Wednesday, March 01, 2006

On this One, Point the Finger the Other Way

Thank goodness Hugo Chavez is in the political arena. He certainly keeps things interesting. At a time when so much in politics is the same drivel (read: “ubiquitous scandals, voter apathy, selfish politicians”), trying to follow the news and stay current can be a bit, well, boring. Seriously, how many times do we have to listen to people re-hash the Cheney hunting accident? It was an accident, numerous people get hurt every year in hunting accidents more foolish and more preventable than the one the Vice President was involved in. But the Venezuelan president provides a lot of unexpected plot twists in the areas of foreign policy, energy politics, and regional disputes. The latest volleys have been fired over his donation of heating oil to several northeastern US states and communities.Venezuela, though its state-owned subsidiary Citgo, has offered substantial discounts to low-income residents to help offset the high price of heating oil for the winter time. The discount amounts to about 40%, with other charitable organizations, such as homeless shelters, receiving free heating fuel. There has been a lot of speculation behind his reasoning for this. Grandstanding, polishing his image, or genuine concern are some of those most frequently sited. However, belligerent is not a description one would use to describe these actions.

Yet that is exactly what members of the US Congress have done. Rep Joe Barton, R-Texas, called Venezuela’s actions as “part of an unfriendly government’s increasingly belligerend and hostile foreign policy.”It is no secret that Venezuela’s current president has had issues with our own, and a variety of words have transpired between the two governments. He has warned Condeleeza Rice that he “bites” and has rankled this administration with various allegations of coup support, militarization, spying, and other transgressions. This, however, is different. This is about helping those who are in need. These harsh words should not fall upon Chavez, but instead upon our own government.

Aiding the poor should not be some socialist’s “hostile” agenda in America. Rather, it should be the responsibility of our own government to help ensure that people who are less fortunate. That is one of the basic tenets of a central government, especially one that is as prosperous as the United States. Yet we have turned our back on this, one of many social programs that is hurting. And it is not as if we are unable to fund it. The administration, according to Time magazine, is about to clear a $7 billion tax break for oil companies drilling on government lands.

We should not castigate other members of the world community for supplying our needy with what is essentially foreign aid. It is embarrassing to be forced into this situation, and for the necessity of this step. But to let this shame over cloud the reality of the situation, and for the members of the US Congress to point the finger at Chavez and accuse him of hostile foreign policy, is really ridiculous. I’m sure the poor residents in the east coast would not agree with that image of him. If the members of Congress do not want Chavez doling out aid to American citizens, then they should create an environment where that sort of aid is not needed. Perhaps the best assessment of this situation comes from Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, who was asked by the governor to look into the legality of the sale. Regardless of the politics played by Venezuela in this transaction, “there is also sound reason to be critical of Congress whose ill-advised neglect makes [the assisted heating oil] necessary.”

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