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Wednesday, March 31, 2024
By Steven L. Taylor

Phloxing into Phocus

365.90 (3/31/10)

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By Steven L. Taylor

Last week I discussed the issue of Colombian ballots and noted the fact that voters have the right to check a box entitled voto en blanco which literally translated as “blank vote” or more accurately as “none of the above.”  The average of such votes for Senate elections from 1974-2010, for example, has been 2.58% (as a percentage of all ballots cast).  As such, the historic significance of the voto en blanco has been nothing more than a footnote.

However, in the election for the indigenous set-aside seat for the lower house of Congress, this may not be the case.  Vote Bien is reporting (Elecciones de representante indígena deben repetirse) that the voto en blanco may have won the absolute majority of the votes for the seat, which will obligate the National Electoral Council (CNE) to toss out the candidates who ran and hold new elections with new candidates for the seat.

The story reports that according to the latest bulletin from the National Registry 205,442 valid votes were cast for the seat, and 111,573 were en blanco or 54.3%.

No decision has been made, but once the results are finalized the CNE will meet to determine if a re-vote will take place.

According to the story this happened once before, in a mayoral election in 2024 and the CNE ordered new elections with new candidates.

There is no indication when such an election would take place, although the logical time would be during the presidential elections in May.  However, there is a major problem here, insofar as voting for the indigenous seat is a choice voters make in lieu of voting for representatives from the voter’s Department.  As such, if a new election is held it will have to be open up to all voters (including those who chose to vote for their departmental representation, or for the afro-colombian seat for that matter,  instead of for the indigenous seat), radically changing the nature of the electorate for the seat in question between the two processes.

An example of a Chamber of Representatives ballot is below.  Note that Part C is the indigenous seat and there are a rather large (to understate the situation quite a bit) number of competitors for the seat, meaning not only did a lot of people vote en blanco but that the votes for candidates was quite fragmented.

2010 Bogota

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By Steven L. Taylor

Something must be in the air today that is causing inaccurate comparisons between the Obama administration and various Latin American leaders.  First it was with various Argentine presidents, and now it is with Hugo Chávez.  The one comes from John Hawkins’ (or Right Wing News) Twitter feed:


And I would be happy to start taking these kinds of comparisons seriously if it was at all clear that the people making them had any idea what they are talking about (either in terms of what the terms mean or in terms of their understanding of the comparisons they are making).

One presumes that Hawkins is referring to things like GM and health care reform.

When we look at things like the US government’s partial ownership of GM (or, for that matter, its financial stake in AIG, Citi, etc.) I would note two rather important points.

The first is that US government involvement (whether one likes it or not) came about in the midst of a severe economic crisis and took place in the context of the firms in question seeking federal help.  These were never “hey look, let’s grab that company!” kind of moves for some political reason.  They were emergency moves.

The second point is that many of these moves took place during the Bush administration.  This strikes me as a nontrivial point when it comes to making the assertion that the current administration is somehow radical. 

None of these moves, by the way, have anything in common with capricious, self-serving political moves like Chávez taking over industries and not even paying for them.

Indeed, the fact that the US government is preparing to divest itself of its shares in Citigroup doesn’t fit Hawkins’ assertion at all.

In simple terms:  buying portions of companies as a means of forestalling economic catastrophe is rather different than taking an industry because it is “in the nation interest” just because the President says so.

If Hawkins is referring to health care reform, of the things that one can call it, neither nationalization or a “government take-over” is accurate.  More regulation? Yes.  Government ownership of the health care or insurance systems?  No, not even close.   This is a matter of fact and is not disputable regardless of one’s opinion of the reform.   We do not have a British-style National Health Service as a result of the recent legislation—more to the point health insurance and health care itself remains in private hands.

There are legitimate critiques to be made of US policy vis-à-vis the economic crisis and HCR, but calling them a “Hugo Chavez style takeover of private industry” is inaccurate to the point of absurdity.

As a side note, I really wish someone would explain to me why Chávez has become such the bête noire for so many.  I understand being critical of him and further, I understand thinking that Venezuela would be better off without him.  However, the constant need to make him into one of the US’s archenemies seems to me to elevate him to a position of importance that is unjustified and that really overstates his significance.

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By Steven L. Taylor

Via the BBC:  Colombia Farc rebels release hostage Pablo Moncayo.

After 12 years in captivity, Moncayo was reunited with his family yesterday.   May his reintegration into society be smooth.

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By Steven L. Taylor

In the WSJ, Bret Stephens (Lady Gaga Versus Mideast Peace) has a little quiz for us:

Pop quiz—What does more to galvanize radical anti-American sentiment in the Muslim world: (a) Israeli settlements on the West Bank; or (b) a Lady Gaga music video?

If your answer is (b) it means you probably have a grasp of the historical roots of modern jihadism. If, however, you answered (a), then congratulations: You are perfectly in synch with the new Beltway conventional wisdom, now jointly defined by Pat Buchanan and his strange bedfellows within the Obama administration.

While there may be a debate to be had about the exact effects of Israeli settlement policies, the idea that physical issues of land and politics on the ground in the Middle East are trumped by US pop culture is ludicrous, and does no stand the test of serious scrutiny.  Second, the gross dichotomization  of one of the central political problems of the last several generations to such a silly choice is an unserious proposition.

Stephens’ main argument for the Lady GaGa hypothesis is based not in some massive Gaza rally against the pop singer (indeed, one would wager that most Palestinians have not clue who Lady GaGa is), but rather in a 1951 essay by Sayyid Qutb, an Egyptian who studied in the US in the 1940s and was alarmed at what he saw:

In his 1951 essay "The America I Have Seen," Qutb gave his account of the U.S. "in the scale of human values." "I fear," he wrote, "that a balance may not exist between America’s material greatness and the quality of her people." Qutb was particularly exercised by what he saw as the "primitiveness" of American values, not least in matters of sex.

"The American girl," he noted, "knows seductiveness lies in the round breasts, the full buttocks, and in the shapely thighs, sleek legs and she shows all this and does not hide it." Nor did he approve of Jazz—"this music the savage bushmen created to satisfy their primitive desires"—or of American films, or clothes, or haircuts, or food. It was all, in his eyes, equally wretched.

Qutb’s disdain for America’s supposedly libertine culture would not matter much were it not wedded to a kind of theological Leninism that emphasized the necessity of violently overthrowing any political arrangement not based on Shariah law. No less violent was Qutb’s attitude toward Jews: "The war the Jews began to wage against Islam and Muslims in those early days [of Islamic history]," he wrote in the 1950s, "has raged to the present. The form and appearance may have changed, but the nature and the means remain the same."

And yes, Qutb has been influential in some sectors of radical Islam.  However, the notion that the American Girl’s breasts and buttocks are the main motivators of radical Islamic violence ignores amongst other things, the fact that most such violence over the last seventy has been directed at Israel, not the United States.

Beyond that, it does bear noting that the current era of anti-US terrorism by al Qaeda started in the 1990s, not the 1950s.  Shockingly this corresponds far more to US military involvement in the Middle East than to “Madonna, Farrah Fawcett, Marilyn Monroe, Josephine Baker or any other American woman who has, at one time or another, personified what the Egyptian Islamist writer Sayyid Qutb once called ‘the American Temptress.’” 

As Daniel Larison notes:

That must be why America was beset by jihadist attacks since at least 1948. Oh, wait, this never happened? How strange. That might mean that the decadence-as-cause-of-terrorism argument grossly exaggerates the importance of such cultural factors in explaining jihadist violence as a way of distracting us from remediable political grievances. In fact, attacks on Americans and American installations began after we inserted ourselves into the region’s conflicts and began establishing a military presence there. Hegemonists can obsess over the writings of Qutb all they want, but it will not change the reality that anti-American jihadist violence did not occur until the misguided 1982-83 intervention in Lebanon. U.S. and Israeli military operations and policies of occupation provoke much broader, more intense resentment among Muslims than any general dissatisfaction with the decadence of Western culture and its deleterious effects.

I would note that  those pointing to the Palestinian question as part of the general problem in the Middle East for the US includes General David Petraeus.

Update:  Writing at Cato, Justin Logan rather correctly notes:

Bin Laden’s 1996 fatwa, after all, was not titled “Declaration of War against the Americans with their Supple Buttocks and Protuberant Breasts.”  Instead, it was called “Declaration of War against the Americans Occupying the Land of the Two Holy Places.”  Or you can take a look at the second fatwa, released in 1998.  The three big claims made against us in there were

  1. Our presence in Saudi Arabia and support for the Saudi government, which he hates;
  2. Our sanctions regime against Iraq and its alleged effects on Iraqi civilians; and
  3. Our support for Israel.


I would also recommend Andrew Exum’s post on the subject.

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By Steven L. Taylor

Today’s edition is from the Washington Examiner (United States of Argentina) wherein Obama is cast in the roles of both Juan Perón and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner all in a two-paragraph span.

The first tip-off that the author has no clue about the topic in question is the notion that the Peronism of the 1940s and that of the current period (indeed, of the post military regime period, i.e, 1983 onward) is identical.1  Yes, Kirchner is a member of the Partido Justicialista, also known as the peronists, but there hasn’t exactly been an unbroken line of policy prescriptions between Juan Domingo and Cristina.  For that matter, the notion that all of the ills of Argentina can be laid at the feet of the peronists is a gross over-simplification.2

And while it is true that Argentina appeared to be on an economy trajectory like that of Europe at the early part of the Twentieth Century, the author exaggerates a bit to make it sound like an economic paradise that was driven into the ground by Perón alone.  Indeed, the Argentine economy started its decline during the Great Depression, which was a decade and half-ish before Perón came to power.

As a side note, it strikes me as ironic that the political movement in the US that currently has more in common, stylistically anyway, with  Juan Perón’s politics (which were quintessentially populist) are the Tea Partiers, not the Obama administration.

The main problem with the comparisons in the column is that it fundamentally makes no sense.  The logic goes like this:  Perón engaged in some policies that had something to do with increased government activity in the economy and that led to disaster.   So, Obama’s because health care reform increases government involvement in a sector of the economy, disaster looms.   Never mind, of course, that the two sets of policies really have nothing to do with one another, either in content of scope.  Why trifle with making a comparison that makes sense?

Although I will note that this adds yet another political label to the growing list that has been applied to the Obama administration (e.g., socialist, communist, fascist, etc.).  I honestly never considered he might be labeled a peronist.

In terms of serious commentary I will allow that there is a real issue at the heart of an otherwise silly column:  there are serious fiscal concerns on the horizon for the US.  However, it is difficult to take seriously people who pretend like the only reason that this is true is because of the health care bill (which, at least, attempts to pay for itself—although that is an argument in and of itself, I will allow).  Still, the last decade has seen (off the top of my head):  two wars, Medicare Part D, tax cuts, TARP and the stimulus bill (none of which made any attempt to pay for themselves), so it is difficult to say that HCR is the main culprit in our fiscal woes. Anyone who makes that argument is either not paying attention or is being disingenuous.  And for clarity’s sake, let me note:  I think that the potential fiscal implications of HCR are legitimate reasons to be concerned about/opposed to it.  However, I find it inconsistent to take it alone and pretend that it will bankrupt us while at the same time ignoring the cost of the Iraq war (to pick just one item from the list above).

  1. This is especially evident in the fact that the era that the column’s author praises (the 1990s) was a period that also had a peronist President. []
  2. Perhaps a gross over-simplification cubed. []
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Tuesday, March 30, 2024
By Steven L. Taylor

Wal-Mart in the Morning

365.89 (3/30/10)

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By Steven L. Taylor

The most awesome phrase of the day is “one big hapax legomenon.”

The phrase in question is deployed in the following NPR piece on the Pledge of Allegiance:  I Pledge Allegiance To Linguistic Obfuscation:

In fact, "pledge allegiance" is what linguists call a hapax legomenon, or hapax for short — an expression that only occurs in a single place in the language, like wardrobe malfunction, Corinthian leather or satisfactual.

The piece notes that, on balance, the only place many of the phrases in the Pledge are used is in the in the Pledge itself, which ultimately obscures the meaning of the words because there is not reference point to the phrases in the broader language.

Indeed, I noted something along these lines (although without a cool term to describe it) back in a 2024 post, which was about the argument over the phrase “under God” and my position was, as a general matter, that most kids give the words of the Pledge a first thought (let alone a second one).

At any rate, the piece is definitely worth a read.

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By Steven L. Taylor

There is little doubt that at the moment relations between the US and Israel are strained over the question of increased settlements.   A lot of this situation is a lot more about domestic Israeli politics and the need for Prime Minister Netanyahu to keep his governing coalition together than many US observers are admitting.  Specifically, it cannot be forgotten that the current Israeli cabinet which includes Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman of Yisrael Beiteinu, an ultra-nationalists to Netanyahu’s right.

There has been a great deal of criticism of Obama’s dealings with Netanyahu, including some incendiary speculation about the President’s motives.

It this general context we have the following from Kathryn Jean Lopez at NRO:

Rush Limbaugh suggests Israel should just change its name to Iran. It’s the key to be treated well by the U.S.: No pressure, no impolite diplomatic language, no pushing it to give up land.

Now, last time I checked, Israel has been the #1 recipient of US foreign aid for decades (although Iraq may have taken the top slot at times during the last several years) while the US does not even have diplomatic relations with Iran and rather than giving them money has sanctions in place.

Just sayin’.

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By Steven L. Taylor

Via the NYT:  CNN Fails to Stop Fall in Ratings

The trend in news ratings for the first three months of this year is all up for one network, the Fox News Channel, which enjoyed its best quarter ever in ratings, and down for both MSNBC and CNN.

Regardless of anything else that one may (or may not) like about Fox News Channel, the bottom line is that their model is a smart one:  the prime time line-up consists of basically of infotainment (i.e., those shows are predominantly commentary on the news, i.e., O’Reilly and Hannity or sensationalized “news-y” stuff, e.g., Greta.)

Indeed, even CNN’s most popular program over time, The Larry King Show, is likewise infotainment.  And, must has to admit, the phrase “jumped the shark” comes to mind in re:  King and his program.

And really, people know the Fox personalities:  Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck.  Who is anywhere as close to that level of name-recognition at CNN apart from King?  Wolf Blitzer?

Granted, MSNBC is trying a similar approach, but to far less effect than Fox.  It may simply be that the demographics of cable news viewers trends in a more conservative direction, a market served best by Fox.

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