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]

Your word for the day, Mister Chavez, is ‘Fungible’

Fungible: Etymology: New Latin fungibilis, from Latin fungi to perform
: being something (as money or a commodity) one part or quantity of which can be substituted for another of equal value in paying a debt or settling an account – oil, wheat, and lumber are fungible commodities.

Hugo Chavez, the paleo-socialist who is working tirelessly to turn Caracas into Pyongyang, has threatened to cut off oil sales to the United States due to actions brought against the Venezuelan government in British, Dutch and US courts by ExxonMobil. Following the freezing of $12 billion in assets by a British court, Chavez said:

“If you end up freezing (Venezuelan assets) and it harms us, we’re going to harm you,” Chavez said during his weekly radio and television program, “Hello, President.” “Do you know how? We aren’t going to send oil to the United States. Take note, Mr. Bush, Mr. Danger.”

Chavez has repeatedly threatened to cut off oil shipments to the United States, which is Venezuela’s No. 1 client, if Washington tries to oust him. Chavez’s warnings on Sunday appeared to extend that threat to attempts by oil companies to challenge his government’s nationalization drive through lawsuits.

And your word for the day, Mister Chavez, is ‘fungible’.

If his intention is to sell Venezuelan oil to no one, he will push up the price to everyone, that much is true. And of course that also means he is cutting off the cash flow being used to finance the Glorious Bolivarian Revolution. Your call, El Presidente.

If on the other hand he intends to sell Venezuelan oil to anyone except the USA (and presumably the UK and Netherlands as well as they have also been crossed off his Christmas Card list), then… who cares? As oil is fungible, it just goes into a big global market and what does it matter if Venezuelan oil goes to China instead of the USA when all it means is that someone else’s oil will take its place?

Very bad news for Cuba

Fidel Castro is on the mend and is ready to resume a political role, according to Brazillian President Luis Inacio Lula de Silva.

Although his future has been a matter of speculation, Dr Castro on December 17 gave his strongest hint he would not return to power, in a letter read on television. “My basic duty is not to cling to office, nor even more so to obstruct the rise of people much younger, but to pass on experiences and ideas whose modest value arises from the exceptional era in which I lived,” he said in a signed letter.

Very modest value indeed.

Defying Chavez

Venezuela is a case study of how democracy is no sure defence against tyranny and how it can actually be the means by which it comes about. I realise we already have the example of Germany in the 1930’s, but unlike the NSDAP, the democratic majority for Chavez was far less ambiguous than the ones that incrementally brought Hitler to power.

It was interesting to note how many on the left (with many honourable exceptions I must add) have supported the establishment of a state television monopoly in Venezuela once the Chavez regime announced it was going to shut down anti-government station Rádio Caracas Televisión.

However is good to see people on the street marching in defiance of Hugo Chavez. Will it make any difference? In the short run, probably not, but it is never wrong to make a stand against a tyrant regardless of how popular he may be.

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.