The Mouth from the South is at it again:

CARACAS, Venezuela (CNN) — President Hugo Chavez on Friday wrapped up his campaign to push through broad constitutional changes with a broadside attack against adversaries at home and abroad — including a threat to cut off oil exports to the United States.

Chavez told a crowd gathered in the center of Caracas that if the referendum was approved and the result was questioned — “if the ‘yes’ vote wins on Sunday and the Venezuelan oligarchy, playing the [U.S.] empire’s game, comes with their little stories of fraud” — then he would order oil shipments to the United States halted Monday.

Chavez spoke after tens of thousands, brought on buses from throughout the country, marched down the capital’s principal boulevard to rally support for Sunday’s referendum, which would free Chavez from term-limit restrictions and move the country toward institutionalized socialism.

Full article here. Chavez may be serious, but as we have reported in the past,

[Terrance] Murray [of Energy Intelligence] says that, despite his politics, Chavez needs America’s dollars and the Chinese won’t be able to replace us any time soon.

MURRAY: “It would take such a long time for China to become a viable alternative that it would probably bankrupt him and leave him out of power.”

That’s because Chavez has staked his career on a series of ambitious and expensive social programs.

To pay for it, oil-industry economist Philip Verleger says Chavez has used money from the state-owned Petroleos de Venezuela, or Pdvsa.

As a result, he says, Chavez . . .

PHILIP VERLEGER: “Essentially diverted the cash flow from Pdvsa from searching for increased oil to providing benefits to the Venezuelans. Chavez has switched it. So production is going down. So Chavez needs high prices to keep his programs going.”

The US has been a steady source of cash, and US refineries are built to better handle Venezuela’s heavy crude oil.

See my previous report here. Chavez could certainly cause a short term upset in the global markets by shutting off the tap, but to continue paying for his social programs, he will have to resume sales to the U.S. at some point.

If Chavez makes good on this threat for a short time, this will undoubtedly be the week that oil breaks through the $100 ceiling.

#1. Members of the political press and unaffiliated Republican pols, gearing up for the meat grinder that the 2008 presidential race will certainly become, have all been scratching their heads and wondering aloud how Rudolph Giuliani can be leading in the early Republican primary polls when evangelicals, the so-called base of the party, should have a serious problem with his three marriages, two divorces and estrangement from his son. Typical of this sentiment, from the AP a little over a week ago:

Republican strategists say Giuliani’s troubled family relationships are likely to hinder his standing among conservatives who already have questions about his positions on social issues. They say the estrangement could raise a question in voters’ minds: If Giuliani can’t keep his family together, how will he keep the country together?

True, there have been statements of concern by evangelical leaders over Giuliani’s domestic circumstances. Richard Land, who is head of public policy for the Southern Baptist Convention, recently stated that Giuliani’s 2002 divorce from Donna Hanover was more than just a regular old divorce; it was more like “divorce on steroids,” Land said. “To publicly humiliate your wife in that way, and your children. That’s rough. I think that’s going to be an awfully hard sell, even if he weren’t pro-choice and pro-gun control.”

As usual, though, the conventional wisdom only has it half-right, and Richard Land’s assessment of Giuliani gives us a clue about why. Evangelicals do not vote as a bloc, and they do not live their lives in uniformity, either. If you just listen to an episode of New Life Live, for example, one of many Christian lifestyle talk shows flying around our radio airwaves, you’ll immediately be struck by how much dysfunction exists in the lives of some people who are trying hard to lead Christian lives. Not only are divorces commonplace (a 2004 survey by George Barna Research, incidentally, found that 35% of born-again Christians have been divorced, which is the same percentage as you’ll find in the non-born-again population), but such topics as alcoholism, drug abuse, porn and sex addictions, adultery, and all manner of broken families form the bedrock of the discussions that take place on the program — and without exception, much to the credit of the hosts, such problems are dealt with in a forgiving and quite practical way.

It should be no surprise at all, then, that evangelical conservatives might flirt with voting with either the twice-divorced, thrice-married Rudy Giuliani, the once-divorced, twice-married John McCain, or the twice-divorced, thrice-married Newt Gingrich — who just happen to be three out of the top four Republican “candidates” in this pre-primary season. They can be said to reflect the American Christian circumstance, similarly to the way that some divorced evaneglicals also reflect the American Christian circumstance.

If McCain’s divorce is a “molehill” to Giuliani’s “mountain” of a divorce, according to Richard Land — who speaks on behalf of believers in a Bible that, according to Baptists, calls divorce a sin — then, at least as it concerns presidential preference among the voters of the Christian right, some divorces must be okay. Perhaps the average evangelical does not care so much if his or her presidential candidate has sinned — it’s more about whether he is repentant, and whether his social policies generally seek to restrain sinning or ignore the existence of it. Judging by McCain’s sinking poll numbers and Giuliani’s recent unmistakable ascendance, however, our working theory should be that Giuliani has the respect of a large portion of the Republican electorate on the basis of other attributes — his leadership after 9/11, for example — and that this may, just may, be more important to a few evangelical voters than either the question of sin or the state of one’s domestic life. That is to say, that some evangelical Christians may be quite forgiving and practical people. But we shall see …

#2 Is there anyone left in America who doesn’t believe that Fox News is a conservative news network? I’d seriously doubt it; however, recent coverage leads me to observe that Fox News ought to be given an award by the folks at Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting. Apart from the fact that most polls put the support of American voters in favor of the Iraq War at somewhere around 30%, does anyone really remember the mainstream media — CNN, CBS, NBC or ABC, for our purposes — covering the “peace movement” so much these days? For the most part, those TV networks don’t bother with the radical left. They live in the political center — they eschew both long-haired, post-neo-Marxists and Ann Coulter alike.

Fox News, however, has contributed, perhaps unwittingly, to an outright revival of the media presence of the left-wing fringe. In yesterday’s coverage of the 4th anniversary of the war, Fox spent much of the day trotting out loonies who denounce Bush while claiming to have seen UFOs, and showing footage of protesters staging a “die-in” in San Francisco’s financial district. I would be tempted to say that such reporting actually earns Fox its marketing slogan, “fair and balanced,” were it not for the fact that Fox News generally dismisses the existence of moderate and even conservative voices who disagree vehemently with Bush’s prosecution of the war — good church-going people from here in the Heartland who wear suits that are too nice for lying down in traffic, and who would sooner ask their congressman for a tax increase than admit to having seen a UFO.

Of course, we know what Fox is about when they bring out the loonies — they’re seeking to trivialize dissent. The result, however, is that the crazy die-in people and the UFO guy get free publicity and great big TV audiences. Strange bedfellows, don’t you think?

#3 AMEInfo reports the following today:

Rumours that Algeria, Iran, Qatar, Russia and Venezuela will establish a gas cartel along the same lines as Opec next month have been re-iterated by the Russian daily Kommersant and reported by the AFP. It is widely believed an upcoming meeting of the Gas Exporting Countries Forum in Doha on April 9 will be the venue for the announcement. Russia seemingly poured cold water on the idea last month.

Don’t get distracted by the substance of this — it won’t necessarily mean higher natural gas prices for us here in the U.S. in the short-term, at least not in a pre-Liquid Natural Gas world, in which gas will jump from continent to continent.

Look, instead, at the form of such activity. While we’re sparring with Venezuela and accusing Iran of waging war against us in Iraq, Russia looks like it is lending its imprimatur as a world power to a venture that will attempt to amplify the influence and economic significance of such nations within their own regions. Not hard to see Russia’s interest in doing that, is it? As an example, Venezuela currently imports a lot of gas and has had difficulty developing its own offshore fields. Rather than benefiting as a seller of natural gas, in the short term, what it really hopes to do is to capture the undying loyalty of Colombia and Bolivia, a pair of real gas exporters, by giving them a theoretically more favorable market into which to sell their gas. Then Chavez will ask them something like, “what has the U.S. done for you lately?”, and Russia will get Venezuela’s props for helping it build its South American empire. The outcome is less direct U.S. influence, and more indirect Russian influence.

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — President Hugo Chavez told U.S. officials to “Go to hell, gringos!” and called Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice “missy” on his weekly radio and TV show Sunday, lashing out at Washington for what he called unacceptable meddling in Venezuelan affairs.

The tirade came after Washington raised concerns about a measure to grant the fiery leftist leader broad lawmaking powers. The National Assembly, which is controlled by the president’s political allies, is expected to give final approval this week to what it calls the “enabling law,” which would give Chavez the authority to pass a series of laws by decree during an 18-month period.

On Friday, U.S. State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey said Chavez’s plans under the law “have caused us some concern.”

Chavez rejected Casey’s statement in his broadcast, saying: “Go to hell, gringos! Go home!”

Full article here.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has called on the US ambassador in Caracas to retract his assertion that drug trafficking in the country is rising.

Mr Chavez said the comments were absolutely false and that a retraction would demonstrate that Washington is serious about wanting good relations.

William Brownfield said poor police collaboration was making Venezuela a preferred drug route to the Caribbean.

The comments follow recent improvements in relations between the two countries.

Mr Chavez said the US ambassador’s claims were “a lack of respect for the truth” and said they were “absolutely false”.

The president blamed US drug consumption for the problem and accused the US of turning from communism to the drug war to justify its military presence in the region.

Full piece here.

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez backed the possibility of holding a national referendum, if he’s re-elected, on whether to shut down private television stations that he has accused of subversive activities.

Chavez’s comments late Thursday came amid rising tensions between the government and the country’s largely opposition-aligned private media ahead of Sunday’s vote.

Chavez was asked in a televised interview if he would consider asking the nation whether the government should block certain channels from renewing their broadcast licenses next year.

“That is perfectly possible,” Chavez said. “It’s perfectly possible that the country gives its opinion, including for how long.”

Chavez also said he regretted not having shut down the country’s major private broadcasters right after a short-lived 2002 coup against him, citing four in particular: Globovision, Venevision, RCTV and Televen.

Full piece here.

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) – Hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans packed a major highway Saturday in a rally for opposition presidential candidate Manual Rosales, one of the largest demonstrations against President Hugo Chavez in years.

Shouts of “Dare to change!” rose up from the dense crowd filling the highway for several miles and spilling into nearby overpasses and streets in Venezuela’s capital, Caracas. The rally came eight days before the country’s presidential election on Dec. 3.

Rosales, speaking from a stage, promised democracy for a country he said was sinking into Cuba-style authoritarianism under Chavez.

“I don’t want to be a president who controls all the branches of government,” Rosales shouted to thundering applause. “Let there be true democracy in Venezuela!”

Hey, is it just me or does Caracas smell like sulphur? Full piece here.

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