On Friday, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro announced that Venezuela would offer political asylum to NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden.
Regardless of what happens next, President Maduro's announcement was world-historical. With his announcement, Maduro has invited Americans to live in a new world: a "multi-polar" world in which the U.S. government's power is limited, not by a single "superpower adversary," but by the actions of many independent countries which are not U.S. "adversaries"; countries which agree with the U.S. on some things and disagree with the U.S. on other things, as is their right; countries which do not always accede to U.S. demands, as is their right. The day after Snowden claims political asylum in Venezuela, the U.S. and Venezuela will continue their robust economic trade; in particular, Venezuela will continue to be one of the top four suppliers of foreign oil to the United States.
It's a general constant in human affairs that no-one likes to be told that they have too much power for the general welfare. Nonetheless, we're all capable, when we want, of seeing things from the other guy's point of view.
And from the point of view of most people in the world, it's not a good thing for the United States to have too much power in world affairs; from the point of view of most people in the world, it's not a good thing for any one country to have too much power in world affairs.
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then "#occupy" protesters around the world this weekend just gave the Arab Spring an Academy Award. Of course the chain of inspiration of freedom and justice seekers is unending in history, but there's no question that the Arab Spring opened a new chapter which is inspiring people to protest for justice worldwide.
No doubt at this historical moment many people in the U.S. will be preoccupied, as they should be, more with how #occupywallstreet is going than with how the Arab Spring is going. But we still have reason to pay some attention to the Arab Spring.
Drawing inspiration from outside our immediate environment sometimes allows us to leapfrog over the crusty preconceptions of our historical surroundings. One thing #occupywallstreet, like the Wisconsin uprising, has had in common with Cairo has been an explicit appeal for solidarity to the "security forces." In Cairo, they chanted: "The army and the people are one hand!" In Madison, the conduct of the mobilization for public employee rights defeated efforts of the Walker administration to split the police politically from other public employees. Today #occupy protesters are telling police, "You are the 99%!" You could look at the police as armed employees of the state who have to follow orders to "maintain public order," or you could look at them as public employees who are largely unionized members of the working class and who often have a lot of discretion in how they interpret their mandate to "maintain public order." Not arresting protesters is a perfectly legitimate tool for keeping the peace, and most police officers and officials know that well. As mom told us when we were little, honey usually beats vinegar.
It's bad enough that the editors of the New York Times have refused so far to tell the truth about what we know about the magnitude of the death toll in Iraq as a result of the US invasion and occupation of the country since 2003, according to the standards that are used to describe human tragedies for which the U.S. government does not bear primary responsibility. If the New York Times used the same standards of evidence to describe human tragedies regardless of the degree of responsibility of the U.S. government, it would report that "hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have died" as a result of the US war, a fact that we know with the level of confidence that we know similar facts that the New York Times publishes as a matter of routine (such as a recent report that "hundreds of thousands of Iraqis died" - in the Iraq-Iran war.) The New York Times is reluctant to publish this fact about the U.S. war, perhaps, because this fact is awkward to acknowledge for those in Washington who support the status quo policy of permanent war.
But now the New York Times has exacerbated the harm of its denial about the Iraqi death toll, by using its own failure to accurately report the death toll in Iraq as a benchmark for comparison to other human tragedies: in particular, to claim that murder in Venezuela claimed more lives in 2009 than did violence in Iraq. The New York Times editors are like the boy who killed his parents and demanded mercy on the grounds he was an orphan.
In a front page article this week headlined "Venezuela, More Deadly Than Iraq, Wonders Why," NYT reporter Simon Romero claims:
No reasonable person would have bet serious money that news editors at the New York Times would be huge fans of Oliver Stone's new documentary about South America, "South of the Border." A key point of the film is that mainstream US press coverage of South America in recent years has generally followed State Department priorities more than objective news standards. The New York Times comes in for specific criticism in the film, which notes that the paper editorially backed the short-lived US-backed coup against the democratically-elected government of Venezuela in 2002. (Key evidence on the U.S. role in the coup can be found here. After the coup collapsed, the Times half-apologized for its pro-coup editorial, as also noted in the film.)
But still, accepting that no-one likes to be criticized, there are supposed to be rules for newspapers like the Times. In an editorial, they can express any opinion they want. But news articles are supposed to be accurate, and if a reporter has a direct interest or bias in a situation, the paper should assign another reporter or at least disclose the interest or bias.
But on Friday, the New York Times ran an attack on Oliver Stone's documentary by Larry Rohter, an attack that claimed the film was full of inaccuracies. Not only was the New York Times attack itself inaccurate in its factual claims, as documented by Oliver Stone, Mark Weisbrot, and Tariq Ali in their response - do they have fact-checkers at the Times?
Secretary of State Clinton has urged Venezuela to be "transparent" about its military spending - implying that Venezuela's military spending is something that should be of concern to Americans. The blog Borev.net publishes a pair of graphs that help put this concern in context. Looking at military spending for 2007-8, among Brazil, Colombia, Chile, and Venezuela, Venezuela comes in last, both in absolute terms, and as a share of GDP.
The whole world was watching when President Obama shook hands with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Most Americans, along with most people around the world, want the U.S. to try to get along with other countries, treat their leaders with respect, address disagreements through dialogue and negotiation, and look for areas of potential cooperation with countries with which we have disagreements on other issues.
But Republican Senator John Ensign wasn't happy.
"I think it was irresponsible for the president to be seen kind of laughing and joking with Hugo Chavez," said Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev.
Meanwhile, Newt Gingrich complained that by shaking Chavez' hand while smiling Obama had helped cause Eduardo Galeano's "Open Veins of Latin America" - the book Chavez gave Obama - to soar on best-seller lists.
The basic fact that the Right won't acknowledge is this: we just had an election a few months ago, and Americans voted for the guy who wanted to talk, not the guy who wanted to keep pounding the table. And the U.S. thaw with Venezuela has already yielded results. Venezuela is preparing to send its Ambassador back to Washington. The U.S. and Venezuela are increasing their cooperation in combating drug trafficking. And Venezuela is increasing its rhetorical pressure on FARC insurgents in Colombia to get talks moving with the Colombian government.