05.03.2019 Culture

What Just Happened? A Weekly Roundup of Politics

Ann Lewis
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Venezuela has been on rocky political ground for the last few months as President Nicolás

as Maduro loses his grip on the nation with increasing protests surrounding food, electricity, and medicine shortages. Maduro was re-elected for a second six-year term in May of 2018 in an election widely regarded as rigged. After years of governmental crackdowns on opposition factions, it surprised few when reports of bribery, coercion, and election fraud ran rampant.

Coupled with a staggering expected inflation rate of ten million percent for 2019 and it’s safe to say the people of Venezuela are in desperate straits. Grocery store shelves are empty, lines at state-run hospitals are never-ending, and even if one gets to a doctor, the likelihood that they will have the medicine needed to treat their patients is very low. Horrific reports of the torture and abuse of over 30 military members and their families has also surfaced. More than three million citizens have fled the nation in the past five years.

Just a few short years ago, Venezuela was the wealthiest nation in the region. The late President Hugo Chávez and current President Maduro are likely to blame for rampant corruption within the government and a squandering of resources that supported the population. So when the new face and newly elected opposition party leader, Juan Guaidó, showed up on the national stage anointing himself as the new interim leader of the nation, people paid attention. He plans to organize an interim government to stabilize the nation as countless protests in Carcass, the capital, have fueled tensions. Guaidó has called for the military to join the opposition in ousting Maduro and has been backed by several nation-states including the US, Canada, Argentina, Costa Rica, and Guatemala. Time will tell what happens, but the only thing for certain is while men in power battle for the throne, the people of Venezuela are withering.

Speaking of men in power, the Pentagon released the 2018 sexual assault report in the US Armed Forces this week, and the numbers are deplorable. Over 10% of female Marines reported being sexually assaulted in 2018! The Pentagon report also states that only 30% of those who are assaulted across all of the Armed Services (which includes the Army, Navy, National Guard, the Marine Corp., and the Air Force) actually reported it, but that 24% of all women in active military positions have reported being sexually harassed. Reports of sexual misconduct in the military skyrocketed up 38% from the 2016 findings, which can mean one of two things… one, people are more comfortable reporting abuse (thank you #MeToo), or there’s a lot more of it going on.

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Senator Martha McSally (R-AZ) have been focused on this issue for years. Senator McSally recently disclosed that she had been raped while serving the nation in the Air Force. “Almost six years after the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs said the Pentagon was on the clock to solve this problem, sexual assaults continue to increase dramatically while the number of cases going to trial goes down,” Gillibrand said in a statement. “It’s time for Congress to step up and bring accountability where the Department of Defense has repeatedly failed.”

Senator McSally requested a sexual assault accountability task force for the Armed Services in March. This task force has recommended considering sexual harassment a military crime, which currently is considered a “general offense” and, if it becomes criminalized, will be considered a “stand-alone” crime. This will give the military more tools to hold people accountable and implement preventative measures like character screenings of recruits to understand their “moral center.” It is currently unclear if the Pentagon will need Congressional approval to make these significant changes to the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

Congress was also in the news this week as Attorney General Barr testified before the Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee in a grueling session on Wednesday. He did not make an appearance as was requested on Thursday to sit before the House Judiciary Committee and missed his deadline to produce an unredacted version of the Mueller Report. Needless to say, the Democrats are fuming. A document dated March 27th to Barr from Special Counsel Robert Mueller stated Barr’s summary of the 400+ page report created “public confusion about critical aspects of the results of our investigation.” This is in direct contrast to Barr’s statement to Congress on April 9th stating he was unaware of any unhappiness stemming from the Special Counsel’s office. People are demanding he be held in contempt of Congress.

Jerry Nadler (D-NY), the chairperson of the House Judiciary Committee made this statement, “We will have no choice but to move quickly to hold the Attorney General in contempt if he stalls or fails to negotiate in good faith. But the Attorney General must make a choice. Every one of us must make the same choice. That choice is now an obligation of our office. The choice is simple: We can stand up to this president in defense of the country and the Constitution we love, or we can let the moment pass us by.”

Ann Lewis is an artist, activist, and writer based in Detroit. Her artwork reflects upon social and environmental justice issues.

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