“Soft despotism is a term coined by Alexis de Tocqueville describing the state into which a country overrun by "a network of small complicated rules" might degrade. Soft despotism is different from despotism (also called 'hard despotism') in the sense that it is not obvious to the people."

Friday, May 16, 2008

Chávez Deserves More US Attention

Short Timer

Chávez and Colombia

May 16, 2008; Wall Street Journal
Interpol yesterday issued its findings on the authenticity of the computer files seized from Colombian terrorists in March, and they won't make Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chávez's day.

"We are absolutely certain that the computer exhibits that our experts examined came from a FARC terrorist camp," said Robert Noble, head of the international police agency. "No one can ever question whether or not the Colombian government tampered with the seized FARC computers."

Mr. Chávez has denied the link between his government – and himself personally – and the drug-dealing FARC, a Marxist "liberation" group that has terrorized Colombia for decades. He claims that the documents seized earlier this year in a Colombian military raid in Ecuador are forgeries designed to prepare an invasion of Venezuela by the Bush Administration. No doubt he'll stick to that story. If so, he'll have to add Interpol – and the Australian and Singaporean forensic experts who examined the files – to the list of conspirators.

Among other things, the documents detail personal meetings between Mr. Chávez and senior FARC leaders and the provision of money and materiel to the "rebels." Of a $250 million "loan" from Venezuela to FARC, Venezuela's Interior Minister wrote in one email, "Don't think of it as a loan, think of it as solidarity." The documents also describe Venezuela providing FARC with rocket-propelled grenades – and training in the Middle East on how to use them to shoot down Colombian military aircraft.

Interpol's certification proves that Mr. Chávez is trying to destabilize a U.S. ally. Maybe even Bill Delahunt (D., Mass.) and Mr. Chávez's other friends in the U.S. Congress will now have second thoughts about doing business with a proven supporter of terrorism in our own hemisphere.


  1. I know many of you have ODS but I thought this might help mitigate some of it:

    “The debate we’re going to be having with John McCain is how do we understand the blend of military action to diplomatic action that we are going to undertake,” he said. “I constantly reject this notion that any hint of strategies involving diplomacy are somehow soft or indicate surrender or means that you are not going to crack down on terrorism. Those are the terms of debate that have led to blunder after blunder.”

    Obama said he found that the military brass thinks the way he does: “The generals are light-years ahead of the civilians. They are trying to get the job done rather than look tough.”

  2. "Obama said he found that the military brass thinks the way he does..."

    Whaddya know.

    I don't think most people realize that our (puny) State Department's forte is delivering threats.

    In re Chavez: The Colombians just have to keep plugging away. And they will. Americans love a success story, especially when those stories are scant. And Colombia's rose above the fold just in the nick of time.

    What is especially important to them now is international legitimacy - the desire for which westhawk wrongly attributes to Chavez. They are determined to be accepted among the nations of the world that take human rights seriously, and have striven to make it a doctrinal feature at all levels of their military and law enforcement.

    Were it a common virtue among states.

  3. Ash: Obama said he found that the military brass thinks the way he does: “The generals are light-years ahead of the civilians. They are trying to get the job done rather than look tough.”

    There's only one woman in this race, and it's Obama. And I mean that as a compliment. But when McCain said he would wrap up the war by 2013 that did much to shore up my tentative support for him.

  4. Support for whom? McCain? Did he happen to mention how he plans on wrapping it up by 2013? ummmm, no.

  5. It must be Cato Friday:

    John McCain's idea — now embraced enthusiastically by Hillary Clinton — to temporarily suspend the federal gasoline tax between Memorial Day and Labor Day is rich fodder for energy analysts. Even richer, however, is the somewhat curious response that the proposed "tax holiday" has provoked from political actors and policy pundits of various stripes. A quick tour of the issues in play is instructive.

    First, if there is any math out there to refute Barack Obama's claim that the proposed tax holiday would save the average driver a grand sum of $28 — "otherwise known as $9 a month" as he puts it, or the grand sum of one-half of a tank of gas — it has escaped our attention. Of course, even that calculation presupposes that service station owners will pass on the full tax cut to the consumer — which they most definitely would not. How much of that tax cut would reach consumers is unclear. What is clear, however, is that Sen. McCain's claim that the tax holiday would provide a powerful stimulus to the economy is risible. Sen. Clinton's claim that the savings represents "real money" to the poor, hard-trodden masses yearning to keep their heads above water is similarly hard to swallow.

    Jerry Taylor and Jagadeesh Gokhale are senior fellows at the Cato Institute.
    More by Jerry TaylorMore by Jagadeesh Gokhale

    Second, the McCain/Clinton plan is directly at odds with other stated policy objectives forwarded by McCain/Clinton. Both candidates, for instance, dutifully call for the government to do more to promote energy conservation, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, encourage renewable energy, and to break our national "addiction to oil." And they hope to do this by . . . reducing gasoline prices?

    Consider the McCain-Lieberman bill to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by one-third below 2000 levels by 2050. The EPA estimates that the bill would increase gasoline prices 26 cents per gallon in current dollars by 2030 and 68 cents per gallon by 2050. Electricity bills would likewise go up by 22 percent in 2030 and 25 percent in 2050. So what John McCain proposes to give with one hand will be taken — in spades! — by the other.

    Hillary Clinton's two-handed policy is even more striking. Her big complaint with McCain-Lieberman is that it doesn't go far enough. Tie the tax holiday with a windfall profits tax, however, and the tension between the various aspects of the McCain/Clinton energy agenda disappears. That's Hillary Clinton's plan; replace the lost revenues from the tax holiday with a windfall profits tax on "big oil" and tell the voters that you'll make the oil companies pay their gasoline taxes for a while. What she doesn't tell her adoring working-class fans is that a windfall tax will send oil prices up, not down. That's the conclusion of the only analysis of the economic impact of that tax that we are aware of — written by Salvatore Lazzari of the Congressional Research Service — which found that the 1980 windfall-profits tax reduced domestic oil production by 3-6 percent, a result that should come as no surprise.

    But even that result probably understates the long-term effect. Some analysts regurgitate the standard textbook line that a one-time, lump-sum tax on windfall profits shouldn't alter market conditions. But once such a tax is imposed, who's to guarantee that it won't be imposed again? The effect of the windfall profits tax (repealed in 1988) is almost certainly still with us because domestic producers are forced to consider the possibility that new windfall profit taxes will be imposed in the future. Hence, some subset of otherwise profitable investments in domestic production are never made because the possibility of a new windfall profit tax tips the balance against the investment.

    Gall over the manifest hypocrisy of these two candidates, however, does not explain the vicious response the tax holiday has received from pundits and public intellectuals. No, their anger largely stems from outrage over the public betrayal of the case for high-energy prices. That case, however, is as dubious as the case for a tax holiday.

    Some pundits argue that the feds need to discourage oil consumption — and thus increase fuel taxes — to reduce the flow of money going to Islamic terrorists. There is no correlation, however, between world oil prices (and thus, oil profits) and Islamic terrorism. Even when crude oil prices were in the $20s per barrel, al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, and Hamas were doing quite nicely and statistical analysis concretely demonstrates that terrorism does not correlate with oil revenues.

    Others argue that we need higher gasoline prices to internalize the costs associated with climate change. That argument sounds correct, but no one has convincingly established the correct premium on the price of gas that would yield the appropriate degree of conservation. Such a task is understandably difficult, if not impossible. But a probable "market failure" in gasoline production and consumption does not guarantee "government success" in attempting to correct it via a gas excise tax. Indeed, the more we hear on this from our current crop of presidential candidates, the more afraid we are of an eventual "government failure" that's worse.

    On balance the greater danger is that, once elected, any one of the remaining presidential candidates will increase, not reduce, the gas tax. And, as appears likely, devoting the additional revenues to the highway trust fund would extend the current confused government policy: Building and maintaining roads and highways with revenues from a gas conservation tax promotes more, not less driving and gas consumption by the public.

    The gas tax cannot do both — serve as a stick to promote gas conservation for slowing global warming and as a carrot to provide an economic boost for families in trouble. That's the reality, but everyone seems intent on taking a holiday from it.

  6. Dems Do Chávez a Favor

    by Juan Carlos Hidalgo

    Juan Carlos Hidalgo is project coordinator for Latin America at the Cato Institute's Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity.

    Added to on May 15, 2008

    The war of words between Colombia and Venezuela started anew last weekend amid revelations that President Hugo Chávez has actively supported the guerrillas that have been trying to topple the Colombian government for over 40 years. On Thursday, Interpol is expected to confirm the authenticity of documents showing that Chávez gave the FARC arms, $300 million in cash, and facilitated the transfer of additional weapons through Venezuelan air and seaports.

    The documents were discovered by the Colombian army in a raid on FARC guerillas just across the border in Ecuador in March 2007, on a laptop belonging to FARC deputy commander Raul Reyes, who was killed in the melee.

    Juan Carlos Hidalgo is project coordinator for Latin America at the Cato Institute's Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity.
    More by Juan Carlos Hidalgo

    In his new rhetorical offensive against Alvaro Uribe, Chávez tries to present the Colombian president as an isolated politician who no longer enjoys any meaningful international support. Much to Chávez's delight, his position has been bolstered by the Democratic leadership in the U.S. Congress, which slapped Uribe in the face by scuttling the long-planned free-trade agreement with Colombia.

    On his weekly TV show Aló Presidente last Sunday, Chávez noted that the Uribe government has poor relations with its neighbors and with the Americans, "since they even rejected the FTA."

    Despite House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's assurances to the contrary, this decision is a serious setback to President Uribe's efforts to consolidate a liberal democracy in Colombia.

    Having Uribe right next door has always been a thorn in Chávez's side. The relationship between the two leaders turned bitter last November over a failed mediation effort by the Venezuelan president to release dozens of hostages that the Colombian guerrilla groups have retained for more than five years. Both leaders exchanged recriminations, with Chávez branding Uribe "a sad pawn of the empire."

    The Colombian raid on the Ecuadorian side of the border last March made things even worse. Venezuela had become a safe haven for the FARC and other terrorist groups, and is rumored to have cultivated contacts with Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed terrorist organization that killed almost 300 U.S. Marines in Beirut in 1983.

    Until now, the U.S. has been Colombia's best friend in the hemisphere…

    An International Narcotics Control Strategy Report by the U.S. State Department stated back in 2006 that "Colombian guerrilla organizations . . . move through parts of Venezuela without significant interference by the Venezuelan security forces." In January of this year, Chávez stated that in the view of the Venezuelan government, these guerrillas were "real armies" with legitimate political objectives.

    Many pundits suggest Chávez timed his latest eruption against Uribe to preempt Interpol's findings on the documents on the FARC laptop. But Chávez is right when he claims that Uribe is short of friends in Latin America. After the raid on Reyes's camp, two other populist governments in the region — Ecuador and Nicaragua — also severed ties with Colombia, and the governments of Mexico, Chile, Brazil, and Argentina all condemned Bogotá for violating Ecuador's territorial sovereignty during the raid.

    In remarks to the Council on Foreign Relations in October 2007, Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper warned about the consequences of rejecting the free-trade agreement: "If the U.S. turns its back on Colombia, it will set us back more than any Latin American dictator could hope to achieve."

    Chávez clearly welcomes the Democrats' help in his long fight against Colombian democracy.

    Until now, the U.S. has been Colombia's best friend in the hemisphere, and President Uribe has invested a lot of political capital in reaching a free-trade agreement with Washington. Chávez is right that rejecting the agreement deals a blow to the Colombian president, one of the few allies the U.S. has in the region. As he exulted on his TV show, Uribe is going to end up "empty-handed."

    That is, unless the Democrats show themselves willing to stand up for freedom and democracy beyond America's borders.

  7. Ash, pretty much everything T says has to be taken with a spoonful of salt.

  8. Trish: Ash, pretty much everything T says has to be taken with a spoonful of salt.

    You mean MSG. I'm Asian.

  9. Ash: Support for whom? McCain? Did he happen to mention how he plans on wrapping it up by 2013? ummmm, no.

    I've already officially come out for McCain. Why not? There's three Democrats in this race. And to address Trish's concerns that I'm a bigger flip-flopper than a liberal arts graduate behind the burger grill at McDonalds, I ain't going to say "Mulligan" and take it back.

  10. It's not that you're a flip-flopper, T. Not at all. (Funny. That's what the Brits called money
    changers in Kosovo. Standing on the street corners flapping big wads of bills.)

    It's that what you call your "stream of consciousness" commenting very often indicates a startling glibness. Which is something else entirely.

    But, hey, no law against it.

  11. Peggy Noonan:


    this week a House Republican said publicly what many say privately, that there is another truth. "Members and pundits . . . fail to understand the deep seated antipathy toward the president, the war, gas prices, the economy, foreclosures," said Rep. Tom Davis of Virginia in a 20-page memo to House GOP leaders.

    The party, Mr. Davis told me, is "an airplane flying right into a mountain." Analyses of its predicament reflect an "investment in the Bush presidency," but "the public has just moved so far past that." "Our leaders go up to the second floor of the White House and they get a case of White House-itis." Mr. Bush has left the party at a disadvantage in terms of communications: "He can't articulate. The only asset we have now is the big microphone, and he swallowed it." The party, said Mr. Davis, must admit its predicament, act independently of the White House, and force Democrats to define themselves. "They should have some ownership for what's going on. They control the budget. They pay no price. . . . Obama has all happy talk, but it's from 30,000 feet. Energy, immigration, what is he gonna do?"

    * * *

    Could the party pivot from the president? I spoke this week to Clarke Reed of Mississippi, one of the great architects of resurgent Republicanism in the South. When he started out, in the 1950s, there were no Republicans in his state. The solid south was solidly Democratic, and Sen. James O. Eastland was thumping the breast pocket of his suit, vowing that civil rights legislation would never leave it. "We're going to build a two-party system in the south," Mr. Reed said. He helped create "the illusion of Southern power" as a friend put it, with the creation of the Southern Republican Chairman's Association. "If you build it they will come." They did.

    There are always "lots of excuses," Mr. Reed said of the special-election loss. Poor candidate, local factors. "Having said all that," he continued, "let's just face it: It's not a good time." He meant to be a Republican. "They brought Cheney in, and that was a mistake." He cited "a disenchantment with the generic Republican label, which we always thought was the Good Housekeeping seal."

    What's behind it? "American people just won't take a long war. Just – name me a war, even in a pro-military state like this. It's overall disappointment. It's national. No leadership, adrift. Things haven't worked." The future lies in rebuilding locally, not being "distracted" by Washington.

    Is the Republican solid South over?

    "Yeah. Oh yeah." He said, "I eat lunch every day at Buck's Cafe. Obama's picture is all over the wall."

    How to come back? "The basic old conservative principles haven't changed. We got distracted by Washington, we got distracted from having good county organizations."

    Should the party attempt to break with Mr. Bush? Mr. Reed said he supports the president. And then he said, simply, "We're past that."

    We're past that time.

    Mr. Reed said he was "short-term pessimistic, long-term optimistic." He has seen a lot of history. "After Goldwater in '64 we said, 'Let's get practical.' So we got ol' Dick. We got through Watergate. Been through a lot. We've had success a long time."

    Throughout the interview this was a Reed refrain: "We got through that." We got through Watergate and Vietnam and changes large and small.

    He was holding high the flag, but his refrain implicitly compared the current moment to disaster.

    What happens to the Republicans in 2008 will likely be dictated by what didn't happen in 2005, and '06, and '07. The moment when the party could have broken, on principle, with the administration – over the thinking behind and the carrying out of the war, over immigration, spending and the size of government – has passed. What two years ago would have been honorable and wise will now look craven. They're stuck.

    Mr. Bush has squandered the hard-built paternity of 40 years. But so has the party, and so have its leaders. If they had pushed away for serious reasons, they could have separated the party's fortunes from the president's. This would have left a painfully broken party, but they wouldn't be left with a ruined "brand," as they all say, speaking the language of marketing. And they speak that language because they are marketers, not thinkers. Not serious about policy. Not serious about ideas. And not serious about leadership, only followership.

    This is and will be the great challenge for John McCain: The Democratic argument, now being market tested by Obama Inc., that a McCain victory will yield nothing more or less than George Bush's third term.

    That is going to be powerful, and it is going to get out the vote. And not for Republicans.

  12. This comment has been removed by the author.

  13. deep seated antipathy???? How about outright comtempt?

    Barry Crimmins


    After several months dominated by Democratic oratory, yesterday was a day for Republicans to speak up. Considering what they said, you have to hope it's several years before the party of the pachyderm again attracts notice.

    George W. Bush (remember him?) speaking in Israel to the Knesset, finally managed to get some attention by fear-mongering about Nazis in the home of Holocaust survivors. Reporting on Bush's ascension to an ever-loftier height of hypocrisy, the Washington Post quoted our ambassador of ill will

    "Some seem to believe we should negotiate with the terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along," Bush told the Israeli lawmakers. "We have heard this foolish delusion before. As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared: 'Lord, if only I could have talked to Hitler, all of this might have been avoided.' We have an obligation to call this what it is -- the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history."

    Considering Bush's suspension of habeus corpus and shredding of the Bill of Rights; his infliction of torture; his employment of extraordinary rendition; his practice of spying on American citizens; his unprovoked invasion of a foreign land; his fomenting of hatred toward an ethnic group; and his work as a facilitator of wanton profiteering by heartless corporate behemoths, the man is already a living, breathing warning against fascism whether he conjures up images of Panzer divisions or not.

    Mr. Bush ought to be more respectful of his own heritage, which is blotted with forbears who didn't just appease Nazis, they fucking sided with them! Don't believe me? Well then as Dabyahoo would say, use the Google. Considering the clan's traitorous past, the Bushes are lucky that Jenna didn't get married at the family compound in Argentina.

    Yesterday Bush, who claims to favor the creation of a Palestinian state, was apparently advocating against negotiations between the Israeli government and Hamas, the democratically elected party leading the Palestinian territories. Hamas is in power because of an election Bush advocated. W has since made it clear that he only respects the good kind of elections -- the kind in which people freely choose exactly the candidates he wants them to chose. Which is why W was also commenting on the US elections and Barack Obama when he goosestepped into his own bullshit while lecturing Israelis about Nazis.

    After the speech, American pundits were calling Bush's bellicosity a "veiled reference to Obama." Try as you might, you just can't slip anything past these crack analysts. Whether Bush was discussing Hamas or Iran or both, he was saying that you should never practice diplomacy with people regardless of how much mayhem you have visited upon their homelands. One of the best things Obama has advocated is a reintroduction of the concept that the first line of defense is diplomacy and discussions. Just because talking to Hitler didn't work out doesn't mean that diplomacy became foolhardy from that point forward. Without diplomacy there'd be no peace anywhere, which describes the alternate version of Imagine that must run through Bush's head. Even America's most reactionary leaders, the littlest prez included, have talked with their adversaries. (Do Libya or North Korea ring a bell, W?).

    Bush's attempted backhand of Obama turned into a self-inflicted custard pie to his own smug kisser. His suicide-pieing took place as he stood dead center on the world stage. This is no surprise -- a gracious exit is not in the cards for George W. Bush. This petty and petulant man won't go down without a fright. He'll stomp and browbeat his way into the sewer of history, never once realizing that soon he won't be able to rig things so that he can plausibly deny, even to himself, the central role he has played in making life on this planet a nightmare for so many people (not to mention the animal kingdom). No amount of lying and belligerence can prevent his comeuppance. He is the worst president the USA has ever had, bar none. And is that ever saying a mouthful! In the future, those who study history will be bound to repeat themselves by warning against the likes of this shifty punk because if we ever elect someone worse than this buffoon from the bottom of the Bush barrel, the so-called American Experiment will be written off once and for all as an abject failure.

    The idea that this demonstrably inept and evil usurper-in chief thinks it's his place to warn us about someone else's qualifications to hold an office he's fouled beyond hope of any sort of effective fumigation, typifies his presumptuous and duplicitous personality. Talk about the the despot calling the kettle "Barack."

    If Senator Obama wins this fall, he'll just have to learn to live with Bush's lingering stench. If John McCain wins, he'll deserve every nostril-insulting waft of it. Whispering Johnny also spoke yesterday, in Ohio. The pre-qualified war criminal's speech was used to reveal a terminally myopic vision of what our nation will be in 2013, at the end of his first term of office (and of course, civilization as we know it.) I guess he figured he should chime in now rather than risk speaking later and reprising Charlton Heston's role in Bowling For Columbine. So McCain peered into his Romper Room looking glass and foretold a bright and prosperous future brought on by... winning the war in Iraq and perpetuating George W. Bush's tax breaks for zillionaires. Speaking to reporters afterwards, he endorsed Bush's fear-mongering about appeasement, mentioning his presumptive opponent by name. Come to think of it, dementia may already be setting in.

    After watching both speeches, I spent the rest of the day mockingly repeating Bush's fear-mongering phrase "the false comfort of appeasement" while daydreaming about the true comfort of impeachment.

  14. ..."Mr. Bush has squandered the hard-built paternity of 40 years. But so has the party, and so have its leaders. If they had pushed away for serious reasons, they could have separated the party's fortunes from the president's. This would have left a painfully broken party, but they wouldn't be left with a ruined "brand," as they all say, speaking the language of marketing. And they speak that language because they are marketers, not thinkers. Not serious about policy. Not serious about ideas. And not serious about leadership, only followership."...

  15. What's behind it? "American people just won't take a long war.

    That seems to be the truth. So, we'll throw the whole effort overboard, and get 7 devils worse than the first.

  16. Bobal: So, we'll throw the whole effort overboard, and get 7 devils worse than the first.

    Well, at least it won't be 100 years times 12 months times $8 billion dollars a month, added to the half-trillion dollars we already shelled out, for a grand total of $10 trillion dollars.

  17. I think if people really believed the war was necessary its length wouldn't be an issue.

  18. Length has always been an issue for Americans, ash. Always. (That sounds dirty, doesn't it?)

    We are an impatient (and impetuous) people by nature.

    But I'm gonna tell you right now that if anybody can politically salvage the Iraq project, by sticking to his time line, it's Obama. And I am certain that there are assurances in the offing in Baghdad as we speak.

  19. This time, I would like to see us make good on what was (to employ understatement) a really, really bad idea - but in a different way. And for that reason I wish he were my candidate.

  20. I guess if America were actually fighting a defensive war, if America was being attacked and its borders were being overrun by invading armies then length of the war would not be an issue. When launching aggressive war in foreign lands, sure, length matters.

  21. Don't make me drag out my son on this, ash.

  22. Ash: When launching aggressive war in foreign lands, sure, length matters.

    Unless you're making money on the war, then the longer the better.