On Chavez and Laughland

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After a day of tension, with opposition leaders and voters wondering just what the hell was taking so long, Hugo Chavez conceded defeat late last night; a surprising development considering the record of the Chavista-controlled CNE and the raft of legitimate questions about the accuracy of previous election results (pdf). As could be expected, Hugo's concession prompted his supporters at home and abroad to point to this as proof that Chavez presides over a democracy little different than our own (Chavez too immediately made this point: "His respect for the verdict, he asserted, proves he is a true democratic leader.") So one of the Huffington Post's house bloggers asks sarcastically if "dictators lose elections?" First: Many people have called Chavez a dictator, though I am not one of them. Second: Yes, sometimes dictators do lose elections (Pinochet did, the Sandinistas did). Before you too celebrate the flowering people's democracy of Venezuela, consider that Chavez's opponents braved serious threats and intimidation from government forces and ignored an onslaught of pro-regime propaganda when voting to reject the rewriting of the constitution. (In the Venezuelan version of authoritarian democracy, pro-government propaganda was ceaseless pumped into Caracas subway stations in the run-up to the referendum, while state television channels like ViVe and VTV act as sock puppets for the government.)

Daniel Larison, a contributing editor at The American Conservative, takes exception to my piece on this weekend's elections in Russia and Venezuela. Larison wouldn't typically waste valuable blogging time debating such ridiculousness, declaring that my comments on the Sovietization of Russian society and the Sandinistaization (clunky, I know) of Venezuela wouldn't ordinarily "merit much comment." But when I try to tell my "audience why they should care about what happens in the domestic politics of other countries"—I am a journalistic imperialist, it would seem—I cited a silly Putin apologia in the The American Conservative by British writer John Laughland. So allow me to borrow a technique of Mr. Larison's and dismiss his criticisms of my column as not worthy of attention, while going right ahead and offering the response that he clearly doesn't deserve.

Putin's reelection, Larison says, "is a fact that should be viewed with some dispassion." (Er, why exactly?) And it is important to look to cranks like Laughland to "provide some balance and perspective about Putin's regime, about which there have been more than a few breathless and hysterical Reason articles in the past." (He's talking to you, Cathy.) Honest John Laughland merely "seeks to get past caricature and vilification." Unfortunately I can't find my copy of the TAC article, and it is neither online nor in Nexis (though I seem to recall him describing Putin's "taut" body). Either way, Larison cruelly debunks my argument by bolding this line from the Laughland piece: "Putin specifically referred to the abandonment of ideology during his long talk with us." Well, I'm glad that's settled. So after a few pages of softball questions, a steady regurgitation of Kremlin talking points (without critical comment) and comparisons between United Russia and your average European Social Democratic party, Larison comments: "If that constitutes a 'defense' of Putin, we have watered down the meaning of apologetics pretty thoroughly."

Well yes, it is pretty clear that Laughland is defending Putin from the cruel biases of the Western press. Larison might have found it helpful to explain to his readers that John Laughland, the man providing "balance", has quite a colorful history of defending the indefensible. Before contributing to the American Conservative, Laughland was a major player in the International Committee to Defend (or provide balance to the unfair coverage of) Slobodan Milosevic. The Economist described Laughland's "human rights" organization as one that frequently "defends dictators": "[Laughland's group] sends observers to eastern Europe, usually to elections, who produce lengthy, annotated first-hand reports, with controversial (critics say bizarre) interpretations of events…Mr Laughland used to have more colleagues. In the early 1990s, sticking up for patriotic east European leaders against politically correct criticism from naïve human-rights outfits was bold, but not batty. But the group lost almost all its supporters when it threw its weight behind people like Mr Milosevic. Another leading member, Christine Stone, has also written approvingly of Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe." Click here for Laughland's own counterbalance to the Western media's irrational Mugabe hatred.

Here, Laughland is attacked in the Guardian for adding balance and nuance to the struggles of Jean-Marie Le Pen. Here another Guardian columnist calls him the "PR man to Europe's nastiest regimes." Blogger and Tufts University professor Dan Drezner debated Laughland and offered this "three word assessment: Completely, totally nuts." The left-leaning academic blog Crooked Timber questioned Laughland's claim that Western interest in the human rights situation in Darfur was a cover for another oil grab, leading it to question just about everything else he has ever written.

But other than that, how dare I suggest Laughland wrote a sycophantic, pro-Putin piece.

NEXT: Paul's Progress

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  1. Actually, I would say that Chevez’s bowing to the results of the elections does make him a more democratic leader in practice despite his personal proclivities.

    Democracy isn’t about individual leaders. Its about institutions that function due to the board, often cultural, commitment of the people to maintain those institutions at the expense of short term gain. If Venezuelian institution restrain Chevez and forces him to govern within the boundaries then he becomes a democratic leader whether he likes it or not.

    Every politician represents a threat to liberty in one area or the other, The most high minded and self-confident are the most dangerous of all. Any one of us might become a monster if gifted with unrestrained power. Our institutions prevents this.

    I wouldn’t lose any sleep over Daniel Larison. I think everyone Left, Right or orthogonal considers him a loon.

  2. Actually, I would say that Chevez’s bowing to the results of the elections does make him a more democratic leader in practice despite his personal proclivities.

    My guess it has more to do with the realization, after a frantic day’s work, that they couldn’t falsify the results without getting caught.

  3. I have nothing more to say about this topic except that it seems like this Daniel Larison guy is kind of a douche. Then again, other than the anti-war articles, TAC is mostly a loony populist mag anyway (sorry Reason editors, I know you write for them occasionally). I like it better than National Review, though (I don’t subscribe to either anymore).

  4. It is truly chilling that in this day and age, one can see the blatant, slow march of an oncoming tyrant like Putin and willfully deny such a circumstance.

    Laughland is the Cicero to new Russian Caesar.

  5. The foreign policy articles in TAC are sometimes interesting and well-thought out, everything else I disagree with strongly.

  6. Rational thinking requires that every test of a hypothesis have a negative and positive result, and that you allow both the possibility of influencing your thinking – I expected the constitutional reforms to get pushed through, so I have to consider this a good sign for Venezuela. What is necessary to make this a reasonable position is only a sense of proportion: there is a great deal of evidence out there, and this is a very small part of it.

  7. As for falsifying the results — it lost 51-49 with polling (such as it was, and as I recall) running right around there. If you’re going to cheat, that’s when you do it. When the desired result, and the actual outcome, are right there in the same margin of error. You DON’T cheat when public opinion is 60-40 against you. You cheat when it’s really close to 50-50, because it’s harder to prove.

  8. Speaking of dictators losing elections, I recently saw something on the History channel about one of the old Russian leaders (Stalin, Lenin?) having an “election” amoung the folks in “parliment” to reelect him. The vote was 3 in favour and 100+ against. Being a supporter of true democracy, he invalidated the vote on the spot, saying that the ballots must have been tampered with. He then called in his personal guards (to make sure that there was no more cheating) and then called for a show of hands vote. Guess what happened.

  9. As could be expected, Hugo’s concession prompted his supporters at home and abroad to point to this as proof that Chavez presides over a democracy little different than our own

    Everybody clear on that? If you think the success of the election in Venezuela demonstrates that that country is a democracy, it means you’re a Chavez supporter.

    Just so we’re clear. I’m sure Michael Moynihan wouldn’t want that to go over anyone’s head.

  10. Larison makes a lot of sense here –

    “Where Putin’s rule has been promoting stability in Russia, Saakashvili and Musharraf have promoted instability and have in the process jeopardised real U.S. interests in their respective regions. It seems to me that Americans should be a great deal more concerned with what our feckless client states are doing that may harm U.S. interests, and we should be much less concerned with what a very powerful potential ally does within its own borders.”

    For all the vitriol at Putin or Chavez, more concern is merited by Musharraf and the Client States where America is immediately involved, since there’s much more likelihood of blowback. Leave it to Venezualan citizens to hate Chavez unless he poses a real threat to US interests – and it’s doubtful that trash-talking & being an asshole at the UN qualifies him as a threat.

  11. Tip o’ the cap, Shannon Love. Just so.

    I’ve been trying to make that point for years, and I’ve never been able to put it quite that eloquently.

    Trust Democracy.

  12. Actually, I would say that Chevez’s bowing to the results of the elections does make him a more democratic leader in practice despite his personal proclivities.

    I have a different take – Chavez has plenty of time to get these amendments through before he is legally obligated to step down. He just raises his credibility by conceding this time. He can try again next year.

  13. Chavez’s opponents braved serious threats and intimidation from government forces and ignored an onslaught of pro-regime propaganda

    Gives me some hope for our own troubled political system. I’m thinking of a certain anti-establishment-presidential candidate. Then there’s Russia, oh boy…

  14. We do trust democracy, we just don’t trust Chavez in control of it, any more than one should trust George W Bush shuttering newspapers and attempting to remove presidential term limits, then declaring any opposition to such moves as traitorous.

  15. There is a lot more to a liberal democracy than just holding a vote. Still, this does show Chavez is not quite ready to take the Generalissimo for life plunge without a fig leaf to cover it. A year or two more of passing laws and consolidating power should make future elections the Cuban/Soviet style we know and love.

  16. I don’t think this vote makes him democratic, willingly conceding or not.

    There’s a lot more to a democracy than one vote. Assuming his reforms never get passed, we’ll see what happens when its time for him to give up power. A similar thing happened in Nigeria not too long ago. The current President (who controlled a puppet congress)tried to get term limits removed — was denied — now one of his cronies is President. Actually, sounds kind of similar to Russia too.

  17. poorly written…

    The then president (that normally controlled institutions such as the congress) tried to get term limits removed, he was denied, and then magically one of his boys was elected president.

  18. Everybody clear on that? If you think the success of the election in Venezuela demonstrates that that country is a democracy, it means you’re a Chavez supporter.

    Just so we’re clear. I’m sure Michael Moynihan wouldn’t want that to go over anyone’s head.

    Sorry joe your leaps of logic into the irrational bable (if you support Hugo’s loss then you support Hugo, what sort of bullshit is that?) will not get you officially barred from entering North Korea…Moynihan is still cooler then you.

  19. It strikes me that Reason was around when Pinochet took power and when it ruled. Did they denounce him and his blatant dictatorial rule with the same regularity and vehemence as the much more subtle almost “implied” dictatorial rule of Chavez? And if not ask yourself why?’

    And then I REALLY wonder about rags like National Review.

  20. If you think Chavez has been subtle than I don’t think reasoning with you will be all that productive.

  21. Morat,
    I am not a professional statistician, so I am not going to go to the mat over these numbers, but these polls show a larger gap than 2 percent. However, I do think the lower than expected turn out did play a part.

    The fact is, we don’t know whether the count was closer or not. It didn’t seem as if the voting and the counting had sufficient controls (nb – based on news accounts of lack of usual monitors and reports of opposition candidates locked out of counting rooms)

    As I see it, it is probably the best result for Chavez. He has shown that he will accept loss, but the loss is close enough that next time, he won’t have to make up as much ground.

    If he had won this time around, I think many people would have seen it as illegitimate and the country would probably experience even more unrest.

  22. There was very little in here about the actual Laughland article. I say point goes to Larison.

    I would also wonder why you are so enthusiastic about democracy. Very often it does not come with liberalism.

  23. Mr. Nice Guy,
    My understanding of libertarianism is that democracy is neither good or bad in itself – if it secures the rights of people to amass private property, it’s good; on the other hand, if a dictatorship like Pinochet secures the rights of private property owners, then yay dictatorship, boo democracy. Don’t be fooled by all this jibba-jabba about whether Chavez’s Venezuela is a democracy or not. The point is, he believes that there are rights that supercede the right of private property, and therefore he must be defeated somehow, be it through democratic means or otherwise.

  24. joe | December 3, 2007, 6:08pm | #

    As could be expected, Hugo’s concession prompted his supporters at home and abroad to point to this as proof that Chavez presides over a democracy little different than our own

    Everybody clear on that? If you think the success of the election in Venezuela demonstrates that that country is a democracy, it means you’re a Chavez supporter.

    Just so we’re clear. I’m sure Michael Moynihan wouldn’t want that to go over anyone’s head.

    Joe, just to clarify (and no intent at snarkiness here – am I even using the word snarkiness correctly? – is it even a word?), the implication in the Moynihan quote you reference goes the other way. Translated:

    If you’re a Chavez supporter, it means you think (or at least state) the success of the election in Venezuela demonstrates that that country is a democracy.

    This clearly leaves the option that some might view the results as encouraging (or even hold the stronger view that the country is a democracy) without being a Chavez supporter. I’ve also left aside the question of whether Moynihan really meant to imply all Chavez supporters feel this way – the sentence could be taken either way. In any event, it makes no claims about non-Chavez supporters, whether or not they find the result to be a positive one.

  25. “If you think Chavez has been subtle than I don’t think reasoning with you will be all that productive.”

    I’d love to hear how you think he has not been a hell of a lot more subtle than Pinochet. When Pinochet came to power he immediately banned the opposition, and then hunted them down and killed them (some he even pursued into OTHER nations and killed). Not only was there no opposition allowed, but a contested election, let alone one where Pinochet may lose, was unthinkable.

    I realize nebby you probably feed at the trough of the Right Wing Alternate Universe Press, but independent observers have painstakingly investigated Chavez. Here’s one of the more reliable:
    http://hrw.org/englishwr2k7/docs/2007/01/11/venezu14888.htm

    So please tell me what in there is worse than Pinochet? Try not to be a tool all your life buddy

  26. “My understanding of libertarianism is that democracy is neither good or bad in itself – if it secures the rights of people to amass private property, it’s good; on the other hand, if a dictatorship like Pinochet secures the rights of private property owners, then yay dictatorship, boo democracy.”
    e-I understand this is how many libertarians see things, and this is what I would call a fetishism of property rights that borders on insane. Under this kind of mad scheme a dictator is ok as long as he only kills, tortures and rapes those who wish to impinge on property rights and an elected democratic leader who allows basic civil liberties to all, even his opponents, but who impinges on property rights, is evil incarnate. Thus Free Minds and Free Markets becomes simply Free Markets.

  27. Let me help nebby. According to the HRW report Chavez is guilty of the following major infractions on basic human rights:
    1. Undermining judicial independence
    2. Undermining a free media
    3. Continued the practice of extra-judicial police killings that pre-dated his rule
    4. His supporters were responsible for killings, though his opponents were responsible for more
    5. Prison conditions sucked

    Now I have a problem with each and every one of them. Every one is indeed a violation of human rights, troubling, and should be opposed. However, none of these rises to the level of Pinochet, Franco, or many other dictators that did and continue to get right wing support or at least “hey they ain’t so bad” shrugs.

    Because of his stupidly brazen anti-Americanism and his populists rhetoric Chavez had become the Devil for many conservatives, and since they have a whole Right Wing Alternate Universe Press Apparatus which few of their followers seem to read outside of you have a lot of people running around acting like they have seen Satan himself in the form of Chavez. Such people demonstrate more about themselves (their toolness) than Chavez, who strikes me as an authoritarian leaning populist who is to a large degree held in check by the democratic institutions in Venezula. He’s low on the totem pole of worries in my book.

  28. My understanding of libertarianism is that democracy is neither good or bad in itself – if it secures the rights of people to amass private property, it’s good; on the other hand, if a dictatorship like Pinochet secures the rights of private property owners, then yay dictatorship, boo democracy.

    No. You’re confusing libertarians with Republicans: Dictator secures private property for the politically connected but fights the commies, shutters newspapers and arrests the opposition: Yay dictatorship!

    Libertarians are much more principled than this. No, democracy doesn’t always go the way libertarians like*. In fact, simple majority rule would probably rarely go the way a libertarian would like. But through certain democratic systems, those impulsive mob-rule type votes are dampened with other democratic institutions. Like with a Bill of Rights. You can’t vote my right to free speech away…oh wait.

    *In my estimation, you’d end up with a creepy kind of populist rule: Anti-immigration;, fits of isolationism peppered with overarching interventionism; economically stifling job-protections; salary caps; salary minimums; a mish-mash of term limits and lifetime appointments; a patchwork of wealth distribution programs; non-existent property rights. Basically, we’d be making it up as we went… oh wait.

  29. degree held in check by the democratic institutions in Venezula. He’s low on the totem pole of worries in my book.

    MNG:

    You gotta start somewhere.

  30. MNG, e – from personal experience, I don’t think many Libertarians view Dictatorship as very OK regardless of the Dictator’s view on property rights, or even freedoms in general. While, if you had to live in a dictatorship, it would be nice if your dictator strongly believed in freedom of speech, religion, property rights, the right to bear arms, the right to privacy, the right against unreasonable searches and seisures, freedom of association, etc. etc., and protected all these rights, I don’t think many Libertarians would hold out much hope that even such a country under such an implausible dictator would stay very free after his death and replacement by Dictator Mark 2.0.

    In fact, I think that most Libertarians’ complaints with Democracy is not that as a form of government, it’s the same as any other, only as good as whatever rights it gives you, but that it has a decent chance of developing into a tyranny, just as can any other form. In other words, most Libertarians do place Democracy > Dictatorship in terms of quality, but just aren’t so sure that Democracy > All Others. In fact, the only form of Government that Libertarians probably support over Constitutional Democracy/Republic in large numbers is Anarchy.

    Further, while Libertarians do tend to place a high value on property rights, I believe for most that they don’t outweigh any other rights listed in the paragraph above. They may only seem like they do because Libertarians are usually part of a small minority interested in property rights at all, while the other rights listed above have a large number of fans, still including most Libertarians.

  31. Not exactly a beacon of clarity, SWDWTLHJ, was it?

    It looked to me that Moynihan was characterizing the issue that way.

  32. However, none of these rises to the level of Pinochet

    Heck, they don’t even rise to the level of Mushariff or Allawi.

  33. The support of some Libertarians for Anarchy is justified by many different reasons. But in part, some Libertarian support for Anarchy is due, I think, to its being the only form of government further in the direction of diluted political power than Democracy (and here I mean both direct Democracy and representative Democracy). In this sense, Anarchy is as far as you can get from Autocracy/Dictatorship.

  34. All of this bashing of democracy looks pretty shoddy in the light of the opposition’s efforts to secure this victory.

    If I were them, I would be concentrating on the next round of assembly elections. Rana, who is apparently from Venzuela, reported on the other threat that turnout for parliamentary elections runs around 25-30%. The name of the game for the next few years would be appear to be checking Chavez, cementing the democratic process, and maintaining the rule of law. Didn’t the rejected amendments pass the assembly by a wide margin? They ought to make a study of Daily Kos, Act Blue, and the 2006 midterms.

    You know. Democracy.

  35. joe | December 3, 2007, 7:43pm | #
    Not exactly a beacon of clarity, SWDWTLHJ, was it?

    It looked to me that Moynihan was characterizing the issue that way.

    It didn’t to me, but then again, sometimes we’re all unclear, and I was probably unclear (or at least too verbose) in my responses to MNG and [2;1,2,1,1,4,1,1,6,1,1,8…]* above.

    Sometimes we’re unclear, sometimes we don’t understand something the first time we read it, and sometimes we’re drunk.

    *Yay! Continued fractions!

  36. If you think the success of the election in Venezuela demonstrates that that country is a democracy, it means you’re a Chavez supporter.

    If I say Catholics celebrate Christmas, does that mean that everyone who celebrates Christmas is Catholic?

    I think you’re too invested in a narrative of Moynihan = asshole.

  37. And Joe, I don’t mean to come down too hard with both feet on the head of Democracy; just explaining Libertarians’ suspicions of it, and what they tend to prefer to it when they have a preference.

    I guess as of now, I’m still kind of agnostic on the whole Democracy* > Anarchy or Democracy* < Anarchy question. (Though in fairness, my leanings are probably to the second.)

    *With very strong freedom safeguards.

  38. OK enough for now; it’s time to grade, and watch Heroes.

    Disclaimer: I am a nerd.

  39. I can’t speak for all libertarians, but I would have no problem with a benevolent despot who always governed in a libertarian fashion. I really don’t care who gets to rule, or how the ruler is chosen, so long as his/her/its/their power is heavily restricted. Of course, SWDWTLHJ is correct in saying that such a situation would not only be a stroke of pure luck, but it also would not be stable.

    Then again, democracies can oppress just as heavily as the next form of govt, and de Tocqueville was on to something when he made that quip about democracy only being viable until people discover they can vote themselves money from the public treasury.

  40. “MNG, e – from personal experience, I don’t think many Libertarians view Dictatorship as very OK regardless of the Dictator’s view on property rights, or even freedoms in general. While, if you had to live in a dictatorship, it would be nice if your dictator strongly believed in freedom of speech, religion, property rights, the right to bear arms, the right to privacy, the right against unreasonable searches and seisures, freedom of association, etc. etc., and protected all these rights, I don’t think many Libertarians would hold out much hope that even such a country under such an implausible dictator would stay very free after his death and replacement by Dictator Mark 2.0. ”

    I saw this as very reasonable and it makes perfect sense. In fact, many libtertarians are very consistent on this kind of thing, from my experience. I did say that to many libertarians right wing dictatorships that allow the market to run (sort of, they don’t let the market publish critical tracts, or let the market allow one to hire a talented though communist employee) are OK, and I think I was right about that. In evidence crimethinks comment:
    “I can’t speak for all libertarians, but I would have no problem with a benevolent despot who always governed in a libertarian fashion.”
    These are usually the “right wing” libertarians, which I recognize are not all of them (and I also recognize that some right wing libtertarians would not agree with this).

    I think its a mistaken view because I think one of the crucial rights, yes more crucial than property rights, that “Free Minds” have should the be the right to organize and choose their own governments.

  41. Heck, they don’t even rise to the level of Mushariff or Allawi.

    Mmmm… I disagree on Mushariff. In fact, I’d almost argue that they’re very similar to Mushariff’s actions.

  42. I can’t speak for all libertarians, but I would have no problem with a benevolent despot who always governed in a libertarian fashion.

    I do have a problem with it, and here’s why: You have a government of men, not a government of laws. What happens when the old man kicks off and god-knows-what is waiting in the wings?

    Makes one think of a similar situation: A current U.S. President who has secured all manner of powers for the executive, but because of “democracy”, we’ve got a new frontrunner for the Dems who might take power. What say you now to unchecked executive power as long as “your guy” remains in office?

  43. MNG: I’d probably give Free Speech – Free Thought the edge over Property Rights as well, but it’d be a very, very slight edge. In fact I think none of Free Speech, Property Rights, the Right to Privacy, and the Right of Self Defense can survive without the others, nor can any of the rights that are offshoots of these.

    Also, I’m a little leery of considering it a right to choose and organize one’s own government, as usually it seems that all that involves is a decision as to whom the majority will persecute, and which rights they’ll decide to take away. You see this from the right and from the left. If the government has very strict controls on it, I can favor using the vote to make the decision of choosing how to decide what the government does with whatever it has left, but it shouldn’t have much left, if anything at all.

  44. The guy almost got control over their central bank. I mean thats an insane ammount of power to give one man, democractically elected or not. Anybody who believes that that power should be granted to the president in a referendum is fundamentally clueless.

  45. With Pinochet, and Musharraf, you do not see prominent figures of the Right making pilgrimage to bask in their wisdom, the way leftists do with Castro and Chavez.

    Pinochet and Musharraf and their ilk are supported by the Right only in that they are alternatives to something worse. Pinochet and Marcos held their elections after being pressured by the US to do so, and relinquished power also under US pressure.

    Nothing comparable happens from the Left.

  46. Imagine if George W Bush wanted the power to create new states and appoint their governors? Would you call that the mark of a democratic-minded man?

  47. I have no faith in a democracy when its only effective check on the president seizing control of its central bank is a public vote. That’s just insane. All this “faith in democracy” stuff is nonsense. They do not have the proper system of checks and balances on the president to ensure an effective one, and Chavez is proving it.

  48. joe, the reason that voter turnout was only 25% in the last Venezuelan national assembly elections was that they were BOYCOTTED by the opposition in hopes that it would make it clear that the elections were rigged. Of course, it did no such thing.

    In this referendum also there were calls for a boycott from various sectors of the opposition. Very wrongheaded and damaging. I think that the numbers of opposition who boycotted were offset by the chavistas who stayed home rather than cast a vote against their beloved Chavez.

  49. I do have a problem with it, and here’s why: You have a government of men, not a government of laws. What happens when the old man kicks off and god-knows-what is waiting in the wings?

    I understand that point. However, democracies are also subject to this phenomenon; they are just brought on by calamitous events, rather than the death of the ruler. Could anyone living in 1925 have imagined how powerful the Federal govt would be ten years later? Could anyone living in 1997 have imagined the extent to which our foreign policy and civil liberties would have changed within 10 years?

    Democracy is a means to an end, not an end in itself. To the extent it serves liberty, I support it; to the extent it does not, I oppose it.

  50. I’d probably give Free Speech – Free Thought the edge over Property Rights…

    I can’t really separate these out. There is almost always some economic component to speech, if you intend to actually speak to people. Furthermore, controlling the property, you can control (or at least limit) the speech. If someone can take your property, they can probably find a way to shut you up.

  51. Off the main point, but
    Could anyone living in 1997 have imagined the extent to which our foreign policy and civil liberties would have changed within 10 years?

    Foreign policy, definitely a different direction, mostly to the negative.

    But civil liberties? Except for about a thousand people who have gone through Gitmo (which I agree is 1000 too many, without trial or appeal to any other authority), all the other stuff I could easily have seen from a Reno justice department. And on the retail level, I have a suspicion that shit like Radley Balko reports has always happened, its just in this internet age, we’re able to now read stories that previously would have been only locally disseminated. (and with everyone with a camera and a youtube account, we can see innumerably more Rodney Kings)

  52. In fact, I’d almost argue that they’re very similar to Mushariff’s actions.

    And Mushariff at least as the excuse that he’s fighting well-entrenched and well-funded fanatics. I’m not sure what Chavez’s excuse is.

  53. Democracy is a means to an end, not an end in itself. To the extent it serves liberty, I support it; to the extent it does not, I oppose it

    Bingo. Democracy is probably a necessary but not sufficient condition to having a free society. As we have seen over and over again, the mob is only too willing to take the property and liberty of their fellows.

  54. President Putin took power a society where had democracy and rule of law had been completely subverted, with the assistance of the most loathsome and corrupt class since the fall of the Roman Empire.

    He then immediately turned on his evil benefactors, tamed those few who could be tamed, and banished those who could not. He has restored legitimacy, democracy and the rule of law, and in the process won the love and support of his people to a degree hardly seen in the world. Deservedly so.

    Why does the media-industrial-complex hate this good and noble man so much? He is no way similar to Chavez, and he is no dictator. He has in fact scrupulously adhered to constitutional requirements.

    He seems to me a man of Dostoyevski’s Holy Russia, certainly not a Soviet throwback. In fact I liked the comparison of Pres. Putin to Elliot Ness.

    Perhaps the media here are just in the pockets of the same families of criminals and oligarchs that President Putin has vanquished — or , to be charitable, maybe they are just just shallow, ill-informed sensationalists.

  55. Over 50 comments and not a single reference yet to a pants suit.
    Democracy works!

  56. joe,

    As could be expected, Hugo’s concession prompted his supporters at home and abroad to point to this as proof that Chavez presides over a democracy little different than our own

    Everybody clear on that? If you think the success of the election in Venezuela demonstrates that that country is a democracy, it means you’re a Chavez supporter.

    Let A be Chavez supporters
    Let B be pointing out democracy

    If A then B (as Moynihan claimed)
    does NOT NOT NOT NOT NOT imply
    If B then A (as joe claimed)

    Take a fucking logic class.

  57. “Pinochet and Musharraf and their ilk are supported by the Right only in that they are alternatives to something worse. Pinochet and Marcos held their elections after being pressured by the US to do so, and relinquished power also under US pressure.

    Nothing comparable happens from the Left.”

    Wrong. Chavez just had an election, and he lost, and he did not do either because of “pressure from the US.” It took quite a while for Pinochet to have elections and it was in the face of overwhelming world pressure.

    As to your theory of leftists paying homage to these dictator scum you are right about some leftist and wrong about many more. And your wrong that those on the right don’t pay homage to their dictators. Pat Buchanan’s family, when he was a kid, had a picture of Franco hanging up in their house. Many right wing Christians held both Franco and Pinbochet up as embattled warriors fighting “Godless Communism.” Part of the old Rights reluctance to get into WWII pre-Pearl Harboer was certainly due to the feeling that the Germans were either not that bad or at least they would stick it to the Communists.

  58. Temper, temper, robc.

    It must be nice for a writer to have volunteer spinners like yourself.

  59. joe,

    You were the one spinning. I was just following strict logic rules. Since you are the one that doesnt like anyone to read anything into your posts other than literally what you say (most of us arent joe Fundamentalists, however) you should apply the same standard to others. Follow ALL symbolic logic rules.

  60. “If I were them, I would be concentrating on the next round of assembly elections. Rana, who is apparently from Venzuela, reported on the other threat that turnout for parliamentary elections runs around 25-30%. The name of the game for the next few years would be appear to be checking Chavez, cementing the democratic process, and maintaining the rule of law. Didn’t the rejected amendments pass the assembly by a wide margin? They ought to make a study of Daily Kos, Act Blue, and the 2006 midterms.

    You know. Democracy.”

    I guess I should have been clear before. The last parliamentary election turn out was 23% (according to CNE) because there was a call to boycott the election from opposition leaders.

    The ammednments passed the assembly by wide margins because the National Assembly is pro-Chavez. They “approved”, further modified and added ammendments behind closed doors with no input or participation from opposition parties. The only choice given to the people of Venezuela was to vote “Yes” or “No” to all ammendments- a package deal.
    So imagine you arent pro-Chavez. You had no say as to whether the Constitution should be changed or not; you had no say as to what should be ammended or how; you had no say as to whether you could vote on each ammendment seperately. You were just told to vote “Yes” or “No”. Add to this the fact that the CNE is, arguably, pro-Chavez, and you feel you have been cheated before…
    Well, this doesnt leave much room for your faith in “democracy”.

    That is why I feel this victory has truly been amazing and it is more of a testament to the effort of the students and freedom-lovin’ Venezuelans than the “respect” of Hugo Chavez for democracy.

  61. Certain opposition leaders called to NOT vote because they claimed the referendum was illegal. They claimed that the proposed 69 ammendments were significant enough to change the ideology/philosophy of the original constituion (i.e. creating a NEW constituion). They filed claims as to the illegality of the referendum with the TSJ (Supreme Court) but were shot down (wonder why? the TSJ is also pro-Chavez).
    Interesting side note: a picture is circulating the internet showing the President of TSJ placing her ballot into the voting box. It shows she voted “No”.

  62. The announcement of the strike has caused fascists to denounce unions.

    The administration’s decision to invade Iraq caused anti-American leftists to denounce George Bush.

    The execution of Saddam Hussein caused Baathist sympathizers to declare that the Iraqi government was infested with Sadrists.

    In robc world, there is nothing wrong with any of the above statements, nor is there any intent to smear people by association, because a painfully-literalist bit of logic can be used to show that they can be interpretted in an inoffensive manner.

  63. “In Venezuela, fascists and supporters of the old oligarchy voted to reject changes to the Constitution.”

    Careful, don’t object to the clear meaning of the above statement, or robc will accuse you of not understanding logic.

  64. joe,

    You are right, joe, I see nothing wrong with any of your statements at 11:45. As Im neither a Baathist, a leftist, or a fascist, none of them can possibly smear me. Im quite sure I agree with all on some issues, now and again. I dont have a problem with that. I denounced GWB well before the invasion of Iraq. The anti-american leftists were late to the party.

    This is no different than Dondero/Guiliani saying that Paul blamed America for 9/11. The poor use of logic leads to people saying all kinds of stupid things.

    RE 11:49 post – isnt the clear meaning that fascists and supporters voted to reject change? There is nothing else that can be read into it. Im missing the point. Anyone with a brain realizes that other people may have also voted to reject the changes.

  65. You are missing the point.

    Writers phrase things like for the purpose of lumping everyone who does Action X into Category Y.

  66. joe,

    No. You assume writers do that. And probably some do. So fucking what. That isnt what they said. Maybe, just maybe, they meant what they said. Just like you always claim you mean what you write instead of people’s interpretations of what you write. Actually, since you are a writer (at least on here), you must be doing the same thing.

  67. Have you lived in this country for the past few years, rob?

    Sincerely,

    joe the Saddam-supporting, terrorist-loving, Chavez-supporting Dhimmi

  68. joe,

    Should I answer it like I did your “have you sold a house recently?” question?

    Accept for part of 1991, I have lived in the US since 1969. I worked in Switzerland for a while, so you can blame my use of logic on the Swiss if you want.

  69. Here are corrections of some inaccurate information you’re simply repeating from the mainstream media about Venezuela.

    For one, the Tascon List does not prove the CNE is controlled by Chavez. In fact, the CNE condemned the release of the list by Luis Tascon as did Maria Plaza the Cheif Public Prosecuter.(1) The Tascon List was a thoughtless move by Luis Tascon in his eagerness to find out if there were fraudulant signatures in the list. What came out of it were some Chavez supporters using the list to discriminate their opposition.

    The “legitimate questions” you sources has already been dismissed as inaccurated by the Center of Economic and Policy Research and The Carter Center (2)

    The author of the Huffington Post’s article had a poor definition of dictatorship. Hitler was an elected Dictator, however there is no indication whatsoever that Chavez is a dictator. The 1999 constitution put forward by his party and voted by the Venezuelan people gave he people the power to veto any law put forward by the government. Only 10% of registered voters are required to put a law to a referendum vote. 5% for laws by decree.(3) I’ve never seen a dictator give his people that much power.

    Regarding your claim that Chavez’s opponents faces serious threats (sources please) and an onslaught of pro-regime propaganda, you are purposefully ignoring the widespread local and international anti-Chavez propaganda.(4) You mention ViVe and VTV, but you don’t seem to mention the opposition media, Globovision, Venevision, and CMT. It sure is convenient for you to ignore the powerful corporate media in Venezuela.(5) Where do you think the idea of him being a dictator came from? What about the notion of these reforms being called the “President for Life” reforms by many in the mainstream media? Since when did removal of presidential term limits equate “President for Life”? France has no term limits, neither does the UK, Canada, Australia, and most European democracies. This was the fear mongering the pro-Chavez and independents in Venezuela had to face. A “Yes” vote, they were being told, was a vote for dictatorship.

    1. http://infovenezuela.org/attachments-spanish/T5%20ST02%20N4%20La%20lista%20de%20Tascon.pdf
    2. http://www.cartercenter.org/documents/2020.pdf
    3. http://www.misionvenezuela.org/espanol/ConstitutionoftheBolivarianingles.pdf
    4. http://www.therealnews.com/web/index.php?thisdataswitch=0&thisid=648&thisview=item
    5. http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/analysis/710

  70. Steve,

    I wish I had more time to reply to your points above, but I will try my best.

    You are right about the Tascon List being used to single-out and discriminate voters who signed against Chavez during the referendum of 2005. I personally know many people who have been victims of this list: losing their jobs, etc… A truly democratic leader would want his governemnt to treat all citizens equally, no? It should protect the rights of all citizens equally, no?
    Regading CNE being “controlled” by Chavez. Well there is no hard proof but many people fear this may be so because the ex-president of the CNE, Jorge Rodriguez, was conveniently appointed Vice-President of Venezuela by Chavez soon after Chavez was re-elected. This at the very least would make any reasobale person suspisious, no? (I can hardly see anything like THIS happening in any truly democratic country without raising some eyebrows).
    As to whether Chavez is a dictator or not, well he is not.. por ahora. But there is no doubt he wants to remain in office for the rest of his life. And the FACT that he SAYS he will remain in office until 2050.. well, that makes many people nervous as well.

    Give me a little time to get the hundreds of cases that show opposition leaders, protesters or simply journalists being assaulted in Venezuela by chavistas. (Once again, I KNOW quite a few of them, but Im sure this means nothing to you, but it does to me).

    Globovision is really the ONLY opposition tv channel left. Venevision and CMT are not. So I think you can do the math… Again there is evidence to this, I need some time…

    The crazy crap Chavez government does in Vz is not seen in, France, the UK, Australia, Canada. Heck Im sure if the governments of these countries had inflation/corruption/crime/scarcity rates there is in Venezuela, they WOULD no longer be in power.

  71. Those are some interesting standards, Steve, concerning the Tascon List. Let’s see, Joe McCarthy never PERSONALLY persecuted anyone, he merely released the names of people who were suspected to be communists. And almost all of them were. What Hollywood DID with their overenthusiasm had zero to do with McCarthy.

    Of course, the Tascon List is about 1000 times longer than McCarthy’s, and the consequences 1000 times graver than that, but hey, you know Latins, they get tired of looking at long lists, so no big deal.

  72. Steve is so convinced that everyone here is getting their news from US mainstream sources, he might want to check this out:

    http://www.noticias24.com/actualidad/?p=10213e

    Mmmm hmmm, that CNE is rrrrrreal independent.

    The part about the military refusing to send tanks and soldiers against protesting students is chilling.

  73. @Rana

    I’m not defending the Tascon List. As I mentioned in my post, it was condemned by Chavez, the CNE, and the Chief Public Prosecutor. It definitely was a scandal under the Chavez government, but scandals are not something that’s foreign to democratically elected governments.

    As for the CNE’s corruption charges, I have yet to see a result that went largely against the expectation. Many polls were claiming this referendum was at a “statistical tie”.(1) Not surprisingly, the result was a close one. The 2006 presidential election polls were all pointing to a clear victory by Chavez(2), and this is what happened. While the opposition always likes to claim fraud, they have yet to provide any credible evidence.

    “Globovision is really the ONLY opposition tv channel left”

    I think you’re being a bit disingenuous. And let’s not pretend that RCTV does not exist in Venezuela. Even Fox News airs in Venezuela, so you’re being quite disingenuous when you claim it is the “ONLY opposition TV channel left”. RCTV still airs in Venezuela via cable and satellite. I wonder what would have happened to the RCTV had they done what they did in the US. I believe treason is punishable by death in the US.

    “The crazy crap Chavez government does in Vz is not seen in, France, the UK, Australia, Canada. Heck Im sure if the governments of these countries had inflation/corruption/crime/scarcity rates there is in Venezuela, they WOULD no longer be in power.”

    I love how you bundle a bunch of things as “crap Chavez government does”. The inflation rate has actually been lower under the Chavez years. I suggest you have a look at the inflation growth rate before Chavez came into power(3)(4). Crime is indeed something the Chavez government needs to address. I don’t see how this problem is any different than problems other elected governments face. But you don’t seem to acknowledge all of the good Chavez has done in Venezuela.(5)(6)

    If the opposition was a bit more organized maybe they’d have more representation. I’m all for a healthy opposition, and hopefully after this victory they’ll stop claiming fraud and giving Venezuelans a real alternative.

    @atrevet:
    What you said about the McCarthy and how Hollywood reacted (wasn’t just Hollywood, btw), could be said the same about the Tascon List. I’d argue that McCarthy was much worse. While Luis Tascon’s reason for publishing the list was to see if fraud had been committed by the opposition (I disagree with this tactic), McCarthy’s purpose of outing potential communists was to claim they were traitors.

    1. http://en.epochtimes.com/news/7-11-30/62489.html
    2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Venezuelan_presidential_election,_2006#Polls – Each poll has citation
    3. http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news/2315
    4. http://i6.photobucket.com/albums/y218/oilwars/Image5.gif (Do a google news archive “All Dates” search for venezuela inflation rate 103.2)
    5. http://www.cepr.net/documents/publications/venezuela_2007_07.pdf
    6. http://www.ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=40088

  74. To go a bit futher on atrvete’s comparison of the Tascon List to McCarthyism.

    Are you honestly going to suggest that Tascon’s list was worse than McCarthyism? There is no evidence that the consequences of releasing the list was supported or mandated by President Chavez. In fact, Chavez condemned the actions. The same cannot be said about McCarthyism and President Truman. President Truman signed Executive Order 9835 which resulted in about 1 of 5 employees having to pass a “loyalty” review.(1) If Chavez had passed such an order, there would be international outrage. For you to suggest that the Tascon list scandal was worse is ridiculous.

    The crapola that happened during McCarthyism wasn’t some sort of accident, it was US policy to monitored those who communists. The estimates of those imprisoned and lost their jobs due to McCarthyism is estimated to be in the tens of thousands.(2)

    It’s ridiculous comparisons like these that the opposition love to make. They’ll compare Chavez to Hitler, Stalin, etc. Folks, can we stop resorting to propaganda and stick to the facts?

    1. http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0038-9765(195903)11%3A2%3C404%3ALASETI%3E2.0.CO%3B2-S
    2. http://press.princeton.edu/titles/6698.html

  75. Of COURSE I think Tascon’s List is worse than McCarthyism. Anyone who thinks that Chavez did NOT order this is a fool. Do you really think Luis Tascon is some kind of loveable clown who was just trying to help, and he kinda screwed up and now Chavez is all embarrassed and is somehow taking the heat?

    Of course if Chavez denies this he couldn’t be lying, could he? Yes, this list has been far far more damaging to the people who signed it, as well as it affecting far more people, in ways that are far more severe.

    Rana says she has personal friends who lost jobs, were victims of violent assaults that were never prosecuted or investigated. Do YOU have any personal friends who lost their jobs or were similarly victimized by McCarthyism?

  76. A lot of speculation, but no proof that this was state policy of Chavez. Again, the same cannot be said about Truman and McCarthyism. There were several acts passed to discriminate against those who were thought to be communists or simply not loyal to the US government.

    “Rana says she has personal friends who lost jobs, were victims of violent assaults that were never prosecuted or investigated. Do YOU have any personal friends who lost their jobs or were similarly victimized by McCarthyism?”

    It’s amazing that the sources I’ve already pointed out to you is not enough, but what would convince you is anecdotal evidence. McCarthyism is a movement that lasted two decades where people were imprisoned and and lost their jobs. There is plenty of information out there, you don’t need a personal experience from me to understand it.

    The purpose of McCarthyism was to track down potential communists, interrogate them, get them fired and possibly put them in prison. This was public policy. As for the Tascon List, there is ZERO evidence that suggests Chavez supported the discrimination against his opposition.

    I’ll say it once again, if Chavez did a FRACTION of what Joe McCarthy did (publicly call for the dismissal of government employees tied to communism), there would have been an international outcry.

  77. Chavez DID a fraction of what Joe McCarthy did. Like, um, 1000000/2.

    You might want to check out this evidence. The scope of the Tascon List is far more insidious in both quality and quantity than anything McCarthy or Truman could get away with. That’s why they were public about it.

    http://blogs.salon.com/0001330/categories/tasconSFascistList/

  78. I don’t see how the blog you linked me to shows the scope of the Tascon List as any deeper than what I’ve described. What I see is the blogger constantly labeling Chavez and his government a fascist regime. Is the Maisanta list what you wanted to show me? Did you know that in the US the political parties use software with hundreds of fields of information about voters, and it’s perfectly legal. They would look at this Maisanta DB and laugh.

    I suggest you google “microtargeting” to not only understand what the Maisanta DB is but how pathetic it is compared to the amount of data the Republicans or Democrats gather.

    If this is worse than McCarthyism, then you should be outraged at the microtargeting happening in practically all democracies with much more sophisticated data.

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