Friday, April 6, 2007

Chavez-FDR: A Comparison

Chavez – FDR: A Comparison
by Rafael Ventura-Rosa
Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. ~~ Frederick Douglass
Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. ~~ George Santayana
The Miami Herald recently published a front-page article titled: Poverty a stubborn foe of revolution. In the article, that is bylined to Phil Gunson and Steven Dudley (reporting from Caracas), the authors discuss the extent to which the Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's Bolivarian Revolution has thus far had mixed results.
To illustrate their point, the authors rely on interviews of two working class mothers; one of whom was previously employed in a vineyard but who has recently lost that source of employment and the other a single mother who relies on government subsistence in the form of food, housing etc.
There are three types of lies; lies, damned lies and statistics. ~~ Mark Twain
The article quotes liberally from a study by the National Institute of Statistics [Instituto Nacional de Estadisticas (“INE”)]. The conclusion of the article is that, according to INE statistics and the anecdotal evidence collected by the writers, since Chavez has become President of Venezuela, some things have improved and some have either stayed the same or gotten worse for the working class.
Now, as Mark Twain (nee Samuel Claims) once wrote, there are three kinds of lies: Lies, damn lies and statistics; his point being that statistics, like the Bible, can be used to support just about any argument. It all depends on how they are interpreted or, to use common day “politspeak,” it all depends on the “spin” you want to put on the information. The interpretation is also, of course, oftentimes influenced by the interpreter’s own political perspective.
Bearing all of that in mind, it is still interesting to look at the study cited by the author’s of this Miami Herald article. The article is clearly not “one-sided” in that it does not limit itself to reporting only those things in the study that would support the view that things have improved for Venezuela’s working class. Nor does it do the contrary, reporting only those things that would cut against the Chavez administration.
When discussing this article and the INE study with several Venezuelans who oppose President Chavez’s revolution, if one uses the INE study to argue that things have improved, a Chavez opponent will no doubt argue that the INE is controlled by “Chavistas” and, therefore, you cannot believe anything it reports. Interestingly enough, they ignore the parts that point out what hasn’t improved or has worsened under Chavez. If you point out that the report is “objective” because it shows “both sides” they argue: “well they just do that to make it seem like it is objective.” Chavez has been “demonized” to the point that anything he says or does is distorted to support the argument that he is the Devil incarnate and therefore cannot be believed or trusted.
When you look at the things that Chavez is doing and separate them from what he is saying you realize that you have seen this before. Not in that last holdout of Communist orthodoxy in the Caribbean, nor in the US and Venezuela 's new most favored nation trading partner China but in the very US of A. Students of history, and those who lived through it in the US, will recall that in the 1930’s, as a response to the Great Depression and in an attempt to lift the US out of its economic doldrums, President Roosevelt proposed and was able to have passed, a number of public works that are no more and no less than what Chavez is doing today in Venezuela. FDR, a banker by profession and a member of one of the most well-connected upper crust families in the US, was accused by the extreme right wing of being a Communist, Socialist, enemy of the people, etc. When being accused of destroying capitalism, FDR is rumored to have responded, "I am not destroying capitalism. US I am saving it from itself."
Chavez does not hide his “socialist” perspective. In fact he has more and more referred to the revolution as a socialist revolution, using that term interchangeably with the term “Bolivarian” revolution. But he in fact is maintaining in place a capitalist structure at its base, with a number of social programs engrafted onto that base as a necessary response to dire economic conditions in Venezuela. In fact, during social conditions in Venezuela today are worse than they were in the US during the Great Depression. FDR ultimately became a hero and is today spoken of in tones that are usually reserved for the sainted.
It is important to look at acts rather than listening to political rhetoric.The fact that, despite his saber rattling, Chavez has maintained the capitalist base of Venezuela relatively intact is the main reason why the US has not invaded, and why multinational capitalist countries continue to do business with the Chavez government. Business is business.
Stability is good for business. Whether that “stability” arises within the context of a “democracy” or a “dictatorship” is relatively irrelevant to capitalist markets. Why else would multi-nationals sit down with right wing dictators such as Pinochet as well as left wing rulers in China? Markets are markets, bottom line.
People often point to Chavez statement that he plans to be in power until 2021 at which time he will turn over the reigns to his daughter Rosaines. Again, rhetoric. The Venezuelan constitution does not allow for more than two terms. Can it be amended? Yes. There is a process provided for that in the constitution. Will Chavez actually attempt it? Who knows? But guess what, there have been elements in the US that have proposed the same thing here. More interestingly, supporters of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger have proposed that the Constitution be amended to allow someone who is NOT born in the US to be eligible for the Presidency. Does this have a chance of winning? Probably not, but who knows. Stranger things have happened in this “land of opportunity”: we have had haberdashers, peanut farmers, and even a B-grade movie actor (who was frequently upstaged by a Chimpanzee) as presidents of this great country, so who knows. As my grandma used to say: Cosas mas raras se han visto.
Chavez's motivations are irrelevant. What matters are the results and how they are accomplishedAll presidents’ “buy” their votes, Balaguer in the Dominican Republic, "Pork barrel" politics in the U.S., Chavez in Venezuela, etc. It's all part of the process.
"Court-packing" is trying to control the judicial system by increasing the number of judges on the bench and by appointing those who will presumably be loyal to the sitting governmental administration at the executive level. Once again, Chavez, in seeking to implement his plan for manipulating the make-up of the Tribunal Supremo de Justicia (Venezuela's Supreme Court) must have been studying FDR. In response to the number of cases in which the Supreme Court ruled a number of FDR's new deal legislative measures unconstitutional, FDR attempted to change the make-up of the court by increasing the number of Justices from 9 to 12 and providing for mandatory retirement at age 70. This was one of the measures most vehemently contested by anti-FDR opponents, who ultimately succeeded in having FDR's court packing plan rejected by Congress.
Aside from questions of whether the statistics are accurate, what is really at root of the opposition to Chavez and his social programs is a “social” rather than economic concern. Chavez is creating a “welfare” system, just as existed in the US until “welfare as we know it” was eliminated by … guess who… a conservative Republican? NO! The US welfare system was reformed by that bastion of democratic party “liberalism, “ Bill Clinton.
In conversations with members of the 20%, it becomes clear that there is a “principled” reason for opposing such programs, that is the principle of “meritocracy.” Aside from the fact that then upper crust has the “most to lose” (at least in the short term) those who have “worked “ for their wealth oppose social spending because it will perpetuate a mentality of dependence.Welfare is a form of social control and a way of “regulating the poor” “Laziness” is not inborn, it is learned.
The common thinking is that if you give a handout to someone then they will just ask for more instead of working for it. Such a system rewards the wrong things and the wrong people. This may well be true if the social welfare becomes a self perpetuating system rather than a mere “by-way” to self sufficiency. I can recount a myriad of stories of families in the US, including my own, that have been on welfare and eventually worked there way up the ladder to eventually not only become independent and self-sufficient, but to become “successful.”
It is no mystery that those who are benefiting from Chavez largesse are the disenfranchised who are darker, more "Indian" (indigenous), less-cultured, etc. than the ladies of La Lagunita who spend their mornings playing golf and there afternoons lolling away at the club having tea (floowed up by a stiff "whiskeysito"). However, the vast majority of Venezuelans fall into the "disenfranchised" segment, and that is where Chavez has his base. Democracy dictates that “majority rule” is the guiding principle. (In fact, in Venezuela it can be said that elections are more democratic than the U.S. because they require a majority, rather than just a plurality for victory.)
The majority in Venezuela are the downtrodden that previously did not even participate in the system. It is interesting that those who espouse “democracy” so vehemently do not seem to believe in the system, as much once they can not insure that their social class will control the process. It reminds me of South Africa where the ruling Boer minority had to give way to the black majority led by Nelson Mandela. All of a sudden no one believed in majority rule based democracy. The fact of the matter is that this social class rarely does believe in true democracy, believing instead that the “unwashed masses” are not ready for democracy. Of course that is because they are “uneducated,” "unwashed” and "unskilled." It would seem then that they would agree with President Chavez's social programs that are meant to change these conditions.
In the meantime, Venezuelans have the President they elected, by a clear majority vote, untainted by corruption (which is much more than can be said for prior “Adecopeyanos” administrations.) However, as self-educated former slave Frederick Douglass said: Power concedes nothing.
The poor are poor because of there own fault. God must have wanted it that way. If you give them money they will just spend it on rum and DirecTV. If you give them a new house, they will just destroy it because “they didn't have to work for it,” their uncivilized and don’t know how to act, etc. These are classic "blaming the victim" justifications for opposing social spending. What the Chavez government is attempting to accomplish in Venezuela is a social revolution. Not just a political change form one party to another but a change in the society at large and in what it means to be a Venezuela. Much akin to Che’s idea of the “new Socialist man.” President Chavez and his supporters within the government are embarked on a program to change Venezuelan society in the long run. Whether it will be for the better depends on your point of view and that all depends on whose ox is gored.
It is clear that Mr. Chavez has not only studied and learned his Marx, his Cuban history and Fidel Castro's trajectory, but that he has also studied his Paulo Freire and that he understands that “education” is a liberating and subversive societal force. That as Paulo Freiere, author of the world renowned tome Pedagogy of the Oppressed education is meant to open people's eyes to the world around them and to give them the tools with which to make their own reality.
A number of psychological factors account for why people engage in blaming the victim behavior. They are “true believers” and believe that poor people are poor of their own choosing, that the sick get sick because it is God’s punishment, that abused women were “asking for it” by the way they dress, act, talk, etc.There is another factor. For that I will refer to those much more versed in this matter than I: Freud posits that “guilt” is a major psychological element of the blamer’s makeup. In other words, those who benefit from an unjust system need to blame the victims because they themselves feel guilty about having received a benefit as the result of an injustice. Blaming the victim shifts the responsibility away from the victimizer (or the beneficiaries of the victimizers’ activities) and onto the victim, thereby justifying the system that provides them with untold benefits. Not to lapse to far into “psycho-babble” but this is certainly at least one plausible theory among many. That is not to excuse “victims” who are victims due to there own failure, refusal, or inability to do something to change their conditions. The exceptions prove the rule, not disprove it.
Am I advocating violent overthrow of the duly elected government. NO. There is a democratic process, enshrined in the Constitution for dealing with the “problems” that beset Venezuela today. However, as a groundbreaking United Nations resolution provides, colonized, oppressed people have the right to accomplish liberation “by any means necessary” and that includes violence. However, it is only justified where a leader has overstepped all of the boundaries of the governing charter. That (and the U.S. appetite for petroleum) is why there has not been and will not be any U.S. intervention (at least not openly) in Venezuela. It can not be justified. Will the US in the meantime attempt, by subterfuge, to subvert Chavez’s rule in Venezuela? Of course. It’s what we do and it's what we do best. Will the US invade Venezuela? Not unless the situation poses a real threat to US geopolitical (read US and multinational corporate) interests.
A dictatorial police state is the often times the most efficient and stable form of government. Capital markets like stability. The idea that markets should be affected and tied to overriding principles of morality was rejected by the Regan administration, which removed the Carter administrations human rights requirements from foreign trade decisions. At present, a U.S. trading partner's human rights record has almost nothing to do with whether the US will consider you an appropriate ally. Otherwise why would China, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, all be on our list of “Most Favored Nations.”
Those who do not learn from their history are doomed to repeat it. ~~ George Santayana
Will Chavez ‘s Venezuela turn into Fidel’s Cuba? Will Venezuela be saddled with a 45 year dictatorship (which, by the way, the US does not necessarily have a problem with Just ask the Paraguayans who lived through the 55 year dictatorship of US ally and proto-fascist General Alfredo Stroessner.)? Well, as long as they sit in South Florida waiting for the US to solve their "problems" because they do not have the power, political will or “c*jones” to do it themselves, those who oppose Chavez may well see another tenured leader passing off power to his bodily heir a la Papa Doc/Baby Doc in Haiti. And as long as the markets are stable, the rest of the world will probably just sit by and watch.

© 2007, R. Ventura-Rosa

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

A Jurisprudence of Doubt

A Jurisprudence of Doubt
by Rafael Ventura-Rosa
Liberty finds no refuge in a jurisprudence of doubt.
Casey v Planned Parenthood (Justice Sandra Day O'Connor)
But that it were as simple as being pro or anti something.

The abortion/choice/life issue is made all the more complicated by the fact that both sides are seeking and have always sought simple answers to very complex questions.

If you can bear with me, I will try to explain my own position. It is not simple. A lot of why the debate is made all the more complicated is that each side chooses to define the issue by using politically loaded buzzwords tailor-made for our sound-byte ordered media world. So, to an anti-choice person, the pro-choice people are Pro-Abortion. For the Pro-Choice people the Right to Life/Anti Abortion folks are Anti-Choice. In reality, neither side can come up with a simple answer because there isn't one.

For starters, it is my belief that NO ONE is pro-abortion! Not even pro-choice liberal feminists.
What is really at the core of the debate and its complexity is that we have certainty and uncertainty on both sides. How we choose to decide in light of that uncertainty says much about us as a society. In the abortion/choice continuum, you have on the one hand a woman (a definite life) who may suffer (reversible) harm from being forced to carry to term a child that results from an unplanned pregnancy. On the other side, you have an uncertain potential life that may suffer the ultimate and irreversible harm of having its life (if it exists) terminated forever and all time.

For the same reasons that I oppose the death penalty, I oppose the termination of a life, under any circumstances. It is interesting to note that some of the same people that call themselves Pro-Life when it comes to the abortion issue are Pro-Death penalty. But then again, there is no law against inconsistency.

When addressing the "life" issue, it gets particularly complicated. When exactly does "life" begin? Well, in order to arrive at an answer to that question, you have to define what "life" is. If it is based on a scientific definition the answer will, of course, be different than that reached based on a religious, moral or ethical bases. If we choose the scientific definition used in Roe v Wade, then "life" begins (and therefore the constitution begins to apply to the "being" in question) at the point of "viability" (that is once the child is medically able to live outside of the mother's womb).

Even if we were to be able to determine, to a reasonable degree of medical certainty, that life, as defined in Roe, begins at 3 months, the construct is on a collision course with itself. Why? Because medical science may and probably will push the point of "viability" to an earlier and earlier stage in the pregnancy. Suppose it is someday possible for "viability" to take place at 2 days of conception? Then what?

As with the presumption of innocence, given the degree of uncertainty that exists on all sides of the abortion/choice/life debate, as a society we have to decide what is the acceptable "fallout" from having to make a decision under circumstances of uncertainty. Where the abortion/choice debate is concerned, if we choose to protect a woman's right to privacy in such a manner as would allow her to make the decision to terminate a pregnancy without government intervention, what we as a society are saying is the we are choosing to err on the side of protecting a woman from potential harm at the expense of protecting a potential life from definite and irreversible harm.

However, the idea that we as a society may well have sanctioned the wholesale termination of millions of "lives" brings with it a cumbersome burden of societal guilt. So what do we do? We say THAT'S NOT THE ISSUE! The issue is a woman's right to control her body. However, even if you fully support a woman's right to control her body, do you not have to ask: control her body in what way and to do what with? If your answer is no, then the logical conclusion you would have to come to is that a woman has the right to terminate a pregnancy, without any governmental intervention, even up to the point of childbirth minus one day. I do not believe that there are many (if any) pro-choice activists that would support the right to terminate a pregnancy that is in its ninth month.

Moreover, the abortion debate cannot and should not take place in a vacuum. Every unplanned pregnancy does not result in an unwanted child. Unless and until we address and de-stigmatize the adoption process and provide full resources to foster and adopting parents, the abortion/choice/life debate will not move out of the political morass in which it is stuck. However, that is another aspect of this very complicated debate and will be addressed in a later post.

© 2006, R. Ventura-Rosa/INPI


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