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September 24, 2014 / 29 Elul, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘venezuala’

The Left: Getting Rich by Fighting for the Poor

Sunday, March 10th, 2013

Hugo Chavez’s death was met with tributes from Iran, Bolivia, China and El Salvador. The Western left did not waste much time adding their withered roses to El Comandante’s coffin. George Galloway called him another Spartacus. Jimmy Carter described him as a leader who fought for the “neglected and trampled.” Michael Moore praised him for declaring that the oil belongs to the people.

Whether or not the oil belongs to the people is a matter of some debate considering how much of it seemed to end up in Chavez’s pocket.

Chavez died with an estimated net worth of two billion dollars making him the fourth richest man in Venezuela and the 49th richest man in Latin America. For a while, Chavez weathered attacks from the media empire of Gustavo A. Cisneros, the richest man in Venezuela. Then before the 2004 election, their mutual friend Jimmy Carter brokered an agreement between them. Cisneros’ media stopped criticizing Chavez and both men bent to the task of getting even richer.

While the Bolivarian Spartacus lined his pockets with oil money, Venezuela’s middle-class was struggling to get by in a country where the private sector had imploded. Income increased on paper, but decreased in reality as inflation increases ate the difference. Around the same time that Comrade Hugo was launching the third phase of his Bolivarian Revolution, inflation had decreased household income 8.8 percent while consumer goods prices increased 27 percent.

On his deathbed, Hugo Chavez devalued his country’s currency for the fifth time by 32 percent, after tripling the deficit during his previous term when the national debt had increased by 90 percent. From 2008 to 2011, Chavez’s oil-rich government increased the debt by nearly 50 billion in a country of less than 30 million. That same year, The Economist speculated that Venezuela might go bankrupt.

Chavez had swollen the ranks of Venezuela’s public employees to 2.5 million in a country where the 15-64 population numbered only 18 million. With 1 public employee to every 7 working adults, the entire mess was subsidized by oil exports and debt. When the price of oil fell, only debt was left.

Those public employees became Chavez’s campaign staff with no choice but to vote for him or see their positions wiped out to keep the economy from crashing. And they won him one last election.

The dead tyrant leaves behind the lowest GDP growth rate and highest inflation rate in Latin America. He leaves behind an economy where more than half the population depends on government benefits or government jobs. He leaves behind a giant pile of debt for the people and 2 billion dollars in misappropriated oil money for his heirs.

But we don’t need to look to a leftist banana republic south of the border to see how profitable fighting for the poor can be.

Seven of the 10 richest counties in America are now in the Washington D.C. area. Arlington County alone added $6,000 to its average income in one year alone. D.C. and its bedroom communities got rich at twice the rate of the rest of the country and in the last election; Obama won eight of the 10 richest counties in the country.

Washington D.C. is richer than Silicon Valley. Median income in the D.C. area has hit $84,523 despite the city itself having horrendous unemployment and poverty statistics. The top five percent in D.C. earns 60 percent more than the top 5 percent in other cities and 54 times what the bottom fifth earns in that same city.

This wealth of government money isn’t a rising tide that lifts all boats. Income inequality in Washington D.C. is one of the worst in the nation. For families with children, the income inequality level in D.C. is double the average for the rest of the country.

But when you concentrate the wealth of the land in a single imperial city, then you end up with a sharp gap between the poor and the fighters for the poor. Mid-level jobs are disappearing, but high-level jobs continue to grow. Small businesses are going out of business, but lawyers and consultants are being hired at a breathtaking rate.

Washington D.C. has the highest concentration of lawyers in the country. One out of every 12 city residents is a lawyer. One in 25 of the country’s lawyers lives in Washington D.C. In 2009, the Office of Personnel Management reported that there were 31,797 practicing lawyers in the Federal government earning an average salary of $127,500 a year. Or to put it another way, the taxpayers were spending double Hugo Chavez’s two billion dollar net worth each year just to pay the lawyers.

A Hard Reckoning for Assad

Monday, March 4th, 2013

Bashar Assad faces a hard reckoning. Not the one that comes from rebels battling for control of key Syrian assets, or the one that may come some day from charges of genocide at the International Criminal Court. The reckoning that comes from understanding that your key ally, Iran, has interests in your country other than you and regional interests bigger than you.

Iran connects with a variety of countries and non-state actors to advance its worldwide interests; Assad’s Syria is only part of the equation. Iran continues to supply the Syrian army and has military forces of its own there, but Iran is also moving to protect and preserve its Mediterranean proxy Hezbollah. Weapons are already moving into Hezbollah hands in Lebanon, which may have prompted an Israeli air strike late last month. Iranian and Hezbollah commanders appear to be building militias within Syria to retain a presence if Assad falls or leaves the country.

U.S. Treasury Undersecretary David Cohen said Iranian and Hezbollah commanders oversee the Jaysh fighters, one of many groups that have sprung up as Syria disintegrates. In response, Syrian rebel forces are threatening to take the fight to Hezbollah directly, but the revelation means Syria may be on the path to resemble the morass of Lebanon during the 1970s.

A little history helps here.

The Alawite minority that has ruled Syria for decades is not of the Shiite mainstream; Alawites have been called “idol worshippers” — the worst possible sobriquet — by some Shiite religious authorities. (For the details see Martin Kramer). The short of it is that a marriage of convenience began in the 1970s between Hafez Assad, by most accounts a more clever despot than his son, and Iranian Shiite religious leaders.

It expanded after the Iranian Revolution brought those religious leaders to power, and it continues to this day. In the early days of the Iran-Iraq war, Assad did side with fellow secular Ba’athist Saddam Hussein in Iraq. But by 1982 (some sources put the timing after the Syrian massacre of 20-35,000 Sunnis in Hama to suppress the Muslim Brotherhood) relations between the two soured, leaving an opening for improved Syrian-Iranian ties.

According to CIA reports of the time, Iran and Syria agreed that Syria would close the Iraqi pipeline through its territory in exchange for subsidized Iranian oil. Shortly thereafter, Iran was known to have sent 2,000 Iranian Guard Corps troops to Syria and from there to Lebanon in support of Hezbollah, which was just emerging as a power center after the 1982 Israel-Lebanon war.

Syria has been a passageway for Iranian arms to Hezbollah, both by sea, and through the Damascus airport and overland, giving Iran influence in the internal affairs of Lebanon as Hezbollah continued to grow, particularly after Israel’s withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000.

After the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war, the expanded UNIFIL force in southern Lebanon was tasked with ensuring that only weapons of the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) were south of the Litani River; this should have meant disarming Hezbollah, but the mandate of UN Resolution 1701 did not include guarding or even monitoring the Syria-Lebanon border. Iranian arms shipments continued apace and in 2011, Hezbollah became the dominant member of the Lebanese Government.

Whatever the fate of Bashar Assad, Iran is unlikely to abandon its investment in Hezbollah or in other Syrian groups, but Iran’s interests go well beyond the Syria/Hezbollah axis. Iranian influence in predominantly Shiite Iraq continues to grow and there are reports of Iran building Iraqi Hezbollah militias as the security situation continues to deteriorate since the American departure in 2011.

Iranian warships have been docking in Sudan, where it appears that in December, Israel destroyed a missile depot housing Iranian Fajr-5 rockets destined for Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Iranian warships returned to Sudan later that month.

Iran’s relationship with Hugo Chavez in Venezuela has been well documented. But in the late 1980s and 1990s, Argentina sold Iran nuclear materials and modified an Iranian nuclear reactor. Relations were cut short after Iran was implicated in the 1992 and 1994 bombings of the Israeli Embassy and Jewish Cultural Center in Buenos Aires. Trade relations were never halted though, and of late, Argentina’s sales of agricultural products to Iran have made it Iran’s 7th largest trading partner. The assumption is that Iran will pay for commodities it sorely needs with oil that it cannot sell owing to Western sanctions, which Argentina ignores.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/a-hard-reckoning-for-assad/2013/03/04/

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