Friday, June 29, 2007

Supreme Court decision on school integration

It is important to select and fight current battles based upon the reality of our cities, not based upon how segregation worked prior to 1954.
I am not certain how this decision will impact mega cities like New York, Boston, etc. In mid sized cities like Sacramento, Seattle, Louisville, all of the high schools are integrated. In Sacramento they range from 25% Latino, 23 % African American, 26% Asian, 24% Anglo. Each category ranges up and down 10- 15 %. Elementary schools are far more diverse. So, each school will have a minority population of at least 45%. The argument is that an Anglo student should not be allowed to transfer out of a school if it impacts the demographics of the school. So, the debate is should a student be restricted if he chooses to move from a school that is 20% Anglo to a school that is 40% Anglo. Unlike prior to Brown: there are no all white schools in the cities. There are overwhelmingly white schools in the suburbs, but since these are in separate districts, the court long ago decided that governments could not mandate across district integration.
The Brown decision said that separate and equal was never equal, and it mandated forms of integration. What we have now is integrated and unequal- and the urban schools have a series of crises. Until we begin to provide quality schooling in our urban schools, until we act upon the unequal part of the Brown decision, we really are not making much progress.
Duane Campbell

Thursday, June 28, 2007

SEIU and Andy Stern : Savior or Sellout?

> Andy Stern: Savior or Sellout?
>> [from the July 16, 2007 issue]
>> When Andy Stern, president of the Service Employees International
>> Union (SEIU), and Lee Scott, CEO of Wal-Mart, appeared onstage
>> together in early May, the pairing drew attention. The occasion
>> was a lunchtime meeting of Better Health Care Together, a
>> coalition of business, labor and political leaders, at a Hilton
>> hotel in New York City. Stern had initiated the coalition with a
>> letter to all the Fortune 500 CEOs inviting them to work with him
>> on a solution to the nation's healthcare crisis. He says he was
>> surprised that Wal-Mart--and so many other companies--responded.
>> "When I write letters to CEOs," he explains matter-of-factly, "I
>> usually don't get a response."
>> Outside the Hilton, several hundred men and women wearing United
>> Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) T-shirts, some of whom had come
>> all the way from Maine and Pennsylvania, picketed the event,
>> objecting to the "hypocrisy" of Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott's
>> appearance. Scott is accustomed to dodging protesters; his company
>> has been engaged in a bitter public relations battle with the UFCW
>> for years, with the union charging that Wal-Mart routinely
>> violates the right to organize and offers stingy health benefits.
>> But the Wal-Mart boss wasn't the only target of righteous ire t! hat
>> day. The union activists were also upset about the presence of
>> Andy Stern. "People feel he has sacrificed some of the basic
>> principles of the labor movement" by appearing onstage with the
>> Wal-Mart CEO, said Pat Purcell, an organizer of the Hilton picket.
>> One of those principles is solidarity. "Our union is losing
>> members every single day because of Wal-Mart," explains Purcell,
>> director of special projects for UFCW Local 1500. "When we ask for
>> help from other unions, we don't mean, You can have lunch with
>> them but not dinner!" Though Purcell says he has "great respect"
>> for Stern, he and other unionists feel that Stern enabled a public
>> relations stunt by Wal-Mart, aimed at making the company look
>> socially responsible.
>> Inside the Hilton, Stern was more popular. Over a dry repast of
>> chicken, Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell hailed Andy Stern and
>> Lee Scott as "the odd couple of healthcare." Stern beamed when
>> Arnold Schwarzenegger, who spoke by satellite, thanked him for his
>> "great leadership."
>> To be fair, this moment aside, Stern's relationship with Wal-Mart
>> is hardly chummy. SEIU continues to fund Wal-Mart Watch, an
>> organization dedicated to relentless criticism of the retailer's
>> practices, and this year the union will allocate more funding than
>> ever to such efforts. In March Stern gave a speech at a Bank of
>> America gathering blasting Wal-Mart for undermining "fair
>> competition" and adopting practices that were "bad for business
>> overall."
>> But many in the labor movement view Stern's overtures to Scott as
>> typical manifestations of his business-friendly unionism, more
>> focused on partnering with employe! rs than on joining other
>> progressives in a struggle against corporate power. Stern's 2006
>> book, A Country That Works, is full of statements like "employees
>> and employers need organizations that solve problems, not create
>> them" and "all parties want a mutually beneficial relationship
>> based on teamwork." (Sometimes the business-speak in this book
>> reaches comic proportions; at one point Stern praises civil rights
>> icon Jackie Robinson as "a change agent who endured indignities as
>> a pathbreaker.") Stern has unsettled many of his staff by publicly
>> suggesting that he might not be against Social Security
>> privatization or school vouchers (one organizer in the Midwest
>> probably speaks for nearly everyone in SEIU in calling such
>> statements "a bunch of fact we are against those
>> things"). Paul Krehbiel, an organizer who until recently worked
>> for SEIU Local 660 in Southern California, points out that Stern
>> briefly attended the Wharton business school before becoming a
>> social worker: "Andy's just doing what he started out doing. He
>> loves the business community!" Rose Ann DeMoro, executive director
>> of the California Nurses Association (which competes with SEIU to
>> organize nurses), bluntly calls Stern "the neocon of the labor
>> movement."
>> Many progressives would be startled by DeMoro's characterization
>> of Andy Stern. His union is the employer of choice for many
>> idealistic college graduates. That's only in part because the
>> membership of SEIU--African-Americans and immigrants toiling in
>> underpaid jobs--inspires a natural solidarity from the left. It's
>> also because Stern's personal style is agreeable to middle-class
>> progress! ives. Th e 1960s-generation, University of Pennsylvania-
>> educated former social worker is reflective and contemporary, not
>> macho or swaggering like many old-school union leaders. He's also
>> willing to try new things, and like many of his generation harbors
>> a profound contempt for stagnant bureaucracy. These attitudes can
>> be refreshing in a labor leader. Even photo ops with Scott can be
>> attributed to this aspect of his temperament: When Stern is asked
>> about his perceived coziness with business, he is quick to insist
>> that he is pragmatic, often using phrases like "it's not academic"
>> or "these are real-life choices" to suggest that critics are
>> ideologues or pie-in-the-sky idealists.
>> Stern is also an internationalist. He's assigned SEIU staff to
>> Australia, Poland,England, India, France, Switzerland, Germany,
>> the Netherlands and South America, with an eye to running global
>> campaigns pressuring multinational employers. As Stern explains in
>> his book, "Imagine simultaneous protests on service contractors'
>> global clients, or outsourcing strikes to countries where strikes
>> are legal and will not provoke government retaliation." When SEIU
>> was having trouble organizing American security guards employed by
>> the Swedish firm Securitas, it sought help from the Swedish
>> Transport Workers Union, which had a good relationship with the
>> company. Securitas agreed to drop its opposition to the union drive.
>> More controversially, Stern has formed relationships with the
>> Chinese state union, which has been been criticized for helping
>> the government suppress workers' rights. Stern, who played a key
>> role in forcing Wal-Mart to allow the union into its Chinese
>> stor! es, beli eves that a cold-war approach to China is obsolete.
>> When I interviewed him, he had just returned from his sixth trip
>> to China. "Our members and their members work for the same
>> employers," he explained. "I just think workers' solidarity has a
>> lot more possibilities when you're not dealing with ideology."
>> Another reason to cheer for Stern is that in a time of dismally
>> declining union density, SEIU under his leadership has added
>> members and seen some victories, improving the lives of home
>> health aides, janitors and security guards, some of the country's
>> most exploited workers. In May, for example, 4,000 Los
>> Angelessecurity guards joined SEIU as part of a nationwide
>> campaign to raise standards in that industry. Ruth Milkman,
>> director of the UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and
>> Employment, has called SEIU a "model of dynamic unionism,"
>> pointing out that "no other union has been more effective in
>> organizing the unorganized in recent years."
>> But many observers wonder what Stern's new federation, Change to
>> Win (CTW)--founded with great fanfare when he led six other unions
>> in a split from the AFL-CIO in September 2005--has thus far
>> accomplished. ("Press releases," grumbles one internal skeptic.
>> "Where is it headed? is something a lot of people here are
>> asking.") Milkman, who championed the formation of CTW in
>> articles, op-eds and scholarly work, calls it "a bit early to
>> assess this" but agrees that "it is fair to say that, to date,
>> there is not much to point to in the way of concrete organizing
>> victories that were the work of Change to Win itself."
>> Within SEIU most people agree that Stern has been quite successful
>! ;> in implementing what is often referred to by his union's foot
>> soldiers as "the program": building density in the union's three
>> industries, building services--the public sector and (most of all)
>> healthcare. During his tenure, the union has grown by 980,000
>> workers (some of that growth has come about through mergers, but
>> the "vast majority," according to SEIU communications director
>> Steve Trossman, are newly organized members).
>> Stern believes that unions are losing political power--and
>> bargaining power--because they represent a declining share of the
>> population (at present, 12 percent of the workforce and 7 percent
>> of private-sector workers). More controversially, he believes the
>> only way to reverse this sorry state of affairs is to sign up more
>> members by just about any means necessary. Many within SEIU worry
>> that this near-exclusive focus on growth is hampering the union's
>> ability to serve its existing members; they observe that with more
>> resources directed to organizing, and more emphasis on
>> consolidating small locals into larger organizations, it's
>> becoming harder for workers to find their union rep or file a
>> simple grievance. If union members don't feel the union is serving
>> them, organizers say, they begin to ask why they are paying dues.
>> Former SEIU organizer Krehbiel points out that in Stern's "200
>> page book, if there was half a page about current dues-paying
>> members, that was quite a bit." Stern acknowledges the problem,
>> but says, "You can't be islands of strength in a nonunion sea....
>> The history of the labor movement is that we polish the pearls we
>> have rather than trying to extend what we have to other people."
>> Stern is ! also com ing under fire within the labor movement for, as
>> CNA's De Moro puts it, "organizing corporations, not workers."
>> Perhaps because Stern's views on these issues are so public, he's
>> come to personify an increasingly common phenomenon in unions: a
>> "partnership" approach to employers. Often, this means that
>> companies agree to recognize the union if a majority of workers
>> sign cards ("card check") in return for concessions from the union
>> that will help boost company profits. Many organizers--inside and
>> outside SEIU--say that workers signed up for union membership in
>> this manner aren't as committed to the union as those who have won
>> membership themselves, through a fight in which they were
>> personally engaged. This matters especially when the "partnership"
>> sours and the union faces a decertification campaign. Krehbiel
>> acknowledges that workers signed up for SEIU in this way are
>> "better off" than they would be without the union. But, using a
>> metaphor evoked by several other people interviewed for this
>> article, he said of Stern's emphasis on density, "He's building
>> this huge shell, hoping the size will somehow carry us."
>> To many others, the idea of post-class-conflict partnership
>> obviates a union's most basic purpose: to defend workers'
>> interests. To DeMoro, Stern's view of a union's role amounts
>> simply to supplying capital with workers--and managing those
>> workers. "To him, the union is just a human resources department,"
>> she says. "Or a temp agency." (DeMoro is an outspoken Stern
>> critic. But committed SEIU staff members interviewed for this
>> article--mostly on the condition of anonymity--shared most of her
>> concerns. As if they were working for ! Wackenhu t or Wal-Mart, some
>> were even afraid to communicate using SEIU e-mail addresses or
>> phones.)
>> But there's an even more controversial aspect to Stern's
>> commitment to "partnerships." In his book, Stern writes that
>> unions should "add value" to companies and assist "employers in
>> overcoming unnecessary legislative and political obstacles to
>> their success." These ideas have played out in recent contracts.
>> Internal memos--obtained by SF Weekly--show that two large SEIU
>> locals had made a deal with a group of California nursing homes,
>> in which SEIU agreed that workers would not speak out publicly
>> against abuse of patients, or health code violations, and would
>> lobby for limiting patients' right to sue. (SEIU later backed out
>> of its commitment to tort reform.) In exchange, the union could
>> organize a certain number of nursing homes without interference.
>> The SF Weekly story was based in part on an internal report from
>> one of the largest locals involved in the deal, United Healthcare
>> Workers West (UHW-West).
>> Such deals raise questions about how far unions should go in this
>> vaunted pursuit of density. Many wonder if it is wise in the long
>> run to act against progressive ideals in order to win new members.
>> Working against patients' rights could, after all, alienate
>> natural allies. Backroom moves like this also undermine the
>> union's efforts to emphasize common interests among healthcare
>> workers and patients. In June SEIU launched SEIU Healthcare, which
>> will push for reforms like improved nursing staff-patient ratios
>> and more training for nurses, changes that would be in the
>> interest of members and would also, as SEIU's Steve Tro! ssman is
>> quick to point out, "improve the quality of care."
>> When I asked Andy Stern about the deal discussed in the UHW-West
>> memo and the SF Weekly article, his response was strange and
>> contradictory. He at once questioned whether SEIU had in fact made
>> such a deal, claimed he wasn't familiar with the details and
>> blamed the local. (Much of the criticism of the nursing home
>> deals--inside and outside SEIU--has been directed personally
>> toward Stern, and it is clear from some UHW internal documents
>> that the local holds the international at least partly
>> responsible.) Stern admitted that sacrificing principles for
>> growth is a danger in partnership deals but pointed to the
>> complexity of organizing in today's workplace: "Here's the
>> question we face. Ninety percent of nursing home workers in this
>> country live pretty much in poverty. Don't have unions. Don't have
>> healthcare. All of our activities to date to solve that part of
>> the problem have not worked. So every day, nursing home workers go
>> to work and they're poor." To some organizing in the SEIU
>> trenches, their boss's realism resonates--to a point. "We've
>> negotiated some really shitty contracts," says one staff member.
>> "Sometimes you have no choice--you just keep trying to build
>> density and hope you build enough power to get a better deal next
>> time." But even this veteran of labor realpolitik said he was
>> surprised by the California contract: "The tort reform is bad!"
>> What's more, Stern's business-friendly orientation appears to
>> influence his approach to national policy questions. More
>> problematic than the photo-ops with Lee Scott, Stern's crusade for
>> "healthcare reform" is v! ague ("n ot even an inch deep," according
>> to one SEIU researcher). His support for any sort of change has
>> been promiscuous: He's praised Mitt Romney's Massachusetts plan
>> and Arnold Schwarzenegger's proposal in California, which have
>> been criticized as giveaways to the insurance industry and don't
>> adequately address affordability or cost issues. Asked if the
>> Better Health Care Together Coalition has agreed on anything more
>> than the fact that there is a problem, Stern says, "That's
>> probably all we will agree on." Of a single-payer system, Stern
>> said in a speech given at the Brookings Institution, "I think we
>> need to find a new system that is not built on the back of the
>> government. I am here to also say I don't think we need to import
>> Canada or any other system." One SEIU staff member says sadly of
>> such comments, Stern "doesn't hold social democracy in high regard."
>> Stern is not oblivious to the suffering caused by health insurance
>> companies denying care--a problem that none of the incremental
>> plans he supports can address. But to him, the problem of insuring
>> the uninsured is the paramount moral question: "It's a question
>> of, How are we going to get everybody covered?" Then, Stern
>> thinks, something more like a single-payer system will be more
>> politically palatable: "Once we have everybody covered we're going
>> to realize there are more efficient ways and less efficient ways.
>> More costly and less costly ways to do it."
>> Stern's views on this are significant because several other major
>> labor unions and other progressive groups--buoyed by Michael
>> Moore's new movie--have been campaigning to pass single-payer
>> healthcare in California. SB 840! , writte n by State Senator Sheila
>> Kuehl, passed the State Senate, 23 to 15, in early June and is
>> headed to the Assembly. Given the tremendous public interest in
>> and the widespread frustration with the current system, many
>> activists think we have the best opportunity in years for
>> comprehensive reform. Stern's lack of enthusiasm for single-payer
>> healthcare is one of the main reasons the California Nurses
>> Association, a longtime independent union, joined the AFL-CIO this
>> year when that federation agreed to support single-payer.
>> Explaining why it is so important that unions work toward this
>> goal, CNA's DeMoro, whose union is leading theCalifornia fight,
>> explains, "There has never [in any country] been a single-payer
>> healthcare system without the labor movement."
>> To the CNA, Stern's refusal to put his political weight behind
>> single-payer is unconscionable. "The single biggest obstacle to
>> single-payer healthcare in this country," says Michael Lighty,
>> CNA's policy director, "is Andy Stern." I laugh at this, thinking
>> of a few others (the insurance industry and American
>> individualist, anti-government ideology, to name a couple). But
>> DeMoro clarifies her colleague's point with an analysis of the
>> current fight in California: Stern "is the biggest obstacle to
>> moving the Dems, because he gives them cover to do nothing."
>> However, when asked about single-payer, Stern insists he's not
>> against it: "We supported Howard Dean, and he was for single-
>> payer." (In fact, when Dean ran for President, he said he would
>> not propose such a system, because it wouldn't pass Congress. He
>> also said, "I do not believe in free healthcare or free
>> anything...! . If you want to totally reform the healthcare system,
>> I'm not your guy.") More significant, Stern claims that in
>> California SEIU has been lobbying for Sheila Kuehl's bill and
>> expects to support some version of the governor's as well. Indeed,
>> besides the CNA, he boasts, SEIU is "probably the leading
>> supporter" of the single-payer bill. Those involved in pushing for
>> that bill in Sacramento were, to put it mildly, surprised by this
>> contention (reactions ranged from "outrageous" to "bullshit--
>> absolutely not!"). SEIU has turned out members to some hearings in
>> support of the bill but has not otherwise been active in the
>> fight. Yet Stern's statement is, in a Clintonian way, true: SEIU
>> has formally endorsed SB 840 and is one of the largest
>> organizations to do so.
>> Nationally, Stern says, SEIU is supporting a single-payer
>> "Expanded and Improved Medicare for All" bill introduced by
>> Representative John Conyers, in addition to several other
>> healthcare proposals moving through Congress. Defending his
>> strategy of lobbying for multiple, often conflicting, reforms,
>> Stern is (almost) self-deprecating: "People at the Brookings
>> Institution joke, Next month we're going to have four different
>> proposals about universal healthcare and Andy Stern's going to be
>> supporting all four." To justify his support of tepid reforms,
>> Stern tells me several heartbreaking stories about people he has
>> met who have no healthcare, including a man in Minnesota who sat
>> with his wife at the kitchen table and decided which of their kids
>> was least likely to get sick, since they couldn't afford to insure
>> all of them. Of the Massachusetts plan, Stern argues, "People are
>> working n! ow, thro ugh a political process, particularly now that we
>> have a new governor there, to make it better. Most states have
>> nothing to make better. Is it better to be in Massachusetts with
>> someone trying to make it better, or waiting forCalifornia to pass
>> single-payer? I don't know." He adds defensively, "We are not
>> going to let the perfect become the enemy of the good on this issue."
>> Within SEIU, the rumor mill hums with speculation that Andy Stern
>> has ambitions beyond the union. Certainly, some of his rhetoric
>> and triangulation make him sound like a politician, but Stern
>> denies any plans to step down from SEIU or seek public office.
>> Labor dissidents can denounce him as a sellout, and of course some
>> will. But they could also read Andy Stern as a sign of the times.
>> When Stern makes compromises that cause fellow progressives and
>> unionists to cringe, it's because he doesn't think there are other
>> ways for the labor movement to grow. He speaks of unions "adding
>> value" to corporate enterprises and crusades for dubious, middle-
>> of-the-road reforms because he doesn't think there is any other
>> language, or any other ideas, that will resonate with Washington
>> policy-makers. An effective grassroots movement for social
>> democracy could change that. The rumblings of discontent within
>> SEIU--and the growing movement for real healthcare reform
>> inCalifornia--may be hopeful signs. Stern is a close reader of the
>> zeitgeist. As Rose Ann DeMoro says, "If he sees the tide is
>> turning, he'll change."

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Villobos on Chavez

From Marc Cooper's blog:
Villalobos V. Chavez

Joaquin Villalobos, the former commander of the Salvadoran FMLN
guerrilla army, takes on Hugo Chavez in this tangy opinion piece
(which I had the fun of translating).

Back in 1988 I had the privilege of doing the first American TV
interview with Joaquin (for PBS Frontline) -- and I never regretted
the four days of hiking through mountainous war-torn northeastern El
Salvador (along with $100k in TV equipment) that it entailed.

Villalobos was -- and is-- a fascinating intellect. And on the
surface, about 150 times brighter than the brutish Mr. Chavez. After
participating in the historic 1992 peace talks that ended the
Salvadoran civil war, Joaquin hung up his guns and uniform and entered
civilian political life. Along with most of the top guerrilla
leadership, he left the FMLN and he attempted the formation of new,
more democratic progressive political force. It didn't go very far,

He did, however.

Completing his studies at Oxford, Villalobos is now one of the more
sought-after consultants on security and development in Latin America.
He takes a lot of gruff from various U.S. and European arm chair
revolutionaries -- fantasits who are all for "people's war" so long as
other people are fighting it.

Having led one of the most tenacious, and in many ways. one of the
most successful insurgencies of the past 25 years, Villalobos prefers
to draw some sober lessons from the entire experience.

Anyway, his thoughts on Chavez should be taken quite seriously.

The Nation
Revolution in Venezuela?

Joaquín Villalobos

This essay originally appeared in the Madrid daily El País. Translated
by Marc Cooper
Hugo Chávez has committed a grave error in closing down the opposition
TV station, which has been on the air a half-century. Like it or not,
this was not a frontal attack on the economic elite but rather a blow
to the cultural identity of millions of Venezuelans--and it will have
severe consequences for the government. Trying to replace popular soap
operas and game shows watched by the poor with pathetic
"revolutionary" programming is as bad as leaving them without food.

What Chávez has got wrong is his belief that he has made a revolution
when in fact he's simply won some elections. And even those victories
are more attributable to an arrogant, bejeweled opposition that lacks
mass adherents than to Chávez. This has allowed Chávez to dominate
some state institutions and to change some of the rules of the game,
but it doesn't give him the leverage needed to impose the sort of
drastic ideological sea change he clearly intends.

In Venezuela there has been no revolutionary rupture, as there was in
Cuba and Nicaragua, two countries where there was no democratic
history. In Cuba the change was violent and encompassing; all of the
institutions were recast. And to date there is no real Cuban
opposition--nor are there real elections, freedom of the press or
private property. In Nicaragua the change was equally violent, and
though mistreated, the institutions of press freedom, political
opposition, elections and private property all survived.

Venezuela might be experiencing a period of extreme polarization and
social conflict, but that is not a revolution. In revolutionary times,
violence becomes prevalent, first in the form of rebellion and later
in the form of counterrevolution. So far in Venezuela, political
violence has been more verbal than material.

Forty years of peaceful transitions of government power created a
democratic culture among Venezuelans that has, fortunately until now,
made violence unnecessary. The rule of law might be weak, but there is
nevertheless the rule of law. The mistake made by the opposition in
the attempted coup of 2002 was precisely to undervalue this democratic
tradition. Overthrowing governments is no easy task, nor is peacefully
modifying the basic pillars on which they are built. A revolutionary
rupture creates a situation of great social exaltation that--for
better and worse--opens up spaces to change many things, including
prevailing ideologies and cultural traditions. But short of
revolution, these things are difficult to change.

Anticapitalist revolutions are fueled more by dictatorships than by
poverty. In Venezuela there was no dictatorship, and poverty was not
key to Chávez's ascent. Every revolution imposes austerity, and this
is something to which Venezuelans on the right and left remain immune.
Venezuela is not an industrial capitalist state but rather one of
export and consumerism. Chávez is strengthening the economic role of
the state, redistributing oil income and forming new economic elites,
all mixed with doses of populism, corruption and business
opportunities. All this is new--but it is not revolution and it is not

Chávez lacks a revolutionary party and instead depends on a fragmented
political structure rife with different ideologies. To his right is
the military, to his left some intellectuals and below him a
politically diverse base. Converting this into a unified party would
mean butting heads with a lot of local bosses who like to disagree.
Chavismo has accomplished something important by giving power and
identity to thousands of Venezuelans who had been marginalized, but it
is not cohesive, either ideologically or historically. Rather, it is
held together by petrodollars.

Nor does Chávez have a revolutionary army. On the contrary, the army
has defeated him twice (1992 and 2002). The complicity of the army
with Chávez today rests solely on weapons purchases, and that is much
more about corruption than about preparing for war. It's exactly this
sort of privileged corruption that closes the path to authentic
revolutionary change. The Venezuelan military will neither kill nor
die for Hugo Chávez.

Fidel Castro survived all the many attempts on his life. Daniel Ortega
led a successful insurrection in Nicaragua and Evo Morales made a
swift transition from the barricades to the presidency of Bolivia.
Chávez, by contrast, sells oil to the Americans; on two occasions he
surrendered to his enemies with no fight; and he currently sleeps with
an enemy army. This pushes him to engage in public provocations in
order to burnish his revolutionary credentials, as he has by insulting
George W. Bush. Attacks strengthen Chávez. Tolerance weakens him.
Chávez needs external enemies to help him hide the corruption of his
own functionaries, the incompetence of his government, the division
among his supporters and the lack of security in the streets of Caracas.

With his latest acts Chávez has turned the process of accumulation of
forces against himself and has suddenly revitalized a demoralized
opposition. Maybe he will be able to make some more changes in
Venezuela. But he will never be able to get rid of elections. And as
long as there are elections, there will be no permanent majorities, no
fraud so great as to be insurmountable, no set of alliances that are
eternal. Oil money can help Chávez do many things--but it will never
be enough to buy himself a revolution.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Venezuela Media Conflict

Venezuela and the Media: Fact and Fiction

by Robert McChesney and Mark Weisbrot - June 1, 2007

To read and view the U.S. news media over the past week, there is an episode of grand tyranny unfolding, one repugnant to all who cherish democratic freedoms. The Venezuelan government under "strongman" Hugo Chavez refused to renew the 20-year broadcast license for RCTV, because that medium had the temerity to be critical of his regime. It is a familiar story.

And in this case it is wrong.

Regrettably, the US media coverage of Venezuela’s RCTV controversy says more about the deficiencies of our own news media that it does about Venezuela. It demonstrates again, as with the invasion of Iraq, how our news media are far too willing to carry water for Washington than to ascertain and report the truth of the matter.

Here are some of the facts and some of the context that the media have omitted or buried:

1. All nations license radio and TV stations because the airwaves can only accommodate a small number of broadcasters, far fewer than the number who would like to have the privilege to broadcast. In democratic nations the license is given for a specific term, subject to renewal. In the United States it is eight years; in Venezuela it is 20 years.

2. Venezuela is a constitutional republic. Chavez has won landslide victories that would be the envy of almost any elected leader in the world, in internationally monitored elections.

3. The vast majority of Venezuela’s media are not only in private hands, they are constitutionally protected, uncensored, and dominated by the opposition. RCTV’s owners can expand their cable and satellite programming, or take their capital and launch a print empire forthwith. Aggressive unqualified political dissent is alive and well in the Venezuelan mainstream media, in a manner few other democratic nations have ever known, including our own.

Now consider the specific facts of RCTV as it applied to have its broadcast license renewed.

The media here report that President Chavez "accuses RCTV of having supported a coup" against him. This is a common means of distorting the news: a fact is reported as accusation, and then attributed to a source that the press has done everything to discredit. In fact, RCTV - along with other broadcast news outlets - played such a leading role in the April 2002 military coup against Venezuela’s democratically elected government, that it is often described as "the world’s first media coup."

In the prelude to the coup, RCTV helped mobilize people to the streets against the government, and used false reporting to justify the coup. One of their most infamous and effective falsifications was to mix footage of pro-Chavez people firing pistols from an overpass in Caracas with gory scenes of demonstrators being shot and killed. This created the impression that the pro-Chavez gunmen actually shot these people, when in fact the victims were nowhere near them. These falsified but horrifying images were repeated incessantly, and served as a major justification for the coup.

RCTV then banned any pro-government reporting during the coup. When Chavez returned to office, this too was blacked out of the news. Later the same year, RCTV once again made all-day-long appeals to Venezuelans to help topple the government during a crippling national oil strike.

If RCTV were broadcasting in the United States, its license would have been revoked years ago. In fact its owners would likely have been tried for criminal offenses, including treason.

RCTV’s broadcast frequency has been turned over to a new national public access channel that promises to provide programming from thousands of independent producers. It is an effort to let millions of Venezuelans who have never had a viable chance to participate in the media do so, without government censorship.

The Bush Administration opposes the Chavez government for reasons that have nothing to do with democracy, or else there would be a long list of governments for us to subvert or overthrow before it would get close to targeting Venezuela. Regrettably, our press coverage has done little to shed light on that subject.

Our news media should learn the lesson of Iraq and regard our own government’s claims with the same skepticism they properly apply to foreign leaders. Then Americans might begin to get a more accurate picture of the world, and be able to effectively participate in our foreign policy.

[Robert W. McChesney is a professor of communication at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Mark Weisbrot is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, in Washington, D.C. (]