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Friday, August 13, 2004



leftist ideologue? actually i've heard him interviewed on Doug Henwood's radio show several times, he sounds pretty reasonable on his show. i think by 'ideologue', you mean someone who disagrees with you and is left wing?

Here's an interesting interview with a Chavez gov't rep:

Michael J. Totten

Awesome, Marc.

Steve, you are predictable. Is there any left-wing thug who don't like? Say something rude about Kim in Pyongyang. Come on, I know you can.


Steve, you are predictable. Is there any left-wing thug who don't like?

--I didn't know I 'liked' Chavez, does that mean you like the dictators that Bush is comfortable coddling? When you say left wing thug, I take it you are referring to rulers that the US doesn't like that were democratically elected? Does the name Allende and Scoop Jackson's support of Kissinger's solution to use any strategy necessary, short of direct military intervention, Allende remind you of anything?


It's interesting that the Uzbekeeeeestannnn dictators are ok, the Haitian thugs are AOK, the Saudis are fine, Egyptian dictators are allies, Pakistani general dictators are spot on...But boy that Chavez sure does upset the US.

On a more pertinent note, any reaction to the interview that I posted between Henwood and the VIS rep?

Michael J. Totten

Nice dodge, bud.

None of those guys are okay.


yeah, but they are the types of people that your hero mr. hank jackson was into.

on north korea, i'd recommend bruce cumings' new book. i agree with most of what he says, far better informed than any of the paranoid fearmongering that dominates the irrational discourse on North Korea. Careful what ya say about Cumings btw, he's buddy buddy with your buddy Hitchens, unless--god forbid Hitch has gone a dictator coddling on us, like me?


So, how about the VIS rep's discussion with Doug Henwood, pretty interesting stuff there, eh?

Michael J. Totten


From Amazon's book description at the link you provided:

"From CIA reports on North Korea's impressive social programs to that country's genuine efforts to address the new strategic environment since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cumings draws from his extensive knowledge of Korean history and declassified government reports to show that North Korea is as fascinating as it is repellent, as formidable as it is unique and idiosyncratic."

I'm sure North Korea really is fascinating. I'm not being sarcastic here. I'm actually considering going there myself.

But why don't you just tell us about North Korea's "impressive social programs" as documented by Mr. Cumings. I have a lot of books on my list right now.

Marc Cooper

You know, steve, the more I read of ur comments the less I get you. Whaddayathink? That politics is some form of personal endorsement? That something is more or less true because Doug Henwood or Chris Hitchens approves or disapproves of something? What happened to critical thinking? What happened to making up your own mind. Now here's the irony, pal. You mention Tarq Ali's interview by Doug Henwood. Doug is an old friend of mine and has eaten several meals in my home. Tariq Ali is effectively my publisher as he is CEO of Verso which published my first two books. OK. So what? Tariq is dead wrong on Venezuela. I dont know what Doug's position is on the matter and frankly I dont care-- because whatever it is he will still be my friend and I will still oppose Chavez.
I also know Bruce Cumings as he has written for The Nation and I have interviewed him 2-3 or times. He is America's top expert on North Korea and he is quite critical of U.S. policy -- as he should be. I have never heard him, however, even remotely apologize for what has got to be one of the most thorough and demeanining dictatorships on the globe. Dictatorial rule isnt merely about repression.. it's also about the theft of human dignity. I cant think of a place on earth where the intelligence or dignity of the average person is more demeaned than in the Kim-Kingdom of North Korea. Imagine being wholly dependent on a bankrupt and repressive states that requires you to refer to its half-mad leader as "Dear Leader."It makes me sick to my stomach. Whatever "social programs" N Korea may or may not have (apart from bark-eating classes) are outbalanced by the affront to human dignity visited on each one of its citizens' daily. The most savage form of free-market capitalism is preferable to that sort of imprisonment of the soul. Just remember, whether in Havana or Pyongyang, your prolific internet habit would land you right in friggin' prison.

Michael Turner

Question for you all: if the level of violence, state of public security, economic conditions and democratic mandate in Iraq were to miraculously become what they will be with a likely Chavez victory in Venezuela, how many of you would be complaining? Iraq should be so lucky.

As Deborah James puts it in the interview steve points to, Chavez is pushing the line that Venezuela's oil belongs to all Venezuelans. Ohmigod, confiscatory Marxists! Well, go read the current Iraqi provisional constitution: it says pretty much the same thing, and was pushed through with the help of the CPA. (My assessment of the chances that any such distribution will happen in Iraq: near zero. Whereas much of the current windfall profit from high oil prices sounds like it's going into social spending in Venezuela, your classic poverty-stricken rich oil country hitherto.)

As for North Korea, I must say living in Japan is a great vantage point. Where else in the world does the Diet debate whether the graduates from its North-Korean-run high schools should be allowed to take regular college entrance exams?

Japan supposedly cowers as N. Korean nuclear-tipped missiles brandished by a rabid dictator cast chilling shadows over the archipelago. I was pretty spooked myself the first time. But what's happening right now just seems like a repeat of something I've seen several times over the last 15 years: North Korea goes into its rabid-dog act at moments when the leaderships of its opponent democracies are facing various embarrassments with their voters, then a rabid-dog buy-off aid deal gets negotiated, and all goes quiet again.

In short, the North Korean government has a vested image in its chronic rabid-dog image, in the voter distraction value of it - after all, it's not like it's going to be impressing anybody in any other respect. It has political quid pro quo to offer: any national leadership that helps the current North Korean regime maintain stability gets its own political stability bonus.

Basically, if you believe every bad thing you hear about North Korea, you're probably believing some things that the North Korean government wants you to believe. Not that things aren't bad enough there anyway - who'd choose to live there? It's just that nobody is helping matters much by not looking more closely. It's so much easier to respond to apparent irrational paranoia with your own irrational paranoia.

Marc Cooper

What irrational paranoia? The possession of nuclear weapons by any country constitutes a threat. Possession of them by a clearly unbalanced, delusional leadership that by your own description assumes a "rabid-dog" posture is an aggravated threat.
As to Chavez, I dont understand frankly ur comparison with Iraq. If ur saying that the "level" of democracy and the level of law and order are relatively higher than in Venezuela thhan they are in Iraq and that if Iraq had those levels today it would be a better place than it is now, then I would answer yes to both. And then I would add, so what? These debates over the legitimacy and behavior of this or that regime are not abstract parlour games. These are debates over peoples lives and the future of their children. Freedom, liberty, and justice are absolute values and don't do very well when they have modifiers or qualifiers attached to them. Every morning millions of Venezuelans get up and have to face 20% official unemployment, sky-high prices, low wages, and watch a veritable buffoon sit in the Presidential Palace and yammer on about some non-existent revolution. Some believe his bullshit. An equal number and probably higher don't. One thing NONE of them do is say to themselves, well, gee, we are are lving better than the Iraqis. If, indeed, Michael, people really judged their terms of existence only by comparing themselves with other peoples than there really would be no need for any critical social movements in the U.S., would there? As someone who has been on the left my entire life I can state categorically that most Americans (including the poor) live better than about 98% of the rest of the world. Our justice system is flawed, often times racist and arbitrary but I can't think of another country where I'd rather face trial (certianly not in europe where most countries still employ some form or another of the Napoleonic code). Amd so on down the line. NONE of that, however, keeps me from being critical and consistently demanding that we nevertheless REFORM, IMPROVE AND PERFECT our institutions. I'm sure you agree. So let's grant the Venezuelans those same rights. The right not to just live better than Iraqis, but the right to a fully democratic and just society.

Michael J. Totten

Christopher Hitchens has been to North Korea and has some pretty poignant things to say about it.

He described it as ""a society where individual life is absolutely pointless, and where everything that is not absolutely compulsory is absolutely forbidden."


Also, this in "The Nation" a few years back.

"Everything you have read about the party state in North Korea is true or understated; from a purely human point of view it is the most literally oppressive and regimented society I have ever seen."


Michael Turner

Marc Cooper writes: "What irrational paranoia? The possession of nuclear weapons by any country constitutes a threat."

Well, except when you're the U.S., Russia, China, Britain, France, and, let's face it, Israel; and increasingly even if you're Pakistan and India, where both sides see it as a deterrent to a threat, not as a threat.

The assumption that North Korea has nukes just because it says it does - without supporting evidence from inspections - is an example of the kind of thing I'm talking about. They trotted out an ingot of something they claimed was plutonium for one visiting delegation. One of the delegation asked if he could hold it. (Yes, it's safe to do that.) Plutonium in hand feels warm. He wasn't allowed to. Hmm.

North Korea clearly wants to be seen as having nuclear weapons, I'll give you that much. And it may well have them. Whther it has them or not, the perception has deterrence value and they know it. The reality may be that they have no functioning warheads, or that they do but don't have the missile accuracy to make them worth much.

If there's a nation in the world with cause for worry, it's South Korea - well within range, still under a declaration of war, frequently 'threatened' with renewed hostilities, and with Seoul close enough that missiles with pinpoint accuracy would hardly be necessary.

So just how worried IS South Korea?

Curiously a delegation from South Korea walked way past an ideological checkpoint a couple years ago when they told officials in Washington D.C. that, given a choice between a nuclearized North Korea, and an American invasion of North Korea, they'd go for a Kim Jong Il with nukes. Of course, all American officials in attendance expressed deep, DEEP shock that any South Korean would admit any such a thing, and the spokesmen in that South Korean delegation backpedaled almost immediately. But I loved the whole charade anyway. I'm sure the North got the real message, which was probably the whole point of that trip.

"Sea of fire! Sea of fire!" shouts the ostensibly irrational, paranoid North Korean negotiator, as his quieter counterpart sighs and inks yet another contract for more South Korean investment in the North.

Gee, just today I was reading about recent concern over Terror Shares - it seems your average index fund contains the stock of large multinationals with investments in North Korea (albeit quite small), among other pariah states.

Marc again: "Possession of them by a clearly unbalanced, delusional leadership that by your own description assumes a "rabid-dog" posture is an aggravated threat."

"A clearly unbalanced, delusional leadership"? Or "a corrupt but otherwise rational dictatorship that has found political uses for being seen as 'clearly unbalanced and 'delusional'"? Are you willing to consider that posture may differ from reality, or do you think that's just too nuanced for Asian Communists? Funny how they are so tricky when we're worried that they are up to no good, but not considered intelligent enough to game democracies. They certainly have found uses for that perception, after all.

Marc, I think you're falling prey to that rather typical American tendency to take propaganda at face value whenever it confirms your biases. If in fact North Korea's rogue-state posture is primarily posture for gain, it's no surprise that a Christopher Hitchens would come back from North Korea loaded up with horror stories. That's not to say there aren't enough horror stories with substance behind them to go around, but in the present state of affairs, I don't know how you'd confirm one story as having substance and another devoid of it. Did the government starve a rebellious province to death, or did it do little more than spread that story internally to further intimidate the subjects in other provinces, taking care to leak it externally so as to beef up its reputation for being crazy and ruthless?

All I know is I keep hearing periodically about collapse or metastasis of North Korea, and have yet to see anything but increases in diplomatic ties, increases in corporate investment, and more stories about attempts at economic deregulation.

So here's my story and I'm stickin' to it. The pattern seems to be this: North Korea dabs some foam around its jaws and rails incoherently at moments when that sort of thing is a convenient voter distraction for the chronically embarrassed administrations of the various democracies that pony up with what North Korea styles 'tribute' when describing foreign oil and food shipments to its benighted subjects through its controlled media channels. Then everybody ignores it until ... the next turn of the game.

Of course, now I'm going to be accused of 'defending North Korea,' as if I had any love for such contemptible extortionists. Oh dear. All I'm trying to say is that maybe they aren't as stupid and crazy as you think they are. But if you don't buy this theory ... I guess I'll live.

Robin Green

Once again, a critique short on facts and analysis and long on innuendo. And the "anti-democratic" canard again. To be consistent, you must either show that Chavez is more anti-democratic than say Bush or Blair, or you must call both Bush and Blair anti-democratic too. Otherwise you are being a hypocrite. That's just plain logic, I'm afraid.

Let's have some more facts and analysis: Why can the blame for the 20% unemployment, high prices etc. be laid at Chavez's feet? (I'm not saying it can't, I'm just asking for an argument rather than invective.) What should he be doing instead? How precisely would getting rid of him improve the situation in Venezuela?

It appears that you admit that it wouldn't... so why do you still support a "Si!" vote, Marc? Politics is not some game of posturing, it is about real peoples lives, as you are so fond of pointing out. Voting in a worse alternative just to get rid of Chavez seems to me to be like voting for Bush because you object to Kerry not being liberal or progressive enough. Huh?

Michael Turner

Unclear on my point in comparing Venezuela and present-day Iraq, Marc writes: "If, indeed, Michael, people really judged their terms of existence only by comparing themselves with other peoples than there really would be no need for any critical social movements in the U.S., would there?"

Comparisons matter precisely because, as Americans concerned about improving societies, we always have to make a choice of how to invest our time: in our own society, vs. others. (I've talked to people who say we shouldn't spend a minute on trying to improve the lives of others in the world when we have so many problems at home.) So when you decide to put time into the issues of another society, questions of priorities loom: why one over another? If you want hair-raising economic and human rights situations outside the border of the U.S., you're spoiled for choice. Venezuela shouldn't make you bat an eyelash.

So if someone said to me, "we've got some problematic democracies among the oil-exporting states - choose some to focus on," I'd much sooner focus on Nigeria, Indonesia and their ilk. Venezuela would be far down my list. And I'd consider the oil-exporting NON-democracies as much more of an issue anyway. And if released from the constraint of focusing on oil-exporting countries, I'd definitely look further afield.

Marc, you seem to find Chavez personally repulsive and stupid. Hey, I'll take your word for it. As well, you believe that he's a demagogue. Hey, no problem there either. Is he a Castro apologist? Yeah, and that's a strike against him in my book as well. Here, add another one while you're at it: he's inking deals with COLOMBIA for pipeline networks, even as the government of Columbia inks deals with rightwing death squad militias - and because Hugo Baby has designs on some master energy supply plan for South America, as if he were some oil-soaked Simon Bolivar, armed for payback against those Norteamericanos!

Well, whatever - it nevertheless comes down to this, which you seem to admit: Venezuela is still a democracy, and this whole episode may be instructive for the former ruling elites of Venezuela. It might shake them up enough to make a comeback on less abusive terms.

In short, we don't have a flat-out basket-case situation in Venezuela, of the kind you can easily find at the rate of about one per minute, for an hour or more, when clicking through country report pages in the CIA Factbook Online. Venezuela is front page news for one reason and one reason only: it's among America's top 5 sources of oil, at a time when oil markets the world over feature furrowed brows aplenty.

Marc Cooper

Michael (and Robin): I find both your arguments interesting and OFF point. Both arguments are primarily refracted thru the lens of how each country relates to the US or vice-versa. Im primarily concerned how they relate to their own people. So on North Korea...well.. yeah perhaps Kim is putting on a show about being a nuclear armed nutwing and in fact underneath is just a shrewd manipulator. Im not advocating by the way some panicked international response to him, but rather a smart and shrewd one. In the end, everyone's interests, especially those of the North Koreans, are advanced by the end of the regime. I can only hope that it comes soon and as painlessly as possible. So, yes, please put me down for regime change in North Korea-- with cheese, please.
As to Chavez.. do me a favor and stop beating the Democracy Drum. This punk staged his own military coup in the ealry 90's if you will remember.,.. i dont believe there was anything democratic about it all. After he was elected in a farcical election in which he was opposed by Miss Universe, he has restricted not expanded democracy as he has shamelessly stacked courts and administrative bodies with his thuggish supporters. He has tried to break the national union confederation. he has fired state workers for political reasons. He has rallied the lumpen and infused them with a class hatred thereby deeply polarizing the country but doing nothing, in fact, to alleviate their plight. (At time he has armed them and deployed them as gun squads to break up opposition rallies) He has openly flirted with Kaddafy and even Osama and has gone out of his way to anatagonize relationws with the U.S. and to what end? To truly improve the lot of his people? Or to give little hard-ons of approval from impotent leftists from Madison to Manchester? Do the words Manuel Noriega mean anything to you? I can remember when idiot leftsts were supporting this thug and CIA agent because he also got into a fight with the Yankees!
The recall is part of the democratric process. The opposiiton has collected millions of signatures two or three times now only to have the process ruled invalid by the cronies who control Chavez' electoral oversight agencies. Finally, after the intervention of OAS and Lula Chavez has now reluctantly accepted today's vote-- but with few if any guarantees of transparency.
Venezuela's oil, you bet is important, That is precisely why the oil companies have joined the left to make peace with Chavez and whi for all its blustering the Bushies will wind up accepting him as well. It's a quite cozy scene y'know: Texaco, Tariq Ali and Colin Powell together at last!

Michael J. Totten

Michael Turner,

You just seem annoyed that Marc wrote about Chavez in the first place. That seems to be your only real objection. It all boils down to "focus on a worse-off country, please." All he did was write about it one time on his blog. If he were advocating a humanitarian invasion I would totally agree with you. But since he isn't, and unless you are a Chavez supporter who is too scared to admit it, where's the beef?

Venezuela is a happier place than Iraq. Yes. This means Marc should either support Chavez or shut up about it? That's a leap.

You said: "Venezuela is front page news for one reason and one reason only: it's among America's top 5 sources of oil"

Guatemala was front-page news at the end of last year when I went down there myself. It was front-page news because a nasty old dictator was running for president and trying to destabilize the country. Guatemala has no oil, but it does have problems. Problems make the news. Guatemala has problem. Venezuela has problems. Our journalists do not work or report for Halliburton.

Tom Grey

Marc, fine job; too bad it looks like the voters' fears of the unknown will keep a thug in power. (Unlike the US; voter fears will likely keep the better of two reasonable guys in power; I know you disagree).

Michael Turner

Michael Totten writes: 'You [Michael Turner] just seem annoyed that Marc wrote about Chavez in the first place. That seems to be your only real objection. It all boils down to "focus on a worse-off country, please."'

On the contrary. Human rights situations around the world will not improve unless they are focused on by somebody. When and where Chavez is stepping over the line, people should cry 'foul!', as they should everyone else who does so.

But there's foul and there's foul. Calling every leader who resorts to unnecessary violence a 'thug' leaves you short of impressive epithets for far worse characters. A focus on who did what, and why, is a lot more informative than calling someone a name. Not that the word should never be used - I'm happy enough to use it in describing AUC militia members who carve up hapless Colombian villagers with chainsaws.

But if you apply it to anyone and everyone who is doing stuff you don't like ... well, let's try that on a story ripped from today's headlines.

Reporters were recently told by Allawi to get out of Najaf, because, he said, their safety couldn't be guaranteed. At first I took this as well-intentioned, but wondered why he made it actually ILLEGAL for them to stay in Najaf. War reporting is war reporting - you can't do it sitting around a pool sipping umbrella drinks. Well, what's filtering in now from Najaf is that these reporters are in fact being shot at - by the police - and invited for cordial interviews - by Sadrists.

Now, of what use is the word 'thug' in this situation? I suppose you can say write that some thug president is directing his thug police to prevent those intellectual-thug reporters from talking to those Sadrist thugs (who Allawi wishes would report more on Sadrist kidnappings even as he bars those Al Jazeera thugs from Iraq for reporting too much on kidnappings in general) because their reporting might embolden other thugs to ... oh, let's just cut to the chase, here: thug thug thug thug thug. I love to say thug. It's so ... satisfying. It sounds like that final gulp from a thoroughly flushed toilet. And it's so economical: I don't actually have to tell a story. Much less put it into any kind of perspective.

Marc Cooper

Come on, Michael, that's not fair. You know we're doing more than just calling names here. we're also telling the stories.


Totten writes: But why don't you just tell us about North Korea's "impressive social programs" as documented by Mr. Cumings.

--the book has far more than that. north korea and south korea were on a par in terms of development through the early 80's, so maybe he's onto something? or is your version of history, NK evil America Good...black white...
That something is more or less true because Doug Henwood or Chris Hitchens approves or disapproves of something? What happened to critical thinking?

--you seem to miss the entire point. you trash me for thinking differently than you. well, cumings, henwood think differently than you too, yet the latter is your friend. good on ya, if it's ok for doug to disagree with ya, i don't see why you have such a vitriolic antipathy to people who think like him on your comments board.
He is America's top expert on North Korea and he is quite critical of U.S. policy -- as he should be. I have never heard him, however, even remotely apologize for what has got to be one of the most thorough and demeanining dictatorships on the globe.

--I wonder if Totten has read what you say here?


--I wonder if Totten has read what you say here?

--I didn't think so.

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