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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.

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

“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.

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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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Congress

Sewell votes in favor of National Apprenticeship Act

The bill would invest more than $3.5 billion to create nearly one million new apprenticeship opportunities.

Brandon Moseley

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Congresswoman Terri Sewell, D-Alabama

Congresswoman Terri Sewell, D-Alabama, last week voted in favor of the National Apprenticeship Act, legislation to reauthorize the National Apprenticeship Act for the first time since its enactment in 1937.

The new National Apprenticeship Act will create one million new apprenticeship opportunities over the next five years. Registered apprenticeships provide workers with paid, on-the-job training, and are the nation’s most successful federal workforce training program.

“As a long-time supporter of expanding registered apprenticeships, I am thrilled to support today’s legislation to provide 1 million new apprenticeship opportunities over five years,” Sewell said. “Our Nation is facing the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression and estimates show that more than 7 million of the pandemic’s job losses will be permanent. We need bold investments like those in the National Apprenticeship Act to accelerate the economy and help get the American people back to work in stable, good-paying jobs of the future.”

The bill invests more than $3.5 billion over the next five years.

The act establishes a $400 million grant program to support the expansion of apprenticeship opportunities, including pre-apprenticeships and youth apprenticeships, which will increase $100 million annually to reach $800 million by 2025.

The legislation also codifies and streamlines standards for registered apprenticeship, youth apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship programs to make it easier for both apprentices and employers to participate in high-quality apprenticeships and codifies the Department of Labor’s Office of Apprenticeship.

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It directs the office to convene industry leaders, labor organizations, educators and others to expand apprenticeships into new occupations and sectors.

Supporters say the bill could yield $10.6 billion in net benefits to U.S. taxpayers in the form of increased tax revenue and decreased spending on public-assistance programs and unemployment insurance, and that nothing is more effective at breaking the cycle of poverty than a well-paying full-time job.

Sewell is about to enter her sixth term representing Alabama’s 7th Congressional District.

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Health

Nearly 70 percent of Alabama’s pregnancy-related deaths in 2016 were preventable: report

Most pregnancy-related deaths are preventable, with women of color bearing the brunt of Alabama’s maternal mortality crisis.

John H. Glenn

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(STOCK PHOTO)

A report this month by the Alabama Maternal Mortality Review Committee found that nearly 70 percent of pregnancy-associated and pregnancy-related deaths in Alabama recorded in 2016 were preventable.

Mental health and substance use disorders were identified as key contributors in nearly half pregnancy-associated and pregnancy-related deaths. Patient-, family-, system- and provider-related factors were among the most frequently identified factors involved in pregnancy-associated and pregnancy-related deaths, the report found.

The researchers found cardiovascular conditions were the leading underlying causes in pregnancy-related deaths.

“The Medical Association of the State of Alabama commends the Maternal Mortality Review Committee (MMRC) for its diligence in researching the factors that impact maternal deaths, in hopes to mitigate and prevent future maternal deaths,” said Dr. John Meigs, president of the Alabama Medical Association. “It is very concerning for physicians throughout the state that 70 percent of the deaths reviewed by the MMRC were preventable and that women of color are disproportionately affected. Alabama mothers deserve the best medical care that we can offer.”

Preventability of deaths is a key component to maternal mortality reviews, as it is indicative of events that may have been avoided if reasonable changes could be made to the contributing factor or factors. It was found that nearly 70 percent of pregnancy-associated and pregnancy-related deaths were preventable. (VIA ALABAMA MATERNAL MORTALITY REVIEW COMMITTEE/ALABAMA DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC HEALTH)

According to the report, maternal death and pregnancy-related mortality ratios steadily trended upwards between 2012 and 2015 with the largest increase being in 2016.

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Alabama ranks third in the nation for maternal mortality behind only Arkansas and Kentucky.

Data provided by the ADPH Center for Health Statistics reveal that both maternal deaths and pregnancy-related deaths trended upward between 2012 and 2016. Between 2012 and 2015, ratios increased steadily; however, in 2016 there was a marked leap in both ratios. (VIA ALABAMA MATERNAL MORTALITY REVIEW COMMITTEE/ALABAMA DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC HEALTH)

According to the report, expanding Medicaid could help reduce the state’s high number of maternal deaths and pregnancy-related and -associated deaths.

“Expansion of Medicaid was an underlying, yet significant factor which permeated throughout the case reviews,” according to the committee’s report. “Research has shown that in states where Medicaid expansion was adopted, there were reduced maternal mortality rates and positive maternal health outcomes. Based on the findings of the committee’s review, Medicaid program expansion will allow women to receive needed healthcare before, during, and after pregnancies.”

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The MMRC recommends Medicaid expansion up to one year postpartum and improved reimbursement for providers, routine autopsies on maternal deaths, and increased mental health and substance use disorder treatments and services for women.

“Sadly, the Alabama Maternal Mortality Review Committee found that mental health and substance use disorders were identified as key contributors in almost half of pregnancy-associated and pregnancy-related deaths,” said Holly Caraway McCorkle, executive director of the Alabama Council for Behavioral Healthcare. “These deaths are preventable, and Medicaid expansion will offer women who suffer from mental health and substance use disorders life-saving coverage and access to critically needed resources and services before, during and after pregnancies.”

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House

Longtime State Rep. Alvin Holmes has died

Montgomery Fire and Rescue responded to a call at Holmes’ residence on Saturday afternoon, and they found the 81-year-old unresponsive. 

Josh Moon

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State Rep. Alvin Holmes

Alvin Holmes, a 44-year veteran of the Alabama Legislature and one of the state’s most outspoken proponents for racial inclusion, has died. Montgomery Fire and Rescue responded to a call at Holmes’ residence on Saturday afternoon, and they found the 81-year-old unresponsive. 

Over a four-decade-plus career in the Alabama House of Representatives, Holmes was a lightning rod for criticism from his fellow white lawmakers and the white voters who elected them, as he repeatedly challenged the status quo and went headlong at biases and racism that prevented more Black Alabamians from serving in positions of power in the state. 

Holmes was a foot soldier in the Civil Rights Movement in Montgomery and led the charge on getting the Confederate battle flag removed from Alabama’s Capitol building. Holmes fought many of his battles, especially the early ones, by himself, and while to his friends he would admit that standing alone wasn’t always pleasant, he never showed such hesitation outwardly, seeming to revel in the hateful words and personal attacks from other lawmakers and the public. 

Many of the fights Holmes began were later finished in federal courtrooms, and they most often led to further advancements for Black Alabamians.

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National

Governor meets virtually with President-elect Biden, Vice President-elect Harris

Five Democratic governors and five Republican governors attended the virtual meeting.

Eddie Burkhalter

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President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris meet with a bipartisan group of governors. (VIA TRANSITION)

Gov. Kay Ivey on Thursday took part in a virtual meeting with President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris along with other members of the National Governors Association executive committee. 

Other members of the executive committee who attended the meeting were the governors of Arkansas, Colorado, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Mexico, New York, Maryland, Wisconsin and Utah. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is chair of the committee. 

“In her capacity as a member of the National Governors Association Executive Committee, Governor Ivey participated in the NGA Leadership conference call earlier this afternoon,” said Gina Maiola, Ivey’s press secretary, in a statement after the meeting. “During the meeting, Governor Ivey stressed that both parties, as well as the executive and legislative branches, need to come together to extend the deadline for CARES Act funding to allow for maximum flexibility going forward. With the December 31 deadline quickly approaching, the governor underscored to the group that it would be to the benefit of the states to remove that barrier and give us flexibility to continue spending those dollars in the first few months of 2021.” 

Ivey has until Dec. 31 to spend nearly $1 billion in CARES Act funds, and barring any deadline extension, those funds will have to be returned to the federal government. 

More than two weeks after the Nov. 3 election, the Trump administration hasn’t allowed Biden to receive security briefings or updates on Operation Warp Speed and plans to mitigate the COVID-19 pandemic, which is surging in Alabama and across the country. More than 250,000 in the U.S. have died from the disease. 

The Associated Press reported that Biden discussed his concerns over lack of access to that information with the governors during Thursday’s meeting. “Unfortunately, my administration hasn’t been able to get everything we need,” Biden said, according to the AP. 

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AP reported that, according to a readout provided by Ivey’s office, Ivey told participants that both parties in Congress need to come together to provide more coronavirus response funding, especially for families struggling economically because of the pandemic.

Speaking after the meeting Thursday, Biden expressed frustration over the Trump administration blocking him from coronavirus data.

“There is no excuse not to share the data and let us begin to plan because on day one it’s going to take us time,” Biden said during a news conference after the meeting. “If we don’t have access to all this data, it’s going to put us behind the eight ball by a matter of a month or more. And that’s lives. How many would be lost as a consequence?”

Biden also addressed Trump’s refusal to concede, saying that it is “another incident where he will be down in history as being one of the most irresponsible presidents in American history.”

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“It’s hard to fathom how this man thinks. I’m confident he knows he hasn’t won, he’s not going to be able to win and we’re going to be sworn in on January 20. Far from me to question his motive. It’s just outrageous what he’s doing,” Biden said.

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