Archive for August, 2006

An honest mistake you can still find the pictures elsewhere

August 20, 2006

By mistake I just posted some orchid pictures (without even a story!) on the main section and actually left them on quite a while and quite a few people saw them. I have now moved them to their rightful section right here. Sorry for the mistake, but take a break and enjoy them!.

Book plug: Venezuela An agreement to reach development

August 20, 2006

Anyone that cares about understanding Venezuela and its problems should buy the book :”Venezuela: An agreement to reach development” a book which is a compilation of a bunch of academics who have been meeting for years to talk about these issues. The books has twelve authors, but in truth it is a collaboration of experts in a wide variety of fields. The book is a proposal with no intended political bias, it proposes solutions and suggests that we need a national agreemnet on some of them, which in itself goes counter to the style of this Governmnet which believes it knows it all.

I have read about half the book and I am impressed, these people know what they are talking about and have specific solutions to problems. I have laso learned a lot from reading it. It is filled with interesting data, most of it well known, but some of it new to me (Did you know that from age 14 to 15 school attendanec drops from 75.5% of the students of that age to only 21.85%?). The book also takes a look at the misiones and its impact.

The book does not cover everything, but is roughly divided in three broad sections: Social Policies, the economy and production and institutional reforms. I was particulraly struck by the fact that the conclusions on the economy of whta happened in the seventies, seemed to apply tomwhat is happening today: high oil prices are creating high Government spending, but private investment is not catching up and it si private investement the one that can create jobs. Except this time investment is even less.

I am more than half way through the book and recommend it to anyone interested in our problems. The book shows we have the experts, we just need Government to listen to them and not improvise. You can find it in most bookstores. There is also a website http://www.acuerdosocial.com, which I have had little time to explore

(I would like to thank Marino Gonzalez, who wrote a great chapter on health, for giving me and autographing a copy of the book, I m honored that he took the time to do it!)

Mostly hybrids.

August 20, 2006

I have neglected taking pictures of my orchids for the last few weeks. There is a good reason, I actually repot every single plant I have every two years in what becomes a marathon of repotting. It is a lot of work, as I own close to a couple of thousand plants. I am 80% done by now (I started three weeks ago) and today I repotted my Grammatophylum Speciosum, the largest orchid plant in nature. My plant is so big that I actually fell handling it, cut my finger while removing it from its old pot and had troubles lifting the plant into its new pot, my screams to my wife went unheard. That should give you an idea. But there were some flowers, not too many as usual in August and I found some time to take pictures of them:

Top left: Cat. Lulu Hot Pink, a frequent visitor to this page. On the right, its descendant Cat. Lulu “Hot Pink” x Cat Maui Plum. definitely like orchids with spots.

Top Left: Laelia (now Sophronitis) Purpurata. Thsi is a late bloomer, it is oen of my better plant but two weeks ago woudl have been better. Top Right: Blc. Ronal Hauserman, one of the most spectacular hybrids I know. The flowers are huge, almost six inches in diameter. This plant has about nine flowers and it came from a plant I brought from Hawaii many years ago which was two inches in size. Today I have three plants and they flower at least twice a year.

Two more on fingerprint machines

August 19, 2006

–For quite a long time, former President of the CNE Jorge Rodriguez kept claiming that 75% of Venezuelans trusted the CNE and that alone justified the need to mantain the voting machines, fingerprint machines and audits as established by the CNE. Well, yesterday the new CNE President changed the script, when in a press conference for the foreign press she admitted that only 55% of voters trust the Venezueoan Electoral Board. Isn’t the CNE’s job and responsability to make sure conditions are given so that most Venezuelans trust the CNE? Does the same poll quoted by the CNE President tell them if the fingerprint machines have something to do with this mistrust?

–ONG Ojo Electoral, accused many times of being pro-Government called on the CNE to reverse its decision to use the fingerprint machines in the upcoming Presidential elections. According to that organization, the use of these machines “could seriously affect particpation in the upcoming presidential elections”.The organization said that the fingerprint system was not necessary to stop double voting and that indeleble ink is sufficient for this purpose.

Rosales formally registers to run for President

August 19, 2006


Today Zulia Governor Manuel Rosales, who in a scant two weeks has become the unified candidate of the opposition, formally registered to run for President at the CNE. He held a rally prior to the registration, which I attended. The rally left from the Ateneo and went to Plaza Caracas in front of the CNE, a distance which I guess is maybe three or four Kms. That Rosales would register today was covered by the press, but there was no massive advertising campaign to ask people to go. I was impressed by the attendance, it rained for half the walk and Plaza Caracas was overflowed by the people and when Rosales’ speech ended and he went inside the CNE, there were still people trying to get into the square.

Attendance was quite diverse, not a huge middle class presence, which is good, you know who they are going to vote mostly for. It was clear that the political parties worked at bringing people to the rally. There were buses, but not on the scale of Chavez’ last Saturday and clearly people were there because they decided to go. No Government resources at work.

The message was clearly carefully chosen. It is a message of unity, a Government for all Venezuelans and Rosales’ speech was clearly directed to Chavistas and those undecided or looking for an alternative to Chavismo. There were posters saying “26 million Venezuelans”, “Dare to change” and “Chavista brother, Rosales gives you his hand”. Rosales’ speech followed that script calling on “all Venezuelans”, “a Government for all, without exclusions” and hitting on the Government’s incompetence, particularly on poverty, housing and crime.

Clearly Rosales’ speech will not mention Chavez directly very much during the upcoming campaign. He certainly avioded any direct references today, but was tough on the President. Rosales said that as President he would care about Venezuelans and “will not hold anyone’s hands or sit on anyone’s lap” in clear reference to last week’s visit by Chavez with Fidel Castro. He also referred to “that guy that said poverty is good is absolutely wrong, we need to erradicate poverty in Venezuela”. He critcized the Government’s foreign policy, saying that there is no reason for Venezuela to pretend that the US should bow in front of it or to give foreign countries gifts as long as there are so many problems in Venezuela. He took advantage of the rally being in downtown Caracas, which is a dirty mess, to criticize the Government’s inaction in this city. He said he felt sorry for Caracas and would, as President, try to make it look as nice and clean as he has made Maracaibo look. In a great phrase carried over the international news, Rosales says: “Nobody here (in Venezuela) will have to wear a red shirt or belong to any party in exchange for anything”. Wonder what Hugo will say tomorrow about this?

Above, some pictures of the rally: as we were walking towards the CNE (top left), at Plaza Caracas (top right), some ladies really got enthusiastric waving whatever they had in their hands (Bottom left), a poster saying “we don’t want Fidel or Bush” (Bottomo middle and Two ladies with Rosales campaign poster and slogan “Dare to with Rosales…For 26 million”. More pictures here.

An interesting beginning and certainly Rosales is getting people more enthused about the election than I had hoped for a month ago. He has also managed to rally around him most political parties in the opposition and seems to have taken the thunder away from the candidacy of comic Conde del Guacharo. A unified candidacy in which he has also named his former competitors to important campaign positions, but he is clearly the leader in how things will proceed. Very exciting.

Picked up from the headlines, including bye bye to ten million votes.

August 17, 2006

–Two nights ago I heard Hugo Chavez say that Citgo was selling its 41% stake in the Lyondell refinery because it was generating losses.

Today I read that the purchase of that same stake by Lyondell may give it a higher credit rating as the company bouth Citgo’s stake by borrowing US$ 2.65 billion, but the purchase of that stake in the plant will generate it abour US$ 880 million in additional income. Thus, PDVSA sells for US$ 2.2 billion something which gives Lyondell US$ 880 million per year in eranings at current oil prices. Doesn’t sound like this was a losing proposition to me. On top of that PDVSA’s investment in the refinery was US$ 830 million in 1994 and the plant was upgraded from cash flow form operation, so that PDVSA made a nive and healthy profit from it. Does Chavez not undrestand? Or is he simply lying?

–The new President of the National Assembly said today (El Nacional A-2) that “The opposition was not needed in the Assembly”

So much for these people being democratic, when they are ready to exclude at least 40% of the political representation in the country. These people are fascist and autocratic. On top of that they are incredibly inefficient. The number of important laws approved in this term has been the lowest in the Assembly’s or Congress’ history. They also did incredible things, like approving the change in the flag and Coat of Arms without estimating the cost. This is against the regulations.

–Well, it sounded good while it lasted, but Chavez seems to be reading the same polls that we do, he no longer thinks that ten million votes is possible:
“Less than six million, don’t even think about it. It’s a long way to
ten million, but we are going to get closer. Let’s assume we will get
to eight milion votes”

By now he may be even talking about total votes in the election, not Chavista votes. How times change, 50% abstention and he may not even get 4 million votes in December.

Last night Chavez told graduates of the Bolivarian University that they had to learn to be poor and humble.

Easy to say, as you check your Cartier watch, fix your Lanvin tie and leave in a helicopter. Typical expression, proving he wants everyone to be poor, not create well being and wealth for all.

Escape from Ramo Verde by Teodoro Petkoff

August 17, 2006


Escape from Ramo Verde by Teodoro Petkoff in Tal Cual

The escape by Carlos Ortega and the Farias brothers has left the
Government with no clothes on.

The great, one act farce from Havana, with Chávez acting like one of the wise
men, carrying presents to sick Fidel, was buried by the escape from jail of the
President of the workers union federation CTV, the most emblematic of the prisoners
of the Vth Republic, which together with all of the paraphernalia after the
escape, led by the pathetic apparition of the General Prosecutor, the
unfortunate initial statements by the Minister of the Interior and the official
confirmation yesterday that military officials were accomplices of the escape.

The revolution is a parody.

The star witness deceives Isaias, who believed in what his eyes were telling him, military personnel which custodies a military prison opened the fences
and forgot routine procedures, at a time when the invasion by the “Empire” appears
imminent and the President- who equally distributes weapons, or wears cap and
gown- writes with all four hands with Fidel in frank recovery, while the Caribbean breeze sprays
the room with the promise of socialism, if not eternal.

Heroes from assaults and uprisings, Field and Chavez, snuggling in the
tenderness of their encounter on Sunday the 13th. , forget, and with
them their underlings, that the will of the people is stubborn in some cases
and docile in others. So much “Patria o Muerte” (Homeland or Death), too many “Venceremos”
(We shall win) that are suspended, fragile, exposed to public scorn.

But there is a solution. It was provided this morning by the new
President of the National Assembly, the surprising Celia Flores, who reveals to
us that if Chavez were the Prosecutor or a Judge, the problem of personal
safety would have been solved. But Chávez was not in charge of Ramo Verde the night
of the events, other occupations were keeping him awake.

He was about to take a flight or was already flying.

Flores should
remember that in those years of 1991 and 1992, it was vox populi what was being prepared. And what was being prepared did happen. Badly, but it happened. CAP was
also getting off an airplane at the time. The peaceful revolution, which began then its
actions pointing with machine guns, lost, at least militarily, its first
round. If CAP had been Minister of Defense, Cilia, for better (or for worse)
other things may have happened.

By the way. How about Chávez as president of the National Assembly? Or
as Minister of interior Jesse? As Fidel has said “Chavez has no replacement”.
For now…

The cynical face of the Minister of Information

August 16, 2006

Minister of Information Wiliam Lara is not only a cynic, but he speaks for the Government or Chavez’ MVR party at will, turning him into the biggest “caradura” of the mediocre Chavista Government. Today was truly incredible as he came out and said that the CNE “guaranteed” that the regulations of the election would be followed and that no significant “abuses” had been made. He said that his office was “exhorting” Government agencies not to spend money on electoral campaigning.

What this cynic failed to mention is that his own Ministry has spent money in publishing ads that clearly violate the regulations, as part of the dozens of ads documented here (his is the one on the 15th. celebrating the two years of the recall vote) as violating the regulations, day after day, after day…I guess his exhortations don’t even work in his Ministry.

How much did the CNE pay for the fingerprint identification system?

August 16, 2006


Whenever
you see a press or Government report about the fingerprint identification
system purchased by the CNE, the standard answer is that the CNE spent US$ 66
million on it. Is this number correct or is it simply the case of a number said
so many times that it has become the truth?

I have
wondered about it for a while, because I have always believed that such a
system was a luxury for Venezuela and wanted to know its true cost, but could
never figured out what the total cost was. However, I have never been able to
find a consistent source of what the number means. Nevertheless, the number
gets repeated over and over

As far as
I can tell, the original 14,000 fingerprint machines purchased
by the CNE cost US$ 53.9 million, which together with the satellite dish system
purchased from Gilat for US$ 13. 2 million, would give US$ 67.1 million. Not
exactly 66, but in any case, we know they bought 2,000 new machines after the
recall. Thus, the number has to be higher.

The other
possibility is that after paying the US$ 53.9 million, the CNE paid
US$ 11.1 million for “Intellectual property rights of
the Automated Fingerprint Identification Systems”
, but this would mean
that the total was US$ 65 million, not 66 either and once again, this leaves
2,000 machines out.

Thus, it
is not easy to figure out how much the system cost. It is one thing what the
CNE has said or continues to say and what the Cogent SEC filings say. However,
even the filings sometimes have some very gray areas and inconstancies that
make it hard to figure out exactly how much the CNE has paid Cogent. Since the
CNE has always given roughly the same number for the cost of the fingerprint
system, around US$ 66 million, while Cogent has given us information in time,
we will use the SEC filings to analyze the relationship between the CNE and the
company. Simply remember that the SEC filings have legal validity, while the
CNE can say whatever it wants, after all there are no checks and balances in
this country.

The first
thing that I found peculiar is that Cogent makes no mention of the CNE, in its
filings, as a customer until September 23d. 2004. This does not mean much.
Cogent filed it first registration (S-1) filing with the SEC in May 2004,
simply stating that it was planning to go public. At the time, the type of
information that it had to reveal was less detailed than the one required once
you are public. But still, Cogent Systems filed six S-1 Registration Statements
between May 14th. 2004 and it is not until Sep 23 2004 that Cogent
actually acknowledges that the CNE is a costumer. In fact, in the Sep. 9th.
registration, the CNE is mentioned as having used fingerprint systems, but not
as a costumer, without explicitly saying that it was a Cogent system that was
used a month earlier during the recall vote.

Even more
amazing is the fact that in the registration filing (S-1) dated August 11th.
2004, that is four days before the recall referendum in which Cogent machines
were used, no mention is made of the CNE either being a costumer, using
AFIS machines from Cogent or even having a contract with Cogent. Strange, no?

Obviously,
if Cogent deployed the AFIS system for the recall referendum which took place
on August 15th. 2004, the CNE had to have a contract with Cogent and
made payments even sometime before. But the regulations before you go public,
as you are registering, are more lax than after you go public so that Cogent
may have received funding before July 1st. 2004 from the CNE, but
may never know about it since the first quarter for which Cogent had to provide
detailed financials was the July 1st. to September 30th.. 2004
quarter.

It would
seem logical that the CNE made a payment before July 1st. but we
simply can’t tell. Logical, because this was a fairly complex system that had
never been installed in the world, an AFIS real time system for the
instantaneous comparison of one fingerprint to all the previous ones in the
database. It would be very surprising to sign such a contract and make payments
less than six weeks before the recall vote took place. Thus, it would seem as
if some form of payment had to be made in the 2nd. quarter 2004, but
we don’t know.

After July
1st. we have a little more detail, even if accounting conventions may
obscure it sometimes.

1)
In
the 2004 Annual Report (10-K), filed
by Cogent
on March 22nd. 2005, it is stated that the company
entered into a contract with the CNE during the third quarter in the amount of
US$ 54 million. It also says that it entered into a second contract with the
CNE for US$ 20.2 million in the fourth quarter 2004.

2)
In
the 2005 Annual Report (10-K), filed
by Cogent
on March 15th. 2006, it is stated that the company
entered into a contract with the CNE for US$ 31.8 million in the second quarter
of 2005.

Thus,
since Cogent went public and it reported its third quarter of 2004 which
started on July 1st. of that year, the CNE has signed contracts
worth US$ 105.0 million with it, not counting any possible payments before the
third quarter of 2004 which may or not have taken place, but it would seem
there had to be a prior payment.

Now, from
the same filings, it seems like the CNE has paid most of the US$ 105 million,
even if Cogent has not registered it as revenue. Let me explain. According to
the Cogent filings, the first two contracts have been completed and all of the
funds have been recorded as revenue by the company. However, the last contract
has been paid by the CNE, but the company does not record all of the revenue at
once but does it over the life of the contract, this is common practice. The
simplest example I know of is Microsoft, when you buy Windows or Office from
them, they record (or at least used to record) the revenues in four parts over
the next four quarters.

This is
done for a number of reasons. One, troubles could arise over the life of the
contract and it might be delayed. Two, money may have to be returned to the
other party but the main reason it is done, is to smooth earnings as much as
possible during the year. Why? Well, recording a big contract all at once like
that would give a big jump in earnings for the company and the stock may jump
up on the news. However, if a similar contract is not signed the next quarter,
it would look as if the company is doing worse, because it recorded less
revenues and earnings. There are
rules on this and the SEC has sometimes scolded companies for doing this too
much, as it might deceive investors into thinking their company is doing great,
while revenues and earnings are going down but you don’t see it because they
have been smoothed out.

Thus, of
the US$ 38.1 million of last year’s contract, Cogent has yet to recognize US$
26.3 million, from Cogent’s latest quarterly filing: ”Deferred revenue related
to the contract totaled approximately $ 28.7 million and $26.3 as of December
31, 2005 and June 30, 2006 respectively.”

Thus, the
conclusion is that the CNE has paid Cogent a minimum of US$ 105
million so far, of which the company has recognized so far a minimum of US$
78.7 million. Add the Gilat contract of US$ 13.2 million and the CNE has spent
a minimum of US$ 118.2 million on the complete system for fingerprint
identification in Venezuelan elections, according to the legal filings as well
as the record on the Gilat contract. Any different number is just hearsay.

By the
way, US$ 118.2 million implies that each person caught voting twice has cost
between US$ 2.23 million and US$ 4.09 million depending on which number you
believe. (From 29 to 53 persons caught cheating) With the fear these systems
have instilled in people and the cost, they have certainly been a waste of
money in my opinion, more so in a poor country.

Ten million. Sure! by Teodoro Petkoff in Tal Cual

August 15, 2006


Ten million. Sure!
by Teodoro Petkoff in Tal Cual

“It’s going to cost us a lot to get those ten millions votes”,
it was something like that, more or less, that Chavez said the day that he registered
his candidacy for President. When he gets off from that fantasy cloud, he is
going to discover that what is becoming uphill, is whether he wins or not.

The proofs of the dissatisfaction become each day more
plentiful and more conclusive all over the country. There is not a day in which
huge traffic jams are not produced in roads and highways, protests of all sorts,
through which the people each day, more disappointed than the one before,
express their discomfort and their protest.

And they don’t lack reasons. Victims of disasters that have
been waiting for years for the house promised by Chavez at those times when
Chavez called them the “dignified”. The word has disappeared from the official
lexicon, because those same people are really pissed today. Taxi and bus
drivers stop the traffic, incensed, given the inefficiency of the Government in
the fight against crime, which each day takes the life of one of them.

The inhabitants of the popular barrios shut down traffic in
avenues and roads, demanding decent public services. On the other hand, the dry
leather of the protesting Venezuela
is rising, because each day the failure of the Government in fulfilling its
most elementary duties, such as defending the right to life or property,
providing housing and public services to the population that lacks them, is
simply more visible.

What is happening with people’s personal security is simple terrifying.

The extremes reached by the combination of the uncontrolled underworld
and the official incompetence is such that almost 90% of Venezuelans believe that
, according to polls, the lack of personal security is the worst problem they
are facing. And the President, who almost never mentions the problem in his
verbose addresses to the nation, when he did, two weeks ago, he did it to complain
that “his people were getting killed” (that is those that support
him) and he does nothing. In a country overwhelmed by kidnappings, by homicides,
by robberies, by stolen cars, the only time he has expressed his concern was to
deepen the profound psychological divide that he himself has provoked in the
country: victims are his supporters, the rest don’t matter.

But in the popular barrios the fear and the fury increase, because
criminals don’t distinguish political colors and the words of the President end
up being a scorn and an insult to the pain and suffering of the thousands of
families that have lost dear ones in the unending shoot outs between gangs or
in the ineffable police executions, that just happen to be a variant of the homicidal
gangs

While the fight against crime fails or his housing policy,
he shows himself particularly threatening in his expansion for total control of
society. He can’t control crime, but he nationalizes sports, he can’t control
crime, but he pretends to control and nullify all organizations that defend
human rights, he can’t control crime, but he wants to educate kids and adolescents
with a square mindset.

But is just so happens that you can’t fool all people all
the time. That is why everyday, more people are ready to present their bill on
December 3d.

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