Commentary Magazine


Topic: socialism

Maduro’s Empty Call for “Dialogue”

Nicolas Maduro’s ghost writer should be commended for making the Venezuelan dictator sound, in his op-ed in today’s New York Times, like a reasonable man in search of a reasonable solution. You would never know, on the basis of this article alone, that this is the same Maduro who claims to have encountered the ghost of his predecessor, Hugo Chavez, on the Caracas subway system; who instinctively denounces his opponents as “Nazis” and “fascists”; who alleged a conspiracy involving former Bush administration officials to assassinate a senior opposition leader to “create chaos” in Venezuela.

What the piece–written in reaction to a stirring Times op-ed by Leopoldo Lopez, a senior opposition leader incarcerated by the Maduro regime on charges of “terrorism”–attempts to do is persuade the reader that Venezuela is really a socialist paradise warmed by the Caribbean sun. Hence, Maduro trots out the some of the standard themes which are familiar to observers of chavismo, for example that the revolution inaugurated by Chavez has shattered income inequality, along with former President Jimmy Carter’s belief that Venezuela’s electoral process “is the best in the world” (an old but much utilized quote that will serve as an eternal reminder of Carter’s obsequious stance toward the chavistas).

But there are other themes that are, significantly, absent from the op-ed. Until quite recently, the chavistas made much of the bold percentage increases in the national minimum wage, but Maduro wisely chose not to mention this “fact.” Wisely, because Venezuela’s currency, the Bolivar, has been devalued by an accumulated total of 2,000 percent over the last 15 years, rendering meaningless any minimum wage boosts. As CENDAS, a Caracas-based research institute, has discovered, thanks to the shortages and inflation that have worsened radically during Maduro’s first year in power, each Venezuelan now needs four minimum wages to meet basic expenses for food, clothing, and health care.

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Nicolas Maduro’s ghost writer should be commended for making the Venezuelan dictator sound, in his op-ed in today’s New York Times, like a reasonable man in search of a reasonable solution. You would never know, on the basis of this article alone, that this is the same Maduro who claims to have encountered the ghost of his predecessor, Hugo Chavez, on the Caracas subway system; who instinctively denounces his opponents as “Nazis” and “fascists”; who alleged a conspiracy involving former Bush administration officials to assassinate a senior opposition leader to “create chaos” in Venezuela.

What the piece–written in reaction to a stirring Times op-ed by Leopoldo Lopez, a senior opposition leader incarcerated by the Maduro regime on charges of “terrorism”–attempts to do is persuade the reader that Venezuela is really a socialist paradise warmed by the Caribbean sun. Hence, Maduro trots out the some of the standard themes which are familiar to observers of chavismo, for example that the revolution inaugurated by Chavez has shattered income inequality, along with former President Jimmy Carter’s belief that Venezuela’s electoral process “is the best in the world” (an old but much utilized quote that will serve as an eternal reminder of Carter’s obsequious stance toward the chavistas).

But there are other themes that are, significantly, absent from the op-ed. Until quite recently, the chavistas made much of the bold percentage increases in the national minimum wage, but Maduro wisely chose not to mention this “fact.” Wisely, because Venezuela’s currency, the Bolivar, has been devalued by an accumulated total of 2,000 percent over the last 15 years, rendering meaningless any minimum wage boosts. As CENDAS, a Caracas-based research institute, has discovered, thanks to the shortages and inflation that have worsened radically during Maduro’s first year in power, each Venezuelan now needs four minimum wages to meet basic expenses for food, clothing, and health care.

In tandem with the omissions are the lies and distortions that one would expect from Maduro; for example, the fabricated charge that students protesting the sexual assault of a young female by National Guard members “burned down a university in Táchira State.” He demonizes the last two months of protest as the temper tantrum of a spoiled, entitled middle class, asserting that “the protests have received no support in poor and working-class neighborhoods.” What he doesn’t add is that the overwhelming presence, in the same neighborhoods, of the paramilitary colectivos is something of a disincentive to participating in demonstrations that highlight the damage the regime is doing to everyone, especially the poor and vulnerable.

Maduro ends his piece with an appeal for “dialogue to move forward.” Who, exactly, will he dialogue with? Leopoldo Lopez is in jail, while his colleague Maria Corina Machado has been stripped of her parliamentary immunity. As the perceptive Argentinian journalist Daniel Lozano noted in his report of the attempt by Machado and her supporters to reach the National Assembly building, what they found resembled a “military fortress”:

An enormous deployment of the National Guard blocked off the National Assembly. An attempt at dialogue with them, once again, did no good. A group of government supporters surrounded the deputy shouting “Imperialist! Traitor! Murderer!” The rising tension forced Machado and her group to abandon the scene…Machado couldn’t speak to the chamber but made use of the street stage to ask a question. And to answer it. “Why do they want to silence me? Why do they want to do that? Because they are terrified of the truth and people on the streets fighting for their liberty.”

And it’s not just Lopez and Machado. Enzo Scarano and Daniel Ceballos, the respective mayors of the opposition strongholds of San Diego and San Cristobal, have been summarily dismissed and imprisoned. Nobody yet knows the total human cost of the regime’s brutal operation to drive demonstrators off the streets of San Cristobal. As for Maduro’s laughable statement in his Times piece that the government will prosecute human-rights abusers in the security forces, the complete collapse of Venezuela’s independent judicial system over the last decade is the best counter-argument to that claim.

Inter alia, Maduro says, “My government has also reached out to President Obama, expressing our desire to again exchange ambassadors. We hope his administration will respond in kind.” Responding “in kind” would signal that the U.S. government is, at best, indifferent to the fate of Venezuela under continued chavista rule. Far better to point out that the friendship of the United States is a privilege, and not a right. If Maduro releases the thousand-odd political prisoners detained during the protests and reins in the colectivos, perhaps then, and only then, might there be something to discuss.

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NBC’s Cuddly Dictators

NBC has earned some well-deserved scorn for treating Soviet history, as recalled during the Olympic ceremonies, as if it were the political equivalent of New Coke: an interesting idea that flopped. But one is tempted to dismiss it not as leftists’ unwillingness to condemn their efforts to excuse mass murder, slavery, and torture in the name of forced equality but as typical media kowtowing to authoritarian thugs in the name of access.

After all, NBC aired yesterday and today its interview with Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov as part of its Olympics coverage. The interview looked as though Kadyrov himself produced the segment. He is portrayed as a deeply devout leader who modernized postwar Chechnya and brought stability where there was chaos. There was the requisite question about accusations that he’s a “dictator,” quickly waved off by Kadyrov and dropped by the interviewer so the segment could move on to neighboring Dagestan, portrayed as mostly rubble where Kadyrov’s Chechnya, especially Grozny, gleams.

The strangest part of the segment was when the interviewer says Kadyrov “has aligned himself with Russia.” Does NBC think Chechnya is an independent country? It’s easy, after watching the Kadyrov interview, to just dismiss the network’s airbrushed version of Soviet history as part of its dictators-are-cuddly pathology. But I think that lets them off too easily. Nonetheless, we can turn this into something constructive–by taking them at their word. As Jonah Goldberg wrote about NBC’s whitewashing of history:

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NBC has earned some well-deserved scorn for treating Soviet history, as recalled during the Olympic ceremonies, as if it were the political equivalent of New Coke: an interesting idea that flopped. But one is tempted to dismiss it not as leftists’ unwillingness to condemn their efforts to excuse mass murder, slavery, and torture in the name of forced equality but as typical media kowtowing to authoritarian thugs in the name of access.

After all, NBC aired yesterday and today its interview with Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov as part of its Olympics coverage. The interview looked as though Kadyrov himself produced the segment. He is portrayed as a deeply devout leader who modernized postwar Chechnya and brought stability where there was chaos. There was the requisite question about accusations that he’s a “dictator,” quickly waved off by Kadyrov and dropped by the interviewer so the segment could move on to neighboring Dagestan, portrayed as mostly rubble where Kadyrov’s Chechnya, especially Grozny, gleams.

The strangest part of the segment was when the interviewer says Kadyrov “has aligned himself with Russia.” Does NBC think Chechnya is an independent country? It’s easy, after watching the Kadyrov interview, to just dismiss the network’s airbrushed version of Soviet history as part of its dictators-are-cuddly pathology. But I think that lets them off too easily. Nonetheless, we can turn this into something constructive–by taking them at their word. As Jonah Goldberg wrote about NBC’s whitewashing of history:

What to say of the gormless press-agent twaddle conjured up to describe the Soviet Union? In its opening video for the Olympic Games, NBC’s producers drained the thesaurus of flattering terms devoid of moral content: “The empire that ascended to affirm a colossal footprint; the revolution that birthed one of modern history’s pivotal experiments. But if politics has long shaped our sense of who they are, it’s passion that endures.”

To parse this infomercial treacle is to miss the point, for the whole idea is to luge by the truth on the frictionless skids of euphemism.

Agreed. But let’s take the “infomercial treacle” to its logical conclusion. If socialistic governance is a “pivotal experiment,” then we can all agree it’s taught us a valuable lesson, because it’s an “experiment” that failed. (Why the left needs an experiment to learn that gulags and death camps aren’t the way to go is another question entirely.) I would almost be willing to ignore the “pivotal experiment” nonsense if they actually treated it like an experiment.

For example, the violence, repression, and anti-Semitism of the regime of the late Hugo Chavez in Venezuela could earn him plenty of cogent and accurate descriptors. On the day of his funeral, however, NBC’s news anchor went looking for a phrase to sum up Chavez’s legacy, and landed on “harsh critic of the U.S. who ruled for 14 years.” Proponent of a “pivotal experiment” would have been a step up from that.

Chavez’s successor isn’t an improvement, and as Ben Cohen explained here last week, Venezuela is continuing its descent into misery and chaos. AFP has the latest on Venezuela’s version of the pivotal experiment:

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on Sunday accused Washington of plotting with anti-government protesters and expelled three US diplomats in retaliation.

Maduro’s order came on the same day that fugitive opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez re-appeared and called for a mass rally on Tuesday and challenged the government to arrest him at the event.

Nearly two weeks of anti-government protests spearheaded by students have become the biggest challenge to Venezuela’s socialist rulers since the death of longtime leader Hugo Chavez in 2013.

The oil-rich country is mired in a deep economic crisis critics blame on policies that Maduro largely inherited from Chavez.

Strict controls on currency and prices have created huge bottlenecks that have fueled inflation and emptied store shelves.

Sound familiar? It should. It’s the wonder of the socialist experiment. Deprivation, violence, paranoia. Goldberg is correct when he implores readers to “Imagine the controversy” if the Olympics were held in Germany and an opening ceremonial program involved a floating swastika. Would broadcasters, when eulogizing the Nazis, talk of a “pivotal experiment”? Now imagine the controversy if a Nazi leader had been described as a “harsh critic of the U.S.” as his identifying characteristic.

There is moral clarity with regard to the Nazis that there simply isn’t with regard to other socialists, as Goldberg notes. And part of that is because leftists don’t mean it even when they gloss over socialist horrors as an “experiment.” Martin Malia has written that because the Soviet project was conducted on behalf of global socialism, the way those in the West talked about Russian socialism was infused with a self-consciousness about the way it reflected on socialism everywhere.

“It is only by taking the Soviets at their ideological word, treating their socialist utopia with literal-minded seriousness, that we can grasp the tragedy to which it led,” Malia wrote. That advice can be broadened: we should take not just socialists but their enablers, excusers, and whitewashers at their word.

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Oh To Be Young and Socialist Again

If the polls are correct, in less than two months New York City will elect Bill de Blasio as its next mayor. A doctrinaire liberal, his impending victory seems to be, as Seth noted last month, the return of the Dinkins Democrats to power in New York after 20 years of Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg. De Blasio’s left-wing populism and hostility to both the business community and the police tactics that have helped fuel New York’s revival bode ill for the city’s future. But today’s New York Times gives us further insight into de Blasio that gives new meaning to the stories indicating that Gotham’s political balance of power is lurching to the hard left. In an effort to gain further understanding of the Democratic primary winner’s character, the Times takes us back to de Blasio’s misspent youth when he was no limousine liberal but rather a full-blown hardcore leftist who traveled to Nicaragua to support the Marxist Sandinista government. Even before traveling to Central America, the Times tells us the future mayor had no doubts about his goal for society:

Mr. de Blasio became an ardent supporter of the Nicaraguan revolutionaries. He helped raise funds for the Sandinistas in New York and subscribed to the party’s newspaper, Barricada, or Barricade. When he was asked at a meeting in 1990 about his goals for society, he said he was an advocate of “democratic socialism.”

Of course, De Blasio characterizes his views differently today, calling himself a “progressive” and saying merely that seeing the Sandinistas up close merely motivated him to see that the government protects the poor. While he now says he disapproved of the suppression of dissenting views by the Marxist tyrants he backed so fervently, then it was a different story. Nor did he seem terribly interested in supporting human rights when he chose to spend his honeymoon in Communist Cuba, a decision that his daughter told the New York Daily News she thinks is “badass”—which is her way of saying she approves of the choice.

There will be those who say that none of this tells us much about the choices New York faces today and they will have a point. As George W. Bush used to say, “When I was young and irresponsible, I was young and irresponsible.” But the romantic gloss that is being applied to this portion of de Blasio’s biography tells us a lot not only about him but also about the revisionist history that is the foundation for this story.

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If the polls are correct, in less than two months New York City will elect Bill de Blasio as its next mayor. A doctrinaire liberal, his impending victory seems to be, as Seth noted last month, the return of the Dinkins Democrats to power in New York after 20 years of Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg. De Blasio’s left-wing populism and hostility to both the business community and the police tactics that have helped fuel New York’s revival bode ill for the city’s future. But today’s New York Times gives us further insight into de Blasio that gives new meaning to the stories indicating that Gotham’s political balance of power is lurching to the hard left. In an effort to gain further understanding of the Democratic primary winner’s character, the Times takes us back to de Blasio’s misspent youth when he was no limousine liberal but rather a full-blown hardcore leftist who traveled to Nicaragua to support the Marxist Sandinista government. Even before traveling to Central America, the Times tells us the future mayor had no doubts about his goal for society:

Mr. de Blasio became an ardent supporter of the Nicaraguan revolutionaries. He helped raise funds for the Sandinistas in New York and subscribed to the party’s newspaper, Barricada, or Barricade. When he was asked at a meeting in 1990 about his goals for society, he said he was an advocate of “democratic socialism.”

Of course, De Blasio characterizes his views differently today, calling himself a “progressive” and saying merely that seeing the Sandinistas up close merely motivated him to see that the government protects the poor. While he now says he disapproved of the suppression of dissenting views by the Marxist tyrants he backed so fervently, then it was a different story. Nor did he seem terribly interested in supporting human rights when he chose to spend his honeymoon in Communist Cuba, a decision that his daughter told the New York Daily News she thinks is “badass”—which is her way of saying she approves of the choice.

There will be those who say that none of this tells us much about the choices New York faces today and they will have a point. As George W. Bush used to say, “When I was young and irresponsible, I was young and irresponsible.” But the romantic gloss that is being applied to this portion of de Blasio’s biography tells us a lot not only about him but also about the revisionist history that is the foundation for this story.

Any attempt to refight the political wars of the 1980s may be a futile endeavor, but the willingness of the press to allow de Blasio to paint his support for the Sandinistas as part of the journey that led him to the mayoralty bodes ill for the city. That’s not just because the Sandinista cause was largely discredited when they were finally forced by the stalemate in the fighting to face the people of Nicaragua in a democratic election. Their defeat at the polls vindicated the efforts of the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations to support the rebels who resisted the Marxists and exposed the group’s supporters like de Blasio as fronts for Communist killers.

That may not be a disqualifying attribute to many New York voters, but it ought to give pause to those whose livelihoods and safety will depend on de Blasio and the wrecking crew he brings to City Hall next January not demolishing all that Giuliani and Bloomberg accomplished in the last 20 years.

To those who are either too young or too deluded by liberal propaganda to know better, the struggle against the socialism that de Blasio backed was the most important battle fought in the last half of the 20th century. Those who aimed at stopping socialism were not trying to hurt the poor; they were defending human rights against a political cause that sacrificed more than 100 million victims on the Marxist altar. The verdict of history was delivered as the Berlin Wall fell and the “socialist motherland” collapsed, and along with it much of the ideological house of cards that liberals had built as they sought to discredit or defeat anti-Communists. It says a lot about de Blasio’s commitment to that vicious political faith that even after the Iron Curtain fell and the peoples of captive Eastern Europe celebrated the defeat of the Communist cause that he would make a pilgrimage to one of its last strongholds in Cuba to celebrate his marriage.

If de Blasio were willing to admit that much of what he said in defense of the Sandinistas and Cuba was wrong, there would be nothing to say now about his past other than to state that he had learned from it. But since he appears to be proud of his support for tyrants, it is fair game for his critics. More to the point, it is also worth asking just how much those experiences still influence a politician who will have at his disposal the vast powers of the mayoralty. 

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Perfect Example of Why New York Is the “Least Free” State

In a new Mercatus Center survey ranking American states according to the freedom of their citizens, New York found itself dead last. The survey ranked states based on “fiscal policy, regulatory policy, and personal freedom [and weighed] public policies according to the estimated costs that government restrictions on freedom impose on their victims.” A new provision buried in the latest budget out of the New York State legislature perfectly illustrates what earned New York this ranking.

According to reports, this budgetary provision will guarantee an increase in the state’s minimum wage from $7.25 to $9 per hour and taxpayers will be footing a significant portion of the bill until 2016. Unfortunately for taxpayers, the terms of the agreement were made during closed-door negotiations and will not become public until after the provision is passed as part of the state’s budget. The Associated Press reports that “early estimates are between $20 million and $40 million, with no cap on the total.” Given the outcry that would’ve been made if these negotiations were made public, it’s understandable (though completely undemocratic) for Governor Cuomo and state legislatures to reach this agreement hidden from voters.

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In a new Mercatus Center survey ranking American states according to the freedom of their citizens, New York found itself dead last. The survey ranked states based on “fiscal policy, regulatory policy, and personal freedom [and weighed] public policies according to the estimated costs that government restrictions on freedom impose on their victims.” A new provision buried in the latest budget out of the New York State legislature perfectly illustrates what earned New York this ranking.

According to reports, this budgetary provision will guarantee an increase in the state’s minimum wage from $7.25 to $9 per hour and taxpayers will be footing a significant portion of the bill until 2016. Unfortunately for taxpayers, the terms of the agreement were made during closed-door negotiations and will not become public until after the provision is passed as part of the state’s budget. The Associated Press reports that “early estimates are between $20 million and $40 million, with no cap on the total.” Given the outcry that would’ve been made if these negotiations were made public, it’s understandable (though completely undemocratic) for Governor Cuomo and state legislatures to reach this agreement hidden from voters.

Even liberals are uncomfortable with the plan, though not exactly for all the right reasons. Frank Mauro of the progressive Fiscal Policy Institute told the AP “You are kind of flying blind on this” and said “[the credit] flies in the face of sound tax policy, good labor market practice, or common sense.” Mauro’s concerns with the credit center on the fact that it will only benefit seasonal workers under the age of 20, which could displace older workers with students. These are valid criticisms of the plan, but they don’t even scratch the surface of what is most problematic about the very idea of redistributing the wealth of some to the paychecks of others.

What Mauro and others quoted in the AP story don’t say, but what is painfully obvious to anyone with a basic understanding of human history, is that what the New York State legislature is proposing is socialism, pure and simple. Students making less than $9 an hour will now have part of their salaries at fast-food restaurants and department stores paid by New York’s taxpayers. The wealth of hardworking New Yorkers will be redistributed to lower paid high school and college students frying burgers at their first jobs. While those crafting this legislation may be thinking that they’re just gouging the “fat-cats” paying taxes in the more wealthy parts of the state like New York City, they will also be siphoning off the salaries of hardworking New Yorkers in the rural areas north of Westchester county. As wealth distribution goes, this is especially uninspiring, as money will be taken from the salaries of mothers and fathers in Rochester and deposited into paychecks of teenagers working at H&M on 34th Street. 

Scott Reif, spokesman for the Senate’s Republican conference, called this plan part of a larger budgetary compromise. State Republicans, not to mention Democrats, making agreements like these is the reason why the Mercatus Center has deemed New York State the least free state in the union. If these lawmakers find themselves wondering why they have fewer taxpayers to gouge in coming years, they will have no one to blame but themselves. The outward migration of New Yorkers to more hospitable economic climates was already underway and closed-door decisions like these will only fuel the trend further.

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Dictators and Free Lunches

For those Americans who loathed their own country’s role as a beacon of freedom, the appeal of Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez was irresistible. Following in the footsteps of other Western pilgrims who had trooped to the Cuban prison of Fidel Castro or to Joseph Stalin’s Soviet empire to praise these gulags as the face of the future, people like Oliver Stone and Sean Penn dutifully embraced Chavez. They liked his childish rants about George W. Bush and helped burnish the myth that he was a true man of the people even as this caudillo suppressed freedom and built a cult of personality. Chavez’s death hasn’t changed this, and in the last day we have heard more blather about populism and his concern for those in poverty. Predictably, the leftists at The Nation are eulogizing him as a humanitarian. Joseph Kennedy showed why he wasn’t up to carrying on the legacy of the previous generation of his family by also mourning the Venezuelan strongman as a caring individual.

There is nothing to be done about those who will applaud anyone who hates America. Such sentiments are nothing more than adolescent rebellion masquerading as political opinion. But the claim that Chavez deserves credit for helping the poor is worth taking down, if only because this issue carries within it a lesson that applies to democracies as well as to authoritarian states like the one he created in Venezuela. The tradition of tyrants trying to buy the love of the masses with government money is as old the Roman Empire. It often pays immediate dividends to the person handing out the goodies, but people who think they are getting something for nothing always suffer in the end.

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For those Americans who loathed their own country’s role as a beacon of freedom, the appeal of Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez was irresistible. Following in the footsteps of other Western pilgrims who had trooped to the Cuban prison of Fidel Castro or to Joseph Stalin’s Soviet empire to praise these gulags as the face of the future, people like Oliver Stone and Sean Penn dutifully embraced Chavez. They liked his childish rants about George W. Bush and helped burnish the myth that he was a true man of the people even as this caudillo suppressed freedom and built a cult of personality. Chavez’s death hasn’t changed this, and in the last day we have heard more blather about populism and his concern for those in poverty. Predictably, the leftists at The Nation are eulogizing him as a humanitarian. Joseph Kennedy showed why he wasn’t up to carrying on the legacy of the previous generation of his family by also mourning the Venezuelan strongman as a caring individual.

There is nothing to be done about those who will applaud anyone who hates America. Such sentiments are nothing more than adolescent rebellion masquerading as political opinion. But the claim that Chavez deserves credit for helping the poor is worth taking down, if only because this issue carries within it a lesson that applies to democracies as well as to authoritarian states like the one he created in Venezuela. The tradition of tyrants trying to buy the love of the masses with government money is as old the Roman Empire. It often pays immediate dividends to the person handing out the goodies, but people who think they are getting something for nothing always suffer in the end.

Chavez is still celebrated in some sectors for confiscating the property of oil companies and using much of that wealth to fund projects and services for the poor. Playing Robin Hood never goes out of style. Chavez enjoyed the role immensely and built himself a cult bought and paid for with state money. Traditional urban political machines in the United States worked on the same principle. Taking money from one set of people and giving it another larger group is good politics. But the Tammany Halls of the world always come to grief because the culture of “where’s mine” cannot be sustained indefinitely. Sooner or later, thug governments run out of people to fleece to pay off their followers. That’s true even for a government funded by seemingly limitless oil wealth like Venezuela.

The Chavez regime prospered on the notion that there is such a thing as a free lunch, and those who ate at his table continue to believe that there was no price for his largesse. Those who have justified and supported every dictator or totalitarian system through history have made the same wrongheaded calculation. What they fail to understand is that the giveaway of government goodies at the price of condoning theft of property and denial of rights ultimately penalizes even those who believe they are the beneficiaries of the scheme. Venezuelans now have a country without a true free press, independent judiciary or elections that can be considered genuine expressions of democracy. And they have an economic system that will ultimately fail because it is not based on the rule of law.

Concern for the welfare of the least fortunate is an obligation of all societies. But there is a vast difference between genuine social justice and a strongman doling out favors to his followers. Ultimately, socialism is organized theft, and even when executed with the panache of charismatic thugs like Chavez it is a system that is predicated on the denial of freedom by those who pose as its defenders. Those who play that game, whether mafia dons, tin pot dictators or legendary thieves, are good topics for fiction. But no decent or thinking person should ever mistake them for humanitarians.

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Hollande’s No Homework Pledge No Joke

My 11-year-old daughter has finally found a politician in which she can fully believe. His name isn’t Obama, Biden, Romney or Ryan. It’s Francois Hollande, president of the Republic of France. Why the affection for Hollande? This allegiance doesn’t stem from support for Hollande’s Socialist Party, as America has no greater supporter of the free enterprise system and the market economy than her. Nor is it based on this junior fashionista’s soft spot for anyone who calls Paris home. It is because he alone of all world leaders has embraced the cause that is nearest and dearest to her heart: a movement to ban homework. Last week, Hollande formally proposed that homework should be illegal. My daughter’s been telling me that every day when she gets home from school for years.

Of course, Hollande’s rationale is not the same as hers. He doesn’t care that homework eats into the time she could devote to recreational pursuits or plays havoc with her schedule on days when she has extracurricular activities or religious studies. He thinks having students doing extra work at home promotes inequality since not all kids have the same resources to aid their efforts. Instead, he wishes to have them spend more time in class where theoretically the playing field is equal. While he may claim that the intention is to help more children, this wacky proposal demonstrates everything that is wrong about the socialist mentality. Rather than seeking to further encourage individual initiative and a sense of responsibility, Hollande wants to give the government more control over education. Taking the terrible Hillary Clinton line about “it takes a village to educate a child” too much to heart, the French president wants to remove parents and caretakers from the equation and extend the state-run system’s hold on every aspect of student life. The impact of this idea, if it were adopted, would be a disaster for a French education system that ranks below most European countries as well as the United States in achievement scores.

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My 11-year-old daughter has finally found a politician in which she can fully believe. His name isn’t Obama, Biden, Romney or Ryan. It’s Francois Hollande, president of the Republic of France. Why the affection for Hollande? This allegiance doesn’t stem from support for Hollande’s Socialist Party, as America has no greater supporter of the free enterprise system and the market economy than her. Nor is it based on this junior fashionista’s soft spot for anyone who calls Paris home. It is because he alone of all world leaders has embraced the cause that is nearest and dearest to her heart: a movement to ban homework. Last week, Hollande formally proposed that homework should be illegal. My daughter’s been telling me that every day when she gets home from school for years.

Of course, Hollande’s rationale is not the same as hers. He doesn’t care that homework eats into the time she could devote to recreational pursuits or plays havoc with her schedule on days when she has extracurricular activities or religious studies. He thinks having students doing extra work at home promotes inequality since not all kids have the same resources to aid their efforts. Instead, he wishes to have them spend more time in class where theoretically the playing field is equal. While he may claim that the intention is to help more children, this wacky proposal demonstrates everything that is wrong about the socialist mentality. Rather than seeking to further encourage individual initiative and a sense of responsibility, Hollande wants to give the government more control over education. Taking the terrible Hillary Clinton line about “it takes a village to educate a child” too much to heart, the French president wants to remove parents and caretakers from the equation and extend the state-run system’s hold on every aspect of student life. The impact of this idea, if it were adopted, would be a disaster for a French education system that ranks below most European countries as well as the United States in achievement scores.

Hollande wants to expand the school week in France from four to four and a half days in order to make the idea work. That will win him no friends even with those children that despise homework.

Most kids and their parents — who are invariably drafted to help them with it — do think of homework as a burden. Some schools may overdo the load of homework but it is a vital method for reinforcing what is learned in the classroom. It also teaches students to work on their own rather than only in groups while under the thumb of their teachers.

It is true that this puts kids without parents or a proper learning environment at home at a disadvantage. But the answer to this problem is not to create a false equality by trying to dumb down students who can manage to complete their homework but by measures intended to aid those who can’t.

As the Wall Street Journal noted in an incisive editorial on the subject, Hollande’s ideas about schools molding the “citizens of the future,” tells us a lot about what kind of citizens he wants France to have.

Fortunately, most French educators and parents are opposed to this scheme, as they understand not only the benefits of homework but also the dangers of relying too heavily on state institutions to monopolize the lives of the young. While many fashions that start in Paris find their way to our shores, this is one that should be nipped in the bud in France.

Though Hollande’s proposal has set off a wave of jokes about him gaining support among those too young to vote, like my daughter, his agenda is a dangerous one. Modern social democratic parties such as his may have, at least for the moment, stepped back from an agenda of toppling capitalism but the anti-individualism aspect of his plan needs to be seen as a peril not only to education but to freedom.

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Is Socialism a Swing State Issue?

One of the most incredible ads so far this election season was produced and paid for not by a candidate, Super PAC, or party, but instead by a private citizen. Thomas Peterffy, a Hungarian-born businessman who made his fortune in online trading, has begun airing a 60-second ad that will be broadcast on major networks (CNN, CNBC and Bloomberg) in the swing states of Ohio, Wisconsin and possibly Florida, he told the Washington Examiner. Petterffy, who has a net-worth of over $4.6 billion according to Forbes, intends to spend between $5-10 million on the ads.

Peterffy’s ad is powerful in its simplicity. He speaks directly to the camera and recounts the story of his childhood in socialist Hungary, using images of himself and the poverty-stricken European nation. Peterffy, a member of the Forbes 400 list and Forbes’s list of billionaires, describes the importance of hard work and the value of respecting success. Interspersed with messages about the dangers of socialism are recent photos of the Occupy Wall Street movement’s protests. While the ad never addresses Obama’s early supportive statements regarding OWS, Americans need to look no further than statements made during the last two debates to understand that the Obama White House values “fairness” over success. Peterffy concludes his ad by stating, “That is why I am voting Republican and putting this ad on television.”

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One of the most incredible ads so far this election season was produced and paid for not by a candidate, Super PAC, or party, but instead by a private citizen. Thomas Peterffy, a Hungarian-born businessman who made his fortune in online trading, has begun airing a 60-second ad that will be broadcast on major networks (CNN, CNBC and Bloomberg) in the swing states of Ohio, Wisconsin and possibly Florida, he told the Washington Examiner. Petterffy, who has a net-worth of over $4.6 billion according to Forbes, intends to spend between $5-10 million on the ads.

Peterffy’s ad is powerful in its simplicity. He speaks directly to the camera and recounts the story of his childhood in socialist Hungary, using images of himself and the poverty-stricken European nation. Peterffy, a member of the Forbes 400 list and Forbes’s list of billionaires, describes the importance of hard work and the value of respecting success. Interspersed with messages about the dangers of socialism are recent photos of the Occupy Wall Street movement’s protests. While the ad never addresses Obama’s early supportive statements regarding OWS, Americans need to look no further than statements made during the last two debates to understand that the Obama White House values “fairness” over success. Peterffy concludes his ad by stating, “That is why I am voting Republican and putting this ad on television.”

A quick glance at Peterffy’s FEC contributions doesn’t seem to indicate his status as a conservative version of George Soros. In May 2009 he donated $2,400 to Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Roger Pearson (D-CT) respectively. According to the Seattle PI, Peterffy doesn’t have a political affiliated listed according to a public records search. While the majority of his other donations are to Republican and right-wing causes, almost all until this past election cycle are for local candidates in Connecticut, Peterffy’s home state. This election, it seems, has sparked an interest in national politics that was previously unrealized.

Peterffy’s decision to spend the majority of his ad-buy in Ohio isn’t just about electoral politics. Three of the six largest Hungarian populations in the U.S. are found in the state, after New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. In an election where such a large population comprises the vote of one of the most crucial swing states in the country, Peterffy’s ad could actually impact the presidential race. If nothing else, it gives voice to many in his generation who have seen the American Dream scorned through the Occupy protests and the class warfare rhetoric of the current administration.

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America’s Not a Kibbutz; Neither is Israel

Mitt Romney is catching some flak today for a statement made yesterday and first reported on BuzzFeed in which he contrasted American society and its economy as being very different from a socialist model. He told the crowd at a Chicago fundraiser:

“It’s individuals and their entrepreneurship which have driven America,” Romney said. “What America is not a collective where we all work in a kibbutz or we all in some little entity, instead it’s individuals pursuing their dreams and building successful enterprises which employ others and they become inspired as they see what has happened in the place they work and go off and start their own enterprises.”

This is being represented in some quarters as a knock on Israel or at least showing that, as BuzzFeed put it, his friendship for the Jewish state, “only extends so far.” But anyone who tries to represent this as somehow qualifying Romney’s backing for Israel or showing disrespect for it doesn’t know much about the real life Israel as opposed to myths from Leon Uris novels. While the kibbutz is an iconic symbol of the state’s beginnings, the collective farm movement is a dinosaur in modern Israel with only a minuscule role in its economy. Many of have gone bankrupt while others have become hotels or factories more than farms. Indeed, Israel’s current economic success is based on its transformation in the last generation into a first world economy rather than one handicapped by the socialist ideology of its founders.

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Mitt Romney is catching some flak today for a statement made yesterday and first reported on BuzzFeed in which he contrasted American society and its economy as being very different from a socialist model. He told the crowd at a Chicago fundraiser:

“It’s individuals and their entrepreneurship which have driven America,” Romney said. “What America is not a collective where we all work in a kibbutz or we all in some little entity, instead it’s individuals pursuing their dreams and building successful enterprises which employ others and they become inspired as they see what has happened in the place they work and go off and start their own enterprises.”

This is being represented in some quarters as a knock on Israel or at least showing that, as BuzzFeed put it, his friendship for the Jewish state, “only extends so far.” But anyone who tries to represent this as somehow qualifying Romney’s backing for Israel or showing disrespect for it doesn’t know much about the real life Israel as opposed to myths from Leon Uris novels. While the kibbutz is an iconic symbol of the state’s beginnings, the collective farm movement is a dinosaur in modern Israel with only a minuscule role in its economy. Many of have gone bankrupt while others have become hotels or factories more than farms. Indeed, Israel’s current economic success is based on its transformation in the last generation into a first world economy rather than one handicapped by the socialist ideology of its founders.

It is true that the kibbutz is, as Buzzfeed put it, “integral to the story of the founding of the state of Israel.” In pre-state Palestine, collective farms were useful in putting down claims on parts of the country at a time when the Jews were returning to their ancient homeland. They were more defensible than individual farmsteads and survived as much on the Zionist and socialist fervor of their members as their economic value. Though always small in number, their members formed part of the Jewish community’s elite and both before and after 1948, they often were disproportionately represented in the leadership of the Israel Defense Force and its precursor the Haganah.

But while Romney is obviously right that the collective idea has no place in America, it is a falsehood to assert that it still has much, if any, importance in Israel.

While collective farms played an outsized role in the formation of the state and its defense, in the long run they were not part of a viable economic model. For generations they have been subsidized by agricultural policies and direct aid from the state, something those who criticize funding for West Bank settlements often forget. But eventually even that wasn’t enough to keep many of them alive. If anything, they are now more of a symbol of the failed socialist economic policies the Labor Party imposed on the country for decades and which have now been replaced by a free market model that turned Israel into an economic powerhouse. The decline of the kibbutz is something of a cliché in Israeli society, and those farms are as out of place in its economy now as the old socialist and labor union monopolies that hamstrung development and a political leadership that refused to allow television until the 1970s. Though there is some nostalgia in Israel for the past, the idea that the country would return to the old East German model is absurd.

What Romney said was no gaffe. America isn’t a kibbutz. It never was and never will be. And Israel isn’t going back to them either.

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