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Sunday, October 22, 2006


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Thursday, October 19, 2006

Kim Jong-il Is Crazy, Isn’t He?

By Michael Breen
The most common assumption overseas about the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-il, is that he is either crazy or evil.

But is he?

It is certainly tempting to imagine him pacing his bunker like a lunatic. What impression better fits the leader of a country, which roars at the world?

It is also tempting to imagine him as demonic. His brother drowned when they were playing together. No one knows exactly what happened. When he was seven, his mother died. These events must have unhinged him. Could there be a connection between this emotional history, the weirdness of the personality cult, and the appalling treatment of the citizenry?

Kim himself is not unfamiliar with this question.

When told by an overseas visitor he’d become a media star in South Korea after the June 2000 summit with Kim Dae-jung, he replied, “After I appeared on TV screens, I’m sure, they came to know that I am not like a man with horns on the head.”

Later in the same year, in another historic meeting, with then-US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, he referred to himself as the last of the “communist devils.”

Does this self-deprecating humor belie the nutcase theory?

Not necessarily.

In his first dinner with the South Korean actress Choi Eun-hee, who had been kidnapped on his orders from Hong Kong, he came out with a good one.

“Madame Choi, how do I look?” he asked, eyeing himself mockingly from one side and then the other. “Don’t you think that I look like a midget’s turd?”

Even she laughed.

But are we?

According to American scholar Jerrold M. Post, who has conducted political psychology profiles for the CIA, there’s nothing funny about the Dear Leader. He has written that Kim has the “core characteristics of the most dangerous personality disorder, malignant narcissism.”

Post cites Kim’s insensitivity to the people’s suffering, lavish lifestyle, humiliation of subordinates, security paranoia, and willingness to use aggression to eliminate enemies. The pampered upbringing, Post says, created a warped figure with an extreme degree of self-absorption, a grandiose view of himself, and an inability to empathize with others and understand the United States, South Korea and Japan.

I’m not convinced that such analysis from across a gulf of culture makes much sense. But when misunderstanding the United States counts against you on the mental health test, you may assume the testers are themselves likely to be fruitcakes.

The danger with the crazy and evil lines of reasoning is that they lead to an assumption of danger – if Kim is a wacko, he could press the button. They also contribute to the dehumanizing of a leader and his people, which makes it more difficult to negotiate with them but much easier to bomb them to smithereens.

Is that where we are headed with North Korea?

If not just to avoid this, can we not recognize that Kim Jong-il has played a very weak hand with a measure of brilliance and even courage, and ask, Why?

The answer to that question lies in the North Korean perception of its precarious situation vis-a-vis the world and the significance of nuclear weapons in its defense against perceived threat.

What fear, we should be asking, is so great that Kim Jong-il would take on the world to address it?

The answer has been apparent for a long time. It is that, with the global acceptance of South Korea as the real Korea, North Korea is finished. Its reinvention will be dangerous. Freedom may bring internal revolt. The collapse of communism leaves it exposed to attack from South Korea and the United States. This external fear is either genuine or being manipulated to keep the status quo.

By good fortune, no country actually wants to destroy North Korea. So, the problem is containable if the allies adopt a unified policy of realistic engagement.

Treating the North Korean leader as a nutjob simply provides justification for not bothering.

10-19-2006 16:08

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Iraq orders US to release Shiite activist

This is why the U.S. is between a rock and a hard place--get it: "IRAQ and a hard place!!!" HAHAHAHAHAHAH...whew! Forgive inappropriate...but the bizarre policies that are Bush inspire inappropriateness.

This story neatly profiles the political, sectarian and military challenges that American Commanders on the ground face. God bless our soldiers, they have an impossible task erected by an incompetent civilian leadership headed by our Supreme Poo-Bah, His Excellency and Protector of the Faith and Oil Reservoirs of Our Beloved Multinational Corporations Commander-in-Jefe Jorge Arbusto!

Here, then is the happy-sad and bittersweet story of a family locked in a loveless relationship by an arranged marriage forced upon them by stupid white guys...


Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has ordered the release of a leading member of radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's political organisation who was detained by US troops.

Relatives and supporters of Sheikh Mazen al-Saedi confirmed he had been released, while a Sadr spokesman said Iraqi interior ministry vehicles brought him to the Shiite movement's offices in the Kadhimiya district of Baghdad.

Sadr's organisation, which includes several thousand armed fighters, complained Tuesday that Saedi, one of the party's precinct captains in Baghdad, had been arrested by US troops along with five of his supporters.

The US military has thus far refused to confirm or deny the arrest but state television quoted Iraq's national security adviser, Muwaffaq al-Rubaie, as saying the prime minister had ordered his release.

"He was released," confirmed Sadr spokesman Hamdallah al-Rikabi, accusing US forces of trying to provoke the movement into armed confrontation.

"Everybody knows that the Sadr Movement is a patriotic movement seeking to fight terrorism. The occupation forces always choose to detain our members, and only our members, because they want a confrontation.

"We are not too weak to face the occupier, but our leadership wants us to remain quiet," he added, demanding that the Iraqi government issue a statement to explain Saedi's brief detention.

American commanders privately accuse Sadr's Mahdi Army of being one of the main forces behind Iraq's recent descent into sectarian bloodletting, and a rise in the number of fatal attacks on US troops.

Maliki, however, warns it will be difficult to disarm a militia with such popular support and has said that he vetoed a US plan to invade Sadr's stronghold in the impoverished east Baghdad suburb of Sadr City.

Before news of the release emerged, several hundred Sadr supporters gathered in the Shuala district of eastern Baghdad to protest Saedi's alleged detention and demand both his release and "the end of the occupation".

Activists chanted: "No, no to America! No, no to Israel!"

There were no weapons on display at the protest, unlike at some previous rallies in Baghdad, where assault rifles and rocket launchers have been openly paraded by masked Mahdi Army fighters.

"The occupiers have begun arresting the sons of this injured country. The occupiers have never been defenders of freedom," said protest leader Sheikh Hadi al-Mohammedawi, who had not heard the report of the release.

"They arrest the people of this area, which is a shelter for poor and displaced, and leave the regions of terror," he alleged, implicitly comparing Shiite east Baghdad to other areas roamed by Sunni insurgents.

Nevertheless, a threatened strike which was to have been organised in Baghdad's hospitals and schools did not materialise, and the protest leader read out a letter from Sadr himself calling it off.

time to say sorry for Iraq's agony

General Sir Richard Dannatt, the army's biggest gun, has blown apart Blair's promises and exposed the disaster our leaders try to hide

Mary Riddell
Sunday October 15, 2006
The Observer

History will forgive the war on Iraq. Or so Tony Blair told the US Congress in July 2003, as the first cold shadows fell on the invasion. The Prime Minister also warned of 'many further struggles ahead'. He cannot have imagined that these would include being gunned down by the head of the British army. By calling for a pull-out from Iraq, General Sir Richard Dannatt has reversed the view of the French wartime leader, Georges Clemenceau, that 'war is too serious a matter to entrust to military men'. In Dannatt's view, it is too vital to be left to the sofa warriors of Downing Street. His men have had enough, and he has said so.
The military can barely hide their glee. The previous head, Sir Michael Jackson, was seen by soldiers as Blair's puppet. Now they have a leader who puts the army first. Dannatt may not share this jubilation. Naivety, or every general's tendency to rank himself just below God in the cosmic line management structure, led him into an unintended row.

As he must know, Iraq is rarely kind to generals. In April 1915, General Sir Charles Townshend had a nervous breakdown on the road from Basra, shortly before his troops were decimated. His successor, General Sir Stanley Maude, died of cholera. Almost a century after the last, doomed British invasion, another general decides that the game is almost up.

Blair, briefed throughout the night as the mutiny unfolded, has smoothed over the cracks, but Dannatt has been warned to stay out of trouble. Ever since Caesar defied the Senate and crossed the Rubicon, politicians have been wary of over-mighty soldiers. Another outburst, and this one would have to go.

Many war-brokers bend their constitutional roles. Blair has behaved as an unanointed commander-in-chief: Dannatt has adapted the role of General MacArthur, fired by President Truman for trying to declare war on China. Unlike MacArthur, Dannatt has become an all-purpose hero, feted not just by soldiers but by troops-out campaigners.

Be wary. The general is talking about preserving the army, not the fragile lives of Iraqi citizens. British soldiers in the south have been better able - and may still be - to help stave off social collapse than their counterparts in Baghdad. But when troops are failing to protect citizens' lives or hinder the slide towards civil war, they have to leave. That line may well have been crossed. The results of a disastrous invasion should be debated in Parliament. They should have dominated Labour party conference. How shameful that the gravest of all foreign policy issues has been left to a soldier speaking out of turn.

The promises of a better tomorrow are in ruins now. Our troops will be off shortly, possibly barring a small presence in the south. Professor Paul Rogers, of Bradford University, doubts that a British force will be in place in 12 months' time. There would be no schism. Blair would leave office first, allowing his successor to profess allegiance to George W Bush's strategy while hiving troops off to fight in Afghanistan, which is still winnable. (Quite how, when the obstacles are greater, the terrain harder, the insurgency more vicious and the track record of invaders even worse than in Iraq, neither Dannatt nor the government can explain.)

Any rift with US foreign policy would be airbrushed out, just like the Dannatt outburst. The PM wants British troops out of Iraq. The general says withdrawal must be 'soon'. What's one small word of difference between friends, ask the semanticists of Downing Street? If only the fissures in Iraq could be filled in so easily.

On Friday, the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) issued its bleakest assessment. Conflict has displaced 1.5 million people inside Iraq; a tide of refugees swells the 1.6 million living outside the country. The Lancet's estimate of 655,000 deaths since the conflict began is not only in a different stratosphere from Bush's ballpark figure of 30,000 'more or less'. It is also evidence of the asymmetry in the death roll of the war on terror.

In contrast to the attrition in Iraq, no US citizen has died in an Islamist attack on US soil since 9/11. Neo-con certainties about gun-barrel democracy have perished, naturally, and the graveyards of political theory bristle with their memorials. But, like a headless chicken, the strategy stumbles on. Dig in for victory. No British exit is likely to change that course any time soon.

Even all-out anarchy would be unlikely to dislodge the US, which would impose martial law, according to Amyas Godfrey, a strategic expert and former aide-de-camp to a British general in Iraq. No Republican administration, and possibly no Democrat one, would dare risk the ripple effect of a collapsed state.

Meanwhile, the fate of Iraqis grows more hideous. A road-sweeper says he works with 'his soul in his hands'. Stand on the Syrian border and you will see, each day, 1,000 refugees fleeing Iraq. They drive Mercedes and Chevrolets, these doctors or engineers driven out by kidnap, rape and brutality from streets where muggers kill for a mobile phone.

A middle class is on the move, to Syria, Jordan and to Europe. Such itinerants are not poor, but they soon will be. Their host countries will grow weary of a diaspora sinking into destitution. The UNHCR believes this exodus is the biggest displacement in the Arab world since the flight from Palestine in 1948. Meanwhile, those without the means to leave stay home and die.

This is what British troops and up to one in 40 Iraqis died for. It is the closing chapter and the legacy of the invasion the Prime Minister commended to history. It is the scandal from which ministers avert their eyes, muttering how pleased they are that Saddam is gone. Obviously it would be wrong to deny all hope. The Iraqi government and institutions may live on, long after Dannatt's troops have gone, but the chances of peace are diminishingly slender.

The general has spoken far beyond his remit and snatched power a soldier should never have. But he has, at least, punctured the public weariness that lets politicians gloss over disaster. At this bleak crossroads, British invaders can plough straight on to nemesis, or turn and walk away. Both routes are marked 'Betrayal'.

Maybe the best that can be done is to help the refugees and to resolve never again to fight a war like this. If so, it is time to admit it. It is time to say sorry for the folly and the carnage, not to pretend, as a nation is eviscerated, that all can be redeemed and excused. The Prime Minister may forgive an army general. History will not be so merciful to Mr Blair.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

The Real Reason We Are In Iraq

"We can't tolerate a new terrorist state in the heart of the Middle East, with large oil reserves that could be used to fund its radical ambitions, or used to inflict economic damage on the West," Bush said in a news conference last week in the Rose Garden.

Finally, President Bush has 'fessed up to the real reason we are in Iraq: oil.

It's a shame that it took 2,700 young american lives, 20,000 wounded and hundreds of thousand of civilian casualties to get to the basic proposition: we want to control Iraqi's oil.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Only Way to the Truth---Torture Hastert

Only Way to the Truth---Torture Hastert
Tom D'Antoni

Is there anything worse, in the minds of most Americans than being a sexual predator to underage kids? Why it's right up there with rape and murder. Finding out who in Congress knew about Foley, when did they know it, and why didn't they do anything about it is as important to the nation as finding out who was behind 9/11.

Are our children worth less?

There's only one way to get this information. Send Foley, Hastert, Boehner, and the rest of them to Guantanamo and torture the information out of them.

I mean, that's this administration's policy, isn't it? Why restrict it to Muslims? Why not just expand it to all involved in anti-social activities, especially one as serious as this.

That we'd have to build a double-wide waterboard for Hastert is beside the point.

Habeas Corpus? Pfaff! If President Bush can waive it for Muslims, he can waive it for those who prey on our children, right?

It's the policy of the administration that Bush has the power to choose whom to torture. It's only logical thing to do, and the only way to get the truth out of these Republican Congressional leaders.

Living by the sword makes for tough payback.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006


From Scootmandubious' blog at

GOP's Revealing Response To Foley Scandal

Notice the political cartoon by Mike Shelton in the Orange County Register. I point it out, because it is one of the many variations of a GOP theme to take no responsibility for the Rep. Mike Foley scandal.

I have assembled the responses of various GOP spokespeople, politicians and talking heads, because the next time this pious party clothes itself in the myth of superior moral values we will be able to remind them of their hypocrisy.


Tony Snow (White House Press Secretary):
"Look, I hate to tell you, but it's not always pretty up there on Capitol Hill and there have been other scandals as you know that have been more than simply naughty e-mails."

Michael Savage (Right-Wing Talk Show Host):
"I think it's a very dangerous trend. Not only the obsession with child molestation, which is an obsession, by the way, with the American media right now because they don't have the guts to take on radical Islam so they make a big deal out of child molestation. It's like a new hysteria. It's the new witch hunt. Going after child molesters today is the equivalent of witch hunts in Pilgrim times. Everyone is suspected of being a witch or a child molester because -- well, many different reasons."


Rush Limbaugh (Right-Wing Talk Show Host):
"This constantly being on defense and waiting for the next shoe to drop, it is time for the Republicans to fight back and point out, and it should led by Hastert, point out how the Democrats continue to avoid the real issues of importance that we as a nation face.

"Nancy Pelosi knows the person who planted the story about Foley five weeks before the election. But, Rush, but, Rush, but, Rush, tell us what you know, how can you be sure she knows? Well, I can almost guarantee it. She might not know who specifically did it, but she knows where it comes from, all the liberal Democrats do. She knows the person because these e-mails were held by a liberal, they were planted by a liberal, and they were timed to the 2006 election cycle by a liberal, and liberals know liberals, and so Pelosi knows who Deep IM is. There's a Deep IM here, not Deep Throat, but there's a Deep IM."
Dennis Hastert (Speaker of the House):
(Continuing the unproven charge that Democrats leaked the sexually explicit messages) "We have a story to tell, and the Democrats have — in my view have — put this thing forward to try to block us from telling the story. They're trying to put us on defense."


Brit Hume (Fox News Anchor):
"It is very serious misbehavior on the part of Congressman Foley, whether it stems from arrogance or just weakness of the human flesh is another question. It’s probably worth noting that there’s a difference between the two parties on these issues. Inappropriate behavior towards subordinates didn’t cost Gerry Studds his Democratic seat in Massachussetts, nor Barney Frank his. Nor did inappropriate behavior toward a subordinate even cost Bill Clinton his standing within the Democratic Party, even though indirectly he was impeached for it. Mark Foley found out about this, was found out to have done this, and he’s out of office and in total disgrace in his party."


Matt Drudge (Right-Wing Blogger & Talk Show Host):
"And if anything, these kids are less innocent — these 16 and 17 year-old beasts…and I've seen what they're doing on YouTube and I've seen what they're doing all over the internet — oh yeah — you just have to tune into any part of their pop culture. You're not going to tell me these are innocent babies. Have you read the transcripts that ABC posted going into the weekend of these instant messages, back and forth? The kids are egging the Congressman on! The kids are trying to get this out of him. We haven't got the whole story on this."


There you have it. According to the GOP, Rep. Mark Foley, who was allowed to continue as co-chair of the Missing and Exploited Children's caucus despite his party knowing of his behavior months, if not years, before this revelation, is not the true problem. And his party has a myriad of ways of denying responsibility.

They invoke Clinton, who never had sex with a minor, as if his behavior was morally equivalent. They blame the Dems for the fact that the truth got out, as if it should have stayed hidden until after the election. They have suggested that child molestation is a non-issue. And they have had the audacity to blame the victims.

If the GOP holds onto the House and/or Senate now, either the American people are truly blind, deaf and dumb, or Diebold will have done a heckuva job.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Chavez drives a hard bargain, but Big Oil's options are limited

Chavez drives a hard bargain, but Big Oil's options are limited
- Robert Collier, Chronicle Staff Writer
Sunday, September 24, 2006

(09-24) 04:00 PDT El Tigre, Venezuela -- On the hot, shrub-covered plains around this dusty, dingy town, an odd courtship is being carried out between the world's most prominent revolutionary and the world's biggest oil companies.
Just as there is no love between President Hugo Chavez and the Bush administration, there is little love lost between Chavez and the foreign oilmen who are pumping up the huge reservoirs of underground oil. But they need each other. The United States needs Venezuela to help quench its bottomless thirst for oil, and Chavez needs America to buy it from him in order to fund his dreams of spreading his leftist ideology around the hemisphere.
The stakes here are huge. The area around El Tigre, known as the Orinoco Oil Belt, possesses the world's biggest petroleum reserves -- 1.3 trillion barrels of so-called extra-heavy oil. Chevron, Exxon Mobil, ConocoPhillips and dozens of other foreign firms are here, using recently developed technologies to extract the tarlike, sulfurous crude and refine it.
"Everyone agrees that the Orinoco Belt has the biggest reserves in the world," said Alberto Quiros, a Chavez critic and former president of Royal Dutch Shell's Venezuela operations. "What Chavez will do with them is another question, but there's no doubt that Venezuela will take Saudi Arabia's place as No. 1."
Chavez already is forcing Chevron, which is based in San Ramon, and other oil companies to swallow some bitter pills.
In the past two years, he has raised foreign oil companies' corporate income tax to 50 percent from 30 percent and increased royalties payable to the government from as low as 1 percent to 33 percent. After he threatened to confiscate their operations elsewhere in Venezuela, 26 foreign oil companies, including Chevron, agreed earlier this year to convert their operations into joint ventures with the state-owned Petroleos de Venezuela (known as Pdvsa), with the government holding the majority share. Two European firms -- Total of France and ENI of Italy -- refused, and Chavez promptly expelled them.
Now, the government is demanding similar concessions at the four Orinoco Belt operations, in which Chevron, Exxon Mobil and others have invested about $17 billion. The government is demanding that Pdvsa's ownership share of the projects be increased from an average of 40 percent to at least 51 percent and that Pdvsa take over operational control of the oilfields.
Negotiations over these demands are coming to a head, and the outcome may influence whether Venezuela's rising tensions with Washington subside or even escalate. Analysts say foreign companies may seek international arbitration to block Chavez's takeover attempt.
"It will be quite a fight," said Gersan Zurita, an oil-industry analyst with credit evaluator Fitch Ratings in New York, which advises investors who have purchased $3.9 billion in bonds for the Orinoco Belt projects. In June, Fitch Ratings downgraded the projects' credit scores, saying Chavez's demands could damage the projects' viability.
But for Chavez, it's a matter of national pride -- and political bragging points. Around the country, the government has put up posters and billboards showing Chavez extending his arms in a victory salute, accompanied by the slogan, "Full oil sovereignty: Joint ventures -- more benefits for the people!"
As top-secret negotiations begin, all sides in the conflict have tried to keep a low profile. Chevron, Exxon and ConocoPhillips declined Chronicle requests to interview their officials and to visit their installations in Venezuela.
Zurita said the companies fear being blacklisted by Chavez and losing out on future oil deals.
"It's a very delicate situation. It involves more than just these contracts. Any comment by any of these companies could be used by the government to demand more concessions," Zurita said. "The biggest incentive (for the companies) is to preserve access for the future. These are enormous reserves."
Luis Giusti, president of Pdvsa from 1994 to 1999, noted that many companies have little choice but to look to Venezuela because their reserves elsewhere are dwindling and their access to the Middle East is limited by the firm grip of those nations' government monopolies.
"The foreign companies will accept his conditions because they have so much capital sunk there, and they can't afford a confrontation with the government," said Giusti, who during his time at Pdvsa championed many of the privatization policies that Chavez is now reversing.
For its part, the government seems to have adopted a bunker mentality. Pdvsa's Caracas headquarters declined a Chronicle request to interview its officials or to visit its facilities. One official said that all visits were suspended "for security reasons" after a July 17 fire damaged the country's largest oil refinery, at Amuay in the northwest -- a sign that the government is nervous about the company's high rate of accidents, which it blames partially on sabotage by U.S.-inspired domestic opposition groups.
The only government official willing to talk about the subject was Fadi Kabboul, the oil attache at Venezuela's embassy in Washington.
"For the market, the Orinoco extra-heavy oil operations are very profitable, and they will continue being very profitable. There will be ever-greater interest and participation by foreign companies," Kabboul said.
The Orinoco conflict carries echoes of the knock-down, drag-out battle for control that erupted in December 2002, after Chavez ordered Pdvsa to directly fund and operate major social-welfare projects in poor communities. The company's executives, engineers, technicians and ship captains accused Chavez of "politicizing" Pdvsa, went on strike and shut down almost all operations for three months.
The strikers had hoped to topple Chavez by reviving a military-civilian coup effort that overthrew Chavez for two days in April 2002. But Chavez defeated the strike and fired 18,000 of the strikers -- about 90 percent of Pdvsa's white-collar workforce. The company is still struggling to recover, and most energy analysts believe that Pdvsa's production is only one-half of its pre-strike level. Nevertheless, Chavez's oil revenue has been buoyed by the increase of production by foreign companies, which has risen from 400,000 barrels per day to 620,000 per day, and the more-than-doubling of international oil prices.
In El Tigre, dozens of fired Pdvsa employees gather every day at 3 p.m. in a neighborhood park to exchange job tips and speculate hopefully about Chavez's downfall.
"This could be the issue that finally forces the Bush administration to take a stronger stand against Chavez," said Antonio Cardona, a former director of Pdvsa's crude pumping operations for the region. "Foreign companies have been afraid of Chavez, and they're staying just so they don't lose all they have invested, but he may have finally overplayed his hand now."
Cardona said he worked for Pdvsa for 20 years until he joined the strike. Three and a half years later, like his fellow strikers, Cardona is blacklisted throughout the oil industry by Pdvsa, which prohibits even private companies from hiring any ex-striker. Cardona must scrabble for work, doing small engineering jobs for private-sector construction projects.
At the same time, Chavez has begun shifting oil exports away from the United States, where Venezuelan crude is the fifth-largest foreign source of petroleum. During the first half of 2006, Venezuelan oil exports to the United States dropped by approximately 6 percent from the year before to about 1.3 million barrels per day, according to U.S. Energy Department figures.
At the same time, Chavez has struck oil deals with Beijing, including $5 billion of Chinese investments in Venezuelan energy projects by 2012. Venezuela's exports to China, while still relatively small at 150,000 barrels per day, are projected to reach 500,000 barrels by 2010.
Chevron may wind up playing an unwilling role in Chavez's most audacious plan -- construction of a 5,700-mile natural-gas pipeline through South America. The proposed $25 billion project, the central element of Chavez's plan to unify the continent's economies, would start in the eastern Venezuelan city of Puerto Ordaz, slice through Brazil's Amazon jungle and end in Argentina, with trunk lines to Peru, Bolivia and Chile.
Chevron is already a major player in helping Venezuela exploit its offshore natural gas deposits in the Caribbean and Atlantic, which at 151 trillion square feet are the eighth-largest proven reserves in the world. Recently, Venezuelan officials have suggested that despite prior understandings that Chevron would be allowed to convert the production from its Deltana field in the Atlantic into liquefied natural gas and export it to the United States, this supply will instead be sent south via the new pipeline -- whether Chevron likes it or not.
Some experts scoff at Chavez's pipeline idea. "It's a very large and very costly project," said Giusti. "It will never be built to transport reserves of gas that don't exist to markets that don't exist."
Other analysts call it far-thinking. A recent study by the Latin American Energy Organization, a regional alliance headquartered in Quito, Ecuador, concluded that Chavez's pipelines could save the area's governments $100 billion over the next 20 years by lowering imports of liquid natural gas from Asia and Africa.
One smaller project is already under construction -- a 140-mile gas pipeline linking Venezuela to Colombia, with an extension planned to Panama.
In El Tigre, a sprawling small city of 150,000 in Anzoategui state, there is little evidence of the nearby oil bonanza. Main streets are nondescript, and the highways leading out into the surrounding savanna are narrow and potholed.
But billboards are everywhere touting Chavez and the state's governor, Tarek William Saab.
"With Tarek and Chavez, Anzoategui is progressing!" blare the signs, showing a triumphant Chavez leading a slightly sheepish governor, both wearing revolutionary-red shirts and surrounded by cheering crowds.
But even many Chavez supporters complain that the president's grand ambitions have not benefited the people of Anzoategui.
"Because of oil we have everything, yet we have nothing," said El Tigre Mayor Ernesto Paraqueima, a member of Chavez's ruling coalition.
Speaking in his simple office in El Tigre's concrete-block municipal building as a broken sprinkler downstairs coated the windows with water, he bitterly criticized what he said was the waste of huge sums of money.
"The bureaucracy is enormous, and corruption is gigantic," Paraqueima said. "Anzoategui is a rich state, with rich land. You can look on either side of any highway in Anzoategui, and you won't see anything being cultivated anywhere. That's because of oil. We prefer to bring rice and potatoes from Colombia than growing it here. We produce almost nothing but oil.
"Every foreign oil company in the world is here, but where is the benefit?"
Chavez's oil money
In the past three years, as international oil prices have soared, Chavez has eliminated his political opposition's influence over government finances and drawn a tight curtain of secrecy around them.
In 2003, after the opposition led a chaotic strike by executives and technicians at the state-owned, yet formerly autonomous, oil company Petroleos de Venezuela, or Pdvsa, Chavez fired 18,000 of the white-collar strikers. In 2005, Chavez gained full control of the formerly independent Central Bank, and opposition parties' boycott of legislative elections gave his coalition all 167 seats in Congress that December.
Even Citgo, the U.S. refiner and gas retailer wholly owned by Pdvsa, earlier this year paid off all its debt and stopped the routine practice of reporting data to Moody's financial service -- thus ending all outside scrutiny of the company's books.
What's more, much of Venezuela's oil revenue now stays outside the government's budgetary channels. In recent years, Congress has set each year's government budget by setting Pdvsa's tax payments artificially low. This year, for example, Pdvsa's taxes are pegged to a price of $26 per barrel for Venezuela's blend of heavy crudes -- which currently sells for $58. The $32 per barrel difference remains largely off-budget, with no legislative supervision or disclosure of line-item details.
Documents released by the government earlier this month showed oil revenues of $49 billion for Pdvsa in the first six months of 2006, a 21 percent increase from the same period last year.
In Caracas, Pdvsa declined to make officials available to The Chronicle for an interview.
-- Robert Collier
E-mail Robert Collier at