A Hastening Descent

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Hugo Chavez, faced with stronger opposition in a new legislature and other rumbles of popular discontent, is quickening the pace at which he consolidates power. Venezuela's lame duck congress has given Chavez a year and a half to rule by decree, bypassing their newly-elected counterparts. In the name of combating severe flooding, Chavez plans to do the following (as quoted by Ron Radosh), among other things:

  • Media and Telecommunications. The modification of the Media Responsibility Law and the Telecommunications Law place severe restrictions on the Internet, centralizing access under the control of a government server. They re-categorize the airwaves as a "public good" and set in place harsh penalties for arcane and obtuse violations of the law. The laws require TV stations to re-apply for their licenses and for the owners to be in the country (a clear reference to Globovision, whose owner, Dr. Guillermo Zuloaga, is in political exile in the United States).
  • Electoral Reform. The reform of the Political Party Law establishes the crime of electoral fraud. Fraud would be committed if a politician changed parties, voted against legislation that was "ideologically represented" by their "electoral offer" (on file when they registered their candidacy with the National Electoral Council), or if they make common cause with ideas or people who are not ideologically akin to their electoral offer. Sanctions are the expulsion from parliament and inability to run for public office for up to eight years. This law is meant to protect against individuals or political parties turning against Chavez, as happened with the opposition parties of PODEMOS (We Can) and PPT (Fatherland for All).
  • Economy and Governance. Chavez is pushing through a block of five laws: Popular Power, Planning and Popular Power, Communes, Social Control, and the law of Development and Support of the Communal Economy. These laws establish the commune as the lowest level of Venezuelan economy and government. They set in place the Popular Power, which is responsible to the Revolutionary leadership (Chavez) for all governing (eliminating the municipalities and regional government's constitutional mandate). To facilitate the creation of this new governance model, the Assembly is approving the Law of the System for Transferring the Responsibilities of the States and Municipalities to the Popular Power.
The extermination of rational political debate is the clear purpose of all of these new laws, a point hardly lost on the author of the anti-Chavez Devil's Excrement blog:
Imagine that! a Bill basically saying that if you vote what you feel or think, you can be impeached for treason to the party slate you were elected on!

... [I]f everyone has to vote in the same way, why have a Parliament at all? Just calculate the percentage of Deputies for each party and for four years, say each Bill sent by Chavez down was approved by 61% to 39% or whatever the outcome of the election was. No discussion, no arguments, just have the party send the Bill, we will process it and we are done.. Why even pay the Deputies! They can build housing for example.
Interestingly, the Radosh piece likens Chavez's methods to those of the Nazis, and notes as well that at least one Obama associate will probably welcome the news:
Bill Ayers, who is on record as extolling Chavez's educational system as the one he wants imposed in the United States, must be elated today after learning that university autonomy will be abolished, and that the university will now require "teaching courses on Popular Power and communes, and [that it] focuses the pedagogy around revolutionary principles."
Too bad the parallels are neither just historic, nor just overseas: The FCC is likely to expand government power over the Internet this morning, one of Obama's closest advisors has advocated a "notice and takedown" law on Internet postings, and his Attorney General sounds perilously close to forgetting the that there is a difference between dissenting speech and incitement.
"The ability to go into your basement, turn on your computer, find a site that has this kind of hatred spewed ... they have an ability to take somebody who is perhaps just interested, perhaps just on the edge, and take them over to the other side," [Holder] said.
Why not (really) go after the terrorists and their nation-state sponsors, rather than our ability to access information?

One common thread in the above is the notion that because humans have free will, they therefore cannot be trusted. Would-be dictators use this notion to sow fear (and gain approval from the still-free) at first, and then to excuse their more obvious power-grabs later, when it is almost too late.

It isn't too late for us here in America, but it is, or soon will be, in Venezuela.

-- CAV

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