Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Regarding COHA’s July 26 Press Release “Corn-based Ethanol: Offering Some Relief from Globalization’s Merciless Quest to Replace Fossil Fuel"

  • Corn versus sugar-based substitute fuels
  • Latin American corn producers could again become competitive
    Brazil wants entry into U.S. ethanol market
  • U.S. agro-industry ultimate beneficiary of federal government’s promotion of corn ethanol

Contrary to the usual outcome of Washington’s subsidies to U.S. farmers, recent grants for ethanol producers could actually improve many lives, both at home and abroad. As the Bush administration aggressively encourages the production of ethanol, a renewable, more environmentally friendly biofuel, to replace increasingly pricey gasoline in automobiles, domestic and foreign corn markets will have to undergo some major adjustments. The U.S. hopes to decrease gasoline consumption by augmenting the production of compounds such as E-85 fuel, which is a mixture of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline, that can replace regular gasoline in almost every vehicle sold today in the U.S. This could make a real dent in U.S. reliance on foreign petroleum as a result of a major shift to a domestic, non-hydrocarbon fuel source.

Full article ...

~I usually find your articles right on. But you surely missed the mark on this one. There is ample evidence that it takes more than a gallon of gas to make a gallon of corn-based ethanol. So WHERE is the savings, the ecological responsibility, the eye on the future?
With over half the world living in hunger, why would you support using a food staple to make something that allows American to continue living like they believe is their god-given right rather than finally assuming some social responsibility?
Thank you,
Greg Stricherz~

~Dear Greg,
We thought we were being skeptical in the ethanol piece, citing the fact that little seemed to be gained from the process, making some of the same points that you have made. Perhaps we didn’t emphasize that enough. We will be more careful next time.
My best,
Larry Birns

~ Dear Larry,
I am truly ashamed of myself. I will have to admit I read only the first paragraph. I couldn’t believe what I was reading and immediately wrote my email. With the way the world is going, I have grown very intolerant of ideas I don’t like.
I have now gone back and read the whole piece. I do apologize for my haste. Perhaps I can remember to keep myself in check in the future.
And I want to emphasize that I do find your information extremely valuable in the world of corporate media.

Thank you,
Greg Stricherz~

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Regarding COHA’s July 20 Press Release “MERCOSUR Meeting in Cordoba Begins Today”

Venezuela’s July 4 official accession to the Mercado Común del Sur (MERCOSUR), of which Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay already are a part, undoubtedly adds decisive economic clout to the trade group; however recent squabbles and some misguided moves make it clear that the country’s inclusion also aggravates various traditionally anti-Chávez Venezuelan constituents as well as the smaller MERCOSUR states. The latter already fear the growing clout of dominant bloc members, Argentina, Brazil, and now Venezuela.

Full article...

~I was struck by the patronizing and arrogant tone of the article. For example: the country has little to offer its new trade partners, (then why did they agree to Venezuela’s membership?)… While some Venezuelan economic theorists (these would be who?) claim that multilateral integration is unnecessary …most orthodox thinkers (these would be who? What “orthodoxy” exactly? what about UNorthodox thinkers?) go further by insisting that Chávez’s way is the path to ruin. (as does Condoleezza Rice, the CIA, the entire economic elite, etc. etc. etc.) These constituents fear that the lower tariffs provided by MERCOSUR will weaken the local non-oil-based economy… (Theorists, thinkers and constituents; such polite names for those who denounce (hate?) Chavez. Do they want to see him dead, as many business people have called for? And what would you call the economic advisors who assist Chavez? Not that we hear from any of them in the article!)

(It’s nice that you mention that the people and groups whose views youare presenting in such fine detail supported a coup against him. You also say that they supported “a general strike”. This is false. There was no general strike. There was a management instigated lockout at the state-owned oil company which was meant to destroy the economy and cause Chavez to be overthrown. Therefore their present “fears” seem self-serving and fake.) “Chávez typical antagonizing…could cause a lamentable departure from progress…his persistently conjured-up vision”… this sounds like an unruly schoolchild’s report card.

Finally, you graciously (and modestly) order Chavez how to behave; evidently he needs lessons: Chávez must avoid spurring the departure of Paraguay and Uruguay…President Chávez should proceed with great caution…Chávez should step lightly…He should be more the observer than the galvanizer…

Who the hell do you think you are? What qualifies you to instruct a head of state who has been in office since 1998, raised the living standards of his country, eliminated illiteracy, and successfully carried out commercial and diplomatic missions around the world etc. etc. etc. etc. etc.? Of all the international thinkers whose opinions he might solicit - for instance Noam Chomsky, Professor F.T. Lee, and Tariq Ali, just to name three, not to mention his own experienced people such as Ali Rodriguez (former head of the state-owned oil company, former acting president of OPEC, present foreign minister) - what gives you the idea that he should (or will) listen to YOU?

I think you owe Chavez an apology, and maybe you could provide him or his representatives a chance to answer the attacks of his enemies in your overbearing and condescending article.

Richard Coleman~

~COHA Responds:

I think that it would be helpful for you to be reminded of the fact that we have 31 interns here at COHA and they work very hard – often seven days a week – to give a voice in Washington to something akin to what I am certain is your point of view. When an intern turns in a credible and well-researched piece investigating an issue like some aspect of President Chavez’s policies, we’re not going to easily turn it down because it is not entirely congruent with our own thoughts on the subject – at the very least, that would smack of Stalinism.

As for our mandate, we get part of it from my being present, as an official of the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America (CEPAL), at the time of the Pinochet coup. There we witnessed the small non-structural mistakes being made by President Allende that did so much damage to his admirable experiment. Regarding COHA’s bona fides on Venezuela, we have done hundred upon hundreds of studies which have been very supportive of the Chavez presidency and the various admirable reforms he already has, or would like to see implemented, a fact which President Chavez has seen fit to publicly acknowledge, to our great pride.

Surely your offensive rant doesn’t mean to suggest that a respect for Chavez demands silence on the part of his well-wishers when important differences come up. If this is so, one becomes not a heavy hitter for a democratic socialist cause, but somehow dissolves into advocating some kind of authoritarian trajectory. It is shameless to implicitly demand that the choice is that one must either slavishly dedicate one’s intellectual fiat to others, or have to be mute to some of Chavez’s less thoughtful sorties.

We at COHA immensely respect Chavez, enough to counsel him in a forthright way – and as a friend of the court – and we know that when we say to him, ten cuidado, he will give thoughtful consideration to what we say, because that is the kind of relationship we have established with this good man. In all humility, we ask you to arm yourself with the same weapons which would then allow you to substitute a reasoned dialogue for your otherwise harsh, if shallow rhetoric.

COHA Director Larry Birns~

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Regarding COHA’s July 11 Press Release “Mexican Election Still Far from Over, as the Plot Somewhat Thickens”

  • More than a week after Mexico’s presidential election, there is still no clear winner
  • Although ruling PAN party candidate Felipe Calderón ostensibly won by the slimmest of margins in last week’s re-tabulation of votes, a long and what could prove to be a turbulent legal process lies ahead before he can actually be certified as president-elect
  • Left-leaning PRD candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador has rightly protested the results of the election, citing mounting evidence of fraud and malfeasance. He is seeking victory not by means of violence and hysteria, but by a vote-by-vote recount
  • While the electoral authorities have repeatedly preached about their body’s own accomplishments, in fact, IFE’s credibility is flagging. Given the process in which it evolved, candidate López Obrador has every right and reason to challenge IFE’s role and the manner in which the ruling party conducted itself. The PRD’s search for validation of the election is merited

Full article...

~Dear Sirs:

Regarding Michael Lettieri’s July 11 article on Mexican Election Still Far from Over …, I would like to note that your credibility is being compromised by two assertions made by Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador that are repeated in your article that turn out to be completely untrue.

1) The video AMLO showed on the ballot box stuffing turned out to be a voting place president returning to the proper voting box about 10 ballots that were mistakenly put in the wrong ballot box. This was done in front of all the party representatives and the polling station workers and everyone involved agreed it was done completely legally and with no bias toward any candidate.

2) The so-called 3 million missing votes were never missing at all because all the political parties had agreed that votes with incomplete or inconsistent information would be left out of the rapid tally known as the PREP. These votes were placed in a separate area and the political parties were able to consult this area and see the results of these `inconsistent’ votes, which were to be included at all times in the final district tally. It’s still not clear why AMLO referred to them as missing votes when his party knew where they were and even consulted them.

It’s perfectly fine to take sides. I certainly enjoy reading from a variety of points of view. However, for the sake of your institution’s credibility, please make sure you don’t repeat assertions that have been thoroughly proven to be incorrect.


Thomas Black~

~COHA Responds:

Regarding the first point, at the time of the article’s writing and publication, it was still uncertain as to whether what was witnessed in the video was fraud or whether it was, as the IFE claimed, a misinterpreted relocation of ballots. Since then, it has become apparent that in this particular incident, as Mr. Black notes, no malfeasance was present. However, the video is not the only evidence López Obrador has offered of possible wrongdoing, and numerous organizations have noted irregularities in the electoral process. These groups include Global Exchange – which mounted a larger, broader, and more comprehensive monitoring effort than many – and Mexico’s own Alianza Cívica, perhaps the most important and highly regarded pro-democracy organization in the country. While this particular case was eventually disproved, its symbolic weight was substantial.

Regarding the second point, COHA never referred to the votes as missing, but simply noted that they had been left out of initial PREP results. This decision was, regardless of its legal and electoral basis, confusing for many, and compounded the IFE’s perceived mismanagement of the election.

~(EXCERPTED) Here I go again after struggling with Michael Lettieri’s most recent “analysis” of the Mexican presidential election: Mexican Election Still Far from Over, as the Plot Somewhat Thickens. I am in full agreement with most of Lettieri’s closing remarks.

And I quote:
“The PRD’s decision to protest the official results of the July 2 election through legally defined channels is nothing less than a test of the strength of Mexican democracy. It is no easy task that now confronts the TEPJF, as it must sort through hard evidence and heated rhetoric to make a decision which it will undoubtedly be forced to justify to either the PAN or the PRD, according to the circumstances. Dealing with the uncertainty that will undoubtedly dominate Mexico until that ruling is announced is a formidable task and one which has been complicated by the IFE’s incessant self-promotion. In the weeks to come, all actors, including the media, must behave in a responsible manner. At this point, the only certainty about the Mexican presidential election of 2006 is that it is far from over.”

But, I must take exception in the above paragraph to Lettieri’s reference to “the IFE’s incessant self-promotion” statement, as it seems more the product of his fabrications not supported by sound and solid evidence. Unfortunately, most of his presentation seems to parrot the PRD’s contention of fraud without giving serious consideration to the well structured electoral process put together by the IFE during the past 12 years. Perhaps Lettieri will do well to follow his own advice to the media to “behave in a responsible manner.” I presume he does not claim to be above those mundane limitations.


Sergio Ferragut~

~COHA Responds:

The IFE has, without a doubt, been its own biggest supporter. Anyone who has listened to the IFE discuss its own stature or importance would be hard pressed to disagree.
This is not to say that COHA hasn’t discussed some of the body’s more favorable aspects and its significance in historical perspective. In a February 15, 2006 report (Courting the Vote: Electoral Courts and Councils Take on the Challenge of Guaranteeing a Free and Fair Vote Throughout Latin America), COHA wrote that the IFE carried a “difficult historical burden,” yet noted that “its legitimacy is now unchallenged.” A June 6, 2006 release (Flirting with Danger: Mexican Presidential Campaign Grows Tense) observed that the IFE was “clearly capable of administering the ballot.”

This respect for the body’s nuts and bolts competency remains. As an observer, I, and my delegation, commented on the remarkable organization of the electoral processes, which the IFE administered. Ballots, boxes, and voting booths were all top notch. The system was close to, if not completely, airtight. That is not to say that the election was entirely inoculated against fraud. Bad intentions can pervert good systems, and it is likely – especially given Mexico’s history – that this occurred in some cases.

More importantly than the minutiae of fraud, however, was COHA’s assertion, which has been echoed by others, that the IFE failed to generate confidence and project an image of independent rectitude in the days after the vote. In the previously mentioned February report, we noted that “questions still remain over [the IFE’s] ability to serve as an effective mediator in Mexico’s brawling political arena” and that “the uncertain enforcement of its own, sometimes cripplingly vague, guidelines, has only hastened the deterioration of the IFE’s effectiveness as a regulatory institution.” It appears, in the aftermath of July 2, that such problems have come to a head.

It is the IFE’s loss of prestige, rather than any minor fraud allegation, which is troubling – more so because it is not entirely unfounded. PAN and PRI legislators effectively blocked PRD nominees to the IFE’s general council, and since then political scientists have noted that there are clearly defined voting patterns within the body, with some members breaking towards the PRI and others towards the PAN. If the body is indeed split between partisan members, the lack of PRD representation – given that the party’s showing in the congressional elections puts it on par with both the PRI and PAN – is troubling. Moreover, if much of the country perceives a partiality to both the PAN and PRI in the IFE’s actions, election results will always be distrusted. ~