Saturday, January 30, 2010

You know you are too busy with bullshit when you miss this.. 

This week, one of the United State's greatest historians died. Truly sad.

Bob Hebert (whose editorials are getting better and better) has something more worthwhile to say about it than I could come up with:

A Radical Treasure

I had lunch with Howard Zinn just a few weeks ago, and I’ve seldom had more fun while talking about so many matters that were unreservedly unpleasant: the sorry state of government and politics in the U.S., the tragic futility of our escalation in Afghanistan, the plight of working people in an economy rigged to benefit the rich and powerful.

Mr. Zinn could talk about all of that and more without losing his sense of humor. He was a historian with a big, engaging smile that seemed ever-present. His death this week at the age of 87 was a loss that should have drawn much more attention from a press corps that spends an inordinate amount of its time obsessing idiotically over the likes of Tiger Woods and John Edwards.

Mr. Zinn was chagrined by the present state of affairs, but undaunted. “If there is going to be change, real change,” he said, “it will have to work its way from the bottom up, from the people themselves. That’s how change happens.”

We were in a restaurant at the Warwick Hotel in Manhattan. Also there was Anthony Arnove, who had worked closely with Mr. Zinn in recent years and had collaborated on his last major project, “The People Speak.” It’s a film in which well-known performers bring to life the inspirational words of everyday citizens whose struggles led to some of the most profound changes in the nation’s history. Think of those who joined in — and in many cases became leaders of — the abolitionist movement, the labor movement, the civil rights movement, the feminist revolution, the gay rights movement, and so on.

Think of what this country would have been like if those ordinary people had never bothered to fight and sometimes die for what they believed in. Mr. Zinn refers to them as “the people who have given this country whatever liberty and democracy we have.”

Our tendency is to give these true American heroes short shrift, just as we gave Howard Zinn short shrift. In the nitwit era that we’re living through now, it’s fashionable, for example, to bad-mouth labor unions and feminists even as workers throughout the land are treated like so much trash and the culture is so riddled with sexism that most people don’t even notice it. (There’s a restaurant chain called “Hooters,” for crying out loud.)

I always wondered why Howard Zinn was considered a radical. (He called himself a radical.) He was an unbelievably decent man who felt obliged to challenge injustice and unfairness wherever he found it. What was so radical about believing that workers should get a fair shake on the job, that corporations have too much power over our lives and much too much influence with the government, that wars are so murderously destructive that alternatives to warfare should be found, that blacks and other racial and ethnic minorities should have the same rights as whites, that the interests of powerful political leaders and corporate elites are not the same as those of ordinary people who are struggling from week to week to make ends meet?

Mr. Zinn was often taken to task for peeling back the rosy veneer of much of American history to reveal sordid realities that had remained hidden for too long. When writing about Andrew Jackson in his most famous book, “A People’s History of the United States,” published in 1980, Mr. Zinn said:

“If you look through high school textbooks and elementary school textbooks in American history, you will find Jackson the frontiersman, soldier, democrat, man of the people — not Jackson the slaveholder, land speculator, executioner of dissident soldiers, exterminator of Indians.”

Radical? Hardly.

Mr. Zinn would protest peacefully for important issues he believed in — against racial segregation, for example, or against the war in Vietnam — and at times he was beaten and arrested for doing so. He was a man of exceptionally strong character who worked hard as a boy growing up in Brooklyn during the Depression. He was a bomber pilot in World War II, and his experience of the unmitigated horror of warfare served as the foundation for his lifelong quest for peaceful solutions to conflict.

He had a wonderful family, and he cherished it. He and his wife, Roslyn, known to all as Roz, were married in 1944 and were inseparable for more than six decades until her death in 2008. She was an activist, too, and Howard’s editor. “I never showed my work to anyone except her,” he said.

They had two children and five grandchildren.

Mr. Zinn was in Santa Monica this week, resting up after a grueling year of work and travel, when he suffered a heart attack and died on Wednesday. He was a treasure and an inspiration. That he was considered radical says way more about this society than it does about him.


Monday, January 25, 2010

It's amazing what you can say... once Chavez has said it. 

It's been the opinion of this blogger for the past two or three years that the biggest failing of the Chavez project, whatever it is, is its lack of internal democracy, internal debate, the cultivation of new leadership, and a pretty obvious cult of personality around one person.

This, more than anything, dooms the movement to failure. And in large part the problems that I have spent the last 3 years harping on, the waste, inefficiency, self defeating economic policies, etc, really result from this one fundamental failing.

Certainly, this is a problem created by one person - Hugo Chavez. Anyone who watches the video from the previous post can clearly see that.

But there is a flip side to this problem. And that is the servility of so many so called "Chavistas" and "revolutionaries".

It was once famously said that the three qualities a revolutionary needs to have are "audacity, audacity, and more audacity".

But in the Venezuelan "revolution" the people we see calling themselves "revolutionaries" are obsequious, more obsequious, and still more obsequious.

On one level, this is just sad. Although the opposition likes to tar Chavez supporters as dumb and incompetent in reality there are quite a few who are intelligent, well educated, and competent. It's just that they don't dare risk saying anything that might not meet with approval from the big guy who is, after all, not simply a person but rather "the people" and who as such demands discipline and loyalty to the people (read: him).

But there is another level to this, one that is even worse, which is exemplified by this:

Currency Adjustment: Necessary, but is it Socialist?

January 22nd 2010, by Gregory Wilpert - Correo del Orinoco International

There is little doubt, even among some opposition leaders (who normally oppose just about anything the government does), that the recent currency adjustment of the bolivar was economically necessary. It is a matter of basic math to realize that if inflation averaged 22% between 2005 and 2009 and each bolivar thereby lost about 72% of its purchasing power since the last currency adjustment, then maintaining the exchange rate at the same level during this entire period means imports become ever cheaper and Venezuelan-produced exports become ever more expensive in the rest of the world. As a result, unsubsidized domestic production was slowly being killed off and exports could not compete on international markets. The low exchange rate was also unnecessarily subsidizing innumerable imports for the middle and upper classes.

In other words, if Venezuela wants to diversify its economy and export other products besides oil, an adjustment of the currency’s exchange rate was absolutely necessary. The accompanying economic measures that create funds for subsidizing production will greatly help the import substitution effort. [for the rest of the article follow the link]

What could be wrong with that article - doesn't it make some of the very same points I have been asserting for some time?

Yes it does. But that is not the problem. In fact, the article itself is not the problem at all. Sure, I disagree with parts of it but in the main it is a good and thoughtful article which serves as an excellent starting point for informed, necessary, and ultimately very helpful discussion.

Problem is, where was it a year ago? Two years ago? Three years ago?

Not once, in all the reading that I do regarding Venezuela, had I seen one person in the government, in the government media, or simply any person who supported Chavez make any of those points. In fact, they generally went to great lengths to deny all of the above (the sole exception being Marc Wiesbrot who lives outside Venezuela and who probably has nothing to lose even if he does piss off the big guy, er the "people") and denigrated those who did make them.

Yet now, these points are freely made by people in the government and by others such as Greg Wilpert who write about Venezuela from a pro-Chavez point of view. Why? Why now? Why not before?

To put it simply, why couldn't some of the very basic and obvious points in the first two paragraphs of his article have been openly stated before and why couldn't a very fruitful discussion have been had as to what the best economic policies would have been?

As much as it pains me to say this, as I really do respect some of these people, the only reason I can think of is that in everything they say and write these people self-edit by asking "would Chavez approve of this?" and only when the answer is yes do they say it.

Hence, Wilpert could freely say this now because Chavez had said the same just a week or so earlier. So the coast was clear to discuss this!! No way was Wilpert going to say this two months ago - when the "basic math" was presumably equally basic and simple. No, that would have risked being tarred a counter revolutionary and being forever banned.

But now, after Chavez himself apparently came to understand the "simple math" and made these very points, the coast was clear for Greg Wilpert to write this.

To take this further note that there is no discussion in the pro-Chavez media about raising the gasoline prices. The reason for that is simple - Chavez hasn't mentioned it, much less said he approves of it, so the subject is taboo.

Therein lies what in my opinion is the dynamic that most clearly foreshadows doom for true socialism and true progress in Venezuela: one person is allowed to think and have ideas - everyone else either just follows along or gets cast aside.

And even if Chavez were the most selfless, intelligent, wise, hard working, knowledgeable and capable leader it would still be a terrible way to do things. For there to be true and sustainable progress there has to be open and frank discussion across the entire movement and many people capable of exercising leadership.

The value of a leadership of many is that the whole is always greater than the sum of its parts. No one has a monopoly on good ideas or what the right policies are. That is why open debate across the breath of the entire movement, on not limited to isolated tiny think tanks, is so important.

And the lack of this within "Chavismo" is why its failure is pretty much assured.


Sunday, January 24, 2010

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There just really isn't much you can say about this. It speaks for itself:


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