Thursday, June 08, 2006

Fishing for fraud 

New presidential elections are fast approaching in Venezuela and all major opinion polls indicate barring something dramatic Chavez should win easily. So what is an opposition that absolutely cannot stand Chavez and has never wanted to recognize his legitimacy to do? Simple, impugn the electoral system and find a convenient excuse to back out elections claiming they are somehow rigged.

The opposition has multiple ways to do this but right now they are focusing on one; attacking the electoral registry, known as the RE by its initials in Spanish. The opposition has for quite some time complained that the RE, which has about 14 million voters registered in it, is replete with errors. Worse still, they claim that the Chavez administration has intentionally manipulated it to carry out fraud. Without a thorough audit of the RE, the opposition says, they cannot trust it and will not participate in the elections.

Of course, there is a little problem with the opposition's position here. And that is that the RE WAS thoroughly audited in late 2005 by an independent outside agency which found that it was a largely accurate and was completely appropriate to serve as the basis for elections. The audit was carried out by the Center for Electoral Promotion and Assistance (CAPEL) of the InterAmerican Human Rights Institute based in Costa Rica. After a thorough audit testing the RE against other databases and itself they concluded: "The technical team of CAPEL has not found anything that implies a deligitimization of the RE as a valid legal instrument for realizing elections". In short, the RE, in spite of having the types of errors that large databases often have, passed the audit (the entire autdit can be found here).

So you would think that would be the end of the matter, right? Especially given that opposition NGO SUMATE audited the RE before the Recall Referendum and also found it to be quite accurate. Unfortunately though, we are dealing with an opposition that is absolutely determined to avoid accepting Chavez's coming re-election as legitimate and is therefore going all out to find excuses not to participate.

For that reason they don't consider the CAPEL audit to have been sufficient - they are now insisting on another audit, this time to be carried out by a group of Venezuelan universities. Three of the universities, the UCV, USB, and UCAB are insisting on carrying out an entirely different type of audit. How would their audit be different from the one carried out by CAPEL? They claim their audit rather than comparing the RE to other databases would be a statistical analysis. For more details lets see what Benjamin Sharifker, the rector of USB said in an interview earlier this week:

Q: From a technical point of view what is the difference between your proposal and the other proposals?

A: Ours will be done on the database contained in the RE. In this way we will formulate a model and from that model will be created a sample of objects to be audited. That is to say, for example, the electoral centers, will be studied in depth to come up with a correlation between the RE and the electors. In that way, the electors would have a guarantee that the data in the RE was in harmony with theirs. It would be possible to detect the errors that a data base of 16 million people will have. Therefore, a very important part of the study will consist in the robustness of the registry with the errors it can contain. That is, in what way could the errors of the RE affect or not affect the results of an election. We are talking about elements that were not analyzed in the audits carried out up to now.

Q: To carry out an audit it is necessary to verify or contrast the RE with another source to determine what coincidences or anomalies there are between various data. What is that other source?

A: The other source is the data contained in the statistical information on the Venezuelan population. For example, the census information that the National Statistical Institute (INE) keeps.

Q: Is the information from the INE reliable?

A: We don't have reasons not to trust an official institution like the INE and the proposal we have made consists of crossing the data from the RE with the information from the INE archives.

Q: What are the anomalies that can arise from comparing that data; more voters than citizens counted by the census, or foreigners registered to vote as Venezuelans?

A: Those that you mentioned and others such as the distribution of the population in urban and rural areas.

Now right off the bat there is a real howler here. The guy wants to compare the electoral registry to the census (are census numbers known for accuracy, especially in places like Venezuela?) carried out be the INE. The reporter then asks is INE data is reliable and the Rector replies - but of course, we have no reason to doubt information from an official source like the INE! Really!!!!!! Then how come the opposition has spent the last year telling us we can't believe that poverty has really declined because the organization that puts together those numbers, the INE, is not to be trusted? Now all of the sudden they are trustworthy again?!?!? These opposition types keep flip flopping so often it's hard to keep up with them!!

And from his comments what is it they want to do? Detect statistical anomalies? So if in Caracas in the 30 to 40 age group 70% of the population is registered to vote and in Valencia 80% of that age group is registered to vote will that be an anomaly? If so, all sorts of "statistical inconsistencies" can be found. Different age groups behave in different ways and the same groups in different locations will behave in different ways for a variety of reasons. If a greater proportion of people are registered to vote in Zulia than in Lara so what? Maybe that results from Zulia having had more hotly contested elections which would encourage people to register to vote.

It is pretty clear this proposed audit is nothing more than a big fishing expedition. They are just wanting to find that in El Tigre 20 to 30 year olds are 20% of the population but 25% of the RE so they can then scream FRAUD. And its not as if they don't have a history of doing this. After the Recall Referendum the opposition came out with an assortment of statistical evidence of fraud which was later shown to be bogus either by astute observers or by an academic panel put together by the Carter Center. Nevertheless there are still some people running around claiming they have statistical proof of fraud in that election. Strangely their proof seems to stay confined to blogs and is never presented to independent experts for review. I wonder why?

No large database is perfect and the CAPEL audit clearly showed the Venezuelan RE isn't either. But it is at least as good as the electoral roles in other countries such as the US. There, according to the Carter-Baker Commission, there are 140,000 people registered to vote in Florida that are also registered to vote in other states (p. 12). Only two states, Oregon and North Carolina, audit their voter rolls (p. 22). And there are more registered voters in the state of Alaska than there are voting age adults! Yet somehow that country seems to be able to hold elections.

At the end of the day the electoral registry is a bogus issue. It has been audited by independent experts and found to be satisfactory. The opposition is a small minority and a rather unpopular one at that. They face a highly popular incumbent president. They know they will be obliterated at the polls because their own polling firms tell them that. So whereas they once had as their slogan "elections now" they now twist and turn and try everything to avoid them. No matter. The elections will go ahead with or without them. And if they decide to boycott the polls it will be seen the world over for what it is - a desperate attempt to prevent their unpopularity from being revealed yet again at the polls.


Tuesday, June 06, 2006

The more you dig, the better it gets 

Last week I posted some numbers on U.S. investment in Venezuela that showed that Venezuela outperforming such opposition darlings as Colombia, Brazil, and, gasp, Chile. For some reason that post seemed to strike a nerve as a number of opposition supporters showed up to cast aspertions upon the numbers. Among the complaints were the numbers weren't over long enough period of time to be meaningful, its all just oil industry investment, and surely the numbers were better when the opposition was running the country.

Of course, the numbers I had available weren't detailed enough to be able to dispute any of those assertions. But with a little digging I was able to find more detailed numbers. I got them from the Venezuelan-American Chamber of Commerce, which is about as pro-Chavez as the Wall Street Journal, which is to say, not at all. So lets look at what information they have:

This slide gives no numbers but it makes a very important point about the subsequent slides and their numbers. They DO NOT include investments in the oil, petrochemical, or mining industries. So when looking at the numbers we can immediately discount the opposition complaints of "its all just investment in the oil sector". Now that that is clear lets get to some numbers.

This chart shows investment by the United States in Venezuela by semester from 2000 to the first half of 2005. As you can see after a flat or even downward trend during the turmoil of 2002/2003 investment has risen sharply. In the first half of 2005 it was up a staggering 724% compared to the first semester of 2004. I'm sure some opposition supporters will show up and complain that it should have been up 1,000%. But I think 724% is pretty darn good!

To get some longer term persective and see how current levels of investment compare to the previous government lets look at the next slide:

Note that this slide only goes up to 2004 so the year with the 724% increase, 2005, is not included. But it does have the advantage of going back to 1996, 1997 and 1998 which were years before Chavez came to power (and opposition presidential candidate Petkoff was in charge of the economy). While the performamce in 1997 and 1998 wasn't bad as Vencham itself notes there has been an overall increase in investment (tendencia creciente) which is shown by the red line which averages out the numbers. In 2004 investment from the U.S. was higher than in any of the years Petkoff was running things. Yet he has the audacity to constantly complain about the lack of investment now! And lest we forget, investment skyrocketed in 2005 as the economic boom continued so that MUCH more investment in pouring into Venezuela from the U.S. now than under the previous government.

To summarize, when it comes to investment from the U.S. in Venezuela:

1) The trend under Chavez has been for INCREASING investment.

2) The amount of investment under Chavez exceeds the amount under the previous government.

3) The above trends are EXCLUSIVE of investment in the oil sector.

So now that the facts have spoken I hope our opposition visitors have had their fears assuaged and can clearly see that Chavez has improved the investment climate in Venezuela, at least as it relates to investment from the United States.


Monday, June 05, 2006

Trafficking in bullshit 

Well our hard working civil servants at the U.S. State Deparment have done it again. Now they are out to eliminate the scourge of human trafficking and prostitution from the world - or so they say:

The United States warned key ally Germany on Monday that it should do more to stop a tide of sex workers arriving for this month's soccer World Cup, and accused 12 nations of failing to do enough to stop the modern-day slave trade in prostitutes, child sex workers and forced laborers.

"The U.S. government opposes prostitution," which is legal in Germany, a State Department report on global human trafficking said. "These activities are inherently harmful and dehumanizing."

Reading this the only thing I could wonder was have the folks at Foggy Bottom never heard of Nevada? But lets not hung up on that. After all State Department employees are hired for their expertise in international relations. So they can be forgiven it they might not know what states actualy make up the United States.

But here is a little quiz for Oil Wars readers. And no cheating by reading on. If you were to sit down and make a list of the countries you would criticize for prositution and human trafficking what ones would it be?

Thinking of this myself I thought of the Dominican Republic (lots of prosititution and sex tourism), Brazil (lots of prositutution and sex tourism), Thailand (sex tourism is a good chunk of their economy). Cuba might also make my list as would Colombia which has had lots of reports of women being taken abroad under false pretenses and then being forced into prositution. Oops, almost forgot, a good chunk of eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union should be on this list. And I have seen that some of the eastern Europeans have wound up as sex slaves in Israel so maybe they should be on the list too. Lastly, I've always heard Japan has a lot of prostitution so they should not be left out. And of course, if one counts where the sex tourists or "Johns" come from then places like Canada, Britian, Germany and the good old USA should probably be on the list.

Ok, I have my list. Hopefully you all have your list too. So lets look at who made the State Deparment list apart from the already mentioned Germany:

The report lists Iran and Syria among the dozen nations that the United States said do not adequately address trafficking problems. The State Department said those countries could be subject to sanctions.

Apart from Arab ally Saudi Arabia and the Central American nation of Belize, the rest of the list of violators reads like a catalog of nations at perpetual odds with the Bush administration: Myanmar, Cuba, Iran, Laos, North Korea, Sudan, Syria, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, Zimbabwe.

Countries that fail to crack down can be subject to a variety of sanctions, including the withholding of some kinds of U.S. foreign aid. The United States will not cut off trade and humanitarian aid, the report said.

Countries that receive no such assistance can be declared ineligible to take part in cultural and educational exchange programs.

Two countries have been sanctioned since the reports began — Equatorial Guinea and Venezuela.

Uh, yeah, when I think of prositution and human trafficking the places that would immediately jump out would be Iran, North Korea, Venezuela and Zimbabwe?!?!?!?!

Of course this list is so absurd that even the AP reporter couldn't help but notice that "the rest of the list of violators reads like a catalog of nations at perpetual odds with the Bush administration".

So there you have it. Be nice to Bush or we will call you human traffickers and whore mongers. All I'll say is if Venezuela ever publishes a list of bullshit traffickers I know who should be on the top of the list.


Sunday, June 04, 2006

What kiddie porn really looks like 

A few trolls in the comments section seemed to take exception to my assertion that high level U.S. government officials sit around looking at slides of child pornography. The Attorney General showing off slides of child pornography is essential if it is ever to be combatted they said. "If you've never seen it how are you to ever be able to combat it", is their thinking I imagine.

Sarcasm aside it certainly is important that the sexual exploitation of children be stopped. So it is entirely appropriate for reasonable measures to be taken to stop it.

What kind of gets me though is that they only seemed concerned about kids who are sexually exploited. But what about all the little kids in places like Iraq getting blown up by the U.S. military? Shouldn't someone show some concern for them? Somehow though I doubt these pictures were among those shown off by Gonzalez:

(for those wanting to see even more disturbing pictures and some background on what happened to these children see here)

I guess we just have to keep in mind Bush morality for kids; sex - bad, collateral damage - ok.


How does this help anyone? 

Venezuelan universities, public as well as private, have long been the domain of the upper classes. While one would think that the essentially free education given at reputable public institutions such as the Universidad Central de Venezuela would be snapped up by the lower middle classes and the poor it isn't. Instead the student body there comes probably overwhelmingly from the top 10% of Venezuelan society (a guestimate on my part).

Why is that? There are several reasons. First, the public universities are concentrated in the larger cities and in particular in Caracas. There are no dorms and no financial assistance with living arrangements. That means if you live in a small city or rural area you have a problem. Unless you have a close relative in a place like Caracas willing to house you for 4 or 5 years you don't have much a chance of attending a university.

Secondly, during the years of study you must be self supporting. Even if the tuition is free your living expenses are not. Plus things like text books and anything else you need are your responsibility. In a country where a very large segment of the population lives hand to mouth this is no small obstacle for most people.

Lastly, and most importantly, there is the question of getting admitted. The universities have limited slots available and one must compete via admissions exams to get one. This is not a bad system - after all the spots should go to those who are the most capable and hardest working. But it suffers from a fatal flaw. There is gross inequality in the academic preparation people get in the years leading up to their university studies that make passing such an exam a trivial matter for most upper class students but a Herculean task for those from lower class backgrounds he received a much lower quality primary education. So the net effect of the admission exams is to screen out even the few poorer students who might be otherwise able to attend places like the UCV and leave them the almost exclusive provinces of the middle and upper classes.

Yesterday there was a march by some students to the Presidential Palace that was received by President Chavez. What was the purpose of the march? To demand the elimination of the entrance exams. And not only did the students demand this but Chavez said he would work to do just that and called the admission exams a hold over of the 4th Republic ?!?!

That would seem to help solve a problem, but does it? Would the students who came in with an inferior preparation be able to do university level work or would they be so far behind they would wind up dropping out? It's not possible to know for sure but most likely some students would rise to the occasion and excel while the majority would become frustrated and leave. So its not clear to me that this is the solution to what is a very real problem .

There is an alternative, of course. Significantly improve the primary education given to students from poorer backgrounds. This could be done by increasing funding, extending the school day and giving free meals to students to entice them to come to school, using a thorough regime of testing to find out when students are falling behind and get them extra help, and improve the salaries of teachers to make them more motivated and attract more qualified people. Moreover, there could be educational missions whereby, for example, university students would be required to spend 15 hours a week tutoring youngsters in primary schools.

These are just a few ideas for improving education. I'm sure there are many other ideas out there that could be successful. But the notion of eliminating tests seems self-defeating. After all the tests aren't really the problem. It's the sub-standard education that so many Venezuelans receive that is the problem - the tests simply alert us to it. The proper thing to do would be to fix the problem of substandard education rather than eliminate tests that measure it. The idea behind any good government should be to fix problems, not simply pretend they don't exist.


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