Saturday, August 19, 2006

It's the economy stupid 

This is something I originally mentioned in the comments section but it deserves a post of its own. In an article on rapidly growing consumer sales in Venezuela they had the most reputed pollster in the country (and strong opposition supporter) Luis Vicent Leon of Datanalisis say:

"When we observe the confidence that people have we see that 64% say the economic situation is positive, and 78% say their personal economic situation has improved, and 73% expect next year to be even better, that makes consumption take off"

Those are just amazing numbers. Just simply amazing. Not only is the economy booming but the boom is reaching the overwhelming majority of the population - 78% to be exact. As James Carville would point out you just can't win against those kind of numbers. When people feel good about the present and optomistic about the future you are just not going to beat the politician that is making them feel that way.

Sure enough Chavez is blowing away his rivals as we see from this poll published in todays Ultimas Noticias:

Clearly, we are witnessing a rout. Though I will say this - with 78% of Venezuelans saying their own personal economic situation is getting better Chavez's numbers should be even higher. Note to Chavez - do something about crime.

Anyways, lucky for both Rosales and Rausseo come December 4th they can just go back to their day jobs. And even if they couldn't, with 350,000 new formal sector jobs being created in the past year they could likely find something.


A Venezuelan Hummer 

In the U.S. there has been an SUV craze for the past year with these ever larger trucks hogging up the highways. This culminated in the last couple of years with the appearence of the Hummer, a civilian version of the military Humvee which Iraqi children run around blowing up in their free time. Given that many of the cultural fads that sweep the U.S. eventually make their way to Venezuela it should be of no surprise that these monster SUVs have appeared there too.

Of course, now that Venezuela is following a more nationalistic military policy it isn't going to be content to buy Hummers from the U.S. so it has started manufacturing its own. They are called "Tiuna" after the military base where they are manufactured by a joint military-private factory and today Ultimas Noticias had an article describing them.

They began manufacturing them in 2004 and so far this year they have made 160. Presently they are making 3 per day. The chasis are made in Valencia and the engines are imported from Mexico. Finally assembly then takes place in the plant in Caracas where about 250 workers are employed. In the near future they plan on making the engines in Venezuela also.

On the assembly line

Fresh off the assembly line

These are primarily made for the army with some having anti-aircraft weapons mounted on them and others having recoiless rifles and anti-tank weapons. The big advantage to building these things in Venezuela is that they can make three of them for what each jeep that they used to import cost. So that is quite a savings for the Venezuelan nation and helps create jobs and develop technologies locally.

Like their U.S. counterpart they are also finding civilian uses, though they have yet to be marketed to private citizens. Some are going to local governments where they are used as ambulances and rescue vehicles. Unfortunately, the Ultimas Noticias article describing these vehicles didn't give any information on their milage. Then again, as long as you use it in Venezuela, where gasline is practically free, I guess it doesn't matter.

The final product


Thursday, August 17, 2006

The steady downward slope 

One of the things that struck me about the conflict in Lebanon was how it managed to push that other rather untidy little war - Iraq - almost completely out of the news. Rather strange given that over the month that the Israel-Lebanon fighting took place a lot more people were killed in Iraq. But I imagine that the Bush administration liked it that way as anything that distracts the American public from the war is welcome. And today there appeared in the NYT an article that showed what they want to distract people from:

WASHINGTON, Aug. 16 — The number of roadside bombs planted in Iraq rose in July to the highest monthly total of the war, offering more evidence that the anti-American insurgency has continued to strengthen despite the killing of the terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Along with a sharp increase in sectarian attacks, the number of daily strikes against American and Iraqi security forces has doubled since January. The deadliest means of attack, roadside bombs, made up much of that increase. In July, of 2,625 explosive devices, 1,666 exploded and 959 were discovered before they went off. In January, 1,454 bombs exploded or were found.

The bomb statistics — compiled by American military authorities in Baghdad and made available at the request of The New York Times — are part of a growing body of data and intelligence analysis about the violence in Iraq that has produced somber public assessments from military commanders, administration officials and lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

“The insurgency has gotten worse by almost all measures, with insurgent attacks at historically high levels,” said a senior Defense Department official who agreed to discuss the issue only on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak for attribution. “The insurgency has more public support and is demonstrably more capable in numbers of people active and in its ability to direct violence than at any point in time.”

A separate, classified report by the Defense Intelligence Agency, dated Aug. 3, details worsening security conditions inside the country and describes how Iraq risks sliding toward civil war, according to several officials who have read the document or who have received a briefing on its contents.

To summarize, the war effort in Iraq is going down the tubes - fast. So what to do?:

Bush administration officials now admit that Iraqi government’s original plan to rein in the violence in Baghdad, announced in June, has failed. The Pentagon has decided to rush more American troops into the capital, and the new military operation to restore security there is expected to begin in earnest next month.

Yet some outside experts who have recently visited the White House said Bush administration officials were beginning to plan for the possibility that Iraq’s democratically elected government might not survive.

“Senior administration officials have acknowledged to me that they are considering alternatives other than democracy,” said one military affairs expert who received an Iraq briefing at the White House last month and agreed to speak only on condition of anonymity.

“Everybody in the administration is being quite circumspect,” the expert said, “but you can sense their own concern that this is drifting away from democracy.”

In a way this is an absurd statement, it's not as if their puppet regime is democratic to begin with. So what they are really saying is pretty soon the facade will have to come off so they can have the government take more draconian and brutal steps to try to repress the Iraqis fighting for their independance and freedom. It will be interesting to see if this will be Vietnam II where they actually have the military overthrow their own puppet regime!

Anyways, with news like this its easy to see why they are eager for distractions. At this point they would probably even take another Katrina if it got peoples minds off of Iraq.


Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The energizer bunny keeps on going, and going, and going.... 

The long Venezuelan economic boom which began in the latter half of 2003 and is a full three years old now continues. Today the Venezuelan Central Bank released its statistics for the second quarter of 2006. Here it goes:

The Venezuelan economy grew 9.2% in the period April through June. This comes after 9.9% growth from January to March. For the first half of the year the growth rate was 9.6%.

As has been the pattern the non-oil sector led the way growing 9.9% while the oil sector grew 1.8% (I guess it's not "all just oil" after all).

The private sector grew significantly faster than the public sector at 10.3% and 4.1% respectively. I wonder if that means Venezuela isn't a communist country?

Breaking down the boom by other sectors manufacturing increased 6.9%, commerce 17.1%, construction 27.2% and communications 21.3%. I guess you know you are doing ok when your lagging sector is growing almost 7%!

Breaking down the manufacturing sector numbers the food and beverage sector grew 8.7%, metals 5.2%, products made from metal 11.8%, paper 15.1%, publishing and printing 10.9% and fabric and plastic products 10.3%

Total consumption was up 13.4% with private consumption up 16.8% and government consumption up 7.5%

And here is the real kicker. If you listen to the opposition propagandists much you are likely to have heard that investment is way down in Venezuela. WRONG. Investment is up 25.9% in the second quarter. And here is the money quote from the BCV press release:

The gross fixed investment continued its increase, reaching levels greater than those of the data from 1997 when its collection began.

In other words, investment is greater now than it was under the Caldera/Petkoff regime when they had all the oil investment by foreign companies under the "apertura". So here we have another lie debunked - investment is not down under Chavez, it is up.


The U.S. couldn't be choosing sides, could it? 

This sure is interesting:

Hmmm, the clown gets involved with Cisneros (always has been actually), Dick Morris, and now U.S. Ambassador in Caracas William Brownfield.

This couldn't mean that the U.S. had any interest in his candidacy could it? Nahh, couldn't be. The U.S. doesn't get involved in the internal affairs of other countries. It was just because they gave him a visa. Maybe that's the new consular policy - everyone who gets a visa gets to meet the ambassador.


Monday, August 14, 2006

How about a trade in? 

A few weeks ago when it was announced that Venezuela was purchasing some Russian fighter aircraft I criticized the purchase, partly on the basis of it not making sense militarily and partly for the wasteful use of resources.

Well, in case anyone in the Venezuelan defense establishment is having second thoughts here is an idea for what they could do if they manage to get a trade in on the planes:

These little missiles just helped cut down to size what had been viewed as the second best military force in the world. Here is what the Washington Post had to say:

[H]ezbollah's military leadership carefully studied military history, including the Vietnam War, the Lebanese expert said, and set up a training program with help from Iranian intelligence and military officers with years of experience in the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s. The training was matched to weapons that proved effective against Israeli tanks, he added, including the Merkava main battle tank with advanced armor plating.

Wire-guided and laser-guided antitank missiles were the most effective and deadly Hezbollah weapons, according to Israeli military officers and soldiers. A review of Israel Defense Forces records showed that the majority of Israeli combat deaths resulted from missile hits on armored vehicles -- or on buildings where Israeli soldiers set up observation posts or conducted searches.

Most of the antitank missiles, Israeli officers noted, could be dragged out of caches and quickly fired with two- or three-man launching teams at distances of 3,200 yards or more from their targets. One of the most effective was the Russian-designed Sagger 2, a wire-guided missile with a range of 550 to 3,200 yards.

And make no mistake, Israel lost. Remember those two soldiers whose kidnapping supposedly provoked the whole thing and that Israel was demanding be returned? Well so desperate was Israel to get out of this mess they totaly dropped any mention of them from the ceasefire agreement!

So I think Chavez should forget about the airplanes and get some of the missiles. But he better hurry up. You can bet the Iraqi insurgents are on the phone to Moscow right now trying to figure out how they can get some Saggers too. I wonder if the company that makes those things sells stock?


Sunday, August 13, 2006

Do the Venezuelan police suck or what 

As if it weren't bad enough that Venezuela's crime rate was going through the roof now we get yet more evidence of how inept the police are. Today Carlos Ortega, who was in jail for his role in various attempts to overthrow the government (he was a central player in both the coup and oil strike) managed to escape from prison along with a couple of jailed military officers. Of course, stuff like this is happens because it is easy to bribe people, particularly the police, and the opposition sure doesn't lack for money with which to bribe people.

But what is particularly distressing is the inability of the Venezuelan authorities to catch this guy. It's well known where he likes to hand out, bingo parlors. That is where they caught him the last time he was a fugitive. So what exactly is the problem? Are there so many bingo parlors they haven't had the chance to search them all yet?

The caption reads: Mr Bush, this is Carlos Ortega from the resistance, struggling against the regime.... I need more dollars!

Here is Ortega in what for him were happier times:

When he could pretend he was biting the head off of the "murder", Chavez. I wonder if you could get away with carrying a sign like that in the U.S.. I doubt it. The Venezuelan opposition is lucky it lives in such a free country.


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