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This from Counterpunch shedding some light onto what is happening in South America, without being filtered through the corporate press.

“Over the last year reports about Venezuela in the corporate media have been depicting a country undergoing a “humanitarian crisis.” What they described was not consistent with what I know about the country, and I wondered what was actually happening. To find out, I traveled with a group of other North Americans who wanted to see the reality on the ground, and how the majority, the “popular classes,” were responding to the pressure of economic sanctions and threats of war.

My first impression was the scene on the streets. I was wondering if there would be signs on the streets of those same conditions returning—begging, homelessness, street vending. What I saw was surprising. Things looked so normal. People were going to work, relaxing on the weekend, just as they had been on my more recent visits.  Media in the US and around the world were creating an image of desperate suffering, hardship and chaos, but I did not see signs of that on the street. No begging, no homeless, no masses of peddlers. There was food in restaurants and stores, business as usual in retail shops, and people were working at their jobs.

Although life appeared outwardly normal, I soon learned about the two big problems beneath the surface: inflation and the blockade.

The government is trying to deal with one aspect of inflation by providing food through a system known as CLAP, an acronym of the Spanish words for Local Committees to Supply the People. Every two weeks bundles of basic foods like rice, beans, oil, sugar, etc. go directly to households, distributed by neighborhood committees. There is enough food in the bundle for people to survive on, but just barely. If supplies run out, food is available in stores, but some people’s salaries have not kept up with inflation. There are other ways that some get food—school lunches, etc,—but many suffer from the problem of not being able to afford to buy what they need, food and other things.

The second problem is the blockade on imported products. Venezuela has the industrial capacity to produce a substantial amount of what the country consumes. The road to the west of Caracas, for example, goes past huge plants, large populations of working people, highways full of big trucks hauling things to stores. But no country of 30 million people can produce all the things it needs. Countries have to import things, from medicine for specific diseases like HIV, to spare parts for most of the cars in the country. The blockade creates a lot of suffering.

On the other hand, the popular classes are in a much better position to withstand economic war than they were in earlier years. Free health care, education, and many other basic needs are available. Very important among these is housing. In the past 8 years the government has built 2.6 million homes, rural and urban. Enough to provide a new home to one third of the population. The goal is 5 million.

On past visits I have ridden past big blocks of apartment buildings, many under construction. One group after another, it takes many minutes to pass them, speeding along the highway. I thought about big apartment complexes for poor people in the US that turned out so badly, and wondered how these would be different. This recent visit was the first time I had an opportunity to see one of those developments from inside, and my question was answered.

Our group happened to be in Caracas at the time of a big conference about housing. Delegates from many countries were there to learn about Venezuela’s remarkable achievement. We were invited to attend, and we went with a busload of other “internationals” to the state of Vargas, on the coast of the Caribbean.

We saw a community of apartment buildings that house 32,000 people, many who had lost everything in the catastrophic mudslides of 1999, when whole communities in the area were swept out to sea. The buildings are designed to include much more than housing: childcare, cooking and dining, meeting and educational space, sports courts, a community radio station…a long list. The community manages its affairs through communal councils.

These spaces make it easy and natural for people of all ages to get together. We had a taste of this as we were welcomed with a concert by young people who had learned to play their instruments through el sistema. The star of the show was a girl of 8 or 9 who sang three long songs from memory, in a strong, confident voice. It seemed like a good place to raise kids.

This kind of housing would soon be history if the opposition were to come to power. Soon after they won a majority in the National Assembly they attempted to privatize the millions of homes the government had built, so landlords could buy them up as rentals and speculative investments. The Supreme Court was able to block that move, but if the opposition were in power they would do it.

We had come to Venezuela to learn how the popular classes are responding to the economic attacks and military threats from the US. One very visible response is that they are joining the militia; we were impressed by how this has been taken up. Our visit coincided with two demonstrations and two Sundays: four days when militia members did not need to dress in routine work-day clothing, and chose to wear their distinctive khaki uniforms in the marches and as they strolled around the plazas and shops. People of literally every adult age, and both sexes. It seemed there are about as many women as men. Even more remarkable was the number of people who are quite old, many in their seventies.

These militia groups train regularly. Their guns are kept in secure locations in communities around the country, close to where they might be needed. It was recently announced that the militia will be responsible for delivering the packages of food to be distributed to neighborhoods. This is a prudent measure given the history of violent attacks on medical clinics and other services provided to the popular classes. There are one and a half million members of the militia at this time, the goal being two and a half million.

Another response of the popular classes is a massive effort to produce food, through urban agriculture as well as in the countryside. We visited one substantial facility in Catia, a large hilly section at the western end of Caracas, where four communes with a total population of about 150,000 have created an urban farm named after Fabricio Ojeda, a revolutionary who died in the struggles against the oligarchy in the last century.”

Wow, people power in action.

 

 

Political theatre is interesting to observe.  Not so much when the strongest nation on earth continues to dable with proto-fascist notions and leaders.  The Democrats in the US will shortly (again) be showing their allegiance to the corporate interests that support them.  Let’s hope they can’t obstruct Sanders this time as well.  Paul Street writes in Counterpunch about this phenomena:

 

“A critical part of Joe “Anti-Populist” Biden’s media-crafted appeal is his “get things done” claim to be able to “reach out across the aisle” in the famous, hallowed, and CNN- and “P”BS-honored “spirit of bipartisanship.” That’s a shame. Why should we want a president who promises to team up with the widely loathed and creeping fascist white-nationalist Republican Party? And what has the holy bipartisanship that Biden is celebrated for embracing wrought for We the People over the years? Not much. As Andrew Cockburn wrote last month at Harpers:

“By tapping into…popular tropes—‘The system is broken,’ ‘Why can’t Congress just get along?’—the practitioners of bipartisanship conveniently gloss over the more evident reality: that the system is under sustained assault by a [bipartisan] ideology bent on destroying the remnants of the New Deal to the benefit of a greed-driven oligarchy. It was bipartisan accord, after all, that brought us the permanent war economy, the war on drugs, the mass incarceration of black people [Biden backed Bill Clinton’s ‘Three Strikes’ crime and prison bill – P.S.], 1990s welfare ‘reform’ [Biden backed the Clinton-Gingrich abolition of Aid for Families with Dependent Children], Wall Street deregulation and the consequent $16 trillion in bank bailouts, the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force, and other atrocities too numerous to mention. If the system is indeed broken, it is because interested parties are doing their best to break it” (emphasis added).

Biden even took his embrace of the supposedly sacred virtue of bipartisanship to the grotesque level of forming close friendships with vicious southern white racists like Republican Senators Strom Thurmond and Jesse Helms, not to mention the frothing warmonger John McCain.

With Biden as with Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and a long line of dismal dollar Democrats in the neoliberal era, there’s an accurate translation for “reaching across the aisle to get things done:” joining hands across the two major party wings of the same corporate-imperial bird of prey to make policy in accord with the wishes of the rich and powerful.”

It would be nice if they would stop rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.  I have my doubts though.

In the second part, start at 10:05 for that, if Bernie actually means this, then he should be the next President of the United States.

If he has an actual commitment to justice, and this isn’t just rhetoric… this may indeed be me looking to the east by light of the fifth day.

A soldiers exit essay on leaving the US war machine.

 

What I Won’t Be Missing

“It’s time to wave goodbye to a litany of absurdity that I witnessed in the institution to which I dedicated my adult life. Some peers, even friends, may call this heresy — a disgruntled former major airing dirty laundry — and maybe in some way it is. Still, what I observed in various combat units, in conversation with senior officers, and as a horrified voyeur of, and actor in, two dirty wars matters. Of that, I remain convinced.

So here’s my official goodbye to all that, to a military and a nation engaged in an Orwellian set of forever wars and to the professional foot soldiers who made so much of it all possible, while the remainder of the country worked, tweeted, shopped, and slept (in every sense of the word). 

Goodbye to the majors who wanted to be colonels and the colonels who wanted to be generals — at any cost. To the sociopaths who rose in the ranks by trampling on the souls of their overburdened troopers, trading lives for minor bumps in statistics and pats on the shoulder from aggressive superiors.

Goodbye to the generals who led like so many lieutenants, the ones who knew the tactics but couldn’t for the life of them think strategically, eternally proving the Peter Principle right with every promotion past their respective levels of incompetence. 

So long to the flag officers convinced that what worked at the squad level — physical fitness, esprit de corps, and teamwork — would win victories at the brigade and division level in distant, alien lands.

Farewell to the generals I served under who then shamelessly spun through Washington’s revolving door, trading in their multi-starred uniforms for six- and seven-figure corporate gigs on the boards of weapons manufacturers, aka “the merchants of death” (as they were known once upon a distant time), and so helped feed the unquenchable appetite of the military-industrial beast.

Farewell to the senior generals, so stuck in what they called “their lane” that they were unwilling (or intellectually unable) to advise civilian policymakers about missions that could never be accomplished, so trapped in the GWOT box that they couldn’t say no to a single suggestion from chickenhawk militarists on the Hill or in the Oval Office.

Goodbye to the devotees of American exceptionalism who filled the Army’s ranks, stalwart evangelists of a civic religion that believed there was a secret American inside every Arab or Afghan, ready to burst forth with the slightest poke from Uncle Sam’s benevolent bayonet. 

Ciao to staff officers who mistook “measures of performance” (doing lots of stuff) for “measures of effectiveness” (doing the right stuff). I won’t miss the gaggles of obtuse majors and colonels who demanded measurable “output” — numbers of patrols completed, numbers of houses searched, counts of PowerPoint slides published — from already overtasked captains and the soldiers they led and who will never learn the difference between doing lots and doing well.

Goodbye to battalion and brigade commanders who already had their hands full unsuccessfully “pacifying” entire districts and provinces in alien lands, yet seemed more concerned with the cleanliness of troopers’ uniforms and the two-mile-run times of their units, prioritizing physical fitness over tactical competence, empathy, or ethics.

Godspeed to the often-intolerant conservatism and evangelical Christianity infusing the ranks. […]”

Paul Street writing for Counterpunch illustrates the problems humanity faces as a whole and how completely useless our insular elites and mainstream media actually are. They would rather madly fiddle for short term profit than tackle the larger issues, namely the continued human habitationof the earth.

*edit* Poor sleep on the weekends shoots the hell out of my writing acumen.

“The 2020 elections and their aftermath (including the distinct possibility that Trump will refuse the Electoral tally) will not be irrelevant to the fate of the nation and the Earth.

But nothing matters more now than the existential environmental crises we face, with the climate disaster in the lead. There’s no chance for social justice, democracy, equality, creativity, art, love and community – or anything else (including profits) – on a dead planet.

Yes, the “Green New Deal” advocated by a cadre of progressive Democrats has made its way into media coverage and commentary in recent months. It appears that the GND – which includes welcome calls for net zero U.S. carbon emissions by 2030 – will be part of at least the primary election story thanks to Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Cortez-Ocasio, Jay Inslee, and other progressive or progressive-sounding Democrats. But don’t expect it to receive all that much attention (much less positive attention) in the dominant corporate media-politics complex. Serious discussion of the climate issue and environmental questions more broadly doesn’t serve broadcasters’ and advertisers’ bottom line interests. There is little chance that the climate crisis will remotely approach the Trump investigations and the already emergent 2020 presidential horse-race when it comes to garnering real media attention.

The reigning political and media “elite” is happy to keep capitalogenic global warming on the public margins until long past the last ecological tipping points are passed. They can be counted on them to fiddle and diddle through the species’ final, fossil-fueled flame-out. It is an existential necessity to create a new culture, media, and politics with the elementary natural and social intelligence required to properly prioritize the most pressing problems of our time.

The US has a funny notion of what is in its ‘backyard’.  It would be really wonderful if the citizens of the US would decry the economic terrorism being carried out on their behalf.

 

“The success of Chávez and Maduro’s governments in reducing poverty and inequality in Venezuela and their ability to lend aid to working people around the world pose a direct threat to the United States’ agenda. During the 14 years of Chávez’s presidency, the country experienced an average of 3.2 percent economic growth, increasing to 4.1 percent after Chávez took control of the state oil company, PDVSA, in 2004. The profits from the oil sector have been used to bolster social programs in areas such as housing, health, and education.

Programs such as the Comité Local de Abastecimiento y Producción (CLAP) and Plan de Atención a la Vulnerabilidad Nutricional provide 50,000 tons of food per month to 6 million Venezuelan families (compared to the measly 60 tons that could be purchased with the $20 million of aid offered by the United States). According to Mark Weisbrot and Luis Sandoval of the Center for Economic and Policy Research and other sources, inequality has decreased substantially compared to the pre-Chávez era.

It is true that Venezuela today is experiencing an economic crisis. But it is important to put the current reality in context with the pre-Chávez neoliberal era—which failed to provide basic services to the Venezuelan people even without the staunch opposition of the United States and its allies—and in the context of crushing economic sanctions and an economic war that has systematically denied the country access to credit and repeatedly staged a series of economic and political interventions.

Today, the U.S.-imposed sanctions alone cost Venezuela an estimated US$30 million per day. Under pressure from the U.S., the Bank of England has denied Venezuela access to $1.2 billion of gold stored there—money that could be used to provide medicine and aid to the Venezuelan people. While painting a picture of Maduro as a heartless dictator who refuses to provide aid to his people, the U.S. is simultaneously lobbying the Bank of England to deny Maduro access to crucial funds and instead turn Venezuela’s gold over to Guaidó.

Meanwhile, the United States has stationed military planes on the Colombian border carrying US$20 million worth of so-called humanitarian aid. Maduro, recognizing the history of humanitarianism as a trojan horse for intervention and the political motives behind the U.S.’s offer, has denied the aid. Even the United Nations and the Red Cross have refused to support the U.S. aid shipment, which they accuse of being politically motivated. In other words, if one is to take a step back and look at the bigger picture of the crisis in Venezuela, the missteps of Maduro’s administration pale in comparison to the impact of U.S. economic warfare.

In stark contrast to the United States’ foreign relations and stance on international aid, Venezuela has used its natural wealth to provide aid to working people around the world and to fund social programs domestically. In doing this, the country has set an example for what is possible if countries under the current grip of U.S. imperialist policies set out to stop the bleeding of their resources and wealth into the coffers of the United States and its allies and instead use their resources for the good of everyday people. It is an attempt toward what the late Egyptian Marxist Samir Amin would call “de-linking,” or “compelling imperialism to accept your conditions or part of those conditions [… and] to drive one’s own policy.”

American foreign policy seems to be carefully insulated from the majority of the American population.  I’m thinking that, outside the respective frenzied political bases, the general populace has little or no taste for international misadventures and the inevitable blowback that accompanies imperial meddling in the affairs of other states.  Yet here we be, because the venerated elite have decided that Venezuela’s impertinence (questioning and moving against the US sphere of influence in Central/South America) is distinctly unpalatable and, indeed, *something* must be done.

The kowtowing to this interventionialist narrative crosses party lines and speaks to the amount of power wielded by the power brokers that set the tone for US political discussion.  David Rosen writes:

“While the Republicans led the fictitious chant for a “hard coup,” the Democrats were divided, split over a “hard” vs a “soft” coup and – for a growing number — a “no” coup. Will Trump’s ham-fisted effort to topple Maduro split the Democratic Party?

***

South Florida’s three Democratic Congresswomen — Donna Shalala, Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell – are among the strongest supporters of the administration’s campaign to overthrow the Maduro government.

Donna Shalala – a classic liberal, Pres. Bill Clinton’s formerSecretary of Health and Human Services and leading Hillary-for-president supporter – has taken an unequivocal stand: “And all of us are waiting to see what the military will do and to make sure that we send very clear messages of our support for the people of Venezuela, for the acting president as well as for military leaders that are prepared to step up and bring down the Maduro government.”

This no-nonsense interventionist position is shared by other Democrats, most notably the (undeclared) presidential candidate, Joe Biden, who said: “The international community must support Juan Guaidó and the National Assembly. It is time for Maduro to step aside and allow a democratic transition.” The declared candidate Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) shouted, “Maduro has to go.”

Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) has taken up Trump’s call to oust Maduro:

He [Guaidó] knows how much the Venezuelan people have suffered, how the Maduro regime bankrupted the nation and destroyed its democracy and its economy, and how desperate the people of his country are to rejoin the community of democracies.  I told him we in the United States stand ready to help, and the Venezuelan people need our help to rebuild their country’s democracy and economy and to help the millions of Venezuelan refugees safely return home.

Some Democratic presidential candidates seek cover in the “soft” coup approach.  A spokesperson forSen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) said she “supports working with our allies to recognize Juan Guaidó – who was legitimately elected – as the interim president under the Constitution until Venezuela can hold new elections.”  And Sen. Amy Klobuchar whimpered, “I support the people of Venezuela standing up against Maduro, installing a new leader, and restoring democracy in Venezuela.”

But those who appear to oppose a “hard” coup, including U.S. military intervention, don’t want to come out and say it explicitly. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), another undeclared presidential candidate, lambasted the Trump administration’s “loose talk of possible military intervention” as “reckless and irresponsible.”  But then fell back on the “free and fair elections” – or soft coup – stand.  “We should work with our allies and use economic, political and diplomatic leverage to help bring about free and fair elections, limit escalating tension, and ensure the safety of Americans on the ground,” he said.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), a declared presidential candidate, shares Brown’s half-hearted stand.  She has strongly opposed the use of sanctions and then intones: “The Venezuelan people deserve free and fair elections, an economy that works, and the ability to live without fear of violence from their own government.” Dah?

Unremarkably, the Democrats who take either a hard or soft position regarding a coup in Venezuela present themselves as “progressives.” In the good-old-days of American politics, say 2010, Democrats were “liberals,” “moderates” and – with rare exception – “radicals” (i.e., secret socialists, even Marxists). Unfortunately, today every Democrat claims to be a “progressive.”

A handful of Democrats have come out against U.S. intervention, no matter whether hard or soft.  Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), another declared president candidate, has taken the strongest, most unequivocal stand opposed to intervention.  She said, put simple: “The United States needs to stay out of Venezuela.”  She tweeted, rejecting Trump’s recognition of Guaidó as president: “Let the Venezuelan people determine their future. We don’t want other countries to choose our leaders — so we have to stop trying to choose theirs.”  Like no other politician, she went to heart of the issue, tweeting:“It’s about the oil … again,”

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), a declared presidential candidate and self-declared democratic socialist, has been criticized for his rather wimpy stand on Venezuela.  However, he’s reframed Gabbard’s statement about the role of oil, recognizing the core driving force of U.S. imperialism.  “However, we must learn the lessons of the past and not be in the business of regime change or supporting coups – as we have in Chile, Guatemala, Brazil, and the Dominican Republic.”  Driving the point home, he insisted: “The United States has a long history of inappropriately intervening in Latin American countries; we must not go down that road again.”

Some critical voices are out there, but sadly, not enough to derail the interventionalist narrative that is dominating the discourse.

 

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