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Scumbag dictators, um, I mean, fine leaders of nations 2010-Sep-08 at 00:10 PST

Posted by Scott Arbeit in Blog.
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My brilliant and beautiful girlfriend, Lauren, had an interesting reaction to my post from Monday.  I thought I should answer it here, and since I promised her that I wouldn’t take what she wrote to me out of context (well, I promised that after I told her that I totally would), here is the important part in its entirety:

So now I want to suggest that when you open your whole piece on Chavez and Venezuela by issuing the declaration that he’s a scumbag, you accept and perpetuate a frame that does not encourage or enact taking the view from love. That’s the way it feels to me. Scorn and rejection, embodied by name-calling, seem to have power, but actually have the effect in my opinion of weakening your effectiveness and influence, because it comes across as inconsistency and hypocrisy, because it has the feel of reaction and closure, not response and openness. Which feels like a lesser integrity if not a lack of integrity. Which makes some people less open to considering your views. Why should we discuss GW [Bush] respectfully, with willingness to seek to understand, while you exempt Chavez from this same respect and care? I want to be inspired to dig deeper in myself, to look at where I excuse myself from the call to love without condition, no exceptions. What inspires me most and will be most likely to call me to that level of integrity is witnessing it in others. So, where you are coming from seems to me to be deeply understandable, but I want to suggest that it is not the highest level of power you can come from.

And, no, we’re not in a fight or anything. :-)

So… I’m not sure if I’ll be able to win this one, but here’s what I’m thinking.

Let’s say that I call Kim Jong-Il a scumbag dictator.  Which I do.  The suffering of the North Korean people under the rule of this crime family is unimaginable.  North Koreans are 5 to 6 inches shorter than their cousins in South Korea, due to malnutrition.  Their IQ’s are 10-20 points lower.  Two million people have died from starvation and torture under his rule.  That’s twice as many as Saddam Hussein was responsible for killing, and Saddam is already a first-ballot Scumbag Hall of Famer.  His regime is responsible for selling hard drugs around the world to raise cash, and for selling nuclear technology to anyone willing to pay for it.

In other words, the very existence of the Kim regime in North Korea is a mortal threat to North Korea’s population specifically, and to the world as a whole.  I consider it to be a top foreign-policy objective of the United States and of Europe to end his family’s reign over North Korea, and to move towards Korean reunification.  The very minute that China entertains the idea of finally getting involved militarily in solving this problem, I consider it to be the United States’ highest military priority to move in, secure the country with the help of the Chinese, and to organize the logistics required to move towards a swift reunification with South Korea, along with creating a strong economic relationship between Korea and China.

With all of that said, can I take the view from love on Kim Jong-Il?  Well, yes, I can.  I can see him as a deeply wounded soul, someone who grew up as the son of a dictator (remember Uday and Qusay?), and who therefore never had the chance to develop a healthy sense of empathy.  I can see his soul as one that must now carry a lot of karma for endless lifetimes.  I can hold the story that his soul agreed to this incarnation before he came in, and that when his soul leaves the body it will remember the agreements it made.

I can hold all of that and more about poor little Jong-Il, and yet I also feel morally compelled to hold the position that, in this world, his continued existence remains a mortal threat to peace and stability around the world, perhaps more than any other single human being.  And, if I had the chance, I’d kill him… with my bare hands if I had to.

To me, the view from love suggests that a wake-up call is required around him and around this issue.  It boggles my mind how many people I talk to just aren’t aware of how bad it is in North Korea.  If calling him a scumbag shocks a reader into noticing, then I guess I’m all for it.  Perhaps there’s a more skillful way to do it – I could call him a worthless mother-fucking piece-of-shit scumbag dictator, perhaps – but until I find it, my current level of skill will have to do.

Along the same lines, let’s say I call Robert Mugabe a scumbag dictator.  Which I do.  He’s run the once-thriving economy of Zimbabwe into the ground, running the annual inflation rate up to 89,700,000,000,000,000,000,000% (that’s not a typo – 89.7 sextillion %), while allowing unemployment to skyrocket to over 94%, while enriching himself with as much of the nation’s wealth as he could.  He’s killed or imprisoned every political opponent he could over the last three decades, including the severe beating of, and then assassination attempt on, Morgan Tsvangirai, his supposed partner in a power-sharing government, in which Mr. Tsvangirai’s beloved wife, Susan, was killed.

Now, Mugabe isn’t quite the level of scumbag that Kim Jong-Il is, but that’s kind of like saying that Kerry Wood isn’t Sandy Koufax.  I mean, no one is Sandy Koufax.  But, still, Mugabe is a complete scumbag, and responsible for the suffering of millions of people in his own country, and in neighboring countries in Africa.  Again, can I take the view from love on him, and see his personal suffering in this lifetime?  Sure, I could.  But, again, so few of the people I speak to are even remotely aware of what he’s done to Zimbabwe (much less locate it on a map) that I’m choosing to shout about it rather than starting by being reasonable about it.

And, so, when I call Hugo Chávez a scumbag dictator (which I do)… again, he hasn’t quite inflicted the level of pain on Venezuela – yet – that Mugabe has on Zimbabwe.  And he’s nowhere near Kim Jong-Il on the scumbag list.  Hell, he’d have to get busy for the rest of his life to catch up to Kim on that score.  But… he has effectively had himself declared ruler-for-life, he’s shut down opposition media outlets, he’s had political opponents arrested and imprisoned, he’s run the Venezuelan economy into the ground, his policies have created food and energy shortages for his people, he’s responsible for a murder rate that puts Venezuela near the top of the list of most dangerous places to live, he’s been caught red-handed funding a terrorist insurgency inside of Colombia, he’s just begun to introduce cards that eventually will be used for food rationing, he’s demonized everyone in the Western world who could help him run things more effectively, and on and on.

We’ve seen this pattern before.  We know where it’s going.  We know the kind of limited mind that’s behind it.  And I think that we have a responsibility, globally, to ensure that the suffering in Venezuela doesn’t reach the level of Zimbabwe or, God forbid, North Korea, before we do something about it.  And so, I’m choosing to shout about it now, before it’s too late.

And if I’m losing power by calling him a scumbag dictator… I mean, what does it take to be a scumbag dictator these days?  What should I call him?  Just a dictator, without the scumbag?  Should I simply refer to him as the current President of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela?

I just don’t feel that way… I think having him in power is a deeply destabilizing force both for Venezuela and for South America as a whole.  The poor Colombians… it must suck to have Chávez for a next-door neighbor.

And, to me, anyone who draws any parallels between any of these three and President George W. Bush is just being intellectually dishonest, and immediately loses me.  President Bush made mistakes, like all Presidents do, but to accuse him of holding the kind of contempt for his fellow man that Kim, Mugabe, and Chávez do, well… that’s projection, and I can’t go there with you.  Dictators are special, and deserve special consideration.  And, in case you didn’t notice… President Bush wasn’t a dictator.  We don’t have dictators in the United States.  He served his terms in office, and left peacefully, and now we have a new President.  I like our new President quite a bit better, but I don’t demonize our previous one.

But, Kim, Mugabe, and Chávez?  Yeah, to me, and to their populations, and their neighbors, they are demons that ought to be removed from power for the safety and peace of the entire world.  I can’t see a level of development other than Green that wouldn’t agree.

And I hope Lauren will still talk to me after this…. :-P

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Venezuela – Murders, electricity rationing, and now food rationing 2010-Sep-06 at 13:23 PST

Posted by Scott Arbeit in Blog.
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We already know that Venezuela, under scumbag dictator Hugo Chávez, has become the world’s most violent place to live, with four times the number of civilian deaths from violence in 2009 than Iraq, and 63% more homicides since 2007 than even Mexico, with its out-of-control drug-related violence.

Caracas itself is almost unrivaled among large cities in the Americas for its homicide rate, which currently stands at around 200 per 100,000 inhabitants, according to Roberto Briceño-León, the sociologist at the Central University of Venezuela who directs the violence observatory.

That compares with recent measures of 22.7 per 100,000 people in Bogotá, Colombia’s capital, and 14 per 100,000 in São Paulo, Brazil’s largest city. As Mr. Chávez’s government often points out, Venezuela’s crime problem did not emerge overnight, and the concern over murders preceded his rise to power.

But scholars here describe the climb in homicides in the past decade as unprecedented in Venezuelan history; the number of homicides last year was more than three times higher than when Mr. Chávez was elected in 1998.

Chávez’s official response to newspapers reporting that story was to order them to stop publishing photographs of the murders, but what would you expect from an incompetent government whose only remaining backer is the equally confused Oliver Stone?

"Forget the hundreds of children who die from stray bullets, or the kids who go through the horror of seeing their parents or older siblings killed before their eyes," said Teodoro Petkoff, the editor of another newspaper here, mocking the court’s decision in a front-page editorial. "Their problem is the photograph."

The electricity rationing is starting to ease, but in a nation that previously was prosperous, and is one of the largest energy-producers in the world, it’s an embarrassment and a symbol of the incompetence that Chávez brings through his dictatorship.

Now, however, we move to an even deeper sign of desperation and grasping at control… and one that all dictatorial regimes eventually turn to: food rationing.  From Venezuela introduces Cuba-like food card, by Antonio Maria Delgado, 03-Sep-2010

Presented by President Hugo Chávez as an instrument to make shopping for groceries easier, the "Good Life Card" is making various segments of the population wary because they see it as a furtive attempt to introduce a rationing card similar to the one in Cuba.

The measure could easily become a mechanism to control the population, according to civil society groups.

"We see that in short-term this could become a rationing card probably similar to the one used in Cuba," Roberto León Parilli, president of the National Association of Users and Consumers, told El Nuevo Herald. "It would use more advanced technological means [than those used in Cuba], but when they tell you where to buy and what the limits of what you can buy are, they are conditioning your purchases."

And although the cards were introduced [in Cuba] as a mechanism to deal with scarcities, Suchlicki said, they later became an instrument of control.

"People depended on the government to eat, and nothing gives you more power than having people depend on you to get their food quota," he said.

As I frequently point out… it’s just a matter of time until Venezuela becomes a state like North Korea or Zimbabwe, thoroughly controlled by an oppressive regime, economically and socially run into the ground, and desperately in need of international intervention to save its population.  The sooner we deal with him, the less the damage, and the suffering, will be.  And the suffering is already great.

Chávez continues to screw Venezuela into the ground 2010-Jan-08 at 23:55 PST

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Chávez Devalues Currency Amid Oil Fall, by Simon Romero, 08-Jan-2010

“This announcement does not transmit confidence in economic stability,” said Orlando Ochoa, an independent economist here. “There is still no program in place to control inflation.”

But other subsidies, including a policy that keeps gasoline priced at less than 10 cents a gallon, drain resources. And private businesses here, fearful of abrupt nationalizations and expropriation threats by Mr. Chávez, are hesitant to increase investments, denying the economy a source of vitality at a time of stagnation and high inflation.

Venezuela is a train-wreck in slow motion.  It does provide an interesting economic case for intervention.  Now that he’s gotten himself elected as leader-for-life (although he claims there are free elections), I wonder if and when the world will begin to look at what he’s done and decide that it’s best for the stability of all of South America that he goes away.  He’s already removed almost all opposition media, and imposed new ways of appointing politicians so he controls them.  Will it take until he declares himself supreme leader and suspends all civil rights?  Will it take until he declares martial law?  Will he have to go to war with Colombia before it happens?  Will it take mass starvation due to his inept policies?  Or will we all just watch as millions of people suffer under one of the most repressive regimes in the world over the next ten to twenty years?

The longer he’s around, the more difficult the job will be to get Venezuela reconnected to globalization.  The infrastructure there is already crumbling, the stores already have shortages of everything.  The only thing they have that connects them with the world is oil… just like the Middle Eastern nations that we already know are in desperate need of reform.