We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Fast & Furious: why ‘Bush started it’ will not save Obama

One of our commenters has made what I think is a very important point about the rapidly snowballing ‘Fast & Furious’ scandal that may well consume the Obama presidency:

The (vitally important) difference, however, is that ‘Wide Receiver’ (the Bush administration program) was carried out in cooperation with the Mexican government, and actually attempted to track the weapons crossing the border. ‘Fast & Furious’ was carried out in complete secrecy from the Mexican Government, and attempted to basically funnel weapons illegally to Mexican drug runners, so that the guns left at crime scenes could then be traced back to US gun dealers. As someone on NRO (I think it was Andrew McCarthy) pointed out, this operation REQUIRED the deaths of Mexican nationals. How this is distinguished from an act of war against Mexico is not at all clear to me. But then, I didn’t go to Harvard.

- Samizdata commenter ‘Disillusionist’ making a very germane point about the ‘Fast & Furious’ scandal.

Another reason for opposing all government aid to other governments

Here is a pretty good article in the Telegraph, by Nancy Soderberg (who she?), arguing that taxpayers of the UK should not be giving money to Argentina. It is a country that, with hardly a shred of legal or other justification, wishes to claim back territories (the Falkland Islands) that it unsuccessfully attempted to capture 30 years ago by force of arms:

“Argentina, after all, is acting with scant regard for the international community. Over the past decade it has pursued a deliberate strategy of playing games with financial markets. Its default on £51 billion of debt in 2001 turned it into a financial pariah, a status that was not enhanced by two subsequent unilateral debt restructurings. To this day, Argentina remains shut out of the world’s capital markets. To make matters worse, it also nationalised private pension funds, thereby providing itself with a captive domestic market into which it could sell its debt.”

“The government has since been sued by creditors around the world as they try to force Argentina to honour its obligations. In the Southern District Court of New York alone, there have been more than 170 bondholder lawsuits, resulting in more than 100 judgments. Today, Argentina still owes more than £15 billion in old debts ranging from Paris Club loans, to bondholders, and to foreign investors holding arbitral awards from the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID). In each case, Argentina has refused to play by the rules. It has demanded a Paris Club restructuring without the mandatory IMF monitoring, it has ignored New York court judgments, and it has insisted, in blatant disregard of its treaty obligations under ICSID, that arbitral awards be brought to Argentina for “approval” by its own courts.”

Argentina is refusing to let UK-registered vessels enter any of its ports, and has also sought to enlist other Latin American countries in putting the squeeze on the UK. Now of course some of this can be dismissed as “sabre-rattling”, and no doubt, in their quieter moments, many Argentine people who have endured a variety of useless or vicious governments will think that the latest antics of their government are absurd. But it is clear that bullies need to be confronted eventually. The UK government should terminate any aid to Argentina without delay. Indeed, it should terminate aid, full stop, to any country, democratic or otherwise.

One of the things that stuck in my mind when reading the late Christopher Hitchens’ brilliant “Hitch 22″ memoirs was his description of how he felt about the Thatcher administration in confronting the military junta of Argentina in 1982. I think it was Hitchens’ first realisation that his youthful leftism meant he had to take sides with some pretty stupid people, and that he began a long, slow reappraisal of some of his ideas. As the Falklanders no doubt asked themselves in 1982, do we really want to be taken over by this lot?

Of course, it is all about ooooiiilllll!

For a bit of background, here is a reasonably fair account of the history of the Falkland Islands, which have been attached to the UK since the 1830s, an era when Argentina had only begun to exist as an independent nation in its own right.

Sean Penn gets the media he deserves

On the 15th of February, I was sitting in a pub in London. As is often the case nowadays, this pub had flat screen televisions on some of the walls, and they were switched to the BBC’s 24 hour news channel. This too is common, as is the practice of switching down the sound and turning on the simultaneous subtitles that are transmitted with the broadcast, theoretically for the benefit of the deaf, but also useful in other places (such as pubs) where it might not be possible for viewers to listen to the audio. For live broadcasts such as news, the audio is being thrown through computer voice recognition software and the subtitles generated automatically. It appears that particularly egregious or hilarious errors are then corrected by a human, but not until after viewers had seen them.

In any event, the news was of Sean Penn’s trip to Argentina, where he had been prancing around, referring to the conflict over the “Malvinas”, and just generally behaving like a self-important Hollywood star talking about things he does not understand. Yawn, actually. What was more interesting to me was the BBC coverage. The studio talking head in London said a few words, and then crossed to someone somewhere else, a South American reporter who was presumably somewhere nearer to Buenos Aires. (I didn’t record the names of the talking heads, unfortunately). The two had a conversation on air. The South American correspondent more or less repeated what had been said already. Then he uttered this lovely line.

Actually Sean Penn has gone to Uruguay today, or Paraguay – it is one of the two…

Huh? I mean, huh? Disregarding the fact that the BBCs South American correspondent should actually know where Sean Penn has gone before going on air to talk about Sean Penn, there are other things that helpful to know. Uruguay – nice place on the coast on the other side of the River Plate from Buenos Aires – in fact in many ways almost an extension of Buenos Aires and so close that one can almost sneeze and discover that one is there. Exactly the sort of place that a shallow Hollywood star likes to go to to be fawned on by the President. Also, the “He has gone there today” thing. You have a schedule of events in BA and someone throws an event in Uruguay in the middle of it. That works.

Paraguay on the other hand – dubious and rather lawless inland place that Sean Penn wouldn’t be seen dead in.Getting there from BA is a bit more work, and going there is not quite such a casual thing, so it is much less likely he would have an engagement there the day after one in BA.

They are not, in fact, very similar, and they are impossible to confuse if you know anything at all about them. However, they are small countries between Argentina and Brazil that have similar names, which I suppose makes it likely that today’s BBC reporters will confuse them. Is this guy based in Rio or something? Or is he in the next studio just pretending to be in South America. One does at least hope they can occasionally employ people who can deduce B from A, but not here.

Perhaps the budget has been cut. If so, am I admitting that my feelings about this are mixed?

Visiting a political Jurassic Park

My wife and I are off to Cuba next week for a fortnight.

We have to be quick if we’re to catch a glimpse of the place before it changes irreversibly. Every piece of news seems to be in the right direction for Cubans, the wrong direction for tourists seeking picturesqueness.

President Raul Castro has pledged to legalize the purchase and sale of homes by the end of the year, bringing this informal market out of the shadows as part of an economic reform package under which Cuba is already letting islanders go into business for themselves in 178 designated activities, as restaurateurs, wedding planners, plumbers, carpenters.

And:

Since last October, Cuba’s streets have turned on a new look with the opening of new private restaurants, fast food stalls, beauty salons and electronic repair shops.

Yes, got to move fast before Cuba’s USP as the Western Hemisphere’s only communist paradise slips away. Perhaps to pass to Venezuela.

But Venezuela hasn’t got the Hemingway connection to trade on.

Stephen Wilkinson slobbers all over Young Mr Castro

I am only a very occasional Guardian reader, of things like classical CD reviews and cricket stories, but thanks to Mick Hartley, of whose blog I am a regular reader, I found my way to this classic of the grovelling courtier genre, perpetrated by a ridiculous creep named Stephen Wilkinson.

Wilkinson’s piece concerns the content of a two and half hour speech recently given by Fidel Castro’s younger brother. Although, Raul Castro is young only in the Young Mr Grace sense. Which is what I think we should now call this junior monster: Young Mr Castro. If a full-on comedy TV show about the Castro brothers happens, let it be called: Are You Being Shafted? But I digress.

The only people who will be unreservedly admiring of this piece by Stephen Wilkinson will be the geriatric despots on whose behalf and in pursuit of whose money it was presumably written, although if they realise how little anyone else will be impressed by it, other than for its comic appeal, even they may grumble. What Stephen Wilkinson feels about having written such a thing, one can only imagine. → Continue reading: Stephen Wilkinson slobbers all over Young Mr Castro

Aw, bless

From – where else – The Guardian: Bolivia enshrines natural world’s rights with equal status for Mother Earth

“Bolivia is set to pass the world’s first laws granting all nature equal rights to humans. The Law of Mother Earth, now agreed by politicians and grassroots social groups, redefines the country’s rich mineral deposits as “blessings” and is expected to lead to radical new conservation and social measures to reduce pollution and control industry.

The country, which has been pilloried by the US and Britain in the UN climate talks for demanding steep carbon emission cuts, will establish 11 new rights for nature. They include: the right to life and to exist; the right to continue vital cycles and processes free from human alteration; the right to pure water and clean air; the right to balance; the right not to be polluted; and the right to not have cellular structure modified or genetically altered.”

The first comment to the Guardian piece said, “So much for evolution.”

“Controversially, it will also enshrine the right of nature “to not be affected by mega-infrastructure and development projects that affect the balance of ecosystems and the local inhabitant communities”.

The law, which is part of a complete restructuring of the Bolivian legal system following a change of constitution in 2009, has been heavily influenced by a resurgent indigenous Andean spiritual world view which places the environment and the earth deity known as the Pachamama at the centre of all life. Humans are considered equal to all other entities.”

Votes for bacteria now!

“Little opposition is expected to the law being passed because President Evo Morales’s ruling party, the Movement Towards Socialism, enjoys a comfortable majority in both houses of parliament.

With the newly-enfranchised bacteria supporting him, I’m not surprised.

“In the indigenous philosophy, the Pachamama is a living being.

The draft of the new law states: “She is sacred, fertile and the source of life that feeds and cares for all living beings in her womb. She is in permanent balance, harmony and communication with the cosmos. She is comprised of all ecosystems and living beings, and their self-organisation.”

Nice to see Bolivia following Britain’s England’s example and instituting an Established Church.

Toast or not toast, that is the question

Tim Worstall writes, “You know the Bolivarian Revolution is toast when…”. His criteria for Bolivarian toastiness is “when even the Guardian is running reports on how socialism makes the food supply go tits up.” He links to a Guardian article about the “economic war” launched by Chavez in Venezuela which does indeed make it sound as if Chavez has defied reality once too often.

Trouble is, as The Remittance Man says in the comments, we saw the same and worse from Mugabe – and he is still in power, sort of. Indeed we saw the same and much worse in the Soviet Union and that lasted seventy years.

How do these regimes hold on for so long? Shopkeepers in Venezuela are being ordered on pain of imprisonment to sell at a loss. One would think they would just walk away. Why does it take so long for Atlas to shrug? Perhaps most of his economic war is just bluster and shopkeepers know this. Perhaps there is some mechanism of benign corruption operating that means that the shopkeepers do continue to make money regardless. Perhaps Chavez is right and they do have a lot of money stashed away and can afford to run at a loss for a time, and also have some reason to believe that this episode will be sufficiently brief that it is worth their while to do so.

Or perhaps the toast is about to burn.

A thought

Over the next two days, there are two linguistically Spanish versus Portuguese games in the World Cup: Chile plays Brazil this evening, and Spain itself plays Portugal itself tomorrow evening. Brazil and Spain are two of the favourites to win the tournament, Portugal is a good side, although perhaps without the depth of the first two, and Chile have played much more impressively than most people expected in this tournament, but are outsiders. So probably a hard fought but still one-sided game this evening, and a good game tomorrow night. Although one of course never knows.

However, disregarding the actual sport and thinking about bigger things, it seems pretty clear that the governments of the two Latin American countries are rather less profligate and rather less broke than those of the two Latin European countries.

How did we get here?

The foolishness of half measures when dealing with power obsessed people

It is fascinating how so many government cannot abide the idea of constitutional limits on the power of the state. Clearly the US and Brazilian governments are beside themselves that many in Honduras seem unwilling to allow their country to go the way of Venezuela.

If I was the government of Honduras I would simply give the government of Brazil 48 hours to get their embassy the hell out of Honduras permanently, and when they do… solve the ‘issue’ of Hugo Chavez wannabe Jose Manuel Zelaya the way they should have initially… with a 9 mm wide object moving at 360 metres per second.

After hubris, comes…..

The One comes out with some jaw-dropping remarks at times.

Cuban delusions

This guy clearly is not impressed by the recent Hollywood film about ‘Che’ Guevara, which I will not be watching:

I wish that Mr. Soderbergh and Mr. Del Toro could live in Cuba, not as the pampered VIPs that they are when they visit today, but as Cubans do, with no United States Constitutional rights, with ration cards entitling them to tiny portions of provisions that the stores don’t even stock anyway, with chivatos surveilling them constantly. How long would it be before Mr. Soderbergh started sizing up inner tubes, speculating on the durability and buoyancy of them, asking himself, could I make the crossing on that? How long before Mr. Del Toro started gazing soulfully at divorced or widowed tourist women, hoping to seduce and marry one of them and get out? Only then could they see why this insipid, frivolous and pretentious movie they have made is nothing less than an insult to millions of people, who really do live like that, and who’ve lived like that their entire lives.

The quote was seen at the blog of David Thompson.

I have said it before and I will repeat: for all its possible charms, I am not setting foot in Cuba until it becomes a haven of capitalist decadence. Not a minute before. Even if that means paying more for cigars and the booze.

Here is a film about Cuba, starring Andy Garcia, which is much more worthwhile.

Malapropism

I’m sure that Hugo Chavez has done some good. Much more bad than good probably, but some good. And Ken Livingstone is certainly not totally evil. But when the two of them get together it is very implausible that it is good news for the world on average.

Though if Mr Livingstone spends a lot of time in Venezuela, that will be pleasant both for him and for Londoners, I am really quite puzzled what Latin America, or even Mr Chavez, gets from this deal:

Ken Livingstone, the former mayor of London, has found a new role as an adviser to the Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez and his political allies. During a surprise visit to Caracas, Livingstone said yesterday that he would act as a consultant on the capital’s policing, transport and other municipal issues.

“I believe that Caracas will become a first-world city in 20 years. I have a very extensive network of contacts both domestically and internationally which I will be calling on to assist in this,” he told reporters at the presidential palace after meeting Chávez.

But the most puzling thing of all is that use of the phrase “first-world city”. I was under the impression that the ‘first world’ was the capitalist western countries, the ‘second world’ the realm of state-socialism, and the ‘third world’ the unindustrialised rest, not clearly part of either. Continuing the metaphor of separate worlds – and wishing away trade and travel and telegraph – the Rev John Papworth has even coined “Fourth World” for the poorest of the poor and those rejecting economic development altogether.

I cannot believe Red Ken was trying to suggest that the Bolivarian Revolution will fail, and that in 20 years Venezuela will be fully part of the capitalist first world again. Surely Mr Livingstone means he wants Caracas to be a second-world city?