2009/02/16

Venezuelan politics seen from Venezuela

This piece by Max Ajl in the current NACLA gives another perspective on Hugo Chávez's latest electoral triumph: Venezuela: Local Reactions to the Re-Election Reform. Some interesting ideas here, though one of the oddest arguments in this collection of opinions has me perplexed:
And two, as Venezuela scholar Julia Buxton notes, there is something "fundamentally wrong in thinking that democracy is judged through reference to the procedural mechanics of liberal democracy," which is often understood as demanding pluralism, in which the opposition controls some political levers. Buxton argues that democracy simply is not measurable using the yardstick of mainstream U.S political science, and that it should be understood as popular control of decision-making and popular engagement within the society as a whole. On those scales, Venezuela is no lightweight.
If that's what she's saying, she's confusing democracy with plebiscite. Aside from the logical and political ethics problems (democracy without freedom to dissent? Come on!), there's the pragmatic problem of running a successful regime. If there are no constitutional checks, and no guarantees of pluralism, you lose the synergy that only a multiplicity of energies and ideas can create. Stupid ideas occur to everybody, even very smart people (remember Fidel Castro's "10 million tons" campaign? Or the coffee trees he ordered planted all around Havana? Or, to take a very different smart man's blunder, how about Winston Churchill's World War I strategy at Gallipoli?). If there's nobody around to talk back to the smart (or unsmart) strongman, disasters are more than likely.

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2009/02/15

Catcher in the Rye

I finally got around to reading Salinger, J. D. The Catcher in the Rye. 1951. New York: Bantam Books, 1969. (Click on title for my plot summary.) I had long intended to read it, but if I did years ago, I've forgotten. It was this month's selection in our reading club in the Carboneras public library, so I read a (very good) Spanish translation for the first chapters, until all our books (and other things) arrived from New York last week and I found this copy. Our Spanish partners in the reading club found it amusing, I guess, but were not much impressed. I think we're all too old and have seen too much to be shocked by another adolescent crisis of a very privileged kid. (His parents are well off and buy him anything he wants, and his much more stable siblings love him, so what's his problem?) Some of Holden Caulfield's observations of social types are spot on, though, and his irreverence and slang (even in Spanish translation, but better in English) are sometimes very funny.

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Venezuela: preserving or imperiling reform?

I'm impressed by the argument of Venezuela Beyond the Referendum by Nikolas Kozloff. By identifying his "Bolivarian revolution" so strongly with himself, Hugo Chávez may be putting the whole operation -- the re-orientation of the country's wealth toward solving the problems of the poor -- in peril. He has also alienated a lot of people who had been, and wanted to be, allies, but who disagreed with him on some issue or strategy.

This happened in Cuba, too: people who considered themselves revolutionaries and strongly supported what we all understood were the basic principles of the revolution were driven into exile or even into armed resistance (the case of Gutiérrez Menoyo, the most famous example) because of some disagreement with Fidel Castro. Or, mainly, because they wanted different voices to be heard. Fidel survived all those mutinies; Hugo may not be so fortunate. How much better it would be if revolutionary socialists really practiced the democracy they preach. They might still make mistakes, but the mistakes would be shared. And talented, energetic people with independent minds could contribute to the common goal.

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2009/02/03

The Job

Thanks to Dirk van Nouhuys for sending this commentary on the financial crisis, from the Festival international de très courts ("very short" videos):

The Job

Don't miss it!

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2009/01/28

Jewish Voices of Dissent on Gaza

Excellent article by my friend, the prolific social commentator César Chelala: Jewish Voices of Dissent on Gaza in Middle East Times.

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2009/01/27

Trampled rights

“Huzaifa Parhat, a fruit peddler, has been imprisoned at Guantánamo Bay Detention Center for the last seven years. He is not a terrorist. He’s a mistake, a victim of the war against al Qaeda,” begins Jonathan Shaw in The War and the Writ: Habeas corpus and security in an age of terrorism in the current Harvard Magazine. It's a necessarily long piece on a complex issue, vitally important to Americans and to America's place in the world.

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2009/01/25

June Jordan's revenge

Obama is June Jordan's revenge. A sweet and satisfying revenge that does no harm to anybody, but goes far to right an ancient wrong. You'll know this when you listen to Sweet Honey in the Rock perform "We Are the Ones" -- which you can hear along with other great songs on their website at that link.

Barack Obama must have heard Sweet Honey's version many times, and no doubt knows well the work of June Jordan, one of the sharpest and most politically conscious American poets of our times.

The line is the last one in her "Poem for South African Women," written in 1980, when the end of apartheid still seemed distant. Whether he got if from the song or directly from the original poem, Obama made it the defining call of his presidential campaign, and may its spirit guide his administration: "we are the ones we have been waiting for." To say it another way, it's up to us to make this a better world. The South African women and men were up to the challenge, and we had better be too.

June Jordan, unfortunately for all of us, did not live long enough to see this triumph. Her words still echo, though, in the minds of all of us who have read them or heard her read them in her rich voice. (You can hear that voice in a 2003 interview on Democracy Now!) Obama's campaign amplified them.

Here is the whole poem.

Poem for South African Women
June Jordan, 1980

Our own shadows disappear as the feet of thousands
by the tens of thousands pound the fallow land
into new dust that
rising like a marvelous pollen will be
fertile
even as the first woman whispering
imagination to the trees around her made
for righteous fruit
from such deliberate defense of life
as no other still
will claim inferior to any other safety
in the world

The whispers too they
intimate to the inmost ear of every spirit
now aroused they
carousing in ferocious affirmation
of all peaceable and loving amplitude
sound a certainly unbounded heat
from a baptismal smoke where yes
there will be fire

And the babies cease alarm as mothers
raising arms
and heart high as the stars so far unseen
nevertheless hurl into the universe
a moving force
irreversible as light years
traveling to the open eye

And who will join this standing up
and the ones who stood without sweet company
will sing and sing
back into the mountains and
if necessary
even under the sea:

we are the ones we have been waiting for.

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2009/01/04

2 crises

No answers today, just a question. Today's El País is dominated by two "stories", as journalists call them, though neither one has a clear narrative yet. One is the massive bombardment and now invasion of Gaza by the Israelis. The other is the gobal financial crisis. My question: How will these two huge events affect each other? Because in our closely interconnected world, the vibrations of any major shock are felt throughout the network.

There are other big "stories", i.e., events waiting for their narrative. The Russian pressure on the Ukrainians and the constricting of gas pipelines to most of Europe, for example. The big offensive by the government of Sri Lanka, etc. And down through other events whose ripples beyond their own regions may be felt less intensely. But for now let's just look at the first two.

Did the financial pinch have anything to do with the Israeli move against Gaza? War has always proven an excellent distraction from other troubles. And with no economic surplus, what else besides war can the candidates for premier offer to their citizens? The far more severe pinch in Gaza may also have a lot to do with the Hamas government's allowing, or encouraging, reckless and senseless missile attacks on Israeli civilians. People in the strip are so frustrated that they have to lash out at somebody, and Hamas must figure, better the Israelis than us.

And how will this huge escalation of violence affect global finance? Is it going to escalate the already widespread hostility toward Jewish financiers (and toward the far more numerous non-Jewish financiers wrongly suspected of being Jewish, just because they are financiers)? Probably it will, I think, and that is likely to be a pretext for more isolationist, nationalist economic policies by, for example, Muslim countries in Asia (Indonesia among them). Will it make a rapprochement of the U.S. and the Arab countries even more difficult, because of the U.S.'s knee-jerk support of Israel? Almost certainly. And is that going to further limit the U.S.'s power to affect markets?

As I said, no answers, just questions. These are some of the things to watch for, I think. In the long run, I don't think this invasion is good for the Jews or for anybody. Though it might be good for the short run aspirations of some Israeli politicians.

Middle East finance headlines (Financial Times)
Rice cancels Mideast trip to help with financial crisis (CNN)
Turning a crisis into an opportunity. By Nehemia Shtrasler (Haaretz)
Finance Minister: No Israel banks will collapse in global crisis (Haaretz)

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