October 16, 2009

Iranian uranium turns Iranian centrifuges into silly putty

Quico says: For the longest time, the conventional wisdom was that it would be senseless for Iran to seek uranium supplies outside its own territory, because they could source plenty of the stuff domestically.

It now turns out that impurities in Iran's uranium supply may be wrecking their enrichment hardware.

Now, I'm no nuclear scientist...but isn't this precisely the kind of thing that might send you off looking for higher grade supplies elsewhere? Say, in a close ally's sparsely populated jungle regions?

Speaking truth to power, Cuba-style

Juan Cristóbal says: - Blogger extraordinaire Yoani Sanchez fights for her rights. In Spanish only...

October 15, 2009

Former communist guerrilla blasts state intervention in the economy

Juan Cristóbal says:

(With my apologies to Teodoro-groupie Quico, but that headline wrote itself.)

In today's Tal Cual, Teodoro Petkoff sensibly butchers the Chávez administration for involving itself directly in every last corner of the economy and making a mess wherever it pokes its nose. I was stratled by the tone of the piece, specially considering who the messenger is.

The Venezuelan government has a knack - the understatement of the day - for involving itself in the direct production of goods and services that could be supplied better and more cheaply by private industry. Every time, yes, every time it does so, the results are sub-par and all Venezuelans end up poorer for it. Teodoro echoes this idea more strongly than I recall him ever doing so, and for that he earns two thumbs up from me.

It's funny that a right-wing talking point like that could come from a man like Petkoff, no ifs, ands, or buts. It's not just that he's correctly framing Chávez as the anti-Midas that he is, it's that he does it so vehemently. It's as if he's channeling his inner Margaret Thatcher.

Now, the issue with this argument has always been how to sell it. How can we convince Venezuelans that state-owned enterprises are a waste of money, that when the chavista heads of the Venalums, the Banco Industriales and the Venirans of the world call for the government to "capitalize" their companies, we all end up paying? Where is the outrage when the government announces its foray into the hospitality industry? Where is the outcry when we hear our tax money will be used to sell cars?

After all, explaining this is just a matter of math: it's a whole lot easier to simply pay workers in these companies wages for doing nothing than have them be a part of a company where you also have to pay bribes, managers, distributors and foreign suppliers, with all the "surplus" pricing that comes with it.

It's also a lot less time consuming for government decision-makers who, instead of focusing on these empty shells, should be thinking about education, national security and crime. How much time does Chávez spend coming up with funky names for his new companies?

The fiscal and welfare consequences of a badly-run state-company are unequivocally sub-optimal relative to simply giving the workers cash.

This is an issue some Venezuelan politicians have meekly tried to sell, and time and again, they retreat. Ultimately, it always proves easier to just continue doing what we're used to and keep feeding the statist beast.

But how can we break this vicious cycle?

We may never find out.

October 13, 2009

The curious case of the missing panic

Juan Cristóbal says: As the government's authoritarian noose tightens, and next year's Legislative elections draw ever nearer with zero progress on a unity platform, it's fair to ask: is it time to panic yet?

Panic is underrated. It can be just the thing to get you going. As the great Billie Jean King puts it, "pressure is a privilege." But it can also shut you down. Deer, meet headlights.

Politicians who figure out how to turn their moments of panic into "the fierce urgency of now" are often the most successful. Frankly, in Venezuela, we could use some of that fierce urgency.

Surely, some opposition politicians are panicking, but none are panicking constructively. Come to think of it, it's our leadership's total inability to do constructive panic that's been spinning me into, well...a panic.

That's the first thing that crossed my mind when I read that the government is apparently considering bringing forward the Parliamentary elections currently scheduled for December 2010. According to El Nacional's sources in Miraflores, the government is seriously pondering holding the elections as early as March. Some deputies have admitted they have discussed the issue, and you know it's true when Darío Vivas says it ain't.

A move like this would catch the opposition with their pants down, and it wouldn't be the first time. All the talk about unity would have to give way to real results, and the shift would need to happen yesterday. A change in the schedule would dramatically compress the time available for selecting candidates and raising funds.

It shouldn't have to be like this. Here we are in October, and the progress on choosing unity candidates can be measured in millimeters. The alarm has been sounding for months, but our guys can't hear it.

We've been saying since at least February that the congressional elections are the central issue we face, that failure will seal our chances until at least 2018, that the work needs to begin right away. Nobody seems to understand this.

Leopoldo Lopez has brought up the idea of primaries, and I have enthusiastically boarded the bandwagon. But his failure to bring specifics to the table - in fact, his failure to even sit at the table - has all but doomed its chances. And while there has been much huffing and puffing about "reaching consensus" or "using opinion polls," so far, these debates have the air of a carrito-por-puesto discussion instead of the desperate urgency of a firefighters' huddle by the side of a blaze.

Tranquilo, chamo, we have all the time in the world, right?

Well, we don't. People may not remember, but Manuel Rosales didn't begin his Presidential campaign until the idea of primaries had fizzled (yes, we've been down this road before) and the World Cup had ended. In fact, the precise date of Rosales' selection was August 9, 2006, less than three months before the election.

With so little time to pick a team, settle on a message, and campaign, is it any wonder we got our asses handed to us? That's what "consensus" gets you - a weak candidate with an incoherent message selected way too late.

Regardless, the discussion of primaries vs. consensus vs. Pérez the Mouse deciding unity candidates would be completely beside the point if the schedule changed. The CNE throwing down the gauntlet should, in theory, force our politicians to zero in and focus on finding a solution, any solution, quickly.

Don't count on it. Instead, our Scotch-soaked, 360°-haunting geniuses are busy worrying about the OAS, visiting hunger strikers, collaborating on fluff pieces and, generally, avoiding jail. But where are the politicians telling people the truth - that unless we start playing as a team now, not only will we lose the 2010 elections badly, we will also have sealed our fate for 2012?

Some of our politicians are feeling the panic and acting on it, but it's not the good type of panic. Instead of running around like headless chickens or fleeing to Lima, they need to jujitsu that pressure into stamina. They need to do their job.

Catch My (Authoritarian) Drift?

Quico says: In the Guardian today, Rory Carroll manages the impossible: getting a major first world paper to buckle down and give detailed attention to Chávez's authoritarian drift. No cutesy hook hung around Miss Venezuela, no quirky angle with El Vergatario. Not even a clear news hook. No bullshit at all. Chávez's drift towards authoritarianism is the story.

Well halle-friggin'-lujah....

Listen, lets get real. Stories like this one are always going to be rare. When they appear, they're never going to generate the kind of torrent of click-throughs that you get whenever Chávez does that thing he does and starts decreeing that underwear must be changed every half hour and worn on the outside, so they can check.

Carroll's story isn't sexy. Its forlornly imprisoned generals and its exquisite neoscholastic distinctions between imperfect democracies and authoritarian regimes with democratic characteristics won't send you rushing to twitter the link. Like Venezuelan reality, the whole thing is just grim.

Nobody likes grim.

But, more and more, stories like this are vital.

The view from your window: Alexandria

Alexandria, Virginia, USA. 6:40 AM

Send us the View from Your Window: caracaschronicles at fastmail dot fm, or nageljuan at gmail dot com.

Please ensure the window frame is visible, and tell us the place and time the picture was taken. And don't try to "pretty it up" - just show us what you see when you look up from the seat where you typically read the blog. Files should be no bigger than 400 KB.

October 12, 2009

Venirán...pero, ¿será que después se devolvirán?

Quico says: So, in this era of participatory and protagonic democracy, what would happen to you if you flat out refused to discuss a labor contract with the workers you hired? How do you think LOPCYMAT inspectors would take it if you failed to supply them with adequate safety equipment and refused to even talk to them about breaks?

How do you figure the government would react if you just fired, willy-nilly, some two-dozen workers who were trying to organize a labor union in your non-union factory? How do you think Chávez would react if those fired workers filed a complaint against you at the local Labor Inspectorate, won, got a ruling ordering you to hire them back, but you still refused to put them back on the payroll, ignoring the Labor Ministry point blank?

You could never get away with stuff like that in the revolutionary workers' socialist paradise that is Chávez-era Venezuela, right? I mean, you'd get expropriated right away, wouldn't you?

Of course you would...unless you happen to be the government of Iran and your business is making knock-off 80s Peugeots, in which case Chávez would shower you with praise you and throw in a little unpaid advertising on the side.

The View from Your Window: Perth

Perth, Australia

Send us the View from Your Window: caracaschronicles at fastmail dot fm, or nageljuan at gmail dot com.

Please ensure the window frame is visible, and tell us the place and time the picture was taken. And don't try to "pretty it up" - just show us what you see when you look up from the seat where you typically read the blog. Files should be no bigger than 400 KB.