Monthly Archives: November 2007

Olbermann trashes Hugo Chavez

[Nice brief response to Keith Olbermann’s suggestion that the Venezuelan leader is “peeing on” his constituency. Also known as Why you can’t trust a liberal when poking yields to shoving. The best part deals with economic gains under Chavez.]

Clifton Ross writes at CounterPunch:

“To what is Mr. Olbermann referring when he states that Chávez is “peeing on” the laws and citizens of Venezuela? Is he referring to Chávez’s dozen or so electoral victories, all declared clean and fair by international observers (including ex-President Carter)? Is it Chávez’s stand for the dignity and independence of Latin America? Is it Chávez’s internationalism which has not only taken him to Cuba and Iran but also caused him to discount heating oil for the poor in the U.S.? Could it be the clinics Chávez has set up around the country, Barrio Adentro, guaranteeing Venezuelans free health care? Or the Bolivarian Universities he’s funding to enable three million people, without means, resources, hope or future, to study and win degrees and new possibilities? Was Chávez “pissing on the laws” when he allowed a referendum on his presidency to go through and which he won handily in 2004?

Mr. Olbermann needs to get his facts straight and he could start off by reading Mark Weisbrot and Luis Sandoval’s study published in July of this year by the Center for Economic and Policy Research, entitled, “The Venezuelan Economy in the Chávez Years” wherein they show that “Real (inflation-adjusted) GDP has grown by 76 percent since the bottom of the recession in 2003.” Indeed, once the pressures of a U.S. inspired coup, U.S.-backed oil strike and Referendum (all funded by Olbermann’s and our local nemesis, Bush) were soundly defeated by Chávez and his supporters, Weisbrot and Sandoval agree that “it appears that the Venezuelan economy was hit hard by political instability prior to 2003, but has grown steadily and quite rapidly since political stability began improving in that year.”

The economy has grown, but that new wealth has not merely trickled, or gushed, upwards into the pockets of the rich, as it always seems to do in the U.S. In Venezuela the poverty rate has dropped 31% under Chávez, (extreme poverty from 53% to 9.1 percent) but the authors acknowledge that this current poverty rate “does not take into account the increased access to health care or education that poor people have experienced. The situation of the poor has therefore improved significantly beyond even the substantial poverty reduction that is visible in the official poverty rate, which measures only cash income.” This is not to mention, as the authors also point out, the “increased health care benefits to the poor, since in the absence of these benefits, most poor people would simply have gone without health care, and therefore suffer from worse health, lower income, and lower life expectancy.” And those health benefits are substantial: “In 1998 there were 1,628 primary care physicians for a population of 23.4 million. Today, there are 19,571 for a population of 27 million.”

Given these facts, and your absence of them, Mr. Olbermann, could you explain exactly on whom Chávez has been pissing? If not, perhaps in the future you could drop the subject or deal with something a bit more substantial when talking about Chávez than urine.”

For when atheists get asked: “But what happens to you after you die?”

Theists always ask of atheists: “But what happens to you after you die?” Of course, this begs the question at issue—assuming that any “you” persists after death to act as subject for some “happen[ing].” For atheists, death is precisely that condition where the “you” ceases to be, permanently and in every sense.

But the question is also a challenge: It carries the implication that atheists should be horrified to think that nothing happens, that is, that they might not exist in the future. This forms the basis of a kind of reductio ad absurdum argument that any view with such horrifying conclusions can only be false (and believed only in bad faith or insincerely).

Putting aside the point that there are plenty of horrifying facts, and everyone believes in some, three lines of response are in order:

(1) It appears theists are concerned that their lifespans should be anything less than infinite. But postulating a theist heaven doesn’t solve this problem. For an infinite number of years will not be realized in a heavenly tenure; the actual number of years endured will always be concrete, and numerable. So the concern could only be that one’s soul face an infinite number of years. But why should “infinity” be privileged in only one direction of time’s arrow? The time after my earthly life is just one part of the story. The years stretching before my earthly life are either infinite in number, or, if finite, could have, logically speaking, been infinite (as under different conditions my hazel eyes could have been blue). That is, there are either an infinity of actual, realized years, or an unrealized potential infinity of years, in which I will never [have] exist[ed]. Either way, “in back of” me, no less than “in front of” me, there spans an unrealized infinity of moments in which I can never exist. This condition is every bit as horrifying as the “unrealized infinity of moments in which I can never exist” presented by the lack of an afterlife.

Aside from this exercise, the bottom line: That I won’t exist 5,000 years from now should be no more horrifying than that I didn’t exist for the 5,000 (or gazillion) years preceding my birth.

(2) The ‘self’ which is extinguished in death is, metaphysically speaking, no more than a collection of experiences. In this sense, a new ‘self’ is created every moment as the flux of experience marches on. But this means an old self is lost every moment. Of course, the loss may not be permanent—these past selves can be conjured up, or “re-experienced,” in memory. But these memories aren’t precisely identical to the originals, and as time passes, the great majority of the experiences that have ever “made me” are forgotten, never to be recalled. “Death,” then, is at best a more “absolute”1 condition of this same process of self-loss (or, awkwardly, selves-loss) which has been unfolding since the dawn of my consciousness. Anyone’s life is made up of many such “deaths”; the last one is not somehow more horrifying than the thousands before it.

(3) Finally, the reductio can be flipped on the theists. In the words of process theologian Charles Hartshorne (an ironic resource for atheists in that his work offers a crackerjack critique of the most common forms of theism):

If what really matters is achieving, or being granted, heaven, and escaping hell, even nuclear warfare may seem not our major concern. Dying soon or late is after all a very minor matter, compared to life everlasting, either in very happy or more or less unhappy circumstances.

Moreover, unlike the theist’s reductio, this one “sticks”: For while few theists are horrified at the absence of an afterlife, every theist behaves as though the human course of life—how it is spent, whether it is enjoyed—is very important, while his theism, per the quote, implies the very opposite. This marks a contradiction which can only be remedied by acting as though one’s life is unimportant—which is probably impossible—or effectively giving up theism.

Notes

1 “Absolute” is not an ideal wording. Death means that no more ‘selves’ will be produced in the same “train” of selves. But insofar as any single one of these selves “dies” in death—that is, the final one in the train—this kind of thing, again, has been going on since our first conscious moment, that is, since we began to have ‘selves’ at all.

Ron Paul: Not antiwar, not progressive (Not that it should matter if he were)

That Ron Paul’s campaign has emerged as a “progressive” option does not change the fact that the man, from a progressive view, has mostly reprehensible positions, and reprehensible (or incoherent, or tepid) reasons for holding his ostensibly un-reprehensible positions. Nor are these irrelevant.

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Ron Paul’s Flaky Antiwar Credentials:

The Votes on Iraq and “Afghanistan”

Not that Ron Paul is “antiwar” in any sense of the phrase activists should find interesting. Certainly, such a stance is not deducible from his congressional record.

Paul’s “Statement Opposing the use of Military Force against Iraq” complains that the vote ceded warmaking powers to the President rather than, properly, to Congress. This reflects that goofy, crude Constitutional fetishism of Paul’s which quibbles over where the “proper authority” for engaging some action technically rests rather than whether whatever is being authorized is actually a good idea. An “antiwar” legislator would oppose ceding warmaking authority to Bush not because it violates some point-of-order clause, but because, damn it, the guy might use it to start a war.

Paul also objects that the Iraq campaign was begun with no clear definition of what it would mean to win it. This reasoning is sympathetic and one can only wish Paul could be counted on to apply it. His antiwar supporters don’t much talk about his 2001 vote to authorize “Military Force Against [the 9/11] Terrorists” in what would become the War in Afghanistan. Like the Iraq resolution, this vote both ceded authority to the President to use “all necessary force”—against whomever he determines, at any later date, committed the 9/11 attacks or gave any kind of aid to those who did—and does not specify what it would mean to win such a campaign. Indeed, how could it?—as it names no targets nor the means to be used to target them. It does not even assume the President had yet made up his mind about who the enemy would be.

Paul regrets, “I voted for the authorization and…the funding, and yet it was completely misused…I was deceived…I didn’t vote to occupy and nation-build.” Paul speaks as though the vagueness of the resolution—that it never says the words “occupation” or “nation-build[ing]” or “regime change” or “war” as opposed to the swift and modest and localized police action he supposedly preferred—is somehow a defense for his voting for it. But its vagueness and wide-open applicability is precisely the problem. It could have been used to start a war or an occupation just because it says nothing to rule out those types of “military force.” You can’t “misuse” something whose use is never specified.

Unlike Paul, Rep. Barbara Lee had the sense and valor to vote against this resolution. Her defense of this decision reads just like (the better sections of) Paul’s 2006 Iraq “Statement”: “…I could not ignore that [the authorization] provided explicit authority, under the War Powers Resolution and the Constitution, to go to war…It was a blank check to the president to attack anyone involved in the Sept. 11 events—anywhere, in any country, without regard to our nation’s long-term foreign policy, economic and national security interests, and without time limit. In granting these overly broad powers, the Congress failed its responsibility to understand the dimensions of its declaration.”

This is precisely the thing Paul says he opposes in foreign policy, and he voted for it anyhow. Thus, if we believe him that his reasons for voting “No” in 2003 reflect long-standing principles, we must conclude that these are so flexible as to divest the word “principle” of all its normal meaning. (It isn’t as though his record is loyal to the rest of his stated values: His anti-tax, small government, free competition plank is belied by his heavy support for the same pork-barrel spending and corporate subsidies every other politician goes in for—including a weird coziness with the shrimp industry.)

Worse, by the time of Paul’s 2001 vote there was already so much evidence that Bush wanted the vote to “invade” and “occupy” Afghanistan (for starters) that blindness to this could only be willful. Within 24 hours of the 9/11 attacks, Bush had fingered the Taliban regime as a terrorist “harborer” and recalled the American ambassadors and UN delegates from Afghanistan. Paul knew Iraq had been the administration’s leading official “terrorist state” and held a policy of “regime change” against it, as well as against all the other top official terror sponsors. In fact, Paul believed what the U.S. was already doing to this “terror state” via the no-fly zones was an “occupation.” How, then, might he have been unaware that an “occupation” and “regime change” was off the agenda for “terrorist” Afghanistan? Add to this that Paul had by now heard Bush promise “a long [military] campaign, a determined campaign in a lot of countries.” (He would soon define “a lot” as “more than sixty.”) Secretary of State Powell had reiterated that the war “isn’t going to be solved with a single counter-attack against one individual, it’s going to be a long term conflict.” Bush’s use of mushy “War on Terror” phrasing only underscored this open-ended aspect.

Other Considerations

Ron Paul’s foreign policy is always fundamentally informed by his America First-ism, with all the moral and logical implications this kind of thing ever carries. This is marked by his frequent use of the dismissive phrase “in a foreign land thousands of miles away” to describe whatever situation he is urging us to stay out of. In brief, it isn’t clear how selfishness at the national level should be any more defensible than selfishness as a quality of persons.

Paul has said he does not want to dismantle the global network of military bases, but simply stop making (as many) new ones. Historically speaking, if a dominant military force has a weapon—and bases, among other purposes, are just a complex species of military technology—it tends to use it. Just assuming there is a point to these bases at all, Paul is by no means “anti-interventionist.” And are those “permanent bases” in Iraq the exception, the only ones to be dismantled? Paul hasn’t said so. Will the insurgents stop attacking the bases if we tell them the war is over?; Or are we not to fight them back when attacked? But if we fight back, in what sense will the war have been ended?

None of this need matter, as even regular foreign “interventions” of any scale are perfectly justifiable on straight libertarian principles. Globalization has taken those domestic interests needing of protection from “force or fraud” by the “minimal state,” and flung them across national borders. Not only could most American wars be justified rhetorically as defense of these interests, each was, more or less explicitly, more or less about this in fact. Global capitalism did not emerge without the blunt hammer of military force, nor could it be maintained without it—any more than domestic capital would be safe for five minutes if the threat of protection—i.e., cops, mostly—were removed.

Paul’s resistance to foreign aid rubs against his anti-intervention prejudice. Recalling his fight with Giuliani in the Republican debates, he is quick to note the “blowback” effect whereby a meddling American foreign policy angers its victims to retaliate. But if “just leav[ing]” occupied lands in the Middle East is a necessary condition of remedying this effect, things have gone too far for it to be sufficient. The grievances feeding Islamist anger are widespread in the Muslim world and won’t be satisfied without massive reconstruction and reparations. (This is also required by international law, and human decency.) The dreaded “entanglements” are already in place. A Ron Paul presidency makes reparations unlikely, which makes Islamic terrorism against the U.S. more likely, along with continued “interventions” which in a Paul presidency would be justified for “national self-defense.”

Finally, there is Paul’s racist view, expressed in the debates, that “we don’t understand the irrationality of Middle East politics.” (He attributes this to Reagan, an intervention-aholic who invented the first War on Terror in Central America.) It isn’t clear how, on such a view, Paul could confidently subsitute diplomatic negotiation for force or aid to resolve conflicts in the region. By definition, irrational people can’t be reasoned with. (Further, one might ask, negotiate with what, if not force or aid?)

Capitalism Needs War, and Ron Paul Needs What Capitalism Needs

Finally, as president Ron Paul would do nothing to challenge the free-market policies that make wars inevitable—and even necessary: It is not just that a capitalist “ruling class,” in Marxist terms, desires conflicts to protect its interests; the capitalist system itself requires “interventions” for its smooth functioning.

The story, in simple and short, is two-part:

(a) There is an enormous—and under normal conditions, growing—amount of finance capital in search of investment outlets; capitalist profitability requires that all of this be invested, and the commodities this investment will produce be absorbed by a market at a price covering production costs plus a profit. This is a concern not only of local capitalists but of the nation-state whose health depends on the health of the same domestic economy. But the “home” markets of the big national producers provide neither a means for absorbing these commodities nor sufficient opportunities for investment of the free capital.

Acting as competitors on behalf of local capitals, nation-states seek these conditions abroad: New outlets for capital investment, creating new markets to absorb commodities. And to compensate for the residual that is not invested, or sold, they seek control over raw materials to make production cheaper—just as domestic capitals seek to lower the cost of labor inputs by cutting wages and benefits. However, the world is finite, and so are the opportunities for expansion, while the sums needing investment (ideally) keep growing. Conflicting global interests lead to actual conflict.

(b) Normal consumer goods are a two-fold problem for capitalists: They need, again, to be absorbed in a market, plus they “feed back” into the same productive process they came from as they mentally and physically sustain the workers who consume them to produce another day (and allows them to produce tomorrow’s new workers—their children); this maintains [the growth of] the whole productive “machine” and thus the whole pressure for reinvestment. So one way to offset the pressure for profitability is to find some product which does not need to be absorbed in markets, and which does not “feed back” into the productive process. Heavy arms production, funded through taxes and loans from the state, is one such product. Arms are simply destroyed in use or lay fallow. Of course, these must be employed in the field of battle often enough to justify the state’s expenditure. The arms economy of World War II saved the U.S. from the Great Depression where the New Deal (alone) could not. (War also simply destroys vast amounts of productive capital—factories, crops, etc.—for many local competitors at once, leading to the same effect.)

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Latest sign of the apocalypse

Ron Paul on Issues Beside the War

But it isn’t enough that Paul’s “progressive” followers establish his antiwar credentials. It is not enough even that these credentials be measured favorably against his less progressive views (which includes pretty much the rest of his politics). What Paul would do on non-war related matters must be weighed against what he could actually get away with doing—in a net sense, in a lasting way—on the antiwar front.

A President Paul would liquidate or outsource as much of the good and useful parts of government he could get away with—federal protection for abortion, civil rights legislation, labor regulations, campaign finance reforms, environmental legislation, and Social Security. In turn, he’ll secure tons of tax relief for the wealthiest wealthy. He would work to see Roe v. Wade repealed and has introduced bills to end the Occupational Health and Safety Act, the federal minimum wage, the most prominent and longstanding antitrust laws, federal environmental regulations including all federal regulations on fuel production, and all restrictions on individual or business campaign contributions. In 2006 he voted not to renew the Civil Rights Act of 1964 desegregating schools and ending Jim Crow in the South, and he opposes the 1965 Voting Rights Act securing minority access to the polls. (In this vein, Paul even introduced a bill to deny student aid to any student who happens to be Iranian.) (See the voting record here.)

Most of what Presidents “do” has nothing to do with warmaking or peacemaking; and most of what Paul would do as to this majority is glaringly regressive. His record, combined with his meagre antiwar chops, suggest that the damage Paul would do by simply behaving during the presidential phase of his political career as he has behaved in its pre-presidential phase, is not at all clearly better than the best case scenario: A single president, initiating withdrawal from a single (phase of a single) conflict, somewhat earlier than it might have otherwise been initiated; leading to a massive, enduring backlash against “Ron Paulism” by the forces invested in “staying the course.”

Why Progressives Should Not Vote for Ron Paul, Whatever His Antiwar Credentials Look Like: A Sketch

More must be said about these “forces,” as it were, that “govern the governor.” A president, strictly speaking, no more just “makes” policy than those liberal reporters Bill O’Reilley harps upon “make” the news. Ron Paul would be subject to the same hard constraints Ralph Nader (or Karl Marx) would face as president. These constraints explain why those “neocons” Ron Paul says have hijacked our foreign policy haven’t been able to achieve, in eight years of supposed power, even close to their maximal program—attacking Iran and Saudi Arabia and imposing a royal Hashemite dynasty on Iraq. They also explain why historically, in terms of the issue of troop redeployment, a candidate’s word about what he will do is worth precisely nothing in assessing what he will actually do when elected.

These constraints are alternately describable as what Marxists call “material conditions,” or that social “ruling class” of capitalists in the role of responding to these conditions. One of many angles to this basic story is that: A “serious” president—that is, someone for whom the job is not performance art; someone who cares about not running the whole machine into the ground—is concerned about more than one issue, and looks beyond than one “moment” in his political life and the life of his Party. This requires compromise with other politicians and the monied forces that got him (and them) elected. Some of these forces will push for the foreign aid and military assistance which they have always pushed for. In face of these, a strict adherence to “principle” will marginalize Paul and ensure his replacement by someone they can work with. (These “principles” also ensure that Paul will never become President in the first place.)

But if Ron Paul offers no long-term solution to “War,” this still leaves the possibility of voting for Ron Paul as a short-term solution to this particular conflict. I suppose this is what Paul’s “progressive” supporters are up to. But even if he ended the Iraq war, this brings problems of its own, as does support for any “progressive” candidate that does nothing to challenge the (re. capitalist) power base of the major parties.

In short, the whole history of progressive movements shows that those which actually challenge the power base of these parties (and most don’t) have to work outside of them to avoid being co-opted by them (which would ultimately enhance these bases of power and make them harder to tackle the next try around). But successfully working outside of this system requires construction of an alternate social power base or risks being either destroyed by or absorbed back into the dominant one all the same. In this way, working for a progressive candidate (or a progressive movement—like the antiwar movement—which is attached to a candidate) minus the right conditions is always counterproductive in the longer term.

Understanding this dynamic is especially relevant on the eve of an election year and warrants a freestanding post, to arrive in the near.

Blum on the “failure” of socialism

Speaking of William Blum:

“The boys of Capital, they…chortle in their martinis about the death of socialism. The word has been banned from polite conversation. And they hope that no one will notice that every socialist experiment of any significance in the twentieth century—without exception—has either been crushed, overthrown, or invaded, or corrupted, perverted, subverted, or destabilized, or otherwise had life made impossible for it, by the United States. Not one socialist government or movement—from the Russian Revolution to the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, from Communist China to the FMLN in Salvador—not one was permitted to rise or fall solely on its own merits; not one was left secure enough to drop its guard against the all-powerful enemy abroad and freely and fully relax control at home.

It’s as if the Wright brothers’ first experiments with flying machines all failed because the automobile interests sabotaged each test flight. And then the good and god-fearing folk of the world looked upon this, took notice of the consequences, nodded their collective heads wisely, and intoned solemnly: Man shall never fly.”

From the introduction to “Killing Hope: US Military and CIA
Interventions Since World War II” (second ed.)

Stossel on Moore’s Sicko

[Revised, substantially, 11-18-07.]

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Stossel’s Target: What Isnt True…

I haven’t viewed John Stossel’s 20/20 response to Michael Moore’s Sicko—that is, to its “Cuban” parts—but I’ve read ABC’s report on the TV piece here. Needless to say, Stossel looks to show the downside of Cuban health care. It’s a reasonable question to ask of any report, Just what is the point?—for surely there is one. Two interpretations are possible:

(1) The article opens with the claim that Moore’s “movie says [Cuba’s] socialized medicine—government-run medicine—is great for everyone.” Later, the article quotes Miami’s Jose Carro, who knocks such “films that try to portray the health care system as superior to that of the U.S.”

So perhaps Stossel’s objective is disprove Michael Moore on these claims. But this interpretation founders on two counts: The most obvious problem is that Moore claims no such thing in Sicko. He doesn’t say that that Cuban medicine, nor “socialized medicine,” is “great for everyone.” (Nor does Moore give any view whatsoever on the overall merits of Cuban medicine relative to the American.)

A second issue with this interpretation is, in brief, that for Michael Moore to claim any such thing would be so obviously absurd as to hardly require an on-site major-network documentary to counter it. Clearly, it only takes one mediocre—much less bad—experience with Cuban health care to debunk the claim that it is “great for everyone”; all of Stossel’s “poverty footage” is just overkill. On sheer statistical probability, we can assume of (any health care system) that such a less-than-“great” experience has at some point been had by somebody.

Of course, I can’t say for sure that Stossel doesn’t interpret Moore to be saying such an absurd thing and hasn’t rushed to Cuba to debunk it in overkill. Nor can I rule out that he has some more modest claim of Moore’s (actual or alleged) in view. But consider: In Sicko Moore doesn’t claim much of anything about Cuban health care; some “health tourist” footage is presented, conclusions left largely to the viewer. We can be sure that whatever the point, Moore is saying something about Cuban health care; that is his focus. To the extent that Stossel is countering it, then—on the most charitable interpretation—his report would appear to be as much about the state of Cuban health care itself as Moore’s. (Again, to assume this is charitable; a television piece isn’t really justified if the point is to slam something one ordinary guy says—even if it isn’t absurd. A reasonable journalistic focus is not upon the fact that he said it, but upon whatever he is actually talking about; and it is interesting only to the extent that the latter is, in itself, interesting.)

…Or What Doesnt Matter?

If Stossel’s point is to offer a statement on the Cuban health care system, his statement could only be that there are some bad aspects to it. But what, in turn, could be the point of this?: Yes, Cuban health care is capable of some lapses and deficiencies. That some tiny, poor (not to say beleagured) Latin American country lends itself to these are unsurprising. Why does Cuba in particular rate such attention on this count? It occurs to nobody at ABC or anywhere else to sneak hidden cameras into Bolivian or Ecuadoran or rural Khazakh hospitals to count cockroaches on the floor or cracks in the ceiling. Would an “expose” of health care in any other “third world” nation even be interesting? (Reporter: “This just in: Yep, Bolivia is still pretty goddamned poor.”) Would it be scandalous, no less?

(And what is the lesson of the documentary, then?—for again, in investigative journalism surely there is one. Are we asking Cuba not to be poor? Or to be poor but bear no marks which could possibly identify it as poor? I don’t get this.)

So Why Cuba?

I can figure two—very poor—reasons¹ why Cuba is disproportionately targeted:

(1) As I’ve written elsewhere of Dr. Farsi Ferrer, who is interviewed in the Stossel piece, such critics seem strangely less upset that there are some problems to be found in some Cuban hospitals than that these problems coexist alongside some good features. Critics are angry about the existence of what they term “elite” or “showpiece” hospitals which, like the “best” of any other commodity in the world, represent the most value, cost the most to get, and thus necessarily exclude some with less to spend. There is certainly a qualitative range of medical “products” in Cuba and these are to some degree reflected in price. These critics speak as though it were preferable that everyone in Cuba get crappy health care—like all the other parts of the world in which everyone gets crappy health care.

(2) Second, critics of Cuban health care, or of that something called “socialised medicine,” inevitably work with a strawman in view. I can’t tell you how many times a critic has offered me some snapshot of poor Cubans or a report of medical shortages with the gloss, “See your glorious Communist paradise?” The [report on the] Stossel piece can be viewed this way, pretending that somebody has alleged Cuban health care to be “great for everyone.” If Cuba is held to a “paradisal” or “unequivocally great” standard, it will of course fail, as would any other system (of anything) in the world. But no serious defender of Cuba is saying anything like that. Not even the Cuban leadership talks that way. (Read any speech of Fidel’s—which will cover health care because all of Fidel’s speeches cover every topic: It’s pretty pragmatic and down to earth, rhetorically speaking.) So the initial target is a fiction.

Conclusion

Cuba, with its defenders, does claim exceptional performance for itself in the health care field. Where this is a general claim, it is cited relative to other Latin American neighbors; it is claimed “better than the U.S.” in terms of distribution of available resources. (Crudely put, Cuba just doesn’t have the money to give “First World” health care to everyone, all the time (and still eat, drive, educate, etc.); while the U.S. does have the money, yet doesn’t nearly do it.)

On some unexpressed personal level, Stossel could be motivated by these special claims; and indeed, these claims might justify a full-blown documentary. But the piece he actually offers (a) doesn’t much compare Cuba to its neighbors; (b) nor could a simple catalog of “bad things” about Cuban hospitals address the question of how Cuba is doing with what it has. (Much less how it is doing with what it has versus what the U.S. is doing with what it has. Much less with just what “socialized medicine” could have to do with any of it.)

I’ve written much more generally about the Cuban health care system here.

* * *

Bonus Videos

(1) Stossel has been “exposing” the obvious for awhile.

(2) Moore does a decent job of deflecting Stossel-like criticisms on CNN; catalogue here.

Notes

¹These are not quite “the reasons why” Cuban health care is targeted. The real “reasons why” are ideological, probably obvious, and beyond the scope of this post. (1) and (2) are more like rhetorical motifs used in targeting Cuba, for (as always) those ideological reasons.

I think they call this “baby-eating empiricism” [response to reader]

[One must oneself become foolish to talk to a fool. Engagement with anyone requires shared terms of engagement. Two parties with zero shared concepts could hardly begin to communicate. And for obvious reasons, it is easier to approximate the fool’s own terms than the reverse. This poses two sorts of problems. Either: One ends up saying things that aren’t quite correct but might be close enough for present purposes—as we might instruct children that the “socks like to go in the drawer” for the purpose of teaching tidiness. The risk is that the hearer apply the lesson beyond that purpose—as the child may claim socks for friends and be ridiculed by schoolmates; Or: One finds oneself making banal points in language that very obviously “tries” not to sound that way—ringing forced or pedantic, etc. The below post risks the second type. But the position engaged is so pervasive as to obligate me. (And I want to nail the sad shot).]

Miami expatriate types always respond to pro-revolution talk by arguing: You can’t know anything about Cuba until you visit there, maybe even live there, “under the regime.” For me, the latest example comes from “Babalu” of babalublog.com. (His is one of the best anti-Castro sites around; and it’s terrible.) He imagines, in one of multiple emails sent to convince me that he doesn’t care what I’m convinced of: “As far as Im [sic] concerned, unless youve [sic] lived it [i.e., Cuba], you have no idea what it actually is.”

This is flawed on some key levels:

(1) First, the argument supposes that—like a kind of god—my own experience is somehow more privileged than anybody else’s. I have no reason to think this. This being said, even if it were true that only a person who has “lived” something has a right to thoughts about it, this still wouldn’t rule out that I could use his opinion as a basis for my own. (Call this a kind of “vicarious experience.”) One can absorb this through testimony, encapsulated in such forms as written and oral discourse, polling, etc.

Indeed, if we could never make assumptions based on the related, second-hand experience of another, human life would become impossible: My boss just told me to file some contracts. For all my experience tells me, he may have been fired 5 minutes ago without my knowledge, ceasing to be my boss and thus unable to give me orders; maybe these are not actually contracts, but forgeries; maybe I’m supposed to throw them away and not file them. These are all possibilities, and since I haven’t “lived” in the person of my (alleged) boss, or a witness to any firings or contract-strikings, I cannot say for sure they aren’t true. To perform my job—that is, to eat—I have to assume that what this guy tells me about his own “experience” (even if he “tells” me it implicitly—by not saying otherwise) is basically correct. It is unclear why Cuba should be approached in a manner different from all other arenas of human life.

(2) Consider any discipline or profession which requires one to have opinions on “world events”—Political Science, journalism, etc. Members of these disciplines claim to “know” things about dozens of countries to which they’ve never actually been. Indeed, to truly “know” Cuba one must know something at least of the U.S., Spain, the Soviet Union and West Africa. And to know of the USSR, in turn, one must know of all the Eastern satellites; and of Spain, one must know France and Mexico (etc.). Who has been to, much less “lived under” all of the implicated “regimes”? Specifically, the history of Cuba is bound up with the histories of other nations. But nobody alive has “lived” since the very births of these nations; one can “experience” history, but not histories.

(3) Even among the now-living, nobody shares precisely the same parcel of experience as anyone else. I may as well say to Babalu: “Unless you have ‘lived under’ the precise circumstances that have shaped me, and led to my views on Cuba, you have no idea about them and cannot say anything about my Cuba posts.” Indeed, for Babalu, which Cuban would qualify to speak of his nation? No Cuban has experienced Cuba, and being Cuban, in every last one of its full and varied dimensions. “Cuba” includes the city of Baracoa—to speak of the one is, in part, to speak of the other. But lifelong Baracoans have not “lived” as Santa Clarans or Havanans. Nor have Cuban men “lived” as Cuban women, etc. On Babalu’s assumption, then, nobody could ever legitimately speak of Cuba (nor any other subject).

(4) Even if Babalu’s basic point were correct, a person’s “lived” experience is not nearly, nearly enough for credibility—even when experience leads one to correct ideas. This is because truth is not just a bunch of “facts” bundled together. One must—if she wants to say something non-trivial—go on to interpret one’s experience: to qualify, rank, and evaluate these facts, and place them into context. If my having to rely upon others’ experience of Cuba is an epistemic ‘handicap,’ it is more than washed out by the much greater handicap, facing everyone at all times, of having to determine which facts among the millions presented by “experience” are significant, and later, what all of it means. (Someone who catalogued and measured all of the angles in Cuban hospitals (edges of tables, corners of walls, etc.) might know many thousands more “facts” about Cuban hospitals than I; it would not follow that he is more credible on the health care system.)

(5) Babalu’s criticism confuses how one acquires one’s opinions with whether those opinions are actually true. This commits the elementary logical “fallacy of origins,” equating a thing (or the value of a thing) with where it came from (or the value of this). These are two different elements and should be evaluated separately.

For it is certainly possible for me to hold the correct view of Cuba even if I am “in no position” to do so. Short of “liv[ing] it,” I could still make a lucky correct guess about what the country is like; heck, I could divide up a dartboard into positions about Cuba and just happen to hit the right one. In these cases, Babalu could critique my knowledge-gathering techniques, even be right about them, but he wouldn’t be on topic—because the topic is not my technique but rather What is the case about Cuba.

The point is that: To refute a position, you have to do more than just say, “Oh, what would somebody like you know about it?” You actually have to put in the work, construct the case, argue against it. Babalu may agree on principle, but he didn’t act upon it in this forum when he had the chance.

(6) Finally, by every reasonable measure we have for discerning it, those “living” Cuba most directly—its present citizens—seem to favor the system in its basic features overwhelmingly. This claim is a “big” one not because its all that hard to verify but because so few are looking. Thus, it warrants its own post, to arrive soon.

William Blum on Chavez’ constitutional reforms

[Excerpted from larger piece here. Also see Blum’s monthly “Anti-Empire Report.”]

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Hugo the demon dictator strikes again

The latest evidence that Hugo Chavez is a dictator, we are told, is that he’s pushing for a constitutional amendment to remove term limits from the presidency. It’s the most contentious provision in his new reform package which has recently been approved by the Venezuelan congress and awaits a public referendum on December 2. The lawmakers traveled nationwide to discuss the proposals with community groups at more than 9,000 public events, rather odd behavior for a dictatorship, as is another of the reformssetting a maximum six-hour workday so workers would have sufficient time for personal development.

The American media and the opposition in Venezuela make it sound as if Chavez is going to be guaranteed office for as long as he wants. What they fail to emphasize, if they mention it at all, is that there’s nothing at all automatic about the processChavez will have to be elected each time. Neither are we enlightened that it’s not unusual for a nation to not have a term limit for its highest office. France, Germany, and the United Kingdom, if not all of Europe and much of the rest of the world, do not have such a limit. The United States did not have a term limit on the office of the president during the nation’s first 175 years, until the ratification of the 22nd Amendment in 1951. Were all American presidents prior to that time dictators?