Uruguay passes pot legalization law

Uruguay marijuana legalisation update.

I dare say Mark will want to comment on this, but I’ll beat him to the punch with the news. Uruguay’s Senate has passed the marijuana legalization law by a party-line vote. Text in Spanish of the version passed by the lower house of parliament. Infographic in English on the new policy. It’s not clear whether there were any amendments in the Senate, but I suppose the news reports would have covered anything major. The act still has to be signed by the President, Jose Mujica – a foregone conclusion as he was its prime mover. More important, according to TPM:

Uruguay’s drug control agency will have 120 days, until mid-April, to draft regulations imposing state control over the entire market for marijuana, from seed to smoke.

I haven’t seen anything on Uruguay’s next move under the UN Single Treaty – denunciation, reservation, or (most ambitiously) proposing a rewrite.

Life by chocolate

A small upmarket chocolate-maker brings quality labs to cacao bean producers.

From MIT’s magazine Technology Review, a small cockle-warming story by Corby Kummer to curl up with in front of the fire.

A yuppie San Francisco chocolate maker called Tcho has gone beyond selling high-priced speciality chocolate squares.Roasted Cacao Beans

The company does something new: it provides growers with all the tools they need to have chocolate tastings during harvesting and processing, the crucial period that determines the price a cacao farmer’s crop will command. Tcho combines coffee roasters, spice grinders, and modified hair dryers to equip “sample labs” — pilot plants that produce tiny lots of chocolate right where cacao is grown. The company gives cacao farmers customized groupware so that they can share tasting notes and samples with chocolate makers. In this way, the farmers can bring entire harvests up to the standards of Tcho or any other buyer.

This is big news for the cocoa growers in Ghana, Ecuador, and other poor producing countries. Continue reading “Life by chocolate”

One laptop per child, progress report

Nicholas Negroponte nears his objective of the $100 educational laptop. What does it mean?

Nicholas Negroponte is about to meet the goal he set in 2005 in Tunis of an under-$100 laptop computer designed to give the world’s children access to the information society.

His One Laptop per Child Foundation revealed prototypes of its third generation design, the XO-3, in January. It hopes to find manufacturers who will allow the design to be available in quantity by the end of the year at around the $100 bar. (There’s a delay; the symbolic price point is perhaps more sacred than the deadline.)

OLPC xo-3 prototype

More photos here.

Mission accomplished! Or is it? Continue reading “One laptop per child, progress report”

Redefining the U.S.-Cuba Relationship

Whoever wins the Presidential election in November will face criticism from Central and South American nations about the embargo and isolation of Cuba. Neither candidate will budge on this issue prior to the election, for reasons obvious to anyone who understands the electoral college. As a Republican interested in re-election, Romney will not budge after November either, if he wins (another reason why this election matters). However, if President Obama is re-elected, he will have a historically unprecedented opening to redefine the U.S.-Cuba relationship.

Consider the facts:

*After November, President Obama will not stand for election again and need therefore not fear personal electoral consequences.

*The Cuban exiles overwhelmingly vote Republican, so there is not much for a Democratic President (or other Democratic candidates) to lose in popularity with that population in any event.

*Hatred of Castro is still prevalent among older Cuban-Americans in Florida, but their children and even moreso their grandchildren want a closer connection between the U.S. and Cuba.

*By the time of the 2016 Presidential election, Fidel Castro will be 90 if he is alive at all. The people nursing grudges against him in South Florida are also passing into history. No matter whether that generation was right or wrong, the future of the U.S.-Cuba relationship belongs to others.

The President has already laid good groundwork by making travel to Cuba easier. He could and should dramatically expand travel and exchange programmes (including for children) after the election, restrict the embargo’s reach (exempting all but military supplies, perhaps), and consider expanding our formal diplomatic presence in Havana.

The political reality may be that as long as the Castros are alive, we can’t fully normalize our relationship with Cuba. If that is so, there is no reason why we can’t have all the pieces in place to jump start a friendship 24 hours after those cold war dinosaurs go for a Burton.

Fifty-two dead in Monterrey

… apparently as part of the turf battle between the Golfo group and Los Zetas. Current policies incentivize violence. We need a new enforcement strategy to make the drug traffickers afraid of acting scary.

… as a commando group attacks a casino, apparently as part of the Golfo/Los Zetas turf war.

The basic problem is that current enforcement policies lead the big Mexican drug trafficking organizations to value a reputation for violence: it creates a competitive advantage. Smart policy would try to reverse that by penalizing such reputations with differential enforcement pressure.

At the extreme, that would mean singling out the most violent group for destruction (via a public, transparent process), taking it down with a combination of Mexican pressure on the target group and U.S. pressure on its distributors here, and then picking the next target.

We need to make them afraid of acting scary.

The Wall Street favela

Noted development economist Hernando de Soto thinks Wall Street is backsliding into the informal economy of Third World slums.

Is this


reverting in a way to this?

The famous Peruvian development economist Hernando de Soto thinks so. He has argued – and shown in practice – that clear and publicly recorded and legally enforced property rights are a key to ending poverty. Now he offers this robust and now mainstream theory to explain the financial crisis of the rich countries (h/t Frank Pasquale):

Over the past 20 years, Americans and Europeans have quietly gone about destroying these [economic] facts. The very systems that could have provided markets and governments with the means to understand the global financial crisis—and to prevent another one—are being eroded. Governments have allowed shadow markets to develop and reach a size beyond comprehension. Mortgages have been granted and recorded with such inattention that homeowners and banks often don’t know and can’t prove who owns their homes. In a few short decades the West undercut 150 years of legal reforms that made the global economy possible.

De Soto is an important and experienced voice, and one that is should be [correction, see comments] difficult for conservatives to ignore.

I think he’s on to something. The fair and traditional price for state enforcement of private contracts is the partial loss of their privacy and idiosyncrasy into a public and structured institutional memory. Absent this, freedom’s just another word for everything to lose.

When the good guys are winning

It’s a long haul, but the criminal justice system in Mexico is moving in the right direction, lots of credit to our students, the Abogados con Cámaras.  The injunction against their film has been lifted and everyone is watching it.  Including people in high places, más aqui (en español).  Did I mention that Negrete and Hernández are PhD students at the Goldman School?

Mexican justice: ayuda, por favor!

Everyone knows about the river of blood – criminals’, bystanders’, and good guys’ – flowing in Mexican streets as the country tries to get on top of its drug trafficking problem and the corruption of police and military it has engendered.  What’s less well known is the pervasive inability of the criminal justice system to protect citizens from ordinary crime by distinguishing real perps from victims of police setups and frames, a situation that probably has a fair amount to do with the drug war’s gruesome persistence.

Two of our students, Roberto Hernandez and Layda Negrete, have kicked this latter hornets’ nest with amazing results, making a documentary about one murder investigation and trial that is changing the world south of the border, and maybe elsewhere.  But the system to which police and trial judges have accommodated themselves over decades isn’t going down without a fight. After having given false testimony against  defendant Toño, and recanted it in a second trial that was only possible because the defense lawyer in the first had forged his license papers, the sole witness has decided that he would prefer his humiliation not be made public, and a judge in Mexico has enjoined showing the movie.  Of course it’s unthinkable that the cops and prosecutors stood him up for this charade.

These Abogados Con Cámaras could use some help (no good deed goes unpunished: all the profits from the theatrical distribution are being contributed to a criminal justice NGO) in cash, and in print.  Now it’s not just a justice issue, but also a free speech issue; censorship and corruption hiding behind a ludicrous privacy figleaf.

The Mexican Crime Cartels

Spiegel has vivid and gruesome coverage of the continuing violence in Mexico. Several things are clear at this point

1. The violence has become to some extent self-sustaining because several of the cartels are fighting each other. Whether the government ramps up or rolls back its heroic efforts, there will be violence as the cartels battle for territory as well as perpetuate the we-commit-atrocities-as-vengeance-for-past-atrocities cycle.

2. Had Proposition 19 passed, the cartels would still be there and Mexico would still be enduring horrific violence. I personally expected a modest drop in violence if the initiative passed, although people who study the cartels tell me I am wrong about that. They forecast that the effect of a small loss of business would be akin to taking away a few street corners from a drug market, which tends to increase violence as the remaining players fight it out over the reduced territory.

No matter who is correct about that issue, California’s marijuana business is just one of many lines of activity for the cartels. To wound them seriously the U.S. as a whole would have to legalize meth, heroin and cocaine (which isn’t going to happen and shouldn’t), and even then the cartels would have income from human trafficking, black market movies and cigarettes, kidnapping for hire, drug trafficking within Central and South America etc.

3. But even presuming national legalization in the U.S. of all drugs, the idea that the removal of the drug business would wipe out the cartels is an example of the “reversability fallacy” (which probably has a proper name in logic but I don’t know what it is). Reversability was also invoked during alcohol Prohibition in the U.S. Repeal advocates promised that re-legalizing alcohol production would eliminate the Mafia. But once a process has been put in place, removing an original cause does not logically imply that the process will stop. The Mafia was enriched by Prohibition, but by the time of repeal it had a life of its own and survived for decades afterwards as a force in American society. (Note, same fallacy applies to human activity and climate change…whether we caused it is irrelevant, all that matters is whether changes in our behavior now will make a difference…it’s entirely possible that we caused it to start but no longer have the power to stop it).

4. The basic problem in Mexico is not drugs but endemic corruption and weak governance in the states. Visting a peaceful city there a few years ago, I was informed by a police officer that he and the other officiers paid 10% of their salary each month to the sergeant who hired all the officers. The sergeant did the same for the captain. This was not considered remarkable, it was just the usual way of doing business, the culture of mordida.

As the Spiegel article notes, the corruption and weak states result in impunity for most crimes and widespread distrust of police and judges. This means that if drugs magically disappeared tomorrow, the cartels would still have enormous revenue available to them by tapping the legal economy – shaking down big companies, charging protection money to local merchants, supporting corrupt candidates who would siphon tax revenue to the cartels, and so forth.

How does a society with this level of in-built corruption correct itself? Can it? I have the same question about Iraq. A Mexican friend tells me that aguantar (to endure) is the most important verb in Mexican politics — the people expect little, demand little, and get little. If some RBCer has a compelling, relevant example of a society that made a successful cultural and political transformation from corruption at all levels to strong, honest, government, this would be a great time for you to share it and cheer me and lot of other people up.

What Cancún Agreement?

Trying to work out what was agreed at the Cancun climate change conference.

The Cancún climate conference, aided by artfully maintained low expectations after Copenhagen, and first-class management by the Mexican hosts, is pleased with itself. The final package was approved unanimously minus Bolivia: Cuba, Venezuela and Saudi Arabia deserted the holdout camp at the last moment. But what did they actually agree to?

Here´s the press release and the full package of agreements. This paper seems to to be the key part. The final declaration (if there was one) isn´t yet up on the website. (Update: I think there isn’t one, deliberately so – reflecting Figueres’ pragmatic, incrementalist, no-big-bang approach.)

UN documents are so larded with PC gestures to gender equality, indigenous peoples, self-determination and the like, (Update: as well as esoteric insider references to earlier meetings and processes) that the uninitiated (including me: I worked for a European, not a UN organization) find it very hard to echo-locate the meat if any. My skim may well be wrong. However, the green NGOs like Greenpeace are pretty happy with the deal, cautioning that most of the real work has been kicked – yet again – down the road.

    • The target of limiting global warming to 2°C limit was reaffirmed, and every country should act urgently towards it. This was already in the final Copenhagen ¨accord¨, but that wasn´t a true consensus, as in Cancún. Bolivia wanted 1.5°C, like the small-island nations; so we can say that a 2°C ceiling at most is strictly unanimous within the international community of states. GOP denialists really have no friends left in power abroad.
    • To meet this, greenhouse gas emissions must peak fairly soon. (I think this recognition of the bleeding obvious is in fact new.)
    • The Kyoto Protocol, expiring in 2012, should (they say) be updated and extended without a gap. As China, the USA, and India are not in the list of commitment countries, the badly distorted existing régime will continue, at best. (But notice how badly this is turning out for Germany on growth, exports and green technology?)
    • The USA, with no leverage left, gave in to China on binding monitoring. (I think). Reporting on emissions will be national and I assume creative.
    • Rich countries promised a $30bn green technology fund for LDCs, run ¨initially¨ by the World Bank. (A nice recovery by Zoellick from the appalling goldbug gaffe.) The Bank takeover was one of Bolivia´s objections.
    • Latino women make good diplomats: credit to conference chair Patricia Espinosa (Mexico) and executive secretary Christiana Figueres (Costa Rica).
    • Espinosa´s final decision to tell the grandstanding Bolivians to STFU is a precedent, and shifts the UN system away from strict consensus and one-country veto. If Bolivia can be overruled today, a bigger country can be overruled tomorrow. About time; strict consensus among 193 players is an impossible rule of governance for anything.

Corrections welcome in comments. I´ll update the post to remove the most egregious errors you point out.