Venezuela: The incredible legacy of an experiment with socialism

John Moody

Here’s the legacy of Venezuela’s experiment with socialism: daily riots and protests that have resulted in at least 40 deaths in recent weeks at the hands of government security forces. Inflation estimated at 720 percent. Shortages of basic foods and medicines. An average weight loss among Venezuelans of 19 pounds, which had nothing to do with the South Beach diet. Newborn babies deposited in dresser drawers because hospitals have no beds. Zoo animals hunted down and butchered for food by the ravenous population.

Finally, this week, and only at the urging of the United States, the United Nations is considering the desperate situation in what was once South America’s most prosperous country, before socialism sank its fangs in, sucking the economy dry.

President Nicholas Maduro, a political stooge who assumed power after the death of the charismatic but egomaniacal Hugo Chavez, was forced earlier this year to ask the U.N. for emergency aid, an admission of his inability to keep his people fed and secure. And to show what a powerful institution it is, the U.N. took away Venezuela’s vote in the General Assembly because it could not pay its dues. Maduro must have been quaking with fear. When the Organization of American States criticized Maduro’s response to the unrest, he took decisive action – he pulled Venezuela out of the OAS.

Maduro’s response has been like that of the Emperor with no clothes. He blames his opponents for inciting violence. This from the man who – for now anyway – control the armed forces. The demonstrators have taken to hurling glass jars filled with feces, coined “poopatov cocktails”, at the troops. Not exactly a strategic balance of force.

A human rights monitoring group, Foro Penal, alleges that, perhaps in retaliation, political detainees in the western part of the country are forced to eat spaghetti with a sauce made of human waste.

The near-daily riots have turned deadly in recent weeks, as Maduro’s forces, propped up by Cuban security, resort to live ammunition against their fellow citizens. As my colleague at the Wall Street Journal Anatoly Kurmanaev reported this week from Caracas, the police are weary of killing their neighbors. Their support for Maduro – the only reason he is still in power – diminishes with each deadly demonstration.

“A lot of Venezuelans have become radicalized because they’re desperate,” Kurmanaev told me. “There’s no going back to how things were two months ago. Something is going to change. This is the final chapter of Venezuelan history, one way or another. Either Maduro will cement his rule by dictatorship, or there’ll be some kind of transitional government.  It can’t continue like this.”

For many aggrieved Venezuelans, that choice is an easy one.

John Moody is Executive Vice President, Executive Editor for Fox News. A former Rome bureau chief for Time magazine, he is the author of four books including “Pope John Paul II : Biography.

Rosenstein on Comey memo: ‘I wrote it. I believe it. I stand by it.’

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein firmly stood by the memo he wrote that outlined James Comey’s offenses – and later was cited by the White House to support President Trump’s decision to fire the FBI director – during briefings with Capitol Hill lawmakers, according to remarks obtained by Fox News.

“I wrote it. I believe it. I stand by it,” he said, according to the opening statement provided by senior Justice Department officials. He maintained that Comey’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email probe was “wrong and unfair.”

The statement was first delivered to Senate lawmakers on Thursday and to House lawmakers during a similar briefing on Friday.

Democratic lawmakers have claimed ever since Comey’s firing that Rosenstein’s memo was used as a mere pretext to can the director. Senators also said after the opening briefing that Rosenstein revealed he knew Comey was going to be removed before penning the Comey memo. This appeared to challenge initial White House statements citing that memo as rationale for the firing – though Trump has acknowledged he planned to fire Comey regardless of any recommendation.

But Rosenstein’s full statement provides a robust defense of his own actions, and a more complex and nuanced timeline leading up to Comey’s ouster.

He reiterated his judgments from the May 9 memo, saying Comey mishandled the Clinton email investigation. Rosenstein said Comey “usurped” the authority of the Justice Department, first with his July 2016 press conference outlining Clinton’s alleged offenses and recommending no charges, and second with his October call to notify Congress the probe was being reopened.

Rosenstein said he also discussed “the need for new leadership at the FBI” with Jeff Sessions – then a senator, now the attorney general – last winter.

“Among the concerns that I recall were to restore the credibility of the FBI, respect the established authority of the Department of Justice, limit public statements and eliminate leaks,” he said.

He said he learned on May 8 that Trump intended to remove Comey and “sought my advice and input.”

He said in the statement, “Notwithstanding my personal affection for Director Comey, I thought it was appropriate to seek a new leader.” Rosenstein said he then wrote the memo summarizing his “longstanding concerns” with Comey.

“I chose the issues to include in my memorandum,” he said, adding it was reviewed by a senior career attorney.

The statement challenges theories that Rosenstein was somehow put up to writing the memo to justify Trump’s decision. At the same time, the timeline he provided makes clear that Rosenstein did not initiate the process in the final phase – as senators said after Thursday’s briefing.

Some lawmakers expressed concern after Friday’s briefing that the session caused more confusion.

Rep. Donald Norcross, D-N.J., complained that while Rosenstein made bold statements on the memo, he refused to take questions on it. But lawmakers generally have voiced confidence in Rosenstein’s newly appointed special counsel to lead the Russia meddling investigation, Robert Mueller.

“Mueller’s a pro,” Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., said Friday.

Some Democrats have alleged that Trump fired Comey in order to blunt the Russia probe. Allegations also surfaced this week that Trump pressured Comey to end the investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

The president has defended the firing of Comey as justified and denied pressuring him to end the Flynn probe. But lawmakers indicated after the Rosenstein briefings that the special counsel-led probe will look at all these factors.

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., said the investigation will include questions regarding possible “misconduct” or “interference.” He said Rosenstein made clear that Mueller would have the freedom take the probe wherever he needs.

“There were questions well outside the Russian scope in there,” Issa said.

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said Mueller would have “complete discretion to take the investigation” where it needs to go.

On Thursday, Trump said “there was no collusion between, certainly, myself and my campaign – but I can only speak for myself – and the Russians – zero.”

Asked if he pressed Comey to drop the Flynn investigation, Trump said, “No, no. Next question.”

‘Islamic State’ launches deadly attack in central Syria

“Islamic State” militants have killed dozens of people, including civilians, in an offensive on two government-controlled villages in Syria. Many of the victims were reportedly beheaded and mutilated.

Syrien IS Offensive auf Deir el-Zour ARCHIV (picture alliance/ZUMA Press/Handout)

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The large-scale attack targeted the settlements of Aqareb al-Safiyeh and Al-Mabujeh early on Thursday, near the last Damascus-controlled road connecting Aleppo with other parts of Syria. The “Islamic State” (IS) jihadists regard most of the residents in the area as infidels due to the villagers’ affiliation with the small Ismaili branch of Shiite Islam.

Reports offered varying death tolls for the attack. The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights saying that 52 people were killed, including at least 15 civilians and 27 pro-government fighters. Another 10 bodies were not immediately identified.

“Dozens of people are missing, but it is not clear if they were kidnapped by Daesh,” said the Observatory’s chief, Rami Abdurrahman, using an Arabic acronym for the group. He added that IS deployed snipers on the roofs of some buildings in Aqareb al- Safiyeh.

The head of the National Hospital in Salamiyeh, Dr. Noufal Safar, also said that his hospital received 52 bodies, including 11 women and 17 children. Some of them were beheaded or had missing limbs, he added.

“They were brought with all forms of deformations but most of them appear to have died as a result of gunfire,” he told the AP news agency. A separate source in the hospital said 120 people were wounded.

Watch video01:22

US-backed Kurdish forces capture IS town

The state-controlled SANA news agency said that 20 civilians were killed in Aqarab al-Safiyeh, but did not mention the village of Al-Mabujeh. It also reported that most of the victims were beheaded and mutilated.

‘IS’ still packs a punch

The Observatory’s director, Abdel Rahman, said that IS lost 15 fighters of its own. According to the watchdog, the militia has seized control of Aqareb al-Safiyeh and parts of Al-Mabujeh. The Observatory also said clashes were still ongoing in the area.

“Despite the arrival of reinforcements, government forces have been unable to repel the attack so far,” Rahman told the AFP news agency.

However, SANA reported that pro-government fighters pushed back the ‘IS’ attack in the central Hama province.

The area is divided between the government forces, ‘IS’, and other rebels factions. While the jihadist militia has been losing ground to Kurdish and government forces, backed by both Western and Russian military jets, ‘IS’ still occasionally launches surprise attacks on government-held areas.

IS fighters attacked the village of Al-Mabujeh in 2015, executing at least 37 civilians.

dj/rt (AFP, Reuters, AP)

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EU Parliament condemns Israeli settlements

The European Parliament has denounced Israel’s latest settlement push and announced an EU peace initiative. An Israeli group says it is the first time the EU has mentioned alleged Palestinian funding of terrorism.

Symbolbild Israel Siedlungen im Westjordanland (picture-alliance/newscom/D. Hill)

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Israel approves first new West Bank settlement in two decades

Members of the European Parliament on Thursday attacked Israel’s settlement policy, particularly a law that retroactively legalized Jewish settlements on privately owned Palestinian land.

A “two-state solution on the basis of the 1967 borders, with Jerusalem as the capital of both states” was the only viable option for lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians, MEPs said in a resolution.

The resolution called for Israel to immediately stop construction of new settlements as they were “illegal under international law, undermine the two-state solution, and constitute a major obstacle to peace efforts.”

The resolution condemned all acts of violence and terrorism and all acts of provocation and incitement, including on Israelis.

MEPs signaled their intention to launch a new EU peace initiative to focusing on the two-state solution and to achieve concrete results within a set period.

Five major parliamentary groups voted in favor of the resolution, which singled out the so-called regularization law approved by Israel’s parliament in February.

The Brussels-based American Jewish Committee Transatlantic Institute commended the EU’s resolution, saying previous resolutions lacked balance.

“While we would have wished for even clearer language, we appreciate the important step Parliament has taken to end the counterproductive habit of sheltering the Palestinians from legitimate criticism,” said Director Daniel Schwammenthal.

“By unflinchingly addressing also the Palestinians’ own shortcomings that prevent the creation of an independent Palestinian state – such as incitement, terror, corruption, lack of rule of law, internal division – the EU can play a truly constructive role in the peace process.”

His comments referred to language in the resolution he interpreted as an “indirect condemnation of the Palestinian Authority for paying significant salaries to Palestinian terrorists in Israeli prisons.”

About 600,000 Israeli settlers live in more than 200 settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

In December, the Israeli government lashed out over a UN Security Council resolution that condemned Israeli settlement building in the Palestinian Territories and called on Israel to stop immediately.

aw/rt (AFP, dpa)

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Reports: British Prime Minister Theresa May plans migration curbs

Non-EU migrants could find it harder to enter Britain under policies outlined in a pre-election manifesto drafted by the prime minister’s Conservatives. The document is being published ahead of a June 8 snap election.

Großbritannien Theresa May startet ihre Wahlkampagne (Reuters/P. Noble)

British Prime Minister Theresa May on Thursday urged voters to “strengthen my hand” in Brexit talks, as she unveiled the Conservative manifesto. May reiterated that Britain would be leaving the European single market and the customs union and warned of “tricky battles” over the next two years as the country negotiates its departure from the EU.

“Every vote for me and my team will strengthen my hand in the negotiations to come,” May said at the launch in Halifax in northern England, calling it “a manifesto to see us through Brexit and beyond.”

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“If we fail, the consequences for Britain and for the economic security of ordinary working people will be dire. If we succeed, the opportunities ahead of us are great,” May said, as dozens of anti-austerity campaigners and trade unionists rallied outside.

“It is time to put the old tribal politics behind us and to come together in the national interest, united in our desire to make a success of Brexit,” May said.

Watch video02:48

Coventry’s Brexit woes

Mainstream British media said on Wednesday that May would pitch immigration strictures and trim certain welfare benefits for pensioners when she unveiled her pledges later Thursday for Britain’s snap June 8 election.

Employers seeking non-EU workers for skilled jobs would face a doubling of the so-called skills charge and migrant workers would be asked to pay more into the National Health Service, according to the BBC.

The extra revenue gathered would flow into skills training for British workers.

The skills charge sees companies fined when they employ migrants from outside the EU.

The BBC said May is also planning to implement a reduction of immigration from EU nations, once Britain has finalized its divorce from the bloc.

That amounted to the “end of freedom of movement, ” a key tenet of open-borders Europe, said the BBC, quoting an unnamed source.

Addressing a G20 trade union meeting in Berlin on Wednesday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned Britain that ending free movement of people “will have its price.”

Merkel said London should not attempt to stipulate “there’s a cap of 100,000 or 200,000 EU citizens, more aren’t allowed into Britain – perhaps researchers as well, but no others, please.”

May outlines other pledges

May said she would also tighten laws on company takeovers and would ensure any foreign group buying important infrastructure did not undermine security or essential services if she wins next month’s election.

“We will require bidders to be clear about their intentions from the outset of the bid process; that all promises and undertakings made in the course of takeover bids can be legally enforced afterwards; and that the government can require a bid to be paused to allow greater scrutiny,” the Conservative Party said in its election policy document on Thursday.

May also said that when the current triple lock system governing the rates of state pensions expires in 2020, a new double lock system will be introduced instead. She said the double lock would mean pensions would rise in line with earnings or inflation, whichever was highest.

May said now was not the time for another Scottish independence referendum and one should not take place until the Brexit process has played out.

May added that she would increase spending on the state-run National Health Service by at least 8 billion pounds over the next five years and hike the migrant health surcharge. The Conservative election policy document also said it would prioritize the issue of the 140,000 nationals from other EU countries who work in the health system.

Writing in The Sun newspaper, May said she was “determined to cut the cost of living for ordinary working families, keep taxes low and to intervene when markets are not working as they should.”

The Telegraph newspaper said May would also stick to the conservative government’s pledge to cut the corporation tax to 17 percent by 2020.

People who currently receive free care in their home would be charged more, and funding for universal free school lunches for young children would be diverted to other educational tasks.

The ruling Conservative Party received 4.1 million pounds ($5.35 million) of donations in the first week of the campaign, the watchdog Electoral Commission said on Thursday. That compares to 2.7 million pounds for the main opposition Labour Party.

May heads into the election against the opposition center-left Labour with opinion surveys indicating that she could win by a landslide.

ipj/gsw (AFP, Reuters, AP)

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US air strikes pound pro-Assad forces in Syria

The U.S. military launched fresh air strikes against pro-Assad troops in Syria after they ignored repeated warnings from both coalition and Russian forces, officials told Fox News Thursday.

The Syrian forces, in several vehicles including at least one tank, were near the Jordanian border and deemed a threat to coalition partners on the ground, a Pentagon official said. They were repeatedly ordered to stop their advance toward a de-escalation zone, but ignored the warning, officials said.

“The coalition commander assessed the threat and after shows of force didn’t stop the regime forces and those forces refused to move out of the deconfliction zone, the commander on the ground called for the air strike as a matter of force protection,” a senior U.S. defense official told Fox News.

Another military source told The Associated Press it appeared the Syrian forces were poised to attack an area that included U.S. advisers.

“They were building a fighting position” about 55 kilometers from a U.S.-coalition base close to At Tanf, where advisers train members of the Syrian Democratic Forces and Syrian Arab Coalition, the second official said.

Defense Secretary James Mattis briefly addressed the strikes Thursday during a meeting with Swedish Defense minister Peter Hultqvist.

“We’re not increasing our role in the Syrian civil war but we will defend our troops, and that is a coalition element made up of more than just U.S. troops, and so we’ll defend ourselves,” Mattis said. “If people take aggressive steps against us, and that’s been a going in, a policy of ours for a long time.”

The U.S. and Russia, which is allied with the pro-Assad forces, have established buffer zones around their separate areas of operation to avoid collateral damage. Each side has agreed to notify the other if the deploy forces within the buffer zones.

In this case, an official told The Associated Press, Russia tried multiple times to contact the Syrian forces. It was at that point that U.S. and coalition jets escalated their warnings.

“We conducted a show of force. We conducted warning shots. All to no avail,” the official said.

The American strikes were the first against Assad positions since the Pentagon rained 57 Tomahawk missiles on the Shayrat air base near Homs. But the strikes confirmed Thursday were believed to be the first targeting Syrian personnel.

The attack on forces does not reflect an escalation, the Pentagon official said.

“There is no change in policy,” the official said.

Fox News’ Jennifer Griffin contributed to this report.

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