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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 News

We woke up fully resolved to write about something other than radical Islamic terrorism or Donald Trump, but the day’s news hasn’t been at all cooperative. A thorough reading of our vast and eclectic news sources yielded little mention of anything else, not even any of the collegiate craziness that has lately provided us a bemusing diversion, and except for a pleasant stroll with the folks through the impressive “Illuminations” Christmas display at our city’s nearby botanical garden there was, as usual, nothing worth mentioning in our personal life, so we are left with nothing but a few stray comments about the filler items we encountered.
There was a double satisfaction in reading that former President Jimmy Carter’s cancer treatment is coming along well. Although we found little to like in Carter’s presidency, or his post-presidency, we’re not the sorts of internet trolls who wish ill on our political adversaries. The good news of his apparent recovery is even further sweetened by the fact it’s due to medicines and medical techniques invented in Israel, a very fine nation that Carter has described as an “apartheid state” and has urged sanctions against and has never been a friend to. None of the reporters at Carter’s press conference were impolite enough to note the irony, but we would have relished the opportunity to ask if he would have preferred a Palestinian procedure.
All well-informed citizens these days are regular readers of the indispensable Drudge Report, which has lately been breathlessly linking to the numerous stories about that pornographic film actor who’s been accused of rape by at least three of his female co-stars, which has some prurient interest. We’re not au courant on the current skin flick scene, and are admittedly unfamiliar with the work of James Deen, who is clearly intended to be confused with the broodingly handsome James Dean of an earlier and more innocent era of American cinema, but apparently his on-screen persona was that of the “boy next door,” and so far as we can tell that makes the allegations against him all the more shocking. Somehow we are not all shocked that a porn star, even the one next door, might turn out to be a sleaze, and as we’re not the sort to wish ill on any victims he might prove to have preyed on we will instead offer the advice they seek other employment opportunities.
 There was some good news from Venezuela, of all places, where the opposition to socialist President Nicolas Maduro won a Congressional majority, even if Maduro was promising ahead of the results that “the revolution will continue.” The revolution has quite literally reduced the population to knife-fighting over the last scraps of toilet paper in that unfortunate country, and it seems likely to get even uglier, but there’s now hope for some satisfactory resolution and in any case the American press will be preoccupied with damning Trump and helping out whichever socialist the Democrats might nominate.
Of course there were also the elections in France, where the frankly nationalist National Front party was the big winner, but that’s all about radical Islamic terrorism and leads inevitably to a discussion of Donald Trump, and we’re still fully resolved not write about any of that. If by any chance you’re in the Riverside neighborhood of Wichita during this holiday season we highly recommend a leisurely stroll through Botanica’s “Illuminations,” and invite you to drop by afterwards, as we’re just a few blocks away, but otherwise we have nothing to offer but hope for a better news cycle today.

— Bud Norman

Meanwhile, Down South

What little attention Americans pay the rest of the world has lately been focused on Ukraine, so the noteworthy noise emanating from Venezuela has gone largely unheard. That’s partly because the uprising in Ukraine has thus far been bloodier than the one in Venezuela, and has political and economic implications for Europe rather than South America, and features Vladimir Putin in a villain’s role and a recent world heavyweight boxing champ as his antagonist instead of a bunch of Venezuelans no one in the United States has ever heard of, but we suspect it’s also because most of the American media find Ukraine less embarrassing than Venezuela.
The Ukrainian mess is an embarrassment for those media intent on favorable coverage of the administration, as it once again reveals the utter failure of the “reset” diplomacy with Russia and the forehead-slapping stupidity of its underlying theory that any problems with those kindly Russians must surely have been the fault of that belligerent cowboy George W. Bush, but the damage done to the cause is limited. Even right-wing Obama-bashing bastards such as ourselves can’t blame the 50-something-year-old president for the past centuries of atrocities that the Russians have inflicted on the Ukrainians, or the mess that the Ukrainians have thus far made of their opportunity for independence, and in the midst of all that tragic history there’s no need to remind anyone of the administration’s recent naiveté. All those Russian troops amassing on the Ukrainian border and the Russian warships docked in Cuba might yet make the story unmanageable, but for now it can be reported without trepidation.
The Venezuelan mess, on the other hand, is an unmitigated embarrassment to one of one liberalism’s most chic causes. An uprising against an explicitly Marxist Latin American regime, undeniably caused by the economic catastrophe that follows every attempt at Latin American Marxism, is not a tale that most of the modern media are eager to tell. This is especially true of Venezuela, where Hugo Chavez’ glorious revolution against the Yankee capitalist pig-dogs was especially trendy among the Hollywood bleeding-hearts, scruffy Occupy encampments, and the more progressive corners of the Democratic party. Some of the radical frisson has gone from Venezuela since the death last year of Chavez, the fat little windbag hillbilly who somehow acquired a cult of personality that stretched from the barrios of Caracas to the penthouses of the Upper East Side of Manhattan, but successor Nicolas Maduro has carried on the revolution with the same inflationary, impoverishing, iron-fisted style, and until recently Venezuela was still a fashionable example of social justice in action.
The fashions are changing, however, as protests against Maduro’s government are springing up in all the smart places. Maduro’s government has driven so many Venezuelans out of the country that they’ve been dispersed to all the smart places, where their eyewitness accounts of the country’s problems have had some success countering the media’s relentless propaganda, but it has also acted with such blatant disregard for human rights in putting down the protests that it cannot be ignored by even the most willfully blind observers. All of those celebrities who once basked in the revolutionary warmth of Venezuela, from pugnacious movie star Sean Penn to patrician politician Joseph Kennedy II, are now in danger of being out of style.
In his desperation Maduro has resorted to the Latin American Marxists’ most reliable trick of blaming the Yankees for his woes, going so far as to expel American diplomats from the country, and the administration has response by expelling an equal number of Venezuelan diplomats from this country, but no one outside the barrios of Caracas are likely to believe that President Barack Obama has ever wished any harm on Maduro’s convoluted share-the-wealth schemes. Obama’s own choice for the Federal Communication Commission’s “diversity czar” openly expressed his admiration for Chavez’ “incredible and democratic revolution,” which routinely denied broadcast licenses to any troublesome critics, and ever since the State Department sided with a Marxist coup in Honduras back in ’09 it has been clear the administration has been friendly toward to South American socialism. Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa recently returned from a three-day trip to the same Cuba where that Russian warship is parked and expressed great enthusiasm for its medical system, which he describes as even more advanced than Obamacare, former Democratic President Jimmy Carter is planning yet another trip to Venezuela to negotiate between the protestors and the government whose fraudulent elections has long endorsed, and it’s hard to think of anyone in the Democratic party that hasn’t been on board with the noble experiment that is currently imploding in Venezuela and to a lesser degree throughout South America.
The vast disparity between the coverage given to Ukraine and Venezuela is so conspicuous that The Washington Post felt compelled to explain it, but they didn’t mention the embarrassment they surely feel in addressing the story. It seems likely they’ll soon have to report the end of Chavez’ glorious revolution, but don’t expect them to mention who was complicit in the debacle.

— Bud Norman