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I Observed Venezuela’s Elections Firsthand: Here’s What the US Media Got Wrong

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 05/01/2021 - 2:51am in

In early December, I traveled to Venezuela to serve as an election observer during the country’s national assembly election. I was part of a group of eight people from Canada and the United States organized by CodePink. There were about two hundred international observers in total, including the Latin American Council of Electoral Experts. I have served as an official election observer in Honduras and was an unofficial observer during Venezuela’s 2015 national assembly election.

 

Meeting opposition leaders

Before the election, our small group met with eight leaders from the Democratic Alliance, a major opposition coalition. Pedro Jose Rojas of Accion Democratica told us that U.S. sanctions were not doing what they claimed. Instead, he said, they are hurting average citizens. Bruno Gallo of Avanca Progressista proclaimed Venezuela needs negotiation, not confrontation. Juan Carlos Alvarado of the Christian Democratic Party said that Venezuelans have been “victims of politics,” and that dialogue and flexibility are needed.

Several leaders spoke about the importance of the national assembly and emphasized that the road to change is through voting, not violence. They expressed a desire for better relations with the U.S but said that Venezuelan sovereignty needs to be respected.  The common request was to end U.S. sanctions and interference in Venezuelan politics.

We visited a factory where voting machines were assembled, tested, and certified. The staff was openly proud of their work. Last March, nearly all pre-existing voting machines were destroyed in a massive fire at the main election warehouse, sparking calls to delay the December election. But in six months, forty thousand new computers were ordered, built, assembled, tested, and certified in time for the December election.

 

The process

On election day, Sunday, December 6, we began a tour of election sites. Typically, the voting takes place at a school, with five to ten classrooms designated as “mesas,” and each voter goes to his or her designated mesa.”

The voting process was quick and efficient, with bio-safety sanitation at each step. Voters first showed their identity cards and confirmed their identity with fingerprint recognition. Step two was to cast a ballot on a touchscreen computer and receive a paper receipt. Step three was to verify that the receipt matches the voting choice and deposit the receipt in a ballot box. Finally, voters would sign and put their fingerprints on the voting registry. The entire process took about three minutes.

As election day closed, we observed the process of tabulating the votes. At each mesa, (with observers from other parties present) paper receipts were recorded one by one, and at the end, the results were compared to the digital count and then transmitted to the headquarters for overall tabulation.

Election results were announced by the Council for National Election (CNE) which manages the entire process.  CNE leaders are not permitted to be members of any party and the CNE leadership was recently changed at the request of the opposition. In our discussion with leading opposition members, we did hear complaints about incumbent party advantages but it was acknowledged the election process is free, fair and honest.

 

A PBS Newshour special

After having experienced Venezuela’s election firsthand, on December 29 I watched a PBS Newshour segment about that election and the overall situation in Venezuela. PBS reporter Marcia Biggs told how “Maduro’s party essentially ran unopposed in this month’s election.” This, despite my personal meetings with the very opposition parties that were participating in those same elections.

In fact, there were 107 parties and over 14,000 individuals competing in the December 6 election for 277 national assembly seats. While eight parties were in alliance with the governing United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), there were over 90 opposition parties. The strongest opposition coalition was the Democratic Alliance comprising seven opposition parties and winning 1.1 million votes (18% of the vote). The LEFT opposition to the PSUV, under the banner of the Communist Party of Venezuela, received just 168,000 votes.

Reporter Marcia Biggs claimed that “politics permeates everything in Venezuela and can determine whether you support Maduro and eat or go hungry.” This claim is based on a campaign statement by PSUV Vice President Diosdado Cabello encouraging people to vote. Cabello facetiously said that women are in the forefront, and can say to their family, “No vote, no food.” His statement has been distorted out of all meaning and context.

The PBS report showed video of a fistfight in the national assembly, implying that it was the Venezuelan government. But, as the GrayZone reported in “Juan Guaido surreal regime change reality show,” the fight was actually between competing factions of the Venezuelan opposition.

When PBS showed Guaido climbing over a fence, they failed to mention that he was pulling off a publicity stunt to distract from the embarrassing news that Luis Parra was elected Speaker of the national assembly following Guaido’s own claim to be “interim president” was based on him being Speaker.

Election turnout was indeed lower than usual at 31%, yet this is likely due to the election taking place amid the pandemic and the fact that millions of registered voters have had to leave the country due to economic hardship. Transportation in Venezuela is also difficult due to gasoline scarcity. This was also a national assembly election, equivalent to a U.S. mid-term election, which typically generates a lower turnout. Still, 95% of voting-eligible Venezuelans are registered voters compared to just 67% in the U.S. Thus a turnout of 50% of registered voters in the U.S. equates to only 33% of eligible voters.

 

Election meddling in Venezuela

The star of PBS’s seven-minute report is Roberto Patino, the Venezuelan director of a food distribution charity. The report neglects to mention that Patino is associated with a major U.S. foreign policy institution. He is a Millennium Leadership fellow and so-called expert at the neoliberal Atlantic Council where the regime change goals in Venezuela are clear. His food charity “Alimenta la Solidaridad” is allied with Rescue Venezuela, funded by the U.S. with the apparent goal of undermining the Venezuelan government and promoting “interim president Juan Guaido.”

Patino says the Venezuelan government is “very paranoid and they see conspiracies all over.” Paranoia is defined as a mental condition wherein there is fear of imaginary threats. But U.S. threats and aggression against Venezuela are not imaginary; they are very real.

In 2002 the U.S. supported the kidnapping and coup against the popular and elected President Hugo Chavez. The years have gone by, but U.S. hostility persists.

* In August 2018 there was a drone assassination attempt on the Venezuelan President.

* In January 2019, the U.S. declared that it would not recognize the elected President Maduro and instead recognized Juan Guaido as “interim president.”  His background is described in the article “The Making of Juan Guaido: How the U.S. regime-change laboratory created Venezuela’s coup leader”

* In February 2019, President Trump threatened military intervention against Venezuela.

* In March 2019, there was a massive power blackout caused by sabotage of the electrical grid, with probable U.S. involvement.

*In May 2020, two former U.S. Special Forces soldiers and other mercenaries were arrested in a failed attempt to overthrow President Maduro.

* In June 2020, the U.S. Navy warship Nitze began provocative “freedom of navigation” patrols along the Venezuelan coast.

* In August 2020, the U.S. seized four ships carrying much-needed gasoline to Venezuela.

* In September 2020, in an attempt to undermine the Venezuelan election, the U.S. imposed sanctions on political leaders who planned to participate.

* The U.S. 2021 stimulus bill includes $33 million for “democracy programs for Venezuela.”

Based on the past twenty years, Venezuela’s government has good reason to be on guard against U.S. threats, meddling, and intervention. The PBS program ignores this history.

Another hero of the report is exiled politician Leopoldo Lopez. He was imprisoned in 2014 for instigating street violence known as guarimbas, which led to the deaths of 43 people.

Like Patino, Lopez is from the Venezuelan elite, studied in the U.S., and has major public relations support in the U.S. Like Guaido, Lopez is more popular in Washington than in his home country.

 

Will the US respect Venezuela’s sovereignty?

If the PBS Newshour reporters sought objectivity, members of the moderate opposition in Venezuela would have been interviewed. Viewers could have heard Democratic Alliance leaders explain why they participated in the election and why they are critical of U.S. economic sanctions and U.S. interference in their domestic affairs. That would have been educational for viewers.

On January 5, the newly elected national assembly will commence in Venezuela. The fig leaf pretense of Juan Guaido as “interim president” of Venezuela will be removed because he is no longer in the national assembly.  In fact, he was removed as speaker of the national assembly one year ago.

But viewers of the PBS special did not learn this. Instead, they received a biased report ignoring the moderate opposition and promoting a few U.S.-backed elites. PBS ignored and denigrated the efforts of millions of Venezuelans who carried out and participated in an election that compares favorably with the election process in the U.S. You would never know it from PBS, and you might not believe it unless you saw it with your own eyes, as I did.

Feature photo | A voter casts her ballot during elections to choose members of the National Assembly in Caracas, Venezuela, Dec. 6, 2020. Matias Delacroix | AP

Rick Sterling is an investigative journalist based in the San Fransico Bay Area of California. He can be contacted at rsterling1@protonmail.com

The post I Observed Venezuela’s Elections Firsthand: Here’s What the US Media Got Wrong appeared first on MintPress News.

Trump Enacts Sweeping New Sanctions on China, Iran, Venezuela. Biden Promises More To Come

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 22/12/2020 - 6:13am in

On its way out the door, the Trump administration is ramping up another round of aggressive, punishing sanctions against a host of countries. On Friday, the State Department announced new sanctions against Iran, the People’s Republic of China, and Venezuela. And today, it tightened the grip of the decades-long blockade on Cuba and increased sanctions on Nicaragua.

In the case of Iran, the measures were aimed at its oil industry and went so far as to sanction Vietnamese companies helping with the international supply of Iranian hydrocarbons. “Today, thanks to the success of our sanctions, Iran is looking to come back to the negotiating table to get relief,” Trump’s Special Representative for Iran and Venezuela, Elliott Abrams, asserted, adding (falsely) that the Iranian nuclear program remains focused on weaponry, not civilian usage.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also announced that 59 Chinese entities that were “undermining our national security and foreign policy interests” have been targeted. In the case of Venezuela, the action came as retaliation after it held an election the United States deemed to be fraudulent.

The Trump administration has ramped up the use of sanctions, issuing around 3,800 new ones, compared to 2,350 in President Obama’s second term. Sanctions are an act of war, and, when applied unilaterally, are often seen as illegal. The UN has formally denounced many of the U.S. sanctions, noting that they “disproportionately affect the poor and most vulnerable classes,” and not the leaders of foreign governments as is sometimes argued.

The effect on Iran has been to essentially tank its economy and cause untold hardship on its people. Oil production has sputtered. The Iranian rial has lost the majority of its worth. Food and consumer goods have become scarce and far more expensive, and international travel is now much harder. Throughout 2020, the U.S. has hindered the import of humanitarian aid and personal protective equipment, adding to the COVID-19 epidemic inside the country. The National Iranian American Council (no lovers of the current administration in Tehran) described U.S. actions as “heartless and sadistic.” Seyed Mohammad Marandi, Professor of English Literature at the University of Tehran agreed, telling MintPress in October that, “The sanctions deliberately target ordinary Iranians, women, and children…They are designed to kill hospital patients and to create poverty. They have had partial success.”

The effect on Venezuela has been if anything, more acute. An estimated 100,000 people have been killed by American sanctions (a fact barely reported in the West), as vital medical equipment and lifesaving drugs have been blocked from entering the country. Alfred de Zayas, an (American) UN Special Rapporteur visited Venezuela, comparing life there to living under a Medieval siege, and declaring the United States as guilty of “crimes against humanity.”

There appears little hope for a major change in tactics with the incoming administration. A Biden-linked Washington think-tank recently released a report calling for more “innovative” use of what it called “coercive economic statecraft,” (i.e. sanctions). The Center for a New American Security was founded by Michelle Flournoy, Biden’s original pick for Defense Secretary, and is full of Obama-era officials like Victoria Nuland. “The use of economic power, backed up by all of the available legal tools, plays to America’s strengths as the dominant global economic power and promises a continued stream of benefits,” they argue, concluding that, “Although there are inevitably going to be costs, and possibly increasing ones, associated with the use of coercive economic tools, the benefits are also going to increase over time.”

News agency Reuters also recently released a report based on conversations with people close to the 78-year-old former vice-president, noting that sanctions will “remain a central instrument of U.S. power” under his administration, suggesting that he will likely ramp up sanctions against Russia. Far from dropping the practice, Biden’s major challenge, according to those cited, will be “to sort out which sanctions to keep, which to undo and which to expand.” It appears it will continue to be full steam ahead for America’s sanctions regime in 2021.

Feature photo | A cervical cancer patient sits on her bed at the Luis Razetti hospital in Caracas, Venezuela, Sept 2, 2020. Ariana Cubillos | AP

Alan MacLeod is a Staff Writer for MintPress News. After completing his PhD in 2017 he published two books: Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting and Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent. He has also contributed to Fairness and Accuracy in ReportingThe GuardianSalonThe GrayzoneJacobin MagazineCommon Dreams the American Herald Tribune and The Canary.

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US Embassy Caught Scrubbing Tweets Urging Venezuelans Not To Vote

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 15/12/2020 - 6:56am in

The United States embassy for Venezuela has been caught deleting tweets undermining the integrity of the December 6 National Assembly elections in the country and calling on Venezuelans not to participate in them.

“Tomorrow in Venezuela there will be no elections but rather a fraud carried out by the illegitimate Maduro regime. The world is watching. And Venezuelans are organizing to report it. Are you ready to defend democracy? I don’t vote on December 6,” one tweet read, linking to a website purporting to track election irregularities.

The concept of “defending democracy” has been one commonly employed by the opposition during their many coup attempts on the government, dating back to 2002.

The deletion was spotted by Adrienne Pine, Associate Professor of Anthropology at the American University in Washington D.C. and one of 300 foreign election observers who oversaw the contest earlier this month.

It is not clear why the U.S. embassy decided to go back and delete its posting history, especially as that continues to be the official line of the United States government. Accusing Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro of “brazenly rigging these elections,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo described the contest as “a political farce intended to look like legislative elections.” “The United States, along with numerous other democracies around the world, condemns this charade which failed to meet any minimum standard of credibility,” he added.

But the American position is disputed by the international observers, including Pine herself, who was impressed by the level of election security. “It was really amazing to see it firsthand. There are so many fail safe measures in the system to ensure that there can’t be fraud that I was just blown away,” she said on the latest edition of the MintCast, MintPress’ video podcast. “COVID security measures were completely integrated into the electoral process itself,” she added.

The Council of Latin American Electoral Experts, who also oversaw the vote, verified the results, noting the “increased citizen confidence in political organizations and candidates.” A number of former heads of state, including those of Ecuador, Spain, Honduras, and Bolivia also attested to the process’s veracity.

The election saw the ruling socialist coalition sweep up 253 of the 277 seats on offer in the National Assembly (comparable to the U.S. House of Representatives), amid a partial opposition boycott of the process encouraged by the U.S. government. Calling for mass abstention, many opposition parties essentially ensured that the government would win big, but were hoping to delegitimize the process altogether through a painfully low turnout. Turnout was 31 percent, low, but not low enough to prevent the socialists from declaring a decisive victory. Thus, without control of any branch of government, the opposition’s only hope of coming to power in the near future remains through directly ousting the current government.

The embassy, like the government in Washington, continues to support the self-declared president of Venezuela Juan Guaidó, despite his lack of office. Guaidó held his own “people’s vote” at the same time as the election, promoting voting in person, online, or by phone in his referendum. The U.S. endorsed the results, despite non-Venezuelans outside the country showing they could bypass safety features and vote online themselves.

Despite unwavering American support, others in the opposition, such as two-time opposition coalition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles, are calling on the U.S. to rethink their backing of a figure with such low public support inside the country. “The new administration has to understand that this plan has run its course and it cannot keep the status quo: the [Guaido] ‘interim presidency,’” he told the BBC.

The embassy calls itself “virtual” because it is not physically located in Venezuela, but in neighboring Colombia, a close U.S.-ally. The U.S. had no ambassador to Venezuela from 2010 until November this year, and no representatives inside the country at all of late, amid worsening relations and multiple attempts to overthrow the Maduro administration led to the expulsion of U.S. diplomats. Last week, President Ivan Duque of Colombia admitted that he had a hand in helping opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, kept under house arrest for his role in a 2014 coup attempt, escape to Colombia. The U.S. also faced scrutiny after supporting the now-infamous “Bay of Piglets” attempt by ex-Green Berets to carry out an amphibious landing from Colombia and shoot their way into the presidential palace. If a low level mercenary invasion proved ineffectual, a few tweets will likely not work in removing Maduro from power.

Feature photo | Government supporters walk past a mural depicting the late president Hugo Chavez during a closing campaign rally for parliamentary elections, in Caracas, Venezuela, Dec. 3, 2020. Ariana Cubillos | AP

Alan MacLeod is a Staff Writer for MintPress News. After completing his PhD in 2017 he published two books: Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting and Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent. He has also contributed to Fairness and Accuracy in ReportingThe GuardianSalonThe GrayzoneJacobin MagazineCommon Dreams the American Herald Tribune and The Canary.

The post US Embassy Caught Scrubbing Tweets Urging Venezuelans Not To Vote appeared first on MintPress News.

Podcast Panel: US Meddling In Venezuela Elections, Economic Warfare & COVID-19

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 12/12/2020 - 5:26am in

Welcome to MintCast — an interview series featuring dissenting voices the establishment would rather silence– I’m your host Mnar Muhawesh Adley.

President Nicolas Maduro is celebrating this week after a clear victory in the National Assembly elections that took place on December 6. Boosted by a partial opposition boycott, the ruling socialist coalition led by Maduro received over 69% of the votes cast and won a massive 253 of the 277 seats in the National Assembly, the only branch of government not under its control.

While the government is celebrating, the low turnout of 31% has many worried its support is decreasing, although the vote was held in the middle of a pandemic. The U.S. government, who has long considered Venezuela an official enemy, decried the process as fraudulent before it began, instructing opposition parties to boycott it and sanctioning those that disobeyed their orders.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo took to Twitter to call Venezuela’s elections illegitimate, describing Maduro as a dictator and strongman, despite the fact that it was overseen by 1,500 election observers and 300 representatives from 34 countries.

Joining MintCast are four guests who know the country well, Max Blumenthal, Anya Parampil, Adrienne Pine, and Alan MacLeod.

Blumenthal is an award-winning journalist and author and editor of The Grayzone. He has been reporting from Venezuela this week and observed the elections himself. His latest book is “The Management of Savagery: How America’s National Security State Fueled the Rise of Al Qaeda, ISIS, and Donald Trump.” He is also the co-host of the Moderate Rebels podcast.

Parampil is a former producer and host at RT America’s “In Question.” She now hosts her own show, Red Lines, which you can find at The Grayzone and on YouTube.

Pine is an associate professor of anthropology at the American University in Washington DC. In 2019, she occupied the Venezuelan embassy in DC to prevent it from falling into the hands of U.S.-backed self-declared president Juan Guaidó. Along with Blumenthal and Parampil, Pine observed the recent elections close up, traveling to Venezuela to serve as an election observer.

Our third guest is MintPress’s own senior Staff Writer, Alan Macleod. Macleod is an expert on Western media coverage of South America. After completing his Ph.D. on the topic in 2017, he published five peer-reviewed articles on how media distorts the image of Venezuela. He is also the author of the book “Bad News from Venezuela: 20 years of fake news and misreporting.

This program is 100 percent listener supported! You can join the hundreds of financial sponsors who make this show possible by becoming a member on our Patreon page.

Subscribe to this podcast on iTunes, Spotify and SoundCloud. Please leave us a review and share this segment.

Mnar Muhawesh is founder, CEO and editor in chief of MintPress News, and is also a regular speaker on responsible journalism, sexism, neoconservativism within the media and journalism start-ups.

The post Podcast Panel: US Meddling In Venezuela Elections, Economic Warfare & COVID-19 appeared first on MintPress News.

Low Turnout, but Free, Elections in Venezuela Are a Blow To Regime Change

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 11/12/2020 - 2:03am in

Venezuela held legislative elections on December 6 and, as has become the norm, the U.S. and sectors of the opposition that boycotted the election are claiming fraud without presenting evidence. The coalition of parties supporting President Maduro won 68% of the vote and a supermajority in the National Assembly. All the evidence suggests the elections were free and fair. However, turnout was only 31%, a participation rate that was hampered by a partial opposition boycott of the election.

This call to abstain was made by Juan Guaidó and his allies, but a different faction of the opposition participated fully. In the past three years, this faction of the opposition has taken a moderate stance that involves engaging in dialogue and participating in elections. The moderates accepted the election’s results, called for reflection and strongly criticized the call for a boycott.

The Trump administration spent the last several months attempting to sabotage Venezuela’s elections by characterizing them as a “sham” and sanctioning some of these moderates. Yet now that the vote took place, there is no evidence of irregularities. Claiming that elections are fraudulent before they’re even held – and insisting that fraud occurred in the face of overwhelming evidence against such a claim – is a specialty of the Trump administration.

The U.S. government repeatedly said that there were “no conditions” for free and fair elections, but the condition it sought to impose was the resignation of President Maduro. Unsurprisingly, the European Union, the Lima Group (an ad hoc set of Latin American countries pushing for regime change in Venezuela) and the corporate media followed the State Department’s lead, attempting to delegitimize what is likely one of the most fraud-proof electoral processes in the world. In contrast, observers on the ground, including the Latin American Council of Electoral Experts, underscored the election’s compliance with international standards.

 

A secure electoral system

Back in 2012, Jimmy Carter called Venezuela’s process “the best in the world.” It’s not hard to see why. Venezuela has electronic voting machines that print paper receipts. The machines are only unlocked when a voter’s identity is verified by digital fingerprint scan and a spot-check of their national identity card. After voting on the machine (a simple process that can take as little as ten seconds), it prints out a paper receipt so electors can verify that their vote was correctly recorded. The elector then places this receipt in a secure ballot box, and then signs and places a thumbprint on the voter roll.

 

Venezuela Electoral Council

A graphic from Venezuela’s National Electoral Council showing the voting process

After polls close, the digital vote count is compared to a random sampling of at least 54% of the ballot boxes (a figure that is higher than necessary to have a statistically significant result). It’s a system with multiple redundancies that is backed by 16 different audits that must be signed off on by representatives of political parties.

In these elections, 14,000 candidates from 107 parties (97 of which oppose the Maduro government) ran for 277 seats. The choices ran the ideological spectrum from communists and socialists to evangelicals, Christian conservatives and neoliberals. Opposition candidates got air time on state television stations and took part in several debates.

The elections were monitored by 300 international observers from 34 countries, as well as over 1,000 national observers from political parties and social organizations. Teri Mattson, who observed two previous elections in Venezuela, led a CODEPINK observation delegation and described this year’s elections as free and fair, and without fraud or tampering. “Voting is easy, fast and secure: an incentive for all voters while also preventing long lines due to cumbersome ballots and voter procedures such as those seen in the U.S.,” Mattson said.

 

Voter turnout

Of course, the low turnout is bound to raise eyebrows, yet it’s important to place it into context. One factor that depressed participation is a gasoline shortage induced by U.S. sanctions, which made it difficult for some voters to travel to polls. Migration is another factor that artificially reduced turnout. Only citizens who currently reside in the country can vote in legislative elections, but most who left in recent years still appear on voter rolls as living in Venezuela.

A further factor is the pandemic. Venezuela is doing significantly better than most countries in handling the coronavirus (3,694 cases per million population and 33 deaths per million population, versus 46,348 cases per million and 877 deaths per million in the U.S.). However, there’s still enough fear of the virus that it serves as a disincentive to voting.

International comparisons should also be taken into account when analyzing the turnout. For example, parliamentary elections were also held Sunday in Romania, which had similarly low voter turnout (33%). Other countries have also had poor participation this year, including legislative elections in Egypt (28% turnout), Mali (35%), Jamaica (38%) and Jordan (30%), as well as municipal elections in Costa Rica (38%). Additionally, U.S. midterm elections typically feature 40% voter turnout (it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison, as virtually all eligible voters are registered in Venezuela, which is not the case in the U.S.). None of these elections are less legitimate for their low participation, and neither is Venezuela’s.

 

The failed strategy of boycotts

Clearly, a significant factor in reduced turnout was the extremist opposition’s call for a boycott. This tactic of boycotting elections has been used by the opposition in the past, including in the 2005 legislative elections, the 2017 national constituent assembly elections, the 2017 municipal elections (partial boycott) and the 2018 presidential elections (partial boycott).

However, at no point has boycotting elections helped them in any way. So why do the extremists keep engaging in a failed tactic? After all, the opposition routinely claims (again, offering no evidence) that 80% of the population disapproves of the Maduro administration; it doesn’t make sense to cede ground when there’s the possibility of winning.

One explanation is that they were afraid of losing. In the last elections that featured full participation, the 2017 gubernatorial elections, the opposition ended up losing in 19 of 23 states. It’s not clear that they would have won this time around, particularly as a significant percentage of their base has migrated in recent years. A loss would have destroyed once and for all the fiction of Juan Guaidó’s so-called interim president (his “claim” to the presidency is based on his being a legislator in the current National Assembly). Better to not run than run and lose.

Another explanation is that a boycott was part of the Trump administration’s maximum pressure campaign, which involves ongoing attempts to delegitimize Venezuela’s democratic credentials. This strategy was threatened when the moderate opposition engaged in dialogue and announced they were running in the elections. The Trump administration quickly denounced them as “complicit” with and “puppets” of the Maduro government, before sanctioning several of those leaders.

The U.S. got the European Union on board with this plan as well. In January, the EU sanctioned three moderate opposition figures for “acting against the National Assembly’s democratic functioning” after they were elected to leadership positions in the legislature, replacing Juan Guaidó and two of his allies.

More recently, the EU refused the calls from two-time presidential candidate Henrique Capriles to monitor the elections. Capriles said his participation was contingent upon EU monitoring, which didn’t occur because the EU claimed it did not have enough time to prepare a delegation. This was back in September, three months before the vote. After the elections, the EU had the gall to criticize the Venezuelan government for failing “to mobilize the Venezuelan people to participate.”

In practical terms, higher turnout may have opened the doors for negotiations between the U.S. and moderate opposition, but that possibility now seems less likely. Other than that, the low turnout is not going to have much impact on the ground in Venezuela.

The Maduro government will have a supermajority in the National Assembly for the next five years, which should help it develop measures to counter the economic sanctions. It’s in a stronger position now than it was prior to the elections. After four years of sanctions, sabotaged industries, attempted coups, an assassination by drone attempt, a mercenary incursion and paramilitary attacks, among others, Venezuela managed to survive the Trump administration’s maximum pressure. The elections were carried out in complete tranquility. That is quite an achievement and puts to rest the magical thinking of the Trump administration and extreme opposition, which have spent years saying that regime change is just around the corner.

Feature photo | A voter casts her ballot during elections to choose members of the National Assembly in Caracas, Venezuela, Dec. 6, 2020. Matias Delacroix | AP

Leonardo Flores is a Latin American policy expert and campaigner with CODEPINK.

The post Low Turnout, but Free, Elections in Venezuela Are a Blow To Regime Change appeared first on MintPress News.

US Media, Pols Rage After Venezuelans Defy US Empire to Re-elect Socialists

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 08/12/2020 - 4:15am in

President Nicolas Maduro and his United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) are celebrating today, after a clear victory in yesterday’s National Assembly elections. The elections, boycotted by many major right-wing opposition groups, but still participated in by over 100 political parties, ended with the PSUV and its allies receiving an estimated 67.6% of the votes cast, meaning they will control a two-thirds supermajority of the 277-seat National Assembly, the only major body that was controlled by anti-government forces.

“We have recovered the national assembly with the majority vote of the Venezuelan people,” Maduro said in his victory speech. “It’s a great victory without a doubt for democracy,” he added, also announcing that the government had delivered the 3.3 million houses for the needy that it promised when it launched the Great Venezuelan Housing Mission program in 2011.

Self-declared opposition president Juan Guaidó, a former leader of the National Assembly himself, did not see the result in the same way, seemingly calling for another coup on Saturday. “The rejection of the regime and its fraud united us, now we must respond in the street. December 12 will mobilize us like the immense majority of us who want to choose their future,” he announced on social media. 

Yet even his backers in the Western press fear the result has neutralized him. The Guardian, for example, wrote that yesterday’s events “deal a further blow to Guaidó’s flagging crusade,” quoting bitterly anti-Maduro figure Phil Gunson, who said that “the coalition around Guaidó is really crumbling.”

Media Bias Venezuela

Corporate press cast a noticeably despondent tone in their coverage of the election

Turnout in the election — 31% — was considerably lower than the PSUV was hoping for, although perhaps understandable, given the continued boycott of much of the opposition (meaning the outcome was barely in doubt), the COVID-19 pandemic, the crippling U.S. sanctions — which included those imposed on opposition figures that defied U.S. instructions not to participate in the election. Nevertheless, pro-government figures will be disappointed with the figure.

What is not in doubt is the veracity of the election itself, which, according to TeleSUR, “is being monitored by 1,500 observers and 300 representatives from 34 countries worldwide,” including many former heads of states, including Fernando Lugo of Paraguay, Evo Morales of Bolivia, and Jose Luís Zapatero of Spain. “Here in Venezuela nobody can doubt the electoral system,” said former Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa, who agreed with former Honduran president Manuel Zelaya’s assessment that the process was “transparent and peaceful.” Other official observers included MintPress contributors Professor Adrienne Pine and Dr. Margaret Flowers.

Despite this, the United States government had already decided that the process was a fiction. “Venezuela’s electoral fraud has already been committed,” said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. “The results announced by the illegitimate Maduro regime will not reflect the will of the Venezuelan people. What’s happening today is a fraud and a sham, not an election.” Zelaya — who was overthrown in a coup supported Pompeo’s predecessor, Hillary Clinton — fired back, claiming that the U.S. had “no moral high ground” to criticize events in Venezuela. “They ought to be here as observers,” he added.

Corporate media, who reflexively take the U.S. government’s side on Venezuela, did their level best to undermine confidence in the process when reporting on it. “Maduro consolidates power in Venezuela, dominating election boycotted by opposition,” ran the Washington Post’s headline. “Venezuela’s Maduro tightens grip as opposition boycotts elections,” wrote the Wall Street Journal. Human Rights Watch’s Ken Roth, who supported the far-right coup in Bolivia last year that removed Maduro’s democratically-elected ally Evo Morales, also rejected the election as “a theater piece meant to lend a veneer of legitimacy to the government of Nicolas Maduro.”

Media was also not above simply printing demonstrably fake news, either. Local opposition outlets insisted that turnout was below 20%, a canard reprinted in major Western sources. One-upping them, Geoff Ramsay of the pro-coup Washington Office on Latin America, perhaps Western media’s most quoted “expert” on Venezuela, claimed that turnout was only 15%. Meanwhile, Bloomberg’s Venezuela Bureau Chief Patricia Laya went furthest of all, insisting that participation stood at only 10%. A similar phenomenon of attempting to wish something into being by lowballing turnout occurred in the 2018 elections, also boycotted by much of the opposition.

Concern over low participation rates appeared not to extend to U.S. ally and NATO member Romania, however, the Eastern European state also held elections yesterday, finishing with a turnout of 30%. Unlike with Venezuela, there was no outcry from the White House, nor any condemnation from corporate media, suggesting that the response had more to do with who was winning the elections, rather than what turnout figures say about the quality of democracy.

Ultimately, however, while turnout was relatively low, the ruling socialist party has gained a supermajority in the one body the opposition-controlled, handing them a clear victory and the U.S. government a defeat. Added to the return of democracy to Bolivia in October and a leftist election victory in Guyana earlier this year, 2020 has not been a good year for Washington in Latin America.

Correction | This article originally stated that the elections were overseen by 4,500 international election observers. In fact, it was reportedly overseen by 1,500 election observers. The original figure was based on a social media post by one of the election observers and has since been corrected.

Feature photo | Government supporters chant for parliamentary candidates representing the Great Patriotic Pole party at a closing campaign rally in Caracas, Venezuela, Dec. 3, 2020. Ariana Cubillos | AP

Alan MacLeod is a Staff Writer for MintPress News. After completing his PhD in 2017 he published two books: Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting and Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent. He has also contributed to Fairness and Accuracy in ReportingThe GuardianSalonThe GrayzoneJacobin MagazineCommon Dreams the American Herald Tribune and The Canary.

The post US Media, Pols Rage After Venezuelans Defy US Empire to Re-elect Socialists appeared first on MintPress News.

The ‘Empire Files’ on the Plot to Attack Iran

This is an excellent little video that explains Trump’s and the US state and military’s hostility to Iran and the real reasons behind the latest attacks. This ultimately goes back to western imperial control over the country’s oil industry. From 1908 until 1951 the Iranian oil industry was owned and controlled by a British company, Anglo-Persian Oil, now BP. It was nationalised by the democratically elected Iranian Prime Minister, Mohammed Mossadeq, who was consequently overthrown in a CIA-backed coup. The Shah was installed as an absolute monarch, ruling by terror through the secret police, SAVAK. Which the CIA also helped to set up.

Causes of American Hostility

The Shah’s oppression was eventually too much, and he was overthrown in the Islamic Revolution of 1979, and the American state has resented the country ever since. Iran and Israel were America’s bulldogs in the Middle East, so the US lost an important locus of influence in the region. Iran is now politically independent, and is one of the leaders of the group of non-aligned nations. This was set up for countries that did not wish to align themselves either with America or the Soviet Union, but after the Fall of Communism is now simply for nations not aligned with America. America is also unable to control what Iran does with its own oil, from which American companies are excluded from profiting. Another major cause for America’s hostility may be that Iran and Syria are obstacles to Israel’s territorial expansion and the creation of a greater Israel.

Trump’s Attacks on Iran

The Empire Files is a Tele Sur show dedicated to exposing the horrors and crimes of American imperialism. Presented by Abby Martin, it was originally on RT. In this edition, she talks to Dan Kovalik, a human rights lawyer and author of the book The Plot to Attack Iran. The show was originally broadcast in January this year, 2020, when there had been a series of incidents, including Trump’s assassination of the Iranian general, Soleimani, which many feared would bring about a possible war. As tensions and reprisals increased, many Americans also took to the streets to protest against a possible war. The tensions had begun when Trump unilaterally reneged on an agreement with the Iranians over the enrichment of nuclear materials. Barack Obama had made this agreement with the Iranians, in which they pledged only to enrich it to levels suitable for civilian use but not for the creation of weapons. In return, Obama had agreed to lift the sanctions imposed on them. The Iranians had kept to their side of the agreement, but Trump had abandoned it because he wanted to impose further conditions containing Iran. For their part, it had been a year before the Iranians had reacted to the agreement’s failure. The EU had been keen to keep the agreement, despite American withdrawal, but now were unable or unwilling to do so. Kovalik states that Iran doesn’t want nukes. In the 1950s America and General Electric were helping the country set up nuclear power for electricity production. The Ayatollah Khomeini also issued a fatwa against nuclear weapons, condemning them as ‘unIslamic’. The claim that Iran is now a threat to America is based on intelligence, which claims in turn that Iran had a list of American targets in Syria. As a result American troops, ships, missiles and planes were moved to the Gulf. It was also claimed that the Iranians had attacked three civilian ships. Some of these are very dubious. One of the attacked vessels was Japanese, and the ship’s owners deny that any attack occurred. The attack also makes no sense as at the time it was supposed to have happened, the Japanese and Iranians were in negotiations to reduce tensions. Kovalik states here how devastating any war with Iran is likely to be. According to retired General Williamson, a war with Iran would be ten times more expensive in financial cost and lives than the Iraq War. It also has the potential to become a world war, as Russia and China are also dependent on Iranian oil.

Iran Potential Ally, Not Threat

Trump has also re-imposed sanctions on Iran at their previous level before the nuclear agreement. As a result, the Iranians are unable to sell their oil. They are thus unable to buy imported foodstuffs or medicines, or the raw materials to manufacture medicines, which is naturally causing great hardship. Kovalik and Martin are also very clear that Iran doesn’t pose a threat to America. It doesn’t pose a threat to American civilians, and the country was actually a partner with the US in the War on Terror. Well, that was until George W. declared them to be an ‘axis of evil’ along with North Korea and Saddam Hussein. This disappointed the Iranians, whom Martin and Kovalik consider may be potential allies. America wishes to overthrow the current regime because the 1979 Revolution showed countries could defy America and topple a ruler imposed by the US. Although America may resent the country’s freedom to do what it wishes with its oil, the US doesn’t actually need it. America is an exporter of oil, and so one goal of US foreign policy may simply be to wreck independent oil-producing nations, like Iran, Libya and Venezuela, in order to remove them as competition.

The programme also attacks the claims that Iran is a supporter of terrorism. This is hypocritical, as 73 per cent of the world’s dictatorships are supported by the US. This includes the absolute monarchy of Saudi Arabia, which in turn supports al-Qaeda and ISIS. Iran does support Hizbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Palestine, but most political analysts don’t consider them terrorist organisations. They’re elected. The American state really objects to Iran having influence in its own region, but it is the Iranians here who are under threat. They are encircled by countries allied with the US.

Iran anti-Israel, Not Anti-Semitic Country

Kovalik also personally visited Iran in 2017, and he goes on to dispel some misconceptions about the country. Such as that it’s particularly backward and its people personally hostile to Americans. In fact Iran has the largest state-supported condom factory in the Middle East. Alcohol’s banned, but everyone has it. The country also prides itself on being a pluralist society with minorities of Jews, Armenian Christians and Zoroastrians, the country’s ancient religion. And contrary to the claims of Israel and the American right, it’s got the second largest Jewish population in the Middle East outside Israel, and Jews are actually well treated. Kovalik describes meeting a Jewish shopkeeper while visiting the bazaar in Isfahan. He noticed the man was wearing a yarmulka, the Jewish skullcap, and went up to talk to him. In answer to his inquiries, the man told him he was Jewish, and didn’t want to leave Iran. He also told Kovalik that there was a synagogue, and led him a mile up the road to see it. Despite the regime’s genocidal rhetoric, when polled most Iranian Jews said they wish to stay in Iran. There’s a Jewish-run hospital in Tehran, which receives funding from the government. After the Revolution, the Ayatollah also issued a fatwa demanding the Jews be protected. The status of women is also good. Education, including female education, is valued and women are active in all sectors of the economy, including science.

Large Social Safety Net

And the Iranian people are actually open and welcoming to Americans. Martin describes how, when she was there, she saw John Stuart of the Daily Show. The people not only knew who he was, but were delighted he was there. Kovalik agrees that the people actually love Americans, and that if you meet them and they have some English, they’ll try to speak it to show you they can. Martin and Kovalik make the point that Iran is like many other nations, including those of South America, who are able to distinguish between enemy governments and their peoples. They consider America unique in that Americans are unable to do this. Kovalik believes that it comes from American exceptionalism. America is uniquely just and democratic, and so has the right to impose itself and rule the globe. Other countries don’t have this attitude. They’re just happy to be left alone. But America and its citizens believe it, and so get pulled into supporting one war after another. They also make the point the point that Iran has a large social safety net. The mullahs take seriously the view that Islamic values demand supporting the poor. Women enjoy maternity leave, medicine is largely free and food is provided to people, who are unable to obtain it themselves. In this respect, Iran is superior to America. Kovalik states that while he was in Iran, he never saw the depths of poverty that he saw in U.S. cities like Los Angeles. These are supposed to be First World cities, but parts of America increasingly resemble the Third World. He admits, however, that the US-imposed sanctions are making it difficult for the Iranians to take care of people.

British Imperialism and Oil

The programme then turns to the country and its history. It states that it has never been overrun, and has a history going back 4,000 years. As a result, the country has preserved a wealth of monuments and antiquities, in contrast to many of the other, surrounding countries, where they have been destroyed by the US and Britain. Iran was never a formal part of the British empire, but it was dominated by us. Oil was first discovered there in 1908, and Britain moved quickly to acquire it for its own military. The oil company set up favoured British workers and managers, and the profits went to Britain. This was bitterly resented at a time when 90 per cent of the Iranian population was grindingly poor. People wore rags, and some oil workers actually slept in the oil fields. Conditions reached a nadir from 1917-1919 when Britain contributed to a famine that killed 8-10 million people. Those, who know about it, consider it one of the worst genocides.

The Iranian oil industry was nationalised by Mossadeq, who gained power as part of the decolonisation movement sweeping the subject territories of the former empires. Mossadeq offered Britain compensation, but no deal was made before he was overthrown in a CIA-backed coup. Details of the coup came to light a few years ago with the publication of official records. It was the first such coup undertaken by the intelligence agency, but it set the rules and strategy for subsequent operations against other nations.

CIA Coup

The CIA paid protesters to demonstrate against the government, and they were particularly keen that these were violent. They wished to provoke Mossadeq into clamping down on the protests, which they could then use as a pretext for overthrowing him. But Mossadeq was actually a mild individual, who didn’t want to use excessive force. He was only convinced to do so when the CIA turned the Iranian tradition of hospitality against him. They told him Americans were being attacked. Mossadeq was so mortified that this should happen in his country, that he promptly did what the CIA had been preparing for. The Shah was reinstalled as Iran’s absolute monarch with General Zadegi as the new prime minister. Zadegi got the job because he was extremely anti-Communist. In fact, he’d been a Nazi collaborator during the War. After the restoration of the Shah in 1953, there were some Nazi-like pageants in Tehran. The CIA assisted in the creation of SAVAK, the Shah’s brutal secret police. They gave them torture techniques, which had been learned in turn from the Nazis. By 1979, thanks to SAVAK, Amnesty International and other organisations had claimed Iran was the worst human rights abuser in the world.

Reagan, the Hostage Crisis and Iran-Contra

The attack on the left meant that it was the Islamicists, who became the leaders of the Revolution as revolutionary organisation could only be done in the mosques. The left also played a role, particularly in the organisation of the workers. The pair also discuss the hostage crisis. This was when a group of students took the staff at the American embassy hostage, although the regime also took responsibility for it later. This was in response to the Americans inviting the Shah to come for medical treatment. The last time the Shah had done this had been in the 1950s before the coup. The hostage-takers released the women and non-Whites, keeping only the White men. The crisis was also manipulated by Ronald Reagan and the Republicans. They undercut Jimmy Carter’s attempts to free the hostages by persuading the Iranians to keep them until after the US election. America also funded and supplied arms to Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq War, which left a million people dead. They also supplied arms to Iran. This was partly a way of gaining money for the Contras in Nicaragua, as the US Congress had twice stopped government funding to them. It was also partly to stop Saddam Hussein and Iraq becoming too powerful. Kovalik notes that even in the conduct of this war, the Iranians showed considerable restraint. They had inherited chemical weapons from the Shah, and the Iraqis were using gas. However, Khomeini had issued a fatwa against it and so Iranians didn’t use them.

The pair also observe that Trump is bringing back into his government the figures and officials, like John Bolton, who have been involved in previous attacks on Iran. This raises the possibility of war. Kovalik believes that Trump is a brinksman, which means that there is always the danger of someone calling his bluff. He believes that the American military doesn’t want war, but it’s still a possibility. The American public need to protest to stop Trump getting re-elected as a war president.

Stop War, But Leave Iranians to Change their Regime

This raises the question of how to oppose militarism and support progressive politics in Iran. Iranian Communists, the Tudeh are secular socialists, who hate the Islamicists. They state that it is up to them to overthrow the Islamic regime, not America or its government. They just want Americans to stop their country invading and destroying Iran. External pressure from foreign nations like America through sanctions and military threats actually only makes matters worse, as it allows the Islamic government to crack down on the secular opposition. However, Kovalik believes that the American government doesn’t want reform, but to turn Iran back into its puppet. The video finally ends with the slogan ‘No War on Iran’.

The Plot to Attack Iran – Myths, Oil & Revolution – YouTube

Readers of this blog will know exactly what I think about the Iranian regime. It is a brutal, oppressive theocracy. However, it is very clear that Iran is the wronged party. It has been the victim of western – British and US imperialism, and will be so again if the warmongers Trump has recruited have their way.

Events have moved on since this video was made, and despite Trump’s complaints and accusations of electoral fraud, it can’t really be doubted that he lost the US election. But it really does look like he means to start some kind of confrontation with Iran. And even with his departure from the White House, I don’t doubt that there will still be pressure from the Neocons all demanding more action against Iran, and telling us the same old lies. That Iran’s going to have nuclear weapons, and is going to attack Israel, or some such nonsense.

And if we go to war with Iran, it will be for western multinationals to destroy and loot another Middle Eastern country. The video is right about western oil companies wanting the regime overthrown because they can’t profit from its oil. Under Iranian law, foreign companies can’t buy up their industries. A few years ago Forbes was whining about how tyrannical and oppressive Iran was because of this rule. I think the Iranians are entirely justified, and wish our government did the same with our utilities. I think about 50 per cent of the country’s economy is owned or controlled by the state. Which is clearly another target for western companies wishing to grab a slice of them, just as they wanted to seize Iraqi state enterprises.

And at least in Iran medicines are largely free, and food is being provided to those who can’t obtain it themselves. They’ve got something like a welfare state. Ours is being destroyed. We now have millions forced to use food banks instead of the welfare state to stop themselves starving to death, and the Tories would dearly love to privatise the NHS and turn it into a private service financed through private health insurance. The Iraq invasion destroyed their health service. It also destroyed their secular state and the freedom of Iraqi women to work outside the home.

We’ve got absolutely no business doing this. It shouldn’t have been done to Iraq. Let’s make sure it doesn’t happen to Iran.

Trump Won Florida After Running a False Ad Tying Biden to Venezuelan Socialists

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 14/11/2020 - 3:36am in

A Trump video targeting Florida’s growing Venezuelan American population falsely claimed that Venezuela’s socialist regime wanted Biden to win. But President Nicolás Maduro has said that he opposed both candidates. Continue reading

The post Trump Won Florida After Running a False Ad Tying Biden to Venezuelan Socialists appeared first on BillMoyers.com.

‘I’ Obituary for Stage Magician and Sceptic James Randi

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 26/10/2020 - 10:43pm in

Last Tuesday, 20th October 2020, the stage magician and sceptic James Randi passed away at the age of 92. Randy was a controversial. After starting out as a stage magician, Randi turned to exposing fake psychics. He was a prominent member of the Sceptics’ organisation CSICOP, the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims Of the Paranormal, along with scientist and broadcaster Carl Sagan and the mathematician Martin Gardner. CSICOP’s founders were alarmed at the growth of interest in the occult. Sagan, a Humanist, published his attack on the supernatural in the Demon Haunted World. He seemed to be frightened that we were entering a new Dark Age of superstition, where science and rationality would be forgotten, and in which people would begin their day by poring over their horoscopes.

The I published this obituary of Randi in their weekend edition for 24th-25th October 2020, reprinted from the Washington Post. It runs

James Randi, who has died aged 92, was an internationally acclaimed magician and escape artist who spent much of his career debunking all things paranormal – from spoon bending and water dowsing to spirit channelling and faith healing.

Randall James Ham Hamilton Zwinge was born in Toronto in 1928. A child prodigy, he was shy and often lonely. Bored by rote classroom learning, he sought refuge in the library. At a young age, he developed an interest in magic, and at 17 he dropped out of high school, turned down several college scholarships and joined a travelling carnival as junior magician.

He overcame a stammer and fear of speaking in public, affected a turban and goatee, and honed his illusionist skills under a series of stage names, including Zo-Ran, Prince Iblis, Telepath and the Great Randall.

After a stint at faking clairvoyance, in which many took his prophecies seriously – he correctly predicted the winner of baseball’s World Series in 1949, for example – he said he was unable to persuade believerss that his powers were strictly terrestrial. He said he “couldn’t live that kind of lie” and returned to conventional magic as The Amazing Randi.

He also became an escape artist and held Guinness world records for surviving the longest time inside a block of ice (55 minutes) and for being sealed the longest in an underwater coffin (one hour and 44 minutes), breaking a record set by Harry Houdini.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s Randi’s many appearances on television made him a fixture of prime time entertainment. In 1973 he toured with heavy metal rock star Alice Cooper as an executioner simulating the beheading of the singer at each performance.

Randi cheerfully described himself as a “liar” and “cheat” in mock recognition of his magician’s skills at duping people into thinking they had seen something inexplicable when it was, in fact, the result of simple physical deception. He was equally dismissive of psychics, seers and soothsayers. “The difference between them and me,” Randi told The New York Times in 1981, “is that I admit that I’m a charlatan. They don’t. I don’t have time for things that go bump in the night.”

Randi and the research organisation he helped found in 1976, the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, offered payouts ranging up to $1m (£77,000) to anyone who could demonstrate a supernatural or paranormal phenomenon under controlled conditions. While he had many takers, he said, none of them earned a cent.

In 2010, at the age of 81, Randi publicly announced he was gay. He married a Venezuelan artist, Deyvi Pena in 2013. The following year, film-maker Tyler Measom and Justin Weinstein released An Honest Liar, a documentary of Randi’s life.

I first became aware of Randi in the early 1980s, when he appeared in the pages of the Absurder attacking Doris Stokes. Stokes was a medium, who was then in news, much like Derek Acorah and other celebrity psychics a few years ago. Randi showed that much of her comments and remarks when she was supposedly getting in touch with the dead were ‘bunkum statements’. They sounded true and unique to the reader or listener, but they were actually vague and described the way most people felt. Her descriptions of the deceased and the questions she asked her audience were also so vague that they would apply to someone there, who would then become convinced that Stokes was genuinely in contact with a dead friend or relative.

Several times Randi’s own outspoken comment about those he judged to be frauds landed him in legal. In one case, he was sued for libel by a man he claimed was called by the police ‘the shopping mall molester’. Er, not quite. The target of Randi’s wrath had been arrested for sexually assaulting a 12 or 13 year old girl in a shopping centre. But he hadn’t been charged with the offence, as it was dropped due to plea bargaining. And because he hadn’t been charged with it, Randi’s comments were technically libel.

He also got into similar trouble with Uri Geller. He called him a fraud, at which Geller sued him in every country in the world. This resulted in Randi settling out of court with the notorious spoon-bender.

Actually, I think Randi is probably right here. Geller’s most famous trick of bending spoons has been around since at least in the 18th century. It’s mentioned in a book of such amusements from that time, Rational Recreations. Geller was also successfully sued in the 1970s or so by an Israeli engineering student for misleading advertising. Geller’s publicity claimed his act presented overwhelming proof of the paranormal. The student went to see it and wasn’t impressed. He sued, claiming that all he’d seen was standard stage magic. The beak concurred, and judged in his favour.

There was also a scandal a few years ago when it turned out that Randi’s partner was actually an illegal immigrant, who was living in the US under an identity he’d stolen.

Randi was a colourful figure, but I was never a fan of his. While I agree that fake psychics and mediums certainly exist, and should be exposed because of the way they exploit the grieving and vulnerable, I don’t share his dismissal of the supernatural. I think it’s genuine, but that its very nature makes scientific verification extremely difficult, if not impossible. CSICOP also came off as arrogant, smug and vindictive in their attacks on the paranormal and its believers and practitioners. So much so that they were seen as a kind of scientific witch hunt by their victims. A few years ago the organisation changed its name to CSI, which stands for the Committee for Scientific Investigation. And not Crime Scene Investigation. The name change was not occasioned because there was a cop drama with that acronym as its title playing at the time.

So RIP James Randi. He was a colourful character, who entertained millions, particularly in his bust-up with Geller. Gray Barker, the former Ufologist who began the Men In Black myth with his book They Knew Too Much About Flying Saucers, took great pleasure in Randi’s antics, calling him ‘the Amusing Randi’. But I leave to the reader to decide for themselves whether the paranormal exists. And not everybody who believes in it deserves sneers and ridicule.

UK Court Decision on Venezuela Gold Deals Blow to Regime Change Efforts

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 06/10/2020 - 3:27am in

A United Kingdom court has handed the Venezuelan government of Nicolas Maduro a major win today, overturning a previous ruling from a lower court that legitimized the British government’s decision to freeze Venezuelan government gold reserves held in the Bank of England. The English Court of Appeal ruled that the Conservative administration of Boris Johnson’s position that Juan Guaidó is the country’s legitimate ruler was far from equivocal, potentially paving the way for some $1.95 billion of the Central Bank of Venezuela’s gold to be accessed.

Following President Trump’s lead, in July, the U.K. government took the extraordinary step of derecognizing President Maduro in favor of the self-declared Guaidó, despite the fact that for nearly six months, he had not even been a member of his Popular Will party, let alone its leader. The move was labeled “highway robbery” by supporters of the Venezuelan government.

A nearly unheard of politician before his ascension to the role of head of the Venezuelan National Assembly (a post given out on a yearly rotational basis among all parties in the institution) in January 2019, Guaidó shocked the country by using his appointment to unilaterally declare himself president of the country. He then led a series of coup attempts throughout 2019 and 2020, the last of which involved paying Trump-linked American mercenaries to shoot their way into the presidential palace. However, the plan ended in complete disaster, with the Americans subsequently sentenced to 20 years of prison time.

Guaidó based his claim to power on Article 233 of the Venezuelan Constitution, which allows a president to be removed if he “abandons his position” or becomes “permanently unavailable to serve” for whatever reason. Maduro, however, had clearly not left his post. Regardless, if he had, Article 233 states that the vice-president would take charge until a new election by universal suffrage was held. Guaidó’s party was not even registered to stand in elections, having boycotted them the year previously under U.S. orders. The Trump administration had attempted to organize a total boycott from opposition parties, thereby undermining the process’ legitimacy, even threatening to sanction opposition presidential candidate Henri Falcón. Despite the partial boycott, turnout was relatively high. A larger percentage of the total electorate still cast their ballot for Maduro than Americans did for Trump in 2016 or Obama in 2012. The U.S. government is currently trying the same tactic in the upcoming December elections to the National Assembly, the State Department releasing a memo in September declaring that all opposition parties taking place were considered “puppet parties” participating in an “electoral charade,” and would therefore be sanctioned.

The United Kingdom and the United States have been leaders in a years-long economic and political campaign to oust Maduro from power, hitting the country with sanctions and attacking it politically. When Maduro attempted to use the impounded gold to buy humanitarian aid from the United Nations to deal with the coronavirus pandemic, the Johnson administration blocked it. Meanwhile, American sanctions, declared illegal by the U.N., have been responsible for over 100,000 Venezuelans’ death. The U.S. government is also continually provoking Venezuela militarily. Last week, it sent a warship — the U.S.S. William P. Lawrence — into the Caribbean, just 16 nautical miles from Venezuela’s coast. Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino described the action as “erratic and childish,” implying Trump was attempting to foment an “October Surprise” conflict to boost his reelection chances.

The U.S. has also funded and supported Guaidó throughout his coup attempts, grooming him since he was a student leader. Recently, they have been channeling money confiscated from the Venezuelan government to Guaidó so that he can personally pay every healthcare worker a huge stipend.

While the Maduro administration is very unpopular, the opposition has had little success shaking their image as elitists interested only in returning Venezuela to its former status as a U.S. client state. Guaidó is presented in Western media as a breath of fresh air and a break with that tradition. However, as the privately-educated son of an international airline pilot, and somebody who attended George Washington University (an impossible task for those who do not come from the elite), he has had little success persuading his countryfolk to get behind his vision for the country. A recent poll found that 3 percent of Venezuelans recognize him as president. Despite this, he has received virtually unanimous support in Washington and London. However, there is no doubt that today’s court ruling is a loss for him and a win for Maduro.

Feature photo | Self-declared Venezuelan President Juan Guiado meets with UK PM Boris Jonson in London in January, 2020. Photo | Public Release

Alan MacLeod is a Staff Writer for MintPress News. After completing his PhD in 2017 he published two books: Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting and Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent. He has also contributed to Fairness and Accuracy in ReportingThe GuardianSalonThe GrayzoneJacobin MagazineCommon Dreams the American Herald Tribune and The Canary.

The post UK Court Decision on Venezuela Gold Deals Blow to Regime Change Efforts appeared first on MintPress News.

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