Sunday, November 29, 2015

Recent Commonwealth of Pennsylvania News

           The sales tax increase proposed by Pennsylvania’s Liberal Democratic Governor Tom Wolfe that I posted about earlier this month as part of a proposed deal to balance the Commonwealth’s 2016 budget has been turned down by the negotiators for the Republican-majority General Assembly because of opposition from the public, including from this blog, and fellow conservative legislators.  

           See also my post from March of 2013, The Pennsylvania Houses Passes Liquor Privatization,  The new fiscal year began July 1 without a budget, meaning the Commonwealth lacks sufficient authority to spend money, as Wolfe vetoed a balanced budget approved by the legislature that did not raise taxes and later even vetoed a stopgap measure to continue funding at current levels, which has caused a fiscal crisis for the state, as well as for counties, school districts and municipalities.  The legislators had already declined Wolfes proposed income tax increase and imposition of an additional tax on the natural gas industry.  He did partially accept their key proposal for pension reform.  Negotiations continue to reach a budget deal.   

            Meanwhile, the Pennsylvania Senate voted 24-24 for the elimination of school real estate taxes, with liberal Democratic Lieutenant Governor Michael Stack casting a tie-breaking vote against the bill.  The vote was the closest the Senate has ever come to the total elimination of the onerous taxes.  The revenue-neutral bipartisan measure would have exchanged school real estate taxes for higher sales and income taxes.  Unlike the proposed budget, however, it would not have resulted in a net tax increase for the average homeowner.

            Wolfe signed into law a bill approved by the GOP-led legislature along mostly party lines that eliminates the exemption from prosecution for harassment, stalking and the like for labor union members during labor disputes.  

           The state House of Representatives again has passed a bill to end the Commonwealth’s wholesale and retail monopoly on alcohol, but Wolfe still supports the state’s socialist system and its Prohibition vestiges that were intended to keep the purchase of alcohol as difficult as possible, even though privatization would help balance this year’s budget with the sale of licenses, as well as future budgets through license renewals and the continued collection of taxes on wine and liquor, which would likely increase if privatization results in better selection and thus less revenue loss to border states, which turns many thousands of otherwise law-abiding Pennsylvanians, sometimes unwittingly, into bootleggers.  Privatization would also end the Commonwealth’s conflict of interest in selling alcohol while regaling its use.

Seventh Anniversary of My Blog; Blog Visit Report

           Friday was the seventh anniversary of my blog.  Thank you for visiting.

            Blogger has tracked an average of several hundred pageviews each month over the last year, with a significant increase over last year, especially since March, despite the fact that I posted fewer times than last year.  Although the blog hosts’ tracking service is not as specific as StatCounter’s, and does not always capture every pageview that the latter does, it does capture a much higher net number of pageviews because it tracks those who use blocking programs, unlike StatCounter.  As I have posted before, I suspect more people are using such programs than before.  Although Blogger captures only more general information than StatCounter, I can see the entry website and sometimes even see the queries searched, which allows me to deduce that the visits are not necessarily spam, but are from real people.  On both trackers, unlike before, most of the queries are encrypted. 

I can theorize that at least some of the increase in traffic since March was because of my political campaign, which was also especially noticeable in the General Election from StatCounter’s tracking, but I can see from Blogger that all posts were visited, some of them dozens of times, with the most hits for posts not related to the campaign.  In addition, like StatCounter also tracks, several of the older posts continue to be visited.  

As always, I especially appreciate those who follow my blog, visit repeatedly, post my blog posts to other websites or comment.  I also appreciate the compliments I receive offline.  Please feel free to ask questions or make suggestions and please continue to visit.  Again, thank you.   

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Thanks be to God; Happy Thanksgiving!

           Let us Americans thank God for the blessings of liberty we enjoy, in accordance with the purpose of this federal holiday of publicly giving Him thanks that was established by President George Washington, for our liberty depends on acknowledging God as the source of our freedom.

            As always, I am thankful to God for all those who have helped to prevent any major terrorist or other militant attack on the American homeland.  May God continue to bless America and to keep her safe, free and bounteous!  

           I wish all of you a Happy Thanksgiving!  

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Trends in Recent Elections in Major Foreign States

           I had posted a few years ago that I had observed a rightward trend in elections in major states around the world over the last several years.  There have since been exceptions in France, Chile and, most recently, Canada.  In the meantime, the center-right gained a governing majority in the Parliament of the United Kingdom (see my post from May of this year, Conservatives Win the Majority in the British Parliamentary Elections,  and, most recently, the right was victorious in Poland

Today, the center-right won the presidential election in Argentina, ending twelve years of leftist rule.  Argentina’s significant fiscal and economic troubles were a major factor.  The victory for the conservative candidate ends a leftward trend in elections Latin America, especially in South America, where every Latin state, except Colombia and Paraguay, is ruled by center-left to far-left parties.   

In the European Union states that have been at the center of the debt crisis, the left has made gains over the last two years in being able to govern, but not by gaining a majority of parliamentary seats and thus having to partner with the right in coalitions.  Greek voters had given a plurality that was far short of a majority to a leftist party that was only able to form a government in coalition with a rightwing party.  After the leftist Greek Government gave in to European demands for austerity and various reforms, some on the far-left of that party resigned from it, which left its successor Government somewhat less leftist; it has continued its austerity policies, with the support of the center-right opposition.  As I have posted over the last few years, Italy has shifted from a center-right Government to a Government led by a center-left party that had won a plurality, but it only can govern in coalition with a center-right party.  As a result, the Italian Government has cut taxes and adopted various other fiscal and economic reforms, some of which have also been supported by the main center-right opposition party.  Voters in the Portuguese parliamentary elections gave a plurality a few weeks ago to the ruling center-right party that had continued austerity policies, but the party was unable to form a majority through a coalition; the minority Government was short-lived.  The anti-austerity left may soon take power, but only by promising to continue Portugal’s debt obligations.

            I had posted in June in my post, Islamists Lose their Majority in the Turkish Parliamentary Elections, that in the Turkish parliamentary elections, secular parties polled more votes than the ruling moderately-Islamist party, but they were unable to form a government, leaving the ruling party to continue to govern. 

            Turkey has been an example I have posted about of the trend toward authoritarianism in representative states, which is most noticeable in Russia and certain other former Soviet Republics and Communist states, as well as in Latin America, led by Venezuela, whose Socialist dictatorship has encouraged the election of leftists in Latin America and is responsible for the leftward trend I mentioned above.  As in Latin America, various elected leaders and other dictators in Africa have attempted to have constitutions amended in order to remain in power beyond their term limits.  Meanwhile, Thailand has yet to schedule elections and return to representative government after the military seized power after a lengthy impasse between the sharply-divided political parties that made it ungovernable and unstable. 

In contrast, as I have posted, Ukraine and Tunisia (see my post from October of 2014, Elections in Ukraine and Tunisia Restore Liberty,  and from January of 2015, Foreign Updates: Cuba, Ukraine, Tunisia and France, have transitioned to representative government, as has Burma (see my post from earlier this month), where the latest news about the Burmese parliamentary elections is that the democratic opposition won a majority of seats and will be able to name the President.  Meanwhile, Nepal has adopted a constitution that guarantees liberty and representative government (see my post from September of this year, Foreign Digest: Serbia, Nepal and Russia,  

In short, while the rightward trend in elections in major states may not be as noticeable as before, conservative candidates and parties remain competitive generally, even where they are in opposition, and have been able at least to join in coalition governments, while leftist candidates and parties usually have difficulty winning majorities of the vote where they are not currently in power or in being able to govern on their own.  It is hoped that the results of the Argentine presidential elections are a harbinger of a reversal of the leftward trend in Latin America.  Although Latin America has been an example of the rise of authoritarianism by leftist democratically-elected governments, there have been some significant gains by parties around the world that support freedom and representative government.  May they inspire the return to liberty in those leftist or Islamist states where elected leaders have gradually denied their people more and more freedoms.  

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Proposed Pennsylvania State Budget Tax Increase

           The proposed budget compromise between Pennsylvania’s liberal Democratic Governor Tom Wolfe and the majority Republican General Assembly would increase taxes significantly.  Although the proposal avoids the Governor’s income tax increase and an extra tax on natural gas extraction, it includes an increase in the sales tax that will not entirely offset school district real estate taxes. 

            The sales tax paid by every resident and business, as well as visitor, who purchases anything in Pennsylvania would increase from 6% to 7.25%, and even more in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, under the proposed budget, to offset school real estate taxes, but the gambling money that currently provides relatively modest real estate tax relief for Pennsylvania landowners would be diverted to the general fund for Wolfe’s spending spree, resulting in an overall increase of over $600 million in taxes, which means a net average increase of nearly $200 per homeowner.  Businesses would lose revenue to neighboring states, as Pennsylvania’s sales tax would be higher than theirs.  In fact, the Keystone State’s sales tax would be the second highest in the American Union.  And there would still be no required referenda to allow school district boards of directors to raise real estate taxes above inflation and enrollment growth levels. 

I know from experience as a School Director that there is much room for improvement in how Districts spend taxpayer money and collect revenue.  I also know that although Wolfe proposes to increase spending for schools dramatically, even though they are already at their highest levels, that there is no correspondence between spending and results in terms of learning, as measured by standard tests and other measures.  In fact, test scores have decreased, despite a dramatic increase of state spending on education over the last four decades.

            The fiscal year ended June 30 without a budget because Wolfe vetoed a balanced budget approved by the state legislature that did not raise taxes.  He even vetoed a stop-gap measure.

            The proposed budget includes some significant pension reform for the first time, as new state employees would be required to contribute a small portion of their income into 401(K) type plans, in addition to defined benefit plans.  Even this modest change would save billions of dollars over decades.  The Governor also proposes to lease to a private entity the management of the state wine and spirit stores, but the Commonwealth would retain its wholesale and retail monopoly and will still suffer from a conflict of interest by promoting the sale of alcohol while regulating its use.  Pennsylvania’s complex Prohibition-era restrictions on the sale of alcohol would continue, as many ordinary Pennsylvanians would continue to cross state lines to purchase alcohol and risk prosecution for bootlegging for bringing it home.  The proposed budget lacks other significant cost-savings such as eliminating hundreds of millions of dollars of wasteful spending, such as corporate welfare, or special-interest tax breaks that could have been used to avoid a tax increase.

            Although there are some positives in the proposed budget, the tax increase is fiscally irresponsible, as it will have potentially harmful economic affects, especially during this time of only weak economic growth.  County, municipal and especially school district real estate taxes penalize property improvements while incentivizing blight, lower real estate values, reach a point of diminishing return in terms of collections and are anti-business.  They turn every homeowner into a tenant of the state with the constant threat of having to sell one’s home in order to pay the taxes.  At a time when Pennsylvanians of both political parties have been demanding meaningful real estate tax relief, if not the total elimination of school real estate taxes, through a revenue-neutral tax shift to higher sales or income taxes, it is shocking that a significant net tax increase would even be considered seriously. 

           Pennsylvanians must oppose the unnecessary proposed net tax increase and insist on better fiscal responsibility and more controls on how local School Districts manage taxpayer money.  

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Clarification about France as “America’s” Oldest Ally

United States President Barack Obama referred to France as “our oldest ally.”  This statement is true only if the time before the U.S. is counted, going back to the declaration of independence of the several American states.  In other words, France may be “America’s” oldest ally, but not the oldest ally of the “United States.” 

As the President of the United States, Obama can only speak for the U.S. when using the word “our.”  Presidents cannot speak on behalf of the several States, even collectively, apart from their federal union, the “United States.”

In fact, France is the oldest enemy of the U.S., as the two fought the “Quasi War” on the high seas from the late Eighteenth to the early Nineteenth Century, which was the first foreign war in U.S. history.  In addition, some French forces resisted the Anglo-American liberation of North Africa from the Axis Powers in 1942 during the Second World War.  By the reasoning of isolationists, then, the U.S. and France, “have been fighting” for centuries.  Of course, their reasoning is faulty, as the U.S. and France have been allies since before the Axis collaborators, who did not represent the majority of French or the legitimate allied French government, disgraced themselves.  The point is that Franco-American relations have been complex and have changed over time.  

Americans will always be grateful for French aid during the American Revolution, but the French have only recently been acting like good allies in the War on Terrorism.  May they continue to act like allies, as it is in both their and our best interest.

Thoughts on the Terrorist Attacks on Paris

Unlike many other attacks labeled “terrorism,” the attacks in Paris, because they targeted innocent civilians to intimidate the populace, meet the definition of acts of terrorism committed as part of violent Islamic jihad (holy war).

Eyewitnesses and the media tend to describe the scenes of such attacks as “like” a “battlefield” or a “war zone.”  They are not “like” battlefields or war zones; they are battlefields and war zones, as the militant Islamist enemy has made the entire world its battlefield.

The perpetrators call themselves the “Islamic State (IS)” not the “Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS)” or the “Islamic State in the Levant (ISIL),” with the acronym of the former pronounced like as a word like the name of an ancient Egyptian goddess.  They do not claim only the Levant, but the entire world.  As I have posted repeatedly in regard to Islamism in general, if the enemy cannot be identified properly, it cannot be defeated. 

The attacks on Paris were not in retaliation for any recent events, as they had been planned for a long period.  In fact, they are not retaliation for anything; it is what violent jihadists do because it is their belief that they must kill “infidels” who do not submit and to intimidate others into submission.  They use policy goals as an excuse or for propaganda, such as intimidating France into dropping its anti-Islamic State campaign in Iraq and SyriaFrance was chosen as a target also because of its history as a “Crusader state” and Paris was chosen particularly, not only because it is the French capital and largest city, but because it is a symbol of decadence.  Modern France has long been a target of militant Islam, first with bombings on French soil during the Algerian War, then in the 1980s-1990s, when there was a waive of Islamist terrorist attacks.  Of course, the terrorists attacked where they did in the first place because the venues were targets of opportunity.  It is disturbing that they even managed to detonate a bomb at the gate of a venue attended by the President of the French Republic.

As I posted before, there is a legitimate concern about terrorist infiltration among migrants coming into Europe, but the main concern is the “foreign fighters,” who are citizens of foreign states outside of the Middle East who go to there for training in acts of terrorism or guerilla warfare, who then return to their native lands to carry out acts of violent jihad.  As was the case in the Paris attacks, at least one of the terrorists was French-born, whether or not he was a foreign fighter.  Regardless, the European Union’s abandonment of border controls between European states, is proven, yet again, to be folly.

The current American sympathy and solidarity with France is right, but one cannot help but recall how the French have repeatedly made themselves obstacles to U.S. counterterrorism efforts.  After a deadly Libyan terrorist attack against Americans in Germany in 1986, the U.S. sought French permission to overfly the territory of the Republic of France to carry out a retaliatory raid against Libya, but our “ally” France declined, which forced a risky detour of thousands of miles and resulted in less fuel to conduct adequate operations.  Then, in 2003, after France had voted for a unanimously-approved resolution in the United Nations Security Council that found Iraq in “material” violation of UN resolutions and calling for “serious consequences,” which was diplomatic language for military strikes, France’s Gaullist government worked tirelessly to oppose American use of force to overthrow a terrorist-sponsoring regime that had harbored and financed terrorists who had targeted and killed Americans.  Indeed, the French government announced that the center of its foreign policy was not to oppose global Islamist terrorism, but to oppose the U.S. as the sole leader of the free world!

Indeed, an essential reason the terrorists chose to attack France in the first place is because of the French not-entirely-deserved reputation as cowards, which the Islamists regard as proof of the absence of divine favor or at least of a lack of faith and as a weakness to be exploited, just as the attacks on the train in Madrid in 2004 successfully resulted in the election of a liberal government that promised to remove its troops from the fight against Islamists in Iraq.  As I have noted repeatedly, France has been a strong ally—lately—in the War on Terrorism, particularly in regard to al Qaeda in Mali and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.  It is hoped that the resolve of the current French government and the French people will not weaken, but will only strengthen to eliminate the threat to Christianity, Western Civilization and liberty from militant Islamism.

Monday, November 9, 2015

The Democratic Opposition Wins the Burmese Parliamentary Elections

In Burma’s first free and fair parliamentary elections since 1990, the democratic opposition defeated the civilian transition government that was backed by the former military junta, which had ruled for the last five years since the last elections were boycotted by the opposition for lack of freedom. 

Unlike in 1990, however, the ruling party has conceded the results.  Although the military is constitutionally guaranteed a large segment of seats in the Burmese Parliament, the dictatorial military junta will not rule Burma, directly or indirectly, for the first time since 1962.  The ruling party it supports, which won only a minority of seats, will be in the opposition.  The concession of the election results by the ruling party sets up a transition toward representative government.  The Parliament will nominate three candidates for President; the two unsuccessful nominees will become vice presidents.  Although beloved opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, whose party had won the nullified 1990 elections, is prohibited by law from serving as President, she will nevertheless exercise leadership over her party and country.  Much international pressure had been exerted on the Burmese dictatorship over the last several years to loosen its grip on power and allow basic freedoms and fair elections.

Liberty and representative government were the main platform of the opposition.  Minority rights will be a concern for Burma’s many ethnic groups, especially its ostracized Muslim minority.  

I congratulate the people of Burma and wish them success in enjoying the fruits of liberty.  May they govern themselves, including all of the minorities who dwell within Burmese borders, well and peacefully.  May Burma serve as an example of how international economic sanctions and moral suasion can liberate people in even the lands where they have been repressed the longest.  

Sunday, November 8, 2015

The Reading Eagle Publishes “Community Leader” Cinfici’s Advice for the New Reading Mayor

           The Reading Eagle today published a story in which it solicited advice from community leaders for the newly-elected Mayor of Reading.  The story included eight “community leaders,” including two City residents, one Democrat and one Republican.  I represented the Reading Republican City Committee. 

            I strove to provide advice beyond what the mayor-elect has already stated or what I thought would typically be mentioned by others and focused on points of concern from a resident’s perspective that reflected conservative and Republican common-sense principles in an urban environment.  The new mayor is a Democrat, as Democrats outnumber Republicans in Reading by a 5:1 margin.

           Here is the link to the story, in which the Eagle took four one-sentence pieces of advice from each of the community leaders and compiled them into categories to establish a consensus:  

           Here is a link to the story, which was not in the printed edition, that includes all of the advice, verbatim, from each community leader:  

Conservative Analysis of the 2015 General Elections across the United States

           In my last post, I analyzed the General Election in Pennsylvania, which was mostly favorable to Democrats and to liberals.  Across the United States, however, the election results were generally opposite. 

            In the most important contest, a Republican was elected Governor of Kentucky.  He campaigned in part on the theme of protecting conscience exceptions for those with religious or moral objections to same-sex unions, including county clerks who object to recognizing “marriages” of homosexuals.

            In Mississippi, Republicans gained one Senate and 5 House seats.  Democrats were triumphant in New Jersey, however, as they gained four House seats.  In Virginia, Republicans lost one House seat, but held onto the GOP margin in the Senate, despite a campaign by its liberal Democratic Governor to gain the majority of the Senate for Democrats, based on his platform for Medicaid expansion and other issues, as well as an effort by prominent opponents of the right to keep and bear arms.

            Even in liberal San Francisco, voters chose not to reelect the Sheriff who had been outspokenly in favor of his city’s policy of sanctuary for illegal aliens. 

            In referenda of interest to conservatives, voters were favorable to conservative positions.  Voters in Houston, Texas rejected a referendum to give more rights for homosexuals and transsexuals/transvestites over concerns about access to public facilities by those who claim to identify themselves as members of the opposite sex.  Ohioans turned down a referendum to allow medical and recreational use of marijuana. 

           There were relatively few races and major referenda on the ballot this year.  Little can be discerned from results that produced such few changes across the U.S., as in Pennsylvania, other than how conservative principles, if presented well and if that message is heard by the electorate, remain convincing to many voters.  

Conservative Analysis of the 2015 Pennsylvania General Election

The results were mostly favorable to Democrats in Pennsylvania’s General Election.  There were many countywide races, including for judge, as well as magisterial district judge, municipal, school board and constable offices on the ballot in the last local elections before the 2016 federal and state elections.  Despite being of the most direct affect on people, these “off-year” elections tend to generate the least interest in terms of voter turnout, as voters are already looking ahead to the presidential campaign especially. 

Democrats swept the five appellate court contests, which included an unprecedented three Supreme Court seats, as well as one each for Superior and Commonwealth Courts.  The turnout of Democrats for the uncompetitive mayoral race in Philadelphia, where Democrats dominate, was enough to give their party the edge statewide.  Democrats will now have the majority on the Commonwealth’s highest court.  Republicans retain the majority on the other two appellate courts. 

The major consolation for Keystone State Republicans was the GOP victory in a state Senate special election in Western Pennsylvania.  Amidst the state’s budget crisis between the Republican majority state legislature and liberal Democratic Governor, Republicans added to their ranks in the upper house of the General Assembly, giving them a 31-19 majority.

On balance, county results did not produce many changes, with Democrats gaining a few County Commissions and other countywide offices and Republicans picking up some, as well, particularly in the west.  Republicans tend to have the advantage in courthouses across the Keystone State.  The new Republican in the minority of the County Commission of Philadelphia suburban Montgomery County will be a conservative, the first time one will hold that post in an area where the Republicans tend to be more moderate and labor union-influenced. 

Locally, there were no changes or surprises in Berks County, as all incumbent countywide candidates won.  Republicans retain most countywide offices.  Two pro-life Democrats and a Republican were elected Judges of the Court of Common Pleas.  As with Philadelphia, the turnout of Democrats for the mayor’s race in Reading was enough not only for the Democrat to win in the city where their party dominates, but for Democrats to win the special election for City Council President and all the seats for School Director, as even the Republican on the Democratic ballot won and the Democrats on the GOP ballot lost. I was not among the candidates elected.  I shall provide more analysis on the election for Reading School Director soon.  

Democratic voters statewide and locally were urged to push the button to vote straight Democrat instead of selecting their individual preferences.  Even the important statewide judicial races tend to be more about party registration and fundraising and campaigning than about qualifications or message.  The various scandals around the state and locally involving all Democrats have not cost their party at the ballot boxyet.  The state Senate special election suggests Pennsylvanians do not want the legislature to give into the Governor’s demands to raise income and natural gas extraction taxes. 

Sunday, November 1, 2015

The 2015 Pennsylvania General Election

           The General Election in Pennsylvania this year is critically important, as there are a record number of seats for state Supreme Court open, as well as numerous county, municipal and school director offices on the ballot.  There are the most offices on the ballot this year than at any point over the four-year cycle. 

There are many conservative candidates committed to liberty and good government that is fiscally responsible seeking election to these offices. 

Along with the three seats for the Commonwealth’s highest appellate court, are also one each for Superior and Commonwealth Courts.  These appellate courts affect the citizens in important ways in matters of criminal, civil and family law, as well as constitutional matters.  The balance between the Republican and Democratic parties, as well as between liberals and conservatives, is at stake, just a few years before the courts will be tasked with judging federal and state legislative districts.  It is essential to elect judges who are qualified, impartial, and who love the law and are respectful of the state Constitution, and especially those who would not overstep their role in judging by legislating from the bench. 

There are also county Court of Common pleas judges on the ballot, or up for retention, as well as the magisterial district judges and constables to elect.  Also at the county level, voters will be electing candidates for county commission and “row offices.

The local down-ballot races in this “municipal” election are important because county and municipal government affect people in innumerable ways, such as police and other first response services, codes, roads, zoning, planning, libraries, parks and recreation, etc.  School districts provide education, but are larger real estate taxing bodies than county and municipal governments, sometimes even combined.  As I have mentioned in earlier posts, I am on the ballot in my school district, Reading, seeking this non-paying office because, like other conservative candidates, I recognize how significant it is to the students and taxpayers of the District.

Not only do the elected officials who hold these offices affect people more directly than statewide or federal officeholders, but because the electorate is smaller – and fewer people vote in such “off-year” elections – that one’s vote counts for more than in statewide or federal elections.  An additional motivation for conservatives to vote to elect conservative candidates to county and local offices is to allow them to gain experience for future higher offices, as usually those who hold higher office have started at the local and county levels.  

I urge my fellow conservatives across Pennsylvania to take the time to learn about the candidates for each of the offices on the General Election ballot and to make plans now to vote on Tuesday, November 3.