Celebrate the Facts!
Institutions of power like religion and media define and sanction taboo words and parents and society adapt these prohibitions. Recent trends have brought profanity into the public vernacular and these words have increasingly lost their shock effect.
Swearing has become more acceptable through time with perhaps the hallmark entre into mainstream culture being former President Richard Nixon, infamously caught on tape using language that might pass in most society today, but causing a metaphoric gasp of shock among the electorate when revealed on secret White House tapes. During the recent Presidential campaign, Donald Trump tweeted the word ‘bullshit’ and Kamala Harris used the word ‘shit”, indicating how swearing has become mainstream and acceptable over the past 40 years.
Swearing is positively correlated with extraversion and Type-A hostility but negatively correlated with agreeableness, conscientiousness, religiosity, and sexual anxiety. Taboo words can transfer emotion more readily than nontaboo words, allowing speakers to achieve an assortment of personal and societal goals with them.
Taboo words represent a powerful subdivision of vocabulary and provide a shock effect intended to emphasize and gain attention to the speaker or writer. Many off-limits words (e.g., cock, shit) are truly consistent with this representation but American English is also full of negatively valenced, highly arousing words such as abortion, socialism, cancer, and the like that are not regarded as profane.
Federal law prohibits obscene, indecent, and profane content from broadcast on radio or television, however, these rules do not apply to subscription services like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, or the like. The rise of entertainment issued by these services may have contributed to the ubiquity of profanity in common public parlance.
The most common profane word in the English language, ‘fuck,’ is also one of the most versatile words as speakers and authors use it as a noun, a verb, an intensifier, and an exclamation. One can add suffixes to it to get words like ‘fucking’ and ‘fucked.’ Americans also use it in many expressions, phrasal verbs, and compound nouns.
The word 'fuck' is usually used in adverbial form as an intensifier. Intensifiers are words or phrases that strengthen the meaning of trailing expressions with common examples being: absolutely, completely, extremely, highly, rather, really, so, too, totally, utterly, very, and at all. A clever writer or speaker can remove any adverb and strengthen the sentence so the use of intensifiers, including the word ‘fuck,’ is a shortcut.
A self-policing rating system controls the prevalence of the word ‘fuck’ in films: it may occur once in a PG-13 film but no more than that. A PG-13 – Parents Strongly Cautioned rating indicates some material may be inappropriate for children under 13 and that parents should be cautious, and some material may be inappropriate for pre-teenagers. Under the system when a film has more than two ‘fucks’ it gets an ‘R’ rating and then anything goes. PG-13 films are later recut and released to video including the word, ostensibly to improve the production.
The 2013 Martin Scorsese-directed The Wolf of Wall Street with an astonishing 569 instances of the word ‘fuck’ leads the pack of mass-market movies shortly followed by the 2019 Adam Sandler comeback vehicle Uncut Gems with 560 occurrences.
This series of investigations is by credo tied to numbers and one way of evaluating the prevalence of words in print is the Google Ngram Viewer: an online search engine that charts the frequencies of any set of search strings using a yearly count of words or phrases found in sources printed between the years 1500 and 2019. The chart above presents the increase in the word 'fuck' from the year 1900 to 2019. Similar swear words searched showed consistent growth rates indicating formerly taboo words are now sinking into the vernacular.
Literary theorists scowl at the use of swear words in print because when authors use profanity, they are telling the reader what is going on in the minds of the characters instead of allowing the reader to experience the emotion for themselves. These authors are not showing their characters' emotions and psychological makeup and using the swear word as a shortcut.
English is an evolving language and therefore sensibilities change. Polite society in many ways has adopted the F-word and other formerly offensive swear words and so these words have lost their effectiveness. Progressive advances in racial justice, equality of the sexes, and gay rights have edged formerly widely-used epithets into a forbidden category not ever spoken in polite society.
Webster’s Dictionary says English, with 470,000 entries, has more words than most comparable world languages. English was originally a Germanic language, related to Dutch and German, and shares much of its basic vocabulary with those languages, and later expansion of the British and American Empires included words derived from their client states. English is the predominant technology language adding to the number of words in the language.
Given the immense nuance of the English language, the more frequent use of profanity seems more an indication of unlettered thought and sensibility than much of anything else.
The United States took a page out of a very old playbook in attempting regime change in Venezuela. The United States government has endorsed a pro-United States opposition leader, attempted to delegitimize the leader of a sovereign government, and have trotted out a series of economic sanctions to choke Venezuela into submission. But the real victims of the sanctions are the people of Venezuela, and the United States is staying on the sidelines during a humanitarian crisis it helped create.
Venezuela’s economy has collapsed. Hyperinflation, severe shortages of food and medicine, gasoline shortages, COVID, and strengthened United States sanctions have contributed to a dire humanitarian crisis Venezuela’s economic situation continues to worsen with a year-over-year inflation rate of 3,500%. The President of Venezuela, Nicolas Maduro, blames United States sanctions for the economic crisis, but many bystanders blame fiscal mismanagement and governmental corruption. The United Nations estimated over five million Venezuelans had fled the country as of August 2020.
The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela lies along South America’s Caribbean Coast and it is slightly more than twice the size of the state of California. Brazil, Colombia, and Guyana border Venezuela. Venezuela’s oil revenues account for about 99% of export earnings. Apart from petroleum, the country’s natural resources include natural gas, iron ore, gold, bauxite, diamonds, and other minerals.
Conventional examinations of the crisis in Venezuela tend toward context involving governmental leaders and while this is interesting those polemics detract from the human cost of economic sanctions.
The United States Venezuela-related sanctions program includes executive orders issued by the President and laws passed by Congress. The United States started imposing sanctions on Venezuela in 2006 but the Trump Administration ramped up economic sanctions as part of a general anti-socialist agenda in Latin America, including sanctions against Nicaragua as discussed in a previous investigation.
Sanctions choking Venezuela include:
Gross domestic product (GDP) in Venezuela continues to contract at astonishing rates. In 2019 Venezuela had a GDP growth of -35% with -25% in 2020.
Dry economic statistics are one thing but other public health measurements show the impact of the crisis on humanity. After years of decline infant mortality took a tick up in 2016 and continues to rise, illustrating the human costs of the crisis.
Similarly maternal mortality rates, a key metric of public health, have soared during the crisis.
Venezuela’s economy is highly dependent on oil revenue, and the sanctions have choked off the industry in many ways including provision of foreign investment, credit, contractors, supplies, and the like. Consequently, Venezuela's exports of crude and refined products fell about 37.5% in 2020 to about 620,000 barrels-per-day, the lowest in 77 years.
The future of Venezuela is tied to petroleum and the success of its oil sector. Recent prices of oil in the plus $60 per barrel range represent increasing demand during recovery and such demand could place international pressure on the United States to reduce sanctions.
Regardless of demand, reports suggest the condition of production, transportation, and refining have eroded, largely due to sanctions. Recent historically low oil prices allowed the United States to continue strengthening Venezuela sanctions with limited risk of an oil price increase. Market circumstances could change should there be a return to pre-COVID demand, at which point Venezuelan crude oil production would help reduce per barrel oil costs. Any decision to ease sanctions on Venezuela’s oil sector would conflict with United States foreign policy objectives. Only immense investment will return production to presanction levels.
The Venezuelan immigrant population in the United States has more than tripled in size since 2000, and much of this growth has occurred in just a few years, as Venezuela’s economic destabilization led to a mass exodus across the Americas and beyond. The population of Venezuelan immigrants in the United States has risen 54 percent from 2015 to 2018, this population at 394,000, making it the fifth-largest South American immigrant population in the United States.
The degree sanctions have increased the emigration of Venezuelans is open to debate but they have increased hardship and encouraged outmigration. White nationalists decrying brown people coming to the United States are the same cohort who encourage sanctions and this hypocrisy is akin to an alcoholic complaining of liver disease.
As predicted in previous investigations the Biden Administration will continue in traditional Neo-Liberal governance in most respects with little change in policy expected in Latin America. The Biden Administration has indicated it will continue to recognize opposition leader Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s interim president. The United States encouraged its client countries to endorse Guaido’s claim following Maduro’s re-election in 2018, though cracks recently have appeared in Guaido’s international support. Biden Administration officials have claimed existing sanctions allow sufficient humanitarian support which appears to be spurious given the magnitude of the crisis.
It is difficult to understand the rationale of using sanctions to achieve regime change. Sanctions intend to create such distress among the population of a country they remove the sanctioned government from power, or the sanctioned government, out of a sense of concern for the welfare of the citizenry, willingly negotiates to lift the sanctions. There seems to be no precedent for this occurring – take, for instance, Russia, Iran, and North Korea, all of which have been heavily sanctioned by the United States with no change in government and seemingly little behavior change.
What does occur with sanctions is terrible hardship on the citizenry of the sanctioned country. To endorse such an endeavor is to participate in a crime against our fellow people.
Should one nation attempt to determine the governance of another? The United States has not had success at nation-building with perhaps South Korea being the only successful example. In Venezuela however, the United States appears more inclined to nation demolition with the victims being the Venezuelan people.
The United States Congress published a summary of relations at https://fas.org/sgp/crs/row/R44841.pdf. The United States government publishes a comprehensive list of sanctions against Venezuela at https://home.treasury.gov/policy-issues/financial-sanctions/sanctions-programs-and-country-information/venezuela-related-sanctions. The United States Congress published a great summary of Venezuelan sanctions at https://fas.org/sgp/crs/row/IF10715.pdf. Reuters provided an assessment of the Biden Administration’s plans on sanctions at https://www.reuters.com/article/us-venezuela-usa-exclusive/exclusive-biden-in-no-rush-to-lift-venezuela-sanctions-seeks-serious-steps-by-maduro-idUSKCN2AS0FB.
Internal and external parties to the Yemen conflict have no political, military, or financial incentives to negotiate an end to the war and the attendant appalling human costs. Absent firm international leadership from the United States, the continued exposition of weapons systems will continue to injure millions of people.
Yemen’s humanitarian calamity is the worst in the world; about 80% of Yemen’s population needs some form of aid. Multiple factors aside from the war including loss of health services, food scarcity, and money depreciation have combined to put the most defenseless people at peril.
The numbers on the crisis:
A manufactured catastrophe in waiting is an oil-storage tanker moored off Yemen’s west coast north of the city of Hodeida in the Red Sea. The small juncture at the Gulf of Aden constrains the Red Sea so contaminants have much less dilution of oil spills or other contaminants so fisheries and sensitive marine environments are at significant risk. The 44-year-old floating storage and offloading (FSO) Vessel Safer (owned by the state-run Yemen Oil and Gas Corporation), stores about1.4 million barrels of crude oil and has been deteriorating for years and despite international discussion, there appears to be little hope for a resolution.
The quick facts:
The history of Yemen, like many of the countries in the area, was complicated by the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire after World War I. The Kingdom of Yemen (North Yemen) became independent from the Ottoman Empire in 1918 and in 1962 became the Yemen Arab Republic. The British had set up a protectorate area around the southern port of Aden in the 1800s but withdrew in 1967 and that area became the People's Republic of Southern Yemen (South Yemen). South Yemen became Marxist three years later and the country became the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen.
The colossal migration of hundreds of thousands of Yemenis from the south to the north contributed to two decades of antagonism between the states but a political solution unified the two countries as the Republic of Yemen in 1990. Sporadic fighting in the northwest between the Yemeni government and the Houthis, a Zaydi Shia Muslim minority, continued from 2004 to 2010, and then again from 2014 to the present.
There are two main affiliations in the war with one side the Houthi rebel forces, self-designated as Ansar Allah. On the other, the ‘pro-government,’ or more properly anti-Houthi coalition, are local political figures propped up by a Saudi-led coalition of nations consisting of Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The United States and the United Kingdom provide logistical support and maintenance as well as arms supplies and the reward is substantial revenue to contractors located in those countries.
Saudi Arabia and the UAE are the major cast list on the government side of the fight. The UAE has a significant troop presence, but the chief number of external ground forces come from Sudan, which has had as many as 14,000 troops, including legionnaires recruited by Saudi Arabia. Sudan began to provide troops to the Saudi-led war effort in 2015 in return for a $2 billion cash payment from Saudi Arabia, help from the UAE to evade US sanctions by using Dubai as a gold-smuggling hub, and assistance in reinstating Sudan’s relations with the United States. The UAE has also sponsored mercenaries from around the world.
The claim Iran has been interfering in Yemen sponsoring the Houthis and using them as a means of undermining their Saudi rivals has been the primary justification by Saudi Arabia for involvement in the war. There is evidence of Iranian support in the form of funding, training, and arms provision but a close look at the evidence reveals Iran has been taking a distant auxiliary role at most, with the Houthis acting on their schema, rather than as an Iranian proxy.
For the Houthis, the longer they remain the de-facto authority in northern Yemen increases the potential for international recognition so they have little incentive to negotiate or compromise. Wealthy overseas patrons in the Saudi-led coalition supply and fund Yemeni government forces and they have no incentive to diminish their power by seeking peace. Western countries profit by supplying arms and testing military systems in field conditions and seemingly care little for the humanitarian crisis. Iran’s military support to the Houthis has expanded its regional influence and a withdraw from that arrangement would be a cost in image and influence. The Yemeni people seemingly have no voice in the matter.
On January 19, 2021, the final full day of the Trump Administration, a corpulent Secretary of State Mike Pompeo designated the Houthis as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) and a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) entity. Then-Secretary of State Michael Pompeo claimed the Houthis were closely linked to Iran, a meaningless closing shot in the Trump Administration’s campaign against Iran. The designations had been under consideration for months, though aid organizations repeatedly cautioned that designations would worsen the world’s nastiest humanitarian crisis. On February 11, 2021, the Biden Administration Secretary of State Antony Blinken revoked the FTO and SDGT designations of the Houthis.
Additional Biden Administration changes seem largely symbolic but include:
Mitigating the United States showcasing of weapons systems and meddling in overseas conflicts will be complex. Article I of the Constitution grants Congress the exclusive authority to declare war, while Article II names the President as “Commander in Chief” of the army, navy, and militia. Largely in response to the Viet Nam War, the United States Congress passed the War Powers Resolution (also known as the War Powers Resolution of 1973 or the War Powers Act), a federal law intended to check the president's power to commit the United States to an armed conflict without the consent of the United States Congress. Since then, however, presidential war-making power has been in a state of constant expansion leading to ‘Forever Wars’ such as the War in Afghanistan.
There appears to be a bipartisan consensus in Congress to limit Presidential authority to commit the United States military forces overseas. How the Biden Administration responds to attempts at repealing or replacing existing AUMF authorizations and limit Presidential authority will shape American interventions in the future.
The Biden Administration did not cite any existing Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) for his February 25, 2021, military strike on Iranian-allied forces in Syria, instead citing Article II authorities and Article 51 of the United Nations Charter and Biden’s public statements support conventional American projection of force in line with the actions taken with the Obama Administration.
One may surmise the Biden Administration will curtail but not eliminate the worst excesses of the Trump Administration such as the engagement with the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen. The War on Terror appears to be a Forever War with the only real result being a shower of death and destruction on the world’s people.
The Council on Foreign Relations provided a succinct picture of the humanitarian crisis at https://www.cfr.org/in-brief/how-severe-yemens-humanitarian-crisis. The United States Congress provided a thorough report on the war at https://crsreports.congress.gov/product/pdf/R/R43960. Tufts University discussed the parties arming the side in the war at https://sites.tufts.edu/reinventingpeace/2019/03/19/who-is-arming-the-yemen-war-an-update/. Lawfare presented an excellent primer on the War Powers Act at https://www.lawfareblog.com/topic/war-powers. The Washington Post provided a good summary of Joe Biden’s views of presidential authority to direct military intervention at https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2021/03/09/war-powers-biden-has-pushed-both-more-congressional-oversight-broad-presidential-authority/.
Honduras, a Central American nation about the size as the state of Pennsylvania, has been a client state of the United States for many years. The country served as a base for United States operations designed to counter socialist revolution in Nicaragua during the 1980s and continues to host a permanent United States military presence. The relationship is changing with the advent of the new Biden Administration’s emphasis on reforming Trump Administration policies and the governance of Honduras may soon undergo substantial changes.
Honduras is one of the poorest countries in Latin America and has suffered from extremely unequal income distribution as well as significant underemployment. Honduras has depended on the export of low-value commodities such as bananas, coffee, and ores resulting in limited import income.
The United States has dictated the policy of Honduras' security issues for decades. Honduras served as a base for United States operations designed to meddle in Nicaraguan politics during the 1980s; detailed in a previous investigation. The United States has maintained a permanent military presence since at a location known as Joint Task Force-Bravo (JTF-Bravo) operating from a Honduran military installation, Soto Cano Air Base, located in central Honduras. While the formal representations for the base include humanitarian missions, the clear purpose is to maintain a permanent United States military presence in the region.
Human rights organizations regularly denounce alleged abuses by Honduran security forces acting in their official capacities or on behalf of private interests or criminal organizations. The case of Berta Caceres, a prominent indigenous and environmental activist is a good illustration. Unknown assassins murdered Caceres in March 2016 apparently because of her efforts to prevent the construction of a hydroelectric project that would have displaced an indigenous community.
Quasi-governmental groups have carried out numerous similar attacks against journalists and other human rights defenders, including leaders of Afro-descendent, indigenous, land rights, LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender), and unions. The extent to which Honduran security forces have been involved is unproven and that seems logical given the repression of the media and corruption of the government. The Honduran government has also brought criminal charges, such as defamation and unlawful occupation, against journalists and activists.
President Juan Orlando Hernández of the conservative National Party garnered a second four-year term in January 2018 in an election marred by allegations of election fraud. According to the Organization of American States (OAS), the 2017 elections that granted Hernandez his second term (after he led an end to constitutional term limits) — were ‘characterized by irregularities and deficiencies.’ A package of electoral reforms begun in 2019 have not been fully ratified into law, meaning upcoming elections will take place under the same legislation that allowed 2017’s alleged fraud to take place. Beyond that, a series of corruption scandals that have implicated members of his family, administration, and party, have generated speculation about whether the president has participated in criminal activities, have further eroded Hernández’s public standing.
The United States Justice Department has accused Juan Orlando Hernández of drug trafficking but has not charged him yet. Federal prosecutors have described the evidence against him in several federal indictments including one against his brother, Tony Hernandez, who at one time was a Honduran congressperson. A federal court convicted Tony Hernandez in 2019 of cocaine trafficking and alleged he had delivered a $1 million bribe from a cocaine cartel leader to his brother Juan Orlando Hernández in 2013. Juan Orlando Hernández denies all alleged ties to drug trafficking of course, but the United States can charge him and he could face extradition, although this seems improbable if he remains in office.
Instability in Honduras, including a 2009 coup and outflows of migrant workers and asylum seekers, led Trump Administration policymakers to focus greater attention on conditions in the country out of a pragmatic concern for the implications for the United States. The Trump Administration played down allegations against Hernandez in trade for cooperation on immigration.
President Joe Biden’s plan for the region ‘puts combating corruption at the heart of U.S. policy in Central America.’ Other policy promises include ‘revoking visas to the United States and freezing assets of corrupt individuals’ from the region will compel the Administration to either come to terms with Department of Justice evidence or feign ignorance. The same goes for the recently passed Engel List legislation, which will require the Biden Administration to publish a list of corrupt and undemocratic actors from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras who will be denied entry to the United States.’
The upcoming reckoning of political invective versus realpolitik will be a bellwether of future Biden Administration policy. Unfortunately for the Biden Administration the choice is clear cut. International scrutiny of the Hernandez government is a necessary step forward to future development of the Honduran economy and welfare of the people. Will Joe Biden have the courage to do the right thing?
The following site presents basic facts about Honduras https://www.cia.gov/the-world-factbook/static/10cc8852fa33afc2b4c26c9edef0f416/HO-summary.pdf. The IMF presents current economic trends at https://www.imf.org/en/Countries/HND. The United States Congress provided a thorough report published at https://crsreports.congress.gov/product/pdf/RL/RL34027. The Washington Post presents a summary of the drug trafficking associations at https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/the_americas/honduras-president-narcotrafficking-hernandez/2021/02/11/1fa96044-5f8c-11eb-ac8f-4ae05557196e_story.html.
Michael Donnelly investigates societal concerns with an untribal approach - to limit the discussion to the facts derived from primary sources so the reader can make more informed decisions.