Quotulatiousness

August 4, 2017

Short memories and willing self-deception over Venezuela

Filed under: Americas, Economics, Media, Politics — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

In the Los Angeles Times, James Kirchick took the pundits to task for their adulation of Venezuela’s government as it plunged deliberately into a humanitarian disaster:

Shaded relief map of Venezuela, 1993 (via Wikimedia)

On Sunday, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro claimed victory in a referendum designed to rewrite the country’s constitution and confer on him dictatorial powers. The sham vote, boycotted by the opposition, was but the latest stage in the “Bolivarian Revolution” launched by Maduro’s predecessor, the late Hugo Chavez. First elected in 1998 on a wave of popular goodwill, Chavez’s legacy is one of utter devastation.

Thanks to Chavismo’s vast social welfare schemes (initially buoyed by high oil prices), cronyism and corruption, a country that once boasted massive budget surpluses is today the world’s most indebted. Contraction in per capita GDP is so severe that “Venezuela’s economic catastrophe dwarfs any in the history of the U.S., Western Europe or the rest of Latin America” according to Ricardo Hausmann, former chief economist of the Inter-American Development Bank. Transparency International lists Venezuela as the only country in the Americas among the world’s 10 most corrupt.

Socialist economic policies — price controls, factory nationalizations, government takeovers of food distribution and the like — have real human costs. Eighty percent of Venezuelan bakeries don’t have flour. Eleven percent of children under 5 are malnourished, infant mortality has increased by 30% and maternal mortality is up 66%. The Maduro regime has met protests against its misrule with violence. More than 100 people have died in anti-government demonstrations and thousands have been arrested. Loyal police officers are rewarded with rolls of toilet paper.

The list of Western leftists who once sang the Venezuelan government’s praises is long, and Naomi Klein figures near the top.

In 2004, she signed a petition headlined, “We would vote for Hugo Chavez.” Three years later, she lauded Venezuela as a place where “citizens had renewed their faith in the power of democracy to improve their lives.” In her 2007 book, The Shock Doctrine, she portrayed capitalism as a sort of global conspiracy that instigates financial crises and exploits poor countries in the wake of natural disasters. But Klein declared that Venezuela had been rendered immune to the “shocks” administered by free market fundamentalists thanks to Chavez’s “21st Century Socialism,” which had created “a zone of relative economic calm and predictability.”

Chavez’s untimely death from cancer in 2013 saw an outpouring of grief from the global left. The caudillo “demonstrated that it is possible to resist the neo-liberal dogma that holds sway over much of humanity,” wrote British journalist Owen Jones. “I mourn a great hero to the majority of his people,” said Oliver Stone, who would go on to replace Chavez with Vladimir Putin as the object of his twisted affection.

March 11, 2017

Catherine the Great – III: Empress Catherine at Last – Extra History

Filed under: History, Russia — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on Feb 11, 2017

When the conspiracy to seat Catherine on the throne of Russia was exposed, she had to move quickly. While Peter III blundered through a day of miscommunications, Catherine swiftly seized power, secured the loyalty of the army, and demanded his abdication.

February 26, 2017

British History’s Biggest Fibs with Lucy Worsley Episode 3: The Jewel in the Crown

Filed under: Britain, History, India — Tags: , , , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 10 Feb 2017

In the final episode, Lucy debunks the fibs that surround the ‘jewel in the crown’ of the British Empire – India. Travelling to Kolkata, she investigates how the Raj was created following a British government coup in 1858. After snatching control from the discredited East India Company, the new regime presented itself as a new kind of caring, sharing imperialism with Queen Victoria as its maternal Empress.

Tyranny, greed and exploitation were to be things of the past. From the ‘black hole of Calcutta’ to the Indian ‘mutiny’, from East India Company governance to crown rule, and from Queen Victoria to Empress of India, Lucy reveals how this chapter of British history is another carefully edited narrative that’s full of fibs.

July 1, 2015

QotD: The CRTC, Canada’s most fascistic government body

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Cancon, Media, Quotations — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

The CRTC is an even more odious organization. Back in 1920s both the Canadian and American governments declared the broadcast spectrum to be public property. So a technology pioneered and commercialized by the private sector, in both countries, was essentially nationalized by the state. Since it was a new industry it lacked the ability to effectively lobby Washington and Ottawa. The result has been that a large and important sector of our modern economy now lives and dies at the whim of an unelected government agency: The CRTC.

Of all the organs of Canadian government the CRTC has always struck me as the most fascistic. You could rationalize socialize health care, public education and government financed infrastructure as doing useful things in a terribly statist way. The CRTC is at an exercise in make work at best. At worse it’s an attempt to impose indirect censorship on the Canadian people. Beneath the reams of government drafted euphemisms the blunt truth behind the CRTC is that we mere Canadians are not clever enough, not patriotic enough or sufficiently sensible to watch and listen to the right things in the right way.

The existence of the CRTC explains much of the timorousness of Canadian broadcasting. The Americans did away with the Fairness Doctrine in 1987, thereby triggering the explosion in talk radio in the early 1990s. While Canada never had an exact equivalent, the regulations surrounding who could and could not receive or retain a license were sufficiently vague to make such a rule unnecessary. A nod and a wink from the right people at the right time was enough to indicate what type of broadcasting would or would not be acceptable.

The result was an insufferable group think that could no more be defined than challenged. There were unwritten rules of etiquette that forbade serious discussion from talking place on a whole host of issues: Abortion, capital punishment, race relations, linguistic issues and any frank discussions of our socialized health care system. It wasn’t that these discussions didn’t take place in a public forum, the newspapers and magazines were largely unregulated, but broadcasting was the late twentieth century’s pre-eminent mass media. It’s where ordinary people got their news and opinions.

Richard Anderson, “And All Must Have Prizes”, The Gods of the Copybook Headings, 2014-09-24.

March 11, 2015

Venezuela, then and now

Filed under: Americas, Economics, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Kevin D. Williamson looks to the not-too-distant past to see how Venezuela got into the economic disaster they’re currently facing:

Venezuela had a good run of it for about five minutes there, at least in public-relations terms. When petroleum prices were booming, all it took was a few gallons of heating oil from Hugo Chávez to buy the extravagant praise of House members, with Representative Chaka Fattah (D., Philadelphia) issuing statements praising Venezuela’s state-run oil company “and the Venezuelan people for their benevolence.” Lest anybody feel creeped out by running political errands for a brutal and repressive caudillo, Joseph Kennedy — son of Senator Robert Kennedy — proclaimed that refusing the strongman’s patronage would be “a crime against humanity.” Kennedy was at the time the director of Citizens Energy, which had a contract to help distribute that Venezuelan heating oil — Boss Hugo was a brute, but he understood American politics.

Celebrities came to sit at his feet, with Sean Penn calling him a “champion” of the world’s poor, Oliver Stone celebrating him as “a great hero,” Antonio Banderas citing his seizure of private businesses as a model to be emulated in the rest of the world, Michael Moore praising his use of oil for political purposes, Danny Glover celebrating him as a “champion of democracy.” His successor, Nicolás Maduro, continued in the Chávez vein, and even as basics such as food and toilet paper disappeared the American Left hailed him as a hero, with Jesse Myerson, Rolling Stone’s fashionable uptown communist, calling his economic program “basically terrific.” Some of the more old-fashioned liberals at The New Republic voiced concern about Venezuela’s sham democracy, its unlimited executive authority, political repression, the hunting down of government critics, the stacking of elections and the government’s perpetrating violence inside polling places — but Myerson insisted that Venezuela’s “electoral system’s integrity puts the U.S.’s to abject shame.” Never mind that opposition leaders there are hauled off to military prison after midnight raids.

Vice President Biden, who can always be counted on to cut straight to the heart of any political question, ran into Maduro in Brazil and, noting the potentate’s thick mane, commented: “If I had your hair, I’d be president of the United States.” Tragically for the Sage of Delaware, hair transplants don’t work that way.

That is all going down the memory hole. The Obama administration has announced economic sanctions on Venezuela’s rulers and its intelligence agents, citing the “erosion of human-rights guarantees” – erosion, as though this were something new, as though Hugo Chávez hadn’t been a tyrant back when President Obama’s ally Representative Fattah was carrying his political water all over the eastern seaboard. In the New York Times’ account of Venezuela’s woes and Maduro’s misrule, there is no mention at all of the critical role the American Left played in lending legitimacy to Chavismo, of the so-called liberals and progressives who denounced legitimate protests against Maduro’s brutality as nefarious U.S.-backed coup attempts, who remained — and remain — silent on the regime’s censorship, political repression, torture, and economic incompetence. William Neuman of the Times did find an economist — a leftist economist, he assures us — who went so far as to say that certain aspects of the Chávez program “needed to be revised or even discarded to set the nation’s economy on the right track.”

September 12, 2014

Scottish businesses face a “day of reckoning” after a Yes vote

Filed under: Britain, Business, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 16:04

Usually, when someone is planning to punish their political enemies, they keep quiet about it until the votes are counted. The former deputy leader of the Scottish National Party is pretty forthright about just who is going to be facing punishment if Scotland votes yes:

Former SNP deputy leader Jim Sillars has claimed there will be a “day of reckoning” for major Scottish employers such as Royal Bank of Scotland and Standard Life after a Yes vote.

Speaking from his campaign vehicle the “Margo Mobile”, Mr Sillars insisted that employers are “subverting Scotland’s democratic process” and vowed that oil giant BP would be nationalised in an independent Scotland.

Earlier this week, a number of banks, including Lloyds Banking Group and RBS, said they would look to move their headquarters south of the border in the event of a Yes vote.

Mr Sillars, who earlier this week claimed he and First Minister Alex Salmond had put their long-held personal differences behind them to campaign together for independence, also revealed that he would not retire from politics on 19 September but said he would be “staying in” if Scotland became independent.

He claimed there is talk of a “boycott” of John Lewis, banks to be split up, and new law to force Ryder Cup sponsor Standard Life to explain to unions its reasons for moving outside Scotland.

He said: “This referendum is about power, and when we get a Yes majority, we will use that power for a day of reckoning with BP and the banks.

“The heads of these companies are rich men, in cahoots with a rich English Tory Prime Minister, to keep Scotland’s poor, poorer through lies and distortions. The power they have now to subvert our democracy will come to an end with a Yes.”

If I had any investments in Scotland, I would be calling my broker to review them in the light of this pretty specific set of economic and political goals for an independent Scotland. It won’t be a safe place to invest any kind of retirement savings if Sillars represents more than a fringe of the SNP.

February 1, 2014

Argentina’s economic end-game

Filed under: Americas, Economics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:19

In Forbes, Ian Vasquez looks at the plight of the Argentine economy:

Argentina’s luck is finally starting to run out. It devalued its currency by 15 percent last week, marking the beginning of a possible economic crisis of the kind Argentina has become known for. Argentina’s problem is that it has followed the logic of populism for more than a decade and President Cristina Kirchner is showing no interest in changing course.

In the 1990s Argentina combined far-reaching but sometimes flawed market-reforms with irresponsible fiscal policies, culminating in its 2002 default on $81 billion in debt — the largest sovereign default in history. The country delinked its currency from the dollar, experienced a severe economic crisis, and initiated its current period of populist politics.

Those policies included price controls on domestic energy, reneging on contracts with foreign companies, export taxes, more pubic sector employment and vastly increased spending. When you don’t pay massive debts, you get temporary breathing room, so growth resumed. High commodity prices and low global interest rates that lifted demand for Argentine exports also helped produce Argentine growth.

But the government’s appetite has consistently grown faster, and, with little ability to borrow abroad, it has turned to other sources of finance. In 2008, Kirchner nationalized private pension funds worth some $30 billion, and has since nationalized an airline and a major oil company. As it drew down reserves, the government turned to printing money to finance itself, falsifying the inflation rate it says is about 11 percent, but which independent analysts put at about 28 percent. Economist Steve Hanke estimates it is much higher at 74 percent

April 21, 2012

Argentina: Canada without the boring politics and grey politicians

Filed under: Americas, Cancon, Economics, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 09:58

Robert Fulford sees lots of similarities between Argentina and Canada, except the one difference that makes all the difference:

In some ways it’s much like Canada, a huge one-time colony with a talented population and endless natural resources — arable land, oil and gas and much else.

Except it is not like Canada. It doesn’t work. And the reason it doesn’t work is that it lacks a reliable, careful government, not subject to sudden bouts of hysteria. Argentina has few of the boring politicians who irritate people like Sid.

Public life in Argentina expresses itself through spasms of showmanship, braggadocio, paranoia and demagoguery. It’s the land of the eternal crisis, where a military coup is never unthinkable.

Argentina’s many economic failures, generation after generation, are self-created, politically induced. In all the world there’s no more obvious example of a nation that has squandered, through flawed governance, the riches provided by nature.

This week Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, President of Argentina, and the widow of the last president, announced she’s grabbing YPF, the country’s biggest energy company, taking it from Spain’s Repsol. Cristina, as she’s usually called in Argentina, thinks she can run YPF better than the Spanish. Of course the Spanish are furious and will sue as well as blacken Argentina’s name wherever possible. What Cristina has announced is a brazen, heedless act, with nothing to recommend it but high-handed nationalist fury.

Yet Cristina believes that when you encounter economic trouble, the best course is to strike out against something foreign. At the moment she’s also making anti-British noises, agitating to annex the Falklands Islands, which Argentina seized in 1982 and had to give back when it lost the war with the U.K. Somehow the Falklands (called the Malvinas in Argentina) are linked with the oil-company seizure as nationalist issues. A T-shirt has appeared on Cristina’s supporters: “The Malvinas are Argentine, so is YPF.”

April 17, 2012

Argentina’s latest economic lesson

Filed under: Americas, Economics — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:50

Jan Boucek explains why Argentina is providing a helpful example to other countries on what not to do in economic policy:

This week, President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner announced the seizure of Spanish oil company Repsol’s stake in Argentine oil company YPF to give the government 51% control. Spain is outraged and has recalled its ambassador. […]

Ms Fernandez justified her move on the grounds that YPF has failed to invest sufficiently to prevent Argentina from importing ever greater quantities of fuel. The fact that Argentine oil reserves have been dwindling means the sector needs greater and increasingly sophisticated investment to reach more complex structures, just like in the North Sea. Expropriation isn’t going to attract that kind of high-risk investment.

[. . .]

The YPF seizure continues Argentina’s cavalier attitude towards other people’s money shown back in 2008 when Ms Fernandez grabbed some $24 billion of private pension funds and used central bank reserves to meet debt payments. More recently, the country has been in a spat with the IMF over the quality of its statistics. Argentina claims inflation is running at somewhere between 5% and 11% but private independent estimates put the number at somewhere around 25%. The Economist is refusing to publish official Argentine inflation data.

Update: Well, regardless of the state of the economy, President Fernandez de Kirchner has a friend in the White House! President Obama has indicated his support for the Argentinian claim to … the ¿Maldives?

President Obama erred during a speech at the Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia, when attempting to call the disputed archipelago by its Spanish name.

Instead of saying Malvinas, however, Mr Obama referred to the islands as the Maldives, a group of 26 atolls off that lie off the South coast of India.

The Maldives were a British protectorate from 1887 to 1965 and the site of a UK airbase for nearly 20 years.

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