My wife says that Rachel Maddow and Alison Stewart look like sisters. Now that she's mentioned it, I think she's right.
The U.S. really doesn't give a whole lot of aid to Honduras. Look at the figures, including military aid, from the USAID Greenbook:
That isn't a whole lot of leverage. Of course, small amounts of aid may make it more likely that they'll be yanked, since such yanking won't wreck the national economy. But that is the problem with using aid as an instrument of empire. Contingent bribes — e.g., do good and we will give you more money — are fairly easy to administer. Contingent threats — do what we want or the cookie jar will be taken away — are a lot harder. You need to be giving enough money for the recipient to care, but not so much that withdrawing it would cause drastic adjustments that would reverberate back upon the donor.
To put the above figures in perspective, remittances from the U.S. averaged 16% of GDP over the same period, peaking at 21% in 2006.
In short, the U.S. didn't have a whole lot of leverage to keep the military-Court combo from ousting President Zelaya, even if the Obama Administration had wanted to.
(Say, should I add a “Honduras” tag to the blog?)
The fact that none of my posts about the Honduran coup carry the “Empire” tag is remarkable, considering the history of U.S. involvement in Latin American politics. Even more remarkable is the idea that should events evolve in such a way as to warrant such a tag (which I consider unlikely), it will probably be either due to either direct meddling by the Alba countries or pressure from Unasur/Río Group/Brazil, not the interference of the United States. That is quite a shift.
Of course, the U.S. is still quite hip-joined to Honduras. There is Soto Cano Air Base. There is CAFTA. There is the Millenium Challenge Account. There are remittances. Honduras isn’t dollarized, but it is a great case for dollarization, what with remittances above 14% of GDP, a fixed exchange rate and about 24% of all loans denominated in U.S. currency. And we train its military.
But Washington isn't leading events. Sure, maybe it could, but it’s resisting temptation. (Thank God!) And that is a very big change.
Hmm. My opinion of the coup is moving back towards legal.
In November 2003, the Honduran government (still under President Maduro) amended the constitution. (You can find a history of all Honduran constitutional reforms here.) The reason, ironically, was that they wanted to repeal the traditional absolute immunity held by high government officials in both the executive and legislative branch. Thus, they repealed Article 205, clause 15, which had read:
[Congress has the power] To declare if there is cause against the President, presidential delegates, Congressional deputies, Supreme Court justices, members of the National Electoral Tribunal, Chief of the Armed Forces ... and Subdirector of Administrative Probity.
They also altered Article 313, clause 2, as follows:
Original: [The Supreme Court of Justice has the power] To begin initial proceedings against high state officials, when the National Congress has declared cause.
New: [The Supreme Court of Justice has the power] To begin initial proceedings against high state officials and deputies.
The implication, I think, is that the Supreme Court has the power to remove officials from office when it determines that they have broken the law. President Zelaya pretty clearly broke the law when he refused to obey an order from the Supreme Court to call off the referendum, and as I pointed out earlier, the Honduran constitution clearly (if stupidly) bans any consultatory referenda touching on presidential term limits.
So my new version is: Zelaya broke the law, the Supreme Court called him on it, and the military took the initiative in enforcing the Court's order. (Maybe too much initiative.) That interpretation will depend on how closely the armed forces and the Supreme Court cooperated in the ouster. (The more it looks like the Court got the ball rolling, the more legal the coup will seem.) Given the legal fog, the Obama Administration seems to be taking a pitch-perfect tone here. Some other governments, like Brazil and Colombia, may have walked themselves into positions that they are going to regret.
Be sure, though, to take my positions with a grain of salt. I change them as the facts change, and as radically as necessary. For a subtler discussion of the implications of the coup, go here. (Photo courtesy of Steven Taylor.)
UPDATE: The whole mess is filled with judgment calls. Zelaya wanted to call a constitutional convention, which he publicly admitted would be intended to change the constitution to allow for re-election. The referendum question that the Supremes kiboshed, however, only called for a convention, with no other stipulations. So ... were the Supremes justified?
It all comes back to the problem that a constitution which declares procedural matters to be forever inalterable is a badly-written constitution.
“The decision of the Supreme Court has fell still born, and they find that they cannot coerce Georgia to yield to its mandate.”
—President Andrew Jackson
The common misquote of the above is much sexier: “John Marshall has made his decision; now let him enforce it!” Which is not a bad summary of Manuel Zelaya’s throwdown when his country’s Supreme Court told him that he could not go ahead with his planned referendum on repealing term limits. Zelaya’s “No one will stop Sunday’s vote!” is on a par with Jackson’s aphorism.
In fact, it is worth considering what was in Zelaya’s televised speech on Sunday, after the Honduran Supremes slapped him down. “The Court of Justice, which makes justice only for the powerful, the bankers and the rich of this country, has declared illegal the people’s participation in a legitimate and constitutional poll ... What a shame for all Hondurans, this Court of Justice! We’re in the presence of a technical coup d’état. It’s a swipe at Honduran democracy. I want to appeal to the commanders of the Armed Forces, the officers and the soldiers. They are part of the people, they should not play this game of the media elite and economic oligarchy, of a deviant bourgeoisie.”
Why is this significant? Because Honduras could have avoided this crisis with a better constitution. The Honduran constitution had two major flaws. First, it took re-election off the table forever. I mean that quite literally. Read:
Article 5: Voting in advisory plebiscites is mandatory. Projects intended to reform Article 374 of this constitution will not be objects of referenda or plebiscites.
Article 373: The National Congress can alter this Constitution in ordinary session with two-thirds of the votes of all members.
Article 374: In no case can be reformed the previous article, this article, the constitutional articles that refer to the form of government, the national territory, the presidential term, the prohibition that no citizen can again be president who has carried out the role under whatever title, and the one referring to those who cannot become president of the republic for the subsequent period.
It is a bad bad idea to declare any procedural part of a constitution to be forever inviolable. The U.S. constitution does this in respect to the apportionment of the Senate, and that is a bad idea that may yet come back to haunt us.
The Honduran constitution then added insult to injury with its second flaw: a complete lack of procedures by which the courts, legislature, or popular opinion could remove a sitting president for breaking the law. The closest is Articles 321-327, which lay out the responsibility of public servants and organisms that break the law and cause civil damages to individuals, or Article 233, which lays a pretty draconian anticorruption law. But neither really apply in this situation.
In short: Zelaya broke a stupid constitutional clause. Twice, in fact, first by firing an officer who refused to administer an unconstitutional referendum and second by proceeding with the referendum anyway. Congress could not do anything. At that point the increasingly-angry military, acting in concert with the Supreme Court, decided to extraconstitutionally remove the president from office.
I do not like it. But I am also not sure that this is an abrogation of democracy either. Judging by their statements, the Obama Administration is equally torn: they would like Zelaya back, but they aren’t going to wade into another country’s Andrew Jackson moment.
What do you think?
P.S. I am not a fan of Andrew Jackson.
It seems as though the Honduran military just deposed President Manuel Zelaya. That said, this is not a stereotypical South American coup: Congress appears to have ratified the Army's action, and a civilian is taking control.
In an unsurprisingly pointless move, Hugo Chávez put his military on alert. (Or at least he says that he did; it would not surprise me to find that no official orders have been given.) He went on to declare, “The people of Alba are in combat, because this does not end today.” The leaders of the Alternative Bolivariana have condemned the “coup” and its leaders will hold a summit in Nicaragua today.
But Alba's declaration is less political than it sounds. Unasur, the OAS, and the United States have all condemned the ouster, although the U.S. is not calling for Zelaya to be reinstated.
I don't know why the military moved before Congress did, or why the new leaders are going through this charade of pretending that Zelaya resigned before he actually resigned. But I do know that Zelaya ignored a Supreme Court ruling on June 25th that ordered him to reinstate the general that he had fired because the general refused to use to the Army to organize an unofficial referendum on abolishing term limits. (I met Zelaya's predecessor about a year ago; he didn't have a lot of good to say about his successor.) I'll add here that Article 374 of the Honduran constitution, stupidly, declares that the ban on re-election can not be reformed in any way, no how, forever and ever. A dumb provision, however, is still a provision.
For what it's worth, my guess is that the coup will stand. There is enough of a fig leaf of legality about it to allow OAS governments to walk back their condemnation. Now, escalating street protests could force the U.S. to pressure the Honduran congress into reversing its vote. But if I had to bet right now, based on what I've heard from Tegucigalpa, Zelaya will remain out of power.
UPDATE: The legality of the situation is shakier than the above implies. Hell, it seems to be blatantly illegal, a good old-fashioned coup. Why have I changed my mind? Well, as far as I can figure, the Honduran constitution has no provision for the congressional removal of the president. The closest provisions are as follows:
Article 205, Section 12: [Congress has the power to] accept the constitutional oath of office of the elected President and Vice-president of the republic, and other appointees they select; grant them permissions and accept or reject thier resignations and fill vacancies in the case of the complete absence of one of them;
Article 205, Section 20: [Congress has the power to] approve or disapprove the admistrative conduct of the executive branch;
Article 242: In the case of a temporary absence of the the President of the Republic, the Vice-president will carry out the functions of the President. Should the Presidency be permanently vacant, the Vice-president will exercise the powers of the executive branch for the remainder of the constitutional term. Should the Vice-presidency also be vacant, the powers of the executive branch will be exercised by the president of the National Congress.
Thus, the need to declare that President Zelaya had “resigned” before giving the executive powers over to Roberto Micheletti. (The office of Vice-president is currently vacant, so having the power pass to Micheletti is kosher ... it's the whole removing of Zelaya what appears to be illegal.) Note that while Micheletti says that everything is constitutional, this article from the Honduran press cites no clauses or precedents.
The whole thing looks much shakier upon skimming the text of the constitution in the light of day, or least what passes for it in this, the fourth straight week of rain in New England. I'll go ahead and call it a “coup.” It's chances of standing are less than I originally believed.
Why do so many big projects regularly come in above budget? Corruption? Stupidity? Or something else? Well, I vote for “something else.” Let's consider the French nuclear reactor project at Flamanville, which I had the honor to visit.
EDF initially costed the reactor in 2005 at €3.3 billion. It is now estimated to cost €4.0 billion. What happened? Well, according to EDF, costs rose by €250 million due to inflation. Special escalator clauses tied to the price of particular commodities (like steel) caused another €150 million. Finally, an additional €300 million came from “évolutions techniques et réglementaires,” a fancy way of saying, “We learned on the job that some things are a little more complicated than we thought, but mostly the regulator kept changing the goal posts.”
Considering that the head of L’Autorité de sûreté nucléaire, André-Claude Lacoste, actually said, “We wanted to show an example,” in regards to the construction of the first new reactor in 20 years, I find that last quite believable.
It seems as though I start a lot of posts with the words “it seems.” I will try to rectify this in the future.
Ditto, “so,” a verbal tic I blame on my unbridled admiration for Doug Muir, who has, by the way, written a little more about Senegal. He tells us about the Mourides, a powerful Muslim sect of which I am embarrassed to say I knew nothing. He bemoans the crappy state of Dakar’s airport, and receives in turn a useful warning from Bernard. Finally, he wraps his trip with a discussion of W, railroads, France, birds, the CFA franc (e.g., France yet again, although he doesn’t say so), the weather, the expats, and the clothes. I am pretending not to be annoyed at not getting a shout-out on the France tip, which means that pique is not the reason why I am not explaining the story of the Senegalese railroads under French colonial rule.
Which brings us to the U.S. federal deficit. You hear a lot of worring about how interest rates are going to rise from all this wild borrowing. Where will the money come from? We are doomed, doomed!! No links, because I actually like and respect many of the people doing the worrying. But they need not.
I just had a colleague in my office with the latest BEA numbers, worrying about just that. Where will the money come from? So I pulled out a spreadsheet and showed him. In the first quarter of 2009, annualized personal savings came to $620 billion, or 5.7% of personal income. Total savings (again, annualized) came to $1,273 billion, or 9.1% of GDP.
Personal savings is only going up. If we assume that nominal GDP growth is flat in 2010 (meaning, most likely, that real GDP keeps falling), a rise in the personal savings rate to 10% will produce $468 billion of additional savings. Retained earning are also likely to rise, say from 4.6% to 5.0% of GDP. That’s another $47 billion. Total of $515 billion in new savings ... just as the federal deficit is projected to fall by $393 billion. Plenty of wiggle room should private investment rise (one can hope) or the current account deficit fall (which seems likely). A rise in real interest rates does not seem like something we need to worry about.
Rather, what we need to worry about is a continuing shortfall in demand. What if Americans don’t substitute domestic consumption for imports? Final demand will fall. What if domestic investment doesn’t quickly rebound? (It was $2 trillion in 2008, a full 25% higher than in the beginning of 2009.) Final demand will fall. In that situation, we might be wishing for another round of stimulus, rather than worrying about the deficit.
UPDATE: The May numbers just came out from the BEA. Looks like the personal savings rate hit 6.9% that month. We are on track to exceed 10 percent in 2009, and in my opinion the country will permanently return to 1970s savings levels. That said, past performance does not always predict future results. Any counterarguments?
It seems as though the Argentine ambassador in France will no longer need to pay embassy expenses out of his own pocket. A French judge lifted the freeze imposed on April 3rd. More importantly, a German judge released the funds that German companies owed Argentine tax authorities. Interestingly, Judge Wölber did not base his decision on sovereign immunity. Rather, he ruled that since the tax payments were owed by the companies’ Argentine operations, German courts had no authority. It remains to be seen if this precedent will be followed by other European courts, but the Argentine government is optimistic.
Interestingly, U.S. courts have taken the same position. In 1999, the New York-based Leucadia National Corporation sued Nicaragua over $26 million in defaulted debt that it had purchased for $1.14 million. A New York court granted the company $87 million. (No, I don’t know why.) It tried to collect by attaching Nicaragua’s share of the ticket and landing fees paid by U.S.-based airlines that flew to that country. U.S. courts, however, refused to uphold the judgment. But don’t cry for Leucadia. Eventually the World Bank paid off the debt at 4.5¢ on the dollar, including accrued interest. By my calculations, Leucadia received about $7.8 million, for a nice return of 584%.
I am increasingly unsympathetic to Argentina. But I am also relatively unsympathetic to the vulture funds that try to use the judicial system to impose sanctions on defaulting governments. I may change that position if we start seeing more ploys like President Correa’s brilliant gamble, but that’s still a hypothetical fear, not a real one.
P.S. It seems like I was wrong about Ecuador. I’ll discuss why, but only if there’s interest. No reason to admit error if nobody cares ...
This is a strange story. Sometime in 2007, the prime minister of Grenada tried to “associate” his country with the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, in order to get access to “Trinidad and Tobago's education system, health system, transportation system, et cetera.”
Prime Minister Patrick Manning loved the idea; he's been trying to annex his neig ... unite the Caribbean for some time now. His cabinet, however, was less than thrilled. “The only thing that the letter didn't speak of having access to was the Trinidad and Tobago treasury. But, of course that was an unspoken word. But clearly we would have been in effect minding Grenada,” said one former minister. Another more colorfully said that the Grenadian PM was trying to get Trinidad “to pay his bills” and was “mamaguying” — mocking — Trinidad and Tobago.
As you might expect from reactions like those, it didn't happen. But now there is another union proposal on the table. The intention is to unite the OECS and Trinidad in something slightly more than the European Union but less than straightforward annexation.
I'll be honest and say that I suspect nothing will come of it. Which is, I think, too bad.
I temporarily moved to Santiago in late 1991. For the first few months, I had a room in a house owned by an elderly couple way out in upscale suburb called Las Condes, beyond the end of the metro. (There were only two metro lines.) Back then, it was a neighborhood of single and double-family homes. Apoquindo Avenue was essentially a suburban strip, densely built-up by American standards, with the occasional high-rise and pedestrian-friendly sidewalks, but a suburban strip nonetheless.
I wouldn't've recognized the neighborhood (since I couldn't remember the name of the damned cross-street to save my life) if it hadn't been for the minor miracle that the Pizza Hut on the corner of Apoquindo and Capitanía was still there. But I remembered the house was on Nevería, a block from the street that hit Apoquindo at the Pizza Hut, and with the cross-street I could locate it. So I went looking. And what did I find? Big apartment buildings!
Could that kind of change happen in America? I have my doubts. In my last post, I briefly discussed the high cost of American zoning laws. Such laws prevent wholescale changes in land use, causing cities to sprawl more than they would have otherwise. In other words, they lock in the existing pattern of land use, preventing the kind of wholescale change that in past decades gave us such delights as the boulevards of Queens and Wilshire, where high-rise corridors sprouted along formerly suburban strips. Today, I don't know if that happens at all, with the exception of a few downtown districts. When densification pressure starts in an American neighborhood characterized by single-family homes, zoning changes usually squash it, the way New York City has moved to protect the pristine environment of Queens from an onslaught of apartments. Let alone, say, the Bay Area. Imagine Palo Alto filled with high-rises and three times the population.
And no, Houston is not an exception.
The New York Times today published a story on how foreclosures in New England are disproportionately hitting old triple-deckers. “Triple-deckers” are squat three-story buildings common to the region (pictured below). Most of them are condominiums these days, but many are owned by the resident of one of the units, who rents out the other two, or by absentee landlords.
Unfortunately, the author didn't limit herself to simply stating that the foreclosures have disproportionately hit triple-deckers. Instead, she decided to write a fact-free piece that implies, without any hard evidence, that the housing collapse is threatening to destroy the triple-decker, and with it, tear apart the urban fabric of New England. What percentage of triple-deckers have are foreclosed? We don't know. What percentage of foreclosed triple-deckers are vacant? We don't know. We do hear stories about abandoned lots in New Bedford ... but New Bedford has been declining for decades. Has the recent housing bubble really worsened things? We have no idea. It is a remarkably badly-written article.
But there is one thing mentioned which, if true, is completely insane:
Modern zoning laws, Ms. Friedman said, would never allow three units on such small lots. “If we have four three-deckers on 12,000 square feet and could only get two on that amount of land now,” Ms. Friedman said, “we are losing six units. So it’s very important to us to sustain them.”
Can that be serious? Boston zoning laws require less density than currently exists? That is flat-out crazy. I am not opposed to all zoning laws, of course. I would hate to have somebody block out my ability to see the sun, for example. But the Boston law is just egregious. Of course, it’s only a problem if there is in fact demand for housing in the parts of Boston where buildings are being abandoned ... so I doubt the premise. Ms. Friedman is probably worried about the housing for other reasons.
That said, the general point holds. Zoning is very costly in this country. I do not approve.
Earlier this week, I learned about this report from a Chilean energy executive, which was officially released yesterday. It seems as though the USA has much much more natural gas than anyone thought. The increase is due to shale gas.
Shale gas is found very deep, and it is rather expensive to extract. Deep wells need to be drilled, the rock fractured, and horizontal wells dug to extract the gas. A 2007 study found that even the cheapest shale gas deposits aren't viable at a price below $5.40 per million BTU (MMBTU).*
Which makes the market's reaction a little odd. More accurately, it makes the reporting about the market reaction seem very silly. Gas prices have been below the level that would make shale gas viable since the beginning of 2009. So why attribute a tiny little drop to the report's release, especially since (a) the findings have been known to market insiders for some time, and (b) the price is currently below the level that would make shale gas viable.
That said, the news is important. U.S. reserves have risen from 79 years of consumption, up from 57. More importantly, it means that annual production can (in theory) be upped. That means that none of the LNG terminals approved by various U.S. agencies will be built anytime soon. American natural gas prices will rise, but not as much as they might, and the U.S. will be one step closer to strong energy security.
Unless it won't be. Because, well, why did prices spike in the first place? Gas and oil must be better substitutes at the margin than people think, and that means that gas prices will be subject to pressure from oil shocks for some time to come.
* Michael Godec, Tyler Van Leeuwen, and Vello A. Kuuskraa, “Rising drilling, stimulation costs pressure economics,” Oil & Gas Journal, 15 Oct. 2007: pp.45-51.
So I’m in Santiago to talk about energy security. “What does that even mean, anyway?” asked my father. It seemed wise, then, to define “energy security.” We use the phrase all the time, but what are we in fact talking about?
Energy security, I think, comes in three flavors.
Weak energy security: insuring liquidity in the energy market, e.g., insuring that your country’s consumers can buy as much energy as they need at whatever the prevailing price happens to be.
Strong energy security: insuring not only liquidity in the energy market at whatever price, but insuring liquidity along with some level of price stability.
Extreme energy security: insuring that should the maintenance of liquidity in the energy market create rents (during times of high prices, whether deliberately promoted or not) firms from your country will enjoy those rents. Alternatively, it means trying to create circumstances at which energy is priced at marginal cost, and there are no rents for anyone ... or, should that be impossible, disadvantaging foreign companies or knocking off foreign governments that your government doesn’t trust with such rents.
Read the posts. They pose an interesting question, about infrastructure, trade, and prosperity. How much would an improvement to Kaolack's port reduce transport costs? How much would a reduction in transport costs increase peanut production? (In other terms, are there increasing returns in peanut production?) These are unanswered questions; it isn't a sure thing that fixing Kaolack will promote growth. After all, a declining peanut economy could provoked the city's decline, rather than the other way around.
Which isn't to say that Doug is wrong; he probably isn't. Just that any and all development quick-fixes deserve careful stress-testing before they are implemented.
Hopefully we'll hear more from him soon.
¡Domingo flojo! Despierta tarde en el mediodía, llama al tren, pa’ver q pasaría ... Narnia? No no no no no.
So I line up a trip to the deep-pit copper mine. Chido! At which it point it starts to hail around here, and the company cancels. (Liability issues. Chile is not Mexico, it seems.) So I figure, hey, Chile has restarted passenger train service, why not chill in Chillán? Metro to the train station, thin attractive woman a little older than me and wearing this cute little neo-hippy snoopy hat sells me a ticket with just the right amount small talk to remind me why I like this country so much. Only ... she realizes that the return trips are all sold out. I debate taking the bus back, decide no, and now regret it. WTF am I going to do in Santiago on a rainy lazy Sunday? Work in my hotel room? Too depressing!
I'll figure something out. Meanwhile, Doug Muir is in Senegal, with details here and here. I, of course, am fascinated by the French influence. As always, don't expect pictures from Mr. Muir, but do expect lots of information, historical detail, and very good analysis about what it all means.
I'll be back with more about regional inequality, copper, and the effect of the Panama Canal on Chile, but right now I'm going to go brave the rain and wander aimlessly around Santiago for a while. I will, however, take requests for any Chile-related topics you might want to know more about. (Randy has one pending on regional inequality.) Hasta pronto, mis cuates desconocidos.
Gah. I wrote the below two days ago, but stuck it in “drafts” instead of publishing it:
David Brooks published a column today about Sonia Sotomayor. The first paragraph is interesting. “Sonia Sotomayor had bad timing. If she’d entered college in the late-1950s or early-1960s, she would have been surrounded by an ethos that encouraged smart young ethnic kids to assimilate. If she’d entered Princeton and Yale in the 1980s, her ethnicity and gender would have been mildly interesting traits among the many she might possibly possess.”
The last sentence is clearly true. In a striking coincidence, my wife has several dear friends from Yale who like Sotomayor spent their teenage years in Co-op City after humbler origins. Identity politics wasn't and isn't particularly salient. And the first sentence has a point. The 1970s were ground zero for identity politics in the United States. I view 1970s-style identity politics as a phase both good and inevitable, but it made for an atmosphere that seemed odd at the time (to white guys) and looks a little strange in retrospect (to everyone). I cannot more strongly recommend Nixonland to get some of the flavor of the time.
But the middle sentence is wrong. First, it assumes that Sotomayor were male. Second, a hypothetical male Sotomayor would not have gotten into those schools at that time. Third, and perhaps most importantly, “smart young ethnic kids” did not assimilate at those schools. Of course, you needed to fit in to get in at all, but that's pretty much still true. And some did let go their heritage, of course, and I don't think there was anything wrong with that. But more were not allowed to completely assimilate, regardless of their desires, because of how they looked or how their names sounded or how reluctant they were to completely abandon family customs and communal links. And yet more still chose not to abandon their heritage. The 1950s were more like today and less like the fantasyland of the great American assimilation machine than Brooks implies, as anybody with smart old “ethnic” relatives can attest, particularly if they are Jewish or Japanese-American.
OK, everyone in America who hits the interwebs has probably heard about Senator Grassley's totally awesome imitation of Cher Horowitz by now. But on the off chance that there is somebody out there reading this blog who hasn't, be you from elsewhere in the English-speaking world or beyond, click this link right now. All indications are that this is not a hoax.
That is a U.S. Senator talking. Yup. Dude, is there a word for when something intended to be ironic turns out to be accurate? Twitter, indeed. I previously had no desire to try using it, let alone read the results: now I have an active aversion. Reverse marketing indeed, ironic in its lack of irony.
Somehow I seem to have found deep meaning in such gems as “My carbon footprint is abt 25per cent of Al Gore. I'm greener than Al Gore. Is that enuf?” and “Comfort America worried abt hyperinflation Reafirm ACCORD of1951” or even “Pres Obama while u sightseeing in Paris u said 'time to delivr on healthcare' When you are a "hammer" u think evrything is NAIL I'm no NAIL.”
Or ... well, click the link.
In 1991, when I was last in Chile, the military was a thing apart. Its rule over the country had only ended three years before. The Constitution of 1980 reserved it a special role. There was an organization called the National Security Council that consisted of the president, the heads of the Senate and Supreme Court, and the commanders of the four branches of the military. The NSC could determine its own decision-making functions. It selected four out of 36 senators, not including the seat reserved for Augusto Pinochet. It picked two out of seven members of the Supreme Court. The president couldn't remove military commanders without its approval. If it saw “the menace of war,” it could order the central bank to extend credits to any person or group that it saw fit. In addition, albeit not part of the constitution, a 1954 law granted the military 10 percent of Codelco’s copper revenues. It was all very undemocratic, save for one thing: the armed forces relied on conscription, and had since 1900. The annual take, however, was never more than 20 percent. In effect, it was fairly random and easily avoided, which undercut any chance that the military might become a citizen army.
Most of that has now changed. The NSC is now just an advisory board, and the non-elected senators are a thing of the past. The military continues to get its share of Codelco revenues, but tensions with the neighbors are very low, and civilians set policy. And ... perhaps inevitably ... conscription has ... well ... not quite ended ... it’s weird, and it raises a lot of interesting questions for the United States and elsewhere.
Details below the fold.
I haven't been to Mérida, Venezuela, in decades. (I haven't been to the one in Yucatán for about as long, either.) I used to have an aunt who lived nearby. She's long gone, and last I heard both her grown children (and their families) lived in Houston and Miami.
Anyway, Gringa Diary is by an Australian socialist fervently working to further the triumph of the Bolivarian Revolution and turn back to the forces of imperialism. I believe her name is Tamara Pearson. It's a fascinating look into the Revolution, up-close-and-personal.
Of course, her perspectives on the value of Mr. Chávez or the long-term impact of his policies on the poor of Venezuela are quite different from my own. But she's so earnest about it. Which is sort of touching, in a way. More importantly, the true-believer tone infuses the blog with this sense of reading something for a parallel universe. You read her stories, and more often than not find yourself scratching your head at her emotional reaction or logical analysis, so different from your own.
But you can't get angry; she's so enthusiastic about it all. Recommended.