Posts Tagged ‘Government Thuggery’

There’s an easy way to judge whether countries have good economic policy or bad economic policy. Simply look at the Fraser Institute’s Economic Freedom of the World and check out a nation’s absolute score as well as how it ranks relative to other nations.

The EFW report even allows readers to see how nations score in the five major policy areas the are used to produce the overall grade. These categories are:

  • Size of Government – A measure of the burden of taxes and spending.
  • Regulation – A measure of intervention and red tape.
  • Sound Money – A measure of monetary stability and financial freedom.
  • Freedom to Trade Internationally – A measure of liberty to engage in cross-border commerce.
  • Legal System and Property Rights – A measure of the quality of governance.

This last category sometimes doesn’t get enough attention. I sometimes refer to it as the rule-of-law measure. It’s basically a way of trying to estimate whether government is doing a good job with institutional public goods. The variables used include 1) Judicial independence, 2) Impartial courts, 3) Protection of property rights, 4) Military interference in rule of law and politics, 5) Integrity of the legal system, 6) Legal enforcement of contracts, 7) Regulatory costs of the sale of real property 8) Reliability of police, and 9) Business costs of crime.

Let’s look today at property rights. And I’m motivated to address this issue because of some horrifying news from South Africa. The Wall Street Journal opined on the issue this morning.

No country ever became rich through its government’s seizure of private property (exhibit A: the Soviet Union), but politicians in South Africa want to give it another go. That’s the disheartening news from Cape Town this week, where the National Assembly voted 241-83 on Tuesday to start a process to amend the constitution and allow land expropriation without compensation.

When I saw the headline and read the opening paragraph, my initial instinct was “so what?” After all, the whites probably stole the land from the blacks in the first place.

But then I found out that issue already has been handled.

Post-apartheid, the government bought land and offered compensation to South Africans whose property had been forcibly seized after 1913. Many of those claims are now settled… According to a 2016 Institute of Race Relations survey, less than 1% of South Africans think land is one of the country’s “serious unresolved problems.” Unemployment, public services, housing and crime rank far higher.

What’s actually happening is hard-core leftist populism. And it may turn South Africa into another Zimbabwe.

Julius Malema of the far-left Economic Freedom Fighters party…believes the state should be the “custodian” of the nation’s property… His party says the expropriation “should apply to all South Africans, black and white.”

Huh? Stealing property from everybody, regardless of race, while calling your party Economic Freedom Fighters?!?

I guess their idea of freedom means freedom to loot, which is sometimes called – rather perversely – positive liberty. But I shouldn’t laugh too hard because the United States actually had a president with the same twisted mindset.

In any event, the WSJ reminds us that this won’t produce good results.

The idea is likely to duplicate the awful experience of Zimbabwe during the Robert Mugabe era, a case study in the reality that bureaucrats can’t distribute resources more efficiently or productively than private markets. Mugabe’s confiscations spooked investors, the agricultural industry collapsed, and a once prosperous country became known for hyperinflation and poverty. …the ruling African National Congress is supporting the measure to distract attention from its own failed statist economic policies, which have produced subpar growth and denied opportunity to poor South Africans. …South Africa needs more capital, more investment and a favorable business environment. Seizing private property has produced misery everywhere it has been tried.

This is very troubling, especially since South Africa, compared to other nations on the continent, maintained semi-decent policies after dismantling the racist apartheid regime.

I wrote back in 2014 about South African economic policy and shared data about the nation’s EFW score. I was worried about the trend, and I’m now even more pessimistic.

Since today’s topic is property rights, let’s look at the global scores from the International Property Rights Index, which is published each year by the Property Rights Alliance.

As you can see, South Africa currently is in the second quintile. Best score of any African country, and above some European nations as well.

But if the South African constitution is changed and land expropriation is allowed, it’s a foregone conclusion that the country will suffer a precipitous fall in the rankings.

And here’s the map accompanying the study. The bottom line is that blue is good and purple/maroon (or whatever that color is…mauve?) is bad.

Switching to other nations, notice that all the Nordic nations are highly ranked. Indeed, they hold three of the top five slots. No wonder they score highly in that part of Economic Freedom of the World. Moreover, they also get very good scores for monetary policy, regulatory policy, and trade policy. Which explains why their economies get decent performance notwithstanding very bad fiscal policy.

And I’m certainly not surprised that New Zealand has the top spot.

The United States also does reasonably well. Not in the top 10, but at least in the top quintile.

P.S. In addition to moving in the wrong direction on property rights, South African politicians are making the tax code more destructive.

P.P.S. There is a country in sub-Saharan Africa to emulate.

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I periodically fret that individualism is dying in the United States and that Americans are morphing into handout-loving Europeans.

Well, the spirit of 1776 is not completely dead. There are still some Americans who stand up against the greedy, grasping, and oppressive state. I heartily applaud the guy in this video (and not just for personal reasons) for doing what I have thought about many times.

Sonny Bunch, writing for the Washington Free-Beacon, applauds pro-liberty vandalism.

Obviously we shouldn’t cheer all those who destroy the state’s property or all those who circumvent efforts to enforce the law. But some laws are unjust. Some of the state’s property serves to oppress. Sometimes you need a hero. …some laws are good and just. Prohibitions against rape and murder, for instance. We need them. Without laws we are savages. But speed cameras are not included in the “good and just” category. They are revenue-producing monstrosities designed to suck people of their money in order to fill the coffers of bureaucrats… If the corruptocrats in D.C. try to imprison this hero, I promise to lead the resistance in an effort to spirit him southward. We shall protect you, brother. You are one of us now.

I fully concur.

Moreover, this apparently wasn’t a one-off gesture. Washingtonian reports that numerous cameras were knocked out of action.

An unidentified man suspected of smashing 11 of the District’s traffic cameras that produce tickets for drivers who speed or run red lights is being celebrated by some as a hero after DC Police released footage of one camera’s violent demise. Police say that the cameras, located mostly around Northeast DC, were reported to be malfunctioning last Tuesday. When officers checked out the locations, they found the cameras damaged as a result of vandalism.

By the way, I have no objection to cameras that nail jerks who blow through an intersection 3 seconds after a light has turned red. Those are people who risk innocent lives.

But the cameras I’ve noticed are set in spots where the speed limit is set absurdly low. In other words, they are the modern-day version of the speed traps that used to characterize corrupt small towns.

Some people object to speed cameras but think red-light cameras are okay. As already noted, I agree with their safety concerns, but that’s not how government operates.

They’ve turned red-light cameras into a scam, as explained in this Reason video. Greedy politicians actually do dangerous things like shortening the yellow light simply because they want to produce more cash. No wonder they actually cause accidents!

Moreover, Holman Jenkins of the Wall Street Journal explained several years ago how cameras are first and foremost set up to generate money, not to promote safety.

And here’s something else that irritates me. I’m guessing that the cops will put a lot of time and energy into tracking down the guy who knocked the cameras out of commission. Why? Because this is an issue that generates revenue for politicians.

Which raises the bigger issue of whether law enforcement resources are wisely allocated. We saw in Florida that local cops ignored dozens of calls and warnings about the nutjob loser who killed the students in Parkland, Florida (the FBI also dropped the ball as well since they were tipped off). I wonder how often those same cops were busy operating speed traps, engaging in asset forfeiture, and otherwise shaking down residents for cash?

The good news is that the heroic vandal who has gone after D.C.’s cameras is just the tip of the iceberg. Arizona residents basically killed a revenue-camera scam with civil disobedience. And Houston voters voted to shut down the shakedown being operated by their city government.

This spirit of resistance should be nationwide.

Here are three closing observations.

  1. Let’s hope this guy doesn’t get caught.
  2. Let’s also hope that other motorists follow his example and destroy other speed-trap cameras.
  3. Finally, let’s hope that a jury will engage in nullification if the guy is caught.

P.S. There’s also a group of people in England who are acting to thwart greedy, grasping government, albeit in a less revolutionary way.

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Centralization of government power is generally a very bad idea.

But this does not mean that state governments and local governments do a good job.

I’ve previously shared many examples of “great moments in state government” and today I’m going to augment my similarly sarcastic collection of “great moments in local government.”

We’ll start with one of America’s most poorly governed cities. Yes, we’re talking about Chicago.

The city can’t be bothered to stop real crime (indeed, it encourages and enables criminals by disarming law-abiding citizens), but it will nail small business owners with heavy fines for things that shouldn’t even be illegal.

A number of neighborhood small business owners are complaining that the city is overzealously policing sign permits, saying they’ve had to pay thousands of dollars in fines for words painted on their shop windows. “It just seems unfair to make you get a permit for every window panel,” said Scott Toth, owner of Craft Pizza at 1252 N. Damen Ave. …Toth had paid a contractor to paint “boiled bagels,” the hours of a pizza by the slice daily promotion, “pastries” and Sparrow Coffee in a window. Toth got a ticket for that window panel as well as three others that featured the restaurant’s logo. …hand-painted lettering at Dove’s Luncheonette advertising “breakfast, lunch, dinner,” and window script advertising “wedding dress cleaning” and “leather repair” at Wicker Park Cleaners also earned tickets, according to owners of those spots.

If you want to know what the city has achieved, here’s a “before” photo. Obviously a clear and present danger to public safety.

And here’s the “after” picture. Feel safer? Has government protected you?

I don’t know about you, but I’ll sleep more soundly knowing that there’s a crackdown on the scourge of illegal window signs.

Here are some details on Chicago’s inane law.

…city law enforced by the Department of Buildings states that permits are required for non-illuminated painted or vinyl advertising signs or lettering that take up more than 25 percent of any single window. The cost for each on-premise window sign is $200 per sign, plus a Department of Buildings zoning review fee that can vary from $50 to $1000 depending on the size of the sign. …The city requires that a professional contractor apply the lettering or images. Violators face fines of $350 to $15,000 per day until the signs are removed

Now let’s look at how Los Angeles is fleecing citizens.

…it is currently illegal for a pedestrian to step into a crosswalk after the red hand starts, even if there is sufficient time to safely cross. A Los Angeles Times investigation found that 17,000 people in the city were ticketed over a four-year period for stepping off the curb after the countdown had started. …”I don’t believe pedestrians should be preyed upon just to fill local coffers,” Santiago said in May.

Of course, Mr. Santiago is a politician, and I’m guessing he’s a big spender, so he presumably wants to prey on a different group of people.

Here’s a story from Arizona, as reported by Reason. It starts innocently enough, with one person wanting to buy some land but the owner rejecting the price.

For thirty years, Stapleton raised horses and plied his trade as a blacksmith while the city slowly grew up around him. During that time, says Stapleton, no one seemed to care much about his property or what he did with it. Until the former mayor of Phoenix set eyes on it. In 2006, Larry Herring, a representative for former mayor Phil Johnson offered Stapleton $225,000 for his property. Johnson intended to build condominiums next door. Stapleton told Herring his offer was much too low.

But then went awry. The property owner was threatened.

Herring, Stapleton says, told him if he didn’t sell, “bad things are going to happen to you” and that “a stone wall is going to fall on you.”

Unfortunately, city bureaucrats turned the threat into reality.

Shortly after rebuffing Herring’s offer, city officials cited Stapleton with six violations of the zoning code, everything from a fence that was too high, to vehicles improperly parked. The fines were $2,500 and came with the threat of six months in jail for each violation. Stapleton argued each of the violations were for long-standing features of his property, necessary for raising horses. “These things are farm things, and it’s a farm,” Stapleton says. “You didn’t bother me for thirty years. Now somebody wants the property, you want to bother me. And they were going to send me to jail to do it.” Stapleton chose to fight. The city rejected his request for a jury trial and in May 2007, a city judge fined Stapleton $15,000 and sentenced him to three years probation on the condition that he address his code violations or go to jail. At the same time the city was punishing Stapleton it was granting multiple variances to the ex-mayor’s development next door, one of them to allowed him to build a fence a foot higher than the one for which it fined Stapleton.

In a column for the New York Post, Walter Olson describes an insane proposal to help criminals in Philadelphia.

…in Philadelphia, …the city council will consider a bill to force owners of hundreds of small corner stores to take down glass partitions that protect their managers and clerks from being robbed and assaulted. It’s all being rationalized in the name of social justice. …Councilwoman Cindy Bass, who’s sponsoring the measure, …says…“Have you ever been served food at a sit-down restaurant establishment through a solid barrier? That is not acceptable. …What message does it send our children?”

Walter responds to the Councilwoman’s rhetorical question.

…it sends several messages. One is a moral that echoes down through the ages: Human beings threatened with violence have the right to protect themselves. …Philadelphia Health Commissioner Tom Farley, …is often quoted in the press demanding stronger government action to reduce gun violence. But that’s what the barriers deter. Philadelphia has a shooting every six hours, to say nothing of knifings and strong-arm robberies. The barriers reduce theft, too.

Now let’s close with an unbelievable story from Southern California about citizens getting abused. Let’s start by excerpting a horrifying anecdote.

Garcia got in trouble with Coachella City Hall in 2015 after a city code inspector discovered he had expanded his living room, making space to run a small day care center, without first getting building permits. Silver & Wright, a law firm contracted as Coachella’s city prosecutor, took the building permit case to criminal court, filing 29 misdemeanor charges. Garcia signed a plea agreement, brought his house up to code, paid a $900 fine to the court and moved on with his life.

Sounds annoying, right?

It gets worse. Far worse.

When Cesar Garcia pulled the letter out of his mailbox, he immediately recognized the name of the law firm on the envelope – Silver & Wright. …What did they want now? Garcia opened the letter, prepared for the worst, but was still shocked by what he found inside. The law firm had sent him a bill for $26,000. When he protested, the price climbed to $31,000.

And this sleazy firm, which acts on behalf of local governments, apparently makes a practice of targeting powerless people.

 Empowered by the city councils in Coachella and Indio, the law firm Silver & Wright has repeatedly filed criminal charges against residents and businesses for public nuisance crimes – like overgrown weeds, a junk-filled yard or selling popsicles without a business license – then billed them thousands of dollars to recoup expenses. …an extensive review of public records…identified 18 cases in which Indio and Coachella charged defendants more than $122,000 in “prosecution fees” since the cities hired Silver & Wright… With the addition of code enforcement fees, administration fees, abatement fees, litigation fees and appeal fees, the total price tag rises to more than $200,000.

Other examples are equally egregious.

…a Coachella family with a busted garage door and an overgrown yard filled with trash and junk was billed $18,500. An Indio man who sold parking on his land without a business license was billed $3,200. And an Indio woman who strung a Halloween decoration across the street in front of her home – then pleaded guilty to a crime no more serious than a speeding ticket at her first court appearance – was billed $2,700. …Juan Alvarado, a disabled Coachella homeowner…was prosecuted for converting his garage into a studio apartment without getting a building permit, then was billed $7,800 for the total cost of the case against him. …Indio prosecuted Fiesta Latina, a family-owned furniture store in the city’s struggling downtown district, because it didn’t have a permit for a sign on the roof. Then the store was billed $3,327 by Silver & Wright.

Utterly disgusting. Not only this story, but the other ones as well.

These local governments are basically extortion rackets. And the targets are usually the less fortunate.

These examples basically make my point that jury nullification is a very valuable tool (at least in cases where the local governments actually allow a trial rather than rely on bureaucratic edicts). I want fellow citizens to be a potential line of defense for the oppressed and mistreated.

But my final point is counter-intuitive. As much as I despise the actions of thuggish bureaucrats and politicians at the city and county level, I prefer local government over state government (or national government, or global government) for the simple reason that it’s much easier to escape their predatory behavior.

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When I criticize America’s wretched tax code (now slightly less worse because of the recent tax bill), I generally focus my ire on the politicians who have spent more than 100 years creating an insanely complicated and convoluted system.

The Internal Revenue Service, by contrast, is simply the bureaucracy that is charged with enforcing the code.

But that doesn’t mean the IRS should escape criticism. The bureaucrats have some leeway and that discretion sometimes gets abused. The most glaring example in recent years was the agency’s despicable attempt to tilt the political playing field and influence elections by discriminating against Tea Party groups.

Yet not everyone thinks the IRS misbehaved. The Washington Post actually published an editorial that tries to portray the IRS as a victim. Seriously. I’m not joking.

Conservatives who long sought to restrain the Internal Revenue Service have managed to throw a wrench into an IRS division that is supposed to regulate tax-exempt nonprofits and charities, just at a time when these groups are becoming more partisan and complex. …The number of applications from new charities has exploded in recent years, and the law is a bit of a gray zone — vaguely written and hard to enforce. In recent years, overwhelmed by applications, the…division seems to have lost its will to scrutinize charities. According to Mr. O’Harrow, last year the division rejected just 37 of the 79,582 applications on which it made a final determination. He reported that charities have now begun to recognize they face little or no chance of examination or sanction. The division’s budget has declined from a peak of $102 million in 2011 to $82 million last year. The number of division employees has fallen from 889 to 642.

I have a modest bit of sympathy for the IRS. As the editorial notes, the tax code is “vaguely written and hard to enforce.”

But my solution is to remove IRS discretion. In the long run, that can happen with a simple and fair flat tax that does away with the deduction for charitable contributions and thus removes any need for monitoring and enforcement.

In the short run, the easy answer is that charitable status should be automatic and the 642 bureaucrats should concentrate on finding and punishing nonprofit groups that violate the law.

But here’s the part of the editorial that is delusional.

…the division and its then-leader, Lois Lerner, fell into the crosshairs of the conservative tea party movement for the slow pace of approvals of tea party groups, which they claimed was due to a conspiracy by the Obama administration to target them. Subsequent investigations found mismanagement — the IRS was taking shortcuts and using keywords to deal with the mountain of applications — but not deliberate targeting.

Wow. I wonder if the person who wrote this editorial is ignorant or mendacious. The IRS admitted that it targeted Tea Party groups! The bias was in the keywords.

And that wasn’t even the first time the Post tried to make excuses for the IRS.

Investor’s Business Daily opined on this issue over the summer.

This is one of the most serious abuses of power by a federal agency in decades. That no one really lost a job and no one has been prosecuted for abusing the powers of the federal government to harass groups for their political beliefs — the kind of thing routinely done in places such as Russia and Venezuela, not in the U.S. — is nothing less than shocking. For those who need a reminder and without getting too deep in the weeds, the scandal involves IRS bureaucrats denying tax-exempt status to groups apparently solely due to their conservative political beliefs. This is clearly highly illegal. … the Nonprofit Quarterly…notes that…”Various congressional committees attempted to ferret out what happened and who did it but were stymied by the IRS’ slow responses to records requests and, in some cases, destruction of computer media (that) might have contained important information.” In short, it looks like a classic case of a gross violation of federal law followed by a possibly criminal cover-up. …This is unconscionable behavior by a federal agency that is governed by that very same Constitution.


This is why I agreed with George Will about the impeachment of the IRS Commissioner and also argued in favor of budgetary consequences for the agency.

Sadly, the Trump Administration has basically gone to bat for the IRS when it should be pushing for transparency and reform.

By the way, my complaints about the IRS go way beyond the fact that the bureaucrats persecuted the Tea Party.

Let’s look at a recent story about a dodgy contract the IRS recently issued.

The IRS will pay Equifax $7.25 million to verify taxpayer identities and help prevent fraud under a no-bid contract issued last week, even as lawmakers lash the embattled company about a massive security breach that exposed personal information of as many as 145.5 million Americans. A contract award for Equifax’s data services was posted to the Federal Business Opportunities database Sept. 30 — the final day of the fiscal year. …The notice describes the contract as a “sole source order,” meaning Equifax is the only company deemed capable of providing the service.

What mostly bothers me is not that the IRS gave a contract to a company that had just suffered a major data leak. Instead, I’m very suspicious about it being a no-bid contract issued on the last day of the fiscal year.

Sounds like the bureaucrats had some use-it-or-lose-it funds and they decided to screw taxpayers.

And here’s another story that’s worth sharing.

Internal Revenue Service (IRS) employees have backed Democrats over Republicans by 2-1 in their political donations over the last 25 years. Donors listing the IRS as their employer have donated roughly $453,800 to Democratic candidates and causes and $221,400 to Republican candidates and causes since 1990. About one in four of the dollars for Democrats, or roughly $117,500, went to President Barack Obama. But IRS employees since 1990 have also donated $203,000 to the National Treasury Employees Union, which in turn has given about 95 percent of its $6 million in political contributions to Democrats over the last 25 years, OpenSecrets.org data shows. Disclosure of the huge bias among IRS employees for Democrats won’t help an agency under fire for years for illegally targeting conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.

To be sure, bureaucrats can give political contributions and remain honest and fair in their dealings with the public.

Nonetheless, I suspect Lois Lerner wasn’t the only partisan hack who tried to interfere with the political process.

Let’s now end where we started. The Washington Post editorial implied that the IRS deserved a bigger budget and more staff so bureaucrats could investigate each application.

I’ve already explained why that’s not the right approach from a compliance perspective, but there’s also a moral argument against further expanding the IRS budget (something Republicans sadly don’t understand).

P.S. The IRS awarded itself “performance bonuses” after the scandal.

P.P.S. I also thought it was remarkable that IRS bureaucrats wanted to be exempt from Obamacare while asking for more money to enforce fines on ordinary people who didn’t sign up.

P.P.P.S. I’ve certainly done my part to explain why the IRS bureaucracy deserves scorn.

P.P.P.P.S. I don’t want to end on a sour note, so here are examples of IRS humor from my archives, including a new Obama 1040 form, a death tax cartoon, a list of tax day tips from David Letterman, a Reason video, a cartoon of how GPS would work if operated by the IRS, an IRS-designed pencil sharpener, two Obamacare/IRS cartoons (here and here), a collection of IRS jokes, a sale on 1040-form toilet paper (a real product), a song about the tax agency, the IRS’s version of the quadratic formula, and (my favorite) a joke about a Rabbi and an IRS agent.

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What country has the world’s worst government? It’s not an easy question. There may be a different set of answers based on whether the focus is political oppression or economic mismanagement.

Regardless of methodology, there are some nations that will probably show up on just about any list.

Today, though, I want to make the case for Venezuela. That unfortunate country used to be rich compared to other Latin American nations, but decades of bad policy have now morphed into awful policy. The long-run drop in economic freedom – from 10th-freest to 159th-freest – is staggering.

Wow. Combined with growing political oppression, the country may zip through the fourth circle of statist hell and soon find itself in the fifth and final circle.

To grasp the horror of the situation, let’s look at what’s happened since April, when I put together a column of 28 headlines to capture the death throes of Venezuelan socialism.

Now, in just the last six months, we have another 28 examples.

On May 30, a column in the New York Times catalogued the misery in Venezuela.

…huge protests rocking Venezuela… President Nicolás Maduro has responded with an iron fist. More than 50 people have been killed, 1,000 injured, and 2,700 arrested, and that last figure doesn’t include the country’s more than 180 long-term political prisoners. …economic and humanitarian crisis. It is hard to overstate the severity of the suffering of the 31 million people of this once-rich country. …hospitals lack 98 percent of needed medical supplies and 85 of 100 drugs are totally unavailable. As a result, in the last year, some 11,500 infants died before their first birthday… Cases of malaria are up 76 percent and diphtheria, which had been eradicated 20 years ago, has returned to Venezuela.

On June 1, we learned about the bravery and ingenuity of protestors.

Daniella Liendo is gaining frontline practical experience as she completes her medical studies. …On the streets of Caracas this week, the second-year student treated a demonstrator who had been shot at close range with a marble pellet in the city’s Chacao neighbourhood. “Once we get to a patient we must decide with the more senior doctors if [the injured] must be taken away for treatment,” she said. “The most common problem is asphyxia from the tear gas. We’ve also had a lot of head traumas and burns to deal with.” …An exodus of Venezuelan medical graduates has meant that even those with the most basic training are in demand. An estimated 15,000 doctors have left to work abroad since 2003.

On June 2, Reuters exposed the gilded lives of the government elite.

One is shown blowing a kiss from a private jet. Another is seen posing in front of a store of luxury jeweler Cartier in China. Others grin as they tuck into a plate of lobster or a massive birthday cake. Venezuelan activists are increasingly posting details of locations and lifestyles of leftist officials and their families, depicting them as thriving off corruption while the population struggles to eat in a devastating economic crisis. …One Twitter account published photos purportedly showing the wife of Vice President Tareck El Aissami enjoying champagne and lounging on a pristine beach with her sisters. In another case, an alleged lover of a powerful Socialist Party official is shown on trips to the Middle East. Venezuela’s opposition accuses officials of profiting from currency controls and a decade-long oil boom to fill their pockets. The opposition-led congress estimates that at least $11 billion have “disappeared” from state-run oil company PDVSA .

On June 5, Fox reported on women driven to prostitution by poverty.

As a humanitarian and political crisis in neighboring Venezuela deepens, a growing number of Venezuelan women are working in bars and brothels across Colombia. “I didn’t do this in Venezuela. I never ever imagined I’d be doing this in Colombia,” said Maria, who…charges $17 for 15-minutes of sex, and the money earned is spent on buying medicine for her mother who has cancer. …According to Asmubuli, a Colombian sex workers association, currently there are around 4,500 Venezuelan sex workers in the country. …It’s not just women who say they have no option but to sell their bodies for sex, but young Venezuelan men too. Dorian, 25, started working in Bogota’s Lourdes Park about two weeks ago. “It’s disappointing. I’m disappointed in myself,” said Dorian, a business studies university graduate unable to find a job and with no money to pay for rent and food.

On June 6, we learned about the current regime’s utter depravity.

Norma Camero Reno has been shipping a steady supply of desperately needed medicines from the United States to Venezuela. Reno and other members of her nonprofit, Move Foundation, pack painkillers, cold medicines and other supplies to be distributed to hospitals, health clinics and churches throughout the beleaguered nation. Two weeks ago, however, that all changed. …Reno discovered that none of the recent medicine shipments had made it to her contacts in the country. …“They are stopping everything from going in,” Reno told Fox News. “They are taking everything for themselves.”

On June 28, a column in the New York Times condemned Maduro’s brutal regime.

Every day, Venezuelans of all stripes pour into the streets protesting the loss of their freedom and their constitutional rights by a tyrannical regime that condemns them to scarcity, illness, malnutrition and outright hunger. …There has been terrible economic and social destruction. Across 15 years, a trillion dollars’ worth of oil income has been squandered and 80 percent of Venezuelans have fallen into poverty. …Venezuela has become the Zimbabwe of the Americas, a shameless alliance of corrupt politicians and the military acquiescent to the dictates of Cuba. …They have kidnapped the Latin American nation that is richest in oil resources, which they wish to appropriate for themselves, permanently and at whatever human cost it may require.

On July 3, we learned that poor people are waking up to the downside of socialism.

In Caracas, the rich and poor are suddenly less divided. For most of Venezuela’s two-decade socialist experiment, the city’s wealthier, whiter east has been the hotbed of anti-government sentiment. Now, noisy protests are erupting in poorer-but-calmer western neighborhoods that were strongholds for embattled President Nicolas Maduro as crime explodes and medicine and food are scarce and expensive. …They’re increasingly demanding a change in government, infuriated by mismanagement… “Everyone protests, without differences, because the hunger of the stomach and the hunger for democracy have been united,” said Carlos Julio Rojas, a La Candelaria activist… Services are shaky in Caracas, particularly in the slums that surround the capital. Water pipes go dry for days at a time, trash sits rotting and lights go out.

On July 20, the Economist shared news of despair about the plight of Venezuelan women.

Barbara and her cousin Sophia have more serious business: they hope to make enough money from selling sex to live decently after fleeing Venezuela, where survival is a struggle. Barbara, who is 27, prefers her former occupation as the owner of a nail and hair business in Caracas, Venezuela’s capital. But polish and shampoo are as hard to find as food and medicine, and so she has come to Medellín. In an hour a sex worker can make the equivalent of a month’s minimum wage in Venezuela. Colombian pesos “are worth something”, unlike Venezuela’s debauched currency, the bolívar, Barbara says. “At least here one can eat breakfast and lunch.” …Some 4,500 Venezuelan prostitutes are thought to be working in Colombia… The sex workers are joined by electricians, mechanics, empanada vendors—all of whom are seeking a way to cope with their country’s shortages and queues, and an inflation rate expected to exceed 700% this year.

On July 30, a column in the Wall Street Journal analyzed the crumbing of Venezuela.

Hungry, hurting Venezuelans are done talking. The country is in the early stages of civil war. …In polls, some 80% of Venezuelans oppose Mr. Maduro’s “constituent assembly.” But the opposition boycotted Sunday’s election because they know Cuba is running things, that voter rolls are corrupted, and that there is no transparency in the operation of electronic voting machines. …faith and hope in a peaceful solution has been lost. One symptom of this desperation is the mass exodus under way. On Tuesday the Panam Post reported that “more than 26,000 people crossed the border into Colombia Monday, July 26… But a citizens’ revolt, led by young people whose families are starving, is already under way.

On July 31, we got a thorough analysis of economic chaos in Venezuela.

With per capita GDP down by 40% since 2013, Venezuela’s economic catastrophe dwarfs any in the history of the US, Western Europe, or the rest of Latin America. And yet headline GDP numbers actually understate the magnitude of the economy’s decline. …Venezuelans clearly want out – and it’s not hard to see why. Media worldwide have been reporting on Venezuela, documenting truly horrible situations, with images of starvation, hopelessness, and rage.

On August 2, the Associated Press published a first-person look at the country’s decline.

The first thing the muscled-up men did was take my cellphone. They had stopped me on the street as I left an interview in the hometown of the late President Hugo Chavez and wrangled me into a black SUV. …I had thought that being a foreign reporter protected me from the growing chaos in Venezuela. But with the country unraveling so fast, I was about to learn there was no way to remain insulated. I came to Caracas as a correspondent for The Associated Press in 2014, just in time to witness the country’s accelerating descent into a humanitarian catastrophe. …the men trained a camera on me for an interrogation. One said that I would end up like the American journalist who had recently been beheaded in Syria. Another said if I gave him a kiss I could go free. …In the end, the secret police cut me loose a few hours after they arrested me, with a warning not to return.

On August 7, a CNN story looked at Venezuela’s looming default.

he country, which is engulfed in crisis, …has other payments coming due in the near future and could fall short on those if the economy continues to tailspin… “This model is broken, and default is inevitable,” says Siobhan Morden, an expert in Latin American bonds at Nomura Holdings. …Venezuela’s economy continues to spiral our of control. The unofficial exchange rate that most Venezuelans use has more than doubled since late July. Inflation is expected to soar 720% this year and and over 2,000% next year, according to the International Monetary Fund.

On August 13, we learned about the plight of Jews in Venezuela.

Jews in Venezuela are increasingly fleeing the country amid the rising political instability and violence under President Nicolas Maduro, with a growing number decamping for Israel. Estella and Haim Sadna, a religious couple with four kids from the Venezuelan capital Caracas, described the food scarcity and rampant crime that drove them to move the Jewish state. …While Venezuela once had one of the largest Jewish communities in the region, numbering some 25,000 in 1999, only about 9,000 Jews are believed to remain in the country.

On August 15, the Miami Herald reported that even the military must beg for food.

Venezuelan soldiers — armed and in uniform — were caught in neighboring Guyana last week begging for food, local police reported, another sign of Venezuela’s deepening hunger crisis. …Hunger is on the rise in Venezuela, amid triple-digit inflation and the government’s inability to import basic goods. And neighboring Colombia, Brazil and Guyana have seen a spike in Venezuelans looking for food. …That soldiers would cross into Guyana is telling. The two nations have been locked in a centuries-old border dispute over a swath of Guyanese territory known as the Esequibo and are not on good terms.

On August 29, the incompetent brutality of the government was discussed.

…socialist policies exacerbated the oil crisis and created the poverty we see in Venezuela today. …the poorest economies in the world are characterized by oppressive government intervention. …In Venezuela’s case, a government takeover of the oil industry reduced supply, sowing the seeds of future impoverishment. …When Hugo Chavez took power in 1999, he…closed Venezuela’s oil fields to foreign investment and stopped reinvesting oil proceeds in the company. He fired 18,000 workers at PDVSA, replacing professional oil employees with inept but politically loyal workers. …Healthy non-oil industries could have diversified Venezuela’s economy and blunted the impact of falling oil prices. By strangling them, Chavez and his successor, Nicolas Maduro, forced the economy to rely more on oil at precisely the wrong time. …Commentators who dismiss Venezuela’s suffering as being caused by the oil crisis need to explain why other oil-dependent countries have not collapsed. According to the World Bank, seven nations rely more on oil than Venezuela. All seven saw economic growth from 2013 to 2017.

On September 11, it was reported that even the United Nations is appalled by the regime’s actions.

The United Nations human rights chief has said that Venezuelan security forces may have committed “crimes against humanity” against protesters and called for an international investigation. …Zeid said the government was using criminal proceedings against opposition leaders, arbitrary detentions, excessive use of force and ill-treatment of detainees, which in some cases amounted to torture. …Last month, Zeid’s office said Venezuela’s security forces had committed extensive and apparently deliberate human rights violations in crushing anti-government protests and that democracy was “barely alive”. …Venezuela is among the 47 members of the Human Rights Council, where it enjoys strong support from Cuba, Iran and other states.

On September 15, we learned more about the depravity of the socialist government.

The association Prepara Familia denounced yesterday the death of 11-year old Cristhian Malavé, contaminated with a bacteria from the hemodialysis unit of the the J. M. de los Ríos Children’s Hospital. He’s the fifth child to die of this cause. Others die of unattended complications and their records are blurred and their names are lost in view of a State unable to offer a response to our simplest and most urgent needs. …Tamara Suju, head of the Casla Institute, denounced in fron of the OAS the tortures and violations committed by public force officers against 289 people, protesters and citizens. There are complaints of assaults and rapes (with batons or firearms), feces force-feeding, electroshocks, beating, in most cases, and psychological torture, in all of them. The huge majority of victims are men, 79% between 18 and 30 years old. Torture in Venezuela went from selective to massive and no government representative has denied torture cases.

On September 22, the Miami Herald reported on the tragic growth of prostitution.

At a squat, concrete brothel on the muddy banks of the Arauca River, Gabriel Sánchez rattled off the previous jobs of the women who now sell their bodies at his establishment for $25 an hour. “We’ve got lots of teachers, some doctors, many professional women and one petroleum engineer,” he yelled over the din of vallenato music. “All of them showed up with their degrees in hand.” And all of them came from Venezuela. As Venezuela’s economy continues to collapse amid food shortages, …waves of economic refugees have fled the country. …with jobs scarce, many young — and not so young — women are turning to the world’s oldest profession to make ends meet. …“Prostitution obviously isn’t a good job,” she said. “But I’m thankful for it, because it’s allowing me to buy food and support my family.”

On September 25, we learned more about the suffering of the people.

As the economic and political crisis deepens in, so do the levels of hunger. A survey by a top university found the average Venezuelan has lost nine kilogrammes in the past year. Many families are now forced to scavenge for food in what was once South America’s richest country. At a soup kitchen run by the Catholic Church in Caracas, …many of the children are given a special formula after arriving, when they are found to be severely malnourished. …Venezuela’s prolonged and acute economic crisis – characterised by food shortages and hyperinflation – has seen infant mortality rise to almost 35 percent and maternal mortality to 65 percent in just the last year. Anemia is rampant.

On October 6, Reuters reported on the country’s miserable business environment.

With Venezuela’s economy in shambles, Ford has furloughed Nunez and 1200 colleagues at its moribund plant here in Valencia, Venezuela’s third-largest city. …Nunez hasn’t reported for work in ten months, save for a few days in September… But he still collects a quarter of his weekly salary of 50,000 bolivars, the equivalent of just $1.70 at the widely used black-market exchange rate. The father of two teenagers counts himself lucky. …Ford is among roughly 150 multinationals still hanging on in Venezuela. The once-prosperous OPEC nation is now in the fourth year of a recession caused by a fall in oil prices and, economists say, failed policies of its socialist government. …As of April 2016, half of Venezuela’s working population was either jobless or employed only in part-time, “informal” jobs.

On October 11, the horror of Venezuela was captured by a single story.

Conditions in socialist Venezuela are so diabolical that people are forced to eat cats in the street. A stomach-churning video shows a homeless woman sitting on the roadside with her possessions around her and a dead domestic cat in front of her. She painstakingly skins the cat and then slices off pieces of its body before popping them in her mouth. …Viewers have blamed the socialist government for leaving people penniless and hungry with price controls, soaring inflation and shortages of basic essentials.

On October 19, we learned more about the exodus from the socialist hellhole.

Ana Linares…earns about $15 a day — more than she made in a month in her native Venezuela. …Linares arrived in Lima last May after enduring a six-day bus trip from central Venezuela, her 8-month-old son on her lap… Life in Venezuela had become intolerable, with millions struggling with hyperinflation, food shortages, lack of work and lawlessness. “Everything there has turned ugly. There’s hunger and crime. You can’t leave your house after 5 p.m. because you’re going to be robbed or killed,” Linares said, adding that she now earns enough to afford three meals a day, an impossibility for many these days in Venezuela. …as many as 500,000 Venezuelans have fled their country in the last two years and a total of 2.1 million since 1998.

On November 3, Katherine Mangu-Ward of Reason correctly assigned blame for the horrible situation.

Venezuela—which is the midst of a brutal food shortages brought about by a brutal socialist regime—…continues to worsen. Good soldiers are rewarded with scarce basic necessities such as toilet paper. Citizens are urged to eat rabbits. Opposing forces have taken to the streetsas the country’s socialism descends into dictatorship. Meanwhile the government is reserving food aid for loyalists and others turn to bitcoin to survive.

On November 4, we learned that animals in zoos are on the menu because of starvation.

In a country that once was rich, but where people are beginning to starve, few animals are safe. One morning in August at the metropolitan zoo in the torrid city of Maracaibo, workers were shocked to find the bones of a buffalo and some wild pigs inside their cages with clear signs of mutilation. …In west Caracas, …the same sort of thing happened. Watchmen found the bones and offal of a black horse inside its enclosure. Apparently the perpetrators only took the edible parts of the animal.

Though the people eating zoo animals are the lucky ones.

Every Saturday, Natalí wakes up…dresses in a hurry and whenever she can she feeds something to her sons and daughters and tells them to wait patiently for her return. …Natalí takes a four-wheel-drive car, then a bus, and then the train from Antímano to municipal Coche Market in south Caracas where, for the last three and a half months, she has made her pilgrimage to dig through the garbage left by the vendors—trying to find a half-rotted vegetable, a piece of fruit, or, if luck is on her side, chicken skin to take back home and feed her children.

On November 19, a column in the Wall Street Journal points out that the misery is deliberate policy.

Venezuelan shortages of everything are widely acknowledged. But there is less recognition that strongman Nicolás Maduro is using control of food to stamp out opposition. Hyperinflation has shriveled household budgets and the government has taken over food production and distribution. Most damning is evidence that access to government rations has become conditional on Maduro’s good favor. The hardship is killing and deforming children. …some communities are experiencing undeniable “famine” and that in some parts of the country 50% of the children have left school because of hunger.

On December 14, USA Today looked at the people escaping Venezuelan tyranny.

Although Venezuelans for years have been fleeing the “socialist revolution” first launched by the late Hugo Chávez in 1999, in recent months the trickle has turned into a flood as living conditions become ever more dire — from hyperinflation to acute shortages of food and medicine to one of the worst homicide rates in the world. …In response to…the once-wealthy country’s seeming demise, …many exiles had fled to the United States, surging numbers, like the Sequieras, now head to other Latin American nations. …From Mexico to Argentina, immigration agencies are reporting skyrocketing numbers of Venezuelan arrivals, doubling and even tripling the total for previous years.

On December 17, the New York Times exposed the pervasive hunger and horror in Venezuela.

Kenyerber Aquino Merchán was 17 months old when he starved to death. …Hunger has stalked Venezuela for years. Now, it is killing the nation’s children at an alarming rate, doctors in the country’s public hospitals say. …Riots and protests over the lack of affordable food, excruciating long lines for basic provisions, soldiers posted outside bakeries and angry crowds ransacking grocery stores have rattled cities, providing a telling, public display of the depths of the crisis. But deaths from malnutrition have remained a closely guarded secret by the Venezuelan government. …doctors at 21 public hospitals in 17 states across the country said that their emergency rooms were being overwhelmed by children with severe malnutrition… Parents like Kenyerber’s mother go days without eating, shriveling to the weight of children themselves.

On December 18, we got the latest details on the victims of Venezuelan statism.

Joel Rodriguez, a one legged panhandler, bursts into tears as a young man dressed as Santa Claus gives him food and clothing — a rare scene of holiday cheer in economically-depressed Venezuela. “Sometimes we eat out of the garbage,” said Rodriguez… In a Caracas with no Christmas lights or decorations this year because of the economic crisis, …Venezuelans are enduring acute shortages of food and medicine, and inflation is forecast by the IMF to hit a staggering 2,349 percent in 2018. “…are you doing the Maduro diet?” people shouted… They were using a popular expression used to refer to President Nicolas Maduro and people who have lost weight because of the hard economic times. This is so common it has been documented by Venezuelan universities.

Now that we’ve caught up with the calendar, let’s return the economic freedom scores from the Fraser Institute.

We started today’s column looking at Venezuela’s amazing (in a bad way) loss of overall economic liberty since 1970. Now let’s look at the specific issue of monetary policy. The country has gone from an almost-perfect score to the world’s most abysmal rating.

When I look at that data, it makes me glad that at least some Venezuelans are able to protect themselves with either offshore bank accounts or bitcoin.

And it makes me grateful to be in the United States. In my video on the history of central banking, I groused that the dollar has lost 95 percent of its value since the Federal Reserve was created in 1913. But that’s a heck of a lot better than losing 95 percent its value every year, which seems to be what’s happening in Venezuela.

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The late Mancur Olsen was a very accomplished academic economist who described the unfortunate tendency of vote-seeking governments to behave like “stationary bandits,” seeking to extract the maximum amount of money from taxpayers.

I’m not nearly as sophisticated, so I simply refer to this process as “goldfish government.”

Tax competition is a way of discouraging this self-destructive behavior. Politicians are less likely to over-tax and over-spend if they know that jobs and investment can migrate from high-tax nations to low-tax jurisdictions (borders can be a hassle, but they are beneficial since they presumably represent a limit on the reach of a government’s power).

This is why I’m a big fan of so-called tax havens.

I want politicians to be afraid that the geese with the golden eggs may fly away. This is one of the reasons why “offshore” nations play a very valuable role in the global economy.

But it’s important to realize that there’s also a moral argument for tax havens.

Ask yourself whether you would want the government to have easy access to your nest egg (whether it’s a lot or a little) if you lived in Russia? Or Venezuela? Or China? Or Zimbabwe?

Ask yourself whether you trust the bureaucracy to protect the privacy of your personal financial information if you lived in a country with corruption problems like Mexico? Or India? Or South Africa?

Here’s a story from France24 that underscores my point.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared Sunday that businessmen who move assets abroad are committing “treason”, adding that his government should put an end to the practice. “I am aware that some businessmen are attempting to place their assets overseas. I call on the government not to authorise any such moves, because these are acts of treason,” Erdogan said in televised comments to party members in the eastern town on Mus.

Allow me to translate. What Erdogan is saying is “I don’t want escape options for potential victims of expropriation.” For all intents and purposes, he’s basically whining that he can’t steal money that is held offshore.

Which, of course, is why offshore finance is so important.

Professor Tyler Cowen elaborates in a Bloomberg column.

I’d like to speak up for offshore banking as a significant protection against tyranny and unjust autocracy. It’s not just that many offshore financial institutions, such as hedge funds registered in the Cayman Islands, are entirely legal, but also that the practice of hiding wealth overseas has its upside. …offshore…accounts make it harder for autocratic governments to confiscate resources from their citizens. That in turn limits the potential for tyranny.

Tyler looks at some of the research and unsurprisingly finds that there’s a lot of capital flight from unstable regimes.

A recent study shows which countries are most likely to use offshore banking, as measured by a percentage of their gross domestic product. …The top five countries on this list, measured as a percentage of GDP, are United Arab Emirates, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, Russia and Argentina, based on estimates from 2007. In all of those cases the risk of arbitrary political confiscations of wealth is relatively high. …When I consider that list of countries, I don’t think confidential offshore banking is such a bad thing. …consider some of the countries that are not major players in the offshore wealth sweepstakes. China and Iran, for instance, have quite low percentages of their GDPs held in offshore accounts, in part because they haven’t been well integrated into global capital markets. …Are we so sure it would be bad for more Chinese and Iranian wealth to find its way into offshore banks? The upshot would be additional limits on the power of the central leaders to confiscate wealth and to keep political opposition in line.

So what’s the bottom line?

Simple. People need ways of protecting themselves from greedy government.

From the vantage point of Western liberalism, individuals should be free from arbitrary confiscations of their wealth, connected to threats against their life and liberty, even if those individuals didn’t earn all of that wealth justly or honestly. There is even a “takings clause” built into the U.S. Constitution. On top of these moral issues, such confiscations may scare off foreign investment and slow progress toward the rule of law.

By the way, the moral argument shouldn’t be limited to nations with overtly venal governments that engage in wealth expropriation. What about the rights of people in nations – such as Argentina and Greece – where  governments wreck economies because of blind incompetence? Shouldn’t they have the ability to protect themselves from wealth destruction?

I actually raised some of these arguments almost 10 years ago in this video from the Center for Freedom and Prosperity.

P.S. There’s lots of evidence that politicians raise tax rates when tax competition is weakened.

P.P.S. Which is why I’m very happy that Rand Paul is leading the fight against a scheme for a global tax cartel.

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One of my specialty pages deals with the unfortunate nexus between sex and government. You can find columns about taxes and sex, Obamacare and sex, and licensing and sex.

My new addition to that collection involves the venal government of Venezuela.

Here’s a story from the Washington Post that will forever symbolize the utter failure of statism. It seems that big government can even ruin sex.

In a country beset by shortages, this is one of the most difficult: the disappearance of contraceptives. When she couldn’t renew her supply of birth-control pills, Gutierrez and her husband…tried to be careful, but soon she was pregnant with her second child. “We barely eat three times a day now,” said a distraught Gutierrez, a former hair washer in a beauty salon who lost her job because of the economic crisis. “I don’t know how we’re going to feed another mouth.” In Venezuela, …nearly two decades of socialist policies…has sparked a severe recession and one of the world’s highest inflation rates. People often wait hours in line to buy bread. Prices for staples jump almost by the day. Medical short­ages range from antibiotics to cancer drugs.

Socialism is infamous for creating shortages of critical things like food and important things like toilet paper.

So I guess we shouldn’t be surprised that it produces shortages of birth control. With grim consequences.

Venezuelan doctors are reporting spikes in unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases that are adding to the country’s deepening misery. …media outlets have published articles about the “counting method” of contraception that women can use to calculate when they are ovulating and likely to get pregnant. An article on the Venezuelan website Cactus24 offered “15 home remedies to avoid pregnancy,” including eating papaya twice a day and drinking two cups of tea with ginger. …Facebook, Instagram and Twitter have become informal exchanges for the purchase or trading of birth-control pills, intrauterine devices and implants — albeit at black-market ­prices.  Other women beg friends and relations to bring them contraceptives from outside Venezuela.

There is a black market, which helps a few people, but that option is prohibitively expensive given the horrific state of the Venezuelan economy.

…a female customer in her 20s looking for pills was told, “We only have the imported ones” — implying they would be sold at a black-market rate. The manager offered her a single pack of 21 pills for 120,000 bolívares. That’s about $3, equal to one-third of Venezuela’s monthly minimum wage. …condoms, meanwhile, have disappeared from store shelves. But the cheaper brands taking their place are still imported, and therefore still unaffordable for many. A three-pack can now cost several days’ minimum-wage pay.

By the way, I hope this next anecdote about condoms doesn’t mean what I think it means.

…said Juan Noguera, 28, an unemployed economic researcher…“we just share them between friends. This is the sharing economy.”

For what it’s worth, I’ve always though recycling was overrated.

That being said, a shared condom may be better than nothing.

…the gynecologist from Caracas University Hospital, said the number of patients with STDs she is seeing has soared. “In my private practice, out of every 10 patients, five or six now have an STD,” she said. “Two years ago it was just two or three.” Making matters worse, drug shortages are so severe that doctors often lack what they need to treat patients with STDs. “Something as simple as penicillin — the cheapest antibiotic in the world — can’t be found in the country,” said Moraima Hernández, an epidemiologist at Concepción Palacios Maternity Hospital.

Unsurprisingly, government officials have no defense of the terrible situation.

Officials at Venezuela’s Health Ministry did not respond to emails and phone calls seeking comment.

I’d be curious, however, to see comments from pro-Venezuelan leftists in America. Do Bernie Sanders and Joe Stiglitz still think Venezuela is a praiseworthy role model?

I remarked last year that Venezuela was entering the fourth circle of statist hell. Why don’t we stipulate that the country in now fully and (un)comfortably ensconced in that grim position. Who knows, maybe it can join North Korea in the fifth circle if Maduro clings to power a few more years.

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