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]

Kevlar for Krusty?

This has to rank as one of the strangest reports I have read so far this year:

Two circus clowns have been shot dead during a performance in the eastern Colombian city of Cucuta, police say…

Last year, a prominent circus clown, known as Pepe, was also shot dead by a unknown assailant in Cucuta.

I find clowns deeply irritating but surely lethal force is a little excessive. Don’t they have custard pies in that part of the world?

“Arranged Historical Place as Museum”

In the latest pull-out-of-the-middle-and-bin travel supplement in the Radio Times, there is an advert for going on holiday in Cuba:

Warm golden sand touched by shimmering seas, endlessly clear and calm. Sparkling contrasts. A deep sense of harmony. Cuba is life.

Unless you are one of the poor bastards who actually has to live there.

A Cuba tourism website was mentioned at the bottom of the advert. I went there, seeking further Cubanities to sneer at. I was not disappointed. In the Knowing Culture section, I read:

Cuba’s cultura is very prestigious. It happy people live very rooted to its traditions and customs. If you want to know about that go and visit the museums.

“Rooted to its traditions and customs” as in “bugger all has happened for the last fifty years”. Say what you like about communism, at least it avoids disfiguring the landscape with a lot of mucky economic development. Well, muck they can do. It’s the economic development they avoid. Film companies love communism, because huge swathes of ancient places get preserved by it as if in aspic, needing only a scrub-down and then some mending and a lick of paint to bring the distant past back to instant and authentic life.

As the heading says here, about some very boring-looking historical building:

Arranged Historical Place as Museum

A phrase that would do well as a description of Cuba itself. One instinctively knows which questions not to ask.

Meanwhile, back at the Knowing Culture section, the blurb ends thus:

If you take a tour of our cities you will see the development of music, dance or plastic arts, manifestations that have left a trace in the world.

Mostly in Miami.

So, potential tourists living outside Cuba have no problem accessing the internetted tourist version of Cuba. But what is internet access like for the the natives?

With less than 2 per cent of its population online, Cuba is one of the most backward Internet countries. An investigation carried out by Reporters Without Borders in October revealed that the Cuban government uses several levers to ensure that this medium is not used in a “counter-revolutionary” way. Firstly, it has more or less banned private Internet connections. To surf the Internet or check their e-mail, Cubans have to go to public access points such as Internet cafes, universities and “youth computer clubs” where their activity is more easily monitored. Secondly, the computers in all the Internet cafes and leading hotels contain software installed by the Cuban police that triggers an alert message whenever “subversive” key-words are spotted. The regime also ensures that there is no Internet access for dissidents and independent journalists, for whom communicating with people abroad is an ordeal. Finally, the government also relies on self-censorship. You can get 20 years in prison for writing “counter-revolutionary” articles for foreign websites. You can even get five years just for connecting to the Internet illegally. Few Internet users dare to run the risk of defying the regime’s censorship.

Which would explain the “deep sense of harmony”.

Samizdata quote of the day

“Castro Reportedly in Grave,” begins an Associated Press headline. Unfortunately, the next word is “Condition.”

- James Taranto

A message to anyone productive and moral in Venezuela

The message is simple: get out now.

Chavez is calling for ‘Socialism or Death’ and that in fact means ‘Socialism and Death’. As it appears a majority actually supports him, not much will be gained by putting a bullet between this man’s eyes as clearly the problem lies deeper than the life of a single tyrant (though that is not to say that shooting tyrants is ever a bad idea).

If you are have property, sell it if you can, but get the hell out. If you are creative and intelligent, there is a whole world out there in which to rebuild your life. There may come a time in the future when you can come back, either to help pick up the wreckage of the totalitarian experiment voted for by a kleptomaniac majority, or to woo back your nation at bayonet point, but for now, for God’s sake get out with what you can as soon as you can.

And if you are a shareholder in a multi-national company… feeling a little stupid now, eh? At least try and do the decent thing and torch as much infrastructure you own tonight to leave as little to sustain the parasites who are about to nationalise your operations in Venezuela.

Chile and Milton Friedman

Reason magazine’s Brian Doherty (he of Burning Man fame) has written a nice piece looking at the controversial role the late Milton Friedman played in advising economic reforms to the government of the late, and not-very-lamented, Augusto Pinochet of Chile.

The New York Times columnist Anthony Lewis declared in 1975 that “The Chilean junta’s economic policy is based on the ideas of Milton Friedman…and his Chicago School…if the pure Chicago economic theory can be carried out in Chile only at the price of repression, should its authors feel some responsibility?” Such attitudes haunted Friedman to his death and beyond.

The reaction of some of the usual conservative suspects to Pinochet’s death didn’t help debunk this unfortunate association. Since he was a pro-American autocrat, who ultimately honoured a plebiscite and stepped down, portions of the American right have always had an unhealthy affection for the general. National Review ran both a symposium and a stand alone piece by former editor John O’Sullivan marking Pinochet’s passing, neither of which were much outraged about his crimes. O’Sullivan explicitly said , in the sort of bizarre moral prisoner exchange that partisan squabbling generates, that sure, Pinochet should suffer for his villainy – but only if Castro and Allende’s associates do as well.

I agree with pretty much every word of Doherty’s analysis, and his punchline is good:

Undoubtedly, Friedman’s decision to interact with officials of repressive governments creates uncomfortable tensions for his libertarian admirers; I could, and often do, wish he hadn’t done it. But given what it probably meant for economic wealth and liberty in the long term for the people of Chile, that’s a selfish reaction. Pinochet’s economic policies do not ameliorate his crimes, despite what his right-wing admirers say. But Friedman, as an economic advisor to all who’d listen, neither committed his crimes, nor admired the criminal.

Those leftists who nitpick at the late economist for his role in advising the Chilean regime have only the tiniest of legitimate reasons for bashing Friedman, I think. Considering that he was a man who made the case for abolishing the draft, decriminalising drugs, promoting school choice and so forth, his credentials as a pro-liberty guy were pretty much impeccable.

Augusto Pinochet

Other people will debate whether Augusto Pinochet, who died yesterday, was a wicked man who led a regime that killed three thousand people, or whether he should have killed rather more than three thousand as his communists foes have never had much of a moral problem with killing their enemies. My own opinion is that one should never kill an unarmed enemy – no matter what he or she might have been planning to do.

In the interests of honesty I should note that was not my opinion at the time. Many other communists regarded the independent Marxist President Allende as too rash and it is worth noting he was never a member of the official Communist party of Chile. Indeed when I heard the story about a group of communists mostly from outside Chile had been building forces from all over Latin America and beyond, had been told that President was about to deliver a speech and that they should come (leaving their firearms behind) and, when they got to the place the speech was supposed to take place, they were greeted with 50 calibre machine guns – well I laughed. But I was a child when I heard that story and children tend to be cruel.

Everyone has different levels of being shocked. For example, Pinochet either did not care (or did not want to know) about torture and summary execution. But when he got to hear of a rape of a prisoner he went through the roof (I heard this story from the prisoner via a BBC radio interview years ago) – the ‘holy army’ of Chile, based on the army of pre World War I Prussia – with joining up to the officer corps at the age of 15 and a monk like existence to one’s early 20′s, must not behave like ‘Argentines’, the prisoner must be released – and whoever was responsible must be…

On the democracy issue: It is true that Allende got more votes than any other candidate for President in the 1970 election (he got about a third of the vote), but he had violated the Constitution so much since then that the Congress had voted to outlaw him. Of course Pinochet did not turn over power to the Congress – he dissolved it (whatever it thought of Allende, the Congress with its majority of socialists and Christian Democrats would not have favoured someone who had just killed a lot of people – that it a problem with picking up a gun and doing some killing, how do you put it down again and not get punished?). By the way it was not, as is often claimed, the “first military coup in the history of Chile” as there was the coup of 1924 (but perhaps that does not count, as it was a leftist coup). → Continue reading: Augusto Pinochet

Venezuela – voters were not ‘mistaken’

So the social democrat who promised the people more government health care, education and welfare, higher minimum wage and so on, has been defeated. Even taking account of Chavez rigging things it seems likely that (with a claim of some 60% of the vote) he really did win.

Chavez promised the same things as the social democrat of course, but he offers more entertainment value. Jumping about the world and allying himself with anyone (Putin in Russia, the mad Mullahs of Iran and so on) who hates Uncle Sam.

At least Chavez understands that these people do hate America (and Western values in general), unlike so many people in Washington who think they can ‘talk’ to the Iranian regime (what would be there to be talk about – whether the evil infidels of the world should be buried or cremated?). Or President Bush who “looked into the soul” of Mr Putin and discovered that he was a “good man”.

As for the elections: I am often attacked for saying nasty things about the way people sometimes vote, but the case of Venezuela is a tough one for the “the people may make mistakes but they mean well” crowd.

President Chavez was first elected in 1998. He had previously led a military coup effort (which, on its own, should have sunk bid for the office of President of the Republic). He was up against a rather boring social democrat type – but there was nothing evil about that man. Venezuela was at peace (so there was no “it was the war stupid” factor), and no one could seriously believe that Chavez would be less corrupt than his opponent or that he would be any better at what is now called the “management of the economy”.

So why did the majority of people vote the way they did? They voted that way because Chavez played class war “the poor against the rich” – forget that the Venezuela government had spent vast sums of money, it still was not enough.

Why was it not enough? Was it because there were still lots of very poor people? Certainly, but in their hearts these people knew that they would still be just as poor under Chavez (and if they did not know in 1998 they certainly knew last Sunday – when they voted for him again, in spite of all the billions that have gone on his overseas alliances and in corruption). The majority vote they way they do because they see that there are well off people – and they want these people to suffer as much as they do.

A vote for Chavez is not a vote to make oneself better off (and it never was), it is a vote to make other people as poor and as unhappy as one is oneself.

Voting for people like Chavez is not a ‘mistake’, it is something very different.

Election for President of Ecuador

I hear that the anti-leftist candidate for President of Ecuador has been overwhelmingly defeated by the leftist candidate (an academic ‘economist’ who thinks, among other things, that free trade with the United States would be bad for Ecuador).

The last time saw the anti-leftist candidate (a very wealthy businessman) via television, he was on his knees (quite literally) begging for votes and promising people “jobs, homes, health care, education” (etc.) if only they would vote for him. And he has gone down to defeat by about two thirds of the voters.

He might as well have given a very different speech.

“Subhuman scum, when you vote for the leftist (which I am sure you will) he will put into place policies that will make you suffer greatly – some of you may even starve to death. This is exactly what deserve – as you lust after goods that are not yours and are prepared to use violence, or to have other people use violence on your behalf, to get those goods.

I have sold all my property and have taken the money out of the country, I am speaking to you via satellite from the Cayman islands”.

Certainly he would still have lost, but he would not have humiliated himself by going on his knees, begging and promising the moon. And he would have saved the fortune the election campaign cost him.

Bad times in Brazil

There is a long and detailed report in the London Times today about the scale of gangland and police violence in Brazil’s Sao Paulo. If ever there was an account ramming home the distance between the image of Brazil as a fun-loving, sun-soaked nation and a country of enormous social and economic problems, this surely is it.

Brazil is one of those country’s that I would love to visit some day (I am a bit of a nut about Brazilian music). But stuff like this does not exactly get me rushing to get on the aircraft.

Cuba after Castro

Interesting article here on what might be in store for Cuba as and when Fidel Castro finally dies. My hope, probably naive, is that that country finally gets a break and enjoys the fruits of free enterprise. One thing that makes me annoyed is whenever I hear of affluent Western travellers go on about how they dream of going to Cuba before it “gets spoiled by U.S.-led development”. Yes, I am sure all those crumbling houses in Hanava, all those ancient 1950s cars and cute old guys with no teeth look so, you know, authentic in contrast to the frightfully ghastly prosperity of Miami or for that matter, Hong Kong.

Like a good friend of mine, I am only going to Cuba when or if it becomes a shameless hotbet of capitalist vigour and not one minute before.

‘Cheap’ Venezuelan oil for Red Ken

What the hell is one supposed to make of this?

The point at which Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez decided that London should serve as a model for services and governance in Caracas was not immediately apparent. He came in May, visited City Hall amid much controversy and fanfare, and was soon gone.

But the result of his visit is likely to be an extraordinary deal struck with London Mayor Ken Livingstone that would see Caracas benefit from the capital’s expertise in policing, tourism, transport, housing and waste disposal.

London, meanwhile, would gain the most obvious asset the Venezuelans have to give: cheap oil. Possibly more than a million barrels of the stuff.

South American diesel would be supplied by Venezuela – the world’s fifth-largest oil exporter – as fuel for some of the capital’s 8,000 buses, particularly those services most utilized by the poor.

This is gesture politics at its most contemptible. It is particularly bad given that the poor of London are, by any meaningful yardstick, considerably better off than their counterparts in the South American nation. The idea that Venezuela, a nation led by a thug who’s democratic credentials could be best described as flaky, is some sort of benefactor to the oppressed masses of London, is an utter joke. It is also particularly ironic that as part of this “deal”, London will “help” Venezuela’s tourist industry. No doubt Venezuelans cannot wait to discover the joys of the British welcoming service ethic.

We tend to dismiss the antics of Ken Livingstone as political theatre. If he wants to stand on platforms with Irish Republican murderers, we giggle. If he provides platforms for gay-hating Islamic preachers, we are all supposed to roll our eyes in amusement. Good ol’ Ken, what a laugh.

Incidentally, I wonder what the British government thinks about this?

Colombia: when will ‘our side’ learn?

By ‘our side’ I mean the people fighting the Marxist FARC in Colombia – particularly President Uribe. I not expect mainstream politicians to be libertarians (although it would be nice), but I do expect them to have some common sense.

President Uribe is highly intelligent man who has had considerable success in fighting the communists in Colombia. However, his latest idea (as reported in this week’s Economist print edition) shows a lack of common sense (a state of affairs all too common in politicians – including highly intelligent ones).

President Uribe wishes to cut the top rate of income tax – good for him. However, the President wishes to ‘balance’ this by extending sales tax to cover various basic foods. Have no fear, the poor would be able to claim back the money they pay in tax.

So a new tax will be introduced (a tax on food), and this will be ‘balanced’ by a new welfare benefit (for make no mistake, this is what this payment will be). A complicated bureaucratic mess. Sadly it is often the most intelligent of politicians who think up ideas like this.

If someone wants to cut the top rate of income tax (from 38% to 32% or whatever) then they should do so. But if they fear a ‘loss of revenue’ (and cutting the top rate of income tax always ‘costs’ less in revenue than many people predict) they should cut government spending (which they should do anyway).

They should not introduce a new tax, certainly not a tax that will be presented (by the communists, but not just by them) as a tax on the basic needs of the poor – trapping the poor into going ‘cap in hand’ for a new benefit (if they can deal with all the paper work).