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Venezuela is key concern for Birmingham Committee on Foreign Relations

Brandon Moseley

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The Birmingham Committee on Foreign Relations hosted a discussion Thursday on the current situation in Venezuela with special guest speaker Eric Farnsworth.

Farnsworth is a Venezuela expert and vice president of the Council of the Americas and the Americas Society. He provided analysis of the South American country’s history, current crisis, interim leadership and future. Attendees included a diverse group of Birmingham Committee on Foreign Relations members and guests, including U.S. citizens who have fled the harsh conditions in Venezuela.

“It is almost unfathomable to comprehend that Venezuela’s inflation rate currently is one million percent,” economic developer Nicole Jones told the Alabama Political Reporter. “Venezuela’s economy has crippled because the one-party state, in a quest for control at the expense of its citizens, destroyed the private sector.”

“Oil dominated Venezuela,” Jones said. “The state-run energy sector fell apart because of corruption and a lack of private sector investment. With no oil, the price and production of agriculture fell, foreign investment diminished and Venezuela’s ability to produce became almost nonexistent.”

“Venezuela’s local currency, the bolivar, has almost no value due to a history of mismanagement and corruption by a failed socialist state,” Jones said. “For many, the difference between survival and starvation is determined by access to the U.S. dollar.”

Farnsworth said Venezuela has been a threat since Nicolas Maduro gained power in 2013. Previous leader Chavez’s quest for power turned Venezuela from a vibrant democracy to a one-party state driven by his obsession with power. Chavez’s goal was to drive Venezuela into a socialist state.

Many politicians blame socialism for Venezuela’s failure as a nation that can provide its citizens with the basic necessities of life.

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“History tells us socialism is a failed economic system that results in untold suffering and human misery wherever it is implemented,” said Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Alabama. “In contrast, America is the greatest nation in world history thanks to our free-enterprise economic system.”

“Maduro, his successor, was loyal to the Chavez regime, and the Chavez regime knew that Maduro would implement their demands without thinking,” Farnsworth said.

Farnsworth explained that Venezuela used the elections process to fulfill their national project with threats, violence, jailed potential and current opponents, exiled potential and current opponents, ballot manipulation, movement of polling places and other corrupt tactics. Maduro cut off the media and television so citizens and the world would not gain knowledge of the corruption and oppression.

Venezuela’s government replaced education with Chavismo indoctrination. Venezuela’s inflation rate is one million percent. Venezuela was once the wealthiest nation in Latin America.  That was before Chavez was elected and replaced capitalism with socialism.

Healthcare is a disaster — people are dying with no access to penicillin, saline or basic hygienic supplies.

“The average weight loss of Venezuelan citizens is multiple kilos because they only have access to two meager meals per day,” Farnsworth said. “They have no access to dollars. Only the regime, military and security forces have access to dollars and food.”

The once booming city of Caracas now is cited as the most dangerous municipality in the world, worse than Baghdad. When the U.S. and other countries tried to send food aid last week Maduro’s regime blocked the humanitarian aid.

Farnsworth called the situation “the worst humanitarian crisis in recent history” and “a completely unnecessary man-made crisis.”

“If Maduro accepted the humanitarian aid, the regime would have to admit their national project is a failure, which they are not willing to do,” Farnsworth said.

Members of the Maduro regime told Venezuelan citizens that the “people who consumed the humanitarian aid were poisoned and died.”

Farnsworth and Jones agreed that, “The regime fears delegitimization and lack of access to power.”

Farnsworth said that the U.S. should not use force to get rid of Maduro because there is no economic, political or criminal reason to do so. Also, there are no UN or OAS mandates to do so. Under UN guidelines, the United States has no responsibility to protect.

Farnsworth said the fate of the country rests with its military. If the new leader, Juan Guaido, can convince the military to be on his side, the country may have an opportunity to rebuild; but members of the military also live out of fear – they, too, have families to protect from violence and threats and need their jobs to survive.

Juan Guaido is the leader of the National Assembly. He declared himself the interim president of Venezuela on Jan. 23, 2019, claiming that provisions in Venezuela’s constitution justified his action because the corrupt, fraudulent 2018 election of Maduro left the country without a legitimate president.

The U.S., the Lima Group, Britain, Spain, Austria, Sweden, Denmark and others immediately recognized Guaido’s presidency.

Some Latin American and Caribbean nations are refusing to recognize Guaido because many are still getting oil subsidies from Venezuela that are funneled into the bank accounts of political leaders in these nations.

Farnsworth said that for those nations need to “put principle ahead of payments.”

“Petro-diplomacy has led to chaos and has contributed to Venezuela’s economic downfall,” Jones said.

“Oil now is five times more per barrel than under Chavez’s regime, yet poverty is also much more prevalent,” Farnsworth said. “Both factors should not be higher.”

Farnsworth has led the Washington office of the Council of the Americas and the Americas Society since 2003. He is a conference speaker and media commentator and has published articles and opinion pieces in numerous leading newspapers and policy journals.

Farnsworth began his career in Washington with the U.S. Department of State after obtaining a master’s degree in international relations from Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School. He has served in Western Hemisphere Affairs at State, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative and in a three and a half year appointment as the senior advisor to the White House special envoy for the Americas during the Clinton administration.

Farnsworth was managing director of ManattJones Global Strategies, a Washington and Los Angeles-based advisory and strategic consulting group. He also worked in the global public policy division of Bristol-Myers Squibb and in the U.S. Senate with Sam Nunn, D-Georgia, and the U.S. House of Representatives with John Edward Porter, R-Illinois. He also worked briefly at the U.S. Consulate in Johannesburg, South Africa. He has served as: president of the Western Hemisphere Committee of the Greater Washington Board of Trade, a member of the Secretary of State’s Advisory Committee on International Economic Policy and a board member of Princeton in Latin America. In 2016, he was decorated by the king and ambassador of Spain for his work to promote bilateral and regional relations.

The BCFR has been the leading international study group in Alabama since its founding in 1943. Membership in the Birmingham Committee carries with it automatic membership in the American Council on Foreign Relations. Kali McNutt is the chair of the BCFR.

(Original information from the Council of the Americas Venezuela’s Political Standoff Timeline contributed to this report.)

Brandon Moseley is a senior reporter with eight and a half years at Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Facebook. Brandon is a native of Moody, Alabama, a graduate of Auburn University, and a seventh generation Alabamian.

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Health

Fauci calls on governors in states with surging cases to issue mask orders

As COVID-19 deaths in Alabama passed 1,000 on Tuesday, Dr. Anthony Fauci called on governors to issue face mask orders to slow the spread of the virus.

Eddie Burkhalter

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Dr. Anthony Fauci speaks during a video press conference with Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama.

As COVID-19 deaths in Alabama passed 1,000 on Tuesday, a member of the White House’s coronavirus task force called on governors to issue face mask orders to slow the spread of the virus.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a member of the White House’s coronavirus task force, when asked by APR whether he’d like to see governors in states with surging cases institute statewide orders to wear masks, said yes.

“I do believe a statewide mask order is important because there is a variability in people taking seriously or even understanding the benefit of masks,” Fauci said during a press conference, hosted by U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama on Tuesday. “Masks make a difference. It is one of the primary fundamental tools we have.”

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey on June 30 extended her “safer-at-home” order until July 31, but declined to institute any further mandates despite surging new cases and hospitalizations.

Fauci also said that social distancing and the closure of bars are important to communities looking to slow the spread.

“Fundamental things like masking, distancing, washing hands, closing bars — if you do that, I think it will be a giant step toward interfering with the spread in your community,” Fauci said.

At least 1,007 people have died statewide from COVID-19, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health.

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New daily COVID-19 cases in Alabama dipped below 900 for the first time in six days, but just barely, with 888 new cases on Tuesday. Thirty-one percent of the state’s total confirmed cases have come within the last two weeks.

Alabama’s hospitals on Monday were caring for more COVID-19 patients than at any time since the pandemic began.

UAB Hospital had 86 coronavirus patients on Monday, the highest the hospital had seen. Huntsville Hospital had 72 COVID-19 patients on Monday, and the surge in cases prompted the hospital to cancel elective surgeries and convert three surgical floors to COVID-19 care, according to AL.com.

At East Alabama Medical Center in Opelika there were 41 COVID-19 patients on Monday, which was the highest the hospital has seen in weeks and not far from the hospital’s peak of 54 patients on April 11.

The average age of those becoming infected with coronavirus has dropped by 15 years since the beginning of the pandemic, Fauci said, which has lowered the overall death rate due to the virus, as younger people usually fair better, but not if that young person has an underlying medical condition.

“We are now getting multiple examples of young people who are getting sick, getting hospitalized and some of them even requiring intensive care,” Fauci said, adding that even those young people who have coronavirus but are asymptomatic can spread the virus to others, who may be more compromised.

Fauci warned against pointing to the overall declining death rate and becoming lax about coronavirus, and said that “it’s a false narrative to take comfort in a lower rate of death.”

“There’s so many other things that are very dangerous and bad about this virus. Don’t get yourself into false complacency,” Fauci said.

Dr. Don Williamson, president of the Alabama Hospital Association, told APR on Monday that it may take several weeks to learn whether the increasing number of those hospitalized in Alabama will worsen and require ICUs and ventilators, and possibly lead to a rise in deaths.

“We just don’t know yet. We don’t know which way we’re going to go,” Williamson said Monday. “We just know we got a whole lot more cases than we had a month ago, and we’ve got a lot more hospitalizations than we had a month ago.”

Asked about his thoughts on the state of the virus in Alabama, Fauci said that what’s alarming is the slope of the curve of new daily cases.

“When you see a slope that goes up like that you’ve got to be careful that you don’t get into what’s called an exponential phase, where every day it can even double, or more,” Fauci said. “You’re not there yet, so you have an opportunity, a window to get your arms around this, and to prevent it from getting worse.”

Speaking on what’s become the politicization of the wearing of face masks, Fauci said that politicization of any public health matter has negative consequences. President Donald Trump does not wear face masks in public, prompting concern from many that by doing so he’s suggesting to the public that masks aren’t needed. The issue is divided rather sharply along partisan lines.

In a recent Quinnipiac University poll, two-thirds of voters, 67 percent, said Trump should wear a face mask when he is out in public, but while 90 percent of Democrats and 66 percent of independents say the president should wear a mask in public, just 38 percent of Republicans said the same.

“I mean, obviously today, it’s no secret to anybody who lives in the United States that we have a great deal of polarization in our country, unfortunately,” Fauci said. “We hope that changes, but there’s no place for that when you’re making public health recommendations, analysis of data, or any policies that are made. That will always be a detriment to do that.”

 

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Elections

GOP candidate Tommy Tuberville leads Trump “boat parade” in Orange Beach

Brandon Moseley

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Tommy Tuberville participates in a Trump "boat parade." (Contributed)

Senate candidate Tommy Tuberville rode in the lead boat in a “boat parade” on Sunday in Orange Beach, celebrating Independence Day and the launch of President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign.

Hundreds of boats participated in the Trump parade in the Perdido Pass area. WKRG TV estimates that more than 8,000 people joined. Orange Beach and Gulf Shores boats joined boats from Pensacola and Dauphin Island.

Trump supporter and Alabama Republican Executive Committee member Perry Hooper Jr. was also present.

“It was Awesome having Coach Tommy Tuberville on The TRUMP Boat at Orange Beach Alabama,” Hooper said. “Tommy was a Great Coach and he will be a Great US Senator. It’s Great To Be A TRUMP/ TUBERVILLE AMERICAN. Everybody was so Happy cheering for The President and Tommy on! Fun Day!”

Hooper is a former state representative from Montgomery.

Tuberville is a former Auburn University head football coach. The Arkansas native lives in Auburn.

President Donald Trump spoke at Mount Rushmore in South Dakota on Friday.

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“Today we pay tribute to the exceptional lives and extraordinary legacies of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Teddy Roosevelt,” Trump said. “I am here as your president to proclaim before the country and before the world, this monument will never be desecrated, these heroes will never be defamed, their legacy will never ever be destroyed, their achievements will never be forgotten, and Mount Rushmore will stand forever as an eternal tribute to our forefathers and to our freedom.”

Trump accused opponents of trying to dismantle America.

“Make no mistake. This left-wing cultural revolution is designed to overthrow the American Revolution,” Trump alleged. “In so doing they would destroy the very civilization that rescued billions from poverty, disease, violence, and hunger, and that lifted humanity to new heights of achievement, discovery, and progress. To make this possible, they are determined to tear down every statue, symbol, and memory of our national heritage.”

“President Trump has given several good Speeches,” Hooper said. “This Speech was by far his best! It was straight up AWESOME! His speech was all about the Greatness of America! President Trump loves our Country and its great History. President Reagan has given some of the best speeches ever. This speech topped Reagan’s best. As for Perry O. Hooper Jr., I would get in a foxhole and fight for him to the end. God Bless President Donald J. Trump and GOD BLESS THE USA!”

Trump faces a stiff challenge from former Vice President Joe Biden, who is leading in the polling.

Tuberville has been endorsed by Trump in the July 14 Republican primary runoff for U.S. Senate. Tuberville faces former Sen. Jeff Sessions.

 

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Courts

Judge refuses to dismiss Roy Moore lawsuit against Sacha Baron Cohen

A federal judge last week refused to dismiss a lawsuit against Sacha Baron Cohen, Showtime and CBS filed by former Senate candidate Roy Moore.

Brandon Moseley

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Roy Moore, left, and Sacha Baron Cohen, right, on Cohen's now-canceled show "Who Is America?" (Showtime/YouTube)

Federal Judge Andrew Carter last week refused to dismiss a lawsuit against Sacha Baron Cohen, Showtime and CBS. The lawsuit was filed by former U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore and his wife Kayla Moore, who claim that Cohen slandered Moore as a pedophile on his now-canceled show “Who is America?”

After the judge denied Cohen’s request to dismiss the $95 million lawsuit, the case will now proceed to discovery, where the Moores announced that they intend to take the depositions of and obtain evidence from Cohen and other relevant individuals at Showtime, CBS and their related entities.

The Moores had put the defendants on notice that if they aired the offensive and defamatory interview by Cohen, who posed in disguise as an Israeli Mossad agent, that they would be sued for large damages. When the defendants did not heed the warning and aired the interview anyway, the Moores brought their lawsuit.

The case is being litigated in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York after it was transferred over a year ago from a federal court in Washington D.C.

“We are gratified that the Court is allowing the Moores’ case to go forward and we look forward to putting Cohen and the other defendants under oath,” said Larry Klayman, founder of Judicial Watch and Freedom Watch, and a former federal prosecutor. “The alleged defamation of Chief Justice Moore was malicious and despicable and it is time that a jury of the parties’ peers allow justice to be done. Great harm has been caused to my clients, which must be addressed and remedied.”

In 2017, Moore, the former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme court, was the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate. The Washington Post released an investigation that alleged Moore sexually abused young women in the 1970s. Moore denied the accusations.

 

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Elections

Brooks encourages Americans to celebrate independence, foundational principles

Brandon Moseley

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Congressman Mo Brooks

Congressman Mo Brooks, R-Huntsville, urged Americans to celebrate the Fourth of July, our independence, and the foundational principles that have made America the greatest nation in world.

“On July 4th, 1776, America’s Founding Fathers launched history’s greatest experiment,” Brooks said. “The Founders sought to answer a question no one had asked before. Can a nation prosper under a system of self-government based on freedom and liberty? The answer, YES!”

“Soviet Union & German style communism & socialism have been relegated to the dustbin of history, leaving tens of millions dead in their wake,” Brooks continued. “In contrast, America’s experiment with liberty and freedom has excelled, making us the greatest nation in history. Today, America faces its greatest internal threat in history, excepting the Civil War. Evil revisionism and dangerous doctrines are being advanced by those who wish to undermine and suppress individual freedom and liberty and replace them with government dictates and Communist China-style slavery, where the masses are forced to work for the financial benefit of elitist party members. I urge all American patriots to remember the sacrifices of our ancestors that have combined to give us the United States Constitution and Bill of Rights. Further, I urge patriotic Americans to fully use and exercise all our rights and powers to protect the foundational principles that have combined to make Americans who we are. Too many Americans are not taught or have forgotten that freedom and liberty are our rallying cry. It’s important to remember freedom, liberty, and our other foundational principles this Independence Day.”

“Over a million Americans have fought and died to bless us with liberty and freedom,” Brooks concluded. “I ask that we, on July 4th, remember their sacrifice and dedicate our efforts to their memory and the freedom and liberty we are so fortunate to enjoy.”

President Donald Trump spoke on Mount Rushmore Friday.

“Today we pay tribute to the exceptional lives and extraordinary legacies of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Teddy Roosevelt,” Trump said. “I am here as your president to proclaim before the country and before the world, this monument will never be desecrated, these heroes will never be defamed, their legacy will never ever be destroyed, their achievements will never be forgotten, and Mount Rushmore will stand forever as an eternal tribute to our forefathers and to our freedom.”

“Our founders launched not only a revolution in government, but a revolution in the pursuit of justice, equality, liberty, and prosperity,” the president continued. “No nation has done more to advance the human condition than the United States of America and no people have done more to promote human progress than the citizens of our great nation. It was all made possible by the courage of 56 patriots who gathered in Philadelphia 244 years ago and signed the Declaration of Independence. They enshrined a divine truth that changed the world forever when they said, “All men are created equal.” These immortal words set in motion the unstoppable march of freedom. Our founders boldly declared that we are all endowed with the same divine rights, given us by our Creator in Heaven, and that which God has given us, we will allow no one ever to take away ever.”

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“1776 represented the culmination of thousands of years of Western civilization and the triumph of not only spirit, but of wisdom, philosophy, and reason,” Trump added. “And yet, as we meet here tonight, there is a growing danger that threatens every blessing our ancestors fought so hard for, struggled, they bled to secure. Our nation is witnessing a merciless campaign to wipe out our history, defame our heroes, erase our values, and indoctrinate our children. Angry mobs are trying to tear down statues of our founders, deface our most sacred memorials, and unleash a wave of violent crime in our cities. Many of these people have no idea why they’re doing this, but some know what they are doing. They think the American people are weak and soft and submissive, but no, the American people are strong and proud and they will not allow our country and all of its values, history, and culture to be taken from them.”

“One of their political weapons is cancel culture, driving people from their jobs, shaming dissenters, and demanding total submission from anyone who disagrees,” Trump continued. “This is the very definition of totalitarianism, and it is completely alien to our culture and to our values and it has absolutely no place in the United States of America. This attack on our liberty, our magnificent liberty must be stopped and it will be stopped very quickly. We will expose this dangerous movement, protect our nation’s children from this radical assault, and preserve our beloved American way of life. In our schools, our newsrooms, even our corporate boardrooms, there is a new far-left fascism that demands absolute allegiance. If you do not speak its language, perform its rituals, recite its mantras, and follow its commandments, then you will be censored, banished, blacklisted, persecuted, and punished. It’s not going to happen to us.”

“Make no mistake. This left-wing cultural revolution is designed to overthrow the American Revolution,” Trump said. “In so doing they would destroy the very civilization that rescued billions from poverty, disease, violence, and hunger, and that lifted humanity to new heights of achievement, discovery, and progress. To make this possible, they are determined to tear down every statue, symbol, and memory of our national heritage.”

Trump is trying to fire up his base headed into the 2020 presidential elections. Brooks represents Alabama’s 5th Congressional District.

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