Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Hugo does the honest Abe’s way

Reacting to a debate in mlq3’s blogsite about land reform, I posted the following:
Successful public land policy in the U.S. or land reform in Japan was key to the economic takeoff of these two strongest economies today. Taiwan and South Korea also effectively defanged their landed class, and that goes with Vietnam today where farm incomes have true impact on private consumption. Indeed, Cory Aquino missed the opportunity for genuine transformation for being halfhearted in pursuing real land reform.

The market rhetoric notwithstanding, state capitalism, or state-run market system, is the other driver of the old economies of the great Western nations (France, England, Germany and the U.S.) as well as the NICs. The governments of all these successful nations have assumed active role during the infancy of their economies in defiance of laissez faire, matched only by a sense of country and vigorous entrepreneurship either by the big business model of the America’s robber barons, the Japanese’ zaibatsu and the South Korean’s chaebols or Taiwan’s countryside industrialization and now the Vietnamese’ small-family enterprises.
I was then introduced (by cvj) to a Feb. 2005 article written by Seth Delong on land reform in Venezuela that appeared in Counterpunch magazine. The teaser to the article’s title, in oxymoronic consonance, caught my attention: “More Like Lincoln Than Lenin”.

How would conservative ideologues react, I thought, if Wall Street Journal carried the piece with the following banner instead: “Hugo does the honest Abe’s way”?

The article claims Chavez emulates Lincoln thus:
In the history of land reform, the most accurate analogy to illustrate what is transpiring in Venezuela is not Zimbabwe or Cuba - Chavez officials have repeatedly emphasized that they are not emulating the Cuban model of land reform - but the U.S.’ own Homestead Act. Signed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1862, . . . (t)he Homestead Act was one of the most progressive and far-reaching government initiatives in U.S. history insofar as it helped to develop and secure an agrarian-based middle class, which had an epic impact on the future democratization of the nation. That Chavez is trying to emulate it in his own country, as part of his plan to extirpate Venezuela’s entrenched inequality, is an effort that all right-minded people should applaud.
Hugo Chavez who will be re-elected next Sunday (Dec. 3) with overwhelming majority is dedicating his victory to Cuba’s Fidel Castro. A Chavez’ ally, Rafael Correa, is still celebrating his own victory after winning the Equadorian presidential election last Sunday (Nov.26). Correa will join a group of populist reformers in Latin America: Bolivia’s Morales, Brazil’s da Silva, Nicaragua’s Ortega, Chile’s Michelle Bachelet, and Argentina’s Kirchner. Some months ago, anti-Chavista candidates had a close call from Mexico’s Obrador and Peru’s Humala.

Yet George W. Bush is so stuck in Iraq today and hung up with bin Laden that the greater challenge posed in the U.S. hemisphere is given short shrift. As a result, Latin America is taking control of itself from Washington stooges protecting U.S. corporate interests instead of working for the interests of the poor people.

Minus the Cold War rethoric, I have observed another dimension to a parallel challenge in relation to People Power:
. . . liberating Philippines through People Power has dreadful consequences to U.S. interests either geopolitically and geoeconomically. People Power as a movement can thus be juxtaposed quite interestingly to the “wars of national liberation” without being attached to either side of the ideological divide in the “proxy wars” of the Cold War period. If it’s a war at all, it is one powered by the people or a coalition of people across the political spectrum who, like the American revolutionaries, have longed for true political sovereignty and political equality.

Losing Philippines to a real democracy - the People Power democracy - is something that Americans can ill afford: it will mean the final triumph of ordinary democracy (over elitist democracy) that the American revolutionaries came so close to achieving.
I wish I wrote the Delong’s article; it’s a good read. In it, as I may have vaguely intimated above, was also an allusion to Chomsky’s propaganda model:
Frequently, much of what is written in the U.S. press on the subject is simply inaccurate or egregious hyperbole, which eventually gets passed off as gospel. For example, though the New York Times got it right, the Christian Science Monitor wrote in an editorial that “The plan supposedly applies to both private and governmental agricultural holdings, but so far only private lands are being targeted.” While that statement is demonstrably false, the Washington Post - ominously reminding its readers that Chavez is a “disciple of Castro” - noted that the “assault on private property is merely the latest step in what has been a rapidly escalating ‘revolution’ by Venezuela's president that is undermining the foundations of democracy and free enterprise.”
Chomsky’s explains the propaganda model this way:
In fact, the nature of Western systems of indoctrination is typically not understood by dictators, they don’t understand the utility for propaganda purposes of having “critical debate” that incorporates the basic assumptions of the official doctrines, and thereby marginalizes and eliminates authentic and rational critical discussion. Under what’s sometimes been called “brainwashing under freedom,” the critics, or at least, the “responsible critics” make a major contribution to the cause by bounding the debate within certain acceptable limits — that’s why they’re tolerated, and in fact even honored.
Well, oftentimes an almost innocuous de-legitimizing description like “leftist Venezuelan leader” would escape the uncritical eye as possibly did the “high-school dropout” appellation that Philippine media repeatedly attached to FPJ’s name as soon as he announced his presidential aspiration.

Anyway, an enthusiastic commenter, UPn, promptly quipped: “I also have the perception that the lament about land reform (be it for the Philippines or Latin American countries) may have been overtaken by the economics of the 21st century. The problem that needs to be solved is jobs, jobs, jobs… not land confiscation and redistribution.”

Certainly, land reform is not an end-all goal. I see it as a means to economic takeoff and then to a sustainable development. Here’s a relevant post of mine on this score adopting the Rostovian model:
Many parts of the country still retain the basic features of the so-called traditional society. A traditional society is one whose structure has limited production functions because of its incapacity to manipulate the environment through science and technology. To break from the conditions of a traditional society that put a ceiling on its attainable output, new types of enterprising men willing to take risks in pursuit of profit or modernization must come forward. The risk-taking must happen in conjunction with the appearance of institutions for mobilizing capital like banks, the investment in transport, communications, and in raw materials in which other societies may have an economic interest, and the setting up of manufacturing enterprises using modern methods. These are the “preconditions for take-off,” the stage that the Philippines notwithstanding has already reached.

Takeoff however may not occur if the transition is proceeding at a limited stride in an economy still primarily typified by “traditional low-productivity methods,” by dated societal institutions and values, and by parochial political institutions.

The key to economic progress is somehow attitudinal too and this happens when economic men and political animals judge such progress to be good not only for the material comfort it brings forth for their pioneering spirit but also for national identity and dignity, the welfare of the next generation and the common good.

Historically, the decisive ingredient during the transition is the building of an “effective centralized national state” imbued with a “new nationalism” versus regional interests, the colonial power (if any), or both. When growth becomes steady and normal and institutionalized into habits and social structure and dominates the society, takeoff is said to occur.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Iraq, just another Wild Wild West

anna de brux in a comment in mlq3 on Nov. 10, 2006 said: “America must now forget that we no longer live in the era of the wild wild west. Gone are the days of bang bang you’re dead kind of era.”

On the other hand, Newsstand had the following post on the same day:
But after Dean (Jeorge Bocobo) spoke, glowingly, of the results of the 1912 elections, which swept Princeton professor Woodrow Wilson of the Democratic party to the White House and eventually led to a liberalization of US colonial policy regarding the Philippines, I was left wondering. Is Dean suggesting the following: that democracy (the neoconservatives’ central if rather belated rationalization for Rummy’s war) will only take root in benighted Iraq if the Democrats are in charge?
The Anglos who came to tame the wilderness of the New World were “settlers” and did not consider themselves as aggressors even as they cleared the Native Americans off their lands. To these colonists, settlement was not an invasion but a matter of what later has come to be regarded as “manifest destiny.” So, when the Indians struck back to retrieve their lands, the Anglos viewed the Indian attacks as aggression to the survival and security of the settlement and a continuing settler encroachment or invasion upon the Indian lands as defensive action.

The rich lands of which the Natives were dispossessed let loose hedonistic and worldly ambition among the pioneers whose godly vision was originally to set up a theocracy in a new Jerusalem of the New World. The pious Puritans soon fell into expansive and acquisitive ethos and eventually into some sort of paganism, or the pursuit of a heaven on earth via reckless capitalism.

Aside from the realization that expansion means more lands of milk and honey, the settlers also learned to rationalize their greed as a noble mission to civilize the conquered. This dual vision endured during the exploitation of the western frontiers and the conquest of the Philippines, America’s first empire.

How does this settlers’ perspective, best exemplified in Robert Kagan’s Dangerous Nation, compare today to the pronouncement by President George W. Bush that the security of the United States depends on the success of democracy in the Middle East?

American foreign policy ideologues believe that wherever a democratic government is born American security interests are likely to be served or advanced; on the other hand, undemocratic regimes are deemed a threat to such security interests as well as to world peace. This ideology is repackaged in the Bush Doctrine as follows:
The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands. The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world. (President Bush’s speech at his Second Inaugural, January 2005).
An old blog entry of mine is probably relevant:
The root word of “pagan” according to [Dan Brown of the Da Vinci Code fame], “actually reached back to the Latin paganus, meaning country-dwellers. ‘Pagans’ were literally unindoctrinated country-folk who clung to the old, rural religions of Nature worship. In fact so strong was the Church’s fear of those who live in the rural villes that the once innocuous word for ‘villager’ -villain- came to mean wicked soul.”

Today, “America paganism” is less related to lack of religiosity than to evangelical faith in market sovereignty, which hearkens back to classical liberalism (which has championed unbridled economic freedom.)
And another, in reaction to one of Dean Bocobo’s pieces, reads thus:
. . . Neo-conservatives are in a nutshell romanticists who believe in the “civilizing mission” of exporting US-style market democracy, violently if necessary. They are to be distinguished from the Realists (of the Kissinger mold).

Realism is basically a geopolitical theory, heretofore the dominant one unfortunately, according to which states (democratic or undemocratic, fundamentalist Christian or Islamofascist) are selfish actors and will seek domination for security and survival.

US Realists are in a sense amoral . . ; for them, it’s ok to cuddle dictators like Marcos and King Saud because realists are concerned with the power (or hegemony) of the US and righting wrongs like extra-judicial killings or even genocide is not their duty.

(President Bush) is a Realist if he invaded Iraq because of threat of WMD from Saddam. He is a Neocon if his mission is to civilize an ancient civilization, which had preceded Christianity.
I then began to doubt the dominance of the Realists in another entry:
Neoconservatives are the new rulers over the foreign policy of the United States of America. Their obeisance to Western culture and civilization such as the universality of US-style democracy, the core of their beliefs, borders on piety, even fanaticism, often involving the willingness to kill and be killed for it. Neocons, seeing themselves on the side of righteousness and combating evil, advocate the exporting of modernity and democratic values via the “conversion” (regime change) of the uncivilized and undemocratic (the “infidels”). And holding the pursuit of common ground as appeasement of the enemy, they instead resort to imperial aggression through the unilateral use of economic and military hard power (“violence”).
Will the Realists regain their dominance in American foreign policy as a result of the Republican mid-term elections debacle?

If history is any guide at all, there appears just one intellectual project steering the ideological trajectory of American survival and national security that blurs the narrow partisanship of Republicans and Democrats. Simply put, the rhetoric of this ism asserts that American democracy is secured if the Wild Wild West in many parts of the world are converted to democracies. Unfortunately, by this democracy is meant pro-American, regardless of whether in the truest sense of the word it is a democracy or not.

Hence, if the Iraq War is seen by foreign policy elites as both a lucrative venture and a noble task, the “bang bang you’re dead kind of” course will stay notwithstanding a new Democratic U.S. Congress. In all likelihood, only a people-powered anti-war movement of a Vietnam era proportion will overrule the obtaining elite consensus of Wilsonian internationalism.