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January 13, 2006

Playing to lose

So Iran is working to build the bomb. This is bad. Their government is a proud sponsor of terror, and their president is completely bonkers. The Western world has a legitimate fear of them being successful in their efforts.

So how to stop them? I don't know. But I'm pretty sure announcing that all military options have been ruled out is not going to make your diplomacy more persuasive:

Jack Straw has ruled out the use of force against Iran over its nuclear programme.

The Foreign Secretary said pressure to persuade the country to abandon moves over atomic research would have to be "by peaceful means".

Mr Straw spoke out this morning after attending a meeting with his French and German counterparts yesterday which decided to ask the International Atomic Agency to consider reporting Iran to the UN Security Council.

But the country's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, dismissed the threat, saying the research would go on despite the Western "fuss".

And he said that if Iran was reported to the Security Council it would kick out UN inspectors.

The President, who in October had called for Israel to be "wiped off the map", spoke out after he authorised breaking the UN seal on the Natanz nuclear research facility on Tuesday.

But Mr Straw said that while there was no "categorical evidence" of a military use for the technology it remained his "suspicion" that this was the case.

Even if you have privately decided that air strikes are out of the question, it's absurd to tell Iran this. Military strength is useful not only when it's used, but also as a threat. Britain has given up most of the leverage it had, before the negotiations even began. Oh, Iran is really going to be afraid of 'sanctions by the UN'.

It's like a union leader meeting to discuss a new contract, and first announcing that under no circumstances will the union go on strike. Good luck getting that new dental plan now.

UPDATE: The Telegraph has a refresher on just what kind of dangerous nut is running Iran right now. Read it before you condemn the inevitable Israeli air strike that will destroy their reactor.

June 23, 2005

Steyn on the poverty poseurs

Mark Steyn does his thing (use Bugmenot to get a password) in a wide-ranging essay on the various forms of foreign aid posturing. Some of the stories we've heard before, but there are a few new ones, like this progress report on Jean Chretien's great meaningless gesture at the 2002 G8 summit in Alberta:

A bunch of friendly dictators were flown over for photo-ops with the G8 bigshots, and the papers were full of cooing reports about the Canadian prime minister’s breakthrough Africa initiative. Well, the Calgary papers were. The Fleet Street papers were full of cooing reports about the British Prime Minister’s breakthrough Africa initiative. But the point is, whoever’s initiative it was, plenty of Western leaders were eager to take credit for it. Except for Bush, who, as with the tsunami, was roundly criticised for embarking on his own direct initiative with Africa.

Anyway, the 2002 initiative was called ‘NEPAD’, pronounced ‘kneepad’. And not having heard a thing about it in the three years since a Canadian G8 official triumphantly handed me the press release, I wondered how it was getting on. Well, there’s an official report on ‘NEPAD’s Achievements In The First Three Years’, but even on a close reading it’s kind of hard figuring out what’s actually happening:

‘On the development front, the African leaders launched comprehensive studies covering conflict resolution, political, economic and corporate governance, education, health, science ...Official Direct Assistance (ODA) reforms ...debt cancellation ...foreign direct investment....’

Gotcha. They launched ‘comprehensive studies’ of a lot of things. And why did they do that? ‘The primary objective was to develop a comprehensive development framework based on a thorough understanding of the most up-to-date information and trends in each area.’

Terrific. So they launched comprehensive studies to develop a comprehensive development study for holding meetings on developing more comprehensively a framework for studying the development of further meetings. So comprehensively did they do this that in 2004 the NEPAD secretariat overspent its seven-and-a-half million-dollar budget by more than two million dollars. Still, I’m sure the taxpayers of Finland, who chipped in half a million bucks to NEPAD’s ‘communications and conferences’ bill, ‘travelling costs’, ‘corporate services’ and other expenses, enjoyed the delicious frisson of ‘doing something for Africa’.

There's plenty more. Read the whole thing.

May 28, 2005

Carter sabotaging democracy again

Here's an excerpt from an open letter to Jimmy Carter from an Ethiopian news service. What he's done here reminds me of what he did in Venezuela, seeing only what he wants to see and ignoring the truth:

Many believe that, had you acted differently and with care, Ethiopia’s suffering for 17 brutal years under Soviet hegemony would have been averted. But, as I already said, this was an old story we chose to leave for historians to grapple with until you brought fresh memories of it with a huge blow by mishandling an election that we Ethiopians seriously worked on and believed would take us on the road to democracy. It is possible that people may be killed and blood spilled in Ethiopia that could be justified on your words of premature and biased assessment of the election process in favor of the ruling party. You began spoiling the process by emboldening the ruling party to tamper with the process when you began extolling their handling of the process without qualification moments after you arrived at the Ethiopian airport.

I know you are a good man and I honestly find it difficult to accuse you of contempt for my people or other Africans. I sincerely believe you are not that kind of a person. But in reality, your actions were not very different from some in the west who think that Africans don’t deserve anything near comparable to what the civilized world has, and whatever little improvement from their past is more than enough for them.

I am not sure how you respond to the latest EU report that accuses you of undermining the election process by your premature pro government assessment. But millions of Ethiopians are now accusing you of being instrumental in destroying their hope. I am not sure what answers you would give to families and relatives of Ethiopians who have just started paying prices for their participation and activism on the side of the opposition. We hear people are being intimidated, beaten and dragged to prisons. Some, I just heard, are seeking refugee among Red Cross offices in rural areas. Opposition parties are claiming that some of their election observers and activists are fast disappearing. I am sure you will soon hear about widespread abuse of Ethiopia’s citizens by a government which is parading your election assessment as a justification.

May 27, 2005

Jimmy Carter strikes again

Friend of despots Jimmy Carter has again aided a authoritarian regime hold on to power through a fixed election. Last time it was in Venezuela, this time he struck in Ethiopia:

The EU report also said former U.S. President Carter, who led a team of 50 election observers, undermined the electoral process and EU criticism with "his premature blessing of the elections and early positive assessment of the results."

Unless there is a "drastic reverse toward good democratic practice" the observer team and EU "will have to publicly denounce the situation."

"Otherwise, the EU jointly with ex-President Carter will be held largely responsible for the lack of transparency, and assumed rigging, of the elections."

The opposition repeatedly has accused the ruling party of fraud, though foreign monitors have said the elections were the most open in Ethiopia's history.

The opposition threatened to boycott parliament if the allegations of vote fraud were not properly investigated by a joint team that should include representatives of political parties, electoral authorities and international observers.

(via LGF)

April 07, 2005

Bad hair daze

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Pierre Pettigrew.

April 05, 2005

Soccer heros: past and future

Jeff at Beautiful Atrocities has a nice look at the depth (and width!) Diego Maradona has fallen to. It's amazing what too much drugs, too much food, and too little brains can do to a person.

Hopefully this Brazilian kid, Jean Carlos Chera, can avoid this fate. He's only nine years old now, but has absolutely astonishing skills. Check out this video.

April 01, 2005

The next domino

It's not Iran, but Syria. Charles Krauthammer has a great column in today's Washington Post (and also in today's National Post) on the rational behind using international pressure to push them to the breaking point. Their position is weakening; they shouldn't be allowed to regain their balance. As is said in the blog world: read the whole thing.

March 22, 2005

UN-real thinking

Wretchard at The Belmont Club picks apart Kofi Annan's latest attempt to save his job the world. His plan? More money for the UN, an enlarged Security Council, and more bureaucracy. Wretchard isn't impressed:

In my own opinion Kofi Annan's proposals are a recipe for disaster for two reasons. His entire security model is philosophically founded on a kind of blackmail which recognizes that the only thing dysfunctional states have to export is trouble. He then sets up the United Nations as a gendarmarie with 'a human face' delivering payoffs to quell disturbances. This is the "bargain whereby rich countries help the poor to develop, by promoting the Millennium Development Goals, while poor countries help alleviate rich countries' security concerns." Second, his model flies in the face of the recent experience in Afghanistan, Iraq and the entire democratizing upheaval in the Middle East. It is by making countries functional that terrorism is quelled and not by any regime of international aid, inspections, nonproliferation treaties, declarations, protocols, conferences; nor by appointing special rapptorteurs, plenipotentiary envoys; nor constituting councils, consultative bodies or anything else in Annan's threadbare cupboard.

Nor is this clanking monstrosity particularly efficient, even in contemplation. Neither new Security Council model solves the basic question: how can it compel nations with the muscle to act against their interests? Alliances, like political parties, are the building blocks of global politics. Forcing alliances to work within the artificial structure of the United Nations Security Council (A or B) adds nothing to the process. The sole value of the Security Council should be to rubber-stamp what global politics has already decided upon, as constitutional monarchs do in countries with Parliaments.

It was a dictum in Field Marshal Zhukov's Army that a good commander never reinforced failure only success. It is a maxim of the United Nations that progress is achieved by doing everything that never worked all over again. Probably nowhere is the bankruptcy of Annan's vision (and I use that word consciously) more evident than in Paragraph 29, where he lays out the UN vision for a better world. It is a laundry list of all the special interest 'development' goals the UN has acquired over the years where problems of different orders of magnitude and positions in the chain of causality are jumbled together; a bureaucrat's dream and a human being's nightmare.

Kofi's plan is more appeasement, but with a better marketing plan. Our Prime Minister of course has seen a role for himself in promoting this thing and is eager to push his way to the front of the parade:
In a phone conversation with the Secretary-General earlier this afternoon, I indicated Canada’s strong support for his report, which is a bold call to action and a blueprint to strengthen the capacity and effectiveness of the United Nations. It presents an integrated approach to fulfilling the objectives of the United Nations Charter and highlights the fact that security, development and human rights go hand in hand. It offers proposals that are achievable and that world leaders should endorse at their summit in September.
Grandstanding jerk.

UPDATE: Claudia Rosett, who has been at the forefront of the investigations into the oil-for-food fiasco, grinds up Kofi as well. And Tim Blair takes aim at his plan to punish suicide bombers:

"You blow youself up on my watch," warned the steely-eyed Ghanaian lawman, "and that’ll be the last thing you do, mark my words."

February 25, 2005

Chavez says what's on his mind

He's not worried people will think he's nuts...

Feb. 23 (Bloomberg) -- Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez comments on capitalism and other issues during a televised speech in Caracas.

"Capitalism makes democracy impossible. Capitalism makes social justice impossible. If we don't change this system, the world is going to end. The eternal existence of our planet is not guaranteed. Look at other planets. In Mars there was water. It's possible they will soon find remains of living beings. Who knows how many years ago there was life on Mars. Mars is very similar to Earth. It rotates around the sun almost the same as Earth. It's very likely that there was life on Mars. It's possible that the Martians couldn't keep life going on their planet."

"Old Karl Marx was right. Capitalism, monopolies, the exploitation of man by man, Karl Marx's theory was correct. We have to break this model of domination."

(Via the Latin American Correspondent)

February 07, 2005

Revisionist history from Reuters

Hugo Chavez and his allies in Cuba are efficiently turning Venezuela into a brutal, inefficient, totalitarian state:

Chavez has granted Cuban judicial and security forces extensive police powers within Venezuela. Cubans are already running the intelligence services and indoctrinating and training the military. They will effectively bypass what is left of Venezuela's judicial system when they exercise new powers to investigate, seize, detain, and interrogate Venezuelans and Cubans living in Venezuela, with the right to extradite them to Cuba and try them there. This threatens the safety of some 30,000 Cubans in Venezuela.

All this is a culmination of Chavez's frontal attack on civil society, reducing state institutions to mere shadows with only ceremonial powers. Just for starters, Chavez has rewritten Venezuela's Constitution to enhance his powers, purged critics in the military, set up legislation to pack the Supreme Court, intimidated the media by threatening the expropriation of the licenses of private television stations that supported the opposition, and given succor to thousands of Castro's military and intelligence officers, along with many social and medical workers, while tens of thousands of young Venezuelans have been sent to Cuba for indoctrination.

I am consistently disappointed (but not surprised) that this process is more or less ignored by the world's media. But even worse, when they do cover Venezuela, they act as propagandists for Chavez. Check out this clever bit of writing tucked into a story on how McDonald's is being harrased by the Venezuelan government (couldn't find it online):
The OPEC nation is recovering from two years of economic downturn after months of right-wing attacks against the democratically elected government of Hugo Chavez.
In one concise sentence, the abysmal economy is blamed on the opposition to Chavez's takeover, those opponents are classified as 'right-wing', and a dictator is proclaimed as 'democratic'. I don't think anyone could call this 'objective' journalism.

UPDATE: I found the Reuters story online. The sentence has been re-written to:

The OPEC nation is recovering from two years of economic downturn after months of political conflict over the government of leftist President Hugo Chavez.
But not before the original appeared in newspapers all over the world, of course.

December 09, 2004

What they knew, and when they knew it

Kofi Annan was the head of UN peacekeeping operations during the Rwanda genocide over ten years ago. He dithered while UN forces there (led by Romeo Dallaire) watched and pleaded for more forces and the authority to act. He appears to have no remorse for that tragedy because he is calmly allowing another even worse genocide to occur in Darfur. In Eric Reeves' history of the crisis so far, he tells us what information the UN had, and what their pathetic response was to it:

"'Such reports leave me with a deep sense of foreboding,' said the Secretary-General. 'Whatever terms it uses to describe the situation [in Darfur], the international community cannot stand idle.'" (UN News Center, April 7, 2004)

Almost eight months later, despite Annan's "deep sense of foreboding," "the international community" has essentially "stood idle," relying exclusively on a woefully inadequate African Union force and humanitarian relief that is increasingly inadequate and endangered. And still the destruction of the African tribal populations of Darfur proceeds at a horrifying rate.

In a moment of characteristic bluster, Annan went on to say:

"'It is vital that international humanitarian workers and human rights experts be given full access to the region, and to the victims, without further delay,' he said. 'If that is denied, the international community must be prepared to take swift and appropriate action,' he warned." (UN News Center, April 7, 2004)

But of course Khartoum would contrive months of further delay in humanitarian access, and severely constrain UN human rights officials. There certainly was no "swift" or "appropriate" response.

"'Let us not wait until the worst has happened, or is already happening,' the Secretary-General concluded. 'Let us not wait until the only alternatives to military action are futile hand-wringing or callous indifference. Let us be serious about preventing genocide.'" (UN News Center, April 7, 2004)

Annan, with unintended accuracy, was describing precisely the situation that now prevails in Darfur. His own response seems to alternate fitfully between "hand-wringing" and "indifference" (he would say nothing significant about Darfur for two months following his April 7, 2004 comments). And though he himself explicitly evoked the threat of military intervention on April 7, there is still no sign---almost eight months later---that any planning for such intervention has even begun.

The Bush administation does not get a free ride in this story. Despite having openly declared what is occuring to be 'genocide', nothing is expected to come of it:
Powell knows the Bush administration has no intention of undertaking to "prevent genocide" in Darfur, a contractual obligation for the US under the 1948 UN "Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide" (Article 1). Insisting that US contractual obligations are fulfilled by sending a determination to the Security Council is simply a way for the administration to wash its hands of greater responsibility.
Considering the devastation to the agricultural output of the area in the last year, the point of no return is fast approaching -- or may even have been crossed. With the close relations and business interests China has with government in Khartoum, there's no chance of the Security Council doing anything. But a strong-willed, well-respected international leader advocating an aggressive response might yet be able to turn the tide by forming another 'Coalition of the Willing'. Unfortunately, Bush doesn't have the 'well-respected' qualification and is a little over extended, and nobody else can be found with 'strong will'. 'Never Again' is just another empty slogan.

November 27, 2004

The Police State: coming to Britain

The Labour party in the UK has been slowly introducing legislation that would make the most paranoid fantasies of the ACLU look tame. Normally, I'm skeptical of those who warn how things are starting to look like a police state, but in Britain things look a bit different. I don't think anyone can read this article and not wonder where things are going. In it, a citizen has volunteered to have his car searched by some 'police community support officers', when they come across a Victorinox Swiss multi-tool:

The community support officers reacted immediately. They behaved as if they had never seen a penknife before, pulling out the bottle-opener, the corkscrew, the thing that gets stones out of horses’ hooves. ‘This device has a locking blade,’ said the constable, after which a short, whispered debate ensued. My goodwill towards the police began to give way to alarm. I reached for my mobile to call the lawyers and explain that I was going to be late for my meeting, but the constable stopped me. ‘Turn that phone off,’ he said. ‘You’re about to be arrested for possessing offensive weapons and carrying a bladed instrument in public. You’ll be allowed one call when we get you to Charing Cross police station.’

I felt confused and indignant. As we stood by the side of the road, waiting for a police van to arrive, I asked the constable whether this whole business was, in his opinion, a valuable use of police time and resources. This was when the policemen and the PCSOs started to become hostile. ‘You’ve committed an offence, mate, and you’d better get used to the fact that you’re going down for six months,’ said one policeman.

It just gets worse from there. Read the whole thing.

(via Samizdata)

October 09, 2004

Good news in Afghanistan

Less than three years after the Taliban was routed, Afghanistan has held an democratic election. It hasn't been perfect -- Karzai's presidential opponents, sensing they were going to lose, have denounced the election over a technicality -- but turnout has been high and the feared violence has not occured.

Yahoo news photos of Afghan election

I'm concerned about this last-minute boycott, though. The clever tut-tutting people will latch onto this as justification to declare Afghanistan a failure, just as they have judged Iraq a failure. This defeatist, all-or-nothing thinking is too common amongst the opinion-setters of the media today, and if left unchallenged becomes the truth -- because hope gets abandoned. I hope for the sake of the people of Afghanistan that the mopes can put aside their despair and recognize and celebrate this achievement.

October 01, 2004

Adventure is out there...

September 09, 2004

Carter's latest victims

An editorial in today's Wall Street Journal concludes that the Carter Center was 'Conned in Caracas'. They point out some of the statistical analysis I mentioned the other day, but also point the finger directly at the observers for being too trusting and unwilling to press for necessary access:

None of this would matter if the auditing process had been open to scrutiny by the Carter observers. But as the economists point out: "After an arduous negotiation, the Electoral Council allowed the OAS [Organization of American States] and the Carter Center to observe all aspects of the election process except for the central computer hub, a place where they also prohibited the presence of any witnesses from the opposition. At the time, this appeared to be an insignificant detail. Now it looks much more meaningful."
This is what really drives me up the wall. Carter refused to press Chavez to obtain the conditions for a fair election. He was more concerned with appearances, and wanted to have a hand in the process. The Eurpoeans had already refused to participate due to the unfair conditions Chavez had imposed. If Carter was prepared to walk away as well, the truth of the corruption of Chavez's regime would be common knowledge. Instead, he leant legitimacy to tyranny, and the Bush administration had no choice but to accept the results of the referendum. Well, that's pretty typical for Carter.

Carter's whole career is based on 'conflict avoidance'. In his enlightened view, there is no 'right' or 'wrong' side of a conflict, and everything can be worked out through negotiations. In practice, this has usually meant giving in when the other side digs in its heels, or secret bribery to get a public (usually symbolic) victory. The people who pay the price for this grandstanding are the people who didn't get a seat at the table -- in Venezuela's case: the citizens of a once free nation.

September 06, 2004

A reporter's thoughts on terrorism

My good friend Andres Vargas, the Latin American correspondent whose work last appeared here, has some thoughts on the reporter-terrorist feedback loop, appeasement, and Canada's limp response to the new state of the world.

Regrettably, these frightening scenes seem to be an all-too-common occurrence these days and no longer occupy the final pages of newspapers on the flip side of the globe. Even here, at the tip of the world, it’s difficult to feel removed from world events. Finger pointing Mr. Bush seems to be the knee-jerk reaction these days in our bid to explain why innocent children are gunned down indiscriminately. Terrorism wasn’t invented on Sept 11, but terrorism ceased to be something we could ignore on Sept. 11. The tearing down of the towers was largely plotted, financed and put in action before Bush was elected. There are two fundamental changes that have happened since we were born that are facilitating terrorism. The first is simple ease of travel. The sheer volume of world travel and accessibility of it means you can literally walk out of a cave in Afghanistan on Monday morning and likely tuck into a hotel bed before the day is over. The further back you go in history the larger the world was. The other is that the news of a school full of children being blown up used to make it’s way to North America in hours, days or weeks. Now, the carnage unfolds before our eyes. Terrorism lives on fear. Without reporting, the act doesn’t happen. By fearing them, by seeking to appease them, terrorists get what they want and get it on the cheap. We aren’t seeing more terrorism now than a few years ago. In fact, if you add Rwanda and Sudan you’ll get 10 times more deaths then in Middle East during the same time period. The difference simply being we didn’t have cameras to watch children being thrown alive onto a burning heap of bodies in Rwanda and they weren’t our children. We were wrong.

As Europe, the Americas and Asia race ahead economically, boosting education levels and standards of living, Africa and the Middle East are mired in the 20th century -- the 19th century in some cases. In the long-run the best way to defeat terrorism is to help bring simple freedoms to the Middle East: assist them achieve higher levels of education, foster civil liberties (especially for women), boost cultural exchanges, increase trade. In short, by promoting the economic welfare of the region, the people there will choose to cherish life and seek to advance through labour, rather than by walking onto a bus laden with explosives, which used to get your family a fat cheque from Saddam.

In the short-term, we have to fight the terrorists head on. They exist because they are allowed to, creating symbiotic alliances with rulers, filling each other’s coffers and extinguishing dissent. By taking them out we remove at least one obstacle to freedom in the region. There isn’t a pool of a million terrorists waiting to happen. All human beings cherish life if they are given sufficient civil liberties and opportunities to advance. Trade sanctions, resolutions are embargoes are nice, but at some point you need to take a stand.

I was sorry Canada didn’t accompany the U.S. into Iraq. I fail to see the humour when politicians back home take cheap shots are the U.S. to boost their popularity. We enjoy a comfortable existence largely because of them, sending 90 percent of exports south of the border and nestling in the comfort of their security blanket. We have far more in common with the U.S. freedom, rule of law and liberties than we do with repressive regimes scattered throughout the Middle East. I much prefer our politicians repress gut-reactions to lambaste the U.S. and instead converse and offer to help. When called upon in the past century Canadians have made sacrifices that few if any countries in the world can match, right through to Rwanda.

Now isn’t the time to stop.

August 30, 2004

Chavez puts the pedal to the floor

Chavez is clearly aiming to be the next deity in the Ché, Castro and Mao pantheon:

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said the country's economy must move away from capitalism and eliminate "large" land holdings.

Chavez, who won a recall vote against him on Aug. 15, said the country's businessmen should help the government change the world's fifth-largest oil supplier into a "humanist" economy from a "neo-liberal" one.

"I call on private businessmen to work together with us to build the new economy, transforming the capitalist economic model into a social, humanist and equality economy," Chavez said during a televised speech in Caracas. "The time has come to accelerate the transformation. The revolution has just begun."

Meanwhile, Argentina is also moving to the batty end of the economic spectrum by raising the minimum wage by 29%, supposedly to "spark domestic consumption and power economic growth." Good luck, guys. You might want to consider what this will do to your already high unemployment rate first...

August 25, 2004

Oh, to be a citizen of 'The World'

A company called Al Nakheel Properties is working on building 'The World', a archipelago of artificial islands off the coast of Dubai in the Persian Gulf. There's going to be over 200 separate islands and if you have tens of millions of dollars sitting around that you're not using, you can buy one. The picture doesn't really do this place justice. You have to look at the video (links at the bottom of this page) to see just how outlandishly extravagant these places will be. And to keep out the riff-raff that seem to be a little too common in the Gulf, there'll be a security force the size of a small army.

I'm astonished to see the money that flows to the Gulf is being put to such crass uses. Think of how this money could help build a... ah, who cares. It looks really cool. I wish I was a billionaire and could hang out with all the other billionaires and play golf on own our private golf course on an island shaped like Honshu...

August 23, 2004

So: fraud or not?

(I'm talking about the Venezuelan referendum, of course.)

I dunno. I live in Canada, nowhere near Venezuela. I wasn't there, and have no feeling for what the people in the country really think. (I'm pretty bad at figuring out my own country's thoughts too, come to think of it.) I just have a few blogs I read from the country, the news, and the belief that people don't want to live in a tyranny. But, like Kevin Jaeger says, maybe they do. One of the blogs I've followed, Caracas Chronicles, has grudgingly admitted that Chavez probably won. The other, The Devil's Excrement, is still trying to figure it out. But he does note that the promised peace that the referendum was supposed to bring has not appeared. And for that tragedy, I blame the vote's international monitors.

But I really don't think anything can be done about it now. Venezuela's opposition should concentrate on trying to preserve as many democatic institutions as they can against the escalating 'Bolivarian Revolution'. I wish them luck.

August 21, 2004

Jimmy Carter sees no evil

There are some jobs that require a suspicious mind. Police detectives, judges, reporters, business investors -- they all take in information about a situation, but also take into account that each fact they hear may be only one part of a story, or exaggerated, or even completely made up. People who are good at these careers are able to piece together the truth from pieces of data that don't always fit together. They don't accept hand-waving explanations for inconsistancies, they aren't afraid at ruffling feathers by suggesting that something is wrong, and don't take a final position before they are completely satisfied.

An election observer should have a similarly suspicious mind. There's a chain of cause and effect from the voter marking the ballot to the final tabulation and an election observer should be suspicious of each link. The Carter Center was seriously lacking in suspicion during Venezuela's referendum. They failed at their job:

The problem was that the "observers" hadn't actually observed the election results. Messrs. Carter and Gaviria were only allowed to make a "quick count"--that is, look at the tally sheets spat out by a sample of voting machines. They were not allowed to check this against ballots the machines issued to voters as confirmation that their votes were properly registered.
Rather than making demands on what they must be allowed to see in order to validate the election -- as someone with a suspicious mind would do -- they instead negotiated with the National Electoral Council for limited access. Crucial links in the chain were unmonitored. And with only a partial picture of what happened, they still declared the election fair. It's a farce, and a betrayal of a nation.

Unfortunately, I don't think it can be reversed. Unless the Carter Center recants, only the tin-foil hat brigade (member since 1998) will be able to dispute the results. Carter has a long history of giving authoritarian states the benefit of the doubt so I'm not really surprised by all this. But in this instance at least, he had the moral authority and leverage to really look at what was going on and find out the truth. But instead he just looked the other way. Jimmy Carter sees only what he wants to see.

August 19, 2004

Back to Venezuela

I often have a slightly paranoid perspective on things, so I felt I shouldn't get too involved in reading the complaints of the Si forces in Venezuela. I presumed the election inspectors knew what they were doing and that the vote was fair, even if I didn't want to believe it. But I couldn't resist finding out what's was being said, and now I've become a believer that a huge fraud has occured.

First, there was the news that an independent exit poll predicted a huge victory for Si. Over 20,000 people were polled and the results were 59% to 41% for Si. The official result was 58% to 42% for No -- quite a statistically unlikely swing.

Second, we have this International Herald Tribune story saying that in at least one polling station the workers took the initiative to compare the computer tabulated result with the paper ballots and found a huge discrepancy.

Third, there is the bizarre 'coincidence' that so many of the polls had the exact same number of Si votes -- 133. Even polls in areas hostile to Chavez had this number and a greater No vote. Very suspicious.

Is this information enough to get the vote overturned? I doubt it. Chavez won't give in, and the international crowd seems willing to look the other way. Is it enough to ensure that Venezuela remains in a state of chaos? Quite likely...

UPDATE: Best of the Web Today has a nice swipe at the hypocrisy of some of the western media towards Chavez. He singles out the New York Times, which simultaneously tells the opposition in Venezuela to 'get over it, you lost' while continuing -- after more than three years! -- to whine about the circumstances of George W. Bush's win in 2000.

August 16, 2004

Let freedom wane!

It appears Jimmy has endorsed Chavez's victory, and that the Si vote has lost in Venezuela. There are still some troubling issues being brought up by the opposition -- such as the fact that the official results show only a 60% turnout (poorly translated link) -- but there doesn't seem to be much hope that anything will happen. The international observers and the press are leaving -- it's all over, nothing more to see here. I'm leaving this story too, but I want to ask some questions first: How would this have played out if Chavez was a right-wing thug rather than a left-wing one? If he wore a peaked officer's hat rather than a beret? Would the murders on the streets by his goons be reported in the Western media? Would the intimidation and violence against his opponents be met with outraged editorials?

My friend the Latin American correspondent was in Caracas last year and told me about Chavez having the city boulevards turned into farmland to 'feed the poor'. Socialist theatre is all that is, and that's all his 'Bolivarian Revolution' is too. He's just another thug, the last thing South America needs. Pity most of the world's press can't see it.

August 15, 2004

A big day in Venezuela

Today's the day of the referendum on Chavez in Venezuela. It's going to be close. Some of the press like to paint the contest as one between the 'well-heeled' upper and middle-class who oppose Chavez, against the poor and downtrodden who are championed by him. But in reality it's a clear choice between democracy and dictatorship. Chavez has used his power to loot the wealth-generating portions of the economy and has parcelled them out to buy support; but in the process he's done tremendous damage to Venezuela's future prospects. I don't consider that helping the poor. In preparation for today's decision, his goons have been out harassing TV stations and roughing up Si campaigners. Chavez will turn Venezuela into another Cuba if he gets he chance.

Jimmy Carter and the Organisation of American States are there to monitor the election, but that doesn't fill me with much confidence in a fair vote. There will be intimidation and harrassment of Si voters, and may even be outright fraud. And who knows what will happen when the results are announced? The Devil's Excrement and Caracas Chronicles are the blogs to read today.

Photo by Miguel Octavio of The Devil's Excrement.

UPDATE: Some more photos and personal stories at Vascaíno@Venezuela.

UPDATE II: The WSJ has more on what's at stake.

August 11, 2004

What's driving the chaos in Sudan?

Jay Currie dropped a comment in my post about the Sudan:

In a funny sort of way it really is about the oil. The government, and I use the term loosely, in Khartoum, wants the oil bearing regions cleared of dusky natives so as to get on with selling the oil concessions. The militias are in the business of clearing the regions. Without the oil it is very unlikely Khartoum would care less about the South - other than as a source of merchandise for the lucrative slave trade which has been flourishing in the Sudan for decades.
Yep, oil is definitely behind it. A blogger in Venezuela calls it 'the Devil's excrement' because of all the chaos it creates. Certainly the civil wars the Sudan has been tormented by have their roots in it. But what about this latest batch of atrocities?

This very detailed map of Sudan (pdf), showing how the oil fields have been parcelled out, should give some hints. Good maps have a way of making complex information clear, and this is a great one. Most of the developed oil fields are in the south, where there has been so much fighting for so long. But the undeveloped fields in the west of the country, in Darfur where this tragedy is unfolding, have all been sold to the China National Petroleum Corporation. And these are the only fields the Chinese have the rights to.

I've recently mentioned China's insatiable thirst for oil. China is the Sudan's largest trading partner and has sold them most of their military hardware. Could they be provoking this genocide in some way? I read on a couple of unreliable sites that there are Chinese troops in Sudan. I really don't think that China is encouraging mass slaughter, but by offering great wealth to those that control the territory, they might as well be.

August 05, 2004

Intervene in the Sudan

The Economist had a good piece last week (unavailable online except to subscribers) on the growing horror in Sudan.

How bad are things in Darfur? Ask the villagers who saw their neighbours trussed with chains and burned alive. Ask the 1.2m people who have been terrorised into fleeing the embers of their huts. Ask the aid workers who estimate that 1,000 people are dying each day in this remote region of western Sudan, mostly of hunger-related diseases, and that hundreds of thousands will die if not helped.
There are some signs that people are starting to take this seriously and there is even the talk of a possible intervention. The US government has declared what is happening a 'genocide' and the British have prepared troops to be dispatched immediately if the political will is found. But of course this is the problem, there is faint political will. Especially in the UN Security Council:
An arms embargo would be a start, but Russia, which is selling fighter jets to Khartoum, is likely to oppose it. The threat of an oil embargo would be more potent. Unless the Sudanese government makes a serious and immediate effort to rein in its killers, its main source of hard currency should be shut off. The French and Chinese governments may not like this idea, however, as their oil firms have interests in Sudan.
Meanwhile, there are other forces gearing up to oppose a rescue -- those of the left who are rallying to claim that any military intervention is all about the oil:
The absence of anti-war scepticism about the prospect of sending troops into Sudan is especially odd in view of the fact that Darfur has oil. For two years, campaigners have chanted that there should be "no blood for oil" in Iraq, yet they seem not to have noticed that there are huge untapped reserves in both southern Sudan and southern Darfur. As oil pipelines continue to be blown up in Iraq, the west not only has a clear motive for establishing control over alternative sources of energy, it has also officially adopted the policy that our armies should be used to do precisely this. Oddly enough, the oil concession in southern Darfur is currently in the hands of the China National Petroleum Company. China is Sudan's biggest foreign investor.

We ought, therefore, to treat with scepticism the US Congress declaration of genocide in the region.

Yes, the writer asks us to believe that US wants to steal the Chinese oil. Expect more conspiracy theories of a similar nature to be constructed if a 'coalition of the willing' moves in to provide security in Darfur. But they were wrong about Iraq and Afghanistan, and they're wrong here too. There's a lot of risk in moving into Sudan, but the risk in ignoring it is far worse. Unfortunately, it's much easier in politics to regret something you haven't done, than something you have.

July 29, 2004

The multilateral Bush administration

TCS has a good piece up about the Proliferation Security Initiative, a loose coalition of states (yes, even France is involved) working together to slow the spread of dangerous technologies. It was created by the US because of the clear failure of the UN to do anything in this area except make pronouncements. It was this group that got Libya to give up its nuclear ambitions:

Intelligence gathered mostly by the US and UK last summer indicated that North Korea was shipping a large amount of nuclear weapons manufacturing gear -- centrifuge parts to be exact -- to Libya via several ships. Acting on that information, US and UK warships stopped, boarded and seized those ships, discovering the expected gear on board. Confronted with those findings and the recently successful military operation to depose Saddam Hussein in Iraq -- and undoubtedly mindful of his own unhappy experiences with President Ronald Reagan in the 1980s -- Libya's dictator, Col. Muammar Ghaddafi, who had connections to terrorists going back a few decades, decided it was no longer healthy to pursue nuclear weapons.

His dismantled nuclear program recently arrived in 48 very large crates at Department of Energy facility in Oak Ridge Tennessee. More such crates are on the way; soon the entire Libyan nuclear program will be in US possession. Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham told reporters that Libya had possessed 4,000 centrifuges and enough uranium hexafluoride gas to begin manufacturing several nuclear weapons per year. In the hands of a dictator with dreams of revenge against America, or in the hands of terrorists allied to or cooperating with such a dictator, those weapons could have made Libya's the most dangerous regime on earth. Now it is turning into a witness for the prosecution, helping finger the Khan network and explaining the North Korean and Chinese roles in the spread of nuclear technology to rogue states. And the PSI -- a multilateral creation of the "unilateral" Bush administration -- played a key role, though it garnered few headlines and will probably garner just as few headlines in the future.

And now a similar group called Caspian Guard is putting similar pressure on Iran. Go read the whole thing.

July 22, 2004

To the Moon...

Lileks mentioned today that absolutely everyone had already linked to these pages and that they were wonderful. But it wasn't until I saw the third link on a blog that I actually went to take a look. And they are wonderful. The Apollo 11 shot is great, but the Apollo 17 panorama made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. Haunting. (You'll need Quicktime.)

Too bad they're fake.

May 20, 2004

Yasser Arafat has a website

From Debbye, I learn of Yasser Arafat's website. It gives you a chance to learn about his humanitarian side:

The President cares for all humanitarian issues including women and children. He strives to ensure a better life for the family, society and all humanity.

Of the main humanitarian activities are: -

  • Adopts martyrs' children
  • Sets up orphanages
  • Cares for the Palestinian woman and fosters her role at all levels.
  • Supports human rights’ issues.
  • Supports environment issues, H.E. formulated a special ministry for this purpose for Environmental Affairs to pursue such issues.
  • Reassures his friends, comrades and activists of liberation in the whole world, in every occasion and he initiates to visit them.
  • Renounces tyranny and occupation.
Right...

And where's the blog?

May 19, 2004

Half the story

Israel generally suffers from the same biased reporting that the US gets in Iraq. When there's a successful suicide attack there may be a sympathetic story, but generally the media is hostile to Israel and focuses on the plight of the Palestinians. This takes the form of complaining about the security fence and slanted coverage of incursions on terrorist bases.

This graph, from Joshua Harvey, gives a clearer picture of what is going on than you could get from listening to the CBC for a year. Israel, a democracy with the same values of pluralism and decency that Canada supposedly holds, is under siege. It's only when they decided to fight back that the successful attacks have abated. But note that the attempts at destruction have not...

From Sagacs's World I Know.

April 13, 2004

Peru Diaries, Part IV

Our intrepid reporter has been joined by his girlfriend to visit the Inca ruins of Machu Picchu. But instead of a few days relaxing in the tourist village of Aguas Calientes, they wound up at the scene of a disaster. Thrill to the story of inept crisis management and international tensions, with an special appearance by the President of Peru...

Anger gave way to mourning when darkness fell on the plaza, broken by a hundred white candles that flickered around the body of Juan Carlos Tapia Farfán, 13. Raging waters took his life when homes vanished into the Alcamayo River. Juan Carlos' body was found six kilometers from the town of Aguas Calientes, the last stop before the Inca city of Machu Picchu. Bodies of the other victims haven't been found and are presumed dead. Carlos Tapia, 27; Roberto Rossel, 40; Lenidas Yucra, 31; Alicia Gutierrez, 20; Ronald Yucra, 5; Lucy Layme, 30; Eleazar Tapia, 10; Romer Tapia, 3; and Carlos Daniel Tapia, 3 months.

Saturday 1:45 a.m. Swollen with heavy rainfall the Alcamayo river flooded its banks and devoured six homes that lay near its banks, about 300 meters from our hotel. The houses couldn't withstand the thousands of tons of mud, water and boulders that cascaded down the valley.

Saturday 2:15 a.m. A mudslide a quarter kilometer in length detached from the Peruvian jungle and ripped down the side of a mountain leading into Aguas Calientes. The mass of rocks and earth swept over the railway –- the only means of reaching Aguas Calientes –- covering it with tons of debris and pushing heavy machinery used to clear the tracks down into the torrent.

Saturday 2:30 a.m. Over the roar of the river and rain it was impossible to tell anything was amiss in Aguas Calientes. No one heard when six houses were destroyed and their inhabitants taken. But when water started to seep into hotel lobbies, local residents knew something was wrong. Tourists were raised from their slumber and told to evacuate immediately to the town's plaza. By then the river had jumped its banks and was running down the railway line, carrying mattresses and sofas.

Saturday 5:30 a.m. We woke up eagerly looking forward to a second day touring Machu Picchu. Our plans ended when the hotel receptionist said we should hurry to the plaza and wait for instruction on how to be evacuated. The town of Aguas Calientes can't have more than 10,000 inhabitants, who largely cater to the 1,500 tourists that make it their last stop before taking the bus up to the ancient town. About two months earlier the area was hit by a similar disaster, fueling optimism a contingency plan was in place. As the morning wore on, tourists began to filter down the steep hill through the center of town, coffee in hand and nervously laughing. A sign on the Perurail office said an announcement would be made at 10 a.m.

Saturday 8 a.m. Tour group leaders began to make lists of their groups, hoping to hand them to municipal leaders and be the first to get out of town. It wasn't long before others began to make lists, scrambling for pens and scribbling the words "Lista Oficial" on the top of the page in hopes of being the first. There must have been at least 50 pages of official lists going around.

Saturday 10 a.m. It became clear to most in the plaza that no one was in charge. The mayor, the rail monopoly, the federal government and the police were nowhere to be seen and the word was they were fighting about who would pick up the tab for the rescue. Peru's President Alejandro Toledo was in the area to visit to ruins and still hadn't made an appearance. Local residents though weren't waiting, and with their bare hands began to try and move the rocks, mud and debris that covered the site where houses once stood. An Air Force pilot with Toledo told us the problem was that the helicopters were on one side of the landslide and the pilots were about 30 kilometers away on the other side of it. Wouldn't it make sense to always keep the pilots close to their vehicles?

Saturday 11 a.m.The sign at the train station was changed. "Announcement at noon."

Saturday 11:30 a.m. A bus rolled down the hill from Machu Picchu and President Toledo stepped out wearing a white shirt and jeans and began to tour the site. I quickly tagged on to his group. "Those rocks weren't there last night, and now they are on the roof of a house,'' he said, pointing to car-sized boulders. Racing to catch up with Toledo, I lost my shoe in about two feet of mud that was 10 meters up from the river. Toledo scrambled down over a ledge to where the houses used to be; I was impressed he was taking risks. But the politician couldn't be suppressed; he stood up on a rock with the river behind him and posed for a camera crew that was with him. After the photo op was done, he said a few words and took off for the plaza.

Continue reading "Peru Diaries, Part IV" »

April 11, 2004

Peru Diaries, Part III

Another report from the field from the Autonomous Source Latin American correspondent. Unfortunately, there's nothing exciting in this latest dispatch. Just a bird-watching report...

My Titicaca dreams crashed courtesy of striking fishermen that blocked the road to the lake and the border of Boliva. Instead, I made a beeline back to the Cusco airport and grabbed the next flight out to Arequipa, a colonial town in southern Peru. Arequipa lies in a valley below two snow-capped peaks, one of which is an active volcano. I was met at the airport by 6,000 taxi drivers and I haggled with one of them to take me to the Colca Canyon, a five hour drive up and over the Peruvian altiplano. The Colca Canyon is considered to be the world's deepest at 3 to 4 kilometers in depth, although some contend a neighboring canyon is even deeper. The drive took us along a dirt road that leads past ghost towns, once filled with miners, and up to 5,600 meters, where we were greeted by a blizzard. From snow-capped peaks we plunged more than two kilometers straight down into the green valleys below. My cab driver and I stayed in a humble hotel, where the toilets explode in the middle of the night and send water crashing down the hallways and into the lobby.

The purpose of the trip was to get a glimpse of the rare Andean Condor, the world's largest bird of flight. The day before I arrived only three condors had been seen, because of pounding rain and sleet that locomotived down the valley. The Andean Condor has a wingspan that stretches out to over more than 3 meters and at 12 kilograms is the heaviest bird that can fly. The problem is that it is so heavy it's a bit of a struggle to take to the air and so it nests in the cliff walls of the canyon, where it can step out the front door and ride the thermals rising from the canyon floor. I woke up at 3 a.m. in order to head out to the vantage point to see the birds. Condors are a relatively lazy bird, waiting for the sun to heat the earth before they get out of bed, but given the rain I was told it was best to get there early. The drive along the canyon is spectacular, with dozens of little pueblitos getting ready for Holy Week, stringing flowers around the church, polishing altars, sweeping the streets, while the ladies of the village cooks empanadas, humita and bread, sending the scent of cinnamon, chile and toffee wafting through the canyon. At the vantage point you sit on a ledge, whip out the binoculars and stare all the way down into the endless abyss for the condors.

At 7 a.m. the first condor, a male, launched himself into the void. The wings stretched out forever and he only flapped once as he moved up in circles and away from the rapids in the river bottom. I'm told the boss condor always goes out first the check the thermals. Apparently this day he didn't like them because he disappeared back into his nest for a late kipper. At 8.30 the canyon exploded (well relatively speaking) as three condors took flight at the same time, spiraling up and then disappearing down into the valley. The mature male is the most impressive bird. It's mostly black with white across the tops of the winges and a big black head and a white fluffly ring around the neck, as if someone slapped a sugar-glazed Dunkin' Doughnut on its head. At about 9 a.m. two younger birds, one male and one female, buzzed my head and being slightly curious perched on a rock 20 meters down from me. It was a wonderous moment, that wasn't even ruined by the German lady that had just about climbed onto my back for a better view. Then, with one flap of the wings the two condors dropped into the canyon and took off in search of rotting food. That day I saw 10 condors, out of a population of 40 or so.

Interesting condor facts:

  • They mate for life.
  • They can fly at altitudes of 6,000 meters.
  • They nest once every two years.
  • They can live up to 50 years of age.
  • They can't take off if they eat too much. A bit like me at Ashton's.

April 08, 2004

Peru Diaries, Part II

Once again in the absence of anything interesting from me I offer a slice of adventure from one of those places you don't think of very much. This is some quite terrific stuff. My buddy the Latin American correspondent should really get a blog of his own. I'm sure he'd have a big audience in no time.

Pedro is a 50 year old taxi driver who has two children in the U.S. He took me from my hotel to the center of town.

Pedro: Where are you from?
Andrew: Canada.
Pedro: Is it true that in New York intersections the traffic lights make you wait 5 minutes?
Andrew: I don't know. I don' t think so, that sounds a bit much.
Pedro: What if it was a really busy highway that crossed a dirt road?
Andrew: Well I suppose then it would be reasonable to have a 5 minute red light.
Pedro. I knew it. Those people in New York are crazy.

Peru's history is basically string of bad luck. Earthquakes, tidal waves, storms, mudslides, coup d'etats, auto coup d'etats (when the president shuts down his own Congress), wars, famine and fog (about seven months of it a year). When the Spaniards first arrived in Peru the Inca empire was about at its peak, stretching from central Chile all the way up to Colombia. As luck (bad) would have it the Inca emperor had just died and his two sons squabbled over the empire. Son#1 saw the Spaniards and said "Voila, a good opportunity to conquer my brother." The Spaniards said they would help if he filled a room to the ceiling with gold. Son#1 filled the room with gold and was killed. The Spaniards then went to Cusco, where they were greeted by Son#2 as heros for killing Son#1. The Spaniards then killed Son#2. And that's just about how it all got started. 150 Spaniards took over the biggest empire in the Amricas in a little less than a month.

Natalia is a tour guide at the old fort on the part of Lima that juts out into the Pacific ocean. It is still an active military base and I jumped on a local tour that left earlier.

Natalia: Behind me are cannons that were used in the Pacific war against Chile.
Andrew: Who won the war?
Natalia: Chile.

About 40 Peruvians glared at me with disdain.

Natalia: And on your left are cannons that were used in the 1940s in the war with Ecuador.
Andrew: And who won that war?
Natalia: Ecuador.

About 40 Peruvians glared at me with disdain. I stopped asking questions.

About midway through the tour we stopped for a bathroom break. The ladies bathroom was blocked by a soldier who was "on duty" but had decided there was no imminent invasion and it was best to take a quick nap in the shade of the doorway. A lady on our tour then thought of no better thing to do than jumpstart awake a sleeping soldier who had a machinegun in his lap by throwing an empty coke can on his head. Luckily his sleep was so deep he didn't startle and fire off a few rounds. The tour was quickly getting out of hand and boring so I made a quick break for the exit. On my way out the two honour guards on duty stopped me and said I should donate some spare change to them so they could buy a Coke. No wonder Peru lost so many wars.

From the fort I made my way to the fishing port, which is always an exciting place to be. I walked to the end of the pier and sat down by Paco, a half blind man in his thirties, and his sidekick Pancho, who was 60 and looked more like 120. Paco said because of his poor eyes he couldn't take my photo and he passed the camera to Pancho who had never ever taken a photo in his life. It only took 15 minutes to do. Paco was a music lover and he told me so.

Paco: Do you know this song. "Baby, you flu ting tao. And I wanna go bling bow. Nah, nah nah, nah , nah, and I wanna go bling bow. Peas Dun Go. Peas Dun Go!"
Andrew: I think it's a dance song from the 80s called "Please Don't Go. Please Don't Go"
Paco: What does that mean.
Andrew: The singer wants some girl to stay with not to go.
Paco: Wow. (And therein was my fatal error. Paco had a list of about 300 songs he wanted me to explain to him).

The next thing I knew Paco had whipped out the biggest air guitar I've ever seen in my life and started to lick a few chords of The Police off for me.

Paco: Do do do do, Da da da da, all I wan to go is you. Do do do do, da da da da, nah nah nah nah nah nah nah.
Andrew: That's really good.
Paco: What does it mean?
Andrew: Nothing.

From the Pet Shop Boys to MC Hammer to Prince to The Doors to Iron Maiden and to Celine Dion we went. It was dizzying. Being an air guitar Paco's fingers never tired and sidekick Pancho seemed to enjoy the concert and bobbed his head. I on the other couldn't take much more and left in the middle of a very long Santana song.

Roast rat is a popular treat in Lima. I'm not sure it's a rat, it could be a big mouse or a guinea pig. The rodent is skinned and stuck on a skewer to roast over a plate of hot coals, where the fat runs off it and makes its glisten in the sun. You buy the rat and a bottle of Inca Cola (yes, it's gold in colour) and enjoy the treat as you walk down the street.

Leaving the port I flagged down another taxi to take me to the beach zone. Only after I haggled him down to 12 sols did I learn he was concerned the owner of the car would take it from him for failing to make a monthy payment and that his kids were in school but not for long if they took his car. Time to reverse haggle and give him more. Eduardo decided to try and boost his profit by taking a shortcut through a slum in the industrial zone.

Eduardo: I almost never come here because it's too dangerous.
Andrew: So turn around.
Eduardo: It's two sols cheaper.
Andrew: I'll give you 4.
Eduardo: Last week 10 guys pulled me over here, robbed me and even took my floor mats.
Andrew: I'll give you 8.
Eduardo: Then there was a time a few years ago they just took the whole car.
Andrew: Oh boy.

At this point a child flung himself in the dirt and lay in the ground, I was expecting the band of robbers to pounce and rob us blind when Eduardo stopped. Luckily Eduardo (AKA Schumacher) swerved and avoided the child and we rumbled on down the street. He got a nice tip.

As I walked back to my hotel (with no bathroom) a man walked up to me and began to speak. His name was Daniel and he was an unemployed English teacher. His English was really terrible, which likely explains why he was unemployed. But he wasn't an idiot.

Daniel: Can you do me a favor and tell people back home that the money the ONGs (NGOs) send doesn't get to us. The polticians take it all and put it in their bolsitas (pockets). I was stunned. I had gone from Paco the Air Guitar to Goethe. This guy was smart. He went on to explain to me how he had tried to get funds promised to him and they never came. What a sad story it was. Peru's history is really bad luck sometimes. Had Daniel been born in Quebec he would be me and I'd be banging chords of Aerosmith watching the tide roll away.

Andrew: Yes, I promise I'll tell everyone that you said that.
Daniel: Ok. Thanks. I want people to know. Have a good night.

Have a good night guys. I'm off to Lake Titicaca tomorrow. It's a 16 hour bus trip, but it's just such a cool name that I'd be silly to miss it. Plus nothing starts a good story like the words "Well when I was on the shores of Lake Titicaca I...."

March 23, 2004

The problem-solvers are the problem

Canada Post works slow, but it still works. I finally received my March 13th issue of the Economist yesterday, a full week after I usually get it. The cover story was on how the obsession with economic equalty from those in the development racket prevent development.

For much of the 20th century the developing countries were held back by an adapted socialist ideology that put global injustice, inequality and victimhood front and centre. Guided by this ideology, governments relied on planning, state monopolies, punitive taxes, grandiose programmes of public spending, and all the other apparatus of applied economic justice. They also repudiated liberal international trade, because the terms of global commerce were deemed exploitative and unfair. Concessions (that is, permission to retain trade barriers) were sought and granted in successive negotiating rounds of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. A kind of equity was thus deemed to have been achieved. The only drawback was that the countries stayed poor.

Towards the end of the century, many developing countries—China and India among them—finally threw off this victim's mantle and began to embrace wicked capitalism, both in the way they organised their domestic economies and in their approach to international trade. All of a sudden, they are a lot less poor, and it hasn't cost the West a cent. In Africa, too, minds are now changing, but far more slowly. Perhaps that has something to do with the chorus that goes up from Africa's supposed friends in the West, telling the region that its plight is all the fault of global inequality, “unfair trade” and an intrinsically unjust market system.

I've mentioned this subject before, but as you might expect the Economist makes a better case. Read the whole article.

March 04, 2004

Too hard on the UN?

I was looking back at the post I made yesterday on the UN's 'business' initiative and thought perhaps I might be seen as being unreasonably harsh. Well, I was in a crummy mood, so I might not have softened the words quite as much as I would have if I hadn't been listening to Max shriek for the previous half-hour. But I'll still defend what I wrote.

What really got me going was Paul Martin's claim that, "private investment too rarely benefits the poorest of the poor, who need it most." That may be true, in the short term, but it is also true of the types of development programs the UN and other concerned outsiders have been inflicting on Africa for the past 40 years. They don't work. Don't believe me? Listen to Kofi Annan:

Malloch Brown and Annan agreed that handouts of money to poor countries have often failed to lower poverty statistics, and have sometimes done more to entrench corrupt and repressive leaders in power.
If even the head of the UN can admit that aid "often" fails, and "sometimes" encourages corruption, the truth is probably a lot worse.
Africa, for example, has been the largest recipient of foreign aid. But according to the National Bureau of Economic Research [NBER] analysts Elsa Artadi and Xavier Sala-i-Martin, Africa has experienced decades of economic decline. In sub-Saharan Africa, per capita GDP is now 11 percent lower than what it was in 1974. Ghana, for example, had inflation adjusted per capita income of $800 in 1967. By 1997, that figure had fallen to $370. Regions that received less foreign aid per capita fared better. As a result, Africa today accounts for a greater percentage of the world's poor than ever before. In 1970, only one in 10 poor people lived in Africa. Today that number is one in two.

Foreign aid also fuels corruption among African officials. Because of faulty domestic institutions and poor oversight, African leaders were able to steal billions of foreign aid dollars over the past forty years. A study commissioned by the African Union in 2001 estimates that corruption continues to cost Africa $150 billion per year.

But back to Paul Martin's hang-up with private investment. I think this attitude is the root of all problems in Africa. The deep, unquestioned suspicion of foreign investment or private initiative is firmly installed in the mind of anyone with any power on that continent. Aid workers, government officials, policemen, military leaders -- they all hold the belief that free enterprise can only take, not give.

The roots of this belief are not too hard to trace. The elites have been educated in Western universities and have learned about the exploitation and colonialism of the Western world, and the destructive results of capitalism. The laws of African countries reflect this attitude, and allow property to be arbitrarly seized by the state. For the less well-connected people, resentment of other's success has provided a fertile ground for Marxism -- and has given justification to anyone with a gun to do a bit of freelance wealth distribution. For Paul Martin to pay lip service to these phoney beliefs -- well, it's just appalling.

And it's not true. Private investment is the only thing that will move Africa forward:

In a recent paper, Fredrik Segerfeldt of the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise, explains that it is not aid that will help the poor but direct investment from business. The paper, "Companies are the Solution, not the Problem" analyses how "economic growth is more important than development assistance in eradicating poverty." And as the United Nations Development Programme admits, poverty is the real enemy. "Therefore, the discussion about world poverty should, to a much greater extent, focus on how economic growth can be achieved, and less on how global resources can be redistributed. Redistribution will never eradicate poverty," Segerfeldt concludes.

Mr. Segerfeldt demonstrates that states that receive a lot of aid but grow slowly have much lower GDP per capita than states that receive little aid but grow faster. The latter grow fast usually due to western corporate direct investment. More importantly he finds that aid does not lead to growth. 12 of the 20 countries that received most aid per capita in the world in 1980 were still on the top-20 list in 1990 and 8 of them were still there in 2000. One would expect far more movement that this if aid actually generated growth, as its proponents at the UNDP claim.

I don't think Paul Martin is stupid. He knows these grand schemes will not work. The only purpose of them is to dampen the guilt we in the developed world (rightly) feel about Africa. But he is willing to play the game because it plays well on the world stage. And it sickens me, it really does.

March 02, 2004

Coming to a boil in Venezuela?

While attention is focused on Haiti, events in Venezuela are going unnoticed. Sure, the media will pay attention if Chavez calls Bush an 'asshole', but there's very little on the crisis that is set to boil over. Today the National Electoral Council will announce whether there are enough signatures on the petition to hold a recall election. Chavez's opponents claim to have 3.4 million, when all they needed was 2.4 million. Of course Chavez claims there are too many duplicates and forgeries for the petition to be valid. Whichever way the CNE rules, it will ignite conflict.

Caracas Chronicles and The Devil's Excrement are the blogs to be following.

UPDATE: Well it looks like Venezuela is now truly a dictatorship. Chavez's cronies on the CNE have managed to invalidate enough signatures to prevent a recall vote. There's going to be a process to 'validate' some of the questionable signatures, but that might just be a tactic to dampen some of the anger this decision will cause.

What can Venezuela expect as a dictatorship? Probably more of the same. Deteriorating prosperity, gradual tightening of the police state, and the looting of private assets for the regime's cronies. Robert Mugabe, an expert in these types of activities, addressed a pro-Chavez rally recently:

To rapturous applause, Mugabe lavished praise on Chavez, and made clear that ALL problems in Venezuela and Zimbabwe are exclusively the fault of the US and the UK, respectively. He hit an emotional high talking in heart-rending terms about how transnational capitalism robs the children of Zimbabwe of their food.
With allies like Mugabe and Castro, I think things look pretty dark for Venezuela.

UPDATE II: I just read this summary of Chavez's character. Very scary. It was written before today's events and describes the CNE as a beacon of hope for the Venezuelan people. That hope has now been shattered.

February 18, 2004

A larval stage Castro.

The Independent has a wacky article out today about some of Hugo Chavez's paranoid fantasies. Wacky because of the incredibly anti-American spin the story takes. Apparently (as usual) the bad relations between the two countries are all the American's fault:

Relations between Venezuela, a top oil supplier, and the US have been strained over Mr Chavez's friendship with Cuba's Fidel Castro and his open criticism of Washington-backed free market policies.
Anyone with eyes can see that Chavez wants to turn Venezuela into another Cuba. But as soon as he starts blaming the Americans he becomes the little guy standing up against the evil oppressor in the eyes of the stupid part of the world's media. Take a look at the pictures on this blog and try to say this is US-led attempt to overthrow a government.

I've been pretty disgusted that the world's media has been ignoring what's happening in that country, but it seems when they pay attention it's even worse.

February 04, 2004

The fine art of pictographs.

Anyone have any idea of what this sign on a Japanese subway car is supposed to mean?

February 02, 2004

Warped sensibilities flagrantly displayed.

LGF linked to a graphic video of last week's horrific bus bombing in Israel. Some people are calling it propaganda:

"Showing bodies or body parts . . . lying on the ground and using it for political ends is disgusting," said Jeff Halper, who heads the Israeli Committee Against House Demolition, an organization that monitors Israeli military actions against Palestinians. He accused the Israeli government of "trying to sell a certain political program, the wall, and to recruit the dead for this mission."
Perhaps if Mr. Halper finds the video so disgusting, he could direct some of his venom away from a government that is desperately trying to protect its citizens and towards the producers and visionaries who made the video possible.

January 19, 2004

The People's webcam.

So have you heard about the Tholos yet? Reason has a small piece on it but the Economist covered it better (link unavailable for non-subscribers):

The Tholos, named after a Greek temple from the Mycenaean period, is a 3-metre high, 360-degree screen that sends and receives images between two locations, in effect providing a window between the two cities. If you're in London, you'll be able to walk up to the screen and have a chat with someone in Vienna, as though you were meeting in the town square. A panoramic view of the other city will be visible in the background, and it will always be on.

This elaborate project was devised by Tholos Systems, a company based in Vienna. It incorporates the latest high definition television (HDTV) technology, with rear projection, high-resolution cameras, and specially coated screens to prevent graffiti. But it's not all 21st-century technology. The Tholos also uses a projection technique borrowed from a device over a century old: the zoetrope. The mechanical shutters in front of the HDTV equipment will switch between a camera facing outwards and a projector showing an image from the distant city. As in a zoetrope, these shutters operate at a high speed that makes the switching invisible to the human eye.

None have been built yet, but the idea is to place them in the centers of the great cities of Europe to help work towards the vision of European unity. And unlike most grand schemes of this nature, they won't cost the EU any money; they'll be paid for by advertising that will interrupt the connection from time-to-time.

From what I've been able to find out, there haven't been any firm plans made to deploy any of these things yet. Possibly there are people that feel giant TV screens blaring ads for cell-phones in front of the great cultural monuments of Europe is a little gauche. Perhaps the creators of this technology are aiming for the wrong customers.

The US, I think, would be far more accepting of this technology. Stick one in the Mall of America connecting with one in Disneyworld. Put one in New York, New York, Las Vegas linking to Times Square. Create smaller versions of the system and sell them to swanky nightclubs and restaurants. Lots and lots of possibilities.

I'm looking forward to seeing one on my next trip to Vegas. They better get cracking.

January 17, 2004

Envy and Pride at the root of the world's problems?

If you were to ask most of the international crew that claim to be working for the benefit of humanity what is the root cause of the cause of suffering, they would probably pick poverty or greed. Most suffering can be ameliorated by material goods, so it is clear that the lack of these goods or the hoarding of wealth by an elite will cause suffering. The rich nations must give more to the poor.

If you were to ask the anti-globo wackos that claim to be throwing rocks and chanting insipid rhymes for the benefit of humanity, they would point the finger at corporations. Clearly, because corporations have money and power and the poor of the world don't, they are the problem. (Okay, it's not that clear, but that's what they say...)

If you were to ask the libertarians what the problem is, they would say it is bad, corrupt governments. They soak up what wealth there is in a society and use it to maintain their power. Without the freedom for people to use wealth as they see fit, it cannot grow and spread around.

All three seem to agree that money is at the heart of the problem. It's just who's at fault that's open to debate. But Victor Davis Hanson feels pride and envy are the real source of the problem.

Where Americans see skill and subtlety in taking out Saddam Hussein and a costly effort to liberate a people, many Iraqis, even as they taste freedom, drive new cars, and see things improve, talk instead of humiliation, hurt pride, or anger at their own impotence — whether whining over the morticians' make-up work on Qusay, or ashamed about Saddam's pathetic televised dental examination. Iraqis scream on camera that we should not stay another minute, but even more often whisper that we better not leave yet. Too often they seem to be mostly angry that we, not they, took out Saddam Hussein. While the tyrant's departure was a "good" thing, it would have been even better had he killed a few thousand Americans in the process — if only to restore the sort of braggadocio lost by the Baathist flight and antics of a mendacious Baghdad Bob.

Israel suffers from the same dilemma of dealing with others' hurt pride as we do. It created a relatively humane society throughout the West Bank from 1967-1993 — and raised the standard of living, and promoted individual freedom for Palestinians in way impossible elsewhere in the Arab world. But all that won no gratitude; instead, it stoked the fury arising from Arabs' sense of weakness and self-contempt. In the world of the Palestinian lobster bucket, Israel's great sin is not bellicosity or aggression, but succeeding beyond the wildest dreams of its neighbors. How humiliating it must be to be incapable of even muttering the word "Israel" (hence the need for "Zionist entity"), but nevertheless preferring an Israeli to a Palestinian ID card.

Indeed Anwar Sadat, by his own admission, went to war in 1973 not to liberate outright the Sinai (that was militarily impossible), but to show the Arab world he could surprise — and for three to four days even stun — the Israelis, and thereby restore the wounded "pride" of the Egyptians. We think that the total encirclement of his Third Army was a terrible defeat — saved from abject annihilation by American diplomacy and Soviet threat. Egyptians saw it instead as a source of honor that it even got across the canal.

To all the examples he uses you could throw in the two world wars and a whole lot of smaller wars, as well the petty economic nationalism that spurs people to support policies that are to their detriment. Lots to think about in this article.

January 15, 2004

Reforming the education system in Iraq

Behind all the headline-making news in Iraq -- news that indicates the Americans are deep in a Vietnam-style quagmire -- work is going on to rebuild and create the institutions necessary for a democratic society. Opinion Journal has a good article on the rebuilding of the education system by the senior adviser on education for the Coalition Provisional Authority.

You can imagine how difficult something like this is. Saddam's regime had imposed its stamp throughout the schools in order to indoctrinate the population. Certainly you can get rid of his nonsense, but what do you replace them with? Don't you run the risk of trading one form of indoctrination with another? Education -- messing with kids' heads -- is a sensitive issue for everyone. I was relieved when I read this:

The White House had specifically told my colleagues and me to concentrate on getting the children, teachers and textbooks back in the classrooms. We were wisely admonished by White House officials to offer our best advice when asked by Iraqis, but to avoid directly imposing extensive reforms on the Iraqi schools. We followed this suggested course. Thus, we helped remove totalitarian teachings from the classrooms, helped the schools and ministry resume operations, and kept our advisory office small. Now Iraqis themselves are restructuring the ministry organization, considering decentralization plans, and holding forums on curriculum reform and the future of Iraq's school system.
I'm very excited by these types of stories. The thought of a free and democratic Arab country gives me a lot of hope for the future of the Middle East.