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  The situation in Venezuela is grim.  When conditions take a turn for the worse those on the bottom of the social hierarchy feel it the worse, and of course those are almost always females.  I read in the Globe and Mail about Carmen Tovar and her now deceased daughter Nakarid.

“Carmen Tovar remembers the apologies. The doctors who stood around the body of her 17-year-old daughter Nakarid told her they were so very sorry, but the girl had died, and so had the baby she was trying to deliver. We did all we could, the doctors told Ms. Tovar – we’re terribly sorry.

Nakarid had high blood pressure all through her pregnancy, but the free clinic in their hillside slum on the edge of Caracas had no drugs to treat it, and her mother could not afford the wildly inflated prices in the private pharmacies. When Nakarid’s contractions started, on the night of Dec. 7, Ms. Tovar took her to a nearby maternity clinic, but they were turned away: no beds available there. Same thing at the next clinic. By the time they reached the third, Ms. Tovar, 49, was out of money to pay another taxi, and her daughter was disoriented, dizzy with a shattering headache. Ms. Tovar demanded a bed, and that clinic reluctantly took Nakarid. But she died a few hours after they reached the hospital. The doctors said she had pre-eclampsia; they lacked even a basic intravenous line to treat her.”

Most people in the wealthy parts of North America would have difficulty connecting the idea that becoming pregnant would be death sentence for (some) women.  Maternal mortality rates in Venezuela have significantly increased due to the lack of basic medical services and supplies.

“When Mr. Chavez was first elected, nearly two decades ago, Venezuela had some of the best public health indicators in Latin America. That reflected decades of steady progress: In 1958, at the start of the democratic era, 140 of every 100,000 women died giving birth, but the figure had fallen to 68 women by 1990. When the government finally released 2016 data a few weeks ago, the figure was back up to 112 per 100,000 women. “The health system is so deteriorated that we’re going back in time,” said Rayfael Orihuela, who was the minister responsible for public health in the last government before Mr. Chavez swept to power.

“What do I have when I go to deliver a baby? Only a pair of gloves and maybe a clamp for the cord,” said David Flora, who recently completed a two-year stint as the sole doctor in a referral hospital in Rio Chico, a town three hours’ drive west of Caracas. “If the placenta doesn’t descend, if I need to stop bleeding, if the baby has respiratory distress – I have no way to attend that. I have one bed and a pair of gloves and a line of women waiting at the door to deliver. Women arrive at 40 weeks pregnant with no file, they have had no prenatal care, and I know nothing about them. I don’t even know how many babies are in that belly because they haven’t had an ultrasound. I don’t even have a fetoscope to listen, so I don’t know the size of the pelvis, the size of the baby, if the baby is even alive. If the mother needs a caesarean, she dies.”

AAAAAChilling isn’t it?  If you need a C-section, you’re dead.
AAAAAWhy though?  What is happening in Venezuela?

   “Venezuela is not facing only one crisis but multiple interconnected crises.

  Key among them is the state of the economy. In January 2017, according to estimates by the Finance and Economic Development Commission of the National Assembly (AN), it was predicted that inflation will close this year at 679.73 percent.

  However according to the International Monetary Fund, this year and next year’s projection is even higher. The organisation estimates that inflation will reach 720.5 percent this year, the highest in the Americas, and 2,068.5 percent by 2018.

  However, the economic crisis is hitting Venezuela’s public health system the hardest. In the country’s public hospitals, medicine and equipment are increasingly not available.”

AAAAAOuch.

  “Venezuela depends heavily on its oil. It has the largest oil reserves in the world which, in 2014, had 298 billion barrels of proved oil reserves.Oil revenue has sustained Venezuela’s economy for years. During the presidency of Hugo Chavez, the price of oil reached a historic high of $100 a barrel.  The billions of dollars in revenue were used to finance social programmes and food subsidies.

  But when the price of oil fell, those programmes and subsidies became unsustainable.”

  During the rule of Hugo Chavez, the price of key items, food and medicines were reduced. Products became more affordable but they were below the cost of production.  Private companies were expropriated, and to stop people from changing the national currency into dollars, Chavez restricted the access to dollars and fixed the rate.When it became unprofitable for Venezuelan companies to continue producing their own products, the government decided to import them from abroad, using oil money.  But oil prices have been falling since 2014, which has left the economic system unable to maintain the system of subsidies and price controls that functioned during the oil boom years.

  The inability to pay for imports with bolivares coupled with the decline in oil revenues has led to a shortage of goods.  The state has tried to ration food and set their prices, but the consequence is that products have disappeared from shops and ended up in the black market, overpriced.  As many as 85 of every 100 medicines are missing in the country. Shortages are so extreme that patients sometimes take medicines ill-suited for their conditions, doctors warn.

  Given the long litany of woes, some analysts think there are two options before Maduro’s government: to default on its debt or to stop importing food.”

Add in government corruption and massive inequality and it isn’t a much of a stretch to see Venezuela on the downward spiral toward Failed State status.   Another revolution or return to military dictatorship seems to be in the dark future for Venezuela.  Either option though likely won’t help the poorest of the nation, their misery is guaranteed in the years to come.

[Source: Globe and Mail]

[Source: Al Jazeera 1,2,3]

 

This excerpt features Dr. Gus Abu-Sitta and

Looking back a touch in history certain cases come immediately to mind.  The UN (US) sanctions on Iraq for instance, and the terrifying cost 500,000 children dead.  Now underlying this appalling strategy we can see what one of the aims of the sanctions actually were – deprive the Iraqi State of the ability to help its citizens, with the goal of weakening the fabric of society, paving the way for future military and corporate conquest.

Scary shit.

 

“G.A-S: In the South, medicine and the provision of health were critical parts of the post-colonial state. And the post-colonial state built medical systems such as we had in Iraq, Egypt and in Syria as part of the social contract. They became an intrinsic part of the creation of those states. And it was a realization that the state has to exercise its power both coercively, (which we know the state is capable of exercising, by putting you in prison, and even exercising violence), but above all non-coercively: it needs to house you, educate you, and give you health, all of those things. And that non-coercive power that the states exercise is a critical part of the legitimizing process of the state. We saw it evolve in 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. So as a digression, if you want to look at how the state was dismantled: the aim of the sanctions against Iraq was not to weaken the Makhabarat or the army, the aim of the sanctions was to rob the Iraqi state of its non-coercive power; its ability to give life, to give education, and that’s why after 12 years, the state has totally collapsed internally – not because its coercive powers have weakened, but because it was robbed of all its non-coercive powers, of all its abilities to guarantee life to its citizens.

AV: So in a way the contract between the state and the people was broken.

G.A-S: Absolutely! And you had that contract existing in the majority of post-colonialist states. With the introduction of the IMF and World Bank-led policies that viewed health and the provision of health as a business opportunity for the ruling elites and for corporations, and viewed free healthcare as a burden on the state, you began to have an erosion in certain countries like Egypt, like Jordan, of the non-coercive powers of the state, leading to the gradual weakening of its legitimacy. Once again, the aim of the IMF and World Bank was to turn health into a commodity, which could be sold back to people as a service; sold back to those who could afford it.

AV: So, the US model, but in much more brutal form, as the wages in most of those countries were incomparably lower.

G.A-S: Absolutely! And the way you do that in these countries: you create a two-tier system where the government tier is so under-funded, that people choose to go to the private sector. And then in the private sector you basically have the flourishing of all aspects of private healthcare: from health insurance to provision of health care, to pharmaceuticals.”

[Source:Counterpunch]

    It is horrifying enough the results of the planned destruction of a nation’s society, but what is worse, is the fact that this is a carefully planned and codified strategy employed by the so called (self described) ‘good-guys’ of the world.  If that doesn’t chill your cornfritters, I’m not sure what could.

The plan at the base of Trumerica is this.  Blame all woes on the other and then feed the 1% and military industrial complex money to solve problems they have no business trying to solve.

Menon summarizes the current administration quite succinctly:

“Trump also seems determined to stay the course on America’s forever wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Neither he nor his generals show any sign of abandoning the Obama-era strategy of whack-a-mole drone strikes and raids by Special Operations forces against terrorist redoubts around the world (as witness a recent failed special ops raid in Yemen and 24 drone strikes — half of the maximum number that the United States launched against that country in any preceding year). Trump has already deployed 400 Marines as well as Army Rangers to fight ISIS in Raqqa, Syria, and another thousand troops may soon be heading that way.  And General John Nicholson, commander of the US-led military coalition in Afghanistan, has called for “a few thousand” additional troops for that country.

So expect President Trump to dwell obsessively on threats that have a low probability of harming Americans, while offering no effective solutions for the quotidian hardships that actually do make so many citizens feel insecure. Expect, as well, that the more he proves unable to deliver on his economic promises to the working class, the more he’ll harp on the standard threats and engage in sabre rattling, hoping that a continual atmosphere of emergency and vulnerability will disarm critics and divert attention from his failures.  

In the end, count on one thing: voters who were drawn to Trump because they believed he would rein in interventionism abroad and deal with festering problems at home are in for a disappointment.”

Looks like good times ahead, let us hope the American people can keep their eyes on what is actually important as opposed to the crazed side show this administration is putting on tap.

 

[Source:Tom’s Dispatch]

   The United States has placed, and continues to place a great deal of geopolitical importance on the Middle East.  The problem is that, as the record shows, everything they touch turns to ash or is reborn as a even greater threat to America and American interests world wide.

Recent events have not done much to dissuade me that the American conflict in the Middle East is only going to get more intense, more bloody, and have greater ramifications for not onyl the US, but the rest of the world.

Of course, with the Commander in Cheetoh Chief at the helm of the American military, the situation is unlikely to get better.  Case in point being the thought (and the following actions) that adding a cruise missile strike into an already chaotic civil war situation, is somehow going to make things better.

(?)

“Without any recourse to international law or the United Nations, the Trump administration has embarked on an act of international aggression against yet another sovereign state in the Middle East, confirming that neocons have reasserted their dominance over US foreign policy in Washington. It is an act of aggression that ends any prospect of détente between Washington and Moscow in the foreseeable future, considerably increasing tensions between Russia and the US not only in the Middle East but also in Eastern Europe, […]”

It’s like, hey we had really shit results with this whole intervention strategy, what can we do.

*insert institutional black memory hole* .

Oh! Hey!  Let’s intervene with military strikes in Syria, what could go wrong?

*The noise of near infinite headdesking & facepalming from the rest of the world*

” […] only the most naïve among us could believe that this US airstrike against Syria was unleashed with justice in mind. How could it be when US bombs have been killing civilians, including children, in Mosul recently? And how could it be given the ineffable suffering of Yemeni children as a result of Saudi Arabia’s brutal military campaign there?

No, this US attack, reportedly involving 59 Tomahawk missiles being launched from ships in the eastern Mediterranean, was carried out with regime change in mind, setting a precedent that can only have serious ramifications for the entire region.”

And they will welcome us as liberators and greet us with flowers…

“Trump has proved with this unilateral military intervention that he can easily be dragged into conflict. Just a few days after his administration confirmed that regime change in Syria was off the table, that its focus was on defeating terrorism, he unleashes an airstrike that will only have emboldened the very forces of terrorism whose defeat he had stressed was the focus of his foreign policy previously.

So what now?

   Clearly, this military action places Russia in a very difficult position. Since joining the conflict in Syria at the end of September 2015, at the behest of the country’s government, Moscow had been working tirelessly to bring about a negotiated settlement, one involving opposition forces and parties deemed moderate relative to the Salafi-jihadi fanatics of ISIS and Nusra, etc. It is a diplomatic process that has just been dealt a shattering blow, with the opposition now undoubtedly convinced that regime change is in the offing via Washington and therefore encouraged to work towards this end.”

From the dynamo that is George Orwell in his grave:

“The war is not meant to be won, it is meant to be continuous. Hierarchical society is only possible on the basis of poverty and ignorance. This new version is the past and no different past can ever have existed. In principle the war effort is always planned to keep society on the brink of starvation. The war is waged by the ruling group against its own subjects and its object is not the victory over either Eurasia or East Asia, but to keep the very structure of society intact.” 

“On a wider note, the lack of short-term memory in Washington is staggering to behold. Fourteen years after the disastrous US invasion of Iraq, which only succeeded in opening the gates of hell out of which ISIS and other Salfi-jihadi groups emerged, and six years after turning Libya into a failed state, in the process sparking a refugees crisis of biblical proportions, here we have yet another act of aggression against a sovereign state in the Middle East by the US.

Destroying countries in order to save them is the story of every empire there has been. But as history reveals, every empire carries within itself the seeds of its own destruction. Donald Trump is now on course to end up going down in history as a leader who rather than save the US from itself, may only have helped speed it down the path to its ultimate demise.”

[Source:Counterpunch – John Wight]

 

 

 

 

“Oxfam hailed today’s passing of a law banning metallic mining by the Salvadoran government. The law comes after years of violence and social tensions around mining in the country and strong opposition to mining from local communities, civil society organizations, the Catholic Church and more than 77% of the country’s population, according to a recent poll.”

Wait, what?

Did El Salvador just tell transnational mining corporations to take a hike?

“This is an historic day for El Salvador and our right to decide our future,” said Oxfam’s El Salvador Country Director Ivan Morales. “The voice of the people has been heard. Mining is not an appropriate way to reduce poverty and inequality in this country. It would only exacerbate the social conflict and level of water contamination we already have.”

Wow, they just did, and in spades, placing the welfare of the people and the environment ahead of profit and corporate interests.

“El Salvador is Central America’s smallest and most densely populated country. Ninety percent of its surface water is polluted, according to the country’s Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources. For these reasons local activists called on the government to ban mining as it can further intensify water and land pollution. 

In October 2016, the government won a favorable ruling after seven years of litigation over a claim against it by Australian mining company OceanaGold, which sought over $300 million for the government’s refusal to approve the company’s mining permit because it failed to meet all requirements. That ruling validated the government’s decision to withhold a mining permit and paved the way for today’s action by the Salvadoran congress, so that El Salvador never again has to face such lawsuits for exercising its right to protect its population from adverse impacts of mining.

Tensions around the development of mining in the country have resulted in threats, violence and even murder, with three anti-mining activists killed in recent years.”

We here in the West rarely see the sharp pointy side of global capitalism.  Despite the threats, violence, and murder El Salvador has set a brave precedent  for the world to follow.

Hurrah El Salvador!  May other nations be so courageous and be brave enough to challenge corporate hegemony.

[Source 1, 2, 3]

“They use everything about the hog except the squeal.” ― Upton Sinclair, The Jungle

Driving into work today I listened to a story about how many large countries of the world had recently banned imports of Brazilian beef and chicken into their countries.  Reports from a whistle-blower about cardboard being ground up with raw chicken, mixing of fresh and rotten meat and of course, chemical baths for tainted meat to hide the smell of decay.

I thought to myself, what a lovely metaphor for Capitalism in general.  Brazil’s meat packers export some 10.2 billion (US) dollars worth of beef and chicken to the world.  Our capitalist friends and the notion that they hold would like us to think that because these meat exports are crucial to the Brazilian economy every care would be take to insure that the product being delivered to tables across the world would be of the highest quality.

“The investigators allege that JBS and BRF disguised inedible beef, pork and chicken, bound for both domestic consumption and export, by injecting the meat with chemicals and acids to improve its appearance and smell; by mixing expired meat with healthy meat; and by fleshing out meat that was considered weak with water and low-cost starch, such as manioc flour.”

Well.

This would seem to point to a different narrative about meat packers goals and aspirations it goes something like this.  The global supply chain for beef and chicken is quite complicated, thus actually tracing product directly back to us (Brazilian producers) will be difficult at best.  Every pound of product is more profit for us, and there are quick and easy methods – acid baths to remove the tainted smell, cardboard/cellulose stock to stretch the grinds – that will significant improve our bottom line.  A few people far away might get sick and/or die, but that won’t come back to bite us because of the nebulous supply chain, and thus the acquisition of profit must be prioritized.

The government food inspectors must also be bribed into complicity because if they were actually doing their jobs, this second narrative could not happen.  Sadly, this seems to also be the case in the Brazilian situation.

“Investigators say Operation Weak Meat uncovered evidence of bribes paid to Brazilian officials, including some at the federal Ministry of Agriculture, to look the other way. Police issued 38 arrest warrants and closed 21 meat-packing facilities for further inspection.

Brazil’s federal Justice Minister, Osmar Serraglio, was allegedly caught on tape calling one of the inspectors under investigation “big boss” in a phone conversation with one of the leaders of the bribery scheme in Parana state.

Serraglio, who oversees the investigating police force, said the police raids prove he is not interfering in the inquiry. Police in Brazil said there was insufficient evidence to launch a separate investigation into the minister’s involvement.”

This is the true face of capitalism, the face that we don’t learn about in school and the news.  The capitalism that always places profit over people, the capitalism based on the exploitation of others, the capitalism that makes our way of life possible.  We are insulated from the sharp pointy bits of capitalism, perhaps shedding a maudlin tear now and then for the exploited poor, wherever they happen to be in the world, and then moving to the next goal of material acquisition.

“However, Elliott anticipates the scandal will have worldwide consequences, provoking a rise in commodity prices globally. He also believes that similar arrangements — bribing officials to grade unsuitable meat as edible for consumption — will be uncovered in other countries that export large amounts of meat, as importers begin tighter inspections after Brazil’s revelation.”

 

“It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” ― Upton Sinclair, I, Candidate for Governor: And How I Got Licked.

 

The Brazilian tainted meat situation exemplifies what is wrong with the current system and what was wrong with the state of things in 1906 when Upton Sinclair’s the Jungle was published.

Ain’t progress grand?

 

“It appeared as if the whole world was one elaborate system, opposed to justice and kindness, and set to making cruelty and pain.” Upton Sinclair, Oil!

 

[Source:cbc.ca]

The Supreme Court’s Citizen’s United decision reverberates strongly in my consciousness when I read articles like this one from Tom’s Dispatch.  I am still at a loss as how to compute the base equation of $ = Free Speech, because, well… it doesn’t.

Certainly money grants access, but it begets the question:  Should it?     I mean, how could the Justices not see the folly in quantizing what was formerly a non-fungible good?

The dumpsterfire (dtrumpsterfire?) that is the current US polity illustrates that change (and not of the positive variety) is happening, that is not only destabilizing the US, but the world as well.

 

“In March of 2015, for instance, two months before The Donald tossed his hair into the presidential ring, in a post at TomDispatch I asked if “a new political system” was emerging in America and summed the situation up this way:

“Still, don’t for a second think that the American political system isn’t being rewritten on the run by interested parties in Congress, our present crop of billionaires, corporate interests, lobbyists, the Pentagon, and the officials of the national security state. Out of the chaos of this prolonged moment and inside the shell of the old system, a new culture, a new kind of politics, a new kind of governance is being born right before our eyes. Call it what you want. But call it something. Stop pretending it’s not happening.”

We’re now living in Donald Trump’s America (which I certainly didn’t either predict or imagine in March 2015); we’re living, that is, in an ever more chaotic and aberrant land run (to the extent it’s run at all) by billionaires and retired generals, and overseen by a distinctly aberrant president at war with aberrant parts of the national security state.  That, in a nutshell, is the America created in the post-9/11 years.  Put another way, the U.S. may have failed dismally in its efforts to invade, occupy, and remake Iraq in its own image, but it seems to have invaded, occupied, and remade itself with remarkable success.  And don’t blame this one on the Russians.”

-Tom Engelhardt writing at  Tom’s Dispatch

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