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Meanwhile, Far South of the Border

The weather around here has been awful lately, but we’ve taken some comfort in reading about how much worse it’s been to the north and east. Similarly, no matter how bad America’s politics get we can still be glad that we’re not living in Venezuela.
Not so long ago in our lifetimes the oil-rich nation of Venezuela was prosperous and peaceful by Latin American standards, but the socialist regimes of President Hugo Chavez and then President Nicolas Maduro have wrought an unmitigated economic disaster. Unemployment is sky-high, such basic necessities as toilet paper are desperately hard to find, and the inflation rate is a staggering one million percent. Mass protests are filling the streets of the capital and other cities, the guy who lost the last presidential election under highly suspect circumstances is plausibly claiming to be the legitimate head of state, and it makes America’s protracted and seemingly intractable partial government shutdown look like no big deal.
President Donald Trump’s administration has pleasantly surprised us by siding with opposition leader Juan Guaido’s claim to the Venezuelan presidency, which is backed by those hundreds of thousands of protestors packing the streets, as well as the governments of several of the country’s South American neighbors. It’s surprising in part because Russia and the Venezuelan military and the more autocratic government of America are still backing Maduro, as well as the fact that Trump typically admires his strong man style of governance, and that Trump doesn’t usually much care what goes on south of America’s border so long as it stays there. We’ll attribute it to a traditional Republican revulsion for Latin American socialism and the clout of the very traditional Republican Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, but give Trump some credit nonetheless.
Which is not to say that it will prove helpful to Venezuela, and it’s possible it could make things worse. There’s an understandable if not entirely unjustified resentment of Yankee imperialism throughout Latin America, which Latin American dictators have long used to rally public opinion against even the best-intended and well-considered efforts to intervene in their affairs, and Maduro should and Maduro should be able make even more hay of it when the Yankee imperialist is the hated-throughout-Latin-America Trump. Maduro retains the the support of the military, which we doubt Trump wants to tangle with, as well as Russia and Cuba and Bolivia and other countries Trump is eager to make deals with, while China and Mexico and other important trading partners are staying on the sidelines, and Trump is known for making his own sudden expedient policy shifts to the sidelines.
Even so, for now Trump finds himself on the side of Canada and most members of the Organization of American States and those hundreds of thousands of protestors taking to the streets, and we’re hopeful he’ll stay there. Chavez and to a lesser extent Maduro were once the darlings of America’s radical left, and the American right’s favorite cautionary tale about the consequences of socialism, and for now the right is clearly winning that argument. Although Maduro is a classic populist strongman autocrat and that Guaido fellow is a thin and youthful and handsome and glib fellow who reminds of a Venezuelan version of America’s Democratic center-left darling Beto O’Rourke, Trump is probably politically astute enough to know his stand will play well with all sorts of freedom-loving Americans.
Meanwhile, most of the rest of the world also seems worse off than we are here in frigid Kansas. Crazy Venezuelan-style left wing populism has much of Central America heading to the United States border, and crazy Trump-style populism is currently making things worse in Brazil and Poland and Hungary and Italy and the Philippines. The sensibly centrist governments of France and the United Kingdom are currently in crisis, too, with the streets of Paris once again burning and the Parliament in London trying to find its way out of a slumping European Union.
Better by far to be here in frigid Kansas than in China or Russia, or anywhere in Africa and the Arab world, or even the most up-to-date and well-heated cities of Asia and Europe. We’re still eagerly awaiting spring and the reopening of the federal government, and in the meantime we’ll warm ourselves with the knowledge of how much worse most of the rest of world’s unlucky folks have it.

— Bud Norman

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Meanwhile, In the Rest of the World

The rest of the world has been back in the news lately, reminding Americans what a dangerous place it is.
Iran’s mad mullahs continue their quest to acquire nuclear weapons, a most dire possibility given the openly apocalyptic yearnings of the regime, and are now close enough that even the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Obama administration has taken alarmed notice. Vice President Joe Biden offered the American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee a characteristically mangled assurance that “as long as I and he are president and vice president of the United States” Obama will be committed to the security of Israel, and Secretary of State John Kerry took to the airwaves to do some uncharacteristic saber-rattling, going so far as to say that “If they keep pushing the limits and not coming with a serious set of proposals or prepared to actually resolve this, obviously the risks get higher and confrontation becomes more possible.” It is hoped that Iran’s theocratic rulers will take these statements more seriously than we do, but Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has issued far more explicit threats, which will not be doubted by anyone, and some sort of “confrontation” now seems inevitable.
Whatever the Iranian government decides to do it will have to be without the assistance of longtime friend Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan dictator who went to his final reward on Tuesday despite the best efforts of Cuba’s vaunted medical system. One is not supposed to speak ill of the dead, but surely in Chavez’ case an exception should be made. The fat twerp impoverished his citizens and trampled on their rights, fomented socialist troublemaking and allied himself with totalitarian thugs around the world, and racked up a sizeable personal fortune as he posed as a protector of the downtrodden common man. Such a resume gave Chavez a radical chic cachet among some progressives, from movie stars to congressmen to a particularly ditzy young woman of our acquaintance, but we think it says it all that his death prompted yet another police state crackdown in his unfortunate land.
The already nuclear-armed North Korean regime, a reliable pal to Chavez and Iran’s mullahs, was also grabbing its share of headlines. Not so much for it’s recent nuclear tests or its threat to end the decades-old cease-fire in the Korean War, but rather because of a recent state visit by Dennis Rodman. For those of you fortunate enough to have forgotten, Rodman was a professional basketball player who contributed tenacious defense, strong rebounding, and few points to some championship Detroit Pistons and Chicago Bulls squads back in the short-shorts days, then parlayed that meager accomplishment and a penchant for cross-dressing, garish tattoos, and outrageous pronouncements into a brief career as a B-list celebrity. Although Rodman’s status has been downgraded several notches in the meantime he was treated as a sort of royalty during his visit to Pyongyang, hanging with the dictator at sporting events and soaking up more media attention than he’s received in years, and he repaid the favor by talking up the virtues of the world’s worst state. Rodman was so inarticulate in the effort that he made Biden seem eloquent by comparison, but as best as we can decipher he seemed to suggest that America’s gulags are just as bad as North Korea’s and that the dictator and Obama share a love of basketball that should serve as the basis for a lasting peace.
Suddenly the domestic news, which has lately been dominated by stories about the disastrous consequences of a $44 billion cut from the growth of a $3.8 trillion budget, seems almost reassuring. The rest of the world can be very intrusive, however, and we can’t keep it at bay with manufactured budget crises forever. We not that the rest of the world even seems to want to meddle in the marijuana laws of Americans states, and there’s no telling what other mischief it might have in mind.

— Bud Norman