Sunday, March 10, 2013

Divisions within Chavism


Michael Lebowitz is professor emeritus of economics at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver Canada. He was director of the Program in Transformative Practice and Human development in Caracas, Venezuela from 2006-2011
Lebowitz discusses the divisions within Chavism and the outlook for Venezuela during Chavez's fourth term. Much of the material for this article is taken from an interview with a Croatian newspaper published on November 1st 2012. The original interview in Croatian can be found here. Although the interview was long before Chavez' death it nevertheless shows many of the problems that the revolutionary movement in Venezuela faces and gives a brief history of developments there that put the situation in context. Lebowitz discusses his general views on socialism, and the problems of promoting socialism in the 21st century, in the interview on the appended video.
Before Chavez was elected, Lebowitz descibes Venezuela as a rentist economy depending upon oil revenues, and a political culture that grew up around and depended upon oil rents. There was a culture of corruption and clientalism. Neoliberal policies resulted in cutbacks to social services and ending of subsidies on basic goods and also privatization. By the 1990s the situation was a disaster, and this helped Chavez get elected at the end of the decade.
Chavez gained power not only with the support of social movements and the poor but much of the middle class who also were fed up with the situation. At the time Chavez was calling for a ""good capitalism" and an ending of neoliberal policies.
He funneled oil revenues into education and health services. While Lebowitz sees these moves as basically populist, meant to maintain and develop political support, he also notes that they meet real needs and gave people the power to develop. In particular Chavez developed communal councils at the local neighbourhood level. These local councils grouped together to form communes which were designed to deal with wider problems.
These groups are what Chavez considered the cells of a socialist state. Also developed were workers' councils. These give working people a say in decision-making. However, Lebowitz points out that the transformation of Venezuelan society is far from smooth.
WIthin Chavism, Lebowitz identifies three main groups. One group is associated with the base and social movements, the local communities, and sections of the working class. A second group are people who have risen along with Chavism and who have enriched themselves through their positions. They continue corruption and clientalism exactly as did political leaders in the old regime. They think the revolution should now stop. They have a nickname in Venezuela the "boli-boourgeoisie". Finally, there is a third group who want to continue the process of change but through authoritarian means from the top down. They see themselves as vanguard leaders whose duty is to impose the proper socialist order from above.
The growth of cooperatives under Chavez has been astonishing. In 1998 when Chavez took power, there were 762 cooperatives in Venezuela but not long ago there were already 84,000. As Lebowitz points out, many of these small cooperatives fail or are discontinued although there are some in rural areas that have been quite successful. Lebowitz sees these cooperatives as schools where people learn to cooperate and to discover that they can carry out useful projects together. However, Lebowitz thinks that even more important as a training ground is involvinng workers in managing state enterprises
Lebowitz's vision of socialism involves people developing their powers through transforming both their circumstances and themselves through their practice. Venezuela has taken steps towards what he calls a protagonistic democracy. Lebowitz sees a considerable struggle within Chavism as well as with the opposition who want to curb the power of the people and return to an earlier period.
Meanwhile Chavez is still demonized quite often by the media in the west often being called a dictator even though he is an elected president in elections with international observers. The issue of demonization is discussed in this Al Jazeera discussion

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Rand Paul filibustering Brennan's appointment to CIA head


Representative Rand Paul is carrying out an old-fashioned filibuster that will hold up for an indefinite period the confirmation of John Brennan as chief of the CIA.
Rand_Paul is focusing on the dangers of drone strikes against Americans in the US. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said today (March 6) that any Republican attempt to block a vote would lead him to start the process of ending debate. However, Reid did not actually begin the paperwork that would allow him to do this. As a result Reid cannot break in on Paul while he is holding the floor. The only solution seems to be for Paul to finally yield.
Rand Paul is a Republican and junior United States Senator for Kentucky.He is a member of the Tea Party and describes himself as a constitutional conservative and libertarian. He is the son of the recently retired libertarian and former representative from Texas, Ron Paul. Rand Paul said:“I will speak as long as it takes, until the alarm is sounded from coast to coast that our Constitution is important, that your rights to trial by jury are precious, that no American should be killed by a drone on American soil without first being charged with a crime, without first to be found guilty by a court."
Paul was angry at the response of Attorney General Eric Holder to a letter Rand had written. Holder claimed that there were extraordinary circumstances in which a drone could be used to target a US citizen on US soil. Paul went on:"That Americans could be killed in a cafĂ© in San Francisco or in a restaurant in Houston or at their home in Bowling Green, Ky., is an abomination. It is something that should not and cannot be tolerated in our country. I don't rise to oppose John Brennan's nomination simply for the person. I rise today for the principle.”
Paul admitted that he did not actually worry that Obama would give an order to kill a US suspect in the US, but he was concerned that this was not ruled out. Paul acknowledged as well that he cannot block Brennan's eventual nomination. However, Paul took the opportunity to criticise what he calls the overreach of the president's power. The president gives himself the power to be judge, jury, and executioner. As Rand put it, theoretically, an American suspect could be driving down Constitution Avenue in Washington and randomly killed in an air strike.
Paul's filibuster was drawing attention on Tea Party blogs, and also on Twitter where many praised his attack on drone policy. Rand's Republican colleagues were apparently unaware of Paul's plans and had expected to vote on Brennan's nomination some time today (March 6). Another Senator, Ted Cruz of Texas, also criticized Holder's response to Paul's letter.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Australian helicopter attack kills two Afghan children herding cattle


In a rare apology NATO admitted a helicopter fired on two boys herding cattle mistaking them for insurgents in Uruzgan province.
General Joseph Dunford said in a statement : "I offer my personal apology and condolences to the family of the boys who were killed....I am committed to ensuring we do the right thing for the families of those we harmed, as well as for the community in which they lived."The children, aged seven and eight, were killed while herding cattle. Insurgents apparently had fired at the helicopter that shot the children.
There have been numerous incidents in which civilians are killed in air attacks called in when there is a conflict with Taliban fighters or other incidents. Here are a few examples:
13 Feb 2013: 10 people killed, including women and children, in a NATO air strike in Kunar province
14 Oct 12: Three civilians die during a NATO operation in Helmand province
6 Jun 12: 18 civilians killed in a NATO air strike in Logar province
Karzai has constantly complained when civilians are killed. The Taliban use them as an effective propaganda tool by collecting photos and video clips of the dead civilians and bombed villages to show the foreign troops as occupiers and killers of Afghans.
Apparently, the children were shot by Australian troops who had come under attack from the Taliban. The governor of Uruzgan, a central province, told AFP :"The children were killed by Australian troops, it was a mistaken incident, not a deliberate one." Following an incident last month the Afghan president barred Afghan forces from calling in air support during their operations. Apparently this was an Australian operation.
Previous deaths have resulted in demonstrations against the presence of foreign troops. Perhaps these deaths will cause similar protests. Most of the over 1500 Australian troops in Afghanistan are in Oruzgan province engaged in training Afghan forces.


Women in Afghanistan often jailed for "moral crimes"




   Even though the Taliban government in Afghanistan fell more than ten
years ago, the justice system is still discriminatory in its treatment
of women as is the legal system.
Al Jazeera reporter, Jennifer Glasse reports from Herat at a women's jail. Many in Afghan
jails are in jail for fleeing domestic abuse or violence. Even rape
victims are jailed for what are called "moral crimes" as the appended
video shows, Afghanistan is unique even among those countries which base
 their judicial system on Sharia law in that Afghanistan is the only
jurisdiction which claims there is a crime of fleeing. Heather Barr,
 Afghan Researcher, at Human Rights Watch said: "Afghanistan is the only
 Islamic government in the world that specifically criminalised running
away." There is no mention of the offense in Afghan law. The problem of
running away could be solved if Afghanistan had more women's shelters
and other programs.


A report issued
 by Human Rights Watch last year, claims that hundreds of women and
girls are imprisoned for the moral crimes of running away from home, and
 sex outside of marriage.The report had called for an estimated 400
women to be freed so that the Afghan government would fulfill its
obligations under international human rights law.


Kenneth Roth,
 executive director of Human Rights Watch said:"It is shocking that 10
years after the overthrow of the Taliban, women and girls are still
imprisoned for running away from domestic violence or forced marriage."
  Actually, it is not that surprising. Many of the former warlords whom
the west helped triumph over the Taliban were just as violent against
women if not worse than the Taliban. Also, there are so-called reformed
Taliban in the government. They probably hold the same views about women
 as unreformed Taliban but support the government.


The criminalisation of "running away" results from a certain latitude given judges under article 130 of the Afghan constitution:
 "When there is no provision in the Constitution or other laws regarding
 ruling on an issue, the courts’ decisions shall be within the limits of
 this Constitution in accord with the Hanafi jurisprudence and in a way
to serve justice in the best possible manner."


Afghan judges and prosecutors say that this allows judges to
interpret Islamic law and justifies their ruling on fleeing. Heather
Barr says that the judges and prosecutors are ignoring the limits of the
 section in that the interpretations should be consistent with other
provisions of the constitution and lead to a just outcome. Heather Barr
thinks that the decisions violate article 130 of the constitution which
says: "No person can be punished but in accordance with the decision of
an authorised court and in conformity with the law adopted before the
date of offense". Some local Afghan rights workers were critical of the
report for not examining the laws more carefully upon which distinctions
 are made and not interviewing women who have run away and are actually
in shelters to determine the different circumstances that determine
legal outcomes.


Ahraf Nemat, an Afghan human rights campaigner, said that the Human
Rights Watch report would be taken as a general statement of impunity
for the 400 or so women imprisoned. Nemat said that it is equally
important that women who commit crimes should face justice.




   Even though the Taliban government in Afghanistan fell more than ten years ago, the justice system is still discriminatory in its treatment of women as is the legal system.
Al Jazeera reporter, Jennifer Glasse reports from Herat at a women's jail. Many in Afghan jails are in jail for fleeing domestic abuse or violence. Even rape victims are jailed for what are called "moral crimes" as the appended video shows, Afghanistan is unique even among those countries which base their judicial system on Sharia law in that Afghanistan is the only jurisdiction which claims there is a crime of fleeing. Heather Barr, Afghan Researcher, at Human Rights Watch said: "Afghanistan is the only Islamic government in the world that specifically criminalised running away." There is no mention of the offense in Afghan law. The problem of running away could be solved if Afghanistan had more women's shelters and other programs.
A report issued by Human Rights Watch last year, claims that hundreds of women and girls are imprisoned for the moral crimes of running away from home, and sex outside of marriage.The report had called for an estimated 400 women to be freed so that the Afghan government would fulfill its obligations under international human rights law.
Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch said:"It is shocking that 10 years after the overthrow of the Taliban, women and girls are still imprisoned for running away from domestic violence or forced marriage." Actually, it is not that surprising. Many of the former warlords whom the west helped triumph over the Taliban were just as violent against women if not worse than the Taliban. Also, there are so-called reformed Taliban in the government. They probably hold the same views about women as unreformed Taliban but support the government.
The criminalisation of "running away" results from a certain latitude given judges under article 130 of the Afghan constitution: "When there is no provision in the Constitution or other laws regarding ruling on an issue, the courts’ decisions shall be within the limits of this Constitution in accord with the Hanafi jurisprudence and in a way to serve justice in the best possible manner."
Afghan judges and prosecutors say that this allows judges to interpret Islamic law and justifies their ruling on fleeing. Heather Barr says that the judges and prosecutors are ignoring the limits of the section in that the interpretations should be consistent with other provisions of the constitution and lead to a just outcome. Heather Barr thinks that the decisions violate article 130 of the constitution which says: "No person can be punished but in accordance with the decision of an authorised court and in conformity with the law adopted before the date of offense". Some local Afghan rights workers were critical of the report for not examining the laws more carefully upon which distinctions are made and not interviewing women who have run away and are actually in shelters to determine the different circumstances that determine legal outcomes.
Ahraf Nemat, an Afghan human rights campaigner, said that the Human Rights Watch report would be taken as a general statement of impunity for the 400 or so women imprisoned. Nemat said that it is equally important that women who commit crimes should face justice.
- See more at: http://digitaljournal.com/article/344667#sthash.A60Fj9Pe.dpuf

Friday, March 1, 2013

Taliban are infiltrating Afghan Local Police

The Taliban are infiltrating local militias funded and trained by the US to attack the Taliban and control security in local areas.
   A recent attack that killed 17 local police was carried out by Taliban infiltrators. Earlier reports, such as this one in Digital Journal, did not go into details about the attack. The New York TImes now reports that several members of the Afghan Local Police drugged 17 of their fellow police officers and then executed them. They then stole all their weapons and fled after setting a police vehicle afire. Afghan officials subsequently said that the attackers were Taliban infiltrators. The Taliban said that the attack was in revenge for atrocities and crimes carried out by these forces against local people. There have been numerous complaints about such forces from local people. A Taliban spokesperson said: “Locals in the area were tired of the atrocities and crimes of these [irregular militias] and their lives and property were not safe."
   Recently Karzai ordered all US special forces out of Wardak provinces because of actions of the ALP who are trained by US special forces. Charges included, torture, illegal detentions, and even killing as reported earlier in Digital Journal. The Afghan Local Police (ALP) are fundamentally armed militias that are funded by the US and supported and trained by US special forces.
  A New York Times article notes: " “Many residents complain that the groups often operate outside the law, extort unofficial taxes from local residents and are prone to act on the basis of ethnic loyalties.”" A Human Rights Watch report in September of 2012 documented cases of killings, rapes, arbitrary detentions, abductions, and illegal raids perpetrated by the ALP. The ALP program was a favorite initiative of General Petraeus who was commander of the ISAF forces in Afghanistan during the second half of 2010 and first half of 2011, before he became head of the CIA.. Petraeus considered the ALP program a key part of his counterinsurgency strategy. Yet the program in many places has been a shambles.
   The appended video illustrates some of the issues even before Petraeus left office. Yet the program continues, and in Wardak mentioned in one video, US special forces have been ordered out of the province. As well as engaging in abuse of locals, several units of the ALP have simply gone over to the Taliban weapons and all. Another group simply gave their weapons to the Taliban. Now it seems they have infiltrated a unit and killed all their fellow recruits.