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Posted at 11:47pm on Jul. 6, 2007 A Blowhard, Not A Bolivarian

By Pejman Yousefzadeh

It is not and should not be all that hard for writers nowadays to take down the pretensions to greatness and progress that Hugo Chavez would have us all readily accept. But few skewer Chavez as effectively as does Amir Taheri:

I FIRST met Hugo Chavez, Venezuela's flamboyant president, after one of his earlier trips to Iran. With a few colleagues, we dined at an Italian restaurant in Paris.

The conversation touched on a range of topics, but two themes dominated. The first was his "determination" to end poverty in Venezuela. "There is no need for anyone to be poor in a country as rich as ours," he asserted as he sipped his Chateau Lafitte. "Give me four years, just give me four years!"

The second main theme was Chavez's claim that the Catholic Church, prompted by "wealthy oligarchs," was trying to sabotage his social revolution.

Chavez claimed to be the ideological heir of Simon Bolivar, the father of Latin American liberation from colonial rule, and recalled his hero's commitment to "secular government." Bolivar had said that while the individual was free to have whatever faith he wished, the state should have no religion. As for society, its sole religion should be freedom within the rule of law.

In that context, Chavez was particularly critical of the theocratic system established by the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. He said he admired the Iranian revolution and had fallen in love with Iran's natural beauty and cultural richness - "ah, those roses in Isfahan!" - but was uneasy about the mullahs' attempts to impose their version of Islam on all Iranians.

Well, Chavez has had eight years - twice as much as he had demanded in that Paris restaurant.

Thanks to rising oil prices, Venezuela has garnered something like $180 billion net in oil export revenues. That income has been topped by $30 billion worth of government borrowing. That means a total of $210 billion, not taking into account the government's other revenues from taxes and custom duties.

Yet, under Chavez, Venezuela's public debt (domestic and foreign) has risen from $21 to almost $47 billion. His own government's reports show a steady rise in the number of people below the poverty line. Despite a $5 billion bonanza from the seizure of foreign funds from the Venezuelan Central Bank, the government last year issued bonds worth $4 billion to cover a looming budget deficit.

Check for more below the jump . . .

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Posted at 11:45pm on Jul. 6, 2007 Couldn't Happen To A Nicer Guy

By Pejman Yousefzadeh

Dominique de Villepin is in trouble:

Police searched the home of Dominique de Villepin, the former French Prime Minister, yesterday as judges appeared close to charging him with conspiring to implicate Nicolas Sarkozy, now the President, in a corruption scandal. Criminal charges are thought likely after examining judges unearthed new evidence that appears to put Mr de Villepin, 56, close to the heart of the so-called Clearstream affair.

The scandal, under investigation since 2005, involves forged bank records that suggested falsely that Mr Sarkozy and other senior figures had received big bribes in the sale of French warships to Taiwan.

Mr de Villepin was serving as Foreign and then Interior Minister and Mr Sarkozy, his rival for the future presidency, was Finance, then Interior Minister.

The affair poisoned the already strained relations between Mr de Villepin, the protégé of Mr Chirac, and the President's mutinous subordinate, who was intent on succeeding him.

Investigating judges and police arrived yesterday afternoon at the expensive Paris apartment building where Mr de Villepin lives.

They were acting on material that was extracted last week from erased data on an intelligence officer's computer. This added to evidence that Mr Chirac had been briefed on the affair at the time, according to leaked judicial transcripts. Two weeks ago the former President refused to obey a judicial summons for questioning over the case. His lawyers argued that he was immune from inquiries into any acts undertaken during his presidency.

Mr de Villepin, a career civil servant who lost his government post after Mr Sarkozy's election in May, insisted that he had no role in circulating the false bank data. "In response to the false allegations of recent days . . . Dominique de Villepin repeats that he never sought to investigate nor compromise any political figure in the Clearstream affair," his lawyers said.

One wonders how long it will take for Jacques Chirac to face some questioning. Heaven knows, he has a lot to answer for.

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Posted at 11:43pm on Jul. 6, 2007 "It Would Be A Mess"

By Pejman Yousefzadeh

Those who continuously argue that we ought to "listen to our generals" in Iraq should perhaps take note of this:

An abrupt exit of US troops from Iraq would trigger a bloody "mess" just as the military is taking the fight to insurgents, a top general warned Friday as pressure mounted in Congress for a withdrawal.

Major General Rick Lynch, commander of coalition forces in central Iraq, said the addition of thousands more "surge" troops in recent weeks had enabled him to clear 70 percent of his territory south of Baghdad of insurgents.

"Those surge forces have given us the capability that we have now to take the fight to the enemy," he told Pentagon reporters via satellite from Baghdad.

"If those surge forces go away, that capability goes away and the Iraqi security forces aren't ready yet to do that," Lynch said.

In the troops' absence, insurgents would regain ground and be free to carry out roadside-bomb attacks in Baghdad, "and the violence would escalate."

"It would be a mess," the commander said, days before a new debate over withdrawing troops is to start in the Democratic-controlled Congress.

Paging Senator Domenici. Additionally, note again the discussion here. Contrary to popular belief, our problems won't end if we leave Iraq. Rather, they will grow exponentially.

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Posted at 9:12pm on Jul. 5, 2007 Denial Ain't Just . . . You Know The Rest

Why Oh Why Oh Why Oh Why Oh Why Oh Why Oh Why Oh Why Oh Why Can't We Have A Better Blogger In Brad DeLong?

By Pejman Yousefzadeh

Brad DeLong is the kind of person who, when convinced that someone is bad, is also convinced that said person is irredeemably bad, utterly unsalvageable as a human being and utterly incapable of doing any kind of good (as defined by Brad DeLong) whatsoever.

Dan Drezner made the mistake (and in DeLong's eyes, it is indeed a mistake) of arguing that for whatever faults he has, George W. Bush has done a good job of trying to maintain the Sino-American relationship. DeLong won't listen, Drezner's persuasive arguments notwithstanding.

Drezner certainly doesn't need any help from me to defend his thesis against DeLong. But I'll provide him help anyway by citing to this article about former Deputy Secretary of State--and current World Bank President--Robert Zoellick. When he was Deputy Secretary of State, Zoellick was entrusted with keeping Sino-American relations positive. He had help on that issue from the highest levels of government, of course:

. . . For all his Wilsonian pretensions, George Bush has faithfully preserved the doctrine of engagement with authoritarian China as applied by his predecessors. Under Bush, the White House has kept commercial rows with China from erupting into the kind of public rancor that characterized similar disputes between the United States and Japan in the 1980s and early 1990s. Last month the White House outmaneuvered congressional calls for punitive tariffs on China-made goods in response to Chinese currency manipulation by persuading Beijing to declare a revaluation. In late 2003, Bush openly admonished Taiwan against declaring independence from China, which regards the island state as a renegade province, in one of the sternest such warnings from a U.S. president. While Bush has publicly welcomed human-rights activists from such countries as North Korea, he has carefully avoided hosting dissidents from China. "For whatever reason, Bush is a pragmatist when it comes to China," says Banning Garrett, director of Asia programs at the Washington-based Atlantic Council. "He is very much interested in the subject and is up on its details."

Now, I am not going to argue that all of these counterarguments to DeLong's hidebound theories about George W. Bush qualify DeLong for any particular awards. Because, you know, that would be mean and impolite.

Of course, there are people out in this world who are much meaner and less polite than I am. And I really can't help how they choose to react to this post.

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Posted at 10:18pm on Jul. 3, 2007 Something's Missing . . .

One For The Price Of Two?

By Pejman Yousefzadeh

I'll be the first to admit that Bill Clinton is an exceedingly effective political advocate. This story gives those who have been living in a cave for the past 16 years a hint as to how effective his advocacy is and can be.

Too bad it didn't see fit to quote any comments from his wife.

You remember his wife, right? She's actually the one running for President of the United States.

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Posted at 10:15pm on Jul. 3, 2007 Guess What Theory Might Be Confirmed

By Pejman Yousefzadeh

The idea that al Qaeda will follow us to Western shores if we do not fight it in Iraq has been widely ridiculed by the bien pensant community. Perhaps, however, the idea ought to be given a bit more credence:

British intelligence services increasingly believe that the failed car bombings in London and Glasgow bare the fingerprints of al Qaeda in Iraq, CBS News has learned.

Intelligence sources tell CBS News that the people behind the attempts were directly recruited by Abu Hamza al-Muhajir, the present leader of the terror group's Iraq franchise.

Police investigating the plot had arrested eight people Tuesday, including at least six suspects trained as doctors, including a man of Indian nationality arrested in Australia. Sources close to the investigation told CBS News on Tuesday that another two or three arrests were likely to be seen in Britain, but that two of the people already in custody were likely to be released without charge.

Sources tell CBS News that al-Muhajir recruited the men between 2004 and 2005, while they were living in the Middle East, upon orders from then-al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Al-Muhajir was told to recruit young men who could easily move into Western countries, assimilate and lay low until the time came to attack. Britain has a fast-track visa program for medical students which makes it easier for them to enter the country.

The belief that this small cell of militants was recruited purposely by a major terror organization for their specific qualifications differentiates the group from the cell of "homegrown" attackers who were behind the bloody July 7, 2005 attack that left 52 people dead on London's transport network.

If this is true--and thus far, we have little reason to doubt that it is--perhaps more people will see that we have a vested interest in dealing a decisive military defeat to al Qaeda in Iraq lest our own internal security be threatened. Given the attention paid to Iraq on a daily basis, I would hope and expect that attention would be paid to this development. I would hope and expect as well that there would be a lot of discussion about the need to continue to reconstruction and military efforts in Iraq and that there would be a pushback against those who wish to short-circuit those efforts. The theories of the short-circuiters appear to have taken a serious hit, after all.

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Posted at 5:00pm on Jul. 2, 2007 Whither Loyalty?

The President Must Pardon Scooter Libby Now

By Mark I

“The fact is that had President Bush...had the courage to call Joe Wilson on the carpet...Libby would not be facing jail time today.”

Time has run out on Scooter Libby. Today, a Federal appeals court in Washington unanimously rejected Libby’s request to delay the application of his sentence in the Plamegate™ Leak Trial. This means that Libby will have to report to jail while the rest of the appeals process runs its course. The New York Times reports that the US Bureau of Prisons has not yet assigned him to a facility or given him a surrender date, but it has assigned him a federal inmate number: 28301-016.

Members of Libby’s defense fund are now publicly calling for the president to pardon Libby.

"I hope it puts pressure on the president. He's a man of pronounced loyalties and he should have loyalty to Scooter Libby," said former Ambassador Richard Carlson, a member of Libby's defense fund. "It would be a travesty for him to go off to prison. The president will take some heat for it. So what? He takes heat for everything."

Mr. Cohen is correct. The time has come for the President to pardon Libby. President Bush has stated that he would not consider a pardon until the legal system has run its course. I don’t believe that in making that statement, the president expected Libby to spend one day in jail. The most likely scenario was for Libby to be convicted and remain free on appeals which would consume the time between the conviction and the end of the president’s term, when he could be pardoned. But that has not come to fruition. Instead of facing two years of legal wrangling and legal bills in the millions, for which he could raise money to help defray the costs, Libby now faces 2 ½ years in a Federal Penitentiary for loyally doing his job for the President. Mr. Bush must return that loyalty now.

Read on…

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Posted at 4:41pm on Jul. 2, 2007 Do You Believe In Miracles?

Yes.

By Pejman Yousefzadeh

As I was watching this, I caught myself wondering whether Jim Craig would be able to hold out against the Soviet onslaught at the end. I kept having to remind myself that he did.


Greatest. Sporting. Event. Ever. (Thanks to Ben Domenech for the link.)

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Posted at 10:28am on Jul. 2, 2007 An Interview With Sen. Lamar Alexander

His thoughts on immigration, Jim Nussle and education reform

By Bluey

Last week, before senators packed their bags and headed home for a week-long recess, I had the opportunity to chat with Sen. Lamar Alexander. The Tennessee Republican had just returned from an Appropriations Committee meeting where his amendment protecting the rights of employers who require English to be spoken on the job narrowly passed, 15-14.

It capped a busy week for Alexander. During our interview, we touched on the defeat of the immigration bill, Jim Nussle's confirmation as OMB director, and the prospects for reauthorizing No Child Left Behind. In an attempt to connect with bloggers, Alexander is doing about one of these interviews per week.

An abridged version of our conversation is on the jump...

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Posted at 6:00pm on Jul. 1, 2007 Not Sitting Still For Dictatorship

By Pejman Yousefzadeh

The people of Venezuela refuse to be cowed:

Politics penetrated a South American soccer championship when thousands of Venezuelan soccer fans rose to their feet and loudly chanted "Freedom!" in a clear affront to President Hugo Chavez.

The chants -- which included "This government is going to fall!" -- began shortly into the second half of Thursday's match between the U.S. and Argentina in the western city of Maracaibo, a stronghold of opposition to Chavez.

Chavez opponents are hoping the arrival of thousands of tourists for the Copa America tournament will draw attention to their protests against the president's refusal to renew the license of a popular opposition-aligned television channel.

"We want the world to know we're not all with Chavez," said Gabriel Gonzalez, a business student at the University of Zulia, who attended Thursday's match.

About half the crowd of 40,000 appeared to join in the chants, which filled the stadium for about three minutes.

Who could blame them? There is no reason, after all, to think that Chavez is anything but utterly and completely dangerous towards the interests of sensible Venezuelans and people of reason around the world.

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Posted at 11:19am on Jul. 1, 2007 A Very Fine Whine

Trouble In Paradise

By Pejman Yousefzadeh

Democrats, it would appear, are not all that celebratory about their Congressional majority:

The problem for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi isn't just President Bush. It's the Senate.

Pelosi sounded more apologetic than celebratory Friday when she announced with her Senate counterpart, Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democrats' list of accomplishments six months after they seized control of Capitol Hill and promised "a new direction" in Washington.

"I'm not happy with Congress, either," Pelosi, of San Francisco, conceded.

She pinned the blame on "the obstructionism of the Republicans in the United States Senate."

Immigration has joined Iraq, stem cell research, Medicare drug pricing, the 9/11 Commission's recommendations and other promises in the dustbin of the current Congress. Heading into a July Fourth recess after a bruising failure on immigration, Congress has a public approval rating in the mid-20s, lower than Bush's and no better than Republicans' ratings on the eve of their catastrophic election defeat in November, when the GOP lost control of the Senate and the House.

So little has been achieved that Reid threatened to hold the Senate in session during the August recess, the congressional equivalent of torture.

Pelosi acknowledged the rock-bottom poll numbers but argued that Congress has "never been popular." Just six months into her speakership, she was postponing many of her hopes to 2009, saying a new president could change things -- presumably assuming it wouldn't be a Republican.

"Congress is a big institution to turn around," she said. "A new president comes in, and he or she is given every opportunity, because we -- everybody wants the new president to succeed. A Congress comes in, and it's Congress. It's an institution that has not been popular."

There is more. Read on . . .

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Posted at 6:50pm on Jun. 30, 2007 Car Bomb In Scotland

Can We Be Disabused Of Some Particularly Misguided Notions Now?

By Pejman Yousefzadeh

I'd like to hear a little more talk about how the war on terror is supposedly a "bumper sticker slogan". Especially after this:

Two men rammed a flaming sport utility vehicle into the main terminal of Glasgow airport Saturday, crashing into the glass doors at the entrance and sparking a fire, witnesses said. Police said two suspects were arrested.

The airport - Scotland's largest - was evacuated and all flights suspended, a day after British police thwarted a plot to bomb central London, discovering two cars abandoned with loads of gasoline, gas canisters and nails.

"One has to conclude ... these are linked," Dame Pauline Neville-Jones, former head of Britain's joint intelligence committee, told Sky News. "This is a very young government, and we may yet see further attacks."

Britain's prime minister, Gordon Brown, who took office only Wednesday, was being briefed on developments by his officials, Downing Street said.

In Glasgow, the green SUV barreled toward the building at full speed shortly after 3 p.m., hitting security barriers before crashing into the glass doors and exploding, witnesses said. Two men jumped out of the burning vehicle, one of them engulfed in flames, they said.

"The car came speeding past at about 30 mph. It was approaching the building quickly," said Scott Leeson, who was nearby at the time. "Then the driver swerved the car around so he could ram straight in to the door. He must have been trying to smash straight through."

Read on

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Posted at 11:04pm on Jun. 29, 2007 When Oversight Becomes Overburdening

By Pejman Yousefzadeh

A strong case for unshackling the invisible hand at the FDA:

THE notorious red tape at a government agency like America's Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is, in the words of Milton Friedman, "a consequence of its constitution in precisely the same way that a meow is related to the constitution of a cat." Friedman often argued that the agency's heavy-handed, over-cautious approach to drug approval did more harm than good by stifling innovation and delaying the arrival of life-saving new medicines on the market.

Few are likely to agree with his conclusion that the FDA is unreformable and must be abolished outright--therein lies a tort lawyer's paradise. But signs that the industry is beginning to shift away from a few blockbuster drugs towards a larger number of products targeted at less common diseases or particular patient groups (see article) strengthens the argument for lightening the regulatory burden and shifting the balance away from guarding public safety and towards encouraging innovation.

Read it all. The article makes the persuasive--and common sense--point that the increased wait times for new drugs to be approved and the huge amounts of regulation that now surround the approval process conspire to cause pharmaceutical companies to submit fewer drugs for FDA approval. This disincentive regarding innovation is bad for the financial health of pharmaceutical companies, of course. It is also going to be exceedingly bad for the health of the people who depend on these companies for drugs that will either save their lives or make them more comfortable.

Regulation was designed to protect us. It is, instead, slowly sapping us of our health. If that's not enough incentive to take action against the overweening nature of the regulatory state, I don't know what is.

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Posted at 11:02pm on Jun. 29, 2007 Debunking The "Fairness Doctrine"

By Pejman Yousefzadeh

Tom Finnigan makes the case that the content of talk radio is not nearly as black and white as the proponents of the so-called "Fairness Doctrine" like to claim. Not that this nuanced picture of talk radio will gain credence anytime soon; it is far easier to paint the talk radio world as some sort of bastion of right-wing thought than to discuss the more complicated truth concerning talk radio's content. It is also far more convenient a line for those who wish to implement the Fairness Doctrine anew. As valuable as Finnigan's analysis is, his arguments are--for the moment, anyway--lost in the cacophony of misinformation concerning talk radio and the appropriateness of implementing the Fairness Doctrine.

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Posted at 9:38am on Jun. 29, 2007 Jim Nussle Is Under Attack in the Senate

Democrats vilify President's OMB nominee

By Bluey

There are few people more qualified for the job of OMB director than Jim Nussle. The former House Budget Committee chairman has a résumé that makes him the perfect fit for overseeing the Office of Management and Budget. Yet that experience could be the very reason Democrats want to block his confirmation.

We found out yesterday that Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad (D.-N.D.) is threatening to hold up Nussle's confirmation in an effort to get President Bush to renege on his veto threats. Bad move for Sen. Conrad. In response, Erick asked RedState readers to phone Conrad's offices. And Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform accused Conrad of "obstructionist tactics [that] are nothing more than a callous money-grab."

As the partisan bickering was taking place, I was at a portrait dedication for Nussle yesterday afternoon at the House Budget Committee room. The current chairman, Rep. John Spratt, a Democrat, sang his praises. So did Rep. Paul Ryan, the ranking Republican on the committee. And then there was Dick Armey, the former House majority leader, who fondly recalled his days serving with Nussle. Each spoke of Nussle's bipartisan approach to legislating and his commitment to the federal budget.

I've posted the four videos on the jump.

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