Sunday, August 31, 2008

NYT Wrong on Latin America, Again

On August 22nd, The New York Times ran a startlingly misinformed (and misinforming) editorial crtiticizing President Uribe's decision to push through a law permitting another presidential reelection--along with his habit of attacking the judiciary and generally ignoring his country's laws. 

While all of this is true--Uribe does these things and they should be criticized--the Times makes the peculiar argument that these moves would "tarnish his legacy." Excuse me, but what legacy does the president with the worst human rights record in the hemisphere (ok, maybe after our own prez) who maintains close, historic ties with right wing paramilitary death squads, what kind of legacy does he have that can be "tarnished"?!

The Times also gives Uribe credit for recent blows dealt to the FARC. While the FARC don't need any help tarnishing their own record, it is a mistake to believe that Uribe's militarist strategy will lead to a solution to Colombia's long running internal conflict. The FARC have survived a lot of golpes in the past. Colombia needs leadership on both sides of the conflict willing to sit down and negotiate a peaceful solution.

The Times goes on to make the truly absurd argument that Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador are the truly authoritarian governments in the region:

Colombia’s neighborhood has too many authoritarian-minded leaders. Venezuela’s president, Hugo Chávez, leveraged his enormous popularity to take control of virtually every aspect of his country’s political and economic life. Venezuela’s voters wisely blocked his plans for indefinite re-election. Presidents Evo Morales of Bolivia and Rafael Correa of Ecuador are also trying to amend their constitutions so they can run again.

While the Times is right that Chávez's proposal to allow for indefinite reelection was a bad move, they disingenuously and misleadingly suggest that Morales and Correa are trying to do the same.

As Ecuador's ambassador to the U.S. pointed out in a letter to the editor, the proposed Ecuadorian constitution would allow Ecuadorian presidents to run for reelection just once for a second four year term--um, urg, the same as here in U.S. The proposed Bolivian constitution also allows for one, just one, reelection.

Anyways, while I may disagree with the idea of indefinite reelections, it falls within the framework of electoral democracy and people have a right to vote to change their laws to allow for it. The U.S. didn't limit presidents to two potential terms until 1951. Remember FDR?

The Times insults the victims of state and paramilitary violence in insinuating that the governments of Bolivia, Ecuador and Venezuela are somehow more repressive than Colombia. While Venezuela's government was wrong to propose indefinite reelection--and that's why the people voted it down--it is not the Latin American country where opposition politicians and activists are regularly assassinated. That is Colombia. If it happened in Venezuela, trust me, it would be on the front page of The Times.

The Colombian state-backed machine of political violence doesn't make the front page as often as attacks on Chávez, Morales and Correa. And just why is that?

Friday, August 29, 2008

Hezbollah in Venezuela? Elvis and Tupac in the Virgin Islands?

The most recent smear against Venezuela has been a charge that Chávez, because of his close ties to Iran, is opening a beachhead for Hezbollah in the Americas

Funny how these baseless attacks against Lefty Latin Americans, attributed to anonymous experts or government officials, tend to coincide with broader U.S. policy objectives on the other side of the world?

It is also amusing that a government that has long maintained close ties with Saudi Arabia can fault Venezuela for choosing some friends based on realpolitik rather than ideology. I mean, when a U.S. backed coup briefly overthrows your government and the Colossus of the North regularly blames you for every single thing that goes wrong (or right, depending on your politics) in the region, you might look for your friends where you can find them.

This hysteria also dovetails nicely with the regular U.S. accusations of Islamic terror networks in the triple border region between Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay.

While agents of pretty much any power, nefarious or otherwise, are most likely in Latin America--as is clear from the deadly 1992 bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires--it is a pretty cynical move to link it all to Chávez. 

In other news, the Venezuelan president just had a big meeting with the Latin American Jewish Congress, hoping to get past some past misunderstandings, namely those generated by a certain right leaning, LA based organization.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Venezuelan Opposition Drops By to Give Ecuador a Hand

In the lead up to a contentious September 28th vote on a proposed constitution, Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa has accused right wing Venezuelan student leaders of training conservative Ecuadorian student activists.

If true, this is really bad news for Ecuador, given the Venezuelan opposition's track record of violent confrontations and a short lived military coup. 

Correa made his accusations in the aftermath of a Saturday August 16th brawl between supporters of the new constitution and opponents at the Catholic University of Guayaquil. Correa was present to give a live broadcast of his weekly national radio address. 

But I'm sure we'll soon enough see a sympathetic New York Times profile on a right student activist, like we've seen on Venezuela: poor (well, actually, rich) student faces big bad government that dares to, umm, enforce tax laws. Ah well.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

We're All Capitalists Now: Pepsi Goes Red

As Lefty sports righter David Zirin discusses on his blog , Pepsi has "gone red" for the Olympics. Zirin notes that this is the sort of ad that, in the odd event that it had been run thirty years ago, would have gotten you a visit from the FBI. But Pepsi knows where its potential markets are. Marketers consider the new consumers in China "unbranded" and thus open to commit themselves to Coke or Pepsi, Nike or Reebok. With the Olympics, the corporate battle for Chinese hearts, minds and wallets has begun.

It is quite clear that the main point of the Olympics is projecting images of national strength and progress--especially, this year, for China--and selling lots of shit via high priced, high visibility advertising. But in a weird twist in Chinese Government Olympics messaging, it has been revealed that the cute young girl (photo) who sang "Ode to the Motherland" during the Olympics opening ceremony was lip-sinking. Chinese authorities decided that the real singer, little girl Yang Peiyi, wasn't cute enough (photo inset). As any marketer will tell you, countries have brand images, too.

Finally, Naomi Klein has been doing some interesting work on how U.S. companies are using the Olympics to bypass post-Tiananmen Square bans on selling police and security equipment to China. The government has spent a whopping $12-billion on thousands of security cameras, iris scanners and internet monitoring tools for the Olympics. The equipment will stay in China after the games are over and be put to good use repressing increasingly militant labor and peasant protests. Cisco, General Electric, Honeywell and Google are some of the companies involved.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Denver Braces for Anarchist Uprising?

The ACLU and protest groups, unfortunately, just lost a lawsuit charging that Denver's restrictions on protest at the upcoming Democratic National Convention constitute unconstitutional violations of First Amendment rights.

And the non-critical reporting of Denver's police build up/plan to keep protesters in a pen is expected, sadly, standard fare when consuming corporate media. 

A Times piece from August 5th matter-of-factly conflates potential white supremacist violence aimed at Obama with "militant" Leftists/anarchists angry at the Democratic Party for reasons that go unmentioned--which, of course, constitutes standard media treatment of Leftist opinion. All you need to know about us is that we're extreme: "Officials say that what makes Denver different than past conventions is the historic nature of Senator Barack Obama’s nomination, a megawattage event whose global spotlight could draw tens of thousands of demonstrators, including self-described anarchists who the police fear will infiltrate peaceful protest groups to disrupt the weeklong event."  

Reporters David Johnston and Eric Schmitt then, paradoxically, go on to note, "Intelligence analysts, however, have not reported a heightened threat from Islamic extremists or domestic threats from antigovernment groups or environmental militants like the kind that operate in many Western states, according to federal officials. “ 

Unfortunately, the stenographers at the Times do not feel compelled to actually, you know, evaluate the city's claims, concluding, "New worries about protests and anarchy could bolster the government’s case that the plans are justified." What exactly is "new" about the worries? And are these cutting edge concerns justified? Didn't they just say that intelligence officials report no heightened threat? Apparently such evaluation of the "facts" isn't part of the journalistic repertoire. After all, they report, we decide.

Police repression in the 2000 conventions in LA (Dems) and Philly (Republican) was deemed necessary for the protection of the democratic process--by which the corporate media means a political system securely under the total control of two parties, ratified by a televised spectacle every four years. Mass protests at the 2004 Republican Convention in NYC--where Bush and his cronies cynically sought to exploit post-9/11 emotions--were greeted with mass preemptive arrests, illegal denials of protests permits (namely for Central Park's Great Lawn)  and violence. 

Denver organizers see that previous convention hosts have suffered very few consequences for their creative interpretations of the First Amendment--and when there have been consequences, they've come in the way of fines, painlessly ex post facto. It doesn't matter so much when courts rule police tactics illegal years after the protests because the police, a la Judge Dred (haven't seen it, just previews, really), are "the law", the Alpha and the Omega, etc during the conventions themselves, when this shit actually matters.

Basically, city government and police departments wager that the net value of removing thousands of law abiding protesters from the streets is worth whatever fines they might have to pay a year or two down the road. 

The only way to upset this cynical wager is for judges to issue injunctions against city's "protest control" plans prior to the conventions. Unfortunately, a judge has just done the opposite, saying that Denver is justified in doing whatever it need to ensure security. According to the Reuters, "Protesters at the Democratic National Convention in Denver can be restricted to fenced-in areas, federal judge ruled on Wednesday, saying that security needs outweighed curbs on their rights." Fenced in areas? Whew.

U.S. District Judge Marcia Krieger said that, "The restrictions inhibit the plaintiffs' ability to engage in some forms of expressive conduct, (but) ... the plaintiffs have a wide variety of alternative means of expression that will allow them to effectively communicate their messages." I hope to God that she isn't referring to blogging!
A quick biographical note: I was 17 years old when I participated in the LA protests at the Democratic National Convention. The LA police, well known for being aggressive, violent and racist, didn't much like the thousands of lefties who came to protest the Dem's support for "free" trade agreement, the death penalty, etc. I got clubbed by a policeman one of my first day's at the protests in the midst of a permitted, legal march in solidarity with the U'wa people of Colombia. The march was drawing attention to Mr. Green-Al-Gore's financial ties to Fidelity Investments, a major stake holder in indigenous land destroying Occidental Oil. The police also famously attacked a legal gathering of thousands (I couldn't find something more specifically on this, anyone?) interrupting a Rage Against the Machine performance, with tear gas and rubber bullets, a supposedly proportional response to a few black block anarchists throwing bottles...They also tried to raid a church that I was sleeping in, surrounded the Pico Union convergence center only to be shouted out by Latino neighbors, and on and on. 

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Why Obama?

I posted this recently on the Facebook Progressives (Critically) for Barack Obama group and incited some discussion. I know that this is a controversial debate on the Left, and I think that it is an important one, too.

Why Obama?

by Daniel Denvir

It has become increasingly clear that Barack Obama is no progressive. His vote to approve Bush’s illegal spying, his call for an escalation of the war in Afghanistan and his close Wall Street ties make this abundantly clear.

McCain, however, represents a serious danger to the world. Voting for Obama is the right thing to do this November. That said, it is most important that one do so without misconceptions or delusions. Obama will rein in the more extreme tendencies of US imperialism. But we’ll get what the Democratic Party usually offers us: a better managed, more polite form of corporate world domination. And this too has consequences. Under either Party, people throughout the world will continue to suffer in sweatshops for the benefit of a few, the beneficiaries of our amicable “free” trade agreements.

And while we’ll protect a few more forests and abstain from drilling offshore or in ANWR, does Obama really have the vision necessary to move beyond oil, nuclear and highly subsidized agro-industry? Don’t get your hopes up.

The Democratic Party is not and will never be a vehicle for real progressive social change. We need a mass movement—a movement of movements—that can build a third party and an electoral system that will give it space to speak to the American public and compete. This means two rounds and instant run off voting. It seems impossible otherwise.

Unfortunately, neither Nader’s independent candidacy nor Cynthia McKinney’s Green Party candidacy represent such a force in 2008, however much some Lefties would like to believe so. Nader’s candidacy in 2000 was an opening for progressive politics. With the race getting closer between Gore and Bush, however, many Nader supporters switched their votes and we lost that chance by not getting 5% of the vote.

The war in Afghanistan is another important if under-discussed issue. Obama is calling for an escalation there, in a conflict perhaps more “unwinnable” than the one in Iraq, where more civilians are killed by US bombs than by the Taliban. With an Obama presidency hopefully withdrawing (most?) US troops from Iraq, the anti-war movement must focus on an end to the war in Afghanistan. But isn’t Afghanistan the “good” war? Both wars can’t be wrong, can they? Yes, yes they can.

Although Obama positioned himself to the Left during the primaries to show up corporate hack Hillary Clinton, it is very unclear to what extent Obama is committed to supporting a (slightly) more just global model. While he criticized NAFTA on the campaign trail, recent comments and his selection of neoliberal and Wall Mart-loving Jason Furman as his chief economic advisor indicate that his populist rhetoric may be a pyrrhic victory for the Left.

But I still say that there are real difference between Obama and McCain. Under an Obama Administration, progressives will have more space to push for social change. Under a McCain Administration, we will stay on the defensive, defending the few remaining social programs we have and trying block a war with Iran.

Some say that an Obama presidency would lead to the Left demobilizing, focusing all of our efforts into the electoral wastebasket. Perhaps to an extent. But Bush has had the worst effects possible on progressive organizing and movement building.

Our mobilizations against corporate globalization and other issues have been shifted to new, more horrible realities. I remember during the Clinton Administration, when I came of age as an activist, focusing my work on the global justice movement, environmental justice, death penalty abolition, prison issues, and labor activism. What happened to those huge mobilizations in Seattle and Washington, DC? September 11th and the Bush Administration happened.

Bush’s hyper-imperialism has made those issues second-tier priorities for most, as we, on the defensive, scramble to stop ever spreading wars and non-stop attacks against the domestic poor and immigrants. I think the once typical statement on the Left that a Bush presidency would “radicalize” the population has proven to be quite untrue. Instead, Bush’s disaster administration has fueled a messianic, any-one-but-Bush, Democratic Party-loving ideology. People I know, friends of mine, have listed “Democratic Party” as their political view on Facebook! This is not good for the Left.

This may sound perverse, but Obama’s soft imperialism and corporate-rule lite will, I think, offer more spaces for truly progressive organizing—more than Hillary, and certainly McCain, could possibly offer.

Throughout his campaign and once he’s in office progressives have to fight, like we’ve fought every president, for socio-economic justice and a new sustainable economy.

Daniel Denvir is an independent journalist from the United States in Quito, Ecuador and is Editor-in-Chief of He is the 2008 recipient of NACLA's Samuel Chavkin Investigative Journalism Grant.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Fair, if perverse, Use

So, the magic power of google alerts directed me to a blog called Ecuador Investing, where there is a discussion of my recent article on how Correa's embrace of free market, resource extractive developmentalism was alienating indigenous and social movements. The blog post used my article as proof that Correa isn't anyone for investors to be afraid of and that transnational capitalists are still comfortably in charge: "To the benefit of a free market, Mr. Correa’s actions are consistently inconsistent with his populist discourse."

He goes on to celebrate my analysis that Correa, rather than supporting any socio-economic transformation to benefit the country's poor, "intends to 'regulate' not 'nationalize' private enterprise. This regulation will benefit employees, start-up companies, and foreign firms that lack close contact with government insiders."

While the indigenous and environmental movements feel that mining will be an ecological and public health disaster, the blog states, "The new constitution along with Rafael Correa’s focus on development economics should be good for both Ecuador and investors alike."

I feel dirty. My analysis has been used by the forces of evil.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

The Times Has Revelation on Global Economy

The market recognized costs of production are finally starting to catch up to the real costs.

The "new" global economy, fragmenting production across international production chains, has long relied on cheap oil and labor. Social, environmental and deferred economic costs were externalized. Out of sight, out of mind.

Rising oil prices, however, have made long distances long again. Long and expensive.

According to today's remarkably critical article in The Times, "Cheap oil, the lubricant of inexpensive transportation links, may not return soon, upsetting the logic of diffuse global supply chains." I think that is the most intelligent teaser that I've ever read in The Times. Perhaps Thomas Friedman will now announce that the world is, in fact, not flat? 

The article also credits the global movement against neoliberal globalization: "But globalization may be losing some of the inexorable economic power it had for much of the past quarter-century, even as it faces fresh challenges as a political ideology." What they don't say is that some of the ideological challenges that corporate globalization has faced were centered upon pointing out the social, environmental and economic untenability of shipping everything around the world instead of developing local and regional economies.

But they do seem so caught off guard that they quote Lefty economic critic Naomi Klein instead of feeding at the usual neoliberal trough of think tankers. It even refers to the movement against the free market orthodoxy in the Global South. Corporate press typically describes "protectionism" in the U.S. and Europe as being the main 'obstacle to helping' developing countries through "free" trade. As unpopular as NAFTA is in the U.S., it is far more detested in Mexico.

But the global movement against corporate globalization is getting a boost from market realities. A report cited in the article states, "The cost of moving goods, not the cost of tariffs, is the largest barrier to global trade today has effectively offset all the trade liberalization efforts of the last three decades."

A first piece of realism appeared in June.  Dan Koeppel wrote an Op-Ed explaining how rising oil prices might some day not too far into the distant future push the price of a pound of bananas to $1. 

Today's article also does a decent job on food, saying that increasing transportation costs may fuel the local food movement. Living in Ecuador, I'm getting my fill of bananas now, before I move back to the States in January.

It is, of course, easier for The Times to be progressive on food issues. Michael Pollan's excellent and quite radical critique of industrial agriculture is acceptable because, for many yuppies, local is the new organic. If the same level of critique was permitted on the topics of labor exploitation and US imperialism, the editorial page would be a way different place. 

But maybe increasingly harsh economic realities will mean more honest reporting on globalization? We'll see.