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Neoliberalism in the Venezuela protests

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For about a month now, Venezuela has become embroiled in bitter protests against its huge murder rate, chronic food shortages, and a mounting inflation level of 56%.

The student movement initiated the protests challenging the Nicolas Maduro Government to correct their concerns. And Opposition Leader Henrique Capriles’ supporters later joined ranks with the student movement, together creating a strong  and largely middle-class force. While frequent murders, food shortages and high food prices are real to Venezuelans and there is no disagreement these concerns are part of the reality in Venezuela, there are several dimensions to review in interpreting reasons for the protests.

Irene Caselli of the BBC (http://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-26335287) reported that the protesters are largely from the middle class; that the Maduro government’s support remains strong among its supporters, as validated by its good showing in last December’s local elections; that Maduro believes that Washington is trying to stage a coup similar to what happened in 2002 against Chavez; and that Maduro expelled three American diplomats and appointed a new Ambassador to Washington.

In international relations, it is no secret that there is bad blood between the U.S. and Venezuela. It, therefore, is not surprising that, in recent times, the U.S. is fingered each time as the culprit behind any political instability in Venezuela; this may not be difficult to figure because since around 2000, the U.S.-Latin American relations have regained its hot spot status in the world, largely due to the prominence of former President of Venezuela Hugo Chavez, according to Corrales and Romero’s new book (2013).

The book spoke about former President Chavez’s anti-U.S. statements, such as: conspiring to produce coups, hatching presidential assassinations, planning invasions to take ownership of Venezuela’s oil assets, instigating genocide, etc. The book also addressed Washington’s thinking as a response to Chavez’s, such as: likelihood of new instability in Venezuela and other parts of Latin America, possibility for financial catastrophe should Venezuela impose an oil embargo on the U.S., potential of Venezuela being an uncompromising veto player at the Organization of American States (OAS), becoming Russia’s largest weapon importer, and procuring satellite technology from China.

Corrales and Romero’s book also noted that despite these incisive differences between the two nations, both sides maintain a mutually working, non-punitive relationship with each other. For instance, although Venezuela has a massive stockpile of weapons, it constitutes no military threat to the U.S.; and Venezuela is a dependable oil supplier to the Americas; and I would add that the extent of both countries’ anguish toward each other is reduced to expulsion of diplomats.

However, unlike Corrales and Romero, I would argue that while Venezuela is no match for the U.S., the U.S. can be an overwhelming force against Venezuela; but U.S. strategy and tactics against Venezuela do not have to be military-based. The U.S. in consort with other powerful Western nations still has its trump card of neoliberalism to play as needed in its global promotion of the gospel of imperialism. The core of neoliberalism, according to Brenner and Theodore (2002, p. 350) is that open, competitive, and unregulated markets, freed from governmental interference, constitute the best tool for economic development. The stakes in Venezuela are high for the U.S. right now, as the promotion of U.S. interests, using neoliberalism as its instrument, faces bottlenecks in Venezuela which could spread to other parts of Latin America.  For while Chavez is no longer on the scene, Nicloas Maduro and his government comply rigidly with the Chavez strategy to root out neoliberalism. In Mahmood and Muntaner’s study (2013, p. 64), Chavez significantly dismantled neoliberalism in Venezuela’s health reforms, and the same can be effected for other sectors of the economy.

There is the Chavez view which may now be the view throughout the region that the foreign debts of Latin American countries in the 1980s brought about deep asymmetries among them, and were caused by the multilateral agencies, as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), etc., through their neoliberalism and conditionalities, totally backed through the Washington Consensus.

There was a passion for the formation of UNASUR to create symmetries among countries in Latin America and as a regional body to marginalize the impact of the World Bank and IMF, and other international financial institutions. And Chavez established the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA) as a regional initiative to eliminate the asymmetries among countries in the region. ALBA comprises Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Ecuador, Honduras, Dominica, Antigua and Barbuda, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. In all of this, Chavez hoped that not only Venezuela but the region would achieve genuine political stability; but not the false political stability that has scarred Venezuela’s history and unable to contain neoliberalism. Let me offer some examples of false political stability from the literature.
Venezuela experienced a fair amount of political stability in the 1960s with the advent of the Punto fijo, a pact between major political parties in 1958. At that time, a small elite in Venezuela, an oil-based economy, took control over this key source of economic power with strong alliance to the political directorate. But Wilpert’s study (2007) showed that this political stability only brought exclusionary policies that gave rise to mounting inequities among the masses of the poor and vulnerable. This was false political stability and, indeed, there was more to come!
In 1989, Alvarado et al. (2005, pp. 95-109) noted that the Caracazo emerged as an uprising against the inequities, marking the beginnings of the fight against neoliberalism. False political stability punctuated the 1990s. For instance, Mahmood and Muntaner (2013, pp. 63-64) mentioned the policy behaviors of two former presidents: President Carlos Andrez Perez had an anti-neoliberal platform, yet when he took office in 1989, he implemented the World Bank and IMF’s recommendations called El Paquete; Rafael Caldera became President in 1993 and did the same thing as Perez; his neoliberal plan was the Agenda Venezuela.  And given the current protests, perhaps, there is an expectation for a return to neoliberalism.
There is a view (http://www.thefinancialist.com/a-dire-economy-causes-unrest-in-venezuela/) that the current protests in Venezuela have to do with its dire economy with price regulations, chronic underinvestment, and currency control; and that as a remedy, the government now seems ready to launch a new foreign exchange system which will improve foreign exchange flows to the private sector; also, the government has increased public sector wages and has enabled the lower-income people to shop at subsidized supermarkets. How dire is the economy when the government increased public sector compensation as well as making available affordable food items?
These reasons pertaining to a dire economy are manifest indicators for the protests. But there are also latent reasons which relate to undermining the anti-neoliberal Maduro government. Mahmood and Muntaner (2013, p. 60) noted that the social cleavages in Latin America strictly along class lines are fertile lands for installing neoliberal policies, with Venezuela feeling the impact of such cleavages as evidenced by the current middle class protests.

References:
Brenner, N. and Theodore, N., 2002. Cities and the Geographies of “Actually Existing Neoliberalism”. Antipode, 34 (3), p. 350.
Corrales, J. and and Romero, C.A., 2013. U.S.-Venezuela Relations since the 1990s. New York, NY: Taylor & Francis.
http://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-26335287 (Accessed March 12, 2014).
http://www.thefinancialist.com/a-dire-economy-causes-unrest-in-venezuela/ (Accessed March 12, 2014).
Mahmood, Q. and Muntaner, C., 2013. Politics, class actors, and health sector reform in Brazil and Venezuela. Global Health Promotion, 20 (59).
Wilpert, G., 2007. Changing Venezuela by Taking Power: The History and Policies of the Chavez Government. New York, USA: Verso.

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‘Guns Don’t Kill People, People Kill People’: Time to retire

Mohammad Ghaderi

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Again, another mass shooting, again a school, again a troubled teen, a racist, a white supremacist, a Bloods or Crips gangster, a refugee, a war veteran, a mad policeman, a terrorist from al-Qaeda, al-Nusra Front or from the ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant/Daesh) terrorist outfits … what difference does it make and again dead bodies lying on the ground in their blood. Who believes they were alive seconds ago. The story goes on and to my surprise it is having less effect than it used to have years ago. Why?

We are getting bad. We are not hurt anymore. Too much violence has made us numb.

What does the motto on the entrance of the United Nations building says? A poem by the Iranian influential poet Sa’adi, from the 13th century, the medieval period. The poem has many translations however one is this:

The sons of Adam are limbs of each other,
Having been created of one essence.
When the calamity of time affects one limb
The other limbs cannot remain at rest.
If you have no sympathy for the troubles of others,
You are unworthy to be called by the name of a Human.

Give it a thought, try to put it in practice, politician and statesmen in the United Nations, New York, United States. It is ludicrous that almost all of them call for end of wars, urge foe peace and tranquil but at the same time produce and sell arms.

War, violence and killing is simply unacceptable, nasty and painful in any kind and form, whether it occurs in a house, street, city, countries like Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Palestine or the United States of America.

U.S. teen confesses to mass shooting at Florida Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School

A troubled teen with alleged ties to a white supremacist group confessed on Thursday to murdering 17 people at his former high school in Florida, as the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) admitted it had received a tip-off about the 19-year-old gunman yet failed to stop him.

As Americans reeled from the country’s worst school massacre since the horror at Sandy Hook six years ago, the U.S. President Donald Trump suggested the root cause of the violence was a crisis of mental health — and defied calls to address gun control.

Terrified students hid in closets and under desks on Wednesday at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, texting for help as the gunman, Nikolas Cruz, stalked the school with a semi-automatic AR-15 rifle.

Cruz has been charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder, appearing on Thursday afternoon before a judge who ordered him held without bond.

After being read his legal rights, “Cruz stated that he was the gunman who entered the school campus armed with a AR-15 and began shooting students that he saw in the hallways and on the school grounds,” court documents showed.

Cruz also admitted he discarded his rifle — which he bought legally in Florida — and tactical gear in order to blend in with the crowd to flee the campus, the documents showed.

The recent mass shooting at a school in Florida is the latest reminder that the United States is a “very violent country,” a journalist in Detroit says.

After the shooting, he stopped at a Wal-Mart store and then McDonald’s, Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel told reporters. He was detained 40 minutes later, after police identified him using school security camera footage.

Expelled from school for disciplinary reasons, Cruz was known to be fixated on firearms — and had reportedly been identified as a potential threat to his classmates.

In a somber televised address to the nation in response to the 18th school shooting so far this year, Trump vowed to make mental health a priority — after tweeting about the “many signs” the gunman was “mentally disturbed” — while avoiding any talk of gun curbs.

Earlier in the day, Trump had asserted that “neighbors and classmates knew he was a big problem. Must always report such instances to authorities, again and again!”

But U.S. authorities themselves were under scrutiny, after the FBI confirmed it was alerted last September to a message posted on YouTube, in which a user named Nikolas Cruz vowed: “I’m going to be a professional school shooter.”

In a statement, the FBI said it had carried out “database reviews and other checks” but was unable to identify the person who made the post.

Trump cites mental health, not guns, in speech on shooting

Declaring the nation united and grieving with “one heavy heart,” Trump promised on Thursday to tackle school safety and “the difficult issue of mental health” in response to the deadly shooting in Florida. He made no mention of the scourge of gun violence.

Not always a natural in the role of national comforter, Trump spoke deliberately, at one point directly addressing children who may feel “lost, alone, confused or even scared.”

“I want you to know that you are never alone and you never will be,” Trump said. “You have people who care about you, who love you, and who will do anything at all to protect you.”

However, the ones killed were alone when they were shot in cold blood in fear and hope. The ones who lost their precious lives had many hopes and ambitions.

Now they are dead, and it could be every and each one of us, at a school, stadium, concert hall, cinema, home, Middle East, Americas… anywhere, it could be.

Such incidents are cause of sorrow and pain, I cannot explain how I felt when I saw the horrible pictures of the Florida High School shooting, just like how I felt when I saw the massacre committed by the ISIL terrorists killing cadets in Camp Speicher in Tikrit, Iraq. At the time of the attack there were between 4,000 and 11,000 unarmed cadets in the camp. ISIL terrorists singled out Shia and non-Muslim cadets from Sunni ones and murdered them.

Who arms and supports terrorist groups like ISIL? No one can be so naeive to believe that they have just popped out. I recall the U.S. President Trump as saying on his election campaign to Hillary Clinton that the U.S. created ISIL. Well done!

While Trump stressed the importance of mental health and school safety improvements, his latest budget request would slash Medicaid, the major source of federal funding for treating mental health problems, and cut school safety programs by more than a third. Last year, he signed a resolution blocking an Obama-era rule designed to keep guns out of the hands of certain mentally disabled people.

Trump’s silence on guns was noted with displeasure by many who are seeking tougher firearm restrictions. But the White House said the president wanted to keep his remarks focused on the victims.

Before he was a candidate, Trump at one point favored some tighter gun regulations. But he embraced gun rights as a candidate, and the National Rifle Association spent $30 million in support of his campaign.

During his brief, televised statement, Trump said he wanted to work to “create a culture in our country that embraces the dignity of life,” a phrase likely to resonate with his conservative base.

In contrast, former President Barack Obama tweeted out a call for “long overdue, common-sense gun safety laws.” Obama wrote: “We are grieving with Parkland. But we are not powerless. Caring for our kids is our first job.”

In reacting to previous mass shootings, Trump has largely focused on mental health as a cause, dismissing questions about gun control. After a shooting at a Texas church in November left more than two dozen dead, the president said, “This isn’t a guns situation.”
The US has averaged one school shooting every 60 hours since the beginning of 2018, data shows.

Trump was criticized in early August for saying that both white nationalists and counter-protesters were responsible for the violent clashes at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

While Trump has offered somber responses to some tragedies, he has also drawn criticism for other reactions.

After the Orlando shootings at a gay nightclub that left 49 dead in June 2016, then-candidate Trump tweeted, “Appreciate the congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism.” In the wake of a deadly terror attack in London last June, he went after Mayor Sadiq Khan on Twitter.

Sadiq Khan compares the US president’s rhetoric against Islam to tactics used by ISIL to inspire terror attacks in Western cities.

First published in our partner Tehran Times

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On Jettisoning Failed Leaders and Mass Shootings in the U.S.

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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The scene is the House of Commons; the date May 7, 1940.  A simple motion to adjourn for the ten-day Whitsun recess is of little concern to Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain who has a comfortable 213 seat majority.  Then things take a turn.  A plan approved by the first Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill to land troops in Norway and engage the Germans directly has been a disaster with huge losses, and the eventual naval evacuation of the expeditionary force — an Arctic Dardanelles planned by the same man.

Chamberlain rises to defend Churchill and the conduct of the war in what has now come to be known as the “Norway Debate”.  In the most unlikely of scenarios and with no evidence of Winston trying to put his name forward — in fact the opposite — when the tide turns against Chamberlain, within three days as more favored candidates are shed, he has become prime minister.  Such is the parliamentary system.  Margaret Thatcher is another example, toppled shortly after success at the polls.

The American system, however, puts the president beyond such reach other than through a laborious impeachment.  Analogous to the third Roman Emperor Caligula, Donald Trump, too, has no military or political experience.  Caligula made his horse a senator or some say consul; Trump has the equivalent running government departments and agencies.  Caligula declared himself a god; Trump tweeted he is a ‘stable genius.’  If Caligula’s reign ended with assassination, Trump’s will be more prosaic — just disaffected voters.

Another mass shooting this time at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.  Seventeen are dead and  many more injured.  The gunman, identified as Nikolas Cruz, used an AR-15 assault type rifle, a weapon far deadlier than a pistol — perhaps he watched the coverage of the Las Vegas shooting.  He was a former pupil who had been suspended from the school, and who students recalled as disturbed and scary.

President Trump in his remarks following the incident did not bring up the obvious question of why an AR-15 was so easily available for purchase.  Gun owners and the gun lobby are part of his constituency.

Following a mass shooting in April 1996 when a man armed with two semi-automatic rifles killed 35 people in Port Arthur, Tasmania, the Australian government put together strict gun laws.  They were supplemented with a mandatory gun-buyback program through which 650,000 firearms were destroyed.  Did the program work?  The data tells the story more vividly:  From 1979 to 1996, Australia suffered 13 mass shootings; since 1997 it has had none.

Under his usual theme of ‘guns don’t kill people, people kill people’, President Trump continues to talk about finding ways to deal better with disturbed people.  The sure Australian way is to stop them acquiring guns.

Lost in the Florida school story was another shooting the same day when trigger-happy guards let loose at a National Security Agency entrance.  The forested area is a confused mass of entries and exits.  It has happened before that somebody inadvertently makes a wrong turn and panics when faced with shouting armed guards.  In this incident, bullet holes can be seen in the windshield and the three men in the car were injured.

Introducing the Gates Foundation’s annual philanthropic letter a few days ago, Bill and Melinda Gates appealed to Donald Trump to not cut foreign aid — “even a 10 percent cut could lead to 5 million deaths in the next decade”, Bill Gates warned.  Will President Trump listen?

Despite the many wonderful aspects the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights, when it comes to jettisoning incompetent leaders, it is difficult to best the parliamentary system for immediacy.

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Trump’s new nuclear doctrine just rhetoric

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Recently the US President Donald Trump unveiled his new nuclear doctrine which had remained unchanged since 2010. Many experts consider Trump’s new doctrine which enjoys many ambiguities as just campaign rhetoric. To shed more light on the issue we reached out to Prof. Filip Kovacevic, University of San Francisco geopolitics.

The US new nuclear doctrine was published several days ago. This document had remained unchanged since 2010. What are the reasons for new changes?

According to the US military establishment, the most important reason for changes is that the world has been a more dangerous and geopolitically unstable place. What the generals are not saying, though, is that it was their own actions which are responsible for this state of affairs. The hegemonic US foreign policy, the attempt to force a neo-liberal Pax Americana on the diversity and richness of the world’s cultures and traditions, is the cause of the present world problems.

Of course, you won’t find this stated openly in the doctrine. What you will find there, in a typical manipulative fashion, are the accusations of others for the problems that the US foreign policy has caused itself. In fact, this hypocritical pattern of behavior, where you take the legitimate reactions of others to your own provocations and aggressive moves as the main cause of tensions and conflicts, goes back many decades into the past.

What is the most significant difference between the new doctrine and the previous one?

In my opinion, the most significant difference is that a lot more money will be poured into the development of nuclear weapons. This will inevitably lead to a nuclear arms race with other states and to the proliferation of nuclear weapons as more and more countries will want to acquire them. But it will bring tremendous profits to the US military-industrial complex. In fact, the Trump administration is completely under the control of this section of the US corporate oligarchy. Trump is essentially breaking down all the institutional checks and balances in the US political system and paving a way for a military dictatorship. I have no doubt that the next US president will be a military officer. This means that we are about to see more wars and more deaths around the world, including in the Middle East. Many old, frozen conflicts will be re-opened across Asia and, apparently, the US is also setting a stage for the first-time use of a low yield nuclear weapon. Let’s not forget, though, that the bombs with depleted uranium have already been extensively used in the US /NATO conflicts, starting with the attack on the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in 1999, causing horrific public health and environmental problems for generations to come.

In new doctrine, the use of nuclear weapons is allowed in extraordinary situation. There are some ambiguities around this. What are those extraordinary situations exactly?

The fact that the US reserves the right to respond with a nuclear weapon to a non-nuclear attack is nothing new. In fact, the US dropped nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki even though there was no nuclear threat from the Imperial Japan. However, what is new in this doctrine is that now the US considers the potential use of a nuclear weapon against a large-scale cyber-attack. This is extremely worrying, because, as is well known, it is very difficult to correctly attribute the source of a cyber-attack. This could make a false-flag attack by some rogue terrorist faction or by the inside provocateurs misinterpreted as an attack by another nuclear power and lead to the nuclear annihilation of all life on Earth.

As the US considers the first strike on Russia acceptable, it means the spirit of the cold war is governing this new doctrine. Why has the US taken this approach?

Provoked by the rapid and aggressive expansion of the US political, economic, and cultural influence in Central and Eastern Europe under the umbrella of NATO, Russia has embarked on the campaign of re-arming and strengthening its defense and security apparatus in recent years. It appears that the US thought that Russia would cave in under its demands and accept to be a third-rate power in Eurasia. However, this was a serious misunderstanding of the Russian history and tradition. Now that Russia pushes back, the US establishment does not know what else to do but to make threats. However, these are empty threats because any kind of use of nuclear weapons against Russia or against its allies within the Collective Security Treaty Organization would quickly lead to mutual destruction. The spirit of the old Cold War has returned, and it will be with us for a long time to come. Accordingly, we will see the flare-up of proxy conflicts and covert actions across the world.

How do you assess the US new doctrine toward Iran? What are the new points?

Iran is one of only four states separately mentioned in the doctrine. The others are Russia, China, and North Korea. Iran is given the least coverage because it is not seen as an immediate nuclear danger to the US .The main emphasis is on what will happen after the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) ends in 2031. It is stated that after this period, Iran will be able to produce a nuclear weapon within a year. Interestingly, there is no mention of the US getting out of the JCPOA before that time, which is in contradiction to what the US president Donald Trump has been saying recently. It appears that Trump’s statements are just campaign rhetoric intended to please some important and wealthy interest groups, but that, in reality, it will be difficult for the US to get out of the JCPOA, considering that all other signatories are still backing it. However, this is not to say that the US will not use all other means at its disposal, including its vast media and intelligence resources, to sow discord within the Iranian political elite and create an economic and political crisis in the country.

First published in our partner Mehr News Agency

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