Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Correcting Common Current Misconceptions and Errors Re: Coal, Hispanics, Confederate Monuments and Seasons

           There have been many factual errors circulating widely of late, which are often made or repeated by otherwise knowledgeable political leaders and opinion-makers.  This post is devoted to correcting some of the most significant.

            Many politicians and political commentators have predicted the demise of the coal industry because of the decline in the use of coal as a source of energy.  Although coal may be replaced for the production of energy, after having been mostly replaced already as a source for heating or cooking, there is still one major use for coal: bituminous coal is combined with iron to produce steel.  Therefore, there will continue to be a need for bituminous coal, at least for metallurgical purposes.  However, it is noteworthy that the less common anthracite coal burns efficiently and cleanly.

            Contrary to how they are often referred to, Hispanics are not members of a separate race, but may be of any race.  Hispanics are an ethnic group who are Latin Americans who speak Spanish.  Brazilians, who speak Portuguese, and Haitians, who speak French, are not Hispanics.  The Native Americans from Latin America who speak Spanish, the Caucasians who descend from the Europeans (usually Spanish) colonists there, the blacks descended from the African slaves, and the various combinations thereof are all Hispanics.  In addition to other diverse European peoples, there are even major communities of other races in some Latin American states, such as Semitic (both Jewish and Arab) and East Asian peoples, as immigration into Latin America has come from around the world and made some states especially cosmopolitan.  Pope Francis (Jorge Mario Bergoglio), of Argentina, is an example of a “white” (Italian) Hispanic.  Recent Latin American national leaders have been of Japanese, Lebanese, Italian and Polish descent.  Therefore, there is no typical “look” of Hispanics.  Because “Hispanic” is an ethnicity, not a race, prejudice against them is ethnic, not racial.  Hispanics are subdivided by nationality, such as Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Colombians, etc.

            Another misconception about Hispanics is that they are necessarily immigrants to the United States, but Hispanics have inhabited parts of America since before those parts were U.S. territory.  Therefore, Spanish has been the native language there since before English was introduced.  Just as Hispanics should not be said to “sound” foreign by speaking their native language, as Americans, they also cannot “look” foreign.  A related note is that Puerto Ricans who inhabit the States of the American Union or the District of Columbia are not immigrants, either, as Puerto Rico is an unincorporated American territory whose residents are U.S. citizens.

            One of the erroneous arguments frequently made in support of the current wave of iconoclasm directed especially against Confederate monuments is that there are no other statues in U.S. territory honoring those who took up arms against and killed Americans or those who lost wars.  However, there are a number of statues of Native American leaders, such as the large statue being sculpted of Lakota Chief Crazy Horse, who took up arms against and killed Americans and who lost wars.  It is not unprecedented in world history for a victor to honor the valor and military leadership of a vanquished foe or to permit a defeated people to honor their own heroes.  I intend to address other false, misleading, unfair and inconsistent arguments about the relevant historical events and the meaning of symbols in another post, as the subject is far more complex than it is often being portrayed.  

           The federal U.S. holiday of Labor Day, which is observed on the first Monday in September, is traditionally or “unofficially” regarded by Americans as the end of summer, as Memorial Day is similarly thought of as the start of the warmest season, but these holidays are neither the end of astronomical or even meteorological summer.  The widespread use of the traditional, unofficial seasonal beginnings, instead of the astronomical or meteorological ones, encourages start times for academic years that are too early and thus require additional energy costs and cut short the summer tourist season, or diminish the observation of Memorial Day as a day of mourning for American veterans who died in war by treating it as a day to celebrate the beginning of summer.  The spring equinox, which marks the end of spring and the beginning of summer, occurs around March 20.  Summer ends and fall begins with the autumnal equinox (when the hours of sunlight and darkness are equal), which occurs around September 22.  Instead of being made to feel depressed over the supposed early “end” of summer, enjoy the last three weeks of it.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Thoughts on the Length and Status of the War in Afghanistan and the War on Terrorism

           With the announcement expected this evening from the United States Commander in Chief that he is sending additional troops to Afghanistan to help the Afghan government defeat the Taliban to prevent it from becoming a safe harbor again for al-Qaeda and other Islamist terrorists, it is an appropriate time to consider the length of the war.

Earlier this year, it was widely reported that the Afghan War became the longest war in United States history.  The war, which began in 2001, has lasted nearly sixteen years, longer than the Vietnamese War (1959-1975), which held the previous record.  This report proves my point in 2010 that the war in Afghanistan and the Global War on Terrorism, of which it is a battle, was not the longest American war, as had been widely claimed at the time.  See my post from June of that year, Afghanistan is Not the Longest Ever U.S. War, http://williamcinfici.blogspot.com/2010/06/afghanistan-is-not-longest-ever-us-war.html

There are differences in the definitions of major and minor wars and whether to count separate campaigns or incidents in a series of conflicts as one war or separate ones.  The “Indian Wars” lasted from American independence until 1890.  The Cold War between the U.S. and International Communists led by the Soviet Union lasted for four and a half decades, from the post-Second World War period until 1991, with the Korean and Vietnamese Wars as major campaigns within the war, in addition to many minor wars and other incidents. 

The Liberation of Iraq, which began in 2003 and has continued intermittently, has been subsumed by the War on Terrorism as a battle in the latter war both because it was intended to remove a terrorist-sponsoring regime from power and because Islamist terrorists fought against the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq.  However, the Liberation of Iraq could be viewed as the second campaign of a longer war, as Iraqi tyrant Saddam Hussein never regarded the 1991 Liberation of Kuwait to have ended, which resulted in frequent Iraqi cease-fire violations and other clashes between the Baathist regime and the coalition led by the Americans over the twelve-year period between the two campaigns.  Both the Iraqi wars and the War on Terrorism are themselves part of a long war between militant Islam and the rest of the world, including the United States.  The U.S. has fought militant Muslims, who have been motivated at least in part by Islamic holy war, since the Barbary Wars of the early Nineteenth Century to the early 1980s, with the rise of terrorism and other militant attacks directed against Americans because of the Iranian Revolution, as well as clashes with Libya, Syria and other Islamist militants. 

After the September 11, 2001 Terrorist Attacks on the United States, Afghanistan became on October 7 the first foreign battlefield of the War on Terrorism.  The Taliban de facto regime that had harbored the al-Qaeda Islamist terrorists responsible for the deadliest terrorist attack in history was toppled by 2002.  After some subsequent mopping up of the retreating Taliban and al-Qaeda, the Afghan War has transitioned from a major war to a minor one, from the American perspective, with occasional significant flare-ups.  The war has continued to be a major one for Afghans, as the Taliban, with the help of Iran, Russia and Islamists, has put up stubborn resistance.  After President Barack Obama declared an end to the U.S. mission in Afghanistan, American military personnel, and those of its international coalition allies, have continued to advise, train and assist the Afghan government against the resurgent Taliban, as well as al-Qaeda and its offshoot, the “Islamic State.” 

The Afghans have fought the Taliban and the Islamists valiantly, but the war cannot be won without the additional American combat troops being sent to Afghanistan in order to prevent any other terrorist attacks, especially as deadly as September 11.  Although the Afghan war may eventually end in a victory of Islamist terrorists and their allies, the War on Terrorism will likely continue, not only in Iraq and Syria against al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, where the enemy has been in steady retreat, but as at least an intermittent minor war around the Islamic world, especially with frequent drone or missile strikes and occasional covert or overt commando raids

Update: The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania's 2017 Finance Bill Has Still Not Been Approved

The Commonwealth’s $32 billion 2017 budget was allowed to become law by the liberal Democratic Governor of Pennsylvania, without his signature, after the Republican-led legislature approved it in late June. 

As I posted at the time, no finance bill was passed for the fiscal year.  See Pennsylvania’s 2017 Budget is Approved, from July of this year, http://williamcinfici.blogspot.com/2017/07/pennsylvanias-2017-budget-is-approved.html.  There is still no bill approved to fund the Commonwealth’s fiscal blueprint.  The legislators and Governor remain divided over taxes, particularly on natural gas extraction, an industry which has provided an economic boost for Pennsylvania.  The Governor wants to impose an extra tax on the industry, on top of the usual business taxes, which are relatively high for a state, as well as an “impact fee.”  Borrowing, gambling and privatizing wine and spirits are other options for additional revenue to avoid a nearly two-billion dollar shortfall.  

The Administration has continued to borrow funds to stave off any shut-down of state government, but, as the two-month mark of the current fiscal year approaches, the Commonwealth’s ability to continue to borrow funds is at risk, as is its credit rating.  The Governor and General Assembly must agree to fund the 2017 budget, without increasing taxes that can jeopardize Pennsylvanias economy.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Pakistan Held a State Funeral for a German Nun

           Pakistan held a state funeral this weekend for Ruth Pfau, a German Catholic nun who was known as the “Mother Theresa of Pakistan” for her efforts to rid the Muslim state of leprosy, the first Christian to receive such an honor.  She died in Karachi, Pakistan on August 10 at the age of 87.

Pfau was born in Leipzig, Germany in 1929.  After the Second World War, she and her family escaped Communist East Germany to West Germany.  After discontinuing her medical studies at Gutenberg University, she joined the Society of Daughters of the Heart of Mary in 1949.  The order intended to send her to India, but visa problems forced to remain in Karachi, where she then devoted the last fifty years of her life.  There she labored to evangelize, as well as to eradicate leprosy and tuberculosis.  Pfau was honored with a number of awards for her work.

Theresa of Calcutta, who was canonized a Catholic saint last year, was an ethnic Albanian Catholic nun from Macedonia who founded a religious order that ministered to the poor and the dying in India.  The Hindu state gave her a state funeral after her death in 1997.  Theresa was a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. 

May Sister Ruth Pfau rest in peace.  May her legacy be one not only of health, love and peace, but of better relations between adherents of different religions.

Foreign Digests: Updates on Venezuela, South Africa and Hong Kong

            The democratically-elected Venezuelan Congress, which had been led by a large majority of members of the democratic opposition, was supplanted last week by a new legislature packed with both elected and appointed members of the authoritarian Socialist regime, after the rigged election earlier this month that was boycotted by the opposition.  The legislature will draft a new constitution to turn Venezuela into a full dictatorship.  In the meantime, the Venezuelan Attorney General, who had been critical of the regime, was forced to go into exile by the Socialists.  The international community, the Church and human rights organizations must continue to support the democratic opposition in Venezuela to force a return to representative government and liberty.

South Africa
            The leftwing President of South Africa narrowly survived a no-confidence vote last week in the national parliament.  He faced the vote because of allegations of corruption, but enough of his party, which enjoys a large majority in the national legislature, supported him to keep him in office.

Hong Kong
          Pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong were sentenced to prison for their peaceful protests in favor of democratic self-rule for the special administrative Chinese territory.  Communist China had promised self-rule, representative government and the free market in the territory when it reverted from British rule in 1997, but Peking has become increasingly intolerant of these principles.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Update: Increased Sanctions on Iran, Russia and North Korea

           The United States Congress nearly unanimously approved increased targeted economic sanctions for human rights violations on Iran, Russia and North Korea and limited the President’s discretion to lift sanctions on the Russian Federation and its leaders.  The President, whose opposition to the measure caused it to be delayed for weeks by the House of Representatives, signed it last week to avoid the humiliation of a veto override.

            The sanctions on the authoritarian Russian regime, which is led by an ex-Soviet spy, punish it for human rights violations and its aggression in Ukraine, but were widely perceived as punishment for the multi-pronged Russian interference in the American presidential elections to the benefit of the winning candidate, Donald Trump.  In addition to overt propaganda from Russian state-owned media, there was covert propaganda and disinformation, and even hacking and leaking.  Trump has denied the interference or Russian culpability and totally dismissed its effectiveness.  The Republican-led Congress, based on the unanimous conclusions of the American intelligence agencies and ongoing congressional investigations into Russian interference in the election, rejected his dismissals and sought the sanctions as a way to deter Russia from future interference, as well as to demonstrate their independence from a president from the same political party as the majority.  Trump and his campaign are under federal criminal investigation for conspiring with the Russians in the election, as well as for his business relationship, including possible criminal activities, with Russia, which may have compromised him and thus made him vulnerable to Russian blackmail. 

Russia had already retaliated for the sanctions bill before it was signed by expelling several hundred American diplomats, which is most of the U.S. diplomatic corps in the Russian Federation.  The lack of sufficient diplomatic staff will make it difficult to represent the interests of Americans in Russia, as well as for Russians to obtain visas.  The U.S. had expelled nearly three dozen Russian diplomats and closed two Russian spy compounds in early December, after the general election for Electors, but before the Electoral College elected Trump.   

In addition to the U.S. sanctions on North Korea, the United Nations Security Council approved another round of targeted economic sanctions against nuclear-armed North Korea because of the Communist “Hermit Kingdom’s” test of an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead and reaching much of the American homeland.  The North Koreans have continued to develop their nuclear weapons program to bully the U.S., South Korea and the international community into acquiescing to its political demands and as a way for the cash-starved regime to earn money through weapons proliferation to other rogue regimes, like Iran.  Continued deterrence, interdiction and sanctions are necessary to contain the Communist North Korean regime.

Update: Venezuela Elects a New Assembly and Becomes a Full Dictatorship

           The authoritarian Socialist-led Venezuelan regime held the elections a week ago for a new assembly, a third of which are members appointed by the government among constituencies of the ruling party, as a first step toward the establishment of a full dictatorship.  The assembly replaces the current democratically-elected Congress, the large majority of which are members of the opposition. 

Because Venezuela’s ruling Socialists do not tolerate freedoms and fully permit free and fair elections, the opposition boycotted the vote.  The turnout was well less than 50% of the electorate.  Over one hundred Venezuelans have been killed in protests over the last few weeks.

The new Venezuelan assembly, whose members will be entirely from the ruling party, will be empowered to write a new constitution that would grant even more dictatorial powers to the authoritarian president.  Without a timeline for the adoption of the constitution, elections scheduled for next year, which the Socialists were expected to lose, would be delayed indefinitely. 

Opposition leaders were arrested after the vote and the Venezuelan attorney general removed from office.  The ruling Socialists had thwarted effective lawmaking by the Congress, including any liberalization and even the release of political prisoners.  

In addition to the opposition, the Catholic Church, Latin American leaders and international organizations, others members of the international community and human rights organizations have condemned the Venezuelan Socialist regime’s abandonment of representative government and imposition of tyranny.  The new assembly will lack international recognition, except from a handful of allies among rogue states, like Communist Cuba.  The United States, which had already imposed increased sanctions on Venezuela, and others in the international community, must consider swiftly implementing effective measures to prevent the total loss of liberty in the once-free, representative, peaceful and prosperous South American state.