraine, China Syria and Iran, from January of this year,  

A quarter of a million people have died in Syria’s civil war.  Three million people have become refugees.  The Assad regime, which is Iran’s only Arab ally, is a state sponsor of terrorism.  The U.S. is training only a few dozen non-Islamist rebels while targeting the Islamic State and al-Qaeda in Syria.  The Obama Administration’s proposed nuclear deal with Iran would free up billions of dollars for Iran not only to provide even more aid to terrorists, some of which are fighting in support of the Assad regime, but also for Iranian troops themselves in Syria.

Political Developments in Turkey and Greece

            The Turkish opposition parties that together won a majority of the vote in last month’s parliamentary elections were unable to form a government by the deadline.  The Islamist President has called for new elections.  See my post from June, Islamists Lose their Majority in the Turkish Parliamentary Elections,  

            In the meantime, Turkey’s Islamist caretaker government did grant the United States access to its base at Incirlik from which to launch manned and unmanned aircraft to strike the “Islamic State” in Syria and IraqTurkey itself also joined the fight against the Islamic State, as well as attacked Marxist Kurdish terrorists in western Turkey, where their rebellion has flared up, and in northern Iraq

            The leftist Prime Minister of Greece has resigned after losing the confidence of a significant minority within his far-left party when he gave into demands from the Hellenic Republic’s creditors for reforms in order to receive a third bailout from them, despite his party’s parliamentary election campaign in February on a platform of rejecting such a deal. 

As neither the two next largest parties, the center-right party or a new party formed by the governing party’s most leftwing rebels, are expected to be able to form a government, the President will call parliamentary elections next month.  The Premier’s rump leftist party, despite the defections, is again expected to win a plurality of seats, but have to form another coalition government.  It currently governs with a right-wing party which shares its anti-austerity platform.  The Prime Minister will remain in office as head of a caretaker government in the meantime. 

Greece’s creditors, the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), had insisted on spending cuts, privatizations, tax increases and market liberalizations in exchange for more loans in order to avoid a Greek default on its current sovereign debt, which is mostly owed to that troika, as well as a possible Greek abandonment of the Euro, the common currency of the European Monetary Union.  A Greek departure from the Eurozone would produce an uncertain degree of at least short-term harmful effects on Greece’s economy and an additional degree of effect on others.  The first two institutions of the troika are components of the European Union.  The U.S. is the largest contributor to the third troika member, the IMF.

Because Germany is the European state with the highest gross domestic product, German taxpayers have generously funded most of the hundreds of billions of dollars worth of loans to the Hellenic Republic to keep Greece in the Eurozone.  The Germans and other Northern Europeans tend to be more prosperous, as they emphasize work and savings more than Southern Europeans.  They complain about the Southern Europeans as lazy and unproductive, without considering the hotter Southern climate that reduces productivity and encourages a slower, healthier, more leisurely lifestyle, and lecture the Southerners incessantly about the necessity of being responsible by repaying debts.  However, Germany also has yet to pay Greece reparations it owes for its invasion during the Second World War.  The Nazi regime had been favored by the overwhelming number of Germans.  Furthermore, Germany does not contribute proportionately to its own defense, the cost of which is born mostly by the U.S., and it engages in defensive or peacekeeping missions in only limited manners, and thus is reliant on foreign taxpayers, like Greece.  In contrast, Greece spends a relatively larger share of its national budget on defense.  Its creditors insisted on some defense cuts, which the Greek Government accepted, despite objections by the right-wing junior coalition member, which nevertheless backed the deal. 

Although not to the extent of Italy, Greece is bearing a disproportionate share of the costs of rescuing refugees from North Africa and the Middle East because of its proximity.  The European Union has begun a rescue mission to replace Italy’s and is also sharing the load for taking care of the refugees.

The Greek Government also committed to better enforcement of laws against tax evasion.  Tax evasion and corruption have plagued Greece’s economy, in addition to overspending (e.g. generous pensions and transfer payments and too many civil servants), too much bureaucracy and lack of economic liberalization.  Greek governments of the late 1990s and early 2000s had lied about the Hellenic Republic’s finances to make them appear better in order for Greece to gain entry into the Eurozone, which some of the other European states apparently ignored for ideological reasons or the political benefit of the expansion of the common currency.  The previous center-right government had made much progress through austerity of reducing Greece’s sovereign debt, which is at the highest percentage of gross domestic product in the European Union.  Although there had been some economic recovery from the depression, the Greek economy remained weak, which allowed the governing leftist party to win a plurality and to form a coalition with the anti-austerity right-wing party.

I have posted several times during the European debt crisis over the last few years about the flaws of the European Monetary Union, of which the debt crisis in Greece is the best example.  

Friday, August 14, 2015

70th Anniversary of VJ-Day

           Today is the seventieth anniversary of Victory in Japan Day (VJ Day), which marked the Allied Powers victory over the Empire of Japan, the last of the Axis Powers, and the end of major combat in the Second World War, which began in 1939.

           The Japanese Empires announcement on August 14, 1945 (the date in the Western Hemisphere at the time) of its acceptance of the Allies terms of nearly unconditional surrender sparked the greatest global celebration in human history, which was befitting the end of the worlds bloodiest war.  The Japanese Empire signed the formal surrender on September 2 and the peace treaty in 1951, although it still has not signed one with Russia, the successor to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.  A few Japanese soldiers continued to hold out until 1974, with some engaging in combat in the Philippines as late as 1972.  Although it is appropriate to commemorate the Japanese surrender on September 2, it is nevertheless appropriate to celebrate August 14 as the day victory was achieved and relative global peace began to be enjoyed for a time.

           The millions of allied soldiers and civilian government employees who served in any capacity, especially those who sacrificed their lives, or who were wounded or captured, or who endured various privations, as well as the resistors and countless civilians who also endured suffering in support of the war effort in innumerable ways from the home front, won one of the greatest victories for liberty ever by defeating national socialism to preventing the fascists from taking over the world and imposing the most brutal totalitarianism.

           It is right to express our gratitude to all of them for the freedom that we continue to enjoy, which they secured, and to renew our commitment to defend liberty against any form of tyranny.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Major Italian Political Reforms, 2014-1015

           Over the last year and a half, since my post last February about the formation of the current center-left-right Government, Renzi is Italy’s New Premier,, the Italian Republic has made significant progress in political reform, as well as other reforms and improvements.  The focus on this post is on the political reforms.  The next post on this subject will be focused on the other reforms and improvements.

The Italian Parliament this year approved major electoral reforms.  The reforms were seen as necessary after parliamentary elections last year produced a lengthy hung parliament, as the center-left coalition gained a majority in the lower parliamentary chamber, but not in the upper chamber, which necessitated the formation of an unstable grand coalition of the center-left and center-right.  Additionally, Italy’s highest court had subsequently ruled the previous electoral law unconstitutional.

The new electoral law raises the threshold for smaller parties to win seats in the House of Deputies, especially if they are not part of a coalition, and lowers the large number of bonus seats for the party that gains the most seats, which it wins if it earns at least 40% of the overall popular vote.  If no party achieves a total of 40%, there will be a run-off election among the top parties to win the bonus seats to assure a majority for the victorious party.  Some elector choice has also been introduced into the election process; in place of party “blocked lists” of candidates, voters will be able to indicate some preferences within those lists.  Deputies will continue to be elected by groups within constituencies. 

In addition, some of the powers of the fifteen non-autonomous Regions (out of twenty Regions in total) will be transferred to the State, in response to a recent series of financial scandals in regional governments, while the reforms also enable greater oversight by the national government.  A related reform implements a plan to eliminate Italy’s more than one hundred Provinces, which are administrative subdivisions of Regions, to save money and increase efficiency by reducing bureaucracy through the removal of an entire layer of government.  Led by paid officials, Provinces currently have limited responsibilities, such as for roads and emergency response, which can be shared between the regional and municipal governments. 

Civil service reform had been enacted in 2014 and another political reform, the phasing out of public financing of political parties, had already occurred under the Government of Enrico Letta in 2013.

Another major part of the Italian Government’s political reform is a series of constitutional amendments approved by Parliament that will significantly change the Parliament by stripping the Senate of most of its lawmaking power, which it had shared equally with the House of Deputies, by restricting it primarily only to constitutional matters and dramatically reducing the size of the Senate by over two-thirds.  Instead of having equal powers with the House, including the power to veto bills approved by the other chamber, the upper chamber will instead be an assembly primarily of Italy’s twenty Regions and of a few major cities, with a reduced number of only five life Senators appointed by the President for merit.  The regional Governors would serve also as Senators without extra compensation to save expenses amidst the continuing recession and European Union financial crisis.  The President will remain a check on the House of Deputies, as he retains the power to reject parliamentary acts that are unconstitutional or that are not in accordance with the budget.  

The electoral reforms should make it easier for parties to gain a parliamentary majority in order to govern more effectively, while the other reforms will make Italian government less corrupt, less costly and more efficient.