Saturday, April 29, 2006

Jose can you see... 

Off Topic Social Commentary:

The debate over the US immigration policy has taken an interesting path, that brings forward and center, the issue of what it is nationalism. At issue is the recent translation of the US national anthem into the spanish language, recorded and played over the radio, by Latino artists. This article captures most of what is relevent to this debate:

Jimi Hendrix had his electric guitar at Woodstock. Tommie Smith and John Carlos bowed their heads and pumped their fists in the air at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. And who can forget Roseanne Barr's manly gesture after singing "The Star-Spangled Banner" at a baseball game in 1990?
The national anthem has been honored, challenged, ridiculed and now - to presidential dismay - translated.

The latest skirmish over the Francis Scott Key lyrics is no less symbolic. A Spanish-language version called "Nuestro Himno (Our Anthem)" made its way to radio stations Friday, drawing a rebuke from President Bush, who said the song ought to be sung in English.

The song's release was timed to a national debate over immigration policies that is drawing attention to protests around the country and a threatened boycott of schools and workplaces on Monday.

...But attention Friday was on a three-minute, 20-second song featuring Wyclef Jean and a number of Latin pop singers like Gloria Trevi and Carlos Ponce. The Spanish version of the national anthem generally follows the tune of "The Star-Spangled Banner" with a few windy cadences and a loose translation about a "sacred flag."

British music producer Adam Kidron said the song honors Spanish-speaking immigrants so they can fully understand "the ideals of freedom" that the flag and national anthem represent.

Bush disagreed.

"I think people who want to be a citizen of this country ought to learn English and they ought to learn to sing the national anthem in English," Bush said Friday, during a briefing with reporters in the Rose Garden.

...He's more concerned that the song is another step - along with a push for bilingual education - toward turning California into a Latino version of Quebec, the Canadian city where French, not English, is the official language.

"This is another attempt to make us comfortable with what's happening to this country," said Landi, who lives in Dunsmuir, south of Mount Shasta.

But Belinda Reyes, an immigration expert at the University of California, Merced, said singing "The Star-Spangled Banner" in Spanish shows that immigrants come from a different cultural background - not that they don't want to learn English or aren't interested in becoming American.

"If the point is nationalism and national pride (of America), why does the language matter?" she asked.

What role does culture and heritage play in an already established nationalism, when those exemplifying the same nationalism do not share the same culture and heritage? At play are other societal pressures such as economics, and prejudice.

If the goal of the producer/s of this concept was to bring to a higher level of cognition, the immigration policy of the US and the role of immigrant workers within US society - then he/they have achieved that goal with honors. This action strikes a chord with any who have even the minimalist notion of nation. It throws into the national spotlight the history of the nation, with consideration to the immigrants who helped develop it, in contrast with the immigrants who now further its growth. It twists the pointing finger back onto the body to which it belongs, and proceeds to force the uneasy issue of discrimination vs. economic necessity.

Interesting to note is the fact that the star spangled banner is a derivative of an English Pub song that Francis Scott Key plagiarized when writing. One can envision a pub full of rowdy drunken English patrons signing a song not too dissimilar to the US national anthem, jolly in all their merriment. In fact, that vision also, is not too dissimilar to the general conception most have against Latino migrants, when they, as a whole, are stereotyped into a category, that has precedents elsewhere.



The people who work for the U.S. government are obviously quite shameless. According to them Venezuela is not co-operating in the war on terroris. Never mind that the U.S. is harboring a person who is accused of blowing up an airliner, is harboring (and just set completely free!!) military officers involved in bombings, and has no qualms about haboring Patricia Poleo, who is accused of been involved in the blowing up of a Venezuelan prosecutor. No, according to the U.S. its Venezuela that isn't co-operative:

Washington: Cuba, Venezuela not helping in war on terrorism
A State Department report blasted Cuba and Venezuela for not cooperating in the war on terrorism.

WASHINGTON - The State Department on Friday blasted Venezuela and Cuba for doing little in the war on terrorism and criticized Havana for refusing to hand over U.S. fugitives even as it made demands on anti-Castro activist Luis Posada Carriles and five Cuban agents held in the United States.

''Cuba remained a state sponsor of terrorism, while Venezuela virtually ceased its cooperation in the global war on terror, tolerating terrorists in its territory and seeking closer relations with Cuba and Iran,'' according to the State Department's 2005 Country Reports on Terrorism.

But the annual congressionally mandated report also said ''there is some dispute about the existence and extent of Cuba's bioweapons program,'' as the Bush administration continued to backtrack on earlier claims that Cuba possessed a limited offensive biological warfare research and development effort.

The State Department also lists several recent encounters between Iranian, North Korean and Cuban officials but falls short of linking these contacts to bioweapons technology transfers.

In an unusually detailed response to Cuba's longtime demands that the United States hand over five of its agents convicted in 2001 of spying for Cuba, the State Department said some U.S. fugitives have been living on the island since the 1970s and that Cuba was ''nonresponsive'' to U.S. demands that they be handed over.

''On the other hand, the Cuban regime publicly demanded the return of five of its agents convicted of espionage in the United States,'' the report said.

Cuba says the five are heroes who defended against attacks by exile groups.

The United States made a similar point with Posada Carriles, a former CIA operative and Venezuelan citizen accused of masterminding the 1976 bombing of a Cubana Airlines plane, killing more than 70. ''Cuba did not extradite suspected terrorists during the year, but demanded that the United States surrender to Cuba Luis Posada Carriles,'' the report stated.

The report, which tackles terrorism issues worldwide, uses stern language on Venezuela but falls short of listing it as a state sponsor of terrorism, as some Venezuela officials feared.

Last year, the State Department called Venezuela's counterterrorism cooperation ``inconsistent at best.''

Now cooperation is ''negligible,'' and Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez collaborated more with Cuba and Iran and was ``unwilling to deny safe haven to members of Colombian terrorists groups, as called for in U.N. resolutions.''

U.S. officials have complained that Chávez has been systematically cutting links with the United States, including limiting contacts between U.S. military personnel and their counterparts in Venezuela and ignoring or harassing William Brownfield, the U.S. ambassador in Caracas.

Washington said Chávez has turned increasingly authoritarian at home and promotes an aggressive form of populism abroad. The Bush administration has blocked or objected to Venezuelan arms purchases, saying they were overblown given the nation's defense needs.

Venezuelan ambassador in Washington, Bernardo Alvarez, said the State Department report was ``immoral and cynical.''

He said Washington demands collaboration on terrorism but has been silent to Venezuela's requested extradition of Posada Carriles and two Venezuelan officers charged with bombing foreign consular buildings in Caracas.


Friday, April 28, 2006

Stepping the propoganda up a notch 

Is it just me, or does it seem that the better Chavez does and the better Venezuela does the heavier and more blatant the anti-Chavez propoganda becomes in the international press? Case in point the April 22-28 edition of The Economist, page 38 has the following passage:

"Mr. Chavez will seek another six-year term at an election in December. The government wants to shift the political debate away from bread and butter issues. So Mr. Chavez is claiming that what is at stake in the election is an ideological conflict between teh United States and Venezuela's "Bolivarian Revolution" and that his true opponent will be George Bush. Earlier this month police stood by as a crowd of Chavistas, some on motorbikes, pelted the American ambassador's car with eggs after he donated baseball equipment to a school in a poor area of Caracas.

Such ciruses may not deflect the grievances of ordinary Venezuelans. In the past two months there have been at least 30 demonstrations demanding that the government fulfil its promises in matters such as housing and jobs. Mostly leaderless, the protests mix chavistas and non-chavistas, although most of the latter do not support the opposition. The governments approval rating was only 14% in a recent survey by Hinterlaces, a polling firm"

There are a couple real pearls in there. First Chavez would run away from "bread and butter" issues? Is this their idea of a joke. The economy has grown 17% and then 9% in the past two years. It could well wind up growing another 8 or 9% this year. Unemployment has fallen from over 20% in early 2003 to just 10% now. Inflation is down, income is up, social programs are expanding, and between now and December Chavez will be hard pressed to find time to inaugerate all the new public works his government is finishing. Under those circumstances we are supposed to believe that Chavez would be running way from "bread and butter" issues?!?! With that kind of non-sense they are risking their reputation as a serious periodical. Or maybe they just never hear the famous expression from James Carville "Its the economy stupid!".

But it gets even better. They then claim that the government only has 14% support according to an opinion poll. Never mind that the polls consitantly shows Chavez with an approval rating of around 70% and I've never seen one in the past year that put him below 50%, much less 14%!! At the very least they would seem to be trying to mislead here. Could it be they asked some question about some part of the "government" and got 14% (maybe Venezuela's Department of Motor Vehicles polls at 14%?) but we don't know because they don't say. But it would appear they hope the casual reader will think "Golly, 14%, Chavez is really unpopular, no wonder people are talking about him being a dictator." Yet, in reality Chavez is very popular and will almost certainly win any freely contested election.

As bad as this was, there is even worse and in periodicals that would claim to be even more serious and academic. Stay tuned.


Wednesday, April 26, 2006

The death of Venezuelan oil industry has been greatly exaggerated 

To listen to the Venezuelan opposition all the oil companies were going to high-tail it out of Venezuela now that those dastardly Chavistas have forced them into more equitable contracts. Maybe they would maintain their current investments, the thinking went, but they certainly wouldn't be engaging in any new activities in Venezuela. Apparently our opposition friends were wrong yet again:

By Peter Millard Of Dow Jones Newswires
CARACAS (MarketWatch) -- Venezuela's oil fields are seeing an increase in drilling activity as record oil revenues find their way back into everyday operations, according to oil executives and industry reports.
Venezuela has had difficulties maintaining oil production levels in recent years due to a lack of trained staff following a 2003 management purge and the diversion of oil money into social programs, but the tide appears to be turning.
"For the past two years we have been increasing investments in Venezuela," said Hatem Soliman, the head of Schlumberger Ltd.'s (SLB) operations for Venezuela and the Caribbean.
Soliman, speaking to reporters at an industry event this week, said all nine of Schlumberger's Venezuelan rigs are operational, and the company could bring in additional rigs if new opportunities arise.
Schlumberger is not alone. According to a March rig count by Baker Hughes, a competing oil services company, Venezuela had a total of 81 drilling rigs in operation, up two from the previous month and up 15 from March of 2005.
And more rigs are on their way. Ensco (ESV) is scheduled to move an offshore rig from the Gulf of Mexico to ConocoPhillips' (COP) Corocoro field off of Venezuela's eastern coast in May. The platform for the site is already in place, state-owned oil giant Petroleos de Venezuela, or PdVSA (PVZ.YY), has said.
Royal Dutch Shell Plc. (RDSB.LN) will resume drilling at its Urdaneta West field in July with a Maersk rig. Oil firms that underwent an overhaul of conventional oil field contracts signed in the 1990s suspended drilling operations last year amid tough negotiations. Now that a new business model is set up with PdVSA holding majority ownership - which is the case with Shell's Urdaneta field - companies are ready to invest again.
Schlumberger's Soliman said he was working with "all of the mixed companies" on investment plans, referring to the new business model for the PdVSA-dominated oil fields. The new mixed companies pump around a fifth of Venezuela's total oil production, estimated at around 2.6 million barrels a day. [this is a bogus number, see here. If even the dumbasses at the CIA can figure it out you would think the Dow Jones reporters could too! - OW]
Activity will also increase in natural gas drilling. Norway's Statoil ASA (STO) hopes to have a Transocean rig drilling in the offshore Delatana natural gas deposits this year.

Interesting. They are paying higher taxes and higher royalties and they have had to surrender operational control to Venezuela. Yet they keep investing. I guess they must still be making money. Thank god. I was so concerned about companies like Shell and Chevron not making any money on their Venezuelan operations I almost couldn't sleep at night.

Anyways, its good to know the rumors of Venezuela's oil industry dying have been greatly exagerated.


If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. 

The Venezuelan opposition now has two declared candidates who want to stand against Chavez in the December 3rd elections. They are Teodoro Petkoff, director of the anti-Chavez Tal Cual newspaper and former economy minister under the Caldera government, and Julio Borges of the Primero Justicia (Justice First) party which is a relatively new middle class (some say yuppie) party.

Quite frankly I hadn’t intended to spend much time on this campaign, as it is likely to be a non-event. Chavez consistently polls around 50% in all the “if the election were today who would you vote for” polls while Petkoff and Borges hardly ever break 10%. With Chavez’s approval ratings hovering around 70% and the economy continuing to boom it’s hard to imagine anyone defeating him. The opposition, in spite of their public utterances, know this all too well which is why they are likely to find a reason to excuse themselves from the election and avoid yet another humiliating loss.

All of this would make for one big yawn, except that both Petkoff and Borges have already dabbled in offering electoral proposals to woo Chavez’s base. Petkoff for instance has already floated the idea of a “CestaTicket Petrolera” to give a portion of Venezuela’s oil revenues directly to people. “CestaTickets” are a coupon employees are given in Venezuela every month to cover their meal costs. Petkoff’s idea would be to give every low income Venezuelan a similar coupon which they could use for whatever they wished – it would simply be a cash payout of part of the oil revenues.

Its not clear how much money that proposal would cost nor how he would pay for it. After all it bears keeping in mind that the last time Petkoff was in the government Venezuela for all intents and purposes withdrew from OPEC, pumped oil like it was going out of existence, and helped oil prices plunge to less than $10 per barrel. If he pursues those policies again he likely won’t have to worry about how to spend the oil windfall, there won’t be any.

But that is not the biggest issue I have with Petkoff’s proposal. What I find fascinating is that he now suddenly in favor of just handing out cash. This is a very quick 180 degree turn for him as up to know he has been one of the people slamming Chavez for his “cheap populism” and “vote buying” social programs. Adding to that criticism we were always told that Chavez’s programs did nothing to truly lift people out of poverty but rather simply created a culture of dependency. Yet while Chavez’s “Missions” have given people stipends, to get those stipends one has to be participating in an educational program – from basic literacy programs to college classes – or receiving vocational training. Other Missions directly provide basic foodstuffs or medical care. Yet the cash that Petkoff says he will hand out could be used on alcohol, drugs or simply gambled away and it does nothing to further peoples education or skills. In other words, if Chavez’s social programs are “cheap populism” Petkoff’s proposal is ten times worse. Nevertheless, it is amazing to see how quickly a person can change their tune in hopes of picking up a few votes.

Then we have Julio Borges who has recently discovered that the Missions really are a good idea after all. This from his campaign web site:

“Missions without exclusion
Julio Borges

We agree with the Missions

In the house to house visits that we are doing throughout the country and in the large numbers of popular assemblies that we have carried out in more than 80 localities in the east, west, Andes and the south, there have been many points of agreement. One of those is the social programs developed by this government, the so-called Social Missions. With all those we have spoken to we have said the same thing – we think the Missions are a good idea. If there is one thing no-one can disagree with its that they hit the mark: they have paid an immense social debt that we had with the millions of Venezuelans who for decades have been excluded. In Justice First we have always had a consistent philosophy: good ideas should always be supported and for that reason we are in agreement with the Missions, but with Missions improved as to make them high quality social programs. We agree with the Missions, but definitely Missions without exclusions.”

The article then goes on to complain that not enough money is being spent on the Missions and that if money wasn’t spent abroad (a point P.J. greatly exaggerates) or if there wasn’t so much corruption (examples please) the Missions would be better. I hope Chavez is listening loud and clear to this demand – SPEND MORE MONEY ON THE MISSIONS. Coming from people who up until very recently were opposed to the Missions this is quite amazing – or maybe when they speak to people in the barrios they realize these programs are so popular they have no choice but to support them.

In any event, it is breathtaking to watch the speed with which the Venezuelan opposition, which up until recently was decrying the spending on social program, claiming that Mercal stores were undermining small business people, and that Cuban doctors were killing people through malpractice, has changed its tune. The Missions are now apparently such a good thing one has to wonder why they never thought of them in the 40 years they were in power. And there is no better social policy than just handing out as much cash as you can – the opposition doesn’t need any sophisticated academic studies are needed to know that.

Truthfully though, all this has me a little concerned for the opposition. What exactly are they going to do come next December 4th? A resounding defeat is more or less assured so they won’t have what they most crave – power. Yet they also won’t have what the powerless often like to find solace in – their dignity and their having stood on principles. Will they be able to even look themselves in the mirror after all the groveling after a few votes? If it keeps this up the opposition will stand before the world on December 4th thoroughly exposed, with no principles, no dignity, nothing it can say it believes in. What a sad spectacle – people who want nothing more than to get power for themselves yet who no matter how much they prostitute themselves can’t get it. I’m truly embarrassed for them.


Does Chavez's left hand know what his right hand is doing? 

One of the frequent assertions of the Venezuelan opposition, and one picked up by the international media, is that Chavez controls all aspects of power in Venezuela. The National Assembly, the Supreme Court, the Comptroller General, the Attorney General,etc. are nothing but appendages of his will and do nothing but what he tells them to do. If one takes the opposition at its word none of those organizations does so much as sneeze without Chavez telling them to do it.

Keeping that in mind, a very curious thing has happened. Last year the supposedly Chavez controlled National Assembly revised the Venezuelan Penal Code (this revision has been the subject of a lot of false accusations - but that is the subject for another day). Yet several months late the supposedly Chavez controlled Attorney General went to the Supreme Court to ask that those revisions be declared null on the grounds that they violated the Venezuelan constitution and its expansive definition of human rights. Yesterday the Attorney General, Isaías Rodríguez, affirmed that he was continueing with that case to overturn the National Assembly reforms.

So here we have two institutions, the National Assembly and the Attorney General, both supposedly controlled by Chavez, and both working at cross purposes - one passing new laws and the other saying those new laws are unconstitutional and therefore invalid. So what is it - does the left half of Chavez's brain not know what the right half is doing? Or does Chavez maybe not control these bodies after all?


Monday, April 24, 2006

How does he do it – Part II 

Last year I used some information from a Venezuelan-American Chamber of Commerce (Vencham) presentation to explain why Chavez is so popular. That presentation showed, among other things, that the poorest Venezuelans had their incomes increase quite dramatically in 2004.

Now the same presentation has been given, but based on 2005 numbers. So lets take a look at how things have changed over the past year and how current economic trends might effect the political dynamic of the country

The first slide shows that this is a presentation on “Perspectives for the Market and Consumers” for 2006. The presentation is given by Datos, a long established Venezuelan data and polling firm and the forum is VenCham which has been consistently anti-Chavez. So rest assured, this is not data manipulated with a pro-Chavez bias in mind.

The next slide makes some general comments about the Venezuelan economy:

It goes as follows:

“Important increase in consumption in 2005

• High oil income and an increase in GDP

• Increase in social spending and social investment

• Decrease in unemployment

• Real increase in the minimum wage and improvements in other benefits

• Decrease in interest rates”

Nothing much new here. The economy grew over 9% in 2005 and all the economic indicators and trends, as described above, are positive. But this certainly is a dramatic reversal of fortune from when the economy was in a severe depression resulting largely from an opposition led oil strike.

Now how does this translate into changes in people’s standard of living? Here is an interesting slide that speaks to that:

This slide shows per capita consumption of non-perishable times (i.e., things like clothes, cars, appliances; not things like food, cleaning products) over the past decade and a half. You can see that consumption has gone up considerably – it is up 16% over 1998 (right before Chavez took power) and 5% over the recent peak of 1993. Note that consumption was lower in the years on the chart before 1993 so one would have to go back at least to the 80s and maybe even to the 70s to have higher per capita consumption of these durable goods. And of course, consumption is still increasing at a healthy clip – so one would be surprised if people weren’t happy with the economic situation in Venezuela.

This next table confirms that:

This chart gives the Index of Consumer Confidence – i.e. how well people think the economy is doing and will do in the near future. It presently stands at 93 and you have to go all the way back to 1988 to find a higher level of confidence. With such a high level of confidence in the economy you have to be pretty deluded to think the electorate would vote out an incumbent president.

Now that we can see that the economy overall seems to be doing quite well and most people feel good about it lets look a little at how individual segments of society are doing. First, we have this slide that shows the extent of Chavez’s social programs, the Missions:

The question posed to respondents in this slide is if they or anyone in their family have been beneficiaries of the Missions. Remember that the Missions include everything from the Mercal discount stores, to the Barrio Adentro health program, to various educational programs. On average about 57% of people said they had benefited from those programs. So they are reaching the majority of the population. The slide also breaks that statistic down by social class (for a definition of the social classes see here ). The middle and upper classes A,B and C+ actually had a fair participation in the Missions at 28%. The lower middle class, C-, had a participation rate of 32%. As expected the lower classes, D and E, had participation rates of 58% and 67% respectively. I am somewhat surprised those last two rates aren’t higher. I’m not sure why at least a third of all relatively poor people in Venezuela seem not to have any connection to the Missions. I would certainly hope this is a question being asked inside the government.

Lastly, we come to the most interesting slide, the one which shows income change over the past two years by social class:

First, it is a little disappointing the chart doesn’t give any information on how social classes A and B are doing so that we can make across the board comparisons for everyone. But even with what they do give we can note some interesting trends. First, class E, the poorest half of Venezuelan society (58% of the population actually) is doing remarkably well. In 2004 its income grew by 53% in nominal terms or by about 30% in real terms. That is a stunning increase. And though the economy as a whole grew by a very rapid 17% in 2004 the income of this segment increased by almost twice that amount. That would seem to show that Chavez’s social programs are having their intended effect of significantly boosting the income of Venezuela’s poorest. It has been said a number of times that although Chavez is rhetorically in favor of the poor he hasn’t done much to benefit them. These numbers should dispel that notion.

Moreover, the chart includes the 2004 vs. 2005 numbers and they show that the income of class E increased another 32% in nominal terms in 2005, or about 16% in real terms. Again, this is a very impressive increase and given that the economy as a whole grew by 9% it shows that it is Venezuela’s poor who are disproportionally benefiting from Venezuela’s boom

Now, if we look at the lower middle class, C- in the slide, we see that their income hasn’t even kept up with inflation for the past two years. That stands to reason as most of these people don’t participate in Chavez’s social programs as we previously saw. However, many of them have jobs in the formal sector and probably even work for the government. Given that earlier this year the government decreed some very large salary increases well above inflation this groups should do substantially better in 2006.

Finally we get to the one bit of negative news in the table – that of the income levels of class D. With their nominal income increases of 1% and 8% in the last two years they clearly saw their real income decline due to inflation. That is, in spite of Venezuela’s boom this group of people (23% of the population) has seen their standard of living drop over the past two years. Most of these people probably occupy the lower echelons of the formal labor market while a portion would work in the informal sector. But given that more than half of them do participate in the Missions it isn’t obvious why their income should have gone down. It would seem this is a group of people falling in the gap between the poorest who get the benefits of the social programs and those in a good enough position in the formal sector of the economy to command wage increases. Given that this is a quarter of the population this isn’t a situation that should be allowed to stand and hopefully modifications can be made to either wage scales or the Missions to help these people.

The anomaly of class D notwithstanding though what this presentation to the Venezuelan-American Chamber of Commerce showed was that Chavez’s strategy of using a booming economy to most benefit those who have historically had the least is working. Contrary to the opposition propaganda which paint his efforts as failures this shows they are being quite successful. Chavez and his government have good reason to be proud. And considering that the upper classes can hardly be said to be doing poorly maybe Chavez is on to something new here - trickle-up economics.


Sunday, April 23, 2006

A negative sign solves everything 

Those of you who read right-wing newspapers (or read opposition blogs) might be familiar with the Heritage Foundations Index of Economic Freedom. The Heritage Foundation is a very right-wing U.S. think tank and its Index of Economic Freedom supposedly rates countries on how free and pro-market their economies are.

Having a little too much time on my hands I decided to check out their 2006 version. Right off the bat I was a little mystified. Venezuela ranks number 152 which is near the bottom of the list. But in a very interesting twist it is ranked 2 places below Cuba which is in the 150th spot. So we are to believe Venezuela which has lots of foriegn companies operating in it, has a large private banking sector and stock exchange, has large private companies dominating its media, transportation, and commercial sectors is somehow less free than Cuba which has a command economy? Right there that pretty much blows away any credibility this list may have aspired to.

But then it gets worse. They write detailed reports on each country and I read the Venezuelan report which is chockfull of the usual propoganda and half-truths. Listening to them describe how badly the Venezuelan economy is managed and all the dire problems it faces one could be forgiven for thinking that famine was about to break out.

Not thinking much of their analysis I decided to check out there little box of statistics on the left hand side. There they have compiled all sorts of interesting data such the countries size, population, trading partners, etc. Of course, I thought it would be interesting for them to have to report that Venezuela's economy was booming inspite of their considering it "repressed". Much to my amazement, they reported GDP growth as being a NEGATIVE 9.4%.

Whoa, where did that come from? At the bottom of the statistics table they say data is from 2003 (in a 2006 report?!?!). But that can't seem to be as although the Venezuelan economy suffered a strike induced decline in 2003 it wasn't 9.4%. Rather curiously the 9.4% is pretty much the right number for the most recent year - 2005. Of course, it just needs to be a POSITIVE 9.4% not a NEGATIVE 9.4%.

So when statistics create problems for your world view what is one to do? Well, according to the Heratige Foundation one acceptable solution is just to insert a negative sign. That solves everthing. Thinking up innovative solutions like that is probably what these people get paid big bucks for.


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