- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 4, 2003

Hollywood's latest flop

Michelle Malkin is dead-on with her latest piece, "Celebrity lotharios" (Commentary, Saturday). Just about every day, the media glorifies and offers a platform for actors and actresses who speak out on the great issues of the day: war, the environment, human rights and so forth. In proclaiming their beliefs, these social icons usually stress that they are taking these stands "for our children." Rightfully so, for we all should strive to be models for future generations.

That is why I was so puzzled to learn that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences had nominated Roman Polanski for an Oscar as best director. Though he undoubtedly is a talented filmmaker, Mr. Polanski is a deeply flawed individual who is unworthy of such an honor. He fled the United States a quarter of a century ago to escape sentencing after pleading guilty to the rape of a 13-year-old girl.

There is something fundamentally wrong with the value system in Hollywood when the Academy would honor a pedophile who fled the country rather than face sentencing. It is at times like these when it becomes brutally apparent just how out of touch Hollywood is with mainstream America.


REP. ADAM H. PUTNAM

U.S. House of Representatives

Washington

Venezuela is no police state

One of the most important responsibilities of the media in a free and open society is getting (and reporting) both sides of a story. However, "A Venezuelan police state?" (Editorial, Thursday) suggests that The Washington Times lost perspective and returned to the safety of its traditional view of how things should be. In so doing, I believe the editors have deprived readers of a balanced view of what is actually occurring in my country.

The editorial's second paragraph began with all the drama of a bad reality-TV script: "At midnight last Wednesday, business leader Carlos Fernandez, one of the leading organizers of a two-month strike that ended Feb. 4, was arrested by armed police agents while at a restaurant and charged with rebellion and incitement, among other things." To begin, it was not a "strike." Even the perpetrators of the paralyzing lockout referred to their action as "a civic stoppage." As they know, true strikes are protected under Venezuelan law.

The problem was that they were acting illegally. The workers never voted to strike, nor was there the mandatory 120-hour cooling-off period, officially referred to as the "conciliation period." It also is important to note that in the case of essential industries - such as oil production - the law not only requires that a number of workers stay on the job, but also says that the failure of essential workers to be at work for three consecutive days requires their automatic dismissal. In this regard, such essential workers are no different in Venezuela from air-traffic controllers or police officers and firefighters in the United States.

The fact is that a warrant for Mr. Fernandez's arrest was issued by a judge in accordance with our laws, and he was duly arrested. I believe you have the same procedures - and laws against inciting riots - here in the United States.

The editorial continued: "These grave charges seem inconsistent with involvement in a strike, however injurious it may have been to the economy." Again, the facts are not nearly so dramatic. Based on facts presented to a judge by a local prosecutor in Caracas, Mr. Fernandez was charged with violating several laws. This is a procedure similar to that used by U.S. prosecutors.

Does The Times wish to imply that our laws in Venezuela are irrelevant and should not have been enacted by our legislative branch? Or that Mr. Fernandez, because of his high stature in the business community, somehow should be exempt from their enforcement? Or maybe that locking out hundreds of thousands of people from exercising their right to work and feed their families does not meet The Times' threshold of illegal activity? Is not arresting people who may have broken the law - when they have been so charged in order that they may be tried in court - the way democracies are supposed to work? What would The Times say about Venezuela if people who were believed to have violated the law were allowed to walk free?

In fairness, allow me to change the perspective for a moment. What if executives at a major defense contractor or a major airline decided to lock out their employees simply because the owners did not like the outcome of an election? Can you imagine that?

In an effort that seems to justify the splashy headline, the editorial went on to state as facts that President Hugo Chavez "began threatening extra-judicial retaliation against those involved," and that "Mr. Chavez had 'sentenced' strikers from the bully pulpit."

What The Times fails to note is that Venezuela has a constitution that separates the powers of the executive branch from those of the judicial branch. While the president has asked that the court do its duty, Mr. Chavez does not have the power to order an arrest, nor has he threatened "extra-judicial" retaliation against anyone. In following the Venezuelan Constitution, both the Venezuelan courts and Mr. Chavez have adhered to the law.

The editorial closed with perhaps its most unfortunate and inaccurate accusations, implying that Mr. Chavez knew about, supported or somehow was involved in recent bombings at the Spanish and Colombian embassies in Caracas. In a country of 25 million people trying to deal with the loss of economic opportunities, food and hope caused by whoever orchestrated the lockout of hundreds of thousands of workers - and the concomitant reduction of the country's tax revenue base by more than 30 percent - there no doubt are many frustrated people. Yet, Mr. Chavez had nothing to do with the violence and publicly condemned the cowardly acts in a statement earlier in the week.

Further, is it not fair to raise the question so eloquently asked in French - cherchez la femme - when looking at the so-called evidence left behind? Who left such evidence? What is to be gained by the government's doing such a thing, then leaving a finger pointing at itself?

We remind The Times of the historic agreement signed with leaders of the opposition calling for the end of violence and hostilities. The president and the government are committed to bringing all Venezuelans together, not driving them further apart. We welcome both internal and external comments, but we simply ask other governments to leave to us the internal administration of our laws without interference, which is all the president was saying when he asked that Spain, Colombia and the United States cease involving themselves in our internal affairs.

Mr. Chavez and the people of Venezuela should and will continue to work toward peaceful, democratic solutions to the social and economic problems facing our country; The Times should expand its narrow focus and adjust its perspective to more accurately convey the real story in Venezuela. Certainly, fairness requires no less.

In conclusion, we have been open with The Times. We shared with your reporters the two public documents issued this week: the first from the attorney general regarding the arrests and the second from the foreign ministry concerning our official regrets and our country's intent to find the perpetrators of the bombings. In keeping with that spirit of openness, I wish to invite your editorial writers to be our guests to visit Venezuela to see the reality there firsthand.


BERNARDO ALVAREZ

Venezuelan ambassador to the United States

Washington

Snowball ethics

I am writing in response to Saturday's "Nobles and Knaves" editorial, which dubs Joseph Best the knave of the week for shooting at someone who assaulted his daughter with a snowball. The piece states, "A father who is hit by a snowball usually takes that as an excuse to join the fun."

Not that I want to excuse Mr. Best's particular type of reaction, but since when is it OK to throw an inanimate object, whether it is a snowball, water balloon or lamp, at another person whom the thrower does not know? It's a good idea first to get the explicit permission of a stranger before pelting him, or get to know the stranger well enough so you know it would be OK before throwing something at him.

But stranger or not, I don't know why it should be a universally accepted principle that it's permissible to throw a snowball at someone. I do not consider that to be "fun." I consider it to be an assault. If you threw a snowball at my father, you were in for a fistfight. I don't want anybody, let alone a stranger, throwing snowballs at me, either.


SETH ALLEN

Alexandria

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