Monday, September 19, 2005

Chavez on Democracy Now

It's Hugo Chavez day on Democracy Now...

Not only is there an in-depth interview with Chavez (available as streaming audio), but there is a second piece where Jesse Jackson effectively sumarizes why Chavez is seen as such a threat by certain circles in the US: "[Chavez] Invests in Its People...U.S. Invests In Tax Cuts for the Wealthy and a War that does not Make Sense in Iraq."

And all this while the US is opening up an airbase in Paraguay.

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

CHAVEZ THE KILLER
By THOR HALVORSSEN

http://tinyurl.com/773pc
http://www.nypost.com/seven/09152005/postopinion/opedcolumnists/28057.htm
(Thor Halvorssen is president of the New York-based Human Rights Foundation.)

Jeff Vail said...

Aaah, I love this stuff. Another case of a NeoCon in sheeps clothing. Halvorssen, it seems worth point in out, has a history of being funded by Exxon to write articles that make their policies seem less exploitative (e.g. how Exxon doesn't like Chavez because he doesn't let them exploit the oil in the territories of indigenous peoples without making "just" paymets). That was a good try, though. Funny how this kind of comment is always "anonymous".

See:

http://www.exxonsecrets.org/html/personfactsheet.php?id=150

Anonymous said...

So,Mr. Vail,let me see if I understand you correctly:
Should Mr. Halvorssen state in a column the sky is blue, or that 2+2=4,we shouldn't believe him because he's been funded by The Big Evil Oil Corporation(TM)?

Whether this Halvorssen fellow is indeed a real human being or some android constructed in an Exxon lab, he raises some good points that one can't just casually brush off.

If Mr. Halvorssen is *wrong* or--OR **lying**--in this column, then *please*, DO point it out! And cite a source(s). I don't share your assumption that his groups' funding autamatically discredits what he has to say.

Let's hear what he has to say:

[snip]
And I'm still trying to figure out why Robertson caused a firestormm yet we hear no U.S. outrage over Chavez's own involvement in advocating violence against President Bush — let alone the Venezualan's past attempts to assassinate a president.

On Feb. 4, 1992, then-Lt.-Col. Chavez tried to assassinate Venezuelan President Carlos Andres Perez. Members of the years-long conspiracy had formally vowed to "kill the commander, if necessary" and to "wash the country's blemished honor with blood." Early that February morning, Chavez's rebel forces stormed the presidential palace, indiscriminately firing on loyalist soldiers and killing several dozen people.
[snip]

Now tell me Mr. Vail, is Halvorssen lying here or not?

[snip]
Several months later, the imprisoned Chavez again plotted to murder Perez and to overthrow the government.

At his command, rebel aircraft ruthlessly pounded the president's residence while other insurgents took over a television station and broadcast a tape of Hugo Chavez announcing that the government had fallen. Chavez then invited the people to take the streets. They didn't, and his coup failed once again.

In more than one public speech since becoming president, Chavez has boasted that his intentions back then were not just to topple the government, but also to **execute** President Perez. In 2002, as the families of his victims mourned the 10th anniversary of their loss, Chavez memorialized his unsuccessful assassination attempt by decreeing that henceforth, Feb. 4 would mark a day of "national celebration."
[snip]

Again I ask you,Mr. Vail, is Mr. Halvorssen accurate here or not?

And if Pat Robertson's remarks were so awful and outrageous, than shouldn't the following give you (or any other decent person) pause?

[snip]
Just last month, calls for President George Bush's death emanated from a Venezuelan government-funded conference —the 16th World Youth and Students Festival, Aug. 7-15, in which Chavez and His cabinet took an active part. (The "festival" is a communist gathering that in past decades had been hosted in Moscow, East Berlin, Havana and Pyonyang.)
[...]
The multimillion-dollar extravaganza included an international tribunal, broadcast in Venezuela and Cuba. The presiding judge: Venezuelan Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel. Star witness for the prosecution: President Chavez. The accused: George W. Bush, charged with (among much else) being the cause of the world's terrorism. Delegates are on film chanting "Death to America" and holding signs that read, "Death to Bush."
[snip]

Something else to point out:

[snip]
Participants' political sympathies were obvious as the international delegates, some wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the image of Josef Stalin, networked in Caracas and discussed their respective struggles for communist revolution. Enormous portraits of Che Guevara, Karl Marx, Hugo Chavez, Vladimir Lenin, Fidel Castro and Ho Chi Minh adorned the general meeting hall.
[snip]

Mr. Vail, are you aware that, with the exception of Karl Marx (or Chavez), each one of those memorialized figures alone have murdered/imprisoned/oppressed more people than Exxon the Big Evil Oil Corporation ever has?

What would you think of a political leader who sponsors "multimillion-dollar extravaganzas" for folks and groups who wear Hitler or Mussolini T-shirts? You don't find *something* the least bit wrong with that?

[snip]
Eliecer Otaiza, the Chavez government's minister for land reform, recently went on TV to lament the Venezuelan people's fondness for America, declaring that the government must prepare for war and invest in "sowing hatred toward the United States." He concluded: "Evidently. the ties that bind us with the United States, even political and historic, are too strong but we must prepare to see, and start seeing the 'gringos' as enemies and that is the first step for combat."
[snip]

Has Halvorssen quoted Otaiza accurately? If not, then please cite a source.

[snip]
How can the Venezuelan government justify condemning Robertson when it spends millions of dollars hosting a conference that promotes violence, hate and assassination? And why does the U.S. media, which blitzed Robertson, give Chavez a free pass?
[snip]

Mr. Vail,I think those are good questions that deserve answers.

Jeff Vail said...

I think that you ARE Halvorssen, seeing as you insist on supporting him and won't identify yourself. Here's some good info on you:

"Thor Halvorssen is a Guillen associate with his own links to the CIA. Halvorssen is in a Venezuelan jail accused of participating in a string of car- and letter-bombings in Caracas in July and August."

WOW! And that's from the Washington Post, not Fox News or other disreputable "journalism". Really, Car-Bombs? I'm surprised even Exxon would fund you.

But on a positive note, while I have had Salafi Jihadists comment on this site, you've now upped the bar as the first-ever car-bomber to comment.

Oh, and that post article was in the Satruday, Novermber 20th, 1993 Final Edition, on page A5.

Funny, then, that you should have such a need to rant on the topic of violence in revolutions...

Anonymous said...

No, sorry to disappoint you, I'm most certainly NOT Thor Halvorssen.

The article you cite said "accused." This was 1993--quite a ways back. Has he been *convicted*?

You've yet to *address* the author's claims. You haven't cited one thing to discredit them, you haven't answered any of the questions raised.

That's a bit disturbing.

Anonymous said...

While awaiting your reply, thought I'd do a bit of digging.

Here's an item I came across:

[snip]
The Washington Post article below refers to some information that has been disputed. According to Thor Halvorssen's representatives and to documented evidence (part of the public record), Mr. Halvorssen is not a Guillen associate and has no links to the CIA.[...]

Thor Halvorssen was **falsely** arrested in connection to the car-bombings. He was held in *inhumane* conditions, **tortured, beaten, and had two attempts on his life** while in prison. Amnesty International, the International Society of Human Rights (ISHR), U.S. Senators, British and European Parlamentarians, and more than half a dozen human rights groups in Central and South America listed him as a *political prisoner* and a *prisoner of conscience.* He was *framed* because he had uncovered the Venezuelan President's secret bank accounts and because he had discovered a massive fraud and drug money-laundering ring operating in Venezuela through various banks. (At the time he was the Venezuelan's Senate's chief investigator on Money Laundering as well as Ambassador-at-large and Presidential Commissioner for anti-narcotic affairs). He was *released* and **fully exonerated** after *three months* of imprisonment. The President of Venezuela was subsequently jailed (as were the men who framed him). The banks he investigated folded within weeks of his release.
[snip]

http://tinyurl.com/cd4dc

http://www.csun.edu/CommunicationStudies/ben/news/cia/ven/931120.ca.html

Jeff Vail said...

Seriously, you're posting an link from some community college prof's homepage to refute the Washington Post? Hey, if that works for you.

But I'll agree with you here, it now appears that ARE not Halvorssen. Now you ARE Benardo Attias, community college prof. Seriously, reading this set of comments is like Neocon Propaganda 101. Cite one dubious source until it is discredited, then resort to your own writing to back up your first phony source. And NEVER, under any circumstances reveal who you actually are... I guess this is what passes for "scholarship" at Northridge.

Anonymous said...

You know, over and over and over, I come back to this same basic question...

How, in the hell, did our government ever manage to turn 'communism' into a bad word? How is it that so many americans find 'evil' in an economic system?

And hey, I grew up in the eighties, so I remember that as a mantra, but somewhere along the way, I started to actual pay attention to the world and discovered it was more bizarre than I could have ever guessed.

Janene

Jason Godesky said...

Jeff's probably right not to dignify the article with a real rebuttal, but the result is that this thread doesn't read very well at the moment. So, for the casual reader who may not be familiar with the issues at hand....

This is propaganda.

The importance of this cannot be overstated. We are dealing with a political philosophy whose greatest achievement has been the fusion of Hobbes and Machiavelli. At the heart of the philosophy of Leo Strauss and the neoconservatives is enshrined the idea that deceit is not only justified, but necessary and laudable. Not only do they have a significent vested interest in lying to us, they believe it is their moral duty to lie to us.

This is a group that Thor Halvorssen is deeply enmeshed in. Not only is his work paid for by Exxon-Mobil (a competitor of Citgo, and thus, a competitor of the nation of Venezuela), he also shares strong ties to the American Enterprise Institute. Along with PNAC (and perhaps even more than PNAC, since the negative publicity surrounding "Rebuilding America's Defenses"), the AEI is the home of the neoconservative movement.

This article was published by the New York Post, which was bought by Rupert Murdoch in 1977. Murdoch is of the opinion that objectivity in news is impossible, ergo news should be commentary first and foremost--that is, since absolute objectivity is impossible, no attempt should be made, and all news should be propaganda. Murdoch's ties to conservative--and now neoconservative--politics is well documented.

Finally, there is a great deal of propaganda in circulation about Hugo Chavez specifically. By placing the needs of his own people ahead of the needs of the United States oil market, Chavez has endangered the "non-negotiable" American way of life to some degree. This is precisely why the United States supports dictators--not for some philosophical love of dictatorship, or even an evil disposition, but because democracies have a bad habit of looking out for themselves, rather than looking out for the American consumer. Such is the cruel reality of every nation-state in history. To believe that the United States is "above" such realities is simply foolish.

But all of this only reinforces the point Jeff has already made: namely, that the source is very untrustworthy, and everything from him should be considered suspect on multiple levels. So let's take a look at his actual claims.

"Chavez the Killer"

The link you provided does not work, but I was able to find a copy of it reprinted by an anti-Chavez propaganda site, vcrisis.com.

The first substantive point Halvorssen raises--which you have already cited--is this:

"On Feb. 4, 1992, then-Lt.-Col. Chavez tried to assassinate Venezuelan President Carlos Andres Perez. Members of the years-long conspiracy had formally vowed to 'kill the commander, if necessary' and to 'wash the country's blemished honor with blood.' Early that February morning, Chavez's rebel forces stormed the presidential palace, indiscriminately firing on loyalist soldiers and killing several dozen people."

Which provides evidence that revolutions are violent. This should be common knowledge. Is Halvorssen contending that violence is not acceptable during a revolution? Or simply that this particular revolution was not justified? Rather than simply dismiss this passage for meaningless rhetoric (which I strongly suspect it is), let's assume the second option--as the first possibility is simply too bizarre to really consider.

Can we agree that the justification of a revolution against Perez would turn on the legitimacy and nature of Perez's rule? If so, then Chavez's revolution was surely as justified as most revolutions--including the American Revolution. Wikipedia says:

"In 1989, then President Carlos Andrés Pérez announced a series of thoroughly unpopular IMF-inspired 'austerity measures,' intended to help the country return to a stable economic footing. These measures, which were, unfortunately, badly communicated to the population, consisted of significant cuts in public expenditures and opened to the market the prices of goods and services which for many years had been subject to price controls. The unpopular measures, combined with a sudden increase in the price of gasoline and public transportation, sparked the bloody Caracazo riots of 27 February 1989,. The riots, the worst in Venezuelan history, left 400 people dead at the hands of the Venezuelan military. On 4 February 1992, Chávez and the MBR-200 led a failed military coup against President Pérez, which left 18 dead and 60 injured. Chávez was permitted to read a statement on television in order to tell his co-conspirators to stand down. Famously, he said that they had not achieved their goals por ahora ('for now'). A second coup attempt in November 1992, whilst Chávez was still in prison, also failed, although the plotters did succeed in capturing a TV station. After spending two years in prison, Chávez was pardoned by President Rafael Caldera. He reconstructed the MBR as a political movement called the Movement for the Fifth Republic (Movimiento Quinta República, or MVR, where V is the Roman Numeral 'five')."

In less euphemistic terms, the IMF-perhaps the chief engine of neocolonialism in the world--demanded that Venezuelans suffer for First World prosperity. Perez consented. The Venezuelans hated Perez for it, and marched against him, so Perez began using the military to put down their protests. Chavez led a coup to unseat Perez because he was no longer seeing to Venezuelan interests, but American interests--as sure a failure of legitimacy as I have ever heard. In that case, I would think revolution justified--as well as the usual level of violence that goes along with violence. You will note that Perez's repression resulted in 22 times more casualties than Chavez's coup. One could argue that, had the 1992 coup been successful, it would have ended a very violent regime by the application of a much smaller scale of violence.

Halvorssen then lays the rhetoric on with this:

"In more than one public speech since becoming president, Chavez has boasted that his intentions back then were not just to topple the government, but also to execute President Perez. In 2002, as the families of his victims mourned the 10th anniversary of their loss, Chavez memorialized his unsuccessful assassination attempt by decreeing that henceforth, Feb. 4 would mark a day of 'national celebration.'"

This is something every nation does. Which side in a conflict is justified, and which not? Had things gone a little differently at Yorktown, we'd likely read similar passages about "Washington the Killer" and the "national celebration" on July 4 while their British victims mourn the losses suffered to such wanton colonialist violence. The question is not whether revolutions are violent, that is foolish. The question isn't even whether violence is bad, or leaves victims in its wake--justified or not. The question is, was the revolution justified? If so--and I would argue it was--then Chavez was as justified in his application of violence as every other political leader.

Next, Halvorssen insinuates that Chavez is plotting the assassination of President Bush, but he chooses his words very carefully (I'm snipping for brevity here, and hitting what I saw to be the highlights of his argument):

"Just last month, calls for President George Bush's death emanated from a Venezuelan government-funded conference —the 16th World Youth and Students Festival, Aug. 7-15, in which Chavez and His cabinet took an active part. (The 'festival' is a communist gathering that in past decades had been hosted in Moscow, East Berlin, Havana and Pyonyang.)

"Participants' political sympathies were obvious as the international delegates, some wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the image of Josef Stalin, networked in Caracas and discussed their respective struggles for communist revolution. Enormous portraits of Che Guevara, Karl Marx, Hugo Chavez, Vladimir Lenin, Fidel Castro and Ho Chi Minh adorned the general meeting hall.

"The multimillion-dollar extravaganza included an international tribunal, broadcast in Venezuela and Cuba. The presiding judge: Venezuelan Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel. Star witness for the prosecution: President Chavez. The accused: George W. Bush, charged with (among much else) being the cause of the world's terrorism. Delegates are on film chanting 'Death to America' and holding signs that read, 'Death to Bush.'"

This, I believe, boils down to several points:

1.) Chavez's government hosted a Communist gathering.

2.) The Communist gathering was attended primarily by Communists.

3.) Communists at the gathering accused Bush of being the cause of global terrorism.

4.) Communists at the gathering chanted "Death to America" and "Death to Bush."

#1 is a well-known point of fact. Chavez is decidedly socialist, not Communist. There is a difference. That said, his loyalties definitely lay closer to Communism than capitalism. After years of Cold War propaganda, this should strike us as immediately evil, but I'm afraid simply labeling someone a "Communist" won't do to convince me that they are evil--especially not when they aren't even actually Communist. Yes, Communists have been guilty of great evil in the past--especially when they abandoned the principles of Communism. In what way did Stalin's oppression move the USSR towards the classless ideal, exactly? The same can be said of capitalist republics the world over. Does this indict Communism as evil in and of itself? If so, then must we not also indict capitalism in and of itself similarly?

Point #2, like the previous point that revolutions are violent affairs, is positively facile.

Point #3--accusing Bush of being responsible for global terrorism--is presented by Halvorssen as patently absurd, but I find this statement to be more true than not. To be sure, global terrorism predated even the first Bush's tenure. However, al-Qa'ida would never have been able to grow to the scale it has now achieved, had Bush not pushed through the neoconservative agenda so effectively in the wake of 9/11, reacting precisely as al-Qa'ida intended us to act, and fulfilling thier long-held objectives. (See "Top Ten Myths About the War on Terra" for a quick crash-course on what I'm talking about here) The grievances of terrorists against the United States are quite real, but often buried far away from the perception of the American public. Thus, we remain oblivious to the realities of the situation, because facing the fact that our country--like every other country--has gotten its hands dirty is something we are not capable of doing. We must believe in "the myth of the nation," in American exceptionalism as a beacon of moral rightness. Ergo, we cannot countenance the fact that we are responsible for just as much suffering in the world as any other major power--and in many ways, more. Accusing Bush of terrorism is a common charge among Communists worldwide. Either side can be argued effectively, I suppose, but it takes a particularly sheltered view of the world to find the statement absurd.

It's at point #4 that we finally see what Halvorssen was getting at with his carefully-worded insinuation that Chavez is plotting to assassinate George Bush. Of course, there is no evidence for such a plot at all. All Halvorssen has is that Communists chanted slogans that have become positively cliched in worldwide Communism: "Death to America" and "Death to [insert name of American president here]." I can only suppose that Halvorssen's unspoken assumption is that failing to stop the chanting of such meaningless, cliched slogans (by inflicting force against his own people on our behalf if necessary, a la Perez?), Chavez was not only agreeing with them, but working actively to put such rhetorical hyperbole into action. Obviously, this point, too, is facile.

Halvorssen raises a much better point in his second-to-last paragraph:

"Eliecer Otaiza, the Chavez government's minister for land reform, recently went on TV to lament the Venezuelan people's fondness for America, declaring that the government must prepare for war and invest in 'sowing hatred toward the United States.' He concluded: 'Evidently. the ties that bind us with the United States, even political and historic, are too strong but we must prepare to see, and start seeing the gringos as enemies and that is the first step for combat.'"

Chavez believes that the U.S. was involved in the attempted 2002 coup against him. That may not be a terribly unfounded suspicion. Bush administration officials Elliot Abrams and Otto Reich has admitted that "something" was planned for Chavez's trip to the UN in September 2003--a trip Chavez cancelled, claiming the U.S. was planning to assassinate him there. According to Abrams and Reich, the "something" they planned had been sanctioned by the Bush administration, and was even discussed in the White House with Carmona and other leaders of the 2002 coup for issues of timing and likelihood of success.

Pricing oil in euros poses a serious threat to the United States. "Petrodollars" allow the U.S. to run up such enormous national debt without hurting the value of the dollar. The American economy could never function as it does today without the pricing of the worldwide oil trade in American dollars. That is why Saddam Hussein's decision to price Iraqi oil in euros posed a clear and present danger to the American way of life far greater than any nonsense about WMD's or ties to al-Qa'ida.

Chavez's decision to do the same is another example of looking out for Venezuelans before Americans, but he is no fool. He knows what this means to America, and how far America is willing to go to preserve its way of life--through the suffering of the Third World. Chavez understands that the U.S. will have no problem invading Venezuela--and almost certainly will. Attempts to defuse Chavez and replace him with a dictator who will look after American interests first have, to date, failed. If they continue to fail, then invasion will become necessary. Propagandists with close ties to the government--like Thor Halvorssen--are already laying the groundwork in public perception by trying their damnedest to smear Chavez. The above passage shows a unqiue twist of irony, though: Chavez's clear perception of what must come next is being used as one of the reasons to invade. The argument becomes, "Chavez thinks we're going to invade Venezuela! We need to invade Venezuela to remove this madman who's so crazy he thinks we'd invade Venezuela!" I'm sure you can note the problems in that argument yourself.

Halvorssen concludes with this:

"How can the Venezuelan government justify condemning Robertson when it spends millions of dollars hosting a conference that promotes violence, hate and assassination? And why does the U.S. media, which blitzed Robertson, give Chavez a free pass?"

Halvorssen is certainly free to characterize any Communist gathering as "a conference that promotes violence, hate and assassination," just as I can characterize, say, a meeting of the G8 with the same words (though I think I'd be able to find much better grounds for that characterization than Halvorssen does), but if that is not the Venezuelan government's perception of the affair (and it is not), then how can this be parsed the way Halvorssen would like it to be parsed, i.e., "Chavez supports violence, hate and assassination"? Halvorssen asks why the media "blitzed" Robertson, but gave a "free pass" to Chavez. The answer to that question is simple and obvious: Robertson is an influential man proposing a solid plan. Chavez was standing in a room while others chanted rhetorical slogans. There is a world of difference there.

The sins of Exxon-Mobil, and the Big Evil Oil Corporation(TM)

You asked, "Mr. Vail, are you aware that, with the exception of Karl Marx (or Chavez), each one of those memorialized figures alone have murdered/imprisoned/oppressed more people than Exxon the Big Evil Oil Corporation ever has? "

While your shock that Communists would look up to Communist icons is certainly puzzling, you seem here to underestimate the atrocities commited by Exxon-Mobil and other "Big Evil Oil Corporations." So, I'd like to offer up the following short, online reading list to provide a passing familiarity. Please bear in mind, that this is only the tip of the iceberg.

Exxon/Mobil: Acheh
http://dte.gn.apc.org/50Ach.htm
http://www.law.harvard.edu/students/orgs/hrj/iss15/collingsworth.shtml#Heading61
http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/HL0409/S00054.htm

Shell: Nigeria
http://www.afgen.com/nigeroil.html
http://www.iol.ie/~stangurs/nigeria/nigeria.htm

Unocal: Burma
http://www.globalpolicy.org/socecon/tncs/2002/10unocal.htm
http://www.laborrights.org/projects/corporate/unocal/index.html
http://www.foe.org/WSSD/unocal.html

Foreign companies: Sudan
http://www.soulsearching.ie/sssudanoil.shtml

Take-home lessons

1.) Jeff Vail didn't have a problem with Robertson's call to assassinate Chavez. In fact, I believe it was Jeff who made a post sometime before that, which I rather liked but cannot find now, suggesting wars of assassination--where hierarchical leaders are the ones to suffer for their violent disagreements, rather than hired hands. I believe in both our cases, we're more irritated by the propaganda, exaggeration, and facile arguments floated to indict Chavez more than anything else.

2.) In the neocolonial world, it's admirable to see a leader looking out for his own country's interests ahead of the neoimperial center. That said, I'm certainly under no illusions regarding Chavez's rule as Venezuela's "enlightened despot," and I doubt Jeff is, either. To paint him wholly as a bloodthirsty dictator--as Thor Halvorssen does--misses the fact that he is doing good by his people and standing up to Western imperialist aggression. To paint him as a Third World messiah misses the point that he is not a democratic leader by any stretch, and has often used force to put down those who oppose him--which, incidentally, is almost purely wealthy, white, and vested with heavy American business interests. Somewhere between those two extremes, you'll find the truth of Hugo Chavez, and I suspect it goes something like this: a generally good leader who wants to see South America freed of the United States' influence, possibly united in a populist, socialist society, and who believes in that ideal enough to use force when he deems it necessary to achieve it. I'm not saying I'm a fan of Chavez, just that he offends me less than most world leaders.

3.) The United States is not a force for good in the world. It is not an evil power bent on world domination. It is a country like any other, and its first priority is to continue existing. It is a country with a great deal of power, as well. It has come to rely on that power, and its current way of life is not possible without the exercise of violence across the world. The American way of life is simply too expensive, even for wealthy Americans to bear. We externalize our costs in many, many ways. That is why the First World needs the Third World. The First World is possible only because the Third World foots the bill. So, the United States is compelled to many "evil" acts to try to sustain an unsustainable way of life. That means we need Third World dictators who will look to our interests first, not their people's. This is the essence of neocolonialism. Chavez is a threat to that, and thus, to our very way of life. Even more threatening is his example, and the export of the "Bolivarian Revolution" to other Third World countries. As our way of life careens closer to self-destruction, we have seen more drastic philosophies arise trying to protect it. The neoconservatives are the latest in that line, justifying all manner of Machiavellian politics at home, and Hobbesian wars abroad, to maintain the "non-negotiable" American way of life. In this context, the United States must remove Chavez by some means--even invasion, if it comes to it. Propaganda like Halvorssen's paves the way for that, if it should become necessary. The United States doesn't support dictators and despots because it's evil; it supports them because its alternative is abandoning its way of life.

Jeff Vail said...

Perhaps one of the best rebuttals that I've seen. Now that Jason has done the difficult work, I'll just mention a rather inciteful quote from West Wing last night:

"If you don't like the question, reject the premise of the question."

TH said...

Greetings... Thor Halvorssen here. I commend you for discussing these issues with so much candor and passion (and imagination and creativity!). I'm not interested in getting into a back and forth about me (other than to say that most of what you say about me personally, let alone your take on what I mean in what I write, is demonstrably false or off the mark) but I will say one thing: I have never received anything from Exxon (I volunteer for a group that promotes charter schools and Exxon gave them money many years ago). If you know how I can receive some of their funding (or funding from any other source for that matter) for the human rights group I have put together, kindly let me know. And if "anonymous" (or anyone else) wishes to volunteer do get in touch. info (at)humanrightsfoundation.org

Jason Godesky said...

That's very interesting, Mr. Halvorssen. So you are unaware of Exxon-Mobil's funding for your work? I have long suspected this to be the case. You are funded by them, as this map shows (you'll need to hit "launch" and skip the intro before they'll show it to you, unfortunately--the clumsiness of Flash interfaces), but this confirms my suspicions, that these groups don't "pay off" people to say the things they say, but rather, they fund groups that have a particular point of view, which attracts those who legitimately hold such points of view. It's not that, for example, climate change experts are paid by Exxon-Mobil to say global warming isn't true; it's that Exxon-Mobil gives a lot of money to groups that hold the marginal opinion that it isn't true, which attracts those few who genuinely believe it. With Exxon-Mobil funding, they're better able to get their message out--which creates the perception that the opinion in question is far more widespread than it actually is.

Very interesting, indeed.

As to the charges listed above, I'm sure you know much more about them than any of us, but ultimately the'yre neither here nor there--nor related much to the argument you made in "Chavez the Killer." I'm impressed by your work with the Human Rights Foundation, and because of that you probably do have some grounds to dislike Chavez. However, the argument you make in "Chavez the Killer" is one I find to be incredibly weak. If you would like to defend that article, I'm sure that would produce a far more positive discussion than any ruminations about what court charges you may have faced in the past.

Capitan said...

I just googles this guy. Check out this New York Times piece. Complicated is an understatement:

August 19, 2007

A Maverick Mogul, Proudly Politically Incorrect

By JOHN STRAUSBAUGH

THOR HALVORSSEN is a hard man to pin down. If you ask him whether he’s a human-rights activist, a free-speech advocate, an anti-Communist, an anti-fascist or a movie producer, he could plausibly answer “all of the above.”

“He’s uncategorizable,” Nat Hentoff, the journalist and First Amendment advocate, said. “Thor’s the embodiment of the nonpolitically correct person.”

Mr. Halvorssen, a half-Norwegian Venezuelan, is a conservative operating in fields more often associated with liberals, a scion of wealth and privilege who champions the underdog and the powerless, and a polemicist who loves a lively argument. “I have a lot of fun being a heretic,” Mr. Halvorssen, 31, explained, pacing around a small office in the Empire State Building that was strewn with books, magazines and DVDs.

Since 2005, having already founded two nonprofit organizations focused on free speech and human-rights issues, Mr. Halvorssen has made the movie business part of his portfolio of controversy-stirring efforts. Established with a small amount of his money, his nonprofit Moving Picture Institute has raised about $1.5 million in donations to date to pay for, promote and seek distribution for documentary films.

At a time when the most successful documentaries on political or social issues all seem to be anti-corporate, anti-Bush, pro-environmentalist and left-leaning, the Moving Picture Institute has backed pro-business, anti-Communist and even anti-environmentalist ones. The latest, “Indoctrinate U,” follows the first-time filmmaker Evan Coyne Maloney as he turns Michael Moore’s guerrilla interview tactics on their head to address what he sees as political correctness on campus. In one scene, Mr. Maloney strolls into the women’s studies centers on several campuses and, playing innocent, asks directions to the men’s studies center. He is met with genuine bafflement, derisive laughs or icy hostility.

To Mr. Halvorssen his new role as a fledgling movie mogul dovetails perfectly with his other activities. “Pop culture has the power to be transformational culture,” he said. “A film can reach a lot more people than a white paper. You could think of the film as a trailer for the white paper.”

He paused, then said, “Put it this way: What ‘Sideways’ did for pinot noir, I want to do for freedom.”

Boyish and clean-cut, Mr. Halvorssen doesn’t look much like the Viking his name suggests. His grandfather, Oestein Halvorssen, went to Venezuela as the Norwegian king’s consul and built a family dynasty as the Venezuelan representative for corporations including Dunlop and Ericsson.

His father (also Thor) and uncle Olaf “lived in the ultrafast lane” among Venezuela’s most eligible playboys. They flew to Paris for weekends, and while Olaf dated Candice Bergen, Thor lured the girls to his place to meet his pet lion, Petunia.

Mr. Halvorssen’s father eventually settled down, accepting appointments as a cabinet minister and diplomat, and married into one of Venezuela’s first families, descendants of the country’s first two presidents, Cristóbal Mendoza and Simón Bolivar.

“The politics in my house was all over the place,” he said, recalling Nicaraguan refugees from the Sandanista regime holding meetings in his house and a trip with his father when he was 8 to meet Óscar Arias, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning president of Costa Rica. “But there were key principles that were very basic.”

His upbringing helped make a self-described “classical liberal” rather than a conservative, big on free markets and individual liberties, and convinced that “government is not your friend most of the time,” he said. “And I abhor fascism, whether it’s socialist or National Socialist.”

He arrived in the United States to attend the University of Pennsylvania, but as a 19-year-old sophomore in 1993 the theories of his youth got a real-world workout when his father was arrested in Venezuela. As the country’s anti-drug minister, Mr. Halvorssen said, his father had led investigations revealing involvement in international drug trafficking at the highest levels of Venezuela’s government and banking. For his efforts he was imprisoned, charged with masterminding a series of bombings in the Caracas financial district. Mr. Halvorssen helped organize an international campaign for his father’s release. After 74 days all charges were dropped.

A decade later it was Mr. Halvorssen’s mother’s turn. In 2004, during a trip to Caracas, she was shot and seriously wounded when gunmen fired into a rally calling for a national referendum to recall President Hugo Chávez. Eleven other protestors were wounded and one killed.

“So you can see why I take this stuff personally,” Mr. Halvorssen said.

“This stuff” includes the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, of which he was a co-founder in 1998 and a director through 2004. (Mr. Hentoff is a board member.) It focuses media attention and legal aid on instances of overzealous political correctness and free-speech restrictions at American colleges. And the Human Rights Foundation, whose advisory board includes Elie Wiesel, focuses on civil-rights abuses in Latin America.

These concerns animate the Motion Picture Institute’s films. “The Sugar Babies,” a documentary by Amy Serrano that Mr. Halvorssen helped produce, takes on the issue human trafficking of Haitian workers on sugar plantations in the Dominican Republic. A screening at Florida International University in June erupted into what local press described as “a near riot” between Dominican and Haitian audience members.

Other documentaries championed by the Motion Picture Institute include “Hammer & Tickle,” a lighthearted look at the subversive jokes Soviet citizens told about their leaders.

And Mr. Halvorssen was a co-producer of “Freedom’s Fury,” narrated by Olympic swimmer Mark Spitz, which describes the role Hungary’s Olympic water polo team played in that nation’s 1956 uprising against its Soviet occupiers.

No doubt the most contentious film on the Motion Picture Institute roster so far is “Mine Your Own Business,” billed as “the world’s first anti-environmentalist documentary.” Phelim McAleer, an Irish journalist who received a fellowship from the Motion Picture Institute, traveled to Romania, Madagascar and Chile, where international environmental groups oppose planned mining operations. His film — financed by Gabriel Resources, a Canadian mining company — portrays environmentalists as condescending elitists while impoverished locals insist they would welcome the jobs and development the mines would bring.

Greenpeace and other environmental groups denounced the film as corporate propaganda and protested outside a screening at the National Geographic Society in Washington in January.

“It’s typical propaganda from anti-regulation types,” said Kert Davies, Greenpeace’s research director, adding that there has been much more community opposition to the proposed mines than the film suggests.

“Indoctrinate U” aims to stir up as big a ruckus. It’s the first film by Mr. Maloney, the conservative son of liberal New York City parents. A fan of Mr. Moore’s techniques, if not his politics, he met Mr. Moore, the director of “Sicko,” in the only proper way. “I found out where he lived, staked out his street for four days” and ambushed Mr. Moore on the sidewalk, camera running.

“He was surprisingly encouraging and surprisingly nice,” Mr. Maloney added. “He told me to go for it and make my movie.”

But as Mr. Halvorssen and Mr. Maloney have found, getting a documentary made is one thing, getting it released in theaters and on DVD is another. “Distributors are starting to shy away” from documentaries, said Morgan Spurlock, the director of “Super Size Me,” “simply because there haven’t been a lot of documentaries in the last few years that made a lot of money.” (“March of the Penguins” and “An Inconvenient Truth” are among the few exceptions.)

But Mr. Spurlock believes that a movie like “Indoctrinate U” “could be a lightning rod,” he said. “Movies that get attention and spark a dialogue, get people talking on news shows, can be profitable at the box office.”

Lately Mr. Halvorssen has been making many trips to Los Angeles to meet with film distributors, producers and assorted Hollywood wheelers and dealers to convince them that the film has the potential to make money in theaters and through DVD sales. “There is no left-wing conspiracy in Hollywood, no manual that says they will not distribute films of this sort,” he insisted.

Nonetheless Mr. Halvorssen and Mr. Maloney are exploring alternative ways to reach audiences. Mr. Halvorssen arranged for the film to open at the American Film Renaissance Festival, at the Kennedy Center in Washington, on Sept. 28. And working directly with theater owners and managers he has to date brokered limited theatrical runs, beginning in October, in Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Washington and seven other cities. (He’s still working on New York.)

Borrowing tactics from their left-leaning brethren like Robert Greenwald, who spurred interest in his films “Wal-Mart” and “Iraq for Sale” by inviting people to hold screenings in their churches or homes, Mr. Halvorssen and Mr. Maloney are also trying to harness the Internet. Visitors to indoctrinate-u.com can request a screening in their hometowns. A Google map displays the results. More than 20,000 requests have been made.

Mr. Halvorssen speaks of a “YouTube revolution” with the Internet, along with on-demand cable and satellite television, freeing independent filmmakers from Hollywood dominance.

Ultimately, he added, he hopes that “exploiting technology, marketing and alternative distribution will transform human rights, making it inspiring and even sexy.”