What Eich means

April 5th, 2014

Bullying works. Read my post at Da Tech Guy Blog.

Annals of Papal gift-giving, UPDATED

April 4th, 2014

Obama’s gift to the Pope: a seed sampler

Queen Elizabeth’s gift to the Pope: a huge picnic hamper

The hamper contained 18 items from Buckingham Palace, Windsor, Sandringham and Balmoral including two types of honey, a bottle of whiskey, ‘Coronation Best Bitter, ‘Grandad’s chutney’ and ‘Sandringham handmade aromatherapy soaps’.

Purists want to know, Irish whiskey, or Scotch (whisky)?

Look at the size of the thing:

In exchange, Obama received a copy of Evangelii Gaudium, and the Queen was presented with a lapis lazuli orb for Prince George, inscribed with ‘Pope Francis, to His Royal Highness Prince George of Cambridge’

with a silver cross of Edward the Confessor, the 11th Century English King who was made a saint,

The royal couple were also presented with a reproduction of a decree by Pope Innocent XI issued in 1679 which elevated Edward the Confessor into a saint for the Catholic Church.

The Vatican chief of protocol was spot-on in both counts.

Read about what it all means at POTUS and the Pope
The Vatican’s symbolic messaging v. the White House spin
, by George Weigel.

Note to self: Have the Queen over.

Prior papal gifts here.

UPDATE:
Monica Showalter adds,

A nice exchange of gifts. The article doesn’t mention it, but lapis lazuli is found only in Argentina, Chile, Afghanistan and maybe one or two other places on earth. It was an Argentine gift the Pope gave to the Queen. Lapis Lazuli is the basis for the artists’ pigment Ultramarine Blue.

Vatican chief of protocol rocks!

Venezuela; about that Maduro op-ed in the NYT, UPDATED

April 3rd, 2014

The NYT published an article by Nicolas Maduro’s ghost writers, Venezuela: A Call for Peace on April 1.

Assuming it was not an April Fool’s joke, Maduro states

According to the United Nations, Venezuela has consistently reduced inequality: It now has the lowest income inequality in the region. We havereduced poverty enormously — to 25.4 percent in 2012, on the World Bank’s data, from 49 percent in 1998; in the same period, according to government statistics, extreme poverty diminished to 6 percent from 21 percent.

And where did the UN’s numbers come from? The Venezuelan government – which has not allowed its own numbers to be verified for almost a decade. Not only has Venezuela not held an held an Article IV consultation with the IMF in 100 months, it also stopped reporting a number of standard indicators several years ago.

Daniel Wiser does a Nicolas Maduro Fact Check:
On inequality:

Chavez’s family now reportedly owns 17 country estates totaling more than 100,000 acres in the western state of Barinas, as well as assets of $550 million stored in various international bank accounts. Residents in the same region wait as long as three hours for basic provisions at grocery stores.

National Assembly Speaker Diosdado Cabello, a close confidant of Chavez and member of Maduro’s United Socialist Party, has allegedly amassed “a private fortune” through corruption and ties to regional drug traffickers. TheMiami Herald reported accusations last week that Cabello received at least $50 million in bribes to overlook lucrative public contracts that were overpriced, according to a recent lawsuit.

On healthcare (I posted about it last year):

The Associated Press reported in November that Venezuela’s health care system “is collapsing after years of deterioration.”

About 90 percent of the country’s public hospitals lack vital supplies due to government-imposed dollar shortages and price caps. The government was forced to suspend organ donations, transplants, and non-emergency surgeries.

On “extending a hand to the opposition” (and keep in mind Maduro’s been threatening to bomb the state of Táchira),

Opposition lawmaker Maria Corina Machado has been expelled from the legislature and faces imprisonment. Protest leader Leopoldo Lopez remainsconfined at a military facility.

Two opposition mayors elected by large majorities have also been sentenced to several months in prison, according to the Human Rights Foundation.

Maduro posits that “claims that . . . current protests represent mainstream sentiment are belied by the facts.” Here’s an aerial video of “sentiment” taken on the March 22 demonstration

Francisco Toro writes about The Most Outrageous Lie in Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro’s New York Times Op-Ed

Fact-checking the entire piece would be enough to cause an aneurysm. Instead, to give a sense of the depth of historical falsification involved, let’s focus on one particular line: Maduro claims that the Bolivarian revolution “created flagship universal health care and education programs, free to our citizens nationwide.”

This is roughly equivalent to President Barack Obama claiming that he created Social Security. Venezuela first established free universal primary education (for both boys and girls) back in the nineteenth century. It was 1870, in fact, when President Antonio Guzmán Blanco—the visionary military dictator who dominated politics at the time—created a mandate for the state to teach all children ”morals, reading and writing the national language, practical arithmetic, the metric system and the constitution.”

Granted, universal education remained more an aspiration than an on-the-ground reality for several decades, but by 1946 Venezuela’s first elected, social democratic government rode to power partly due to a commitment to enact that vision. Free education, including at the university level, was an ideological cornerstone of successive governments beginning in 1958. Under the leadership of the great educational reformer Luis Beltrán Prieto Figueroa, the government created one of Latin America’s first adult education institutions, INCE, in 1959, and in the 1960s pushed to increase adult literacy through the famous ACUDE program.

Maduro’s mentor, Hugo Chávez, might have told him a thing or two about that: As a teenager in the ’60s, Chávez volunteered as an adult literacy coach at ACUDE—one of the flagship education programs that Maduro claims didn’t exist until Chávez created them.

It’s much the same story with health: Already in 1938, still in the era of dictatorships,landmark public hospitals were being built and treating patients free of charge. The 1961 constitution—the one chavismo insisted on replacing, seeing it as a vehicle for neo-imperial domination—guaranteed free public health care in article 76. Even today, virtually every major hospital in the country was built before the Bolivarian revolution, whose contribution was limited to a secondary network of outpatient clinics staffed by Cuban medics and located inside poorer areas that, in the view of many, ended up largely diverting resources that would have been better spent upgrading theincreasingly ramshackle legacy hospital network.

Yes, both the school system and the hospital network were overstretched, underperforming, and in need of reform by the time Chávez came to power in 1998, and yes, chavismo‘s reforms of both systems have been broadly popular. There’s an interesting conversation to be had about the successes and failures of those reforms.

But that conversation can’t happen when the government insists on a wholesale falsification of history, simply erasing the long, rich history of health and education reforms that in 1999 bequeathed Chávez the large and ambitious, albeit flawed, health and education systems that Maduro oversees today.

Maduro also mentions the “new market-based foreign exchange system, which is designed to reduce the black market exchange rate.” That ended up getting lost in translation:

See if you can spot the difference in MINCI’s official translation of the same OpEd. It describes SICAD II as ”un nuevo sistema de cambio de divisas que ya ha reducido la inflación durante las últimas semanas.” [Fausta's note: "a new foreign exchange system which has already reduced inflation over the past few weeks"]

Did you catch that? Either SICAD II is somehow more market-based in English than it is en español, or the system’s market-basedness is locked in quantum indeterminacy, cycling in and out of existence over time.

Continuing to assume the NYT article was not an April Fool’s joke, The real question isn’t “what” Maduro is saying, but “why?”(emphasis added),

Why does Maduro display such concern about international public opinion, while putting on a show about being so above caring about his domestic popularity?

Chávez battled external demons fictional or not – usually fictional – to give himself ammo for his political battle back home. With Maduro, it’s the battles on the home front that are being submitted to the court of international public opinion for international validation.

It’s like he doesn’t actually grasp that, in accepting Venezuelans’ discontent only in a foreign tongue to a foreign newspaper and then blatantly ignoring those complaints in his actions, then pleading with gringo readers to be spared from the consequences, Nicolás Maduro is only incriminating himself.

All the same, expect the usual apologists to endlessly repeat Maduro’s talking points. The joke’s on the Venezuelan people.

UPDATE: Alek Boyd takes a jackhammer to the NYT piece, 

According to unaudited figures we provide to the United Nations, Venezuela has consistently reduced inequality: It now has the lowest income inequality in the region. We have reduced poverty enormously — to 25.4 percent in 2012, the World Bank’s data (again which no independent auditor has checked in the last 98 months), from 49 percent in 1998; in the same period, according to government statistics, extreme povertydiminished to 6 percent from 21 percent. This incredible reduction was achieved overnight, after our commander in chief called the National Statistics Office to order lowering the figures.

And that’s just the warm-up. Go read the whole thing.

Linked to by Hot Air. Thank you!


We interrupt our blogging on Latin America to bring you the latest on Putin

April 3rd, 2014

if you have a strong stomach, that is,
Look out, ladies. Vladimir Putin is single now

Any chicks looking to hook up with the world’s most powerful bachelor will have to wait in line, however. He’s rumored to be dating former Olympic rhythmic gymnast (yes, that’s a real sport) Alina Kabeva, and the heat she and Vladimir were making outside of the ring is most likely why she (very conveniently) found herself among Russia’s top athletes called upon to light the Sochi Olympic flame. This all came about probably because she can do this:

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Then again, it’s unlikely a man who wrestles wildlife, rides horses shirtless and wrote a definitive book on martial arts is going to limit himself to one lady.

Indeed, since Vlad’s rather knowledgable about orgies, and has mused that group sex is better than one-on-one intercourse because participants can take a break.

If that’s not cringeworthy enough for you, here’s Vlad singing at a 2010 fundraiser, to a celebrity audience that includes newly-Russian Gerard Depardieu, and those lovely Americans Sharon Stone, Goldie Hawn, Mickey Rourke, Kevin Costner, and Kurt Russell.

Bonus:
Gérard Depardieu launches ‘Proud to be Russian’ line of watches
The French actor, who left his home country for Russia following a proposed change in tax law, has partnered with watch manufacturer Cvstos

Double bonus:
Go to the Depardieu link and look at his blouse.

Blogging on Latin America shall resume shortly.

Vargas Llosa going to Venezuela

April 2nd, 2014

Mario Vargas Llosa: ‘I feel the need to go [to Venezuela] to demonstrate’

Indeed, the BBC reports that Vargas Llosa to visit Venezuela to back anti-Maduro groups
The Peruvian Nobel Prize winning author, Mario Vargas Llosa, has said that he will travel to Venezuela to lend his support to opposition groups.

Mr Vargas Llosa said he was going to travel to Venezuela on 15 April to attend a conference organised by an opposition think-tank, Cedice.

“I will go with other liberals to lend our support and show our solidarity to those who are putting up a big fight against the dictatorship of Maduro,” he said.

As you may recall, when Mario and his son Álvaro attended a Cedice conference in 2009, they each were detained at the airport by the military.

Ecuador: Looking for fools wanting to part with their money

April 2nd, 2014

Encumbered forever by desire and ambition
There’s a hunger still unsatisfied
Our weary eyes still stray to the horizon
Though down this road we’ve been so many times

This report is dated April 1st, but it’s no joke:

Ecuador to meet investors in non-deal roadshow

Ecuador has hired Credit Suisse to arrange meetings with fixed-income investors in the UK and the US beginning on April 4, according to two market sources.

Non-deal because Ecuador defaulted on US$3.2billion of debt in December 2008, and it’ll take quite a bit of tap dancing and some really high (pie in the sky, perhaps?) interest rates for incurably gullible optimists to buy Ecuadorian debt, and hope it doesn’t default.

Apparently Ecuador also hired Citigroup.

Sing it, guys!


Woman does not live by bread alone,

April 2nd, 2014

she needs a little cream cheese on it!

My latest at Da Tech Guy Blog, A makeover for . . . cream cheese?

#SOSVenezuela: Testing Venezuela’s sincerity

April 1st, 2014

Yesterday’s Miami Herald editorial:
Testing Venezuela’s sincerity
OUR OPINION: Government’s actions undermine calls for mediation

If his stated interest in reconciliation were sincere, the first thing President Nicolás Maduro would do is call off the dogs — the pro-government militants who have sown terror on the streets by intimidating, beating and shooting protesters.

Instead of putting them on a leash, though, Mr. Maduro has publicly praised these thugs as defenders of the “Bolivarian revolution.” Resorting to brute force to silence critics hardly sets the stage for mediation. Targeting high-profile government adversaries, including elected officials, only makes matters worse.

Shortly after the wave of protests began, the government ordered the arrest of outspoken government critic Leopoldo Lopez for allegedly inciting violence. On Friday, an appeals court rejected his plea for bail. Far from discouraging opponents, Mr. Lopez’s imprisonment has served only to raise his profile as a leader of the hard-line opposition and fueled further protest.

Apparently unable to learn from its mistakes, the government doubled down on its dubious tactic. On March 21, authorities jailed the mayors of two cities that have seen some of the most intense unrest — Daniel Ceballos of San Cristóbal and Enzo Scarano of San Diego. They were arrested, tried and sentenced within a matter of hours on trumped-up charges of failing to prevent violence.

Then, last week, National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello announced that a prominent opposition deputy, Maria Corina Machado, had lost her seat and parliamentary immunity and could be arrested at any time. She courageously defied the government by leading a street protest days later and remains free as of this writing. But for how long?

While Maduro says he’s open to having a “facilitator” create a dialogue with the opposition, last month he was threatening to bomb the state of Táchira:

“If I have to decree a state of exception especially for the state of Táchira, I am ready to do so. I am ready to decree it, and I will send in the tanks, the troops, the Air Force, the entire armed forces of the fatherland, because we will preserve Táchira as Venezuelan territory, as belonging to Venezuela. I am ready to do it now! I have the constitutional authority to do it, I have the clear strategic vision for it, and ultimately, I have the Enabling Law. I have the Enabling Law. I am willing to do anything for Táchira, anything.”

That was in February; this is what Táchira looked like yesterday,

A top Venezuelan military commander says the security forces have retaken control of the streets in the western city of San Cristobal in Táchira,

The current wave of unrest started in San Cristobal on 4 February, when students took to the streets to protest against the alleged attempted rape of a university student.

Students Set Up Long Term Protest Camp In Front Of UN’s Office in Caracas

When you first talk to them,there are a number of surprises. First, they are not all from Caracas. Second, they are not middle class. Finally, they are not all students, as many of them are part of radical, left wing groups 8yes! [sic], real left wing not imitation Chavistas!) which oppose the Government. So, for fools that claim that these protests are somehow motivated by the US, driven my middle class students, please come down and talk to them. You will be surprised, really surprised.

Today Maria Corina Machado will attempt to attend the scheduled National Assembly meeting, after NA president Diosdado Cabello divested her of her elected position. The Venezuelan Supreme Court rubber-stamped Cabello’s decision.

Now the question is what the opposition will do. Is it still trying to pretend dialogue is possible? Will it make a show of force and try to enter with Maria Corina Machado in Parliament even if all may risk arrest? When are we going to start calling the regime a dictatorship and deal with it accordingly?

There’s a demonstration scheduled at noon to show her support.

We’ll see how it evolves.

Elsewhere, in “one of the most democratic nations on Earth”, the government announced it will begin fingerprinting customers who use state-run grocery stores. Supposedly to prevent hoarding,

Patrons will register with their fingerprints, and the new ID card will be linked to a computer system that monitors purchases. Food Minister Felix Osorio says it will sound an alarm when it detects suspicious purchasing patterns, barring people from buying the same goods every day.

Considering the precedent of the Tascón List and the Maisanta program, this does not bode well.

Update:
Re: the new ID cards for food purchases, it’s worth keeping in mind that just 2 days ago ABC.es was reporting that Cubans manage Venezuela’s ID system, its identity cards and passports.

What could possibly go wrong?

This just in,
Venezuelan president orders landlords to sell homes in 60 days or face fine of £24,000 in wild bid to plug housing shortage
Owners leasing for 20 years ‘must sell’, evicted if don’t pay fine in five days
Law dictates they must sell for ‘fair price’ to prevent dip in the market
Landlords must submit prospective sale prices to the government
Comes as ‘grocery ID’ scheme launched to monitor amount people buy


The Most Interesting Man in the World has spoken,

April 1st, 2014

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Happy April Fools Day!

The Carnival of Latin America and the Caribbean

March 31st, 2014

LatinAmerARGENTINA
Argentina Is Joined In The Supreme Court By The Coalition Of Weasels

Why Argentina Is Struggling to Find Lifelines

Argentina Moves to Trim Subsidies
Argentina will cut expensive natural-gas and water subsidies this year as it struggles with growing deficits that have been financed through inflation-fueling money printing.

BARBADOS
US Congress honours T&T and Barbados born judges

BOLIVIA
Bolivia clashes over anti-drugs base
Dozens of people in Bolivia clash with police in a protest against the construction of a military anti-drugs base in a coca-growing area

CHILE
Chile’s Codelco 2013 profit halves

COLOMBIA
Colombia current account deficit ends 2013 at 3.4 percent, “as lower prices for some key exports contributed to the near halving of the Andean nation’s trade surplus.”

COSTA RICA
Costa Rica’s two top political parties agree to runoff presidential debate, with or without candidates

In lieu of a candidate to support, PLN lawmaker Luis Villanueva said the campaign was about “ideas, programs and the emphasis” of each party.

CUBA
Azuuuucar !!! Chong Chon Gang returns for another load

Ukraine Angle to Cuba’s “Purchase” of Russian Antonov Planes

Tread carefully in Cuba’s ‘open’ economy: Experts

ECUADOR
Ecuador President Rafael Correa to Speak at Harvard
Has been criticized for anti-American rhetoric, crackdown on press freedoms

Correa has long pursued a multi-billion dollar judgment against oil company Chevron for alleged pollution that occurred in Ecuador’s Lago Agrio region. A U.S. federal judge ruled earlier this month that the judgment could not be enforced in America because the plaintiffs’ attorneys bribed a judge in Ecuador, ghostwrote purportedly neutral scientific studies, and conspired to break the law.

Correa in December dissolved a nongovernment organization protesting state oil drilling in the Amazon. He previously called the Free Beacon“corrupt” for reporting on the Chevron case.

Correa has also emulated Chavez by frequently decrying the alleged “imperial” influence of the United States in Latin America. He has expelled an American ambassador, shut down a joint U.S. anti-drug base, and grantedasylum to WikiLeaks founder and privacy advocate Julian Assange despiteallegations that Correa’s government has spied on reporters.

EL SALVADOR
El Salvador opposition admits defeat
El Salvador’s Arena party finally accepts the defeat of its candidate to former rebel leader Salvador Sanchez Ceren in a tight vote earlier this month.

JAMAICA
The Petrocaribe Trap

LATIN AMERICA
Life after the commodity boom
Instead of the crises of the past, mediocre growth is the big risk—unless productivity rises

As Obama Dismisses Russia As “Regional,” It Expands Its Reach

Latin Leftists with Blood on Their Hands

MEXICO
Stranded: In One Week Authorities Found 370 Abandoned Immigrant Children Wandering Around In Mexico

Mexico Intercepts 63 Guatemalans Headed for U.S.

OIL
Here Comes $75 Oil
Lower energy costs will have a salutary effect on the U.S. economy. Not so Russia, where oil provides 50% of government income.

PANAMA
Crimea: The Panama precedent

PARAGUAY
Cocaine Distribution Hub Dismantled in Paraguay

PERU
Peru Received $2.7 Billion in Remittances During 2013

PUERTO RICO
Census Reveals Population Drop Across Puerto Rico by 3%

URUGUAY
Uruguay To Track Pot By Genetic Markers

VENEZUELA
The Obama Administration seems indifferent to the crisis in Venezuela. Why?

US Senator Menendez Calls for International Condemnation of Venezuela

Lawsuit filed in Miami accuses Venezuela top official, Diosdado Cabello, of bribery
A lawsuit filed in Miami accuses the president of Venezuela’s National Assembly of receiving at least $50 million in bribes from a company doing business in that country.

Venezuelan government takes on crossword writers in protest crackdown
After expelling an opposition parliamentarian and arresting three air-force generals, the Venezuelan government has now taken aim at a new enemy: crosswords

The week’s posts and podcast:
Venezuela: How Hugo Chávez turned the country over to Cuba

Brazil: We shall soon be hearing about the “excellent healthcare”

Venezuela: more censorship, in “one of the most democratic nations on Earth”

#ThanksLarry: In praise of Larry Kudlow

The Isaías, on @Instapundit’s post

#SOSVenezuela: Marco Rubio’s speech

Mexico: Navigators helping people sign up for Obamacare regardless of citizenship

Mexico’s Radio Tecnico: How The Zetas Cartel Took Over Mexico With Walkie-Talkies

Venezuela: Slingshots vs tanks

En español: Terapia intensiva #201

Venezuela: Leopoldo López, Hun School alumnus

Uruguay: Gitmo releases will be free to leave

At Da Tech Guy Blog:
No, Joe, illegals are not citizens

Book review – Eyes On Target: Inside Stories from the Brotherhood of the U.S. Navy SEALs