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The Varsavsky Foundation
Avenida Bruselas 7, Planta 3
28100 Alcobendas
Madrid, Spain

The political blog of a social entrepreneur

When Civilians Are More Militaristic Than The Military

I grew up in Argentina in the 70s. At that time the military had staged a military coup and committed tremendous atrocities, including killing my cousin David Varsavsky and nearly killing my father, a Harvard trained physicist whose only crime was to stand for democracy.

So to me it is puzzling to see that nowadays in the States it is not the military, but civilians, who promote military adventurism. The latest plans are the proposed invasion of Iran. As we all know, Iran is a much harder country to invade than Iraq. It is considerably bigger, with a terrain similar to Afghanistan and a larger population. If USA did so poorly in Iraq it´s hard to imagine how an attack on Iran would fare any better. Indeed as Israel showed in its failed invasion of Lebanon last summer, this type of limited military intervention only makes radical groups like Hezbollah, or radical governments like the Iranian one, more powerful.

Military intervention in the Middle East has proven to fail in its two forms: the invasion, as in the case of USA in Iraq and the attack as in the case of Israel in Lebanon. Both resulted in tremendous loss of civilian lives and destruction of essential infrastructure. The innocent pay while the terrorists flee.

So in this irrational atmosphere, I was pleased to see that according to the Sunday Times the new rational voices are coming from the armed forces themselves. It seems that many generals threatened an en masse resignation should the civilian Bushistas choose to invade Iran.

While I believe that Iran is a threat to the Middle East and to the world, attacking or invading this nation only makes radical anti western groups stronger. There´s enough proof that the average Iranian person is as fed up with the Iranian regime as we are outside of Iran. Why make it easier for the teocrats to continue running the country?

Posted at General on February 25, 2007 | # Permalink | Comments Off on When Civilians Are More Militaristic Than The Military | TrackBack

Why Is It That Immigrants Have So Many Children?

El Pais, Spain’s leading newspaper, reveals today that while 10 years ago 1.81% of all new babies were born out of immigrant families, the figure last year was 17.6% and is rapidly rising. Since immigrants represent only 8.5% of the population, these figures show a huge difference between the number of babies that native-born Spaniards and immigrants have.

In the case of Spain, the native-born population has birth rates of 1.3 and immigrants of 3 (2.1 is needed to keep the population constant). But Spain is but one example of the many rich countries in which immigrants have many more children than native populations. My friend Paul Meyer, founder of Voxiva, debated this phenomenon. Paul argued that while native citizens of rich countries, see children as a financial burden, immigrants still see children as a kind of retirement plan. While I do agree to some extent with Paul and think that wealth has become a social contraceptive (all over the world as societies get richer their citizens bear less children), I am not sure that economics explains the whole phenomenon. If concerns over the cost of raising children was the main consideration, Europeans who enjoy free education and free medical care would have more children than Americans. But they don´t.

Personally, I think that immigrants have more children than the native-born population in rich countries for a more relevant reason than financial planning. One reason is religion. Europe is now mostly atheist or agnostic but immigrants are frequently religious and more willing to carry through with unwanted pregnancies. Nevertheless, my theory is that the most important reason why immigrants have double the amount of children than the native-born in Spain and well off countries is that they represent the segment of the population who is most likely to have children wherever they are in the world. At home or abroad.

The native-born populations in wealthy countries tend to view immigrants as poor people from poor countries. But this is not the case. Even if they are frequently poor, these immigrants represent the most entrepreneurial and optimistic subset of the native-born population in poor countries. The ones who leave. The ones who want to get ahead: those who are the most optimistic risk takers.

Emigration is a risky enterprise based on sacrifice and immigrants are the people who went through this filter and survived. My explanation of why immigrants have more kids is that they represent the part of the population that in any country would have more kids, namely the optimists, the ones who think that their children will lead a better life than themselves, the ones who are used to sacrifices in life and who do not see the sacrifice of child raising as a big burden. Moreover I think that in America birth rates are higher than Europe because USA is a country of immigrants who are by nature more optimistic than those who their ancestors left behind.

I believe that it is the unique, particularly driven personality of immigrants that makes them more likely to have children. We immigrants (I am an Argentine immigrant in Spain and proud father of 4) believe that we are bringing kids to a better world than in our native countries and are willing to make the sacrifices that it takes to raise them.

Some statistical facts:

US natives have about two children on average; immigrants have 2.7 children on average. In 2000, the U.S. fertility rate of 2.06 – close to the replacement rate of
2.11- was considerably higher than that of the major industrialized countries of Europe.

In Europe, coherent data is difficult to assemble, since European countries categorize immigrants, foreign-born, and citizens in different ways. However, while 2.1 children per woman is considered to be the population replacement level, these are national averages: Ireland: 1.99, France: 1.90, Norway: 1.81, Sweden 1.75, UK: 1.74, Netherlands: 1.73, Germany: 1.37, Italy: 1.33, Spain: 1.32, Greece: 1.29.

Posted at General on February 17, 2007 | # Permalink | Comments Off on Why Is It That Immigrants Have So Many Children? | TrackBack

Can The US Elect A Muslim/Atheist now Christian President?

Bruce Feiler the best selling author of a series of wonderful non religious books about religion such as Abraham and Walking the Bible has a provocative post in his blog today entitled Muslim Blood in the White House? In this post Bruce, an expert in religious relations describes Obama´s complex family background and wonders if somebody who was partly raised as a Muslim can be elected president in a country that is at war with Muslims. Moreover the subject becomes more complicated by Obama´s own description of his upbringing which was a complicated mix of Islam, Atheism and Christianity.

Obama — whose father, stepfather, brother and grandfather were Muslims — explained his own first name, Barack, in “Dreams”: “It means ‘Blessed.’ In Arabic. My grandfather was a Muslim.” In his second memoir, “The Audacity of Hope,” Obama added: “Although my father had been raised a Muslim, by the time he met my mother he was a confirmed atheist.”

Being an agnostic Jew myself (would not call myself an atheist Jew cause atheist has that militant anti god component that I don´t endorse) and knowing how strongly most Americans feel about religion I cannot think of a least popular combination for a Presidential candidate than having a Muslim/Atheist background. I think this issue is likely to be raised again and again in the election, especially by whoever his Republican opponent is should Obama make it to the Presidential race. Unfortunately most American´s are quite xenophobic, if Kerry got hit for liking the French, what will happen to Obama Hussein Barack? Frankly I think this is sad because I think that Obama´s unique cultural heritage will make him more sensitive to racial and human relations.

Posted at Politics on January 29, 2007 | # Permalink | Comments Off on Can The US Elect A Muslim/Atheist now Christian President? | TrackBack

What should USA Do In Iraq?

My view on the Huffington Post.

Posted at Politics on January 26, 2007 | # Permalink | Comments Off on What should USA Do In Iraq? | TrackBack

World´s View of USA From Bad To Worse :(

Many of us share the perception that the world´s view of the United States was much better in the 90s than now. Now BBC has released a poll entitled “World View of the US goes from Bad to Worse” that shows that respondents in Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Chile, China, Egypt, France, Germany, Great Britain, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Italy, Kenya, Lebanon, Mexico, Nigeria, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Russia, South Korea, Turkey, United Arab Emirates and the very United States agree on this

Personally, I think this is sad and I do hope that the enormous dissapointment that most of us felt around the world when Bush was reelected is not experienced during the next American elections and a Democratic President is chosen to run a country. Blake Fleetwood has an interesting comment on this poll. But USA is still not just the most powerful nation on the planet, which for me is if anything a negative, but the most creative nation on the planet: a clear positive.

Most of us outside the States enjoy a lot of what we have in our daily lives thanks to the creativity of American universities and companies, but a lot of these contributions to the world come from foreigners who were traditionally attracted to the openness of the USA. This attraction greatly declined with the military adventurism and repressive policies of the Bush administration. Let´s hope that the damage done by Bush, Cheney and others, can be undone and what´s great about USA finally prevails over what´s ugly about USA.

Posted at General on January 26, 2007 | # Permalink | Comments Off on World´s View of USA From Bad To Worse :( | TrackBack

One Voice at Davos: a Message From Daniel Lubetzky

I am on the board of One Voice a not for profit organization that promotes understanding between Palestinians and Israelis. Right now there´s a live session going on at Davos that is called Enough is Enough: Israel and the Palestinian Territories. What follows is an email from the founder of One Voice, my friend Daniel Lubetzky. You can watch the session here.

Dear Martin,

I hope this finds you well.

I just wanted to let you know that at 4.15pm today Swiss time (10.15am EST) hundreds of OneVoice youth leaders and staff are going to be featured in front of 1,000+ world leaders and dignitaries at a special World Economic Forum session.

This is a huge opportunity – for the first time, the voices of moderate citizens have the floor, and they can address their leaders directly and demand answers from them. You have helped to make this happen. It should be an amazing event – you can watch live by clicking here.

In case you can’t see it live, you can use this link to see the OneVoice videos that are being featured:

OneVoice at the World Economic Forum

It’s going to be a serious reward for the work the Palestinian and Israeli teams have put in through the difficult recent months, and will provide a great launch for the 2007 vision we are rapidly seeing come together.

All the best,

Daniel and the OneVoice Team

For more information and to tell us what you think, please visit our blog:

Posted at WEF on January 25, 2007 | # Permalink | Comments Off on One Voice at Davos: a Message From Daniel Lubetzky | TrackBack

DLD, if you are in New Media, why go on to Davos?

Media mogul Hubert Burda and Klaus Schwab of WEF are good friends. For years the best parties at Davos have been Hubert Burda´s parties. But for the last 3 years Hubert Burda has hosted the best pre Davos parties as well. I am talking about DLD a party turned conference that is now delivering the three essential components of a successful event: fun, content and networking in just the right dosage. The original concept of the conference was to get people together in Munich to talk about New Media on their way to Davos. This year the question is becoming, if you are in new media and don´t have a week to spare, why go on to Davos?

Here´s a look at the conference program. As you can see it has a blend of technology issues and Davos type content. By Davos type what I mean is that what should have been a technology conference fortunately it´s way more than that without the Davos type negative connotations. Internet conferences are fine, I go to a lot of them. But the best conferences are the ones in which organizers understand that no matter how we may love technology, people in technology and new media are above all citizens of the world whose curiousity goes way beyond the Vista release (which by the way was simply not mentioned in this technology conference). So DLD´s program combines tech sessions such as “Disruptive Connections” with the likes of Hjalmar Winbladh, Jeff Pulver, Marko Ahtisaari, and Alexander Straub. Moderation: Christoph Braun with a session wit the generic name of How to be good? in which I interviewed Nicholas Negroponte, Gabriele Zedlmayer, Steve Mariotti on the challenge of trying to be good, and sometimes succeeding and sometimes failing. During this session I pointed out that trying to be good, meaning trying to save the planet, required a combination of entrepreneurship, a mostly American trait, with good old fashion dirigisme, a European and Asian trait, and the dangers of trying to be good and failing (here I used the example of how successful USA was trying to be good in the Balkans and how unsuccessful USA was trying to intervene militarily in Iraq). And when all is done at the conferences the parties and networking are amazing. Yesterday there were two parties, a blogger party that I attended hosted by top German blogger Robert Basic who I hear has a great tech blog and then Hubert Burda´s party at his amazing “bachelor pad” with a fantastic art collection. Now here´s a picture of my two favorite people of last night. Dave Sifry of Technorati who I knew very well, and Arianna Huffington of the Huffington Post an amazing on line newspaper/blog that has taken America by storm. Am I the last person in the digital intelligentsia to meet Arianne? Probably but learning about the Huffington Post and her views on American politics was a wonderful way to end the evening. Watch out New York Times! Arianna is coming at full speed after your readership.

Posted at WEF on January 22, 2007 | # Permalink | Comments Off on DLD, if you are in New Media, why go on to Davos? | TrackBack

Rui Chenggang and the Starbucks revolt in China

You may not know this, but there´s actually a Starbucks inside the Forbidden City. Personally, when I visit this amazing historical monument, I was shocked to see that this was the case. It seems that the Forbidden City is Forbidden to all….but Starbucks as there are no other commercial establishments inside this architectural wonder.

Personally, other than the fact that Starbucks offers expensive WiFi and its coffee that pales in comparison to Lavazza, my favorite brand, I have nothing against Starbucks. But the Forbidden City is not the place to open one up and when I was there I wondered what kind of corrupt official allowed that to happened.

So I fully support my friend and Chinese blogger Rui Chenggang who started the Starbucks revolt in Beijing and may actually succeed in removing Starbucks from the most sacred place in secular China.

Posted at Politics on January 17, 2007 | # Permalink | Comments Off on Rui Chenggang and the Starbucks revolt in China | TrackBack

Why Is Bombing Acceptable And Placing Bombs Isn´t?

I just read the news on Reuters/Yahoo that the USA entered Somalia with an AC 130 plane and bombed the village of Hayo because there was “at least one Al Qaeda suspect”. The result? Reuters sources says: “I understand there are many dead bodies and animals in the village”.

Now while most of us strongly prefer a world without Al Qaeda, an organization that has killed a lot of innocent people, from a moral and tactical point of view I think that flying into a foreign country chasing “at least one Al Qaeda suspect”, bombing a village and killing many civilians, is wrong.

An air attack of this kind makes USA lose not only from a moral point of view, but also from a tactical point of view. Terrorism is an industry fueled by angry young men (occasionally young women as well) who are looking for a reason to fight. The USA tactics in the Middle East, in my view, just make it more likely for Al Qaeda, an organization which operates in a region where birth rates and unemployment rates are among the highest in the world, to recruit angry young men.

In Spain, where I live, we also have a lot of problems with terrorism. A few days ago ETA attacked in Barajas Airport. We also had a terrorist attack by an islamic terrorist organization on March 11th 2004 that left as many dead per capita as 9/11 did in the States. Still I can´t possibly imagine Spanish police demolishing the homes of relatives of suspected terrorists as Israel does or simply bombing suspected targets from the air as USA does. If the Spanish government did that it would turn thousands of Basque citizens and well adapted Muslim immigrants into ETA and Al Qaeda supporters.

I think it´s time that USA realize that Al Qaeda has many more sympathizers now than before 9/11 as a result of its flawed policies. Most of the world supported the USA led invasion of Afghanistan. That act in itself was rational and probably understood by most muslims as well. The Taliban government working jointly with Al Qaeda had attacked the USA and USA responded invading the country and replacing the government. But things started going wrong with the invasion of Iraq, a country that basically had no terrorism until the USA´s actions unfortunately produced it.

USA in Iraq managed to create the enemy it did not have before the invasion. This was achieved in part by the unreasonable use of force, including air bombings of cities like Fallujah. How can you explain to a rational person that air bombings on civilian populations are justifiable, but placing car bombs or human bombs is not? Same with Israel. Hezbollah now has many more supporters than before the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, because that invasion included bombings among civilians, heavy civilian casualties and enormous destruction of Lebanese infrastructure.
As a result many Lebanese who were not Hezbollah sympathizers now are.

Democracies do not need to resort to an eye for an eye tactics to win against terrorism as those tend to backfire. The Somalia attack will now again increase the fear of Muslims that the US just wants to kill Muslims anywhere they are.

The best way to defeat terrorism in Israel or USA is great police work (as USA and Israel have been doing internally), superb intelligence (as Israel has had for decades), a fair and well functioning judicial system, in short all possible strategies short of bombing civilian populations and violating human rights. Imagine bombing Scarsdale because there´s at least one Al Qaeda operative believed to be there and killing “many civilians and animals”. How would you feel if they bombed you because you happened to have a terrorist in your town? Well that´s what USA is doing in Somalia. More comments in Spanish on this post are here.

Posted at General on January 9, 2007 | # Permalink | Comments Off on Why Is Bombing Acceptable And Placing Bombs Isn´t? | TrackBack

Francisco de Narvaez and the Curse of Being Rich

Being rich is great until….you run for political office. Regardless of whether you are in Argentina, as is the case of my friend Francisco de Narvaez , or anywhere else in the democratic world, being rich is generally seen as an obstacle for political candidates.

Why is being rich a handicap even for people like Francisco de Narvaez, who are not running conservative campaigns aimed at favoring the interest of the top earners?

My take, is that being rich creates a barrier between the voter and the candidate that is hard to overcome. Voters want to identify with candidates, they want one like them, not a candidate with a private jet. Never mind that Francisco, in spite of his jet, is probably better able to attract the investors needed to generate good quality jobs than the current governor.

So how is is it that certain rich candidates overcome this handicap? In the case of George W Bush and John Kerry, the strategy was simple: Dubya portrayed his opponent as even richer and less in touch with the people. And he was successful. In the case of Berlusconi, his strategy –which worked until his promise was not delivered–, was to promise to make Italians richer… with him being the main example. When he failed to deliver, he was ousted.

Now it so happens that I believe that Francisco de Narvaez would actually do a good job improving the living conditions of people in Buenos Aires. From my conversation with him today it seems that he is not a conservative or right wing candidate and he is concerned with the tremendous inequities of Argentina.

My advise to him? Blog. Many journalists will trash you just for being rich. At least you will be able to show your point of view. A third of Argentines are on the internet now and his type of voters are overrepresented in that third.

Having said all this, I do think that there is a risk that Francisco will have a hard time sometimes acting against the interest of his friends in the ruling class for the benefit of all of the people, and that is the danger of voting progressive candidates who are rich. Francisco, who is now a representative, will have to have a good voting record that shows that he can vote for what´s best to most Argentines.

Posted at Politics on December 30, 2006 | # Permalink | Comments Off on Francisco de Narvaez and the Curse of Being Rich | TrackBack