Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Pres. Hugo Chavez's threat

CNN's story yesterday about Venezuela's Hugo Chavez: Chavez calls Honduran cardinal 'imperialist clown'

The story itself isn't too surprising, but it reminded me why I think President Chavez is a negative force in the Americas.

I agreed with some lefties' optimism about him when I visited Venezuela in 2006 for the World Social Forum (a gathering of thousands of activists for networking and workshops). One of the crowning events was a rally with Chavez and Cindy Sheehan and other luminaries. Before the rally I could believe in Chavez' role as a liberator and warrior against the tyranny of Western capitalist oppression. It was easy to see and hear about the good things he's done for the country, not least of which is overturning the western idea that national success lies in ever greater reliance on free markets and corporations. Plus, Chavez was hosting the Forum, which focuses exclusively on how nonviolent, diverse activism. It seemed to me he really was categorically different from the way the US Administration likes to portray him.

However the rally was chock full of military symbolism. Chavez's supporters wore red berets. Dancers even attacked with foam swords a black cloth with symbols of corporate logos. In one biography of Chavez, he explains that one goal of his Bolivarian revolution is to ease distinctions between the military and civilians. One one hand this means the military is expected to help civilians more, but one the other hand, it seems to me this philosophy threatens to militarize the entire society.

And the news of Venezuela's treatment of the freedom of the press keeps getting worse. And will Chavez willingly relinquish power, or will he keep amending the constitution to keep himself on top?

In the end, I think neither side is right about Chavez. He's not a bloodthirsty dictator, exploiting the people. But he's not a savior of the left, either. It may be that in his conviction about what is right for his country, he cares more about the ends of achieving justice than the means.

And if the best progressive leaders in history have taught us anything, its that lasting peace must be achieved peacefully, and lasting justice must be achieved justly.

Monday, July 23, 2007

CNN Debates unpredictable?

Watching the coverage of the CNN YouTube debates, Mr. Cooper and the other pundits seem to be talking a great deal about how the debate format, featuring questions from YouTube users, is a victory for popular participation in politics. "Ordinary people" are able to ask their questions. The debate, they argue is more 'genuine' and unpredictable because the People are asking their questions.

But really? 2,900 people submitted videos. CNN picked 37 to show to the candidates. How unpredictable could they be, when the debate organizers can pick the questions they want to ask from such variety.

I love the format, and I think its very exciting, but in itself its really no less orchestrated than traditional debates. What the format does is shows us the next steps to take - bring citizens deeper into state politics and local politics. Leaders should craft policies that make it easier for citizens to participate and harder for money to talk.

The YouTube CNN debates is a great start, and from steps like this we start rebuilding American democracy.