Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Presidents Chávez, Obama et al Are Meddling Egregiously with Honduras.

First published by BlogCritics on 30 June 2009

The United States gave the lawfully deposed President of Honduras full support, after giving meager support to the Iranian protesters.

Over the weekend, Honduras was about to have a referendum on whether its Constitutional prohibition against a sitting president running for a second term should be modified. This referendum was proposed by President Zelaya, whose term in office expires next year; an election is to be held in November.

The Constitution expressly states that its provisions concerning the presidential term of office and prohibiting reelection are among the very few provisions not subject to change.

Title VII, with two chapters, outlines the process of amending the constitution and sets forth the principle of constitutional inviolability. The constitution may be amended by the National Congress after a two-thirds vote of all its members in two consecutive regular annual sessions. However, several constitutional provisions may not be amended. These consist of the amendment process itself, as well as provisions covering the form of government, national territory, and several articles covering the presidency, including term of office and prohibition from reelection.
The text, in Spanish, of Article VII is provided in a footnote. Despite a ruling by the Honduran Supreme Court that he could not constitutionally do so, President Zelaya determined to go forward with the referendum.

The news reports on what happened next are often unclear and frequently contradictory; to some extent, the massive media coverage of Michael Jackson's death may have displaced them. Here, however, is my best effort at offering a summary distilled from multiple sources: Sometime earlier this year, President Zelaya decided that the Constitution should be amended to permit him to run for another term. The Congress -- controlled by the party of which President Zelaya is a member -- refused to go along. The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela provided the necessary ballots, and President Zelaya ordered the military to distribute them for a referendum to be held on 28 June. The Supreme Court determined that the referendum was violative of the Constitution, and ordered the top military commander, Gen. Romeo Vásquez Velásquez, neither to distribute the ballots nor in any other way to carry out the logistics of the vote as the military would normally do in elections. General Vásquez Velásquez so advised President Zelaya, who promptly fired him. The Supreme Court ordered him reinstated, and President Zelaya refused. On 28 June, President Zelaya led a group of his followers to the military installation where the ballots were being stored, took them, and had his followers distribute them. The Congress voted unanimously to appoint a committee to analyze the situation and investigate President Zelaya for his refusal to respect the Constitution and the orders issued by other branches of government. He nevertheless carried on with his preparations, and offered only a cosmetic change to the referendum: on Saturday night (27 June), he verbally stated that the referendum would not be binding, but confirmed that it would go ahead as planned the next day. A few hours before the opening of the polling stations, the Supreme Court ordered the president’s arrest and removal from office. The army carried out the order, arrested Mr. Zelaya and transported him to Costa Rica. A reason for doing so was to avoid a bloodbath in the face of the threat of other governments interfering in Honduras’ internal affairs, among them Venezuela and Nicaragua. The likelihood of substantial popular protests over the ouster of Mr. Zelaya seemed small, since Mr. Zelaya had low support -- polls showed around 30 percent before his ouster -- "as many Hondurans were uncomfortable with his tilt to the left in a country with a long conservative, pro-Washington position." As indicated below, that bloodbath now seems quite possible, largely due to outside interference from Washington, Caracas and elsewhere. The referendum was not held, and the Legislature, in emergency session, unanimously selected its president as the interim President of Honduras as provided by Honduran law, and stated that a presidential election would be held in November, as scheduled. The interim President is of the same political party as former President Zelaya.

The ouster of President Zelaya has frequently been termed a "coup." That seems, to me at least, to stretch the word well beyond its commonly understood meaning. The Honduran military acted to execute the lawful orders of the Supreme Court and with the blessing of the "democratically elected" legislature; I have seen no indication that the military instigated the ouster. Nor is Honduras under military control; it has an interim civilian president, properly selected by unanimous vote of the legislature in compliance with the laws of presidential succession.

The United States Government was very active during the days leading up the exile of Mr. Zelaya. According to an article in the New York Times,
American officials did not believe that Mr. Zelaya’s plans for the referendum were in line with the Constitution, and were worried that it would further inflame tensions with the military and other political factions, administration officials said.

Even so, one administration official said that while the United States thought the referendum was a bad idea, it did not justify a coup.

I do not understand that it is the proper business of the United States Government to dictate to a foreign government on such matters; the decision whether another country should ignore its Constitution in order to maintain tranquility and thereby please the United States Government is not for the United States Government to make. This is particularly the case here, since the United States Government recognized that the proposed referendum was not "in line with the Constitution" and was a "bad idea."

The situation in Honduras provides an interesting comparison to the recent situation in Iran. President Chávez of Venezuela, who had expressed great solidarity with his ally, the ruling theocracy in Iran, during the recent unpleasantness there, came quickly and vigorously to the defense of one of his other allies, President Zelaya.  President Chávez said on state television that if his ambassador to Honduras were killed, or if troops entered the Venezuelan Embassy, the "military junta" would be entering a de facto state of war. Although he cited no credible evidence that these things were likely to occur, he put the armed forces of Venezuela on alert. "We will bring them down, we will bring them down, I tell you," he said, while hundreds of his supporters gathered outside Venezuela's presidential palace in solidarity with Zelaya. References to the current Honduran Government as a "military junta" were certainly erroneous; that, and characterizing the transition of power as a "coup" certainly are conducive to massive unrest. They would appear to serve no any other, legitimate, purpose. Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa, an ally of President Chávez, said that he would also support military action if Ecuador's diplomats or those of its allies were threatened.

President Obama came quickly but with slightly less vigor to Mr. Zelaya's defense as well.

"I call on all political and social actors in Honduras to respect democratic norms, the rule of law and the tenets of the Inter-American Democratic Charter," Obama said. "Any existing tensions and disputes must be resolved peacefully through dialogue free from any outside interference."

Although that doesn't sound like much interference, and in fact asserts that there should be none, it omits any mention of President Zelaya's refusal to engage in dialogue, even with the active encouragement of the United States Government. Moreover, the Obama Administration inconsistently "called for Mr. Zelaya's return to office as legitimate president of Honduras. Secretary Clinton accused Honduras of violating "the precepts of the Interamerican Democratic Charter" and said it "should be condemned by all." The Governments of the United States and of Venezuela thus supported the Honduran status quo ante; both ignored President Zelaya's defiance of Honduran law, of the Honduran Constitution, of the Honduran Supreme Court and of the Honduran Legislative branch. The new Interim President of Honduras, Roberto Micheletti said, "nobody, not Barack Obama and much less Hugo Chavez, has any right to threaten this country."

President Chávez was to meet with Mr. Zelaya in Nicaragua on 29 June. Now, Argentina's president and the head of the OAS plan to accompany Mr. Zelaya as he tries to return to Honduras. The World Bank has "paused" all program lending. Mr. Zelaya plans to speak at the United Nations on 30 June. Meanwhile, President Chávez and his friends are trying their best to cause all of the confusion and violence of which they are capable.

President Chávez had rejected the recent Iranian protests and blamed them on outside interference:

"We call on the world to respect Iran because there are attempts to undermine the strength of the Iranian revolution," said Chavez on Sunday in his weekly radio and television address.

"Ahmadinejad's triumph was a triumph all the way. They are trying to stain Ahmadinejad's triumph and through that weaken the government and the Islamic revolution. I know they will not succeed," Chavez said.

The Venezuelan Foreign Ministry also issued a statement blasting "the fierce and unfounded campaign from outside [of Iran] to discredit" Iran's president.
President Obama had tried to walk a very fine line in Iran -- too fine a line, in my opinion -- so as not to appear to "meddle" in its internal affairs.

The United States Government evidently viewed expressions of support for the Iranian protesters as meddling in internal Iranian affairs, yet it saw fit to express extraordinary support for Mr. Zelaya by demanding that Honduras  depose an interim president unanimously selected as provided for in the Honduran Constitution, and return to power a president who had sought to violate the Honduran Constitution and whose arrest had been ordered by the Supreme Court. Although President Obama called on Honduras to respect "democratic norms and the rule of law," he evidently did not mean the norms, Honduran laws and Honduran Constitution as interpreted by the Supreme Court of Honduras.

If it is the policy of the United States Government not to meddle in the internal affairs of other countries, there are stark differences in its treatment of the Iranian theocracy and the Government of Honduras. There are no significant differences in the treatment of the Iranian theocracy and the Government of Honduras by President Chávez of Venezuela, and I would expect none; he desires permanent and total power over Venezuela for himself, and evidently views any attempts at diminishing the power of governments sympathetic toward him as counterrevolutionary and therefore very bad. I do not think that President Obama shares such views, and certainly hope that he does not. Nevertheless, I consider the current Washington approach to the crisis in Honduras to be grossly confused.  Whatever may be President Obama's motives, I think that the United States Government made a very bad mistake in trying to upset the orderly transfer of power in Honduras.

*Article VII states, in Spanish:

ARTICULO 373.- La reforma de esta Constitución podrá decretarse por el Congreso Nacional, en sesiones ordinarias, con dos tercios de votos de la totalidad de sus miembros. El decreto señalará al efecto el artículo o artículos que hayan de reformarse, debiendo ratificarse por la subsiguiente legislatura ordinaria, por igual número de votos, para que entre en vigencia.

ARTICULO 374.- No podrán reformarse, en ningún caso, el artículo anterior, el presente artículo, los artículos constitucionales que se refieren a la forma de gobierno, al territorio nacional, al período presidencial, a la prohibición para ser nuevamente Presidente de la República, el ciudadano que lo haya desempeñado bajo cualquier título y el referente a quienes no pueden ser Presidentes de la República por el período subsiguiente.


ARTICULO 375.- Esta Constitución no pierde su vigencia ni deja de cumplirse por acto de fuerza o cuando fuere supuestamente derogada o modificada por cualquier otro medio y procedimiento distintos del que ella mismo dispone. En estos casos, todo ciudadano investido o no de autoridad, tiene el deber de colaborar en el mantenimiento o restablecimiento de su afectiva vigencia.
Serán juzgados, según esta misma constitución y las leyes expedidas en conformidad con ella, los responsables de los hechos señalados en la primera parte del párrafo anterior, lo mismo que los principales funcionarios de los gobiernos que se organicen subsecuentemente, si no han contribuido a restablecer inmediatamente el imperio de esta Constitución y a las autoridades constituidas conforme a ella. El Congreso puede decretar con el voto de la mayoría absoluta de sus miembros, la incautación de todo o parte de los bienes de esas mismas personas y de quienes se hayan enriquecido al amparo de la suplantación.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The United States Government Should Not Remain Neutral During the Iranian Protests.

First published at BlogCritics on 23 June 2009.

There are circumstances when neutrality is wise; neutrality in the face of outrageous human rights violations is unwise.

Corporations, in my view, have one basic obligation, and it is to those who invested money in them. That obligation, in most circumstances, is to make money for its investors -- not to promote freedom and not to ensure the well being and comfort of corporate employees, except as doing so increases their earnings. It is for those who invested in the corporation to decide whether and how to use their own resources to support worthy causes. A business corporation has no mandate to diminish the gains of its investors by using what should be their money to support what its officers and directors consider to be worthy causes.

The United States Government is, in many respects, similar to a corporation. Her primary obligation is to her citizens, which she should meet by keeping them safe and otherwise generally staying out of their way. In most circumstances, the United States Government should offer support to, or oppose, other governments only when that benefits her own citizens. On this basis, if Country A attacks Country B, and there are no pesky treaty obligations standing in the way, the United States Government should normally intervene only when it appears to be in the best interests of United States citizens for her to do so; no matter that Country B may be a democratic, freedom loving country or that Country A may be a dictatorship lusting after the resources of Country B.

The problem here, as I see it, lies in the words "in most circumstances;" those words suggest that there may be cases in which the United States Government should seriously consider doing things not likely to promote the safety of her own citizens -- directly or even indirectly. Such cases are probably uncommon. They may include providing relief to people in other countries suffering from natural disasters. They may include spending money to support literacy and medical efforts in other countries. Some would probably say that they include sending food to the people of North Korea, many of whom are starving, even though this may help North Korea to keep her armed forces well fed and better able to attack our ally South Korea. These things cost money and detract, pro tanto, from the ability of the United States Government to ensure the safety of her own citizens and otherwise to stay out of their way. Contrary to the apparent opinion of some, the United States Government's supplies of money and other resources are finite.

Most of those now protesting the Iranian election are not starving, nor are they the innocent victims of a natural disaster. Still, I think it the obligation of the United States Government to come to their aid in whatever way is within her means and is likely to assist them. There are times when even a country should strive to encourage those freedoms which she claims to hold dear -- even if it costs money and even if a consequence may be to irritate an existing, already hostile, Government such as that of Iran.

It is claimed by some that, due to her horrible record in the past, the United States Government has no moral authority now to encourage freedoms elsewhere. I don't accept that basic thesis, but even accepting it for the sake of argument, it seems very unlikely that by remaining indifferent to the situation of the Iranian protesters will help the United States Government to regain any moral authority; to the contrary, it will further erode what little she is said to have.

The United States Government is not a human being, and generally should not behave as though she were. A human being, seeing another human or a dog lying injured in the road should, I think, stop and render such assistance as he can. If a delay in getting to the grocery store or even worse results, so be it. "Good" people do that sort of thing. That human reaction is probably at the root of many of the cases in which the United States Government uses the resources of her citizens to assist those elsewhere in time of crisis.

I think that's what the United States Government should do in the present Iranian situation. Even if the United States has not done enough to support human freedom in the past, it is now high time for her to do so.

What can't and shouldn't the United States Government do? I have not heard any cries for her to send in troops, and think that to do so would be a very bad mistake. The imposition of further sanctions on the Iranian Government would not likely help, and would do far more harm to the Iranian citizens who are now opposing that Government than to the Government itself. At best, further sanctions would reiterate to the Iranian Government what she already knows -- that other countries are unhappy with her actions. That has not worked well in the past, and seems unlikely to do so now.

The United States Government should and can come down firmly on the side of the Iranian protesters by stating, clearly and not in "diplospeak," that the protesters are right to oppose their Government's actions, and that their Government is wrong in violently repressing them. President Obama has done this to a minor extent, and he continues to do a bit more, a little at a time. However, he still needs to do more; with passion and not as though he had to. He should use the office of the Presidency to emphasize the recent news coverage of the Iranian Government's highly dubious election and of the violent repression of those protesting it, as well possibly as any independent intelligence gathered by the United States Government and (with their consent) by her allies; he should say that He, personally and as the President of the United States, agrees with the voices in the United States and elsewhere damning the Iranian Government's actions. He should say that the United States Government will provide all of the moral support it can, but will not send in troops or otherwise meddle in any physical sense. He should express the strong hope that those willing to give their blood and their lives succeed in overthrowing an illegitimate Iranian Government, and the belief that if they do not give up, they will succeed. He might even consider using a minor variation on his campaign phrase, "Yes You Can!"  He should extend the hand of the United States People to them, and promise that when they succeed, he will make it his priority to extend diplomatic recognition to their new Government and to provide whatever assistance it may request and which does not undermine United States treaty obligations. If, as I understand to be the case, the Iranian people seek and badly need such support, he should give it to them, unstintingly and without unnecessary reservations. Unlike a corporation looking only after its profits, or a government looking only after her own the parochial interests, the United States Government should do all within its power to assist those Iranians who want voices in a legitimate  Government of their own.

President Obama has said that having such voices is a universal human right.
Democracy, rule of law, freedom of speech, freedom of religion — those are not simply principles of the West to be hoisted on these countries, but rather what I believe to be universal principles that they can embrace and affirm as part of their national identity.
Now, President Obama has a very good chance to show that he meant what he said. He should do it before it's too late.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Judge Sotomayor Belongs to a (GASP) Women's Organization!

What's good for the goose is good for the gander.

First published by BlogCritics on 19 June 2009

Judge Sotomayor is catching flack for having accepted, about one year ago, an invitation to join Belizean Grove, a  small, (from one hundred and fifteen to one hundred and twenty five members), apparently intimate and rather exclusive, invitation-only organization which has only female members. According to its website, Belizean Grove is

a constellation of influential women who are key decision makers in the profit, non-profit and social sectors; who build long term mutually beneficial relationships in order to both take charge of their own destinies and help others to do the same.
To this end, the organization invites
members [who] are highly accomplished leaders in a wide venue of fields, are dedicated to giving back to their communities, have a sense of humor and excitement about life and are willing to mentor and share connections. With this vision in mind, members are invited not only for their professional accomplishments but also for their generosity and compatibility.
According to the founder of the organization,
Ms. Stautberg, who founded the private club nine years ago, . . . the group is a response to the all-male clubs that have long fostered business connections and policy links for powerful men.

"I think we all need support in our lives," Ms. Stautberg said. "We need time to relax; we need time to think. We're all being nibbled at constantly all day, by e-mail." (emphasis added)

The principal legal question involved in this minor kerfuffle is whether membership in such organizations as the Belizean Grove violates Canon 2C of the Code of Judicial Conduct, which discourages judicial membership in organizations which "invidiously discriminate" on the basis of sex, race and national origin, unless they try to eliminate the discrimination. Obviously, the Belizean Grove discriminates on the basis of sex; men aren't invited and presumably can't join no matter how greatly accomplished, sharing or humorous they may be. But does it discriminate invidiously?

The adverb "invidiously" presumably is not redundant, and must therefore have some meaning; otherwise it would not be there. That's why the commentary associated with Canon 2C goes on at some length trying to explain what "invidious" means in context. This is
often a complex question to which judges should be sensitive. The answer cannot be determined from a mere examination of an organization's current membership rolls but rather depends on how the organization selects members and other relevant factors, such as that the organization is dedicated to the preservation of religious, ethnic or cultural values of legitimate common interest to its members, or that it is in fact and effect an intimate, purely private organization whose membership limitations could not be constitutionally prohibited. . . . Other relevant factors include the size and nature of the organization and the diversity of persons in the locale who might reasonably be considered potential members. Thus the mere absence of diverse membership does not by itself demonstrate a violation unless reasonable persons with knowledge of all the relevant circumstances would expect that the membership would be diverse in the absence of invidious discrimination. Absent such factors, an organization is generally said to discriminate invidiously if it arbitrarily excludes from membership on the basis of race, religion, sex, or national origin persons who would otherwise be admitted to membership. (emphasis added)

The commentary associated with Canon 2C cites for guidance by analogy several Supreme Court cases in which organizations had been found discriminatory and therefore subject to adverse action under State statutes.  One case involved a popular eating establishment open only to men.  Another involved Rotary Clubs International, with "19,788 Rotary Clubs in 157 countries, with a total membership of about 907,750."  Membership was limited to men. Another involved the United States Jaycees, with "295,000 members in 7,400 local chapters affiliated with 51 state organizations." Full membership was restricted to young men. In each case, no Constitutional right of association was found to be sufficiently infringed to outweigh State interests in eliminating discrimination on the basis of sex. A key factor in each case was that the group involved was so large as to vitiate any suggestion that "it is in fact and effect an intimate, purely private organization . . . ." 

Hence, it is apparently not in contravention of Canon 2C for a judge to belong to a very small, private and selective organization membership in which is limited to women and which is dedicated to the preservation of "religious, ethnic or cultural values of legitimate common interest to its members." Belizean Grove is very small, and it apparently invites for membership only a few women with "particular cultural values," which they presumably share. It does not appear to matter whether those values are unique to women.

There has been some discussion of the meaning of Canon 2C, as to which there is probably legitimate disagreement. For example, here a writer for the National Review seems to come to a different conclusion. Here a writer for Power Line agrees with him. Legal issues frequently produce divergent views, and that's probably a good thing; otherwise, what would lawyers do?

There are those who claim that membership in such an organization is bad, since it discriminates on the basis of sex, and that Judge Sotomayor's membership must somehow be explained away during her confirmation hearings.  Based on my reading of opinions in which she joined as a judge on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, there appears to be little in them, or in other matters, to bring her qualifications seriously into question.  I hope that my fellow "conservatives" don't engage in silliness by elevating Judge Sotomayor's Belizean Grove membership to an obstacle of greater importance than, in my opinion, it warrants. It would, I think, be a bad thing were "conservative" Republicans to attack Judge Sotomayor as "liberal" Democrats attacked Judge D. Brooks Smith when he was nominated to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in 2002, based on his then former membership in the Spruce Creek Rod and Gun Club, a men's fishing club. One basis for opposition was that the fishing club provided

important business and professional contacts . . . where business and professional men interact and bond with each other and with important political figures and judges.
The same is clearly true of Belizean Grove, the web site of which states that it is dedicated to "influential women who are key decision makers in the profit, non-profit and social sectors; who build long term mutually beneficial relationships."  Judge Smith was eventually confirmed by the Senate, sixty-four to thirty-five.
The attack was beaten back to considerable degree because of an interesting fact neither Leahy nor Schumer knew. On the wall of the club was a photograph of Marine One landing at Spruce Creek. . . . The president in question was a Spruce Creek devotee -- Jimmy Carter. . . . a frequent visitor to what Leahy and Schumer were painting as a sewer of gender discrimination, he was still coming there long after his White House days were over.
That Democrats sometimes do silly things should not be an excuse for Republicans to do those same silly things; silliness begets silliness, and the selection of a Supreme Court justice is too important for that sort of nonsense. And, of course, by not acting silly, the Republicans can help to make the Democrats look silly by comparison.

I do think that some explanation of Judge Sotomayor's membership in Belizean Grove is in order, and I hope it goes beyond what she has said thus far, that men are invited to some social events and that she is unaware of any instance in which a man has sought but been denied membership. These comments do not appear to have been fully considered and, based on my understanding of the commentary associated with Canon 2C, seem inadequate.

I hope for some interesting questions and answers on other, but related, matters -- such as "reverse discrimination." The Belizean Grove matter may well be the only context in which such questions can be raised with a legitimate hope for a responsive answer.  I would very much like to hear Judge Sotomayor agree with Ms. Stautberg's idea that "we all need support in our lives" (emphasis added), from members of our own genders and, I would suggest, possibly from members of our own races as well. I see no reason why women should not join similar organizations comprised solely of women; why gays or lesbians should not join similar organizations comprised solely of gays or lesbians, nor why Black or Hispanic people should not join similar organizations comprised solely of Black or Hispanic people. Consistently, I see no valid reason why they should be disparaged for doing so, and I very much hope that Judge Sotomayor holds a similar view.

Nor do I see any valid reason why Whites, males, "straights" and others who join comparable small and intimate organizations comprised solely of those who resemble them should be disparaged for doing so. And there's the rub; they are.
Gender politics have proved a minefield for male Supreme Court nominees. . . .

Justices Antonin Scalia and Anthony M. Kennedy quit all-male clubs when they were being considered for the Supreme Court in the late 1980s, and Justice Harry Blackmun resigned his membership in the exclusive Cosmos Club in 1988.
The Boy Scouts of America has been under fire for its membership policies, which preclude Agnostics, Atheists, gays and -- yes -- girls. The Girl Scouts of America have been under attack for discriminating against some people, but generally not against boys. Just as women who think that they should have an organization to respond to "the all-male clubs that have long fostered business connections and policy links for powerful men," so perhaps should men, Caucasians, "straights" and others - boys and girls included.

I would challenge neither their right to do so nor the morality of such organizations. I would, however challenge the hypocrisy of those who think it is fine for women, but not for men, fine for Blacks, Hispanics and other "minority" group members, but not for White folks, fine for gays and lesbians but not for "straights." I will be very interested to learn whether Judge Sotomayor holds a similar, or divergent, view.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Sarah Palin is an Angry White Man

First published on BlogCritics on 14 June 2009.

PARODY or SATIRES I can't figure out which.

This is to honor all true patriots as they go boldly forth to silence evil voices.

The United States is distressingly full of angry white men, most of them inflamed by the vast hate media now infesting the country.

The number of angry white men in America is getting larger, said Chip Berlet, senior analyst with Political Research Associates in Somerville, Mass., a think tank that studies right-wing extremists.

In particular, the heterosexual, white, Christian men in America feel they've been pushed out of the way, Berlet said. Attacking the Holocaust Museum is a no-brainer, he said, because white supremacists blame Jews for the advancement of black people.

"The idea that blacks are put in positions of power by crafty Jews is central to their conspiracy theory," Berlet said.
Sarah Palin, previously known primarily for hunting endangered species and for her perverted penchant for expensive clothing and "makeup from Bloomingdale's to update her "slutty flight attendant look," recently called for an uprising against one of America's most beloved liberal communicators, Mr. David Letterman. Ms. Palin -- who masquerades as a woman but is only a non-woman thing in heels -- had the unmitigated gall to tell her minions that what she (and other conservative fanatics) strangely perceived as a grievous insult to her young tramp of a daughter should be met with violence against the greatly respected Mr. Letterman! Soon, there will be calls from Faux News, the Washington Slimes and the other purveyors of conservative filth for violence toward all who support President Obama's excellent and necessary reforms of the wickedness known as the United States. That wickedness, for which President Obama has had to spend most of his time in office apologizing, must not be revived.

Any conservative, but seemingly peaceful, slob could be a secret terrorist, insanely angered by the malicious reporting he so adores, and moved to strike without warning; it does not take a village, or even a well organized militia of evil doers:
"It could be anyone. It could be the guy next door, living in the basement of his mother's place, on the Internet just building himself up with hate, building himself up to a boiling point and finally using what he's learned," said John Perren, head of the counterterrorism branch at the FBI's Washington field office.

This is dreadful!  They must all be put under surveillance and stopped.

When will this travesty end? Is the United States doomed by these conservative cretins? Must the sane majority sit idly by and just watch it happen? NO! We must demand that all who reject the wise guidance and mercy of our President, and of the mainstream media which quite properly support him, be banished. Then, and only then, can joyous apathy prevail.

Soon after President Obama ascended bodily to the Presidency,  the Department of Homeland Security, responsibly and correctly, pointed out that those most pitiful of all creatures in the United States -- those who cling to their guns, their bibles, their religion and their patently false right wing opinions about such trash as the supremacy of the U.S. Constitution -- present a clear and present danger to the United States.  Partisans on the right pretended, in their uniquely obnoxious way, to be offended, and claimed that the notion was insulting and absurd. They did so even though President Obama himself had used many of the very same words in his widely acclaimed California speech during his successful campaign for a mandate to ascend to the Presidency! They have sunk far lower than ever before; they are the national village idiot and must be stopped, now. Boy, were we wrong ever to listen to them!

For a lucid analysis of the problem, here's an opinion piece -- surprisingly,  from a lamentably popular right wing rag, the New York Times. It is a "must read" for all sane people interested in saving the United States from certain death and destruction.

There is . . . one important thing that the D.H.S. report didn’t say: Today, as in the early years of the Clinton administration but to an even greater extent, right-wing extremism is being systematically fed by the conservative media and political establishment.


[W]hatever dividing line there was between mainstream conservatism and the black-helicopter crowd seems to have been virtually erased.
Despite the barely veiled racist reference to "black" helicopters, it is refreshing that even a far right smear sheet such as the New York Times has finally mustered the courage to abandon its ludicrous Conservative stance, at least briefly, to tell us this.

The immensely wise President of Venezuela, Hugo Chávez, may his holy name be praised, has thoughtfully provided guidance: the perpetrators of this vicious right wing treason must be deprived of all opportunity to spew their filth and disorder; they must be severely punished. Tea Parties, formerly known as necktie parties, are symptomatic of the evils which threaten Democracy as we have, albeit recently, come to know and love it in the United States; even the minds of the very few "moderate" conservatives are warped by them. Indeed, Republicans
have become embarrassing to watch. And it doesn’t feel right to make fun of crazy people. Better, perhaps, to focus on the real policy debates, which are all among Democrats.
Tea Parties -- and, truth to tell, Republicans and all other Conservatives as well -- need to be prohibited, NOW, as were their predecessor necktie parties.

We need a new and improved Fairness Doctrine, which will bring true fairness and justice to the public airwaves, as well as to the ubiquitous and very public internet. We won, we own them, and we must control them! The mere fact that conservatives, of all stripes, oppose this salutary change in which we can and must believe shows only that it is badly needed. Only when it has been restored, with greater fairness and impact than ever before, will the catatonic clamoring of the cretinous, backward (and also backwoods) far right be stopped.

After being tried, convicted and justly punished for their heinous crimes against humanity, those who oppose democracy, justice and freedom, as we have come to know and love them under President Obama, must be deported, never again to mock the name of the United States from her own shores. Yes! We Can!  Even though no sanely governed country would take them, we must continue to try as best we can to rid the United States of this despicable scourge.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

President Obama's Cairo Speech -- a Worthwhile Effort or an Exercise in Narcissism?

President Obama's Cairo speech was full of sound and peacefulness, but signified little.

First published by Blogcritics on 9 June 2009.

President Obama delivered an historic -- some would say "masterful" -- speech in Cairo on 4 June 2009. Some have disparaged it and some have praised it to the heavens, going even so far as to suggest that President Obama is godlike.

"I mean in a way Obama’s standing above the country, above – above the world, he’s sort of God."


"I think the President's speech yesterday was the reason we Americans elected him. It was grand. It was positive. Hopeful...But what I liked about the President's speech in Cairo was that it showed a complete humility...The question now is whether the President we elected and spoke for us so grandly yesterday can carry out the great vision he gave us and to the world."
Hope is generally a good thing, even for obviously terminal cancer patients; change is sometimes a good thing. However, there are times when hope is delusional and change is for the worse. There are also times when delusional hope can lead to disastrous change.

Superficially, President Obama's Cairo speech appears to have been intended to demonstrate to the Islamic World that the United States should no longer be viewed as an enemy of Islam and that Islam is not and should not be an enemy of the United States. So far, so good. His speech may well appeal to some of the Islamic "moderates" who are already in full agreement with the "Islam is the religion of Peace" notion; it will probably appeal to those in the United States and elsewhere who very much want to believe that Islam is, in fact, a religion of peace, and that to avoid future problems it is only necessary that the United States recognize this and act accordingly. However, that's rather like preaching to the choir -- not a bad thing to do on occasion, but unlikely to change many minds.

What about those who seem accept the idea that "Islam is a religion of peace" only in the sense that true peace is found exclusively in death: those who cheered the obliteration of the World Trade Center in New York City, the attempted obliteration of other places in the United States and the deaths which those actions caused? What about those who send small children off bearing instruments of violent suicide in order to kill their enemies? What about those who hate the United States and the "universal principles" for which she is said to stand -- democracy, the rule of law, the rights of all, including minorities and women, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and all that sort of thing? What about those who do not accept the notion that such treasures should be universal, as President Obama had proclaimed earlier and as he reiterated in his 4 June speech? What about those who look forward with glee to the death of Israel and of her citizens? Are their minds likely to be changed? I doubt it. Nor does it seem likely that those who view all Islamists, collectively, as their sworn enemy are likely to be persuaded to see the error of their ways; that the lion and lamb will henceforth lie down and enjoy a lasting peace with one another.

It was sad that President Obama felt it necessary to point out that the Holocaust actually happened and was evil, that Israel should be accepted as a legitimate state and that nuclear weapons should not proliferate. It was sad because many in his audience reject these notions; it seems unlikely that more than a very few of those who previously rejected these notions changed their views as a result of the Cairo speech.

President Obama went on at some length to promote his "two state solution" for Israel and her rather quarrelsome neighbors as the keystone for peace in the region. He did not mention the previous failures of similar solutions.

It seems to me that Israel is considered by many of her neighbors to be a thorn in their sides principally because she approaches democracy and the freedoms which are thought to accompany democracy to a far greater extent than does any other collection of people in the region; because she has thereby turned her previously barren lands into fertile and prosperous ones; and because she has thereby become a leader in various areas of military and commercial technology. If this is so, then the "two state" solution embraced by President Obama in his Cairo speech and elsewhere as the policy of the United States will not produce a scintilla of change -- at least not for the better. If Israel survives the two state solution, she will presumably continue to have these same pesky attributes, she will continue to be an unwelcome example to her neighbors, her neighbors will continue to lob missiles and suicide bombers at her, and she will have no choice but to try to make them stop. Should the interesting but hardly novel two state experiment fail, as seems quite likely to me, it will not be exclusively at the expense of the United States; it will be at the expense of another sovereign state, Israel, as well. It will also be at the expense of those "universal principles" which President Obama praised in Cairo and elsewhere.

Perhaps the gushing reactions of President Obama's supporters to his Cairo speech noted in paragraph one above accurately reflect President Obama's own views. If so, his narcissism knows no bounds. In any event, he clearly wants to be remembered as the Great Peace Maker. That is a worthy ambition; it would be even more worthy if his words and deeds had a realistic chance of success in actually bringing forth the blessings of peace. However, I fear, that they are little more likely of success than was the spectacular willingness of Neville Chamberlain to turn Czechoslovakia and other countries (but not, of course, England herself) over to the Nazis in 1938.
Chamberlain believed passionately in peace for many reasons . . . thinking it his job as Britain's leader to maintain stability in Europe; like many people in Britain and elsewhere, he thought that the best way to deal with Germany's belligerence was to treat it with kindness and meet its demands. He also believed that the leaders of people are essentially rational beings, and that Hitler must necessarily be rational as well. Most historians believe that Chamberlain, in holding to these views, pursued the policy of appeasement far longer than was justifiable . . . (emphasis added)
I very much wish that President Obama did indeed have at least a chance-- for the first time in recorded human history-- of producing a lasting "peace in our time." However pure may be his motives, as things now stand, I consider this very unlikely.


Saturday, June 6, 2009

¡Viva el Presidente Chávez! Part II

First published on BlogCritics on 7 June 2009

In the first part of this article, I tried to explain the pitiful situation in which Venezuela now finds herself under El Presidente Chávez, some ten years after he came to power. There, I could do little more than scratch the surface; things are very bad and are getting worse daily. The power of the Venezuelan Government resides, for all practical purposes, in the hands of El Presidente. It is obvious to me that El Presidente has one goal: to solidify his power totally, and to extend it until he dies. It is conceivable that a revolution may be in the offing.

It behooves us to become familiar with the works accomplished by such heads of state as El Presidente, and to ensure that the United States does not emulate countries like Venezuela, intentionally or inadvertently.

President Obama has been in office for only a few months. Nevertheless, in his short time in the Oval Office, President Obama is arguably showing the way to a "socialist paradise" to no lesser extent than did El Presidente Chávez during his first few, relatively calm, months in office. Big things take time to accomplish.

It is not surprising that El Presidente Chávez spoke warmly with President Obama and presented him with a book about the rape of Latin America as a token of his affection at their recent meeting in Trinidad. It is somewhat surprising that President Obama later remarked that
The 2008 presidential campaign proved that American voters want the president to engage with his counterparts, whether or not they are avowed friends of the U.S.

He said it "was a nice gesture to give me a book. I'm a reader." The president added that the election was a referendum of sorts on the argument that U.S. solicitude toward foreign leaders could be seen as "weakness."
This is surprising in light of President Obama's subsequent observation that
Democracy, rule of law, freedom of speech, freedom of religion — those are not simply principles of the West to be hoisted on these countries, but rather what I believe to be universal principles that they can embrace and affirm as part of their national identity.

These "universal principles" are now completely foreign to Venezuela under El Presidente.

On a different occasion, El Presidente also

invited President Barack Obama of the United Status to join Venezuela's "socialist revolution," claiming that this was the only way to get through the world economic crisis.

In a speech in which he defended his revolutionary approach and a string of recent state takeovers or "interventions" of food industry and other companies, Chávez exclaimed: "Come on, Obama, align yourself with us on the way to socialism! Come on, it’s the only way!"
It would be unseemly for the United States, or any other free country, to detract from the glories of Venezuela by emulating her. However, some contend that the U.S. has already begun the process. The new Pravda says that the United States is already well along the path. El Presidente Chávez appears to be highly pleased
Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez said on Tuesday [2 June 2009] that he and Cuban ally Fidel Castro risk being more conservative than U.S. President Barack Obama as Washington prepares to take control of General Motors Corp.

During one of Chavez's customary lectures on the "curse" of capitalism and the bonanzas of socialism, the Venezuelan leader made reference to GM's bankruptcy filing, which is expected to give the U.S. government a 60 percent stake in the 100-year-old former symbol of American might.

"Hey, Obama has just nationalized nothing more and nothing less than General Motors. Comrade Obama! Fidel, careful or we are going to end up to his right," Chavez joked on a live television broadcast.

A joke, to be sure; but jokes generally fall flat unless they embody some element of truth.

Of course, El Presidente can be a tad mercurial. He has also referred to President Obama as an ignoramus. Nevertheless, El Presidente says that he may give President Obama a copy of Lenin's book What is to be Done? when next they meet.

The right of all citizens to vote is the bedrock of a democratic society, and position advocacy is a fundamental part of that bedrock. Citizens should not only be free to vote, they should be free -- and, indeed, encouraged, to express their opinions. El Presidente Chávez has done much to enable the citizens of Venezuela to vote, and to express their opinions on how their fellow citizens should vote -- provided that they support El Presidente. The recent decision by the U.S. Department of Justice to drop all charges against members of the New Black Panther Party in connection with their emphatic expressions of views at polling places in Philadelphia, while brandishing a weapon is, perhaps, part of a grand and glorious plan to encourage freedom of expression in the United States as it has been encouraged in Venezuela; or, perhaps (and I hope) it is not. In any event, great trees from little acorns grow, particularly little acorns watered and fertilized with substantial Federal grants.

To stave off draconian consequences, President Obama has effectively nationalized both General Motors and Chrysler, in ways very likely to make his supporters rather pleased with him and thereby to enhance his powers to advance his social programs. Many of his programs, such as card check legislation and other nifty stuff for unions (or, perhaps more accurately, for union bosses), help further to solidify his own bases of power; whether the nation's economy will thereby be made better or worse is a different question. GM and Chrysler had too much economic power and were, therefore, "too big to fail;" concentrating their power in the Federal Government, rather than attempting to diminish it, seems to me to have been a mistake. The Venezuelan example suggests that this sort of mistake can be quite unfortunate.

Although President Obama claims to oppose any revival of the old "fairness doctrine," it is far from clear that even more restrictive efforts to limit speech are not being made in the name of "media diversity." The Federal Communications Commission now has a panel to consider ways to increase media diversity. It is chaired by former FCC Chairman Henry Rivera, who was an outspoken proponent of the fairness doctrine. The panel has thirty-one members, including the following:

Henry Rivera
Emma Bowen Foundation for Minority Interests in Media (Chairperson)
Raul Alarcon, Jr., Spanish Broadcasting System
Geoffrey C. Blackwell, Chickasaw Nation Industries, Inc.
Maria E. Brennan, American Women in Radio and Television
Steve Hillard, Council Tree Communications
David Honig, Minority Media and Telecommunications Council
Debra Lee, BET Holdings, Inc.
Marc H. Morial, National Urban League
Karen K. Narasaki, Asian American Justice Center
Jake Oliver, Afro-American Newspapers
Andrew Schwartzman, Media Access Project
Charles Warfield, Inner City Broadcasting
James Winston, National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters

The panel includes no member likely to favor the continuation of "conservative" talk radio, much disparaged by President Obama and his colleagues.

Fairness and diversity are good things; however, in my opinion, neither the old Fairness Doctrine nor prior FCC attempts to stimulate minority ownership were effective in achieving their stated and salutary purposes. I am at least modestly concerned, although (or perhaps because) it is far from clear what impact, if any, this incremental step may have on the nature of the media in the United States. I hope that the powers-that-be view Venezuela as a horrible, rather than as a good, role model.

I do not suggest that President Obama has thus far managed to change the United States into the sort of place where El Presidente Chávez would feel right at home. Nor do I suggest that President Obama clearly views El Presidente as a suitable role model. I do suggest that in the few months he has been in office, President Obama may have shown at least the beginnings of a trend in that direction, and that in light of the present situation in Venezuela, his protestations that Democracy, rule of law, freedom of speech and freedom of religion are universal principles that other countries can (and perhaps should) embrace and affirm as part of their national identity, may ring a bit hollow. Venezuela conspicuously lacks the rule of law and freedom of speech; the institutions of democracy have been almost totally destroyed, and the situation there continues to deteriorate. By the time that these "universal principles" have been noticeably diminished in the United States, it will be too late to do much about it.

I don't consider El Presidente Chávez a fictitious bogeyman, to be ignored as presaging a possible future for the United States; I very much hope that  that there is no such problem. Still, as a nation, we spend a lot of time agonizing over matters as to which we are impotent and as to which we have no say. Prudence suggests that we look to the past and to the present, both in the United States and elsewhere -- including Venezuela, in attempting to augur the future. As to such matters, we still have at least a little to say; it should be heard.

¡Viva El Presidente Chávez! Part I

First published on BlogCritics on 6 June 2009

Hugo Chávez became the President of Venezuela (now renamed the "Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela") in 1999. He was reelected to the post in 2002 and again in 2006. The Venezuelan Constitution was recently amended to permit him to run for an additional term of six years, in 2012.

At an improvised Cabinet meeting held outdoors in a plaza on Caracas' east side, Chavez signed the amendment that will allow him to run for another six-year term in 2012.
"I'm ready to continue commanding the revolution from 2009 at least until 2019, if the people want me to," the leftist president said, having promoted the amendment with the argument that only his permanence in power could guarantee the survival of the process of change that he has led since February 1999. (emphasis added)
A Constitutional amendment to permit him to run for additional terms had been defeated on 2 December 2007.  Prior to the vote on a second referendum to approve an additional term,  an editorial in the Washington Post noted:
In theory, advocates of democracy in Venezuela might welcome this referendum as a way to decisively stop Mr. Chávez's attempt to turn the country into a 21st-century Cuba. The problem is that elections in Venezuela are no longer free and fair. Mr. Chávez has turned national television into a state propaganda outlet, and the Miami Herald reported Sunday that the government spent tens of millions of dollars to buy votes in the recent state and local elections. The state election authority, which is controlled by Mr. Chávez's loyalists, delayed the announcement of his defeat in last year's referendum [also on Constitutional changes]; reliable sources say the president conceded only after he was told by military commanders that they would not put down protests against a falsified result. The official results, showing the margin of Mr. Chávez's loss, have not been released. (emphasis added)

El Presidente Chávez has worked ceaselessly and with exceptional vigor to bring tremendous changes to Venezuela; he may believe that his changes have been good for the country, and some other Venezuelans apparently, even now, accept that as well.

Some of the changes have involved land reform: taking land used in "socially wasteful" ways and putting it under the wise ownership and control of those (in some cases his own family members) whom he possibly believes will do better for the country than did the former owners. Recently, five large farms comprising a total of 10,305 hectares (roughly 25,000 acres) were taken, El Presidente Chávez observing that "There is no private land." The Venezuelan government has said that the seizures of large rural estates and poorly used land will continue, "in order to achieve a self-sufficient food supply." Nevertheless, such seizures in the past, involving more than 5.4 million acres of farmland, have produced few if any noticeably positive results for Venezuela.

The 32,000-acre(12,950-hectare) El Charcote Ranch in central Venezuela was meant as a showcase for President Hugo Chavez's agrarian revolution, turning a country with food shortages and runaway inflation into one that could feed itself. But since troops and peasants seized the land from a British agribusiness company four years ago, beef production has dropped from 2.6 million pounds (1.2 million kilograms) annually to zero. The ranch and many like it across the country raise the concern that the dream of a Venezuela living off its own land is just one more socialist promise heavy on rhetoric and light on results. The Chavez government says it has taken over more than 5.4 million acres (2.2 million hectares) of farmland from private owners. Yet food imports have tripled since 2004, the year before Chavez began his aggressive reform program.

Even some Chavez fans are complaining, like Luis Emiro Gomez, 53, who lives in a shack of corrugated sheets patched with Chavez campaign posters. Gomez said he lacks credit, tools and sufficient water to increase his corn harvest. While he holds a government permit for his plot, he said many others who received land are well-off and have rented it to tenant farmers for profit.

''If the idea was for parcels to be for the peasants, why are they offering them to people who aren't needy?'' Gomez asked.
El Presidente has also brought other substantial sectors of the Venezuelan economy under his control in various ways, including appropriating and attempting to appropriate businesses:
Telecommunications giant CANTV;
Electricidad de Caracas;
Power company Seneca;
Three cement producers, which together produced nearly all of the cement sold in the country;
Four heavy oil fields in the Orinoco Basin, worked by a total of 13 companies;
Steelmaker Thermium Sidor;
Sixty-four Oil field service companies, 39 of them at Lake Maracaibo;
In February this year, El Presidente ordered the military to occupy rice processing companies owned by Alimentos Polar;
Rice and pasta production plants owned by Cargill, one of the seven largest grain companies in the world; and
Ports at Maracaibo and Puerto Cabello, both of them in states under opposition control.

When El Presidente nationalized the country's oil industry, he gave as his principal reason that it was contributing insufficiently to his vast social spending programs; nationalization was seen as critical to furtherance of the social goals on the basis of which he had been elected. Oil industry infrastructure investment has been cut by almost forty percent and most of the skilled employees are no longer there. Consequently, the infrastructure is deteriorating.

El Presidente imposed price controls on many domestically produced goods, such as rice, because he said that the prices were too high. The prices are now somewhat lower, but there is very little rice and much it has to be imported; critical shortages of corn, a principal ingredient of tacos and other Venezuelan food staples as well as of cattle feed, have also been experienced. The substantial shortage of hard currency, discussed below, makes importation very difficult. The same is true of most other basic needs of the Venezuelan people.

Prices for home appliances have skyrocketed, pharmacies are reporting shortages of drugs, and General Motors is planning to stop car production here next month, as measures by the Venezuelan government to conserve dollars ripple through the weakening economy.
"Today, there's no milk, no rice, no beans, no chicken, no meat, no butter and no cooking oil," Francisco Quintero said as he shopped at a government store that sells subsidized staples for the poor.
The government increased the price of sugar by 35 percent last week, however, and is facing pressure to raise prices for other subsidized goods as well. A Mercal manager in a poor working neighborhood in western Caracas said that this was only the first of the increases.
"We're expecting the government to raise prices for rice, milk, meat and chicken by 40 percent," said Marlon Barragan, who manages a Mercal in Catia. He said that the prices "will still be low." The only question is whether the goods will be available.
El Presidente has devalued the Venezuelan currency which, when I was first in Venezuela in 1997, traded at about three Bolivars to the dollar. In 2008, Venezuela introduced a new currency, the "Strong Bolivar" or Bolivar Fuerte; one thousand Bolivars were exchanged for one BF. The new "strong" currency now trades at an official rate of 2.15 BF to the dollar and at an unofficial (black market) rate of 6.7 BF to the dollar. Foreign travel (by those few outside the Government who can still afford it) has become much more expensive. The problem is being attacked by making it very difficult to obtain hard currency. Venezuelan banks, in order to avoid late payment charges -- to the banks due to their own delays, rather than due to late payments by their customers -- on credit cards which they issue, have essentially ceased to honor charges to those cards in foreign currencies.
Banks are reportedly running into delays of months, with several banks -- Banesco and Banco Venezolano de Credito (BVC) most notably -- having to threaten to stop allowing the use of their credit cards abroad to force Cadivi [Commission of Foreign Exchange Administration] to loosen the purse-strings. As of May 1st, Cadivi reportedly owed BVC more than $1.3 billion to cover just that bank's credit card use abroad.
The General Motors subsidiary mentioned above has car and truck manufacturing facilities in the industrial city of Valencia. It announced that it would have to close in late June of 2009, because it could no longer obtain needed supplies due to the unavailability of hard currency, which it had not been able to obtain since November of 2008. The closure will "affect 4,000 employees at the Valencia assembly plant and another 70,000 people indirectly. "Without production, it’s difficult to comply with obligations to the workers. . . ."  Production had been running about ninety thousand vehicles per year. When I visited Valencia during late 2000/early 2001, it was a relatively prosperous city, with several modern shopping malls and more under construction. The death of the GM plant there will very likely diminish Valencia's relative affluence.

Unfortunately, nationalization and El Presidente's other bold initiatives, coupled with dramatic inflation and the general unavailability of hard currency, do not seem to be helping the people of Venezuela much.
[A] consulting and polling company . . . is forecasting that consumer price inflation could come out at anything between 25% and 35% this year. On balance, that would imply little or no improvement, and perhaps a worsening, on last year – for which the comparable figure from the BCV was 30.9%, after 22.5% in 2007 and 17.5% in 2006..

Even at the lower range of this forecast, Datanálisis reckons personal consumption will fall this year by around 3%. But were inflation to hit the full 35%, the company says consumption could shrink by a shocking 13%.

Although worse than for any other country in Latin American, this is quite good -- but only compared to Zimbabwe, where inflation is said to be the worst in the world.

The once excellent medical system in Venezuela has experienced similar changes under the control of El Presidente. There are no reliable Government statistics about any impact which his changes may have had on the death rate in Venezuela. It would be very difficult to compile meaningful statistics, because the very high crime rate in Venezuela produces many deaths, which even the very best universal medical care could not prevent. According to Venezuelan Government statistics, there were 9,653 murders in Venezuela between January and September of 2008. According to a police report leaked to the press, Venezuela has an average of 10,114 a year. Venezuela has a population of approximately twenty-six million. Mexico, with a population of 109,955,400 had "over 5,500" murders. Venezuela, with about ten thousand murders annually, presents a worse picture than Mexico on an absolute basis and a dramatically worse picture on a per capita basis.

El Presidente Chávez has attempted to bring the military, including his former defense minister, completely under his dominion. This may, or may not, relate to the threat, immediately following his 2007 defeat in the Constitutional referendum mentioned above, to decline to quell popular protests should he blatantly fudge the results.

Venezuela’s former defense minister – once a close ally of leftist President Hugo Chávez – was arrested on Thursday by the DIM military intelligence unit, one of his sons told Globovisión television.

Gen. Raúl Isaías Baduel was driving with his wife near his home when his vehicle "was blocked off by officials of the DIM who, pointing firearms at them and threatening them not to make any telephone calls, shoved them into a (military) vehicle," the younger Baduel said.

Military prosecutors recently accused Baduel of alleged administrative irregularities during his tenure at the head of the Defense Ministry, a post he left in 2007 after a falling out with Chávez.

Baduel’s wife told Globovisión that both she and her husband had guns pointed at their heads by people who identified themselves as DIM agents, "but without saying where they were taking us," a situation she called "violent and irregular."

Her husband "had been presenting himself regularly every two weeks" at the military court handling his case, Mrs. Baduel said.

It has become increasingly common for leaders who fall into disfavor with el Presidente to be arrested for "corruption;" those still in favor rarely suffer similar fates. It is very unlikely that this disparity has anything to do with their relative corruptness.

El Presidente has also rendered recently elected opposition Government officials impotent by superimposing new levels of Government over them, to ensure that all political power remains in his hands.  This has been relatively easy, since the national legislature is completely under his control. In addition, he has made a point of suppressing public protests in communities where the opposition is favored. Very few pro-Chávez demonstrations have been suppressed.

El Presidente, as part of his plan to silence all opposition voices, recently brought "corruption" charges against the newly elected (opposition party) Mayor of Maracaibo in oil rich Zulia province (and a 2006 candidate for the Presidency), who thereafter hid to avoid arrest and obtained political asylum in Peru. In response, Venezuela recalled its ambassador to Peru.

El Presidente Chávez recently had Ortega Díaz, the president of Globovisión  arrested on criminal charges, and is in the process of terminating Globovisión itself; El Presidente had refused two years previously to renew the broadcasting license of Radio Caracas Televisión, which had been broadcasting for thirty-five years but had become an often critical voice. Since el Presidente refused to renew the broadcast license of Radio Caracas Television in 2007, Globovisión has been the only anti-government network on public airwaves in Venezuela. The demise of Globovisión now seems to be imminent. In getting Sr. Díaz charged,

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez specifically ordered . . . the Supreme Justice Tribunal to "comply with their duty" and called on officialdom to be "agile" in acting against media organizations that were "poisoning" the population. That was what they were there for, Chavez said, and if not "they should resign so that somebody with courage takes over."

Globovisión's most recent poisoning of the population had involved reporting on an earthquake near Caracas an hour before the Government reported it. According to El Presidente,


stirred panic [by] . . . reporting an earthquake before the government announced it. ''We're not going to tolerate a crazy man with a cannon shooting it at the whole world,'' Chávez said on his weekly television and radio show Sunday, referring to Alberto Ravell, the Globovisión general manager. "Enough! . . . This has to end or I'll stop calling myself Hugo Rafael Chávez Frias.''

''You are playing with fire, manipulating, inciting hate and much more. All of you: television networks, radio stations, papers,'' he said. ``Don't make a mistake with me.''

Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro followed up Monday by charging that Ravell had terrorized Venezuelan women and children with his 5:21 a.m. report.  ''Globovisión and Alberto Federico Ravell incited panic and anxiety within the population,'' Maduro said. ``We will not permit that.''
said that it had restricted its coverage in the immediate wake of the earthquake to data trawled from the United States Geological Survey. Globovisión Director Alberto Federico Ravell had appeared to call on the public for calm. This was what government ministers were doing not very much later on.
According to one of the few remaining opposition voices in Venezuela, a blog, El Presidente is also using the sorry state of the Venezuelan economy to silence Globolvisión, by imposing substantial fines and forfeitures and confiscating its assets. The blog article observed,
if you upset Chavez your property will be seized by either plain robbery or legal robbery through fines and "back" taxes. A few more months of that and Globovisión will be closed.
The United Nations and the Organization of American States have expressed worry about this and other efforts of El Presidente to destroy the vestiges of a free press in Venezuela. Venezuela has rejected these concerns; the Venezuelan ambassador to the OAS stated that foreign observers passing judgment on Venezuela are beholden "to the interests of the private media."

El Presidente Chávez has made substantial changes to the educational system in Venezuela, and has tried mightily to ensure that all students are provided an ideologically correct education.  These steps have been praised by "a guy" in President Obama's Chicago neighborhood, William Ayers, who has also expressed appreciation of el Presidente Chávez's reforms in other areas.
This is my fourth visit to Venezuela, each time at the invitation of my comrade and friend Luis Bonilla, a brilliant educator and inspiring fighter for justice. Luis has taught me a great deal about the Bolivarian Revolution and about the profound educational reforms underway here in Venezuela under the leadership of President Chavez. We share the belief that education is the motor-force of revolution, and I’ve come to appreciate Luis as a major asset in both the Venezuelan and the international struggle—I look forward to seeing how he and all of you continue to overcome the failings of capitalist education as you seek to create something truly new and deeply humane. Thank you, Luis, for everything you’ve done.

Back in 1999 or 2000, when I was in Puerto Cabello, Venezuela, a Venezuelan friend observed that public education was intentionally kept woefully inadequate to teach even the basic principles of rational analysis. This appears to be a continuing process.

Takeover of universities by the Venezuelan Government now seems likely. When the salaries of public school teachers were recently increased, El Presidente's Education Minister is reported to have stated that "besides 'decent' wages, the building of 'a new country' requires . . .'a constant effort by educators,' since 'the starting point for creating socialism is education'. . . . "

El Presidente Chávez has made a highly visible and vocal place for himself on the world stage, probably more so than had any other Venezuelan leader in history; some might suggest that he is excessively narcissistic, even for a president.

He has also worked quite diligently to communicate with his people; he presents Aló Presidente -- a four hour long weekly address to the nation required to be carried by every state owned radio and television station. He recently announced that he would present a marathon four day long Aló Presidente, but due to "technical problems," managed only partially to deliver on his promise. Despite its truncation, his address was very probably longer than any known address ever given by a President of the United States; he may even have eclipsed his mentor, Fidel Castro of Cuba. He should be very proud, even though Fidel's brother Raul has said that el Presidente talks too long.

Whatever social goals El Presidente may have attempted to achieve, it is clear to me that his overriding purpose has been the accumulation of as much personal power as possible. He has succeeded to the degree that the power of the Venezuelan Government over her people has become the power of El Presidente; El Presidente and the Venezuelan Government have merged, to become the same entity.

A Venezuelan acquaintance once told me that when God created Venezuela, he gave her bountiful natural resources, great natural beauty, and industrious people. When an angel remarked that God had given Venezuela too much, God responded by giving Venezuela something more: her government.

In Part II of this article, I shall briefly explore the situation in which the United States, under President Obama, finds herself -- and may eventually find herself -- with reference to Venezuela under el Presidente Chávez