Friday, March 30, 2007

Why Is Africa Such a Mess?

Perhaps because Africans themselves seem ready to tolerate and accept stupidity and brutality from their leaders, so long as those leaders are black themselves.

DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania (CNN) -- Southern African leaders Thursday emerged from a conference in Tanzania's capital allied with embattled Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe and calling for the lifting of all sanctions against his government.

Mugabe maintains a tight grip on power as his country spirals into economic disaster.

After the Southern Africa Development Community emergency summit, Mugabe described the meeting as "excellent."

"We are one with our neighbors," he said.

Mugabe has been condemned by the West and human rights groups for arrests and reported intimidation and beatings of his political opponents. His forces have been accused of severely beating opposition leaders Morgan Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutambara on March 11.

The SADC meeting comes a day after Zimbabwean forces raided the Harare headquarters of the opposition, Movement for Democratic Change, the country's main opposition group, and detained about 10 MDC staff and officials.

Police said the raid was part of an overall initiative to arrest people responsible for throwing petrol bombs around Harare.

Of course, considering the thuggish, kleptocratic, despotic regimes that comprise SADC, it was hardly a surprise they would come to the defense of fellow-thug Mugabe. Birds of a feather, and all that.

Mugabe, of course, is a good friend of Hugo Chavez. Surprise, surprise.

There Go the Banks...

The ongoing disaster in Venezuela should serve as an object lesson for those who think democracy cures all problems (ahem, George W. Bush). As Hugo Chaves marches his country down the glorious path to 21st Century Socialism, he is systematically jettisoning all the legal constraints on his own power, and driving a wrecking ball through Venezuela's financial system. But since he is doing it "for the people," his voters (he was democratically elected, recall) will love him even more for it - until the inevitable economic consquences crash down on them - which he will cheerfully blame on an American conspiracy, no doubt.

CARACAS, Venezuela — President Hugo Chavez ordered Venezuela's bank deposit protection fund to transfer its assets "to the poor," the latest move threatening to undermine one of the country's autonomous financial institutions.

Venezuela's Fogade insurance fund holds properties and other assets, which guarantee deposits in the banking system, much like the U.S. government's Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.

"I want all the assets held by Fogade to be passed to the Republic," Chavez said Thursday on his "Hello, President" TV talk show.

"Fogade has many warehouses, it has many properties. All that I am going to give to the people, to the poor," he said. "Fogade must disappear."

Chavez added Fogade has a "long list" of acquired properties that are not being put to use. "This cannot be. Pass me (the list) and I'm going to pass it on to the people," he said.

The "poor" was best protected by having a nation with a government constrained by law, and a stable financial system. By stripping bank depositors of their protection, Chavez is removing the guarantee that keeps depositors from withdrawing their accounts when they get spooked about a bank's health. When enough depositors become concerned and start pulling their money out of a bank, it is called "a run" on the bank. Since banks do not keep enough cash on hand to cover sudden mass withdrawals, a run on a bank usually leads to its collapse. The failure of one bank, usually sparks concerns over other banks, prompting their depositors to withdraw their money, regardless of the banks' health. Bank runs tend to spread regionally and even nationally in bad economic times, causing banks to fail and wiping out people's savings. In the U.S., before deposit insurance, mass runs on banks produced short, but sharp recessions called "Panics." There was a spectacular panic in 1907, brought on by a credit crunch. J.P. Morgan stepped in a single-handedly bailed the U.S. economy out by lending money to banks and institutions that needed it. Shortly thereafter, the U.S. created the Federal Reserve to prevent such occurances. Though the Federal Reserve spectacularly failed to prevent the series of bank runs that began the Depression, the Federal Reserve and Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) have succeeded fairly well over the last several decades in bringing stability to the U.S. banking system, making bank runs almost unheard of in modern America. The system has been copied all over the world with generally good results.

Chavez said the government would compensate the fund "little by little" for any assets that it loses.

He also said banking deposits would remain insured but did not say how.

Chavez did not say how, because he doesn't know. Or doesn't care. Or simply doesn't plan to insure bank deposits anymore. Whatever the case, the insurance that made Venezuelan depositors feel secure about their savings will soon be gone and insecurity and fear will shortly become the hallmark of the Venezuelan banking system. It won't take much to spook Venezuelan depositors, and when oil prices dip, or the economy suffers a shock, people will start trying to withdraw their cash and a wave of bank runs will begin. Perhaps Chavez will cheer it on, calculating that the economic misery that follows will win him more votes. In the end, though, it will collapse the Venezuelan economy.

But Chavez's concern is only for his own power.

Fogade, although affiliated with the Finance Ministry, is an autonomous institution. It played an important role in re-capitalizing Venezuelan banks after a 1994 collapse of the banking system that cost the government some $11 billion in bailouts and damaged the economy for years.

Chavez also diverted billions of dollars (euros) from the central bank's foreign reserves _ which are critical to backing a nation's currency _ toward a state development fund that finances his popular social initiatives.

Since winning re-election in December and vowing to deepen his socialist revolution, Chavez has pledged to do away with central bank autonomy altogether.

No element of Venezuelan government can be permitted automony from Chavez's rule. All knees must bend before him. Chavez is following firmly in the footsteps of the socialists/communists before him, abolishing private property, silencing dissent, discovering "enemies of the people," ruling by decree and concentrating all government power in his person. The story of 21st Century Socialism will be a repeat of 20th Century Socialism. Hopefully, it won't be so bloody.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

And Now for Something Really Awful...

President Bush is getting ready to push his next big initiative.

WASHINGTON — With President Bush looking to counter a legacy increasingly marred by the war in Iraq, the White House has launched a bold, behind-the-scenes drive to advance a key domestic goal: immigration reform.

Translation: After having wasted thousands of American lives and hundreds of billions of American dollars in the wasteland of Iraq pursuing a messianic vision of democracy as panacea for Islamic terror, President Bush is going to try and do for America what he did for Iraq, but letting Mexico complete its invasion of the U.S. Brilliant.

For a month, White House staffers and Cabinet members have met three to four times a week with influential Republican senators and aides to hash out a consensus plan designed to draw a significant number of GOP votes.

With that effort largely completed, Republicans were hoping to present their proposal Wednesday to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), who would lead the Democrats in any attempt to move a bill through the Senate.

The intense effort — conceived by the president's chief political strategist, Karl Rove — is intended to ensure that Bush will achieve at least one crucial policy victory in the last two years of his presidency.

Karl Rove is the guy who helped created the GOP's "permanent majorities" in congress. Oh, wait. They lost congress. And Ted Kennedy is the man who brought us the 1965 Immigration Act, which he swore at the time would not alter the ethnic balance of the U.S. So, let conservatives take notice, the president's "Immigration Reform" proposal is the brainchild of Messrs. Rove and Kennedy. That alone should send Republican lawmakers running for their political lives.

Success on immigration reform could also accomplish another Rove goal, shoring up the GOP's weakened support among Latinos, who are even more important to the party as independent voters become increasingly disenchanted.

This is the madness of the Rove strategy exposed for all to see. The Latino immigrants that Rove so desperately wants to flood the U.S. will NOT vote Republican, if they ever bother to vote at all. Not unless the GOP goes out of its way to ape the Democrats in terms of welfare promises (entirely possible, at this point). But by encouraging open borders immigration and kowtowing before the Latino vote, the GOP risks alienating its primary base: white voters. Republicans lost Congress not because Latinos walked away from them, but because white independents and conservative voted either stayed home and voted for the Democrats, largely due to Iraq, but also because of deep dissatisfaction with the administration's domestic policies.

Latinos are not going to be the salvation of the Republican party. Drastically increasing the percentage of Latino votes only weakens the future prospects of the GOP, which will never be able to compete for ethnic votes the way Democrats do.

"The president really wants this. He also needs this; it may be the only positive policy thing he can accomplish before he leaves office," said Laura Foote Reiff, co-chairwoman of the Essential Worker Immigration Coalition, a business alliance.

Given the rest of his legacy, one supposes that he wants to get one last good thrust of the knife into America's body politic before heading off retirement in Texas.

Republicans stressed that the discreet talks were necessary to avoid the bitter public battles that scarred the last round of debate. "There's a real desire for this to work — it can't be litigated in print," Kyl said. "We have to work senator to senator and representative to representative, the way compromises used to be put together, to maximize our chances of success."

Translation: ""We don't want to do this in public because we know the public doesn't want us doing this at all." The White House is perfectly aware that the overwhelming majority of Americans resent the invasion of the country and wants the U.S. government to stop it. But since the president and his henchmen want to encourage and increase the invasion, they want to keep their plans out of sight until the last moment when they spring it, like a loaded pistol, on the public.

The only thing Americans can do is contact their Senators and Representatives and demand that any "comprehensive immigration reform" be rejected and that current immigration laws be enforced.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Marching Straight to Ruin

Hugo Chavez continues to make good on his promise to destroy Venezuela by making it the exemplar of "21st Century Socialism."

Venezuela's government has seized more than 330,000 hectares (815,450 acres) of land to redistribute them under an agrarian reform programme.

President Hugo Chavez said 16 farms - which he described as large and unproductive - had been expropriated.

His government was moving towards a "collective property" policy as part of its "drive towards socialism", he said.

Critics say land reform has failed so far to revive the agricultural sector and end dependence on food imports.

The siezure and redistribution of agricultural lands under various pretexts has a long history under leftist governments. But it has one consistent outcome: failure. For a perfect example, see Zimbabwe's recent debacle, which have succeeded in transforming one of Africa's most abundant food producing nations into one on the verge of starvation. There is also the instructive, if depressing case of Soviet agriculture, but lessons of the past are lost on "revolutionary socialists" like Chavez. Actually, in the twisted power calculus of socialism, the misery created by the inevitable food shortages will work in Chavez's short term favor, as he blames a conspiracy by Venezuela's enemies for the disaster, and uses popular anger to sieze even more power.

Mr Chavez announced the latest round of land seizures during his TV and radio programme Hello, President.

"From today [Sunday] this becomes social property to satisfy the needs of the people," he said, speaking from one of the seized farms in the state of Barinas.

Another 13 farms would be expropriated in the coming weeks, Mr Chavez added.

He said the land would be used for cattle production.

In the past five years, almost 2m hectares have been seized after being declared unproductive or because the owners did not have the property documents in order.

Soon everything in Venezuela will be declared "social property," which means owned by the state. Of course, Mr. Chavez has already made sure that he can be "elected" president indefinitely, and now rules by decree, so in fact, Hugo Chavez is, for all practical purposes, the state. Rather like his good friend, Fidel Castro. Naturally, once property rights are eliminated and everything is the property of the state, human rights disappear as well, since their can be no resistance to the state without private property. Ultimately, in a socialist economy, the people become the property of the state as well, and are treated just as well. Chavez is marching confidently down that road.

But Hugo Chavez didn't come to power at the point of a gun, or in some revolutionary coup. He is the proud product of Venezuelan democracy, and he never hid his agenda from the electorate. Millions of Venezuelans heard what he said and, ignoring the last century of socialist disasters, voted him merrily into office.

Mr Chavez, who was re-elected with a large majority last year, has pledged to turn Venezuela into a socialist state.

So much for President Bush's idea that democracy cures all problems. Ditto for the egregious foreign policy he constructed around that erroneous idea, and the disasters that it has produced.

Ultimately, people get the government they deserve. That applies in Venezuela ... and in the United States, too.

Bush and the I-Word

Talking to congressional Republicans about the current Beltway imbroglio over the administration's firing of eight U.S. attorneys, Robert Novak finds a pervasive level of disgust with the Bush administration's typically inept handling of the situation.

The I-word (incompetence) is also used by Republicans in describing the Bush administration generally. Several of them I talked to cited a trifecta of incompetence: the Walter Reed hospital scandal, the FBI's misuse of the USA Patriot Act and the U.S. attorneys firing fiasco. "We always have claimed that we were the party of better management," one House leader told me. "How can we claim that anymore?"

Congressional Republicans are, unsurprisingly, disinclined to rally to either the president's or Attorney General Gonzales's defense. Unmentioned by Novak or his congressional sources, of course, is the ongoing mess in Iraq, President Bush's disastrous blunder that cost the GOP its congressional majorities and threatens to make it a minority party for at least a decade. The I-word applies there just a well, but with a much greater cost for everyone.