Wednesday, May 23, 2007

For travel outside Europe, use cash not cards

Banks want to get us hooked on the cashless society, and in Europe cash transactions are by now the exception, not the norm. This allows banks to create infinite amounts of credit out of thin air and charge for the privilege. However, once you step outside Europe you're likely to pay heavily for the convenience of plastic.

Here are two examples within a single week spent in Morocco, a fast developing economy with a building boom but serious lack of any concept of quality control. Firstly, I tried to pay by credit card at a supermarket, but after accepting the pin number the transaction was declined. Unless I had sufficient cash in my pocket, I would have had to leave the shopping card and its contents behind. But this was not the end of the story: although declined, the amount subsequently showed up as having nonetheless been debited to the card account. Going back to the shop to resolve the matter is not always an option, and opening a disputed transaction procedure with the card-issuing bank in Europe is a protracted process taking up to three months (with a potentially uncertain outcome). Until then, it means having to pay twice for the same goods.

Having spent all my cash I used a bank debit card to withdraw some more from a cash dispenser in the wall outside a branch of "Societe Generale Marocaine de Banques". The English language menu messages of these machines are amusing to say the least, like "Your transaction is under treatment" or "do you want a ticket?". I didn't want a parking ticket, for sure, but I would have appreciated a receipt for my transaction. The option is fanciful, however, I am yet to encounter a cash machine issuing receipts. Unfortunately the amusement soon stopped as the machine in question did not have notes either. It simply said "thanks you" (yes, with an s added) and spit out my card. As a precautionary measure I went inside the bank to enquire, and the man in charge said: "we know there's no money in it" and reassured me not to worry as my card would not be charged.

My card did get charged, however, and another two visits to the bank trying to resolve the matter proved futile. Whenever there is a problem, nobody wants to take responsibility and everybody suddenly acts very busy. Whether the disputed transaction process will produce any positive outcome is questionable, since no receipts exist. All I could do was withdraw cash from a different machine which, luckily, did have notes. For future travels it might be advisable to travel with stacks of notes or cash travellers cheques at a bank and throw away the plastic - let's hope it's biodegradable!

Saturday, May 12, 2007


"We're very disappointed in the election of Zimbabwe as chair," said the U.S. representative to the commission Dan Reifsnyder, deputy assistant secretary for environment and science at the State Department.

"We really think it calls into question the credibility of this organization to have a representative from a country that has decimated its agriculture, that used to be the breadbasket of Africa and can't now feed itself," Reifsnyder said.

He was joined by several European countries who criticised the outcome of the vote forced by Germany which did not go as expected in spite of strong British lobbying efforts.

As usual there's been a lot of talk about how this vote discredited the United Nations. Now I don't exactly think that Zimbabwe in the chair will move the agenda of the commission on sustainable development forward a great deal, but the vote is nonetheless a victory for democracy - not because of the result but because of the principled objection by those supporting Zimbabwe's nomination to the arrogant US-UK-Europe assumption that just because they divided the world amongst themselves after the 2nd world war and gave themselves seats on the security council and veto rights, the countries of the world want to be constantly dictated to by a minority of governments whose withdrawal from colonialism was only symbolic. Britain, complaining of the sad state of Zimbabwe's economy, is just as responsible for this outcome as the Harare government.

The nomination of Francis Nhema, Zimbabwe's minister of environment and tourism, is an open challenge to the European travel ban imposed on members of Mugabe's administration. For Western nations it has almost become a habit to impose economic and other sanctions each time they are unhappy with the outcome of democratic elections around the world, for example the Hamas majority in the Palestinian Authority. Likewise, the United States and Britain were only interested in international legitimacy through the UN provided it rubber-stamped their illegal invastion plans in Iraq. Democracy is a hollow word even within Western societies. The UK population, just having finally got rid of its most unpopular prime minister, is going to get another equally unpopular prime minister without having the slightest say in the matter.

If world politics were not so badly skewed in favour of imperialism, the world would probably be a better place. And instead of pointing the finger at Zimbabwe's poverty, maybe human suffering could be alleviated once a handful of nations stop (or are stopped from) appropriating more than their fair share of the world's resources.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Blair's ten patronising years

At last Britons will be given the brief triumph they've long been waiting for: to see their most unpopular prime minister in post war history (though some would call it a tie with Margaret Thatcher) leave office. Having sacrificed the interests of the country in order to achieve his personal milestone of ten years in office, Tony Blair is finally going to announce the date of his departure which will be greeted with more than a few cheers.

Shortly after Blair came to power he commented that in government Labour had to remember that they were not masters but servants of the people and that what the electorate gave it could also take away. Hopefully those words will come to haunt him again in the upcoming local elections to make his long awaited announcement of resignation an even greater humiliation. It is probably a little early for an obituary, but I doubt that Tony Blair will ever play any meaningful role in politics after this, not even in the upper house.

Of course, it would be unfair to lay the wilful destruction of Britain at the hands of an individual, but Blair - a career polician through and through or what less polite folks would call an intellectual prostitute - did allow his premiership to be used by those dictating his policies to fatally wound a country in the misguided belief it could rise once more to become an imperial power. It stood shoulder to shoulder with the USA in its wars of aggression, and together they will fall.

New Labour, with a sales pitch of shaking off the old socialist roots, managed to transform the UK into a through and through socialist state, also termed the Nanny state, where citizens pay high taxes with nothing in return but goverment interference in even the minutest detail of how they live their lives. No wonder that most Brits who can afford it are voting with their feet and emigrate to work or retire elsewhere in Europe or even as far away as New Zealand, whilst the British economy (or what is left of it, since it no longer has a manufacturing base nor a viable service industry) has to rely on immigrants from the new European states in the East.

The Blair government tried, and will continue to try under whoever succeeds Blair until the next general election, to set up one section of the UK against the other: "Middle England" against the "alien Muslims" within their midst. It has instigated the most vicious witch hunt against so-called Muslim terrorists, ignoring the fact that the European Commissions report on terrorism during the past year only managed to list one failed attack and one failed attempt by a group with Muslim leanings amongst the hundreds of terrorist attacks carried out on European soil by non-Muslims, with the Basque separatists in Spain leading the way. In the process of the government's defamation campaign and the intrusion into people's lives by giving the police unprecedented powers and pushing for identity cards and Big Brother style control, both sections of the traditional British populace, Middle England and the law abiding second and third generation Muslims were thoroughly put off the British enterprise and are making preparations, or at least hoping, to leave.

With illusions of grandeur Blair and his team succeeded in giving their country a death blow from which it might not recover. If it was not for the English language, the only thing of value Britain still exports, the UK would already be classified as the new sick man of Europe. Of course, Blair won't ever understand why he is no longer popular, and he will try to go round and tell people - as Thatcher did after first having sold out what England once was - that they never had it so good. Those who supported him, however, in his obsessed crusade of trying to make all the people serve the state will soon come to regret his legacy.

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