Saturday, September 11, 2004

Why Bush Hates Chavez

Venezuela's Referendum and the Nation's Poor
By Medea Benjamin

t r u t h o u t | Focus

Hugo Chavez could teach U.S. leaders a thing or two about winning votes
I knew that the administration of Hugo Chavez had won my heart when I met Olivia Delfino in one of the poor barrios in Caracas. As I was touring the neighborhood with an international delegation here to monitor this Sunday's referendum on Chavez, Olivia came out of her tiny house and grabbed my arm. "Tell the people of your country that we love Hugo Chavez," she insisted. She went on to tell me how her life had changed since he came to power. After living in the barrio for 40 years, she now had a formal title to her home. With that, she was able to get a bank loan to fix the roof so it wouldn't leak in the rain. Thanks to the Cuban dentists and a program called "Rescatando la sonrisa"-recovering the smile-for the first time in her life she was able to get her teeth fixed. And her daughter is in a job training program to become a nurse's assistant.

Getting more and more animated, Olivia dragged me over to a poster on the wall showing Hugo Chavez with a throng of followers and a list of Venezuela's new social programs that read: "The social programs are ours, let's defend them." Then slowly and laboriously, she began reading the list of social programs: literacy, health care, job training, land reform, subsidized food, small loans. I asked her if she was just learning to read and write as part of the literacy program. That's when she started to cry. "Can you imagine what it has meant to me, at 52 years old, to now have a chance to read?" she said. "It's transformed my life."

Walk through the poor neighborhoods in Venezuela and you'll hear the same stories over and over. The very poor now can go to a designated home in the neighborhood to pick up a hot meal every day. The elderly now have monthly pensions that allow them to live with dignity. Young people can take advantage of greatly expanded free college programs. And with 13,000 Cuban doctors spread throughout the country and reaching over half the population, the poor now have their own family doctors on call 24-hours a day-doctors who even make house calls. This heath care, including medicines, are all free.

The programs are being paid for with the income from Venezuela's oil, which is at an all-time high. Previously, the nation's oil wealth benefited only a small, well-connected elite who kept themselves in power for 40 years through a two-party duopoly. The elite, who controlled the media as well, kept the vast majority poor, disenfranchised, and disempowered. With the election of Hugo Chavez in 1998 on a platform of sharing the nation's oil wealth with the poorest, all that has changed. The poor are now not only recipients of these programs, they are engaged in running them. They're turning abandoned buildings into neighborhood centers, running community kitchens; volunteering to teach in the literacy programs, organizing neighborhood health brigades and registering millions of new voters.

Infuriated by their loss of power, the elite use their control over the media to blast Chavez for destroying the economy, cozying up to Fidel Castro, antagonizing the US government, expropriating private property, and using dictatorial rule. They also accuse him of using the social programs that have so improved the lives of the poor as a way to buy votes.

The opposition managed to collect enough signatures to trigger this Sunday's referendum on the president's mandate. Chavez supporters, bolstered by almost every poll, expect to win. "The opposition can lie all they want about Chavez," said Olivia defiantly, "but the facts speak for themselves. Before no one cared about us, the poor. Now they do." When I asked her what was going to happen on Sunday, she grinned. "First we're going to vote. And then we'll gather in front of the presidential palace for a huge victory party."

The opposition is right: providing people with free health care, education, small business loans and job training is certainly a good way to win support. With the US elections coming up in November, George Bush-and John Kerry for that matter-could learn a thing or two from Hugo Chavez about winning the hearts and minds of the people.


Medea Benjamin is co-founder of the human rights group Global Exchange and the women's peace group CodePink.


Jump to TO Features for Monday August 16, 2004

Mark Morford on Polls

Who The Hell Is "Undecided"?
And why do so many election polls leave you angry and stupefied and drunk?
- By Mark Morford, SF Gate Columnist
Friday, September 10, 2004

Polls are the genital warts of election year. They are the swarming gnats in your Jell-O salad, the dead escalator in your shopping mall, the sour milk in your coffee.

Because clearly, if you attempt to follow any of them, the CNN/USA Today/Gallup polls or the American Research Group polls or the Newsweek polls or the ABC News/Washington Post polls or the CBS News/New York Times polls or the Zogby polls, you can only conclude one thing:

These polls are designed solely to mangle your head and confound your synapses and elate you and titillate you and then plunge you into instant despair and then yank you back out at the last second like some sort of "Fear Factor" death-plunge moronism.

I know I am not alone in this sentiment.

Take, for example, how nearly every single poll listed above indicated that, just after the Democratic convention, John Kerry could not lose. He had gained huge numbers on a miserable and baffled Bush and every poll had Kerry nailing Shrub by anywhere from two to six percentage points and he had momentum and a clear message and broad support and it all meant it was Kerry's election to lose and woo-hoo go team break out the champagne.

But wait, not so fast. Because then BushCo had his big, tearful, gay-hatin', war-lovin' GOP convention and whored the 9/11 theme so shamelessly you could veritably feel the World Trade Center victims cringing in their graves.

Now, of course, polls indicate that those pro-Kerry numbers are exactly reversed. Bush's numbers are suddenly up again and have barely broken through that magic 50-percent ceiling that held him in check this past year as the nation had seemed to be finally realizing what an unmitigated embarrassment he was, and suddenly Kerry is lagging behind by those same few points. Hey, it's the polls, baby. They're not supposed to make any goddamn sense.

But they do force you to ask: What the hell just happened? What changed? Why do these polls flip so ridiculously?

Could it be true? Are there simply millions of voters out in this sad and divisive nation who are so gullible, so unsure, so unclear about who they want to vote for that one overblown Vegas-style political convention followed by numerous insidious smear campaigns maligning Kerry's Vietnam heroism could sway them that easily, back and forth and forth and back?

Perhaps this is an "elitist" question, or naive, or simple misguided. Maybe I need to read far more detailed statistical sociopolitical theory, which is about as much fun as having all your skin scraped off with a cheese grater. But I simply know of no one anywhere in my world, from family to friends to family friends to remote acquaintances to the guy who sells me my socks, who is undecided about this election.

Do these people exist? Or are the polls merely wicked phantasmagorical allegories designed by the media to boost sales and pump ratings and numb the intellect and ruin your appetite for reason? I know my answer.

Because if you're paying any sort of attention at all, the differences between the party stances seems so agonizingly obvious, between not just the candidates, but between the tone and timbre of the country overall, of how we should be led and how we should be viewed and how we should be spoken to, between the openly violent, peace-hating, fear-happy, environment-loathing, homophobic worldview of the Bushies, and the more tolerant, issues-oriented, politically intelligent, less tyrannical worldview of the Kerryites on the other.

So then, who are the people so openly duped by the gluttonous TV coverage of either of the conventions that they watch the Dems and says, wow, that Kerry fellow sure is smart and articulate and, gosh, he's even a decorated 'Nam vet, I'm voting for him.

And who then spins right around and watched Dubya cry and wave the flag and never once mention WMD or Osama and openly ignore the 1,000-plus dead American soldiers in Iraq, and who then says, oh wait, gosh, that Dubya fellow, he sure is nice and simple and plain-faced and none-too-bright and he loves war like a schoolgirl loves bubblegum. He's my man. Now turn it to "Everybody Loves Raymond!"

Is it the elderly? Are they the ones who swing these polls so outrageously? Is it the over-75 set who just had their Medicare benefits gouged and who can't afford their medications due to how grossly BushCo just French-kissed all the CEOs of the major pharmcos? Doubtful. The elderly are far more astute that most.

Is it young women? Is it the roughly 22 million single females who didn't bother to cast a ballot in 2000, these least-likely voters in the nation who, if they had half of an idea of how much BushCo hated them and feared them and wanted to curtail every right they have to control their bodies and navigate their own sexuality, would shun BushCo this election like an altar boy shuns a Catholic priest? Do they keep changing their minds?

Is it the black vote? Doubtful. I know there are stories, like the recent Oakland Tribune piece, which discovered a number of black pastors in the East Bay who are actually supporting Bush solely on the basis of the gay marriage issue, despite the GOP's ill-concealed racist overtones and general hatred of minorities and the poor. The mind, it doth shudder and reel. And weep. But then again, another poll shows black voters favoring Kerry/Edwards by a huge, 8-1 majority. So there it is.

I know there are studies. I know there are analysts and pundits and social scientists who say they know about just who these "undecided" voters are, and why they flip so wildly, and why the hell they can't see the painful and enormous differences between Kerry and Dubya, if for no other reason than one can speak in complex multisyllabic sentences employing compound adjectives, whereas the other makes you feel like you're listening to a heavily Ritalined 5-year-old read "The Hungry Caterpillar," drunk.

I know there are superlative books, like Thomas Frank's "What's the Matter with Kansas?" -- books that attempt to explain why so many Americans vote, bafflingly, frustratingly, against their own self-interest. But this does little to explain such wild discrepancies in the polls, such weird and nearly instant fluctuations in the American attitude from week to week.

Of course the answer is: There is no real answer. To follow the polls is a fool's game best averted by deep sighing and copious amounts of wine and by ignoring them completely and by rejecting as specious and pointless nearly all stories that bring up poll numbers in hysterical and alarmist tones. Which is, you know, most all of them.

Except, of course, for those polls that make some sort of sense. Every now and then there seems to be one that has basis in actual reality, that doesn't deal in the mythical and God-like "undecideds," that make you go, well sure, this much is a given.

For example, take the new poll that shows how a huge percentage of the world, fully 30 out of 35 surveyed nations, want Bush out of the White House. Now.

It's true. Among America's strongest and most loyal allies and even among those who don't like us much and have good reason to believe we're a screaming whiny violent brat with too much money and too many toys and far too little soul, it is nearly unanimous: Bush has done more harm to the world, to international relations than any U.S. president in history. The world doesn't merely think Bush is an incompetent boob. They think he's a hostile and reckless incompetent boob. Which is, of course, far worse.

But then again, you don't really need a poll to tell you that.


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Just In Case You Can't Get A Coup Going...

This little blurb today makes me laugh. Chavez has been duly elected. Democracy worked, again. Now the Bush Family wants to twist the knife again.
Only problem? Venezuela's oil is under national control. And it is making more money than even the Bush family can fathom.

Updated: 07:24 PM EDT
Bush Orders Sanctions Against Venezuela

WASHINGTON (Sept. 10) - President Bush on Friday ordered a partial cut in U.S. assistance to Venezuela because of its alleged role in the international trafficking of women and children for sexual exploitation.

The action means the United States will not support $250 million in Venezuelan loan requests expected to come before international lending institutions during the next fiscal year, a State Department official said.

If Venezuela secures sufficient support from other governments, its loan requests could be approved without U.S. backing.

Bush took the action under legislation that calls for sanctions against countries that fail to crack down on international trafficking in persons. The legislation is designed to encourage countries to take decisive action against the practice.

Bush's decision was announced in a White House memorandum to Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Left intact were programs designed to monitor Venezuelan elections and to support political party development, part of U.S. efforts to promote democracy worldwide.

It is official U.S. policy to carry out these activities on a nonpartisan basis, but Venezuela complained this year that the U.S. program in that country favored groups that supported the recall of President Hugo Chavez.

Chavez won the Aug. 15 recall referendum by a wide margin.

A State Department report issued in June on trafficking in persons worldwide was sharply critical of Venezuela.

"Venezuela is a source, transit and destination country for women and children trafficked for the purposes of sexual exploitation," the report said.

"Brazilian and Colombian women and girls are trafficked through Venezuela," it said.

The report added that Venezuelans are trafficked internally for the domestic sex trade and to Western Europe, particularly Spain.

"Venezuelan sex tourism that encourages underage prostitution is a concern," it said.

The study cited reports that in border areas, Venezuelans are trafficked to mining camps in Guyana for sexual exploitation and abducted by leftist rebels in Colombia to be used as soldiers.

In an interview Friday with the Associated Press, Secretary of State Colin Powell said it remains to be seen whether the U.S.-Venezuelan relationship can recover from deep strains during the past several years.

"We have concerns about some of the actions that President Chavez has taken over the years in pursuit of his vision of Bolivarian democracy," Powell said.

"We want the Venezuelan people to do well. We are friends of the Venezuelan people. And now that the election, or the referendum, is over, we will just have to see how things develop."

09/10/04 19:16 EDT

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