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Trump and Maduro confirm high-level talks between officials

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Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro delivers a speech during a pro-government rally against US sanctions in Caracas on August 10, 2019.

FEDERICO PARRA | AFP | Getty Images

The leaders of the U.S. and Venezuela have confirmed high-ranking officials from their respective governments have been engaged in talks “for months.”

It comes less than three days after both Axios and the Associated Press reported that the U.S. had opened secret communications with top members of Venezuela’s socialist administration.

Speaking at the White House during a meeting with his Romanian counterpart on Tuesday, President Donald Trump said: “We are talking to various representatives of Venezuela … I don’t want to say who but we are talking at a very high level.”

Shortly thereafter, Venezuela’s embattled President Nicolas Maduro said during a televised address: “I can confirm that for months that we have had contact.”

Maduro said the aim of discussions was to “normalize and resolve this conflict” between the two countries. However, like Trump, Maduro did not wish to disclose which officials had been engaged in the talks, citing: “various contacts through various channels.”

“Just as I have sought dialogue in Venezuela, I have sought a way for President Donald Trump to really listen to Venezuela,” he added.

The South American nation is currently in the midst of one of the worst humanitarian crises in recent memory, with more than 4 million people having fled since 2015 amid an economic meltdown.

‘An effort to gain time’

In late January, Maduro broke diplomatic relations with the U.S. after the White House recognized opposition leader Juan Guaido as the country’s rightful interim president.

Officials from the U.S. and Venezuela had not previously confirmed contact before Tuesday.

Washington has imposed sanctions on a number of high-level officials and Venezuelan state entities to ramp up the pressure on Maduro — and ultimately try to oust him as leader of the OPEC country.

More recently, Maduro and a delegation representing Guaido have been meeting in Barbados to try to resolve a political stalemate.

Maduro is using “the same tactic that he has used with the opposition, opening backchannels in an effort to gain time,” Diego Moya-Ocampos, principal political analyst for Latin America at IHS Markit, told CNBC via telephone on Wednesday.

He is trying to show that his administration is “engaging with different international actors in an effort to exhaust them,” so that the Venezuelan topic loses momentum and regime change is no longer on the agenda, Moya-Ocampos said.

What is going on in Venezuela?

A protracted political stand-off has thrust the oil-rich, but cash-poor, country into uncharted territory — whereby it now has an internationally-recognized government, with no control over state functions, running parallel to Maduro’s regime.

Guaido assumed a rival interim presidency in January, citing Venezuela’s constitution, and denounced Maduro’s government as illegitimate after he secured re-election last year in a vote widely criticized as rigged.

However, Maduro has refused to cede power. And, crucially, he still has the broad support of the military.

The minimum wage for the average citizen in Venezuela, which is estimated to be roughly $7 a month, would not be enough to cover even 5% of the basic food basket for a family of five people, the UN said in a report last month.

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'The Five' on fallout from bombshell Trump whistleblower story

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President Trump blasts ‘political hack job,’ unleashes on media over whistleblower story; reaction and analysis on ‘The Five.’ #TheFive #FoxNews

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Politics Report: Fletcher Staying Out of 53rd

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Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez and Supervisor Nathan Fletcher at a press conference supporting AB 5. / Photo by Megan Wood

This week, on the podcast, we had Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez come in to discuss her totally normal, super chill, uneventful last few weeks. It was good.

We also asked Gonzalez about the 53rd Congressional District and the mad scramble Georgette Gómez’s decision to run for it will touch off.

Gonzalez decided not to run for Congress (she supports Gómez). But her husband, County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher, had not made such a pronouncement. In our conversation, Gonzalez volunteered that Fletcher would probably step up his leadership on the Metropolitan Transit System and particularly the effort the agency has kicked off to raise taxes it calls Elevate SD.

We called Fletcher to see what that meant.

On whether he will take a bigger role at MTS: Fletcher says he is willing to do more, and could adjust some other commitments to free up bandwidth. He not only sits on the Board of Supervisors and MTS board but also on the local and statewide air pollution boards as well as the governor’s special homelessness task force.

“We are trying, internally, to restructure my commitments to see if we can make it work,” he said Friday. “We’re in the middle of a lot of efforts, but the MTS work is very important to our region.”

On running for the 53rd: He officially will not. “I had a little fun not publicly ruling it out and loved all the local Republicans encouraging me to go to D.C., but never considered it. I love the job I have and am committed here.”

Also this: CALMatters, our counterparts in Sacramento, had a different interview with Gonzalez that included a profoundly awkward moment when they asked her if, as appropriations chair, she has to do the Assembly’s “dirty work” (see 1:40 in the video). And she answered with this meme we are now sending out to the world:

If this isn’t moving, click it.

The District 9 Race

Sean Elo
Sean Elo sits on the San Diego Community College Board of Trustees / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

Two Democrats who are well known in local political circles announced their plans this week to try to replace Gómez as the representative for District 9.

Sean Elo, who in 2018 scored a major upset by defeating former Councilman David Alvarez for a seat on the San Diego Community College District’s board of trustees, surprised few when he said he was in. Former Gómez staffer and current Laborers International Union organizer Kelvin Barrios threw his hat into the ring this week. Kevin Alston, a former Community College District candidate, is also running. Plenty of other names have been bouncing around as potential candidates as well.

They’ll all sprint to the March primary. Most other City Council candidates have been going for a year. The top two will proceed to the November general election. But until then, they’ll need to raise enough for a campaign, staff up and start talking to voters.

It bears repeating just how wild it is that there are five open City Council seats this cycle. Councilman Chris Cate will be the longest serving Council member come December 2020.

Freshmen Democratic Councilwoman Monica Montgomery and Vivian Moreno will be the leading candidates to replace Gómez as Council president.

Leventhal Finally Gets to Ask People for Money

Joe Leventhal, one of the Republicans looking to succeed Mark Kersey on the San Diego City Council in the District 5 seat, finally got to launch his campaign on Sept. 10. He had served on the city’s Ethics Commission and so was prohibited from running for one year after his service ended.

Before Sept. 10, he could tell people he was running – free speech and all – but he couldn’t raise money or spend money. He had gotten commitments from people who would help him when he could spend money, people like campaign consultant Stephen Puetz, who coordinated Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s campaigns, and treasurer April Boling. But they weren’t allowed to actually start working for him until that day.

He told us that the morning of Sept. 10 he sent out dozens of emails to friends, family and others he knew. By midday he was reviewing logos and by evening, web producers were scouring his Facebook page to post photos for his campaign website.

In 36 hours, Leventhal says he raised $61,000. He couldn’t offer an estimate of what he has spent including his fundraising and treasurers’ costs so far.

“It felt great to finally test what I was sensing, which was a lot of support for my campaign,” he said.

At this point, it seemed weirdly like an advantage that Leventhal hadn’t had to spend money and was probably not that far behind in name recognition, but he will not be advising people to go about things this way.

“Had I been able to start fundraising sooner and shown that strength earlier and maybe my Republican opponent would have reconsidered getting in the race,” he said.

His Republican opponent responds: Pat Batten is his Republican rival. He said Leventhal is mistaken. “Marines don’t wait for permission, we lead. I am running to provide visionary leadership for the City and fight for our communities,” he wrote in a message.

City, SDSU, Call Your Office

Scott Sherman
San Diego City Councilman Scott Sherman / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

Sometimes in San Diego politics, you get the sense that an issue that has been kind of quiet is set to just explode soon. We can’t shake the feeling that that’s about to happen with SDSU and Mission Valley.

What is going on with that? We’re no Woodward and Bernstein but we’re good damn reporters and we don’t know anything. The dynamics of the situation, though, are kind of easy to understand. The university needs to come up with a ton of money to build its new stadium and prepare the rest of the land for development. Every dollar it must pay the city is a dollar it can’t save for that.

Councilwoman Barbara Bry speaks at a mayoral forum in Bankers Hill. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

City leaders, meanwhile, are looking at several years of tough budgets ahead and they can’t afford to give away the land. Well, it would be a significant sacrifice for higher education and football. The ballot demanded fair market value no matter what. Obviously the two sides don’t agree, and all we’re getting is radio silence on negotiations.

It got to be too much for a couple City Council members this week as well. Councilwoman Barbara Bry, who’s running for mayor and Councilman Scott Sherman held an interesting press conference this week at the site.

Arguably one of the biggest early boosts to Bry’s campaign was her decision to oppose SoccerCity in 2018. The love she got for doing that from people opposing SoccerCity and/or supporting SDSU’s plan for the site was significant. Sherman, on the other hand, was SoccerCity’s, like, only supporter.

We weren’t able to go to their event but we heard that Bry wanted the negotiations to be public, or that at least more updates should be provided to the City Council. And she wants more public transit to the site than what the university envisions in the draft environmental impact report recently released.

Sherman, for his part, had a list of other concerns. The concerns hint at the ultra-complexity of the deal the city and university are trying to make.

What is going to happen? Summer is about to be officially over and the university’s goal of beginning construction early next year seems like it won’t be easy to achieve.

By the way: Some of you are probably thinking that just a couple weeks ago, we reported that we heard Sherman was going to run for mayor and he said he was definitely maybe going to. So what’s up? Is he going to? We don’t know anything. Republicans seem bored with San Diego politics.

A Tangle of Endorsements

Every time we think we understand the various alliances within the San Diego Democratic Party, we realized we do not. At all.

Former Obama administration staffer Terra Lawson-Remer this week collected endorsements from United Domestic Workers and the Municipal Employee Association.

Along with her previous nod from SEIU, the largest union of county workers, she’s got the public employee unions eager to see Democrats flip the coastal North County seat and take control of the county.

A year ago, SEIU banged the drum for Supervisor Nathan Fletcher, whose win made a Democratic 3-2 majority after 2020 possible.

But Fletcher is not with SEIU in the District 3 supervisor race. He’s endorsed Escondido Councilwoman Olga Diaz, Lawson-Remer’s opponent.

Fletcher and Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, his wife, have also endorsed Assemblyman Todd Gloria’s mayoral bid. In doing so, they join … SEIU, which endorsed him this week, joining MEA to give him a lock on major public employee unions.

It’s not that it’s surprising to see organizations and individuals who are allies on one issue part ways on a campaign. That’s politics.

But as Democrats expand their competitive map and formerly up-for-grabs seats (like the mayor’s office) become Democrat-vs.-Democrat races, we’re searching for indications that Democrats are sorting themselves into distinct buckets, ideological or otherwise.

If that’s the case, we’re not skilled enough in pattern recognition to see it. At least not yet.

There are many things at which we show no impressive skills, but one thing we can do is listen to feedback – good, bad and ugly – so if you have something to say or a tip to pass along, send them to scott.lewis@voiceofsandiego.org or andrew.keatts@voiceofsandiego.org.





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Saudi Aramco has emerged from attacks ‘stronger than ever,’ CEO says

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A damaged pipeline is seen at Saudi Aramco oil facility in Khurais, Saudi Arabia, September 20, 2019.

Hamad Mohammed | Reuters

Saudi Aramco has emerged from attacks on its oil facilities “stronger than ever”, Chief Executive Amin Nasser told employees in a message, adding that full oil production would resume by the end of this month.

The Sept. 14 attacks on the Abqaiq and Khurais plants, some of the kingdom’s biggest, caused raging fires and significant damage that halved the crude output of the world’s top oil exporter, by shutting down 5.7 million barrels per day of production.

“The fires that were intended to destroy Saudi Aramco had an unintended consequence: they galvanized 70,000 of us around a mission to rebound quickly and confidently, and Saudi Aramco has come out of this incident stronger than ever,” Nasser said in the internal message, on the occasion of the Saudi national day, to be celebrated on Sept. 23.

“Every second counts in moments like these, and had we not acted quickly to contain the fires and undertake rapid restoration efforts, the impact on the oil market and the global economy would have been far more devastating.”

Six days after the assault, which hit at the heart of the Saudi energy industry and intensified a decades-long struggle with arch-rival Iran, the state oil giant Aramco invited reporters on Friday to observe the damage and the repair efforts.

Thousands of employees and contractors have been pulled from other projects to work around the clock to bring production back. Aramco is shipping equipment from the United States and Europe to rebuild the damaged facilities, Aramco officials told reporters. 

Aramco already brought back part of the lost production and will return to pre-attacks level end of September, Nasser said.

“Not a single shipment to our international customers has been missed or cancelled as a result of the attacks, and we will continue to fulfil our mission of providing the energy the world needs,” he said in the message, seen by Reuters.

Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman said on Tuesday that Saudi Arabia had used its reserves to maintain oil supply flows to customers abroad and inside the kingdom.

Yemen’s Houthi group claimed responsibility for the attacks but a U.S. official said they originated from southwestern Iran. Tehran, which support the Houthis, has denied any involvement in the attacks.

Saudi Arabia says 18 drones and three missiles were fired at Abqaiq, the world’s largest oil processing facility, while the Khurais facility was hit by four missiles.

No casualties were reported at either site even though thousands of workers and contractors work and live in the area.



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