Friday, June 16, 2006

Just a fine upstanding citizen and mayor - NOT 

Recently it was announced that the mayor of the wealthy Chacao district of Caracas was possibly going to be banned from holding any government position for 3 years due to his (and his mother) taking money from the state oil company, PDVSA, and giving it to their political party, Primero Justicia. Quite ironic that these people were apparently ripping off money from PDVSA, which the opposition would have us believe was almost virginal with respect to corruption when they were running it, and gave it to the party of eastern Caracas rich kids, Primero Justicia, which fancies itself a "good government" party.

Predictably, this was decried by the opposition as an outrageous attack against Mr. Lopez. In the oppositions view he is a fine young mayor who isn't capable of doing anything inappropriate.


Well, maybe this will jog their memories and help them recall some of what Mr. Lopez has been up to since becoming mayor. These pictures are from protests in 2004 against the G-15 summit which was taking place in Caracas:

Mr. Lopez is the person on the left. Note his friends on the right, one carrying a slingshot (I don't know about you but I never go to any demonstration without my slingshot) and the other carrying rocks and apparently taunting people with them. Mr. Lopez seems quite unperturbed even though one would think as a mayor he would have some responsibility for maintaining public order.

Here he is trotting through some tear gas, probably indicating he is somewhere he isn't supposed to be, with his handy gas mask (again I would never think of going out to peacefully protest without my gasmask). Can't you just see Mike Bloomberg doing this outside the Democratic National Convention at Madison Square Garden - people expect their mayors to be the first to man the barricades.

Here are some fellow Primero Justicia members exercising their right to peacefully protest. I guess these bored yuppies couldn't think of anything better to do than shoot projectiles at the police. I'm sure it must be quite entertaining.

That this man is Mayor of Chacao and not in jail shows that Chavez's Venezuela is free to a fault. It could even be said it suffers from too little repression, or at least too little law and order.


Thursday, June 15, 2006

Laying their cards on the table 

Today the 100 members of the United States Sentate got to vote on whether or not they wanted to continue with the war in Iraq indefinitely or establish a timeframe, the December of 2006, for the end of U.S. involvement there. In spite of the fact that most Americans now view the war as a mistake the U.S. Senate voted in a very lopsided manner to continue the war.

The vote was actually on motion to table the amendment to require and end to the U.S. war in Iraq - so in voting "Yea" they were voting to table the amendment and continue with the war. You can think of it as "Yea" to continue with the war, and "Nay" to end the war. Here is the very sad outcome of this vote, by Senator:

Akaka (D-HI), Yea

Alexander (R-TN), Yea

Allard (R-CO), Yea

Allen (R-VA), Yea

Baucus (D-MT), Yea

Bayh (D-IN), Yea

Bennett (R-UT), Yea

Biden (D-DE), Yea

Bingaman (D-NM), Yea

Bond (R-MO), Yea

Boxer (D-CA), Nay

Brownback (R-KS), Yea

Bunning (R-KY), Yea

Burns (R-MT), Yea

Burr (R-NC), Yea

Byrd (D-WV), Nay

Cantwell (D-WA), Yea

Carper (D-DE), Yea

Chafee (R-RI), Yea

Chambliss (R-GA), Yea

Clinton (D-NY), Yea

Coburn (R-OK), Yea

Cochran (R-MS), Yea

Coleman (R-MN), Yea

Collins (R-ME), Yea

Conrad (D-ND), Yea

Cornyn (R-TX), Yea

Craig (R-ID), Yea

Crapo (R-ID), Yea

Dayton (D-MN), Yea

DeMint (R-SC), Yea

DeWine (R-OH), Yea

Dodd (D-CT), Yea

Dole (R-NC), Yea

Domenici (R-NM), Yea

Dorgan (D-ND), Yea

Durbin (D-IL), Yea

Ensign (R-NV), Yea

Enzi (R-WY), Yea

Feingold (D-WI), Nay

Feinstein (D-CA), Yea

Frist (R-TN), Yea

Graham (R-SC), Yea

Grassley (R-IA), Yea

Gregg (R-NH), Yea

Hagel (R-NE), Yea

Harkin (D-IA), Nay

Hatch (R-UT), Yea

Hutchison (R-TX), Yea

Inhofe (R-OK), Yea

Inouye (D-HI), Yea

Isakson (R-GA), Yea

Jeffords (I-VT), Yea

Johnson (D-SD), Yea

Kennedy (D-MA), Nay

Kerry (D-MA), Nay

Kohl (D-WI), Yea

Kyl (R-AZ), Yea

Landrieu (D-LA), Yea

Lautenberg (D-NJ), Yea

Leahy (D-VT), Yea

Levin (D-MI), Yea

Lieberman (D-CT), Yea

Lincoln (D-AR), Yea

Lott (R-MS), Yea

Lugar (R-IN), Yea

Martinez (R-FL), Yea

McCain (R-AZ), Yea

McConnell (R-KY), Yea

Menendez (D-NJ), Yea

Mikulski (D-MD), Yea

Murkowski (R-AK), Yea

Murray (D-WA), Yea

Nelson (D-FL), Yea

Nelson (D-NE), Yea

Obama (D-IL), Yea

Pryor (D-AR), Yea

Reed (D-RI), Yea

Reid (D-NV), Yea

Roberts (R-KS), Yea

Rockefeller (D-WV), Not Voting

Salazar (D-CO), Yea

Santorum (R-PA), Yea

Sarbanes (D-MD), Yea

Schumer (D-NY), Yea

Sessions (R-AL), Yea

Shelby (R-AL), Yea

Smith (R-OR), Yea

Snowe (R-ME), Yea

Specter (R-PA), Yea

Stabenow (D-MI), Yea

Stevens (R-AK), Yea

Sununu (R-NH), Yea

Talent (R-MO), Yea

Thomas (R-WY), Yea

Thune (R-SD), Yea

Vitter (R-LA), Yea

Voinovich (R-OH), Yea

Warner (R-VA), Yea

Wyden (D-OR), Yea

In case you didn't actually count the vote was 93 to continue with the war indefinitely versus 6 voting to set a deadline. What made this vote even sadder for me, if no less predictable, is that it is so remaniscent of the Gulf of Tonkin resolution authorizing the Vietnam War which passed with the only slightly more lopsided margin of 98 to 2. The U.S. Senate supposedly takes great pride in its traditions. Apparently voting en masse to throw away untold numbers of lives in futile, pointless, and morally unjustifiable wars is one of those traditions.

There is no small irony in this vote coming on the same day that U.S. deaths in Iraq reached the 2,500 mark with those wounded over 18,000. One wonders how different a similar vote will be once the death toll reaches 5,000 or 10,000. I suspect not much. And it's pointless to even bring up how many Iraqis have died in this debacle. If the largely working class and poor Americans who are dying in this war count for little in the estimation of the esteemed Senators, it can be safely assumed the Iraqis themselves count for nothing.

It is worth noting though how some of the Senators who like to wear the label "liberal" on their shirt sleaves voted - Clinton "yea", Schumer "yea", Dodd "yea", Leahy "yea", Mikulski "yea", Feinstein "yea", Obama "yea". Recently its been fashionable for some to critcize Senator Lieberman (who of course voted "yea" too) as a sellout, an apoligist for the war, and an enabler for Bush. Of course, he is all of those things. But look at the votes - the guy has lots of company.

Now some will try to come up with the excuse of these votes were just for political cover - they couldn't go on record opposing the war lest they be vulnerable to defeat in the next electon. Bullshit. There isn't a snowballs chance in hell people like Clinton, Schumer, Dodd, or Leahy would lose their next election no matter how they voted on this.

No, this wan't a vote based on political expediency. They voted their convictions. They support the war, full stop. In one sense there is nothing wrong with that, that's what they are there to do. What really needs to be noted here is that for those who oppose the war step number one is stop pretending the people that are in the U.S. congress now will somehow end this war. They won't. That is the first thing that those of us opposed to the war have to internalize. If you don't see that after today you are willfully blind.


How to piss away a lot of money without really trying. 

After years of rumors it sounds like Venezuela is getting more serious about buying Russian figher aircraft. Of course, the main problem is that they would almost certainly be of no value in the event of an attack by the U.S. - U.S. technology is simply too advanced. As Iraq shows they'd be better off buying light arms and getting good at making improvised explosives.

Some may think this is all about keeping up with the Colombians, with whom Venezuela has had a long standing border dispute, but is Colombia itself a threat that merrits this?

Any way you cut it this is a lot of money (I don't know the price but its probably around a billion dollars) that could probably have been used to fund a whole Mission. So I don't think this is the best use of Venezuela's money.


Wednesday, June 14, 2006

"The United States is building a wall. We are opening our arms." 

Previously I talked about "Mission Identidad" which has allowed millions of undocumented Venezuelans and Colombians to come out from the shadows. Today there appeared a good article which showed what that program means for flesh and blood human beings:

CARACAS, Venezuela (Reuters) - Santiago Baron walks past a free government-run cafeteria on his way to work. Looking up at a hillside he sees concrete reinforcements being built to stop houses from tumbling under the rain.

He thinks of the thousands in his native Colombia who lose their homes in mudslides every wet season due to poor housing conditions unaddressed by the government.

And he thanks Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, the firebrand socialist accused by Washington of destabilizing Latin America, for giving him and the rest of this immigrant community in eastern Caracas a better life.

Baron, 46, and his neighbors are among an estimated 3 million Colombians who in decent decades have crossed the border into oil-rich Venezuela looking for jobs and sanctuary from Colombia's 42-year-old guerrilla war.

They are getting fast-track citizenship under a program called Mission Identity and largely supporting Chavez ahead of his December re-election bid.

"Look at that!" says Baron, born near the historic Colombian port city of Cartagena, pointing at the newly paved street in front of his house and then at the concrete barriers that will make life safer for his hillside neighbors.

"How am I not going to support Chavez?"

Although precise registration figures were not available, Venezuelan political analyst Alfredo Anzola estimates between 1.8 million and 2 million Colombians are registered to vote here. This suggests they could have a big influence in a country where less than 10 million people voted in the 2004 referendum that consolidated Chavez' mandate.

"These immigrants are benefiting from the medical, nutrition and other programs offered by Chavez. So, yes, they tend to vote for him," Anzola said. "Voter registration increased by about 2 million ahead of the referendum and a big chunk of those new voters were people who did not have Venezuelan citizenship six months earlier."

The opposition accuses Chavez of padding the voter registration rolls with Colombians and other immigrants who are not legal citizens, a charge the government dismisses.

First elected in 1998, after going to jail for leading a failed coup six years earlier, Chavez has tightened his grip on power. Lawmakers loyal to him control Congress and critics say he has stacked the Supreme Court and the country's election council with his cronies.

Chavez has suggested doing away with presidential term limits. Colombian immigrants interviewed by Reuters said they will use their votes to help him stay in power.

"Single, unemployed mothers have a place to go for help here. In Colombia we had nothing like that," said Zenit Valiente, 53, who hails from Colombia's northern coast.

"That is the guarantee that Chavez is giving to the Colombians," she said. "He is giving us support in exchange for our support."

Economists argue that Chavez' subsidies, while popular, could cripple the economy when the price of oil falls.

Wilfredo Carmona, 25, got here two months ago from Colombia, where he said the war, which kills thousands every year, made it hard to find work.

"I was trained to be a diesel mechanic but there were no jobs in Colombia," he said. "Now I'm a construction worker."

Across the street from Carmona's work site is a small market where 42-year-old Freddy Berrio, from the northern Colombian province of Sucre, sells soda and snacks. He opened the business with a low-interest government loan.

"Colombia needs a leader like Chavez to end the social and political exclusion there," he said.

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, popular for reducing urban crime as part of his U.S.-backed crackdown on drug-running insurgents, easily won re-election last month.

But opposition criticism that he is not spending enough on social programs could grow louder during his second term.

"People may ask more from Uribe, not just on security issues but in terms of general well being," said Cynthia Arnson, Latin America expert at the Woodrow Wilson International Center in Washington.

Chavez is meanwhile sending a clear message to Colombians looking for something better.

"As opposed to what the United States is doing, we are giving them documents and now they have equal rights," Chavez said recently. "The United States is building a wall (to keep immigrants out). We are opening our arms."

"Colombia needs a leader like Chavez to end the social and political exclusion there,". Can't argue with that.


Tuesday, June 13, 2006

The bad news is undercovered 

If you listen to the conservative media like Fox news and a big section of talk radio, or if you follow the right wing blogosphere, surely you know that Iraq is just getting better and better. According to them it is just the liberal media that is exaggerating the bad news.

However, amidst the celebration of their killing Zarqawi the Wall Street Journal editorial page, amongst the most hardline and determined of the wars supporters, came out with a rather stunning admission – things may well be worse than what is reported. Lets look at some excerpts from what they said:

After Zarqawi

In a war on terror without conventional battle lines, Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi’s death Wednesday in a U.S. airstrike near Baqubah is about a big a victory as you get.


Yet as important as his death is, no one should be overconfident that this is the turning point for Iraq.


While Zarqawi’s Islamic radicals are the most ruthless “insurgents”, the remnants of the old regime – Saddam’s intelligence service and fedayeen – are more numerous. They’ve also grown more brazen, threatening thousands of Iraqi with torture or death if they or their families cooperate with the new government. At least 13 Iraqis were killed in another car bombing yesterday.

Particularly troublesome is life in Baghadad, where common criminality mixes with the political violence to create a feeling of increasing demoralization. The Green Zone that shelters U.S. and Iraqi government officials is more isolated than ever, and there have been numerous reports of gangs attempting to enforce Islamic law in various parts of the city – even in the wealthy embassy district of al Mansour.

The bomb attack that wounded CBS correspondent Kimberly Dozier and killed two of her colleagues and a U.S. soldier last week was a very real indicator of the hazards to both foreigners and Iraqis. While some media outlets seized too readily on bad news in the past, Baghdad is now so dangerous for reporters that the bad news is probably undercovered. The latest Pentagon report to Congress estimates that there are more than 600 attacks a week in Iraq – more than in 2004, which saw the simultaneous Fallujah and Sadr uprisings.

The editorial then goes on to complain that rather than doing more military sweeps through the Tigris and Euphrates River valleys a way needs to be found to secure Baghdad. I guess that means this didn’t work out as planned. I knew it wouldn’t. It also means Bush will probably scrap any plans to walk the streets of Baghdad as Iraqis throw flowers at him in gratitude for all he has done for Iraq. He’ll probably stay holed up in the “ever more isolated” Green Zone.

But sarcasm aside, it’s interesting to see The Wall Street Journal fess up and tell us that things really aren’t going well for the occupiers and their puppets. And Instapundit not withstanding it really has nothing to do with liberal reporters.


The boom accelerates? 

As we know the Venezuelan economy has been booming for serveral years now. This was most recently confirmed by the over 9% growth in GDP in the first quarter of 2006. This was well in excess of the 5 to 6% growth projected by many outside observers and the government itself.

But there is evidence that already high rate of growth could accelarate during the rest of the year. For example, today's El Universal gave some statistics indicating that consumption it growing at what are incredible rates.

In the first quarter of 2006 wholesale sales are up by a stunning 51.78%. Retail sales are up an also amazing 29.82%!!

But it gets even better. Sales of equipment and machinary are up 130% while construction equipment and materials are up 45.62%!!!! And some would have us believe there is no investment in Venezuela. But of course, that 130% increase is just people buying machine tools to put in their living rooms as decorative items!

Over the last couple of years the economic numbers coming out of Venezuela have been so good its hard to get excited about them anymore. But these numbers are so spectacular they merit attention. Further, it will be interesting to see if they help bump the already very high economic growth rates even higher.


Unemployment keeps heading down 

One day when I have more time and upgrade my internet skills I'll be able to make nice graphs like this:

In the meantime I'm perfectly happy to cadge it from another webiste. Of course, what is really important isn't who made the graph but what it shows.

Looking at the graph we can see that when Chavez came to power unemployment was 16.6%. For the first several years that rate stayed relatively stable in spite of Chavez having inherited a recession from the previous administration. [For those wondering about the dramatic swings every year they result from the numbers not being seasonably adjusted as they are in some countries - these are just raw numbers. Hence unemployment tends to drop significantly in the run up to Christmas and then rise at the beginning of the year as those individuals lose their jobs].

In 2002 as the economy stalled the unemployment rate edged up. The coup of April 2002 aggravated that situation but what really sent the unemployment numbers through the roof as the opposition led oil strike that began in December 2002. With the loss of billions of dollars from the oil industry, the shut down of many private employers and a drop in GDP of over 20% at one point the unemployment rate shot up to almost 21%. Of course, it needs to always be kept in mind this resulted not from a natural economic process or cycle but was largely the result of intentional actions by the opposition.

Since then as the economy has had a dramatic recovery the unemployment rate has steadly trended down. When this graph was done in the Fall of 2005 it was about 11.5% but it is now barely over 10%.

So we have yet another positive macroeconomic indicator to add to the inflation one we looked at previously. In both cases we clearly see how the opposition, with its various attempts to overthrow the government, caused significant damage to the economy. But we then see the dramatic success of the Chavez administration in turning the situation around and making it BETTER than what was Chavez came to office. And that is part of the opposition's problem in the run up to the December elections. Most Venezuelan's will remember who had umemployment at over 16% right before Chavez came to office (Petkoff), who intentionally drove it to over 20% (the opposition), and who has brought it down to 10% (Chavez). No wonder the opposition isn't looking foward to the elections


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