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Collapse: Venezuelan oil workers voting … with their feet

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Nicolas Maduro has claimed the state-owned oil company PDVSA as an example of “maximum socialist efficiency.” Its production trends tell a much different story, but Reuters notices another kind of output that portends even more economic disaster for Venezuela. Working conditions have deteriorated to the point where workers have lined up to quit, only to be told that their resignations won’t be accepted:

What’s going on is that thousands of oil workers are fleeing the state-run oil firm under the watch of its new military commander, who has quickly alienated the firm’s embattled upper echelon and its rank-and-file, according to union leaders, a half-dozen current PDVSA workers, a dozen former PDVSA workers and a half-dozen executives at foreign companies operating in Venezuela.

Some PDVSA offices now have lines outside with dozens of workers waiting to quit. In at least one administrative office in Zulia state, human resources staff quit processing out the quitters, hanging a sign, “we do not accept resignations,” an oil worker there told Reuters.

Official workforce statistics have become a closely guarded secret, but a dozen sources told Reuters that many thousands of workers had quit so far this year – an acceleration of an already troubling outflow last year.

About 25,000 workers resigned between the start of January 2017 and the end of January 2018, said union leader and government critic Ivan Freites, citing internal company data. That figure comes out of a workforce last officially reported by PDVSA at 146,000 in 2016.

The exodus flows from every level of PDVSA, but it’s the educated flight that might matter most in the long run. Professionals at PDVSA no longer earn enough to feed their families, but they also have skills and knowledge that will allow them to flee to other countries in South America and start over.  The Venezuelan education system is no longer capable of producing professionals; in a country that can no longer feed itself, baccalaureate degrees are a low priority, let alone doctorates in engineering and law.

The flight of workers at other levels present more acute issues, and not just in production. Without enough people to service the equipment, the job’s getting more dangerous too:

Jobs at PDVSA were once coveted for their generous salaries and benefits, including cheap credit for housing. Now, many PDVSA workers can’t feed their families on wages that amount to a handful of U.S. dollars a month. …

In the Orinoco Belt, some drilling rigs are working only intermittently for lack of crews, said two sources there. In PDVSA’s refineries, several small fires have broken out because there are no longer enough supervisors, two sources in the northern Paraguana peninsula said. Lack of personnel in export terminals have forced some ports to cut back working hours, according to two shippers and one trader.

One would think under these circumstances that Maduro might try to bolster morale within PDVSA. And he’s tried, in the usual dictatorial beatings-will-continue manner:

Maduro has overseen the arrest of dozens of high-level PDVSA executives since late last year, sometimes at the Caracas headquarters as shocked employees looked on. Workers now feel watched by supervisors and are loathe to make any business decision out of fear they will later be accused of corruption, the sources said.

This, of course, is straight out of F. A. Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom. Socialism and its central command of a national economy create impossible economic contradictions. When failure inevitably results, the socialists in charge cannot admit that socialism itself is the problem, so they accuse others of corruption or incompetence and find ever-more-ruthless replacements to solve the problem. It’s not a coincidence that the man running PDVSA is a major general who had been previously a housing minister for Maduro, and it’s also no coincidence that his predecessors got arrested for “graft.”

Quevedo’s game plan could have come right out of Hayek’s warnings:

A stiff official who rose through the National Guard, Quevedo fired many long-term employees upon arrival and urged remaining ones to denounce any of their colleagues who oppose Maduro. He tapped soldiers for top roles, giving the oil firm the atmosphere of a “barrack,” two company sources said.

“The military guys arrive calling the engineers thieves and saboteurs,” said a Venezuelan oil executive at a private company who frequently works with PDVSA.

Hey, who wouldn’t want to work at PDVSA under those conditions? Small wonder that Venezuelans are exercising the only effective vote they have — voting with their feet. Even that small breath of freedom will likely depart soon. Closing the HR offices is just the first step; soon, Quevedo and Maduro will declare that workers have no right to quit their job and deprive the glorious Socialist revolution of their skills. They’ll be forced to work at PDVSA at starvation wages. Just imagine what that will do for production.

Hey, Hayek didn’t call it The Road to Serfdom by accident.

Reuters also notes that PDVSA is being propped up mainly by three international firms: Russia’s Rosneft, China’s CNPC, and … Chevron, based in California. All three are reportedly concerned over the flight of workers from the PDVSA paradise. One has to wonder why Chevron’s still sticking around at all. Maybe they should explain that.

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Wait… so now we’re not declassifying the Carter Page FISA docs?

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On Thursday we were discussing the pending declassification and release of various FISA documents, text messages and FBI notes pertaining to the investigation of Carter Page. At the time I noted that every Democrat in the Gang of Eight was up in arms and demanding some sort of delay so they could review the situation. It didn’t seem as if those protests were going to carry much weight since, in the end, it’s up to the President and his intelligence advisers to determine what material is or isn’t classified. And given Trump’s history of, shall we say… determination on such matters, it sounded like a done deal.

Goes to show how much I know, huh? On Friday, the President turned around and put on the brakes, citing a variety of reasons for further review being required. (Boston Globe)

In a rare retreat, President Trump on Friday reversed himself and said he was no longer demanding that documents related to the Russia investigation be immediately declassified and released to the public.

Taking to Twitter on Friday morning, Trump said that instead of an immediate release, Justice Department officials would review the documents, adding that “in the end I can always declassify if it proves necessary.”

“I met with the DOJ concerning the declassification of various UNREDACTED documents. They agreed to release them but stated that so doing may have a perceived negative impact on the Russia probe. Also, key Allies’ called to ask not to release,” Trump wrote. “Therefore, the Inspector General has been asked to review these documents on an expedited basis. I believe he will move quickly on this (and hopefully other things which he is looking at). In the end I can always declassify if it proves necessary. Speed is very important to me — and everyone!”

So what happened in the past 48 hours to change the President’s mind or at least slow him down? I think we can rule out any concerns about a “perceived negative impact on the Russia probe.” In fact, that one is just laughable. If anything, a negative impact on the Russia investigation would probably just speed the documents out the door. Nobody seems to have much insight on this yet, but let’s just put out a couple guesses, shall we?

One possibility might be that Trump’s finally had a look at the documents himself and doesn’t find them as helpful as he’d been told. Keep in mind that as recently as Tuesday the President admitted he hadn’t even read them himself. He’s been taking the word of senior members like Devin Nunes, who really want those documents out in the public’s eye. If Trump’s legal team looked them over and found them less than helpful (or potentially even hurting his cause?) he might want to slow this train down.

Alternatively, I suppose it’s possible that some foreign allies weighed in and begged him to keep a lid on it. But who? Theresa May? Macron? Is there any way that their governments had their fingers in the pie when the Steele dossier was being shopped around and they don’t want that connection exposed? But since when has Donald Trump worried overly much about stepping on the toes of foreign leaders? Anything’s possible I suppose, but that line doesn’t sound very realistic.

Trump is leaving himself the option of releasing them “later” but that’s not usually his style. If he was ready to go with the disclosure and then put the whole operation on hold overnight, I’m willing to bet there’s something in there which wouldn’t play in his favor. And if that’s the case, “later” may turn out to be never.

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Christine Blasey Ford Hires Andrew McCabe Lawyer Who Was Iran Contra Assoc. Counsel

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The Deep State  push to block the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh just got reinforcements with the hiring by accuser Dr. Christine Blasey Ford of  Michael Bromwich, a lawyer representing fired FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe and whose work in Washington goes back to the Iran Contra investigation where he served as Associate Counsel and prosecuted Oliver North. Bromwich also heads a consulting firm that specializes in crisis and government investigation communications.

Bromwich will be joining Blasey Ford’s current attorneys on the case, Debra Katz and Lisa Banks.

Michael R. Bromwich, image via Twitter avatar.

CNN Justice Department reporter Laura Jarrett, the daughter of Obama confidante Valerie Jarrett, broke the news Saturday afternoon on Twitter, “News – former DOJ inspector general Michael Bromwich has joined Christine Blasey Ford’s legal team. (Note he also represents former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe). He has just resigned from his law firm effective immediately in light of objections within the partnership.” (Robbins, Russell, Englert, Orseck, Untereiner & Sauber LLP)

Jarrett added an image of Bromwich’s statement.


McCabe spokeswoman Melissa Schwartz confirmed the news, “This is true. We are proud to be new members of Team Ford cc:

Bromwich added, “I’m honored to be joining Debra Katz and Lisa Banks in representing Dr. Ford”

Schwartz is COO of the Bromwich Group, a consulting firm founded by Bromwich in 2012. Schwartz’s about page details some of her work for the Bromwich Group’s clients:

 

  • Provided strategic and tactical advice in the face of adverse media coverage;

  • Served as spokesperson for clients dealing with regulatory and congressional investigations;

  • Developed comprehensive communications plans, messaging and materials for large-scale communications initiatives;

  • Built and implemented media, internal, external and online communication and outreach strategies to tell a client’s story and shape public perception of the organization;

  • Created diverse media strategies to complement litigation settlements; and

  • Organized and directed media relations in connection with events.

Bromwich’s Twitter bio reads, “former DOJ IG; Asst US Attorney, SDNY; Assoc. Independent Counsel: Iran-Contra; independent monitor x 4; law enforcement consultant; lifelong Dodgers/Lakers fan” His about page at the Bromwich Group goes into greater detail.

Excerpt:

…Over the course of a career that has spanned more than 35 years, Mr. Bromwich has tackled a variety of challenging assignments. He has been a federal prosecutor, a special prosecutor, an inspector general, the country’s top offshore drilling regulator, the compliance monitor of major public companies and public agencies, and a lawyer who has practiced with some of the most widely-respected law firms in the country. He has been called on countless times – by public corporations, private companies, federal, state, and local governments, cabinet secretaries, and the President of the United States – to deal with issues and problems of the greatest private and public significance. “…

Blasey Ford has agreed to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee this week, but her lawyers are still negotiating such details as which day.

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New Cruz ad: Can you believe O’Rourke is siding with the guy who got shot by a cop in his own home for no reason?

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He’s getting creamed for this, justifiably, and not only by liberals. The best part is the presented-without-comment framing, as though O’Rourke had been caught denying the Holocaust or saying something so similarly outlandish that no explanation is needed for why it should offend you.

This is the second time he’s gone after the Democrat over the Botham Jean shooting, one of the most bananas cases of lethal force by a cop you’ll ever encounter. You probably know the facts by now but in case not: A white Dallas police officer came home after a 15-hour shift at work, found the door to her apartment slightly ajar, walked in and saw a man standing in the darkness. Thinking he was a burglar, she pulled her pistol, gave him “verbal commands” to freeze, then fired when he didn’t comply. He died. When she turned on the lights she realized it wasn’t her apartment at all; she had entered the unit directly above her own, which had an identical layout. The “burglar,” a black man, was in his own home, not hers.

This is the cop’s own version of events, let me stress. Neighbors claim they heard a woman yelling “let me in” before the shots were fired and there’s reason to believe that all doors in their apartment complex shut automatically, eliminating the possibility that the cop arrived to find “her” door open a crack such that she could breeze in without meeting resistance from the lock. Even the cop doesn’t claim that the victim, Botham Jean, was doing anything wrong. The narrative that’s *most* favorable to her, her own self-serving account, is that she strolled into another person’s home and ended up blowing him away, falsely believing she was in her own pad and that he was there committing some sort of crime. She’s been charged with manslaughter but the charges may be increased to murder.

And the kicker, as O’Rourke notes in the clip, is that somehow the fact that the dead man had marijuana in his apartment was leaked afterward to the media even though it had nothing to do with the incident. I wrote about that 10 days ago, struck by the fact that left and right seemed to react to the leak the same way. There was bipartisan outrage that a person who’d been gunned down in his own home was now being smeared postmortem as a criminal, apparently to try to make the cop’s actions — which were based on a horrendous misjudgment by her own admission — seem reasonable-ish.

So which part of what O’Rourke said is so outrageous that Cruz thought it would work as-is as an attack ad for his own campaign? What’s the message here? Two possibilities:

1. Anyone who’d take sides against a cop in a shooting, irrespective of the facts, is anti-cop.
2. Anyone who’d take sides against a white cop in the shooting of a black victim, irrespective of the facts, is anti-white.

That’s a very Trump-y message. (Some critics wondered whether it’s a coincidence that the video of O’Rourke that Cruz chose for his ad just happens to involve a cheering black audience, per point two.) A “constitutional conservative” who’s naturally skeptical of state power, which is how Cruz sold himself throughout the tea-party era and beyond, shouldn’t naturally gravitate to white identity politics and mindless respect for armed authority in analyzing a case in which an agent of the state killed an innocent man for no good reason. But this is how Republican politics operates in the Trump era, or at least how Cruz thinks it operates. That’s also why he’s been hammering O’Rourke for defending the NFL players who kneel during the anthem to protest police brutality. Same underlying themes as in this new ad: Blacks are complaining about how they’re being treated by bad white cops and the Democratic candidate sure is eager to side with them. He’s not “one of us.” Which leaves the question hanging in the air: Who’s the “us” he’s talking about? In the NFL example you could say it’s people who respect the flag and the national anthem. Who’s the “us” in this new ad that O’Rourke is supposedly against, though?

Bear in mind that a white cop was convicted of murder in the Dallas area for killing an unarmed black teen just within the past month. Inspired by that and the Botham Jean case, David French wrote recently about how his own view of police shootings has changed over time. He too used to approach it as an “us vs. them” issue, with the cops on one side and the Bad People on the other. It isn’t.

Truth be told, the way I covered this issue in 2015 and much of 2016 shed more heat than light. Here’s what I did. I looked at the riots in Ferguson, Milwaukee, Baltimore, and Charlotte, the extremism of the formal Black Lives Matter organization (which referred to convicted cop-killers as “brothers” and “mama” and said its explicit goal was to “disrupt the western-prescribed nuclear family structure”), and the continued use of debunked claims, including “hands up, don’t shoot,” and I focused on these excesses largely to the exclusion of everything else.

Yes, I used all the proper “to be sure” language — there are some racist cops, not every shooting is justified, etc. — but my work in its totality minimized the vital quest for individual justice, the evidence that does exist of systematic racial bias, and I failed to seriously consider the very real problems that contribute to the sheer number of police killings in the U.S.

To put it bluntly, when I look back at my older writings, I see them as contributing more to a particular partisan narrative than to a tough, clear-eyed search for truth.

That’s the most charitable possibility for what Cruz is after here. The standard “partisan narrative” when a cop shoots an unnamed man is that the left sides with the victim and the right sides with authority. The new ad is merely another way, however cloddish, of signaling to Texas’s Republican majority how left-wing O’Rourke is. Look, he’s pushing the message that Team Blue typically pushes, not the one that Team Red does! He’s not one of us. Which really only circles you back to French’s point: Why should we require someone to defend a cop in every circumstance to qualify as “one of us,” including and especially a case where the cop herself admits she screwed up?

It’s commonly accepted (including by me) that Cruz isn’t really in danger of losing the Texas race. O’Rourke’s giving him a scare and no doubt the final margin will be tighter than most elections in Texas usually are, but Democrats simply don’t have the numbers to pull this off. If that’s so, though, why would Cruz stoop to this? Why take an innocent dead man and use O’Rourke’s justifiable outrage on his behalf and use it as some lowest-common-denominator Trumpian play on race and authority a la Trump’s infamous newspaper ad back in the day about the Central Park Five? It’s no sure thing that populist Republicans will respond well to this ad; like I said up top, they jeered the attempt to smear Jean after his death by leaking that he had weed in his apartment. But it’s unquestionably true that Cruz believes populist Republicans will respond well to it. Who does he think his base is at this point? What lessons did he take about the Republican electorate from his destruction at Trump’s hands in 2016?

My suspicion is that Cruz took the presented-without-comment approach to what O’Rourke said not because he felt it was so outrageous that it didn’t require further comment but rather the opposite. He couldn’t mount a good-faith argument against it but he knows, or believes, that many righties will find something offensive in it — “Beto hates cops,” “Beto hates whites” — so he’s running it up the flagpole for those people to salute. Am I giving him too much credit in suspecting that or not enough?

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