Whose side are you on, Bernie? P.S. He did mean Chávez

I am adding a P.S. to my prior blog because a number of people have questioned whether Bernie Sanders really meant Hugo Chávez when he said “dead communist dictator.” An excerpt and a link, HERE.

In a statement to the Huffington Post, Sanders spokesman Michael Briggs said that the super PAC was “distorting the record.”

“It is disappointing that Secretary Clinton’s super PAC is spreading disinformation about Bernie,” Briggs said of the Correct the Record memo. “This is exactly the kind of politics that Bernie is trying to change. To equate bringing home heating oil to low-income Vermonters with support for the Chavez government is dishonest.”

To me, the problem with Sanders’ characterization of Chávez is the following. What does it means for Bernie’s stated platform if he falls in line with demonizing Chávez? In fact, Venezuela and other countries in Latin America very likely give us  the best current examples in the world of empowered people and elected officials (however “not perfect”) who are creating new constitutions — with significant changes in the system — and improving most people’s wealth and power dramatically.

Whose side are you on, Bernie?

I just got an email from independent journalist and activist Jonathan Nack, and I was shocked when I read the first paragraph: Bernie Sanders just referred to Hugo Chávez as a “dead communist dictator.”  Jonathan’s entire open letter is below. All I would add, for those who would like to see what Jonathan refers to as a “detailed defense of Pres. Chavez.” is a reference to my blog “Ten Things I Learned from Hugo Chávez” which was recently revised and re-published, this time on the Tikkun Daily Blog, HERE.hugo chavez legacy VA com Roger Harris A Guardian article details the context of Bernie Sander’s statement in the first few  paragraphs, HERE.

All I can think is, “Whose side are you on, Bernie, whose side are you on?” Here’s the letter. Thanks for learning more about hope in Latin America and beyond. — Laura

Dear Senator Bernie Sanders,

I am shocked and I denounce your description of the late President of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, as a “dead communist dictator.” I expect better from you, but perhaps I need to re-evaluate such expectations.

I’m a longtime supporter going back to the days when you were running for re-election as Mayor of Burlington, even though I live in Oakland, California. I’ve made a modest financial contribution to your current campaign and expressed support for your call to build a grassroots movement to take on the power of the Billionaires and their corporations – what you’ve referred to as a “political revolution”. You’ve said that this is what your campaign is about. It was precisely such a stance that got Hugo Chavez elected and re-elected President of Venezuela.

Pres. Chavez was neither a communist nor a dictator. If you don’t know that, you should.

Your use of the term “communist dictator” is code designed to pander to those who favor and justify U.S. intervention in Latin America and the Caribbean, and around the world. U.S. intervention in the politics of other countries, including bloody military interventions, is an absolute disgrace. It has resulted in the needless suffering and death of millions. It resulted in the imposition and maintenance of real military dictatorships throughout Latin Americas and much of the world. Most of these military dictatorships have only been overcome by democratic movements in the last twenty-five years.

It is the shameful history of U.S. intervention and how it is driven by the interests of Billionaires and their corporations that you need to address, not denunciations of those whom rise to leadership in their countries because of their opposition to it.

I’m not going to get into a detailed defense of Pres. Chavez. It is sufficient to say that it is a fact that Hugo Chavez was elected and re-elected President of Venezuela in what international observers, including former President Jimmy Carter, have described as basically free and fair elections. No dictator holds such elections. It is sufficient to say that Pres. Chavez identified himself as a socialist and specifically said that he was not a communist.

I do not rise to defend Pres. Chavez against all criticism. All politicians and political leaders deserve to be criticized for the bad things they say and do, as well as praise for the good, including you.

I am a socialist and a supporter of the Green Party. I stand for social justice, the protection of our environment, and for real democracy. My donation to your campaign and the good things I’ve said and written about you are expressions of my support. This open letter is an expression of my criticisms.

I have defended you against charges that you are not really a socialist, pointing out the fact that there are many types of socialists. Even though I am a more radical socialist than you, I think you have a right to label your politics and that right should be respected, as long as it is within reason. The legacy of Pres. Chavez also deserves that respect.

In general, I think you have failed to articulate foreign policy positions that distinguish you from those of Hillary Clinton, President Barack Obama, or the leadership of the Democratic Party, all of whom are true advocates and instruments of the foreign policies driven by the interests of the Billionaires and their corporations, in other words, U.S. imperialism.

How is it that you attack the Billionaire’s control of domestic policies, but not the interventionist and militarist foreign policies which they also control? How is it that you oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership, but not other imperialist policies?

My parents taught me to be a critical thinker. Specifically, they taught me to pay attention to what politicians say, but also be aware that they often make promises that they have no intention nor ability to keep. They also taught me to never expect that politicians will do better than what they say they’ll do. With those lessons in mind, I will continue to praise and respond to your call to build a grassroots political movement to take power away from the Billionaires and their corporations, but I have to denounce your support of U.S. imperialism, its wars, both overt and covert, the military industrial complex, the so called “Homeland Security” apparatus, and all interventions in the political affairs of other countries. These foreign policies are driven by the interests of the Billionaires and their corporations, not the interests of our people, nor the people of the world.

Sincerely yours,
Jonathan Nack
Oakland, CA

The text of Bernie Sanders’ fund raising email is below:

I don’t have a Super PAC, Jonathan. I am not going to travel around the country begging millionaires and billionaires for money. That’s just not going to happen.

But the success of our campaign certainly has the billionaires’ attention.

Yesterday, one of Hillary Clinton’s most prominent Super PACs attacked our campaign pretty viciously. They suggested I’d be friendly with Middle East terrorist organizations, and even tried to link me to a dead communist dictator.

It was the kind of onslaught I expected to see from the Koch Brothers or Sheldon Adelson, and it’s the second time a billionaire Super PAC has tried to stop the momentum of the political revolution we’re building together.

They’ll keep trying … unless we make them pay a price for their attacks.

Make the Super PACs pay for attacking us by making a $100 contribution to our campaign today. Let’s send a powerful message that we have had ENOUGH of the billionaire class buying elections.

If we stand together to fight back against these ugly attacks, we can ensure this election is about who has the best ideas, and not who has the biggest donors.

They should not underestimate us.

Bernie Sanders

Venezuela, Equality, and Oil

Recently I was invited to post blogs focusing on Latin America on the Tikkun Daily Blog. My first post is HERE, a slightly revised version of my “Ten Things I Learned from Hugo Chávez.” (NOTE: If you do a quick read of the ten headings, you may be able to spot one “tone-it-down” revision in the Tikkun version as compared to my original, here.)

I was happy to see interest in the post; there were a number of comments last week. Just now I added a comment there that I want to share on this blog too. Here is the comment:

I am adding this comment to my Tikkun Daily blog in order to provide information that gets very little attention, despite the fact that it could be a source of hope for us, given that economic inequality is growing in the United States. I looked for a source that is not likely to be biased toward Venezuela, and found this link and excerpt from the World Bank, 
http://www.worldbank.org/en/country/venezuela/overview

EXCERPT:
Among the most important programs that oil resources have helped to finance are the broad-based social programs called Misiones. Economic growth and the redistribution of resources associated with these missions have led to an important decline in moderate poverty, from 50% in 1998 to approximately 30% in 2012. Likewise, inequality has decreased, reducing the Gini Index from 0.49 in 1998 to 0.39 in 2012, which is among the lowest in the region.

Nevertheless, Venezuela’s development continues to face important challenges, especially at a time when a contraction was recorded in international oil prices. Its economy is highly vulnerable to fluctuations in oil prices since it represents over 96% of the country’s exports and generates nearly half of fiscal income.

Yes, Venezuela should not be so dependent on oil exports, and they are trying to diversify. Still, it’s a good question to ask, “Why have oil prices plummeted?” It’s primarily because of “fracking” in the U.S. Fracking uses a lot of a truly precious resource, water. It might make sense as a last resort, after we’ve done everything we can to decrease our use of non-renewable energy such as oil, and to increase our use of renewable energy. Meanwhile fracking has adversely affected not only Venezuela but many other aspects of the world economy.

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