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Friday, December 30, 2005
By Steven L. Taylor

Via the AP: Bolivia Leader Won’t OK Coca Eradication

President-elect Evo Morales traveled to the heart of Bolivia coca-growing region to reinforce a campaign theme: he will not permit the widespread destruction of the country’s coca crop.

[...]

“We are winning the green battle: the coca leaf is beating the North American dollar,” said Morales, a frequent critic of U.S. policy in the region. “I guarantee you, there will be no zero coca.”

The 46-year-old Aymara Indian who won the Dec. 18 balloting with a decisive 54 percent of the vote, campaigned on promises to stand up to the U.S. on the eradication of coca, the raw ingredient of cocaine.

He repeated his promise to allow coca cultivation, an activity that helps sustain nearly 30,000 families in the area.

The Morales presidency is going to cause the administration to rethink some of its anti-drug policies. And, as I mentioned the other day, there are political implications for cocaleros in Peru who will, one would expect, see the success of their Bolivian brethren and seek more political influence.

The picture to the left (via the AP) shows Morales with a coca-leaf necklace (but, no, the white stuff in his hair isn’t cocaine, lest ye think otherwise).

Meanwhile, Morales is headed to Cuba for a visit (via the BBC): New Bolivian leader to visit Cuba

Bolivia’s president-elect Evo Morales is due to arrive in Cuba for his first foreign trip since his sweeping election victory earlier this month.

Mr Morales, who on 22 January will become Bolivia’s first indigenous president, is due to hold talks with Cuban President Fidel Castro.

Mr Castro is sending a jet to collect Mr Morales and about 60 supporters.

This will give the administration hives. Of course, if the US had been wise in regards to Cuba at the end of the Cold War, and regularized relations, which would have allowed for economic liberalization (which would affected government as well), Castro would not be in the position of being the Dean of Anti-American Forces in the region. The one thing that Castro has going for him is being the bulwark against Yanqui imperialism, and the US has been the source of that power by maintaining Cold War era policies.

The degree to which Chávez and Morales can look to Castro as a means of building region prestige is very much the US reaping what it has sown for a decade and a half.

Aside from scoring points with Cuban-Americans in Florida, and sticking it to Castro for being an ally of the Soviets, exactly what have US sanctions against Cuba accomplished since 1990?

Also, via CNN: Bolivia’s next president on celebratory tour.

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By Steven L. Taylor

Via Reuters: Colombia’s 2005 murder tally falls 12 percent

The number of people killed in Colombia, one of the hemisphere’s most violent countries, dropped in 2005 for the third time in as many years to its lowest point in nearly two decades, police said.

A total of 17,726 people were killed in Colombia this year, 12 percent fewer than in 2004. It was the lowest number of killings since 1987 and considerably fewer than the 28,837 in 2002 when President Alvaro Uribe began cracking down on drug-running Marxist rebels, police said.

Kidnappings, meanwhile, fell 47 percent to 758 compared to 1,442 in 2004. It was a far cry from the mid-1990s, when Colombia averaged some 3,000 abductions a year.

While good news, those are still some horrific numbers.

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By Steven L. Taylor

Via the BBC: Colombia urges more drugs war aid

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe has told the BBC the world must play a bigger role in helping his country combat illegal drugs and rebel groups.

“There are many countries helping us and there are many countries that do not help us yet,” the president said.

This is, in fact, one of the basic logics of Plan Colombia, that governments interested in combating cocaine would contribute funds directly to that fight in Colombia. Of course, the US has been the main contributor to this point. Indeed, while Pastrana’s (the president before Uribe) plan was to obtain ongoing contributions from other Latin American states and Europe, it has basically been a US-Colombian partnership. No doubt that in speaking to the BBC, Uribe is trying to draw attention to the fact that Europe is also a major market for cocaine.

Certainly this is also driven by the campaign, by showing Uribe being tough with foreign governments on this issue.

Such statements by Colombians (or Latin Americans in general) always raise the debate as to whom to blame for the drug problem: those who produce, and those who consume (and along the same lines, whether one can blame the entirety of a given country for either problem–i.e., all Americans are to blame for consumption/all Colombians are to blame for production). Of course, such positions are false dichotomies, but it is hardly unusual to hear someone in the US wish to blame the Colombians alone for the cocaine problem. Such statements are facile, but quite common. They also reveal the notion that if we could, for example, eliminate all coca leaf, that the drugs problem would go away. Such thinking is, of course, incorrect, because if all the cocaine blew away in the wind then those seeking a high would find a domestically produced intoxicant to consume.

Indeed, in the overall problem with drugs, I would argue that the key factor is not production, but consumption. There would be no production sans the demand of consumers. Nevertheless, the preponderance of drug war policy is aimed at supply. As such, it is the case that the policies are predicated on severe misapprehension of how markets work, and are therefore doomed to fail (and to cost billions in the process).

Back to Uribe, part of what has increased his ire the last couple of days in terms of the FARC and funds in regards to fighting narco-trafficking is the incident that took place near the Sierra Macarena National Park, where troops were manually removing coca plants, because aerial spraying could have affected the park. During the process, the FARC attacked and killed 29 soldiers (via the Miami Herald: Uribe declares war on coca after attack

About 400 rebels with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, used mortar shells, land mines and heavy artillery to attack a camp of 80 soldiers just before daybreak Tuesday, the army said.

[...]

the government was eradicating the crops by hand in this region because of its close proximity to the Sierra Macarena National Park, a 1.6 million-acre reserve that environmentalists say would be permanently harmed by aerial fumigation.

With the government refusing to conduct aerial spraying of crops in the national parks, the FARC has begun growing much of its coca inside the parks, Uribe said.

The event fully underscores the degree to which the decades-old guerrilla war has fused with drug trafficking.

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Thursday, December 29, 2005
By Steven L. Taylor

I have expressed doubts about Wikipedia in the past (for example), and have some amusing evidence to demonstrate that it isn’t exactly a keen research tool.

I noticed in my referrer logs over he last couple weeks that I have been getting maybe a hit a day from the following Wikipedia article on the TV show Cheers.

Curious, I went to the article to find that the footnote to this passage:

The Finale

NBC dedicated a whole night to Cheers’ final episode. The show began with a “pre-game” show hosted by Bob Costas, followed by the final 98 minute episode itself. Local news then aired tributes to Cheers, and the night concluded with a special Tonight Show broadcast live from the Bull & Finch Pub. Some critics said the episode of The Tonight Show was in poor taste because much of the cast was drunk and were doing silly things on camera—such as a spitball fight between John Ratzenberger and Woody Harrelson.[12]

links to me:

# ^ PoliBlogger (2005). The Last Episode

Which goes to this post on final episodes of TV shows.

In that post the totality of what I have to say about Cheers is:

Cheers: It was ok. As I recall, I was dissatisfied with the way they handled the return of Diane.

While I always pleased to be linked, and am happy for the trickle of visitor being sent my way, I have to say that the referenced material really has almost nothing to do with the content of the paragraph in question.

At any rate, a trivial matter on a trivial topic, but it does show that are reasons why I have my doubts about using Wikipedia for anything of a serious nature. It can be useful for trying to confirm simple facts, although even then I take it with a grain of salt.

Still, to be fair, there was this bit of news from a few weeks ago: Nature: Wikipedia as Good as Britannica.

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By Steven L. Taylor

Via the AP/the NYT: Spy Agency Removes Illegal Tracking Files

The National Security Agency’s Internet site has been placing files on visitors’ computers that can track their Web surfing activity despite strict federal rules banning most files of that type.

The files, known as cookies, disappeared after a privacy activist complained and The Associated Press made inquiries this week. Agency officials acknowledged yesterday that they had made a mistake.

Nonetheless, the issue raised questions about privacy at the agency, which is on the defensive over reports of an eavesdropping program.

“Considering the surveillance power the N.S.A. has, cookies are not exactly a major concern,” said Ari Schwartz, associate director at the Center for Democracy and Technology, a privacy advocacy group in Washington. “But it does show a general lack of understanding about privacy rules when they are not even following the government’s very basic rules for Web privacy.”

Until Tuesday, the N.S.A. site created two cookie files that do not expire until 2035.

On balance, cookies aren’t that big of a deal. Still, in the context of the NSA and discussions of data-mining, this isn’t exactly comforting.

I have to agree with David Corn’s assessment:

if any government agency should be expected to follow privacy rules and to have control of its own technology and software, it should be the NSA. If the Labor Department were doing this, it wouldn’t be that worrisome.

And Jeff Huber rightly asks:

This begs a pair of questions. If NSA is being careless about features in their software, how careless are they being in all the other aspects of their operations? Moreover, what does it say about government oversight when it takes a privacy advocacy group to catch a secret government agency breaking the law?

Indeed.

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By Steven L. Taylor

There’s a new Green in town.

Congratulations to Stephen and Melissa.

(And that is quite a cute picture!).

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By Steven L. Taylor

Via the AP: Mont. Firefighters Rescue Cat From River

Someone had put the animal in a cage, along with a rock weighing about 16 pounds, and tossed it into the Clark Fork River. But instead of landing in the water, it bounced several times on the ice and then became stuck.

It’s unclear how long the cat had been there.

There are ways to get rid of a pet one does not want. Drowning it in an icy river isn’t one of them.

At any rate: good for the cat:

Firefighter Josh Macrow decided to keep the cat. After his shift, he took it to a vet and then home to his 12-year-old daughter.

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By Steven L. Taylor

Via the AP: Nebraska Back on the Map After Alamo Win.

A few reactions:

1) How far did Michigan fall this year?

2) Good for the Big XII, which needs some serious improvement, especially in the North.

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By Steven L. Taylor

Via WaPo: Homeland Security Is Faulted in Audit

Nearly three years after it was formed, the immense Department of Homeland Security remains hampered by severe management and financial problems that contributed to the flawed response to Hurricane Katrina, according to an independent audit released yesterday.

Who’da thunk it?

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Wednesday, December 28, 2005
By Steven L. Taylor

Via the BBC: Huge new oil discovery in Brazil

Brazil’s state-owned oil company, Petrobras, says it has discovered a huge new offshore oil field off the coast of Rio de Janeiro state.

The Papa-Terra field was found in the Campos Basin, which is already Brazil’s most important oil-producing region.

Petrobras estimates it contains at least 700 million barrels of crude – about 10% of Brazil’s current reserves.

The field, which is jointly operated with the US company Chevron, should start producing oil by the end of 2011.

[...]

The new field is expected to help Petrobras achieve its goal of making Brazil self-sufficient in oil. Since 2003, the company has been meeting 91% of the country’s needs.

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