Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Subsidies versus Welfare to Help the Poor?

I was inspired to think about the issue of subsidies at the end of the year by Cuban blogger celebrity Yoani Sanchez. I was further compelled when I read an attack on subsidies by World Bank economist Marcel Giugale over at Boz's site (where my Latin musings have tended to find expression this last year in blog exile).

Subsidies are an interesting angle because liberals get confused. I had thought our fair Yoani was too smart to allow her true free market colors to show. With her post however, we can now confirm that Yoani opposes the very idea of richer sectors of society helping out the poorer. She opposes the production of nickel subsidizing health care and schools. She is against well-off hotels helping out those that are struggling. Now one can understand why she wants to get rid of the Cuban Revolution and go back to the days when companies were “free” to extract resources and exploit cheap labor without contributing to Cuban society.

Giugale, the World Bank official, tries in the Miami Herald to dress up his discredited market fundamentalism in 2009 faux-populist rhetoric for political purposes. Trouble is, one does not have to look very hard to see that Latin America has explicitly rejected the capitalist's dream that the market ought to determine who has access to water, education, electricity, etc (think water riots). In fact some Constitution's got rewritten to make the point quite clear (Bolivia's got approved the other day).

Of course, some subsides are stupid and ought to be re-worked (like Venezuela's enormous fuel subsidy), but most are for the good of society and provide a level of fairness and solidarity in a cruel world that seeks to divide us into categories of the deserving and undeserving. A means based test to receive a lump-sum handout is prone to cheating, encourages non-work and is manifestly unfair to the person just on the other side of the income line. We ought to be building socieities that encourage unity rather than sow divisions and jealousies. The test ought to be whether the good or service is a basic right. Charging "market prices" for things like water and education are idea's that were killed in the 90s and ought to never return.

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Friday, January 23, 2009

Venezuela: Obama Must Act on Terrorist Posada Carriles

The NYTimes reported today that Venezuela Will Push U.S. to Hand Over Man Tied to Plane Bombing, in reference to notorious terrorist Luis Posada Carriles, who is amazingly living free in Miami today.

Venezuela will press the Obama administration in the coming days to extradite a former senior official in Venezuela’s secret intelligence police so that he can be tried for the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner that killed 73 people, according to lawyers for the government here.

The move will test the new administration’s willingness to engage on a festering issue that has further strained America’s relations with Venezuela and Cuba. Both nations have depicted the case of Luis Posada Carriles, an elderly Cuban exile who is a naturalized Venezuelan and a former C.I.A. operative, as an example of hypocrisy by Washington in its fight against terrorism.

This is a hugely important case, though most Americans know nothing about it. It is obvious to just about everyone that the Bush Administration interfered in the case thus far. Now the issue has to be rectified fairly and justly. The world is watching.

Despite this, some are saying Obama "should step back and give the power back to the judicial branch and independent prosecutors." Sounds great but this view is more than a little naive. The Justice Department works fundamentally like any other Department. It bends the way of the Executive and the popular will. The important decisions are made behind closed doors.

In this case, the Bush Justice Dept knew they were screwed and decided to tie Posada up with immigration charges - in West Texas courts. That was a choice, though it looked fair and just. The person who made that decision probably wanted to make their boss happy. It was a smart move for them.

The critical legal issue now is whether an immigration judge was correct he ruled Posada could not be extradited to Cuba or Venezuela because of torture concerns. This laughably occurred while all the US torture allegations were in high relief - and with a total lack of hard evidence. The Government did not challenge the claim that Cuba and Venezuela tortures. That was a decision that needs to be challenged - by the Obama Justice Department. Another decision is whether to ask additional countries to take him (an ejection order still stands) - who could then do the required extradition to Venezuela or Cuba. Bush asked only 6 countries - ones that we thought would not cooperate with Venezuela.

Venezuela is now presenting additional evidence (written proof from the actual admitted bomber) and a written guarantee to not harm or torture Posada in any way. This is an issue of national security importance. Our credibility on the new war on terror lays in the balance. We would not accept this BS if Osama Bin Laden was being tried on immigration charges in Syria or something. There are plenty of things the Justice Department could do to serve justice here. If Holder needs to be told from Obama to make the issue a priority, then so be it. Is this "interference"??

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Fidel Castro: Obama's Honesty Not Doubted

Fidel got back to writing today, and said some things about Obama directly. This after news reports of him watching the Inaguration all day and meeting with Argentina's President Cristina Fernandez.

I said that I personally do not doubt the honesty of Obama... as he expresses his ideas, but that his noble intentions notwithstanding there are still many questions to be answered. By way of an example I wondered: How could a wasteful and consumerist system par excellence preserve the environment?

Some have been remarking about the apparently different early Obama signals coming from Cuba and Venuzeula. This is partially the result of recent Obama insults of Chavez but it is also very likely part of an astute strategy. Cuba wants to end the embargo and normalize relations, while Venezuela is able to play bad cop, keeping the pressure on Obama to fundamentally change the US posture in the region.

There have been some interesting noises out of Washington lately and Cuba appears to be reciprocating. Raul called Obama "a good man" and said "I wish him luck." I hope we can continue to see these indications of confidence building. But real progress will only happen when the US makes clear its policy of regime change is over. That means no more money for subversion, no TV/Radio Marti, an end to the selective Cuban migration policy, etc. I see Raul continuing to make administrative economic reforms, which will buttress Obama's piecemeal dismantling of the most idiotic aspects of US-Cuba policy. First a repeal of Bush's stupid travel and remittance regulations, then going back to Clinton's people-to-people nonsense, then perhaps some real progress after that. If I could advise Obama I would stress the importance of behind the scenes dialogue to avoid any appearance of pressure.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Latino Inaugural Gala: Exclusive Photos

New York Congresswoman Nydia Velasquez and Secretary of Labor frontrunner Hilda Solis chatted with Si TV.

Via SI TV, check out some great pictures from last night's star-studded Latino Inauguration Gala ball held in the old Union Station, Washington DC.

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