Archive for February, 2014

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Voluntourism

February 25, 2014

Jeff sends a link to Pippa Biddle’s interesting essay about tourist volunteers.

THE PROBLEM WITH LITTLE WHITE GIRLS (AND BOYS): WHY I STOPPED BEING A VOLUNTOURIST

White people aren’t told that the color of their skin is a problem very often. We sail through police check points, don’t garner sideways glances in affluent neighborhoods, and are generally understood to be predispositioned for success based on a physical characteristic (the color of our skin) we have little control over beyond sunscreen and tanning oil.

After six years of working in and traveling through a number of different countries where white people are in the numerical minority, I’ve come to realize that there is one place being white is not only a hindrance, but negative –  most of the developing world.

In high school, I travelled (sic) to Tanzania as part of a school trip. There were 14 white girls, 1 black girl who, to her frustration, was called white by almost everyone we met in Tanzania, and a few teachers/chaperones. $3000 bought us a week at an orphanage, a half built library, and a few pickup soccer games, followed by a week long safari.

Our mission while at the orphanage was to build a library. Turns out that we, a group of highly educated private boarding school students were so bad at the most basic construction work that each night the men had to take down the structurally unsound bricks we had laid and rebuild the structure so that, when we woke up in the morning, we would be unaware of our failure. It is likely that this was a daily ritual. Us mixing cement and laying bricks for 6+ hours, them undoing our work after the sun set, re-laying the bricks, and then acting as if nothing had happened so that the cycle could continue.

Basically, we failed at the sole purpose of our being there. It would have been more cost effective, stimulative of the local economy, and efficient for the orphanage to take our money and hire locals to do the work, but there we were trying to build straight walls without a level. […]

My wife once saw something similar years back when she accompanied one of our sons to Mexico, where he was part of a volunteer team to build a house. He was in the sixth grade at the time, so 10 or 11 years old. The project was to build a small, rectangular building with a pitched roof that was partitioned into two rooms. I believe its floor area was 300 – 400 square feet.

How much do the vast majority of school children know about building roof trusses? Very little, of course. But luckily there were people on hand who could fix the problems due to using unskilled children as carpenters. Since then I’ve always suspected that many of these efforts are frequently the triumph of good intentions over good sense.

Ms. Biddle concludes her essay with these words.

Before you sign up for a volunteer trip anywhere in the world this summer, consider whether you possess the skill set necessary for that trip to be successful. If yes, awesome. If not, it might be a good idea to reconsider your trip. Sadly, taking part in international aid where you aren’t particularly helpful is not benign. It’s detrimental. It slows down positive growth and perpetuates the “white savior” complex that, for hundreds of years, has haunted both the countries we are trying to ‘save’ and our (more recently) own psyches.

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Credo

February 23, 2014

I ran across Doug Mataconis’ blog Below The Beltway in late 2009. Apparently he stopped updating it in late 2011. Sometimes it takes me a while to get around to things, but I’d like to say how impressed I was by his blog’s tagline:

I believe in the free speech that liberals used to believe in, the economic freedom that conservatives used to believe in, and the personal freedom that America used to believe in.

How concise! If I were planning to run for office, I’d try to hire Mr. Mataconis to write speeches for me.

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The fire next door

February 23, 2014

I’ve been making my way through Ted Carpenter’s book The Fire Next Door. (If you follow that link, you’ll see that Mr. Carpenter is a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute.)

The premises of the book are that:

(a) the US drug prohibitions are creating chaos in Mexico,
(b) this civil chaos is likely to cross the border into the United States, and
(c) drug prohibition should be repealed to de-fund the violent Mexican drug cartels.

The leaders of the Mexican drug cartels — the "drug lords" — have become wealthy from the black market profits due to prohibition. And they very reasonably have used their wealth to corrupt the Mexican police, Mexican prosecutors, and the Mexican military (when it’s been involved in drug law enforcement). The Spanish phrase Carpenter mentions repeatedly is plata o plomo, meaning "silver or lead". The drug cartels give police and prosecutors the choice of taking a bribe or taking a bullet, in other words.

Carpenter cites one case of a hardy Mexican prosecutor who refused the bribe and has avoided the bullet (so far). But the man had to relocate his family to the US to keep them from becoming pawns in his struggle with the cartels.


It gets worse. While the Mexican government denies it, Carpenter claims that the government has lost control of parts of Mexico where the cartel leaders have become de facto regional governments. Independent news report support Carpenter’s view. Here’s an article about that which appeared in the Wall Street Journal five years ago.

This loss of civil law enforcement has led to the rise of Mexican vigilante groups who fight the drug cartels on their own because the Mexican police don’t support them. Here’s a photo essay that appeared last month at Business Insider.

Intense Photos Of Mexican Vigilantes Battling A Drug Cartel For City Control

Mexico has long suffered blistering violence and crime at the hands of its homegrown drug cartels.

Though the Mexican government has waged war on the cartels, the effort has struggled to go anywhere. More than 90,000 people have died in the ongoing conflict.

Fed up with a corrupt police force that is often in bed with the cartels and a military that has to this point been ineffective, some Mexicans have taken it upon themselves to fight the cartels and protect their families — with an incredible conflict happening this week in the city of Paracuaro. […]

Over the last year, vigilante groups, known as fuerzas autodefensas have sprung up all over Mexico, particularly in the southwestern state of Michoacan, an area plagued by the Knights Templar cartel.

Here’s a picture I ran across recently of a Mexican vigilante (in the adelita tradition). Abuela, ¿qué tal?

Female Mexican vigilante


Yesterday the New York Times reported the arrest of El Chapo at Mazatlan. It’s a good article to get up to speed on the topic, if this is news to you.

El Chapo, Most-Wanted Drug Lord, Is Captured in Mexico

MEXICO CITY — Just before 7 a.m. on Saturday, dozens of soldiers and police officers descended on a condominium tower in Mazatlán, Mexico, a beach resort known as much as a hangout for drug traffickers as for its seafood and surf.

The forces were following yet another tip about the whereabouts of one of the world’s most wanted drug kingpins, Joaquín Guzmán Loera — known as El Chapo, which means “Shorty” — who had eluded such raids for 13 years since escaping from prison, by many accounts in a laundry cart. With an army of guards and lethally enforced loyalty, he reigned over a worldwide, multibillion-dollar drug empire that supplied much of the cocaine and marijuana to the United States despite a widespread, yearslong manhunt by American and Mexican forces. […]

Mexican marines and the police, aided by information from the United States Drug Enforcement Administration, immigration and customs officials and the United States Marshals Service, took him into custody without firing a shot, according to Mexican officials. […]

Mr. Guzmán faces a slew of drug trafficking and organized crime charges in the United States, which had offered $5 million for information leading to his arrest in the hopes of dealing a crippling blow to an organization that is the country’s top provider of illicit drugs.

Mr. Guzmán’s Sinaloa Cartel is considered the largest and most powerful trafficking organization in the world, with a reach as far as Europe and Asia, and has been a main combatant in a spasm of violence that has left tens of thousands dead in Mexico.

“Big strike,” said a Twitter posting by former President Felipe Calderón, who had made cracking down on drug gangs a hallmark of his tenure.

Note the involvement of the U.S. DEA and "American forces". The U.S. has agreements with Mexico to assist in the enforcement of drug prohibition laws. Also note that the DEA wants Mr. Guzmán for breaking U.S. laws.


It will be interesting to see the effects of this arrest. Mr. Carpenter documents in The Fire Next Door that the violence in Mexico usually increases when a drug lord is arrested. This happens because the leadership of a very profitable drug cartel is up for grabs and different factions will fight in the streets to claim it.

Is it not enough that drug prohibition has made war zones out of some of America’s inner cities, has created a whole gangsta sub-culture, and has given us a prison population that dwarfs that of most other countries?

Must we imperil our Central American neighbors with our prohibition policies too?

End the War on Drugs.

This seems like a good place for this video from the Drug Policy Alliance.

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The Health Care Special (4)

February 22, 2014

The reason I title these posts about Obamacare as I do is because when it kicked in I wanted to do a parody of Midnight Special about it. But that didn’t pan out.

Luckily, we have this parody of Dolly Parton’s 9 to 5 to fill the gap (from Reason.tv).

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Big Brother in the news

February 20, 2014

Here’s an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal by an FCC commissioner who complains about a new FCC initiative.

The FCC Wades Into the Newsroom

News organizations often disagree about what Americans need to know. MSNBC, for example, apparently believes that traffic in Fort Lee, N.J., is the crisis of our time. Fox News, on the other hand, chooses to cover the September 2012 attacks on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi more heavily than other networks. The American people, for their part, disagree about what they want to watch.

But everyone should agree on this: The government has no place pressuring media organizations into covering certain stories.

Unfortunately, the Federal Communications Commission, where I am a commissioner, does not agree. Last May the FCC proposed an initiative to thrust the federal government into newsrooms across the country. With its “Multi-Market Study of Critical Information Needs,” or CIN, the agency plans to send researchers to grill reporters, editors and station owners about how they decide which stories to run. A field test in Columbia, S.C., is scheduled to begin this spring.

The purpose of the CIN, according to the FCC, is to ferret out information from television and radio broadcasters about “the process by which stories are selected” and how often stations cover “critical information needs,” along with “perceived station bias” and “perceived responsiveness to underserved populations.”

H.T. Paul


Update

FCC throws out plan to question reporters about news coverage

The Federal Communications Commission has backtracked on a plan to ask journalists about news coverage decisions after protest from one of the commission’s members.

FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai, part of the commission’s Republican minority, wrote an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal on February 10 criticizing an FCC study on the news media. […]

Yesterday, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler told staff to remove the offending questions, a commission statement today said.

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What’s going on in Venezuela

February 19, 2014

I’m a little surprised at how many posts I’ve written about Venezuela. It’s not as though I have any special interest in the country, but it’s certainly a textbook example of how things can go wrong under a Socialist government.

I don’t believe that the leaders of Venezuela are all socialists in good faith. I suspect that many of them are just thugs using socialism to legitimize the take-over of their country. It wouldn’t be the first that had happened.

There are peaceful, law-abiding socialist governments after all, so I don’t assume that the violence in Venezuela is solely due to socialism. And there are plenty of fascist tyrannies on the right; the left has no monopoly on civil violence.

But socialist or fascist, they’re all statists of one stripe or another. A leopard may change his politics daily but he never changes his spots.


It has mystified me since I was a teenager why people would give up control of anything else to the social agent which controls the guns — i.e., to a government which controls the police and military.

Why in the world would you trust that supreme armed authority in any country with controlling public media, or controlling an economy, or with managing the health care system? The temptations to corruption are so much stronger when the power is concentrated in the government.

That’s why I think socialist governments tend to encourage strong men and tyrants to take power. As I told a socialist friend of mine a few years ago, "When you go to bed with Karl, you’re likely to wake up with Uncle Joe."

Let’s look at the alternative: is the market always fair and even-handed? Hell no, it’s not. Some will rob you with a six-gun, and some with a fountain pen. Business people are no more angels than bureaucrats are. We’re always dealing with the crooked timber of humanity.

But dealing with a market at least leaves you with more alternatives than dealing with a government. Some particular business may give you ‘the business’, but it won’t send you to prison and it won’t conscript you (or your child) to fight in an unjust war.

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Follow the money

February 18, 2014

Here’s an interesting article by Radley Balko, based on a report about a state representative in Minnesota who’s learned an interesting lesson: Follow the money.

RTWT.

The drug war’s profit motive

Terrific reporting here from the Capitol Report, a small publication that covers politics and policy in Minnesota.

Minnesota state Rep. Carly Melin is trying to introduce legislation to legalize medical marijuana in the state, but she’s bumping up against some aggressive opposition from the state’s police agencies and law enforcement organizations, who have united behind a group called the Minnesota Law Enforcement Coalition.
It may at first seem odd that police groups would so vigorously oppose medical pot. These aren’t medical organizations. They have no clear stake in the debate over the drug’s potential therapeutic benefits. According to the article, the police groups say they’re concerned about public safety, but we’ve been living with medical pot for nearly 20 years now, and there’s no empirical data to support the contention that legal medical marijuana brings an increase in crime. If you’re a fan of public choice theory, you might argue that narcotics cops may oppose any move toward legalization because a decrease in the demand for and supply of illegal pot might mean a decrease in need for narcotics cops to police it. And of course there will always be a supply of and trade in other illicit drugs to keep them busy.

So why such strident opposition? Rep. Melin has discovered what drug policy reformers have been arguing for years: It’s about revenue. Police agencies have a strong financial incentive to keep the drug war churning.

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