Free Markets, Free People

Foreign Affairs


Too Tired For Diplomacy or Foreign Affairs? Not Interested? Or Overwhelmed By The Job?

Or, perhaps, “all of the above”. From the UK Telegraph:

Sources close to the White House say Mr Obama and his staff have been “overwhelmed” by the economic meltdown and have voiced concerns that the new president is not getting enough rest.

British officials, meanwhile, admit that the White House and US State Department staff were utterly bemused by complaints that the Prime Minister should have been granted full-blown press conference and a formal dinner, as has been customary. They concede that Obama aides seemed unfamiliar with the expectations that surround a major visit by a British prime minister.

But Washington figures with access to Mr Obama’s inner circle explained the slight by saying that those high up in the administration have had little time to deal with international matters, let alone the diplomatic niceties of the special relationship.

Allies of Mr Obama say his weary appearance in the Oval Office with Mr Brown illustrates the strain he is now under, and the president’s surprise at the sheer volume of business that crosses his desk.

A well-connected Washington figure, who is close to members of Mr Obama’s inner circle, expressed concern that Mr Obama had failed so far to “even fake an interest in foreign policy”.

And here we were led to believe Mr. Obama was this cool, multitasker under full control and able to handle everything the job entailed.

That’s what we were led to believe.

Some of us, however, said that of all the jobs on the planet this wasn’t the one for OJT.  This isn’t a job where one aspect of the duties can be ignored to concentrate on others.

Guess which group looks more prescient at the moment?

~McQ


Stray Voltage

Apparently Timothy Geithner isn’t the financial “rock star” he was touted to be if his handling of the Asian crisis 10 years ago is any indication.

While Obama may have “inherited” the financial problems, the bear market is all his.

Speaking of lay-offs, this isn’t going to make our jet jocks feel very secure.

The new slogan of the Democrats – never let a good crisis go to waste.  So this is a “good” crisis?

Take a look at this page and tell me where are the promised tax money from rich folks is going to come from.

Stray Voltage

Stray Voltage

If you don’t believe government is contemplating some pretty heavy care rationing when and if they get control, read this little beauty carefully.

Even George McGovern finds the pending card check legislation desired by unions to be “fundamentally wrong” and undemocratic.

Grey wolves “delisted” from endangered species list.

No time for Gordon Brown, but plenty of time for Brad Pitt.  Wonder if Pitt got a 25 volume DVD set too?

Is Obama preparing the way for a massive defense spending cut?

George W. Obama?

Even Paul Krugman is getting a little antsy about the apparent lack of focus of the Obama administration on the financial crisis.

It appears Hugo Chavez recognizes a kindred spirit when he sees one.

The Senate is one vote short of passing the omnibus spending bill with 9,000 earmarks.  All I wonder is which Republican will cave first?

~McQ


The High Cost Of Uneforceable Moral Preening

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has no real power of enforcement. It is one of those bodies that the “one world” crowd managed to get formed and funded in hope of creating the penultimate judicial body that can adjudicate criminal complaints against political and military leaders anywhere in the world. It depends on voluntary compliance with its indictments and voluntary submission to its rule. As you might imagine, that’s not as forthcoming as its planners thought it might be – especially among the nations most in need of straightening up. Such as Sudan:
International Criminal Courtblockquote>Thousands of people protested in Khartoum on Friday after preachers condemned an International Criminal Court arrest warrant for Sudan’s president on charges of war crimes in Darfur.

It was the third day of demonstrations after the Hague-based court announced it was indicting President Omar Hassan al-Bashir on seven counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including murder, rape and torture.

While everyone agrees that what is happening in Darfur is a crime against humanity, it is a crime that the world has allowed to continue for almost 20 years. So one has to wonder, other than a bit of moral preening by the ICC, what utility issuing an arrest warrant for the head of state of Sudan might have. Will it actually facilitate his arrest and end the problem in Darfur? Will it improve the conditions and security for those in danger in Darfur? After all, if it is the conditions and the plight of those in Darfur that the ICC is using as the basis of its criminal complaint, wouldn’t you hope that such a move would improve that situation rather than worsen it?

Sudanese President al-Bashir

Sudanese President al-Bashir

As it turns out, it does “none of the above”.  The issuance of the arrest warrant by the ICC has instead caused all the aid agencies working to save the refugees to be thrown out of the region on suspicion they’re passing evidence of  crimes on to the ICC.

Of the 76 NGOs in Darfur with which the U.N. is working, the 13 that have been expelled account for half the aid that is distributed in the region, said Elisabeth Byrs, spokeswoman for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Their departure would leave 1.1 million people without food, 1.5 million without medical care and more than one million without drinking water, she told the briefing.

“It will be very, very challenging for both the remaining humanitarian organizations and for the government of Sudan to fill this gap,” she said.

Of course the argument might be “we should confront evil where ever we find it” and I don’t disagree. But issuing a toothless arrest warrant that only agitates the person named to the point that over a million people are placed in peril doesn’t exactly live up to the word “confront” in my book. It is a moral “feel good” activity which may spur an immoral reaction beyond anyone’s control. And that seems to be the case here.

It is one thing to issue the sort of warrant the ICC has issued and then take the action necessary to serve and enforce it. But in the absence of that, what is the utility of issuing such a warrant without such an enforcement mechanism, especially given the range of possible negative reactions and outcomes? Whatever happens now to those million people at risk in Darfur, as a result of the ejection of the aid agencies so key to their survival, rests squarely in the lap of the ICC. I’m not arguing that al-Bashir isn’t a murdering criminal or that the world shouldn’t do what is necessary to stop his crimes against the people in Darfur. But what shouldn’t be done is hand him a reason to further endanger those people by issuing unenforceable warrants that make the rest of the world feel morally superior but actually worsens the threat against those who can’t defend themselves.

~McQ


Brits Not Happy With Obama’s Treatment Of Brown

And I have to wonder, given some of the comments, whether this isn’t an indication of his overall disinterest in foreign affairs.

Anyway, a raft of British writers are not happy with Obama’s treatment of them or of British PM Gordon Brown.  Some samples:

Tim Shipman, Telegraph:

A Washington Post colleague just called me and said that the White House press corps cannot think of a single previous occasion when a British Prime Minister was treated in this way.

British Embassy staff, irritated themselves, had to twist Robert Gibbs’ arm to get even two questions per side in a quick oval office doorstep.

Alex Massie, Spectator:

Indeed, for a President who wants to “renew” America’s relationship with the rest of the world, Obama is strikingly reluctant to actually, you know, speak to the rest of the world.

Benedict Brogan, Mail:

If Downing Street was expecting the kind of love-in that marked the first Blair-Clinton gala at the White House or the Blair-Bush Colgate and video moment at Camp David, this new administration has proved it wrong. There never was going to be a press conference, despite what No10 said. And there is no couple time planned. No Stevie Wonder, no Meet the Parents, no burgers.

Daniel Hannon, Telegraph, combines a couple of shots:

Incidentally, did you notice that the president silkily downgraded us? Britain, he said, was “one of our closest and strongest allies”. Well, fair enough. US Presidents have to be sparing with their superlatives lest they irk the Canadians or the Israelis or some other favoured people. Still, Dubya never had any problem with describing the United Kingdom as “our closest friend and strongest ally,” adding, on the day Baghdad fell: “America has no finer ally than Great Britain”.

Some will see Obama’s vocabulary as a calculated snub. The forty-fourth president, they will say, has never been keen on Britain. He’s resentful about the way our colonial officers treated his Kenyan grandfather. He was dismissive of us in his autobiography. But I think there is a simpler explanation: he just doesn’t think much of our Prime Minister. Neither do we, Mr President; neither do we.

One of the first things Obama did on taking office was send a Winston Churchill bust, given by the British to President Bush, back to the British. And now this bit of embarrassment.

I’m sure this will be remembered when the Obama administration asks the Brits, our most solid ally and contributor of troops in Afghanistan, to up their commitment.

Iain Martin of the Telegraph sums that sentiment up best:

We get the point, sunshine: we’re just one of many allies and you want fancy new friends. Well, the next time you need something doing, something which impinges on your national security, then try calling the French, or the Japanese, or best of all the Germans. The French will be able to offer you first rate support from their catering corps but beyond that you’ll be on your own.

When it comes to men, munitions and commitment you’ll soon find out why it pays to at least treat the Brits with some manners.

Ceremony and press availability are expected parts of these sorts of events. And precedent is very important as well. Any deviation which makes the event less than the last one is seen as a diplomatic snub. Diplomatic snubs are not well received and payback is indeed always calculated.

Much of what you’ll read is press hacks whining about not getting the expected and anticipated access. But they do have a point as Tim Shipman describes. True or not, these are now the leading meme’s emerging in the wake of yesterday’s decidedly fumbled diplomatic event:

Why does this matter? Three reasons:

- Major British hack involvement in a full blown press conference has always been regarded as useful by the White House press corps. We ask different questions from them, usually more aggressively and get answers they could not. There were several spiky and revealing moments between President Bush and the BBC political editor Nick Robinson. It is bizarre that Mr Obama is less willing to answer questions than Mr Bush. It reflects very poorly on his tendency towards control freakery, which has been in evidence since his campaign.

- It’s discourteous to Mr Brown, who was desperate for his big moment with the podiums. On his two set piece trips to see Bush there were proper pressers at Camp David and then in the Rose Garden. Why gratify him with the first European trip and then snub his big PR moment? There will be no private relaxation time for Mr Brown with Mr Obama, a given on previous prime ministerial trips. I know he’s busy but it shows that he is not really that interested, as my sources were telling me last week.

- Obama has been running scared of the international media and the British press in particular since the start of his campaign. He didn’t give a single interview to a British outlet even when he was in the UK. This is very unusual, particularly from a man who so desperately wants to be loved on the world stage. We know we’re not special, given Obama’s general contempt for beat reporters (as opposed to his schmoozing with editors), but it is still peculiar.

We’ll see how it goes the next time Obama shows up in the UK or asks for British cooperation and help. Given this little show, however, I’d say Obama’s diplomatic skills need some sharpening. Additionally, the British press is now going to be laying in wait for an opportunity to embarrass Obama. As you can tell, this really PO’d them and he’s not going to be able to avoid them forever. For someone who so masterfully manipulated the domestic press, this is a pretty ham-handed performance. And as we’ve all come to understand, the press will get its revenge.

~McQ


Our Ironic Foreign Policy

A billion dollars of your tax dollars is on its way to Palestine, 300 million of it earmarked for the Gaza Strip where Hamas still rules:

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Monday will pledge about $300 million in U.S. humanitarian aid for the war-torn Gaza Strip, plus about $600 million in assistance to the Palestinian Authority, a U.S. official said Sunday.

State Department spokesman Robert A. Wood told reporters traveling with Clinton Sunday that she would announce the donations at an international pledging conference at this Red Sea resort. The conference is seeking money for Gaza and the Palestinian economy.

So thanks to your generosity, Hamas doesn’t have to ante up $300 million to support its own people. Yes, your subsidy will allow them to instead purchase some new munitions and rockets with which to attack Israel.

This is the same Secretary of State who recently was peddling our debt bonds to the Chinese, ostensibly so we could borrow more money to, what, fund Hama’s war on Israel?

Isn’t life ironic?

~McQ


Afghanistan – No Longer The “Good War”?

Apparently not to the usual suspects.

Bill Ayers was interviewed:

Ayers had this to say about President Barack Obama committing an additional 17,000 troops to Afghanistan: “It’s a mistake. It’s a colossal mistake. And, you know, we’ve seen this happen before, Alan. We’ve seen a hopeful presidency, Lyndon Johnson’s presidency, burn up in the furnace of war.”

Ayers thereby joins the rest of the moonbat contingent:

“I’m very upset; he promised change, and this is not change. It’s just going to create more deaths on both sides and create more terrorists,” said Jodie Evans, co-founder of Code Pink. The group, known for protests and targeting Bush administration officials, posted a statement Thursday condemning Mr. Obama’s decision and urging him to replace the combat troops with “humanitarian troops.”

“Afghanistan needs troops of doctors, farmers, teachers, not more troops,” the statement says.

It is apparently beyond Ms. Evan’s abilities to wonder how those “troops” of doctors, farmers and teachers are supposed to do their thing when, in the absence of our troops, the countryside is controlled by the Taliban. I assume she isn’t aware of the fact that the Taiban has a tendency to behead many of those she’d commit to A’stan.

Interesting though, isn’t it? Now we’re beginning to see that many of the supposedly “anti-Iraq” crowd, were just the usual anti-war bunch.

~McQ


Now That’s “Change” We Do Believe

You could hear jaws dropping all over the world’s human right’s establishment as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated the Obama administration’s new policy about human rights vs economic, environmental and security concerns:

Amnesty International and a pro-Tibet group voiced shock Friday after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton vowed not to let human rights concerns hinder cooperation with China.

Paying her first visit to Asia as the top US diplomat, Clinton said the United States would continue to press China on long-standing US concerns over human rights such as its rule over Tibet.

But our pressing on those issues can’t interfere on the global economic crisis, the global climate change crisis and the security crisis,” Clinton told reporters in Seoul just before leaving for Beijing.

Hmmm … 4th place.

But Gitmo?

Bad.

~McQ


Russia Freezes Iranian Missile Sale

An interesting story out of Russia via the Jerusalem Post. And while good news, albeit of a temporary nature I’m sure, I’m betting there is much more to this than meets the eye.  This is about positioning in upcoming missile defense talks with the US:

Russia has frozen the sale of the state-of-the-art S-300 anti-aircraft missiles to Iran, the Russian newspaper Kommersant reported Wednesday.

Iranian Defense Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar was reportedly informed of the decision by his Russian counterpart Anatoly Serdyukov on his visit to Moscow on Wednesday.

Russia said the delivery of the systems would be delayed at least until the upcoming meeting between President Dmitry Medvedev and his US counterpart, Barack Obama. Kommersant cited Russia’s wish to prevent hindering dialogue with the new US administration.

Military diplomatic sources were quoted by Kommersant as saying that the issue had been the focus of Najjar’s visit.

Of course the important point is the sale is frozen, not canceled. While that’s good news for both the US and Israel (the S-300 system is reported to be a very good air defense system against not just aircraft, but cruise missiles), it may not be any more than a temporary sop to the Americans and a reminder to the Iranians that Russia is their major backer and can pull that backing at any time. And, interestingly, there’s one other reason (or at least so Israel claims):

Israel Radio quoted Moscow sources as saying that apart form the gesture to the Americans, Russia also wanted to avoid ruining a $100 million drone purchase from Israel.

I say interesting because the S-300 sale is an $800 million sale. You jeopardize an 800 million sale for a 100 million purchase? Or do you grab the 100 mil buy because you know the 800 mil sale is in the bag? I’d say the latter, meaning the freeze is most likely for show only. Unless, of course, the Russians are just incredibly stupid businessmen.

I don’t think they are, although they’re not as clever in other areas as they sometimes think. This seems to me to be a very crude (but probably effective) set up for an “aw gee and here we made this great gesture toward working with you and this is how you act?” result of our first meeting with Russia. Absolute world opinion gold for Putin and the boys if they manage it correctly and, of course, the perfect opportunity to then unfreeze the sale.  Can anyone guess who’d end up being embarrassed by such a scenario?

~McQ


Iran And “Negotiating 101″

As the NY Times reports today in an article about Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke’s trip to the Middle Eastern region:

Mr. Obama has said that he will reach out to Iran for direct talks, and last week the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said that Iran was ready. The two nations have not spoken directly since the Islamic Revolution in Iran 30 years ago.

So how does one begin that sort of a dialog when the target of the talks sees any concession as a sign of weakness and views your chief ally in the region as a cancer which needs to be excised?

As discussed during the presidential primary and then during the campaign, what you don’t do is enter such discussions without some established preconditions. And you certainly don’t unilaterally concede anything, especially if such a concession would help speed Iran’s production of a nuclear weapon.

That’s why this report from the open source intelligence newsletter GeoStrategy Direct is rather disturbing. Speaking of the new Israeli government, it writes:

Just as Barack Obama entered office facing a massive economic crisis beyond the scope of his experience, likewise the new Israeli leader will have to make or delay making difficult strategic decisions from the minute he or she enters office.

Barak has already signaled what the new government can expect, officials here said.

The United States has abandoned its policy of sanctioning companies that aid Iran’s nuclear and missile program, they said.

The officials said the new Obama administration of has decided to end sanctions against Iranian government agencies or companies that aid Teheran’s missile and nuclear program. The officials said Israel has been informed of the new U.S. policy.

“We were told that sanctions do not help the new U.S. policy of dialogue with Iran,” an official said.

Barak confirmed the new U.S. policy. In an address to the Herzliya Conference on Feb. 3, Barak said Washington did not say whether it would resume sanctions against Iran.

“Barak”, of course, is Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak. And, if true, you might imagine he and Israel are less than pleased. Trying to put a positive face on it Barak says:

“We must arrive at a strategic understanding with the United States over Iran’s military nuclear program and ensure that even if at this time they opt for the diplomatic option, it will only last a short time before harsh and necessary sanctions are imposed.”

Indeed. The stated reason for the lifting of the sanctions is they’ve been unsuccessful in stopping Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons. Unasked, however, is how successful they’ve been in delaying their acquisition? The removal of sanctions and the removal of all negative consequences for companies who supply such technology will certainly provide the incentive necessary for those companies to speed that pursuit along, won’t it?

How will the unilateral lifting of sanctions be viewed by Iran?

Well consider the internal politics of the country.  You have an increasingly unpopular president under fire for his aggressive rhetoric and posture being challenged by a more moderate candidate.  You also have a population that is growing tired of its isolation and the hardships imposed by sanctions. And there are rumors the ruling mullahs may not be particularly pleased with him either.  Pressure is building against Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and some believe there is a distinct possibility that he can be defeated in June.

Suddenly, without any direct negotiations or concessions on the part of Iran, sanctions are lifted by the US.  It seems to me Ahmadinejad could make a credible claim that his posture is responsible for the US caving and lifting the sanctions.  He can claim, regardless of the truth of the claim, that his confrontational attitude is what brought the change.  The message? The US is weak and confrontation works, reelect me.

And in the real world, results speak for themselves.

Result?

More aggressive and belligerent language, a campaign boost to a declared enemy of the US, faster realization of nuclear weapons for Iran, heightened tensions with Israel (not only from Iran but with the US), and a deteriorating situation in the Middle East.  All that from a guy who says one of his signature issues is nuclear nonproliferation.

Go figure.

~McQ

[HT: Gateway Pundit]


How To Build A Dictatorship

Venezuelan voters approved a referendum to end term limits on Sunday, paving the way for Hugo Chavez to perfect his dictatorship:

President Hugo Chavez says a referendum victory that removed limits on his re-election is a mandate to intensify his socialist agenda for decades to come. Opponents warn of an impending dictatorship.

Victory!  Enslaved at last!

Victory! Enslaved at last!


Both sides had called the outcome of Sunday’s vote key to the future of this South American country, split down the middle between those who worship the president for redistributing Venezuela’s oil riches and those who see him as a power-hungry autocrat.

“Those who voted “yes” today voted for socialism, for revolution,” Chavez thundered to thousands of ecstatic supporters jamming the streets around the presidential palace. Fireworks lit up the Caracas skyline, and one man walked though the crowd carrying a painting of Chavez that read: “Forever.”

[...]

The constitutional overhaul allows all public officials to run for re-election as many times as they want, removing barriers to a Chavez candidacy in the next presidential elections in 2012 and beyond.

“In 2012 there will be presidential elections, and unless God decides otherwise, unless the people decide otherwise, this soldier is already a candidate,” Chavez said to applause. First elected in 1998, he has said he might stay in power until 2049, when he’ll be 95.

Hmmm. Maybe those “critics” are onto something, eh?

At their campaign headquarters, Chavez opponents hugged one another, and some cried. They said the results were skewed by Chavez’s broad use of state resources to get out the vote, through a battery of state-run news media, pressure on 2 million public employees and frequent presidential speeches which all television stations were required to air.

With the courts, the legislature and the election council all under his influence, and now with no limits on his re-election, officials say Chavez is virtually unstoppable.

“Effectively this will become a dictatorship,” opposition leader Omar Barboza told The Associated Press. “It’s control of all the powers, lack of separation of powers, unscrupulous use of state resources, persecution of adversaries.”

As the article notes, however, everything is not peaches and cream for Chavez. Venezuela’s economy, which is so heavily dependent on oil revenues, lies in shambles, beset by low oil prices, rampant inflation, and little prospect for relief. According to Michael Shifter of the Inter-American Dialogue in Washington:

… the global financial crisis and the plunging price of oil, which accounts for 94 percent of Venezuela’s exports and nearly half its federal budget, will limit Chavez’s ability to maintain the level of public spending that has fueled his popularity.

Without oil revenues to prop up the socialist spending regime, Chavez will have to resort to other means of stabilizing the economy. Because producers of wealth are so politically disfavored in Venezuela, and there are myriad obstacles to successfully operating any businesses, Chavez’s options for economic recovery are limited:

Empty shelves in Venezuela.

Empty shelves in Venezuela.

“Venezuela faces serious problems no matter what today’s results were. Later this year, economic problems are going to be felt more acutely.”

Venezuela, the fourth-largest supplier of crude oil to the U.S., depends on oil for 93 percent of export revenue and half the government’s budget. Prices for crude have plunged 74 percent since touching a record in July.

[...]

“Now we’re going to see what’s beyond this campaign and what he does when he takes the economy into account,” [Enrique] Alvarez, [head of Latin America fixed-income research at IDEAglobal in New York] said.

The adjustments to economic policy will probably include raising taxes and devaluing the currency to cover a public deficit now that his marathon political campaign is out of the way, said Alberto Ramos, Latin America economist at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. in New York.

Raising taxes is de rigueur in such circumstances, but not likely to generate much revenue. After all, the government has taken over the most lucrative part of the Venezuelan economy, and people and businesses who don’t earn much don’t have much to pay to the government. Taxes are not going to solve any problems.

Without any real economic engine to fund socialist programs, therefore, Chavez won’t be able to buy votes anymore. Instead he will have to find another way to garner (or manufacture) public support if he wants to remain in power. And there isn’t any doubt that he wants to remain in power.

The most obvious way for Chavez to accomplish this feat to convince the country that his leadership is indispensable to the country’s fortunes. That line of argument is already a staple in his rhetoric — i.e. that success of the Bolivarian Revolution depends on Chavez exercising ever increasing power — so the foundation has been laid. However, it was much easier to sell that idea when the oil revenues were pouring in. With a looming fiscal crisis at hand, and the prospects of economic improvement looking dim, a call for new leadership will likely grow louder.

Ironically, the path to permanent power for Chavez was described by socialist activist Naomi Klein in her book “Shock Doctrine: the Rise of Disaster Capitalism.” In what has become the bible for the anti-capitalist/ant-globalization movement, Klein

… explodes the myth that the global free market triumphed democratically. Exposing the thinking, the money trail and the puppet strings behind the world-changing crises and wars of the last four decades, The Shock Doctrine is the gripping story of how America’s “free market” policies have come to dominate the world– through the exploitation of disaster-shocked people and countries.

Her theory rests on the premise that democratic obstacles to corporate domination are swept aside in times of severe crisis (e.g. Iraq war, Katrina, tsunami in Sri Lanka), allowing global moneyed interests to swoop in and take control of the economy. She often cites Milton Friedman and the “Chicago Boys” dealings with Pinochet as an example of how capitalist forces purposely, and sometimes violently, undermine the will of the people when they are at their weakest in order to introduce reforms that actually serve the interests of the elite rather than the people. In spite of her historically challenged maunderings (Friedman only met Pinochet once for an hour, and wrote him a letter), Klein does hit on an important point: crises are routinely used to further the power of the elites. Klein just identifies the wrong parties. It is typically the government elites who profit from these crises.

Take, for example, how our own government has seized upon the current fiscal crises to shove a giant social spending bill down our throats, plunging future generations into massive debt, and centralizing control over the lives of individual Americans:

Last year the US economy was hit with one shock after another: the Bear Stearns bail-out, the Indymac collapse, the implosion of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the AIG nationalisation, the biggest stock market drop ever, the $700bn Wall Street bail-out and more – all accompanied by a steady drumbeat of apocalyptic language from political leaders.

And what happened? Did the Republican administration summon up the spirit of Milton Friedman and cut government spending? Did it deregulate and privatise?

No.

It did what governments actually do in a crisis – it seized new powers over the economy. It dramatically expanded the regulatory powers of the Federal Reserve and injected a trillion dollars of inflationary credit into the banking system. It partially nationalised the biggest banks. It appropriated $700bn with which to intervene in the economy. It made General Motors and Chrysler wards of the federal government. It wrote a bail-out bill giving the secretary of the treasury extraordinary powers that could not be reviewed by courts or other government agencies.

Now the Obama administration is continuing this drive toward centralisation and government domination of the economy. And its key players are explicitly referring to heir own version of the shock doctrine. Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff, said the economic crisis facing the country is “an opportunity for us”. After all, he said: “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste. And this crisis provides the opportunity for us to do things that you could not do before” such as taking control of the financial, energy, information and healthcare industries.

That’s just the sort of thing Naomi Klein would have us believe that free-marketers like Milton Friedman think.

Of course, that isn’t how supporters of free markets behave at all. It is, however, exactly how someone like Hugo Chavez operates.

With the Venezuelan economy shrinking, and real suffering occurring on a growing scale, the opportunity is ripe for Chavez to further “reform” the country, and complete the Bolivarian Revolution as he has promised. That won’t save the nation from economic ruin, and indeed will probably hasten such an outcome, but it will provide the impetus for perpetual Chavista rule.

The economy is doing poorly? That’s because the revolution has not advanced far enough. Economy doing well? The revolution is working its wonders! Rinse and repeat.

Thus the keys to Chavez’s Bolivarian kingdom lie in the propagandistic message that only centralized and powerful leadership can provide adequately for all. Principles such as “fairness” and “equality” are used as bludgeons against any who dare step out of line. Individual achievement is sneered at as “selfish” and “against the common good.” The redistribution of any wealth created outside the government system (as all wealth created inside is confined to the governmental leaders) is touted as the only means of ensuring a safe and productive future for all. Capitalism is deemed the language of the oppressor, and blamed for any and all ills that befall the nation. Yet, despite all this rhetoric, things will never seem to get any better.

Poor, poor Venezuela. Thank goodness we won’t such stifling of economic welfare and individual freedom here.

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