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]

No one can explain it

Venezuela food shortages: ‘No one can explain why a rich country has no food’

I know you all want to jump in and offer your suggestions. Do not, however, be too scathing. Seriously, the clue train shows signs of having made an unscheduled stop at the Guardian station. The article mentions, albeit in a hurried way and sandwiched between irrelevancies, price controls as a possible explanation for the mystery. And this is downright subversive:

For Oliveros, an additional cause for the shortage of basic food staples is the decrease in agricultural production resulting from seized companies and land expropriations.

From the way that is phrased one could almost think that a decrease in agricultural production was a result of seized companies and land expropriation. I am beginning to wonder if the “No one can explain it” title was selected by either the writer or the mole among the Guardian‘s sub editors in order to call forth the responses it did get.

… without a paddle

Venezuela seizes toilet paper factory to avoid shortage

Blackmail plot fails by reason of sucker shortage

Yasuni: Ecuador abandons plan to stave off Amazon drilling

Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa has abandoned a unique and ambitious plan to persuade rich countries to pay his country not to drill for oil in a pristine Amazon rainforest preserve.

Environmentalists had hailed the initiative when Correa first proposed it in 2007, saying he was setting a precedent in the fight against global warming by reducing the high cost to poor countries of preserving the environment.

“The world has failed us,” Correa said in a nationally televised speech. He blamed “the great hypocrisy” of nations who emit most of the world’s greenhouse gases.

“It was not charity that we sought from the international community, but co-responsibility in the face of climate change.”

Correa had sought US$3.6bn in contributions to maintain a moratorium on drilling in the remote Yasuni national park, which was declared a biosphere reserve by the United Nations in 1989 and is home to two indigenous tribes living in voluntary isolation.

But on Thursday evening he said Ecuador had raised just $13m in actual donations and $116 million in pledges and he had an obligation to his people, particularly the poor, to move ahead with drilling.

Schemes outwardly quite like this, that ask people to put their money where their mouths are, might yet turn out to be a great way to find the balance between development and preservation that actually pleases most people as revealed by what they are willing to pay for. But given that Mr Correa has already shown, as Tim Worstall points out, that he considers payment of his country’s debts to be optional, I think the required foundation of trust might be lacking for this one. Sadly there were quite a few private individuals who contributed to this scheme even though the rich world’s governments prudently refrained – some of these individuals lament their wasted money in the comments to this second Guardian story. Someone else replies that it is a sin to leave a sucker in charge of his money, but there are worse things to be than a sucker. They are not the environmentalists who should arouse our scorn. Reserve that for the first commenter, who says to general approval, “If we want to save the planet, we are going to have to do this by force.”

Samizdata quote of the day

Finally! A politician I have no hesitation endorsing and who, if I lived there, I would actually vote for!

– Perry de Havilland at a ruinous piss up get together of thoughtful political analysts.

Plus ça change: Tito and Chávez

Bernard Levin wrote this about a deceased leader much-lauded by progressives when certain domestic grievances became public after the icon’s death:

Tito’s widow has been claiming (unsuccessfully) her inheritance; he had got rid of her a few years before his death, no doubt to instal something more agreeable and up-to-date in her place, and they clearly parted very non-speaks indeed – so much so that she seems to have lived under conditions not far removed from house arrest ever since.

The marital relations of Tito do not concern me; what caused me to twitch an eyebrow when I read of the dispute over his property was the list of said property. It included cars, motorboats, horses, yachts, jewellery, paintings, a score of villas, orchards, a safari park and vineyards; and the value amounted to millions of pounds.

You see the point immediately, no doubt. What was this noble, selfless, upright, honourable, caring, moral, austere, heroic, truly socialist figure – the Stafford Cripps of the Balkans, the Keir Hardie of the non-aligned, the Nye Bevan of small nations – what was he doing with millions of pounds’ worth of luxury goods, disappointed widow or no disappointed widow?

[…]

Nor … is the corruption of power limited to one end of the political spectrum. It is true that supporters of left-wing regimes, and of left-wing insurgents against right-wing regimes, invariably claim that the defeated or beleaguered forces of the right are financially corrupt, and those making the claims proudly contrast their own side’s scrupulous purity in money matters, to such an extent that it sometimes seems as though Marxism is not an ideology but an antibiotic, with the miraculous property of cleansing the patient’s blood of avarice, dishonesty and a taste for grands crus and caviar.

But apart from the fact that it almost always turns out, even if only after some years, that the Marxist power-brokers were not in the least averse to sleeping off feather beds, dining off gold plate and exercising every variety of droit de seigneur, there is no evidence at all that a belief in communism, even if it is genuine rather than cynically professed, is in any way a guarantee of financial probity and moral uprightness.

[…]

As it happens, I knew that Tito was a crook as long ago as 1977, when on a state visit to France, he stopped at Michel Guérard’s place at Eugénie-les-Bains (to judge by that waistline, I bet he didn’t go for the cuisine minceur) and skedaddled without paying the bill.

[…]

I remember thinking at the time that Tito had been so accustomed to bilking restaurateurs and shopkeepers in his his own country without being challenged (because none, back home, would dare to challenge him) that he had altogether forgotten that elsewhere a bit of give is expected to accompany the take.

– Bernard Levin, from an article originally published in the Times on January 24th, 1986, and reprinted in his collection In These Times.

I have never heard that the late Commandante Hugo Chávez went so far as to put his troublesome ex under house arrest, but he has certainly had wife trouble. Marisabel Rodriguez, his second wife, claims that he made use of his official position to bully her. Not just wife trouble, woman trouble generally. Like Tito, Chávez was something of a Don Juan. His longest lasting paramour, Herma Marksman, told the Sunday Times in 2006 (subscription required to see full article) that he was a romantic lover but was “imposing a fascist dictatorship”. The similarities between Tito and the now presumably re-reincarnated reincarnation of Bolivar do not end there. Chavez seems to have done well for himself. I would prefer to have more than one source before endorsing the oft-quoted estimate of his personal fortune at a billion dollars made by Criminal Justice International Associates (CJIA), but An Argentinian journalist, Olga Wornat, can be heard here being interviewed by ABC News in 2007 and she does provide sources to suggest he liked the high life. Wornat wrote a book about several Latin American leaders called “Accursed Chronicles”, for which she interviewed Chávez himself and many of those close to him including cabinet members, his two ex-wives, his long time lover Herma Marksman mentioned above, his tailor and his psychiatrist. She says that he had collections of luxury watches and Italian suits, spent $65 million on a private Airbus (with a $500,000 bill to repaint the flag on the jet so it would look the way it did when he used to draw it in school) and that his family, despite the turbulent relations between him and them, were the “richest in Venezuela” and were the “royal family” of their home state. His daughter Rosines flashing wads of dollars on Instagram caused widespread irritation among less well-connected Venezuelans, who face severe restrictions when trying to obtain dollars.

Comnandante Chavez had the waistline to match Marshall Tito’s. Did he feel obliged to pay his restaurant bills? I did not find any specific claim that he did not, but it would be a brave restaurant owner who presented El Presidente with a bill when said Presidente had displayed such a penchant for expropriations, often done openly on his personal whim and in revenge for trivial thwarting of his desires; who, for example, seized the Hilton resort on Margarita Island in with the words,

“To hold the conference we had to ask for permission… and the owners tried to impose conditions on the revolutionary government. No way,” AFP quotes Chávez as saying. “So I said, ‘Let’s expropriate it.’ And now it’s been expropriated.”

Chávez is one up on Tito; Josip stole the meal, Hugo stole the whole building. In response, let it be noted, to the rightful owners having had the gall to expect that their permission was required before the revolutionary government could use their building.

So, when’s the reading of the will?

The world is a slightly better place tonight

Venezuelan tyrant Hugo Chavez kicks the bucket. At times like this I almost wish I believed in an afterlife and the whole eternal damnation shtick.

Fellow travellers

A couple of years ago, Oliver Stone made a pro-Chávez film, South of the Border. ‘I admire Hugo,’ Stone declared. ‘The pure energy of the man is intoxicating.’ Such condescension modernises the 18th-century myth of the Noble Savage. ‘I know President Chávez well,’ claimed an equally condescending Sean Penn, the actor. ‘He is a warm and friendly man with a robust sense of humour.’ After a sponsored trip by car around Venezuela with Chávez, Penn posted on the internet a diary of thousands of words recounting in soapy detail their time together. ‘El Presidente is really human, like a brother.’ ¡Mi Hermano! Without embarrassment Penn could boast, ‘Just Hugo and me in a convoy of black vehicles.’ And in the course of the drive the wonderstruck Penn caught sight through the car windows of poor people standing by the roadside and weeping with love.

David Pryce-Jones, eviscerating the sort of people who look up to thugs such as Chavez. There is nothing wrong with admiring a political leader, democratically elected, who respects the checks and balances of a genuine liberal order, and who has the necessarily humility to realise the limits of office. I can admire such a person, but I find the sort of worship for political leaders, both democratic and non-democratic, that we see still today, to be alarming.

On a related point, I can recommend a study by Gene Healy - of the CATO Institute – about the glorification of the role of president in the US in recent times. There has been some creepy behaviour around those who venerated Mr Obama, although perhaps some of the mockery of him suggests not all of this should be taken seriously.

The truth about Che

A few days ago I nearly photoed someone wearing one of those idiotic Che T-shirts, but I missed the shot.

This is the kind of thing such T-shirts ought to be saying:

CheSymbol.jpg

Although, I’m not quite sure about the wording, the bit at the bottom I mean. Truly, I’m not sure. It looks to me somewhat like an admission of defeat, rather than an assertion of victory. It’s like the bad guys really have succeeded in burying the truth about this appalling person, and the good guys are conceding this. But the first bit digs up that truth and proclaims it, and that’s good.

I found it here.

More about the real Che in this earlier posting here.

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.