Archive for September 3rd, 2012

“The existence of the Zionist regime is tantamount to imposition of an unending and unrestrained threat so that none of the nations and Islamic countries of the region and beyond can feel secure from its threat. The closer these nations are to the epicenter of this threat, the more threatened they feel. The people of Palestine are at the very core of such a threat. They have not been able to spend a day with peace of mind for the past sixty years. Three generations of sons and daughters of Palestinians have lived and are presently living under these circumstances. The peoples of Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and the entire Middle East are essentially under similar situation.”

–Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, President of the Islamic Republic of Iran. 


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Syrian security forces have killed a large number of anti-government insurgents in the western and northwestern parts of the country, Press TV reports.

Late on Sunday, the Syrian Army engaged in deadly clashes with foreign-backed insurgents in the flashpoint northwestern city of Aleppo.

The soldiers killed a number of armed men fighting against the government in the old city of Aleppo, which is located 355 kilometers (220 miles) north of Damascus.

The security forces also killed many insurgents in Wadi al-Sayeh district in the western city of Homs late on Sunday.

Earlier in the day, the Syrian Army killed some armed terrorists in clashes in the northwestern city of Idlib.

Syria has been experiencing unrest since March 2011. Damascus says outlaws, saboteurs, and armed terrorists are the driving factor behind the unrest and deadly violence, while the opposition accuses the security forces of being behind the killings.

The Syrian government says that the chaos is being orchestrated from outside the country, and there are reports that a very large number of the armed militants are foreign nationals, mostly from Egypt, Algeria, Saudi Arabia, and Afghanistan.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said on August 1 that the country is engaged in a “crucial and heroic” battle that will determine the destiny of the nation.

Western states have been calling for President Assad to step down. However, Russia and China are strongly opposed to the Western drive to oust Assad.


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Venezuela’s new socialist city Caribia in the evening time

This year, the Venezuelan government will present the concept of its new socialist cities at the International Architecture Biennale in Italy, which is due to be held from August 29th to November 25th. The architectural exposition, which will be hosted in the cultural hub of Venice, was founded in 1980 as a way of promoting the development of urban spaces across the globe.

In a joint effort between the ministry of culture and the ministry of foreign relations, the Venezuelan government’s contribution to this international celebration of architecture will focus on the Chavez administration’s “great housing mission,” which aims to construct 3 million “dignified” houses before 2017 with the help of organised communities. The exposé will be called “the socializing city vs. the alienating city” and will be presented by national architect and artist Domenico Silvestro.

According to Silvestro, the presentation is aimed at exploring the “home” as the nucleus of social transformation, the urban reality of Venezuela in the 21st century and the solutions that the Venezuelan government has used to solve the housing problem in Venezuela.

The artist has used sketches and paintings in an attempt to depict the lived experiences of the government’s new housing mission, as well as audiovisual testimonies from families who have already received their houses as part of the scheme. These testimonies also feature recordings from families who helped to build the houses, in an attempt to explore the individual and collective experience of constructing your own home and then later living in it.

“The piece will depict the solutions that the State has been implementing to resolve the housing deficit in the poorest and most vulnerable areas of society. It’s a presentation which explores the human and essential dream of having a dignified home,” said Silvestro.

The Venezuelan presentation has been celebrated as an examination of the social and human component of architecture which brings it to life, yet it is also an exposé which asks questions and poses solutions; it reflects the ongoing creation of a new kind of socially inclusive architecture, both in construction and design, that is currently being promoted by the Venezuelan government.

Inside the socializing city

So what is it exactly that makes Venezuela’s new communal cities a socializing experience? How different are they to the barrios in the country’s cities, which are all too often described as dens of inequity, violence and poverty by the Western press, with little respect for the inhabitants who live there and in fact, constructed them?

It is true that for decades Venezuela’s barrios have been sites of social, economic and cultural exclusion; yet it is undeniable that the houses and communities which welcome you at Caracas airport and span all the way into the city have a certain charm.

The millions of brightly coloured homes built haphazardly on top of one another, with absolutely no regard for the rules of town planning or even gravity, are a vibrant testament to human resilience and creativity. It is unsurprising that they have been described as symbols of anti-capitalism, and there is certainly something subversive in their asymmetrical and unregulated design.

The buzz of barrio life on the ground can be felt right up in the hilltops, sometimes a 25 minute jeep ride away, and there is always music, usually salsa, being played. The mountain air is a surprising and refreshing change from the smog which engulfs the centre of Caracas, and some people even raise chickens in their makeshift courtyards.

It is the same atmosphere inside. The design of the houses, which traverse numerous levels and are a labyrinth of stairs and building blocks, means that you have to pass the entrances to numerous homes before you reach your own. This set-up promotes a certain kind of cooperation and interaction inside the home; community meetings and politics become topics which are discussed on doorsteps as you make your way to your front door.

Yet it is less easy to construct this experience outside on the street. The lack of infrastructure, communal spaces, and the very real, albeit exaggerated, violence in the barrio, are all elements which impede the construction of communal life.

Walking around Venezuela’s new socialist city Caribia in the evening time, the barrio feels as if it were a million miles away. For a start, children are still out playing in the street or in the various communal spaces at 7 o’clock at night, even though it is dark. There are both stairs and ramps for disabled access, communal squares which are lit up at night and there is no rubbish in the street. People are watering the grass and trees and there is a well-attended communal meeting on the local economy and transport being held in the community primary school. It is hard to imagine how the BBC managed to qualify these cities as “ghettoes” earlier in the year.

Speaking to residents in the area, I was told that each family pays about 120 Bolivar (US$28) for the houses, to which they hold the titles. In Caracas, just half an hour away, you would be lucky to rent a place for less than 2000 Bolivar (US$465).

“Here, we all work together to keep the city looking nice, on the other hand in the barrio, you’re just looking after yourself, making sure that your house looks nice, and maybe your neighbour can’t do that because they have less income than you… there was more poverty there,” said Francis Yanis, 20, a worker in the local state-run bakery.

This response, along with wide eyed astonishment, was typical of the answers I received when I asked; “so, is Caribia really different from where you used to live?”.

“No way! There is a huge difference! Look, we used to live in a huge barrio, the kids didn’t have squares, they didn’t have anywhere to play or entertain themselves. Here they have parks and squares, or there is the sports pitch,” commented José Villa Suda Cari.

“Here you can walk around and there is always someone about, in the barrio, who are you gonna ask? You live there isolated, in your little street with your family and that’s it. Here you interact with all the people, it’s more social, you get me?” he continued.

José has been living in Caribia for a year now and his sentiments appear to be shared by the wider community.

The local kids I asked, including Jesus Lugo, 10, also seemed to agree. “It’s just better,” he said, “we have parks here.” “We’re safer,” added his friend, Evenso Villa, also 10.

In a conversation with Consuela “Tita” Manzanilla, 35, and Eddy “La Negra” Mata, 33, I was told that in Caribia there are currently 4 communal councils in operation, and that they are hoping to form a commune. Consuela believed that life in the new city had allowed residents to build a true expression of communal self-government.

“We’re organized, because there are projects. For instance, the president said we were going to build a city and develop community projects, and that’s what we are doing,” she said.

Eddy, on the other hand, noted that the workers building the houses were labouring “night and day,” to get them finished, “because they are working for the revolution,” added Consuela. They also noted that government functionaries came to the city to train people as part of the State’s work and knowledge mission; a project aimed at eliminating unemployment. Both women thought that having men and women who both lived and worked in the city increased community cohesion.

To conclude our conversation, I asked Consuela and Eddy what word they would use to describe the socialist city. “Love,” replied Consuela. Eddy went with “co-existence”.

It might be difficult for Silvestro to capture these sentiments in the Venezuelan exposé in Venice, or even to describe them to a European audience, but it is understandable why he wants to try. As Consuela told me, “it’s like an example”.

An edited version of this article was published in Correo del Orinoco International

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What has the Labor Movement done?

Something to think about on labor day.

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Ray Bradbury: Dystopian Prophet

…it is worth pausing, on the occasion of Ray Bradbury’s death, to notice how uncannily accurate was his vision of the numb, cruel future we now inhabit.

Mr. Bradbury’s most famous novel, “Fahrenheit 451,” features wall-size television screens that are the centerpieces of “parlors” where people spend their evenings watching interactive soaps and vicious slapstick, live police chases and true-crime dramatizations that invite viewers to help catch the criminals. People wear “seashell” transistor radios that fit into their ears. Note the perversion of quaint terms like “parlor” and “seashell,” harking back to bygone days and vanished places, where people might visit with their neighbors or listen for the sound of the sea in a chambered nautilus.

Mr. Bradbury didn’t just extrapolate the evolution of gadgetry; he foresaw how it would stunt and deform our psyches. “It’s easy to say the wrong thing on telephones; the telephone changes your meaning on you,” says the protagonist of the prophetic short story “The Murderer.” “First thing you know, you’ve made an enemy.”

Anyone who’s had his intended tone flattened out or irony deleted by e-mail and had to explain himself knows what he means. The character complains that he’s relentlessly pestered with calls from friends and employers, salesmen and pollsters, people calling simply because they can. Mr. Bradbury’s vision of “tired commuters with their wrist radios, talking to their wives, saying, ‘Now I’m at Forty-third, now I’m at Forty-fourth, here I am at Forty-ninth, now turning at Sixty-first” has gone from science-fiction satire to dreary realism.

“It was all so enchanting at first,” muses our protagonist. “They were almost toys, to be played with, but the people got too involved, went too far, and got wrapped up in a pattern of social behavior and couldn’t get out, couldn’t admit they were in, even.”

Most of all, Mr. Bradbury knew how the future would feel: louder, faster, stupider, meaner, increasingly inane and violent. Collective cultural amnesia, anhedonia, isolation. The hysterical censoriousness of political correctness. Teenagers killing one another for kicks. Grown-ups reading comic books. A postliterate populace.I remember the newspapers dying like huge moths,” says the fire captain in “Fahrenheit,” written in 1953. “No one wanted them back. No one missed them.” Civilization drowned out and obliterated by electronic chatter. The book’s protagonist, Guy Montag, secretly trying to memorize the Book of Ecclesiastes on a train, finally leaps up screaming, maddened by an incessant jingle for “Denham’s Dentifrice.” A man is arrested for walking on a residential street. Everyone locked indoors at night, immersed in the social lives of imaginary friends and families on TV, while the government bombs someone on the other side of the planet. Does any of this sound familiar? […]

It’s often been remarked that for a science-fiction writer, Mr. Bradbury was something of a Luddite — anti-technology, anti-modern, even anti-intellectual.


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Russian President Putin has ordered top state officials to create the conditions for breakthroughs in the defense industry similar to those achieved by the Soviet Union in the 1930s.

Speaking at a session of the Security Council – Russia’s top body for coordination of efforts of various state structures – Putin said that the country needs to renew its industrial assets and achieve a major modernization of the entire arms industry.

Over the past 30 years, the Russian defense industry has missed several opportunities for modernization, Putin said: “Now we have to catch up.”

“In essence, we should make a breakthrough in the modernization of our defense economy, like the one that happened in the thirties in the last century,” he said, adding that the country needs to increase advances in the research and engineering spheres in order to produce new types of weapons.

Putin also announced that prices for Russian-made weapons would now be determined by the government, under the personal direction of Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. All arms-producing companies will undergo efficiency checks in the near future, he said.

Putin told security officials that other Russian companies could use foreign technologies in their wares, but it was unacceptable for Russia to manufacture arms from foreign-made parts.

The Russian President also said that the country would continue to miss its targeted quotas if authorities do not set up a method to centralize production orders: “This happened at one of the conferences in the end of last year and it happened again in the beginning of this year. I asked the responsible structures to think about creating an effective control mechanism and I have not received any suggestions so far.”

Putin has made an increase in defense spending one of his principal priorities, despite warnings by economists that growing military expenditures could undermine the country’s budget balance. State defense expenditures for 2012 are estimated at 677 billion rubles (about $21 billion).

Between 2011 and 2020, the Russian Defense Ministry plans to upgrade 70 percent of its weapons to new models, focusing on modern precision systems. Russia plans to spend 23 trillion roubles (about $718 billion) in this endeavor.

At the end of 2011, Putin ordered the creation of the governmental post of deputy Prime Minister for the defense industry. He appointed Russia’s envoy to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, to this position.


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