Thursday, December 28, 2006

Paco Ignacio Taibo II’s Some Clouds

I read Paco Ignacio Taibo II’s Some Clouds, a detective novel that takes place in Mexico City. He’s the same author who recently co-wrote a novel with Subcomandante Marcos, though I haven’t read that one yet.

The book was very short, and it was unfortunate he didn’t develop the characters a little bit more. Nonetheless, it was a good read, and his depiction of Mexico City is very much like Raymond Chandler’s 1940s Los Angeles, as he obviously loves the city even while probing its seamy side. There is a lot of commentary woven into the story, and the following is an excerpt from a character’s dialogue that I found especially compelling. I might just use it in class as a concise explanation of corruption's deep roots.

The cops in this town are as big a cesspool as they are because there’s big money involved. You know what happens to the lowly motorcycle cop who puts the bite on you for three hundred pesos because you ran a stoplight? At the end of the day he has to kick back fifteen hundred or two grand to his sergeant for letting him work the good intersections, and if he doesn’t, he’ll be out sweeping streets or directing traffic, left to eat shit. The guy has to pay for the maintenance on his own bike, because if he takes it to the shop at the station they’ll steal everything down to the spark plugs and, boom, the guy’s back on the streets again, on foot. And he starts every day with eight liters of gas instead of the twelve he’s allotted, because his major and his chief skimmed off the other four. He pays into a pension plan that doesn’t exist, and a life insurance pool that doesn’t exist either. His sergeant kicks back twenty-five grand to the district chief, who runs hot license plates on the side and takes a bite out of the phony pension fund. You know how the commanders call roll at the start of each day at district headquarters? With an envelope in their hand. Officer so-and-so reporting for duty, and there goes the money into the envelope. The district commander must take in half a million pesos every day. He’s got two officers and all they do is collect money…That’s the system, not a measly three hundred peso bribe…You have to take a step back to be able to see the system (pp.140-141).


Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The newest threat to Cuba... rock climbing, and the Cuban government is cracking down. According to the government, rock climbers are just foreigners who go to isolated areas to take drugs and spy on Cuba's efforts to protect itself in case of a U.S. invasion, and as such represent a bad influence on pure-minded, red-blooded, Castro-loving citizens. Therefore, they are making people get special permits to go rock climbing, but a park ranger admitted he did not, in fact, know how to obtain said permit.

Has a government ever been undermined or perhaps even overthrown by a small group of sports enthusiasts? I don't recall any coups led by skateboarders or bowlers, but I could be wrong.


Monday, December 25, 2006

Feliz Navidad, Happy Holidays, etc.

I hope everyone (students included!) is having a nice break. I'm with family and friends for the holidays so blogging will remain a bit light.

However, I was pleased to see this NYT story about the potential for immigration reform. The question of why Democrats aren't making a bigger deal of their behind the scenes efforts is a very interesting one, which I'll have to chew over a bit. This story may simply be a trial balloon, to see the reaction before getting to the nitty gritty. If there is a firestorm, or at least enough opposition to make newly elected Democrats nervous, then there is no guarantee of anything being passed.

I liked the idea that they might deny funding for the ridiculous fence proposal recently passed. At the very least, it suggests there is the possibility of something more bold than what we've been seeing for the past year and more. There are many hurdles, however, and the article does a nice job of explaining them.


Friday, December 22, 2006

Not staying the course in Cuba

Raul Castro says he will listen to different points of view, without saying what that actually means. It could well mean that he will not "stay the course" and perhaps will create a commission to let him know how to stay the course without seeming to. In addition, he made clear he is the decider:

''The first principle in constructing any armed forces is the sole command. But that doesn't mean that we cannot discuss,'' he said. ``That way we reach decisions, and I'm talking about big decisions.''

So, in fact, he is the "big decider." I am also guessing that he believes the Cuban revolution is winning, or at the very least it is not winning or losing.


Thursday, December 21, 2006

Santa Claus is an illegal immigrant

Via Vivir Latino: a website critical of local laws aimed at immigration in Hazleton, Pennsylvania notes that Santa is in fact an illegal immigrant. The same, in fact, is true of Superman. As such, they set a very bad example for the law abiding.

Really, they are stealing two jobs that Americans could take. If we just enforced our laws, then someone here could build their own sleigh, get their own reindeer, and maybe even some American elves. Alaska is just as good as the North Pole.


Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Coca salad

Peruvian President Alan García says he thinks coca would be really good in salad, tasty and nutritious. He also revealed that at the Government Palace, a top Peruvian chef offered up some tamales and pies made with coca flour, topped off by a coca liqueur. He did not indicate whether he then worked all night.

Around the same time, Evo Morales announced plans to increase the acreage of legal coca. It will go from 29,700 acres to 49,400 acres (out of a total of 62,800 acres being grown in the country).

This all comes on the heels of a spat between Colombia and Ecuador, because the former is spraying herbicides right up to the border, and Ecuador is not happy with the potential side effects. The article does not note whether the planes are being piloted by U.S. citizens, which is often the case.

Taken together, these incidents suggest a substantive and broad reaction against U.S. drug policy, with the obvious exception of Colombia. That policy can be characterized as “spray, send troops, and sprinkle in some crop substitution.” Note that the policy is not “get Americans to stop snorting cocaine.”

Are we going to hit some sort of breaking point? Consensus for U.S. policy, which was always shaky, might be crumbling apart completely. The U.S. will get out whatever sticks it has, which are not unsubstantial (e.g. perhaps refusing to extend the trade preferences with Bolivia when they come up in six months) but exactly how much leverage does the Bush administration have?


Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Chávez's new party

The Venezuelan government has announced that all pro-government political parties will be wrapped up into a single Unified Socialist Party of Venezuela.

In a speech Friday, Chavez said Venezuela needs a governing party that is "at the service of the revolution and the people _ not at the service of the political parties." He said parties will be free not to join if they wish.

I'm still trying to figure this one out. Parties are bad, and so the party should not be at the services of the parties, but rather should be a dominant party over all other parties, which is good. Maybe it's just the political equivalent of Sauron's ring.

Carlos Azpurua, a member of the Fatherland For All party, said he strongly supports forming a single party but believes its leadership should be chosen at a grassroots level.

Yeah, that'll happen.


Monday, December 18, 2006

J. Patrice McSherry's Predatory States

I had mentioned Patrice McSherry’s book (Predatory States: Operation Condor and Covert War in Latin America) in my post on Pinochet’s death, and here’s a review. I’ve put the book on my list on the right side of the blog.

John Dinges wrote a very good book about Operation Condor, the covert organization of South American military governments meant to share intelligence and detain/torture/murder each other’s citizens. But this book goes further in two main ways.

First, it provides a conceptual framework that brings out the formal nature of Operation Condor and South American repression more generally. She goes to great lengths to demonstrate how this was not simply a matter of dictatorships killing people; rather, it represented a coherent plan, formulated across South America and with help from the United States, to create a parastatal repressive structure (and it includes analysis of how the structure was applied in Central America as well). It was carefully planned, plotted, and executed on an international level with all the proper paperwork (which, ultimately, is why so much information is coming out).

Second, the book’s attention to detail is impressive. I kept thinking it could be used in a court somewhere, as she gathers information from her own research in Paraguayan archives, personal interviews, newspaper citations from numerous countries, and a walth of secondary sources. There is more out there, held secretly in U.S. and Latin American archives, and with any luck it will come to light more over time (especially as protagonists like Pinochet die).


Sunday, December 17, 2006

Immigration Policy

There’s a very good Washington Post Op-Ed by Tamar Jacoby, who recently wrote a Foreign Affairs article on immigration. Her argument is that immigration laws are so dysfunctional that companies are even being punished for trying to comply. It focuses on Swift, a meat processor. So, for example:

When job applicants started showing up with what the company suspected were false papers, it tried inquiring into their backgrounds -- only to be sued for discrimination by the Justice Department.

Later, Swift complained about problems with the process of verifying social security numbers, and then was promptly raided. Complaining just brings you to the attention of the federal government, and makes you a target.

Our nudge-nudge, wink-wink immigration system -- unrealistic laws, all but ignored on the ground -- must be replaced by a law enforcement regime that works: more honest quotas, enforced to the letter, including in the workplace. Raids such as those that took place this week would be justified in the context of an immigration overhaul of the kind proposed by the president and passed by the Senate last spring.

I think this is well stated. When you look at phenomena as disparate as local governments targeting immigrants, groups like the Minute Men, illegal immigrants dying in the Arizona desert, English-only movements, or even huge pro-immigrant rallies, they all have one common denominator: the utter failure of the U.S. Congress to craft a credible policy on immigration. A Republican controlled Congress (or at least House) wouldn’t do so, and so far there is no sign that a Democratic controlled Congress will either. I will be happy to say I’m wrong if the leadership actually rolls up its sleeves and works on it.


Saturday, December 16, 2006

Venezuelan diplomacy

From the Chilean paper La Tercera: the Venezuelan ambassador to Bolivia announced that if the government of Evo Morales were threatened, Venezuela would have the option to invade in accord with their recent military agreement. This had the unfortunate effect of prompting the Bolivian armed forces commander in chief to remind everyone that the Bolivian military had the right to intervene in internal affairs, and could do so quite nicely on its own, thank you.


Friday, December 15, 2006

New levels of absurdity

Thanks to my brother for pointing out this story from NPR (including audio) about the Golden State Fence Company, which helped to build the fence between San Diego and Tijuana. Turns out that the company is loaded with illegal immigrants, and so was fined by the government, while two executives may face jail time. In other words, the fence intended to keep out illegal immigrants was built by illegal immigrants.


Thursday, December 14, 2006

President Calderón and immigration

The Mexican government has often been criticized for hypocrisy with regard to immigration. On the one hand, it demands rights for its workers from the United States. On the other, Central Americans are routinely abused and harassed as they make their way north to the United States. Mexican laws are also highly discriminatory toward non-natives.

That is why it’s refreshing to hear President Calderón address the issue directly. From a speech he just gave:

"Just as we demand respect for the human rights of our countrymen, we have the ethical and legal responsibility to respect the human rights and the dignity of those who come from Central and South America and who cross our southern border," Calderon said during the presentation of human rights awards to several Mexican activists.

"Migrants from Central and South America who cross through our national territory also suffer abuses, extortion and are victims of crime, many times with the complicity of authorities."

We’ll see whether he puts his money where his mouth is. This also reminds me of the deafening silence on the part of the Democratic Party on immigration. It’s easy to criticize Iraq, but immigration requires sticking your neck out a bit.


Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Captain Augusto Pinochet

One of the many controversies swirling around Chile at the moment centers on army Captain Augusto Pinochet, grandson of the former dictator, also known as Augusto III. Even though he is active duty, he let loose insults against the government, the courts, and anyone critical of the dictatorship. This even got the attention of President Bachelet, who indicated that the army should respond. Another report suggests that Captain Pinochet was already planning to leave the army when he made the comments. We can only hope.


Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Pinochet's death and criminal investigations

Interesting juxtaposition of articles about how investigations will continue after Pinochet’s death. The Miami Herald raises the possibility that the U.S. government will release more information now that he’s dead, especially about the murders of Charles Horman, Frank Teruggi (both portrayed in the movie “Missing”) and Ronni Moffitt, who was car bombed in DC. That article provides good background on the cases.

Meanwhile, the NYT offers the possibility that Chilean officers will also talk more now that Pinochet is gone. I find this entirely plausible. He was an intimidating figure, “mi general,” and a hero for saving his country, especially to younger officers. Speaking against him would never be easy, but now will be easier. Faced with this opening to save their own skins, they may take it. I wonder if the army may also be more willing to give people up and thereby "cleanse" itself in a post-Pinochet world.


Monday, December 11, 2006

U.S. government response

The White House had only a brief statement about Pinochet's death:

"Augusto Pinochet's dictatorship in Chile represented one of most difficult periods in that nation's history," White House spokesman Tony Fratto said after the death of the Chilean dictator at 91.

"Our thoughts today are with the victims of his reign and their families. We commend the people of Chile for building a society based on freedom, the rule of law, and respect for human rights," he said.

It isn't surprising, of course, that there is no mention of how the U.S. actively encouraged repression. Indeed, the architect of U.S. policy toward Chile and other dictatorships, Henry Kissinger, has been an advisor to President Bush on Iraq. Depressing.


Sunday, December 10, 2006

The end of Pinochet

I promised my thoughts on Pinochet, and so here they are.

Pinochet and his supporters were adamant that he was different, that he did not take power for power’s sake, but rather to save the country from civil war and a Soviet/Cuban-backed takeover of the country. As a graduate student interviewing Chilean military officers in the 1990s I learned the importance of language. It was a “pronunciamiento,” not a “golpe.” It was a “regimen militar,” not a “dictadura.” This was true not only of the army, but the navy and air force as well.

Then and later I always got the clear impression that they respected Pinochet, not in a messianic sense, but rather from a respect for leadership and leading by example. Unlike the Somozas, Stroessners, and myriad others, Pinochet worked for the nation, not for his own selfish interests. Chile had faced a dire situation, and Pinochet had been forthright in addressing it. Plus, he had respected the results of the 1988 plebiscite and stepped down.

The Riggs Bank scandal punctured the image of selflessness, as we now know he stole over $20 million and funneled it into personal bank accounts. Continued work on Operation Condor (I am almost finished with an excellent book by Patrice McSherry on that topic, which is definitive, and I will review it on the blog in due time) shows he led an international effort not only to murder, but also to institutionalize murder. This makes it difficult to keep up the simple “he saved the country” argument, because no matter what you thought of Chilean politics on September 10, 1973, the next day he got a system going to terrorize the population, and even to kill many innocent people. It was done consciously, bureaucratically, and efficiently.

Therefore, his only “accomplishment” would be the restructuring of the Chilean economy, which began several years after the coup. This is the trickiest of his legacies. Chile now has the most dynamic and successful economy in Latin America. A reminder—we are talking in comparative terms. This does not mean Chile has solved the problems of poverty and inequality, or that it is a model that can be followed within the rules of democracy. But it did happen under his rule.

It also happened on the backs of workers, who were mercilessly crushed. It happened on the backs of the poor, as low income neighborhoods were commonly targeted for security sweeps. It created deep wounds that are not healed, and won’t ever be healed. No one can deny the economic stability, but neither can you deny the heavy costs associated with it.

Chileans pride themselves on being exceptions to Latin American rules. Chilean political history has Portales, Balmaceda, Arturo Alessandri (and Jorge, also a president but far less notable), Grove, Allende, Aylwin, among many more, and even Bachelet will fill those ranks of key political figures. They all had their weaknesses (some more extreme than others) but none were an embarrassment to the country. Pinochet is different. For all the rhetoric, he was not much different from other Latin American dictators who died in ignominy. He ruled by fiat (here I will note Robert Barros’ well-researched book on the ways in which the junta blocked him from time to time) he ordered people to be killed only because he did not like their politics, he enriched himself at the expense of the country, and put simply, he was a brute (while putting other brutes in positions of authority) and did considerable damage to Chile.

He will always be prominent in Chilean history, but I think almost entirely in a negative light. There isn’t much to mourn.

For LASA 2007, I am writing a paper on Chilean civil-military relations as part of a Chile panel I helped organize, so in particular I’ll be following the army to see how his death affects its relationship with the government and with society (which I think will improve, though not without complication). It’s a topic worthy of its own discussion.


Holy crap he's actually dead

Augusto Pinochet died today. I've worked so much on analyzing civil-military relations in Chile, living there and talking to people, including some who worked very closely with him, that I can't just give a quick assessment. I will blog about it soon. There is no doubt, however, that everyone--maybe even especially the army--is better off with him gone.

How fitting, though definitely weird, that I just wrote this morning about the plans for how to deal with his death.


Dealing with Pinochet

A long-standing question is suddenly pressing in Chile: how should the government deal with Pinochet’s death? President Bachelet has made clear that he will not receive the honors of a former head of state, but instead there will be the ceremony for a former military commander in chief. As Defense Minister, she had already laid the groundwork for that in negotiations with then-army commander Juan Emilio Cheyre. The army accepted that, and I think the current commander in chief, Oscar Izurieta, has no interest in generating any more controversy than he has to.

This decision also reflects public opinion, as 55% of Chileans do not think he should get an ex-president’s funeral, while 51% agree with the ex-commander funeral, though 32% “disagree or disagree strongly” even with that decision. Only 45% think President Bachelet should attend, and 72% do not think it should be a national day of mourning.

Yet that’s not even the end of it. The Pinochet family has indicated he will be cremated, and so there is the question of where his remains should go. No one wants them in a public place, where they will become a shrine both for those who hate him and those who love him. That last category is shrinking. In the article, a source in the Ministry of Defense notes what really has become conventional wisdom, namely that the Riggs Bank scandal, whereby Pinochet clearly took millions from the Treasury, was decisive in eroding support for him.


Saturday, December 09, 2006

The populism debate continues

The debate about populism continues over at Fruits and Votes, where Matthew Shugart analyzes the concept to determine who qualifies and who doesn’t, and ultimately whether the label is useful at all. This is really one of the more intellectually satisfying aspects of blogging, as we take an interesting and highly relevant political issue and debate it, even across different blogs.


Friday, December 08, 2006

Trade deal

A few weeks ago, I had mentioned the debate in Congress over the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act, and why it made sense to extend it (it expires December 31). Although presidents like Evo Morales wanted a two year extension, and President Bush wanted one, Senate and House negotiators agreed to six months. However, it needs to pass the Senate, where it might founder because of Haiti.

The Senate opposes a deal with Haiti that would give Haitian garments privileged access to the U.S. market. The domestic politics involved are clear. But let’s stop pretending that we really believe free trade is the way to help alleviate poverty, if we refuse to sign a deal with the poorest country in the hemisphere.


Thursday, December 07, 2006


I've been participating in an interesting discussion in the comments on a post at Bloggings by Boz about populism. It centers on how to define populism and neopopulism, and then what Latin American political leaders should be labeled as one or the other, or as neither. So, for example, is Daniel Ortega a populist of some stripe?

"Neo" is being applied to so many labels, and it seems that "leftist" is the only one that remains the same. Neoliberal, neopopulist, neofascist, neoconservative, etc. It does make me wonder whether the "neo" helps us analytically, or just makes everything more confusing.

Nonetheless, the debate itself is useful to the extent that it helps us get beyond the left/right dichotomy that is currently being applied to governments in the region, at least by the media and politicians.


Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Padres sign Maddux

The Padres signed Greg Maddux to a one year contract with incentives according to how many innings he pitches. I really like this deal--Maddux is 41 but is still solid, and I think is a good veteran to have. I also hope that spending this money will put the kibosh on the rumors that the Padres were interested in Barry Bonds. It seems that he is cruising around the winter meetings, but has no takers yet.



Since Pinochet's trip to the hospital came just after new charges against him, there is much talk in Chile (here is an English version) that the heart attack was faked. As a result, the doctors even talked to the press to explain why his recovery has been so rapid, and to give details about his daily schedule.

He does have a history of falling ill right when the courts are breathing down his neck, much like grandmothers of students seem to die right around exam time in universities.


The military and respect in Latin America

Via Tim’s El Salvador blog, a poll of Salvadorans reveals something that is widespread in Latin America, yet not much remarked upon. Despite a fairly recent history in most countries of some combination of military dictatorship, repression, and human rights abuses, the armed forces remain one of the most respected institutions. In El Salvador, it came in fourth behind the Catholic Church, the evangelical Church, and local government (alcaldías). Latinbarometer results show the same across the region.

There are a number of different possible (and probably intertwined) reasons. The most pessimistic would be that the military isn’t exactly popular, but other institutions are just worse. In El Salvador, this is plausible. The most optimistic would be that the military has been successful in re-establishing trust. In Chile, for example, the army has worked very hard to shed its image as a closed institution, set apart from society.

In addition, it may be that people blame individual soldiers rather than the institution itself for human rights abuses. As long as there is some measure of accountability (e.g. trials) for the worst offenders, then the armed forces as a whole are not viewed in a bad light.

Finally, the military may be viewed with favor largely because it is so well organized, especially compared to other state institutions. When there is a natural disaster, the army generally moves quickly, and responds more effectively than other parts of the government.

This would be a great research topic, but would require extensive polling.


Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Israeli weighs in on Venezuela

In a speech, a member of the Israeli parliament referred to Hugo Chávez as a "senior member of the axis of evil." This is not necessarily surprising, since Chávez has cozied up to Iran and Syria, while also criticizing Israel very sharply. However, Chávez loves such outlandish statements, and they make him more popular. Funny thing is, they never stop coming either.

Meanwhile, the U.S. made only indirect mention of the election, and refused to speak Chávez's name (in other words, "he who shall not be named").

''We look forward to having the opportunity to work with the Venezuelan government on issues of mutual interest,'' State Department press officer Eric Watnik said. [Presumably in the most boring monotone as well]


Monday, December 04, 2006

Thoughts on the Venezuelan election

Hugo Chávez won re-election handily, around 61-38, and Rosales conceded. His term is 6 years, and unless the constitution is reformed (definitely a possibility) he cannot run again. Here are some thoughts on the election:

--despite all the controversy over the reliability of polls, most said Chávez would win by a significant margin. Boz has some of the last poll numbers.

--despite the speculation (including on my part) that the losing side would claim fraud, Rosales conceded and the election seems to have been clean.

--I tend to agree with Ka, who thinks this may have marked the end of the old opposition, the last vestiges of the old political guard. It was in fact the decay of AD and COPEI that gave rise to Chávez in the first place, so it is appropriate that his rise may be the sign of their own last breath. A reborn opposition will need a coherent message that goes beyond criticizing Chávez and promising debit cards for the poor.

--with the exception of the NYT, reporting from the U.S. media about Venezuela is really poor. Today’s Miami Herald offers up a terribly written piece that even blames Chávez for high oil prices.

--the fact that not only did Chávez win big, but also legitimately (yes, there has been intimidation of state workers, no doubt, but I have yet to see any major complaints about the voting process itself) means that the U.S. government needs to accept his existence and keep its collective mouth shut. Criticism makes him stronger.

--this big win means Chávez will strengthen his control over state institutions, which will likely erode accountability even further. I wonder what Venezuelan politics will look like after these six years.


Sunday, December 03, 2006

Pinochet had a heart attack

Just in from CNN. His lungs are also filling up with fluid. Especially since he is 91 and already in poor health, I will be surprised if he lives very much longer.

This one line from the CNN story really rankled me:

Leftists have accused him of ordering the torture and death of thousands of leftists during his regime.

This makes it sound like a small group of ideologically-driven people are trying to hang something on him, as opposed to massive evidence that is disputed by only the most hard core of supporters.


Saturday, December 02, 2006

Venezuela election tomorrow

In anticipation of tomorrow’s election in Venezuela, the NYT reports on the rise in crime in the country (up 67%) after President Chávez took office, and the extremely high rate of gun-related deaths. The piece is obviously highly critical, though it would’ve been useful at least to get a pro-Chávez opinion of the phenomenon. The Washington Post discusses the government’s heavy-handed tactics with state workers and the media.

In addition, Slate has a story on race in Venezuela, and more specifically the growing Afro-Venezuelan movement. Particularly relevant for the election is that the Bolivarian revolution doesn’t really include blacks, but the opposition is seen as out of touch and racist:

On Globovision, the country's main 24-hour news network, which essentially represents opposition to Chávez, guests have repeatedly referred to the president, who is of mixed indigenous and black origin, as a "monkey."

So the choice is generally to vote for Chávez because they empathize with him, and at least he has some connection to the poor and dispossessed.

The opposition may call fraud, there may be riots, but it seems there is something else at work, something rather depressing. Although Venezuela faces some serious problems, Rosales still seems only the “non-Chávez” candidate. How many people will vote for him because they believe in his vision for the country? So there are blocs of voters who could possibly be swayed, who don’t like the direction the country is taking, but instead they may vote for Chávez, because he has something in common with them, whereas they don’t connect at all to Rosales.

Marc Cooper also has a nice analysis of Chávez and the election.


Friday, December 01, 2006

Center for Development in Central America

Yesterday I neglected to give a plug to the Center for Development in Central America, which came to UNCC and a representative spoke to my Latin American Politics class on Wednesday. It is a very cool non-profit that focuses mostly on micro-enterprise projects in rural Nicaragua, with an emphasis on community development.

Part of their work involves production of a wide variety of things for sale/export, and so they set up a table in the university bookstore with all sorts of items for sale. One of the things I bought was a pound of Nicaraguan coffee grown by a local cooperative (and I am drinking it as I write). They worked to fulfill the requirements of being labeled “organic” and then looked to niche markets in the U.S.

Poverty in Nicaragua can seem so crushing, and what I really liked was the commitment to doing one project at a time, community by community, and not letting the big picture overwhelm them.


Thursday, November 30, 2006

More on Bolivia

Yesterday I wrote about the land reform bill passed by the Bolivian senate, and now signed by President Morales. The update today is that the two assistants voted in place of their respective senators, though it is not clear why the senators themselves did not vote. From the Associated Press:

The reform's rocky passage in the Senate could also hamper Morales' effort. The president relied on votes cast by two absent senators' assistants to pass the controversial bill, granting the opposition legal leverage to question the law's validity.

Former Bolivian President Jorge Quiroga, leader of the conservative party Podemos, which led the Senate boycott, said Wednesday that Morales' tactics were "contemptible and disgusting, both legally and morally."

Podemos has accused the senators' assistants of accepting government bribes to pass the law. On Wednesday, the assistants were being guarded by police for their safety.

So the plot thickens. Did those two senators want to vote for the bill, or were the assistants paid off?


Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Quick update: Bolivia

I had recently written about the political stand-off in Bolivia. Now the BBC reports that three opposition senators broke ranks and voted with the government on President Morales' land reform bill. Democracy, though very fragile, is hanging on.

Update to the update: the anonymous commenter alerted me to the fact, not reported by the BBC, that only one senator voted. From CNN:

But Tuesday night, one Podemos senator returned to the chamber to vote for the land reform, joined by assistants filling in for two other opposition senators.

It was not immediately clear whether the assistants' votes would hold up to legal scrutiny.

Now, who exactly were these assistants? What legal right do they have to vote?


Anticipating the Venezuelan election

The Venezuelan presidential election is coming up on Sunday. The Miami Herald has an interesting article on the proliferation of questionable polls. You can find a poll that gives either candidate a clear victory.

There is even dispute about popular mobilization, as both candidates just held large rallies. But which was larger? Ka even comes up with a very creative estimate using Google earth, and calculating width of the road used, etc.

The article makes the very good point that these disputes suggest that each side believes it should win, and therefore will claim fraud if that outcome does not occur. An article by Oxford Analytica concurs, and has an analysis arguing that Rosales will lose and his campaign has failed. It also speculates that Rosales supporters are more likely to stay home because of fraud concerns, which will further fuel mutual suspicion and hostility.

It is hard to conceive of an outcome that will contribute to political and social stability in the country. Or at least I haven't seen one.


Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Hall of Fame list

This year’s crop of first time eligible baseball Hall of Famers just came out. Topping the list are Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken. They both will easily make it in, and the only question is how high their tallies will be. And why wouldn’t they be 100%?

Then we get to Mark McGwire, who has been nailed hard by the steroids investigations, famously refusing to answer questions at a congressional hearing. I say no to McGwire, whose individual accomplishments are just too tainted, even though I loved watching him when I was living in the Bay Area.

He’s not a first timer, but I think Goose Gossage should be in the Hall of Fame (and yes, I have a soft spot for Padres). He was one of the people who revolutionized the idea of an intimidating closer, and worked much harder than any current relievers, by commonly pitching 2-3 innings. Does that mean Lee Smith should be in there? And Trevor Hoffman eventually? Very tough call.


Monday, November 27, 2006

Ecuador election postmortem

Initial results suggest that Rafael Correa won by a wide margin in Ecuador (he won 57% of the vote or even higher). We will, of course, have all sorts of articles about how he’ll cozy up to Hugo Chávez and fight the power.

This would ignore the fact that for the runoff he moved to the center, and toned down the radical rhetoric (even toward the United States). The message he sent was more populist, with promises of bonuses, housing, and other payments that would presumably be based on the current high price of oil. We’ll have to wait and see whether he governs like the traditional left or a more mainstream populist (or some sort of mixture).

Perhaps the most problematic for democracy will be the resistance he will face in the legislature, with the lack of a loyal opposition, though this will obviously depend on what types of reforms he attempts. That plagued recent presidents (including a military ouster) and may be similar to the situation in Bolivia, where the opposition recently exited the Senate to ensure that a quorum was unobtainable and thereby prevent votes on President Morales’ more controversial measures. In both countries, the president has expressed a desire to place more power in the hands of the president (or, in the Bolivian case, eliminate the Senate altogether). Neither solution (blocking every presidential proposal or moving toward hyperpresidentialism) is good for democracy.


Sunday, November 26, 2006

Today's election in Ecuador

There are many articles today framing the presidential election in Ecuador as a microcosm of Latin American political divisions, the left versus the right, the haves versus the have-nots, free trade versus socialism, Venezuela versus the United States. Kudos to the Washington Post for publishing an article rejecting such alarmist and simplistic analyses:

No matter who wins Ecuador's presidential election on Sunday, many outside the country will view it as a decision between dueling political stereotypes: Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez's dream of a unified region liberated from U.S. influence, or that of free-market backers embracing a globalized economy.

For most who will actually make the choice, it's nothing of the sort.

Ecuador has experienced some of the worst instability in the region in recent years, and people want someone who will provide results. Unfortunately, the following is also true:

"It doesn't matter which of the two candidates wins, Ecuador will have a weak president, at the mercy of the Congress and facing difficulties of governability," said Adrián Bonilla, director of the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences in Quito.

So let’s stop claiming that Latin American elections are a titanic struggle between the opposing forces of Chávez and Bush, which essentially removes Ecuador from the equation through the claim that we can only understand the election by looking outside the country.


Saturday, November 25, 2006

Pinochet takes "political" (but not legal) responsibility

On his 91st birthday, Augusto Pinochet has issued a statement in the form of a letter read by his wife (audio is here), saying that he takes “political responsibility” for everything that happened while he was in power, a shift from the past, when he blamed “excesses” on subordinates. I’m not sure what “political” responsibility is versus other types of responsibility, though I am guessing in legal terms it is supposed to be different from “criminal” responsibility, so that this letter can’t be used against him in court. In other words, he’s not taking much responsibility for anything.

Over the past several years, since his arrest in Great Britain, Pinochet has issued a number of similar letters, and I don’t see this one as especially different. They all do the following:

--assert that the military saved Chile from a totalitarian dictatorship
--argue that current human rights proceedings are political motivated and unfair
--portray himself as a selfless advocate for the country
--offer up platitudes about achieving national unity and harmony

Ultimately, he really wants to be a hero in Chilean history, and is concerned that as he gets very old, it isn’t happening.


Philip Short's Pol Pot

I finished Philip Short’s Pol Pot: Anatomy of a Nightmare. A while ago, I had seen a very positive review in The Economist, and finally got around to reading it. It is a bit slow, but very compelling. The magnitude of killing and starvation in Khmer Rouge Cambodia is staggering, and Short does a good job of detailing how it came about.

Ultimately, though, it isn’t really a biography per se. The first half does discuss Pol’s exposure to Marxism, especially in Paris, but the latter half focuses on the regime itself. There is a missing connection there—what transformed the quiet, polite student into a killing machine? Murder was indiscriminate, based on Pol’s paranoia and his everchanging view of Marxism (so, for example, you might be tortured and killed if you foraged for food, because that is selfish, and your family would then also be tortured and killed).

Mostly, Short comes back to Khmer culture, combined with the fact that Cambodia was caught in a dispute between Vietnam/USSR and China/U.S., all of which were aware of and mostly unconcerned with the massive and unnecessary loss of life taking place. Once Vietnam had invaded Cambodia, both China and the U.S. wanted everyone there to suffer, as that would weaken Vietnam and by extension also the Soviet Union. But this seems to make Pol Pot just a cog in a machine, and suggests that anyone else would’ve done the same. Maybe we can never really know.


Friday, November 24, 2006

Ecuador election

The presidential runoff in Ecuador takes place on Sunday. As Boz notes, the campaign has become very negative. The AP has some examples of the exchange of insults.

Correa: "At stake here is whether to have a nation or be just one more plantation for the conceited Noboa."

Noboa: "He runs with communists but he isn't man enough to call himself communist."

The big question is whether the people of Ecuador win either way.


Thursday, November 23, 2006

Charlotte Turkey Trot 8K

All over the country, people get up on Thanksgiving morning to run races. For the past several years, we've run the Charlotte Turkey Trot 8K. This year, over 2000 people ran (even more when you count the shorter fun runs), and it was cool to see that someone 83 years old finished the race, which is what I hope to be doing at that age. I see that the overall winner for women was Cassie Ficken, a very good runner for UNC Charlotte (who I think has now graduated).


Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Pinochet's legal problems

The Miami Herald has a good discussion of Augusto Pinochet’s legal woes. My only complaint would be that it is vague about the laws that block prosecution. It’s not simply a matter of “lax amnesty laws” but rather an often confusing combination of immunity as former head of state, and protection via the 1978 amnesty, depending on when the crime took place. Added to that is the argument is that he has “dementia” (he will soon be 91) and therefore is unfit to stand trial. All of these issues must also filter through several levels of court hearings and appeals.

I had also neglected to mention the truly surreal statements his daughter made a few days ago, in which she said Pinochet “felt great pain” for people who suffered while he was in power. Further:

"He is not prepared to ask for a national forgiveness as some want, but he is prepared to meet any of those people and talk to them," Lucia Pinochet told the television's Wednesday late news program. "There, he would see whether to ask for their forgiveness."

Under his personal direction, the dictatorship was engaged in cold hearted, cold blooded murder. And yet he talks about a) having a chat with victims’ families; and b) deciding afterward whether he would bother asking for forgiveness.


Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Trade agreements with Latin America

An interesting debate is brewing about whether to extend the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act, which is a trade preference deal that provides access to U.S. markets for certain goods from Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. Unless Congress acts, it will expire on December 31.

Democrats have expressed skepticism about all the pending trade deals (e.g. FTAs with Colombia and Peru). Charles Rangel has indicated that he wants more labor provisions in the ATPDEA. This is a standard criticism by Democrats, and often it is a legitimate one, as labor is routinely abused.

In this case, however, and especially with regard to Bolivia, it doesn’t make much sense. Not only do human rights organizations (like the Washington Office on Latin America) support it, but Evo Morales himself wants it extended, and is sending his Vice President to the U.S. to lobby for it.

Trade agreements should certainly be scrutinized, and not rubber stamped. But when it comes to whether an agreement will hurt the poor in Bolivia, I think Evo Morales is the expert I’ll listen to. In addition, the purpose of the agreement is to provide alternatives to growing coca. So if we criticize the military response to drugs (which I have often done) then we need to offer up something else.


Monday, November 20, 2006

Mexico report

The Mexican government released a report about the targeting of government opponents from the 1960s to the early 1980s. Most importantly, it directly implicates three former presidents (Gustavo Diaz Ordaz, Jose Lopez Portillo and Luis Echeverria) as knowing about killing and torture and doing nothing about it.

"This was not about the behavior of certain individuals," Carrillo said. "It was the consequence of an authorized plan to do away with political dissidents."

News reports say that the report is on the internet, but I haven't found it (I'll keep looking, but if anyone comes across the link, let me know). This leaves a lot of questions. How many people were targeted? Was it the police? Military? A combination?

It is also further evidence that Mexico's one party state wasn't as different from Latin American dictatorships as it would like to claim.


Sunday, November 19, 2006

Immigration reform

Apropos my question of whether Democrats would really start moving on immigration reform, there is an article by Tamar Jacoby in the latest issue of Foreign Affairs. Right away, it argues something I’ve been saying for a while:

In fact, the nation is far less divided on immigration, legal or illegal, than the current debate suggests. In the last six months, virtually every major media outlet has surveyed public attitudes on the issue, and the results have been remarkably consistent. Americans continue to take pride in the United States' heritage as a nation of immigrants. Many are uneasy about the current influx of foreigners. But an overwhelming majority -- between two-thirds and three-quarters in every major poll -- would like to see Congress address the problem with a combination of tougher enforcement and earned citizenship for the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants already living and working here.

The thrust of the article is that now with the elections behind it, Congress will likely move quickly to address immigration. It provides a really good analysis of the U.S. economy’s need for labor, the futility of enforcement-only policies, etc.

These facts are stark, and those who buy into the comprehensive vision see no point in quarreling with them. Rather than seeking to repeal the laws of supply and demand -- or trying futilely to block them, as current policy does -- reformers want an immigration policy that acknowledges and makes the most of these realities.

The only problem is that she never addresses her initial premise: that Congress will start working on reform. At the beginning of the essay, she writes:

The political stars will realign, perhaps sooner than anyone expects, and when they do, Congress will return to the task it has been wrestling with: how to translate the emerging consensus into legislation to repair the nation's broken immigration system.

But she then takes this as self-evident, and never gets back to it. Why is it obvious that Congress will tackle it? There is a vocal minority against it, and therefore it will be tempting to avoid it. Nonetheless, if you're interested in the debate it is a nice, concise analysis.


Saturday, November 18, 2006

Is that juice really worth the squeeze?

Like a number of other local governments, Gaston County, right here next to Charlotte, has enacted new laws prohibiting illegal immigrants from receiving local services. The essential argument is that illegal immigrants represent a net cost to the county, so this law should save the county money. Right? Well, no.

First of all, the county commissioner who sponsored the bill said illegal immigrants are a “drain” on county services. When asked how much money was being spent, his response was…he didn’t know.

Second, county officials believe that the enforcement efforts will cost more than illegal immigrants do.

For instance, the county Health Department must provide some programs by federal law, regardless of citizenship, said Colleen Bridger, health director. Why, she asked, should illegal immigrants be excluded if they're entitled to programs anyway?

"It would add expense to ask a question we can do nothing with," Bridger said.

Another issue is the number of people such screenings would catch. About 11 percent of Health Department customers are Hispanic, Bridger said, and officials don't know how many are in the U.S. illegally.

"Is that juice really worth the squeeze?" she asked. "If you're looking for efficiency in government, this isn't it."

This law would also mean that when is story time at the Gaston library, librarians would be breaking the law if they did not determine the immigration status of every child there.

Unfortunately, unless the federal government addresses immigration these local laws will continue to gain momentum.


Friday, November 17, 2006

News Flash: Border Enforcement is Not Cheap

The inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security has issued an estimate that the recently authorized border fence will cost anywhere between $8 and $30 billion. You may remember that the original estimate, confidently asserted right before an election, was $2 billion. Given that only $67 million has actually been approved so far, I don't see Congress coughing up that much.

This entire episode annoys me in many ways and on many levels. One of the outcomes will be a confirmation that the federal government is simply not interested in addressing immigration at all. Unfortunately, this will lead more local governments to enact their own laws, with a resulting morass of lawsuits and local political conflict.

I've been mulling over whether the new Democratic leadership will push for immigration reform in 2007, and although conventional wisdom suggests they will, I'm not sure yet. Certainly, they want the Latino vote, but I think doing nothing also secures some of that vote--in other words, the only harm comes when you go for enforcement-only policies. Many of the newly elected Democrats are fairly conservative, and might not want to jump right into a sticky topic. Plus, with the Murtha episode it also appears that the Democrats aren't very united and don't have a solid idea what they're doing. Or maybe I am just tired and cynical this morning.


Thursday, November 16, 2006

Say it ain't so

The Padres are reportedly pursuing Barry Bonds. We lose Bruce Bochy and then might gain Barry Bonds? What a strange off season.

I hope this isn't true, or at least doesn't happen (his price tage must be massive). I'm not sure if I can learn how to root for him.


Wednesday, November 15, 2006

U.S.-Venezuela podcast

My second podcast, a look at U.S.-Venezuelan relations, is now up on my website. Thanks yet again to Scott Phillipson, who reduced the size of the files and made it much easier to just click and listen.


Blogging anonymously

I think students might be surprised to learn how many professors blog anonymously. I read a number of such blogs, and thought about this in light of a gaffe yesterday by Dr. Crazy, who inadvertently left a clue about her real identity in a post and didn’t notice it for some time. She then wrote about the dynamics of blogging anonymously. I don’t think I could ever do so, precisely because everything you write potentially tells people who you are, which would take the fun out of it.

Something else struck me—it seems that for academic blogs, more men use their real names, while most (though not all) anonymous blogs are written by women. There are many blogs out there I haven’t read, so maybe there is some sort of selection bias, but that is the trend I’ve noticed. For example, out of all the political science blogs out there (admittedly, a small sample), Michelle Dion’s is the only one I know of written by a woman. If I am wrong, I'd love to learn otherwise.


Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Remittances in El Salvador

Via Tim’s El Salvador Blog: an interesting article on the effects of remittances. Especially because of the 1980s civil war, about ¼ of Salvadorans live in the U.S. and send money home, to the tune of a whopping 16.6% of GDP. This in turn creates an incentive for recipients not to accept low paying jobs. To fill these jobs, more Nicaraguans and Hondurans are entering the country, almost entirely illegally. Meanwhile, economic growth in El Salvador in 2005 was the lowest in Central America.


Monday, November 13, 2006

Cuba embargo vote at the UN

A few days ago, the UN voted overwhelmingly to request that the U.S. end the embargo against Cuba. The vote was 183-4, rejected only by the U.S., Palau, Marshall Islands, and Israel (for some reason, the Federated States of Micronesia abstained).

These days, it's just plain hard to defend the embargo and sound rational, especially since we've opened up to China and Vietnam. For example, part of the U.S. response was that:

The measures had been maintained in an effort to promote the exercise of human, political and socio-economic rights for all Cuban people.

I'm still trying to figure out that logic.


Sunday, November 12, 2006

College professor is a great job

So says Money Magazine. We're second to software engineers.

NEW YORK (MONEY) - To find the best jobs in America, MONEY Magazine and, a leading provider of employee compensation data and software, began by assembling a list of positions that the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects will grow at an above-average rate over 10 years and that require at least a bachelor's degree.

Using compensation data, we eliminated jobs with average pay below $50,000; total employment of less than 15,000; dangerous work environments; or fewer than 800 annual job openings, including both new and replacement positions.

Next we rated positions by stress levels, flexibility in hours and working environment, creativity, and how easy it is to enter and advance in the field.


The U.S. government believes that Castro may die someday

In one of the more incisive examples of political intelligence I’ve seen, the U.S. government thinks that Fidel Castro’s health is “deteriorating” and he is unlikely to live past next year. As the article notes, this is all hush hush: “American officials will not talk publicly about how they glean clues to Castro's health.” Now maybe I am going out on a limb here, but I’m guessing this startling conclusion was reached after months of careful examination of such things as:

--Castro himself saying his health problems were serious
--everyone in Cuba saying his health problems were serious
--publicly aired videos showing his health problems were serious

U.S. government officials believe he has cancer of the stomach, colon, or pancreas. Or something. A year ago it was Parkinson’s, but maybe that one didn’t pan out.

Here’s my question: why does the U.S. government bother leaking these predictions? I guess officials figure that one day, they’ll finally be right.


Saturday, November 11, 2006

Burrito vs. sandwich

The rise of Americanized Mexican fast food is remarkable. In the early 1970s, when my parents lived briefly in Michigan as transplanted Californians, no one had even heard of Mexican food, much less eaten it. Nowadays it is ubiquitous, and of course transformed, because in the U.S. we don’t particularly like the true, healthy style of Mexican food. Americans tend to want nacho cheese, extra sour cream (why, I will never understand), and we want massive burritos that resemble white bricks.

Anyhow, via Crescat Sententia comes a court case in Worcester, MA, which shows just how popular the burrito has become.

The burrito brouhaha began when Panera, one of the country's biggest bakery cafes, argued that owners of the White City Shopping Center in Shrewsbury violated a 2001 lease agreement that restricted the mall from renting to another sandwich shop. When the center signed a lease this year with Qdoba, Panera balked, saying the Mexican chain's burritos violate its sandwich exclusivity clause.

A judge denied the claim, saying a burrito was not a sandwich. That is a no-brainer, as I have never ordered a bean sandwich with guacamole, just as I have never ordered a burrito with pickles and mayo. They even had someone from the government weigh in.

Judith A. Quick, who previously worked as a deputy director of the Standards and Labeling Division at the US Department of Agriculture, said in her affidavit: "The USDA views a sandwich as a separate and distinct food product from a burrito or taco."

And she got paid for that testimony. I’m glad we’ve straightened that out. But it demonstrates that Mexican food is so widespread and popular that it’s seen as threatening to sandwiches. For those of us addicted to it, that’s just fine.


Friday, November 10, 2006

Immigration and "irrational" voters

Thanks to my brother for pointing out this article at Cato Unbound by an economics professor on the irrationality of voters, which uses immigration as its main example (and, I should say, he sent me the link because it was provocative and not because he agreed with it). The argument is that economists agree that immigration is good for the economy, and therefore voters who disagree are irrational. If voters are wrong, politicians will pursue bad policies in order to win elections.

The Survey of Americans and Economists on the Economy asks respondents to say whether "too many immigrants" is a major, minor, or non-reason why the economy is not doing better than it is. 47% of non-economists think it is a major reason; 80% of economists think it is not a reason at all. Economists have many reasons for their contrarian position: they know that specialization and trade enrich Americans and immigrants alike; there is little evidence that immigration noticeably reduces even the wages of low-skilled Americans; and, since immigrants are largely young males, and most government programs support the old, women, and children, immigrants wind up paying more in taxes than they take in benefits.

Even though I have argued many times in this blog for a more open immigration policy, I think his argument is oversimplified. First of all, since 1 out of 5 economists do think it is a reason, are they irrational too? Or just defined as bad economists and therefore not expert? His claims that “experts” find consensus and are "right" is unconvincing, since highly intelligent, capable people can make disastrous policy decisions (just read The Best and the Brightest) that others find repugnant.

But a bigger problem is that “too many immigrants” is the wrong question. A better question is whether illegal immigration has a positive or negative effect on, say, wages of low income groups. Since the recent debate on immigration is focused on the illegal side, any argument about immigration should include the perceptions of that phenomenon. Especially on that point, experts disagree far more than he gives credit for, and if experts disagree, then the public cannot be labeled “irrational” because they receive highly conflicting information (and, unfortunately, some of this information comes from suspect sources like Lou Dobbs).

Here is a possible twist on his argument. Voters are perhaps rational about illegal immigration, because it does have a number of negative effects. However, many are less rational about the optimal solution, which is to find a way to legalize them, rather than to spend money trying to eject people who will come right back anyway. On that point, I would love to see a poll asking people exactly how enforcement-only can work. Then you might point to irrationality.


Padres moves

In comments in the previous post, Matthew Shugart wondered why I hadn’t made any mention of the major Padres news. Truth is, I’ve been so busy I’ve barely had time to sort it out.

First, Bud Black is the new manager. I guess it is old fashioned, but I like the idea of teams having a hometown angle. He went to SDSU with Tony Gwynn, and later was a good pitcher (Royals) and then pitching coach (Angels). The only negative is that he doesn’t have managerial experience, but I get the impression that these days the major moves are going to be decided upstairs, not in the dugout, as is the case with the A’s. For the Padres, I think it is becoming Moneyball time (all baseball fans should check out the book, it is a great read).

Second, we traded Josh Barfield for two guys I’d never heard of (Kevin Kouzmanoff and Andrew Brown) though apparently Kouzmanoff is a very good hitting prospect. Some have argued it’s a good trade, mostly out of the belief that Barfield won’t exceed his 2006 numbers, and a hot July pumped them up. I’m not sure about that—he is so young and has so much potential (and his dad Jesse had good power). Now we also have a hole at second, which we’ll fill with a few agent (Marcus Giles’ name keeps popping up).

It is going to be a very different team in 2007, with a different style as well. Alderson and Towers do know how to win, so I’ll just try to keep the faith.


Thursday, November 09, 2006

Ortega and the U.S. media

The Associated Press has an article today with a garish headline about Daniel Ortega's embrace of leftists. Its first paragraph claims he will "reject Republicans." However, when you read more closely, you see the following:

--he pledges to work with the U.S.
--he says specifically that no land will be seized and that the country needs private investment
--he wants to build on the Central American Free Trade Agreement

The article then quotes a businessman:

"My fears aren't really about Ortega," said Berry, general manager and part owner of the Pelican Eyes resort in San Juan del Sur who holds both American and Nicaraguan citizenship. "He's among a group of wealthy men who want to protect their investments."

Corruption is a much greater problem than supposed "leftism." At the very least, let's wait and see what policies he pursues.


Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Good morning, Mr. President

Not a fun morning for President Bush. The Democrats have control of the House, a majority of governorships, and are poised to take 51 seats in the Senate (a tense few weeks while those two contested races are sorted out). But on top of that, Daniel Ortega officially won the Nicaraguan presidency. Further, a new poll shows Hugo Chávez with a 22 point lead for the December 3 presidential election in Venezuela (though, I should ask, why is the state oil company commissioning polls?). Finally, Mexican president-elect Calderón is scheduled to visit the White House to ask him why he signed the ridiculous authorization for a border fence.

I will be very curious to see what kind of tone the president takes at his 1 p.m. press conference.

Update at 1:40 p.m.: announcing Rumsfeld's resignation is far more than I expected. Amazing.


Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Voting machines

I wonder how many voting machines had problems today. There are already scattered reports. There is even one story of a guy going nuts and destroying one with a paper weight (which carries a charge of felony criminal mischief and tampering with voting machines).

I used an ES&S iVotronic touch screen machine to vote today, which also produces a printed copy as you go. I asked whether they'd had any problems, and the answer was no. At that point (11:30 a.m. or so) all had been working fine.


Annoyed on election day morning

This is the first election since we moved houses, and in the past I would usually vote in the morning, at a church not far from our house. I have a morning meeting, so I figured I would vote on the way, just leaving a little early. But something hadn't registered (no pun intended). Now I vote at an overcrowded elementary school on a school day. Who thought this up? The school is on a major street, but both lanes were backed up so far that the school was not even in sight, and the traffic wasn't moving much. I didn't have time to wait, so made a u-turn and came to campus. I'll have to go back later in the morning, and wonder where I will even park.

In addition, the school system has Friday off as a teacher workday. Why couldn't they schedule it today instead?

I am definitely going to make sure I vote early in the future.


Monday, November 06, 2006

Transparency International

Transparency International's 2006 Corruption Perception Index is out. Latin America doesn't fare all too well, though Chile is tied with the United States as 20th least corrupt country in the world. Venezuela and Ecuador are tied for worst in Latin America. Incidentally, Iraq is now considered the third most corrupt country, behind only Myanmar and Haiti.

20 Chile
28 Uruguay
55 Costa Rica (it has been slipping down)
57 El Salvador
59 Colombia
66 Cuba
70 Brazil
70 Mexico
70 Peru
84 Panama
93 Argentina
99 Dominican Republic
105 Bolivia
111 Guatemala
111 Nicaragua
111 Paraguay
121 Honduras
138 Ecuador
138 Venezuela


Sí Ortega?

Initial results show Daniel Ortega with a bigger lead than expected in Nicaragua. With 14.65% of the ballots counted, he has just over 40%. This is the magic number, because it means winning the election outright without a runoff. However, Montealegre is at just over 33%, so there is more than the 5% gap necessary to win if Ortega dips under 40% (unless, of course, that is accompanied by a big Montealegre surge). I haven’t seen anything about results for the legislature.

The U.S. government issued a statement:

The U.S. Embassy said it was too soon to "make an overall judgment on the fairness and transparency of the process."

"We are receiving reports of some anomalies in the electoral process," including polling stations that opened late and closed early, the embassy said.

A fairly bland statement, but still I wonder why say anything at all before the final results are announced.

Roberto Rivas, president of the Supreme Electoral Council, dismissed the U.S. statement.

"We have promised the Nicaraguan people transparent elections, and that's what we've done," he said. "I think there were enough observers to witness that."


Sunday, November 05, 2006


In the wake of the video scandal, in which employees of the state oil company were told to vote for him or leave their jobs, Hugo Chávez has once again raised the possibility of cutting off oil exports to the U.S. He’s done so many times before, so there is a boy crying wolf feeling to it.

"If they try to destabilize PDVSA, if the empire and its lackeys in Venezuela attempt another coup, ignore the outcome of the elections or cause election or oil-related upheaval, we won't send another drop of oil to the United States," Chavez said in a speech to PDVSA workers in the coastal city of Puerto La Cruz, 150 miles east of Caracas.

At the same time, the NYT has an article about the boom in the auto business in Venezuela, where American auto makers are increasing production at their Venezuelan plants. A few months ago, another NYT story highlighted all the many mutually beneficial capitalist relationships that exist between the U.S. and Venezuela.

The example of Cuba is there for all to see. Can a Latin American country, even one rich in oil, really afford to cut off economic ties with the U.S.? A unilateral cut in oil would trigger a host of other cuts as the U.S. would retaliate, Venezuela would counter, etc. Is Hugo Chávez really ready to take that step? He is aggressive but, I think, not irrational. Can his fear and loathing of the U.S. actually trump economic realities?


Saturday, November 04, 2006

Half marathon

Amy and I ran the Dowd YMCA Half Marathon this morning, alternating pushing the kids in the double jogger stroller. Very chilly race (about 30 degrees at the start). I can’t say I felt fast (just over 2 hours) but it went pretty well, despite a lot of hills (the finish was straight up).

To the spectator at mile 12—blowing a whistle in runners’ ears as they pass is not a good way in encourage them.


Friday, November 03, 2006

Upcoming election in Nicaragua

Thanks to my student Carla for sending me the link to this article on Daniel Ortega. The Nicaraguan presidential election is coming up this weekend.

The U.S. government has made known its desire for Ortega to lose, and yet is doing all it can to help him win. Oliver North was in Managua and couldn’t help himself--he compared Ortega to Hitler and Mussolini. And that has worked so well with Hugo Chávez. These signs of meddling will very likely turn off voters.

Perhaps it’s because so many in the Bush administration are old Cold Warriors that they view Nicaragua as if it is still 1981. The current incarnation of Ortega isn’t exactly pleasant, but neither is it Marxist. His power sharing deal with conservative former president (and convicted embezzler) Alemán shows willingness to make deals that clearly violate his old ideology. So he may be corrupt, but he’s not very Marxist.

Michael Shifter wrote a good Op-Ed about this Cold War flashback. Amazingly, the U.S. reaction has included calls from some members of Congress to block Nicaraguan remittances if Ortega won. I agree with Shifter’s overall assessment:

Yet Ortega's possible comeback would not have far-reaching repercussions in Latin America and surely would constitute no threat to the United States. Intervention in Nicaragua's internal affairs is unwarranted.

The curious thing about this particular race is that because of Nicaragua’s electoral rules, Ortega has a very good chance of winning in the first round, but if it went to a second, he would almost certainly lose. A candidate needs 35% of the vote, with the closest challenger at least 5 percentage points behind. Polls show Ortega very close to that (see Matthew Shugart’s post). The right is split, but would unite in a second round with only two candidates.


Former Padres becoming Giants

It was bad enough that Bruce Bochy became the Giants manager, but now he has brought Tim Flannery along as a coach. Although he was never a great hitter, he became one of the most popular Padres of all time, and never played for any other team. Next thing you know, Tony Gwynn will become hitting coach.

I guess this is similar to how Red Sox fans feel, when The Boss signs all their players.


Thursday, November 02, 2006

Immigration talk

I just did a radio interview for Think Mornings, a new radio program in Charlotte, regarding a talk I’m giving tonight on immigration. I am really looking forward to it, as the other speakers will be a Captain from Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Dept., and Angeles Ortega-Moore, Executive Director of the Latin American Coalition. (If you are in Charlotte and want details, just email me).

Interestingly, I think almost everyone—regardless of ideology—agrees that the latest effort at the federal level is a joke, despite the flowery words at the signing ceremony for the border fence. It’s really an abdication of responsibility.

On that topic, there was a good column recently in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review by someone who actually wants more enforcement. The columnist started making calls to figure out whether any money was appropriated for the border fence (and if so, how much), the estimated overall cost and whether there was any start (and completion) date for construction. After calling Frist’s office, OMB, DHS, he came to the following conclusion:

No money is appropriated for the fence. DHS does not know the total cost. There is no start date for construction. No one can say when -- or if -- it will be completed.

In addition, a recent poll shows only 45% of those surveyed supported the construction of a border fence. I would like to see the results of the question, “Do you believe the recently passed legislation for a border fence will decrease illegal immigration?”


Wednesday, November 01, 2006

And the winner is.........Panama

That's right. The latest news is that after 47 rounds and many hours of negotiation, Venezuela and Guatemala have agreed to step down and to introduce Panama as a consensus candidate. Forget the Dominican Republic rumors, forget my Costa Rica prediction (yes, please forget it), forget the Bolivia addition, and forget the darkhorse Uruguay possibility.

There is much we don't know here, to say the least, because as far as I know Panama was never mentioned by anyone. I will be waiting for the insider accounts that will inevitably start appearing before long. I will also be very interested to see how all the countries involved spin it.


Time management and academia

Dr. Crazy has a really good post on publishing and getting other work done even with a heavy teaching load. Actually, the lessons are good even if you don't have a heavy teaching load.


47 rounds and counting

Now we’re up to 47 rounds. In the last, Barbados, Ecuador, and Uruguay each received a vote. In another vote, Jamaica also got one. I suppose those are just frustration votes. In recent days, the Dominican Republic has been the most commonly rumored choice as consensus candidate, but there is nothing concrete.

The Venezuelan and Guatemalan foreign ministers are going to meet again today, but in the absence of an agreement, voting will start right up again.


Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Halloween on campus

Thanks to all the students at Sanford Hall (a UNC Charlotte dorm) for the very cool Halloween set up. Every year, students in a number of dorms host trick or treating for children, so last night the kids went around various floors, knocking on doors and getting an enormous amount of candy.


How do we evaluate border arrests?

The Border Patrol announced that the number of arrests made on the U.S.-Mexico border is down 8% from last year, citing better enforcement. Incidentally, this was reported now—one week before the election—instead of January, which is when it is normally released.

Analyzing the number of arrests is tricky, and in general it’s a pretty blunt instrument. For example, the number of arrests may be down since last year, but it is still up from 2003. In addition, as the article itself notes, yearly arrests are like a roller coaster, going up and down in ways that are not necessarily predictable, or that may be responding to short-term shocks (like 9/11).

In addition, arrests overall mask what is happening in specific border areas. Earlier in 2006, there were reports that arrests were increasing in New Mexico as well as in San Diego. What is particularly striking is that these increases are attributed to more enforcement in Arizona, and widespread reports of people dying in the Arizona desert. However, the original increase in Arizona and other more dangerous areas had been attributed to better enforcement in California in the past (on this, see Massey et al.).

In short, immigrants often respond to short-term stimuli, but clearly the enforcement in California has not deterred anyone from crossing there. Maybe this current dip in arrests is due to more workplace enforcement and the use of the National Guard, but the truth is that we really have almost no idea, and we also can’t predict how the numbers will change in the near future.


Monday, October 30, 2006

Fidel is back (again)

I finally got around to checking out the new photos of Fidel, looking pretty fit and wearing a snazzy Adidas track suit. As he says, he’s just recuperating and doing nothing more than just trying to be “useful.”

Hago todo lo posible por apoyar a los compañeros, ser útil, y me siento satisfecho.

He would also like everyone to know that he is not, in fact, deceased.

Something that struck me about his new track suit is that “F. Castro” is stitched on the front. I can’t figure out why that’s necessary. Is there anyone—in Cuba or elsewhere—that doesn’t know who he is? Or maybe he’s had problems with Raúl taking his clothes, so Raúl gets his own with “R. Castro.”


Sunday, October 29, 2006

A novel by Subcomandante Marcos

Via Marc Cooper: Subcomandante Marcos has teamed up with a famous Mexican mystery writer (Paco Ignacio Taibo II) on a new crime fiction novel entitled, The Uncomfortable Dead. Writing popular fiction doesn't seem particularly revolutionary, but the idea is to provide a glimpse into the Zapatista's key issues. From Amazon:

Taibo's striking collaboration with the charismatic leftist leader known as Subcomandante Marcos is a curious animal, laying forth planks in the Zapatistas' platform for the rights of indigenous peoples against globalization and privatization with subversive, comic panache.


Voting machines and Chávez

This story in the NYT is just too bizarre. The company that makes voting machines for 17 states and DC has been taken over by a Venezuelan firm. Now the U.S. is trying to figure out whether it has any ties to the Venezuelan government.

So would the machines be rigged to vote for Noam Chomsky?


Saturday, October 28, 2006

Count Fidel

Hugo Chávez reports that Fidel Castro is doing better, and is up and around. But the way he did so immediately made me wonder whether Castro has turned into a vampire, touring the countryside, but only at night. Now that would be a great rumor.

Venezuela President Hugo Chavez said Friday that Cuban leader Fidel Castro is up and about again, taking trips at night into the countryside as he recovers from surgery.

"He is walking around already and goes out at night to tour the countryside, towns and cities. I'm soon going to go see you, Fidel," Chavez said during a speech to cacao producers in Venezuela Friday.


Friday, October 27, 2006

Getting that UN Security Council seat

Via Ideas al Vuelo. There is nothing new regarding the Venezuela-Guatemala hubbub, but a recent article in Journal of Political Economy shows how the U.S. makes sure that countries on the UN Security Council get more money. That money increases when the country’s vote is especially valuable.


Goodbye Bruce Bochy

Via Ducksnorts: The San Jose Mercury News reports that Bruce Bochy has signed with the Giants. ESPN says he has agreed "in principle." This is painful. You just go back to the late 1980s and early 1990s to see the shuffle of managers and horrible records (including 101 losses in 1993). Bochy has consistently won with minimal talent for years now. He often takes heat for on the field decisions (who to pinch hit, whether to keep a pitcher in, etc.) but I think he gets the most out of his players. He was longtime Padre, spending the last 24 years with the team, including the big 1984 season, which is when I first really paid attention to him. Over the years I've become a big fan.

And he's going to the Giants. The only team I like less than the Giants is the Dodgers. (I wonder how he'll deal with Bonds).

Adios, Boch, and unfortunately I have to say that I hope you lose many games.


Thursday, October 26, 2006

And the beat goes on

Negotiations today seem not to have yielded any consensus candidate for the UN. Both Venezuela and Guatemala are officially willing to withdraw, but for whom? After the Bolivia candidacy was clearly going nowhere, Venezuela offered up the Dominican Republic, but just as with Bolivia, it wasn't really discussed:

In Washington, the president of the Dominican Republic, Leonel Fernandez, said Maduro had offered to propose his nation as an alternate candidate for the seat. But diplomats said this did not arise at the talks.

If this is true, then Venezuela's suggestions have now been shot down twice, from some combination of resistance to Chávez and the U.S. twisting arms.

Now there is a five day pause, and if by Tuesday there is no new candidate, then voting resumes.


Up to 41 rounds

We’re up to 41 rounds, and the AP report and others on the voting don’t mention how in the last round, both the Dominican Republic and Chile received votes (from themselves?). It looks like no voting is scheduled for today.

According to Ecuador’s UN Ambassador (who chairs the Latin America and Caribbean group):

He held talks with the Guatemalan and Venezuelan ambassadors "in a very good atmosphere," and he said negotiations will continue Thursday with the foreign ministers of both countries.

"My expectation is that we are going to have - perhaps not tomorrow because these are very difficult things - but that we are going to have an agreement," Cordovez said.

I think John Bolton is loving this. Venezuela won’t get the seat, Guatemala has already said it won’t accept Bolivia, which is Chávez’s second choice, and UN ambassadors (including Latin Americans) are getting annoyed at all the time this is taking. Since Venezuela has the fewest votes yet refuses to back down, it will get most of the blame for every day that a solution is not reached.

One solution that hasn’t been mentioned is to allow each country to take the seat for a year. Apparently that happened in 1960, when Poland and Turkey deadlocked for 52 rounds before reaching that compromise. At 41 rounds, this is now the third longest in UN history.


Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The end in sight

Another day of deadlock at the UN, where at least they waited until the afternoon to vote, thus wasting much less time. Current count is 36 rounds, with barely changing results (the last was 109-72).

But Venezuela and Guatemala have both agreed in principle to withdraw, and will meet tomorrow to find another country to support. I still figure Costa Rica is the most likely choice, with Uruguay second. It's hard to imagine the Bolivian bid going anywhere.


Will Venezuela withdraw?

More signs of Venezuela’s willingness to withdraw—its ambassador says the country is “exploring ways out.” Also see Ka’s discussion in comments to a previous post, where the Venezuelan government expressed the need for some vague conditions before it would withdraw, like having “dialogue” (conversaciones).

I had lost track, but there have been 35 rounds, and the UN is scheduled to begin again today. I get the impression that Chávez really wants out now, as the current situation works against him. Meanwhile, Evo Morales says it could be a candidate in place of Venezuela, but I would have to think that is a nonstarter.

The article quotes some Latin Americanists about the effect of this entire saga, and I must say I disagree with them. Similar to statements by President Chávez, the gist is that simply blocking the U.S. choice is a victory.

“This is like a boxing match. You have a heavyweight in the form of the U.S., you have a junior weight in the form of Venezuela, and the fact that Venezuela has lasted this long speaks tremendously to the kind of influence that they were able to generate,” said Miguel Tinker Salas, a Latin American studies professor at Pomona College in Claremont, Calif.


“I think Chavez has achieved a lot to put Venezuela in a position of significant global leadership,” said Dan Hellinger, a political scientist at Webster University in St. Louis.

I don’t think these arguments work well. Chávez’s goal was to win, not simply to block the U.S. choice, and he spent a considerable amount of money to do so. His speech to the UN clearly hurt him, and I just don’t see that all this adds up to “significant global leadership.” With the secret vote, each government was able to vote its conscience, but did not flock to him. With anti-U.S. sentiment so strong right now, and with President Bush so incredibly unpopular abroad, for Chávez this represents a failure to establish himself as the voice of less developed countries.


Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The latest U.S.-Latin America conspiracy theory

The latest, and strangest, rumor flying around is that President Bush has bought a very large plot of land in Paraguay. Just google "bush paraguay" and see for yourself. Adam Isacson has a list of all the recent U.S.-Paraguay connections, including a recent visit by Jenna Bush.

The rumor was picked and really spread by Prensa Latina, which is Cuban and therefore highly biased (as is anything about Cuba coming from the U.S. government). It credits an Argentine online publication, Misiones On Line, for the original story. The spread of bizarre information via the internet is really interesting:

Las informaciones sobre el tema son escuetas dado que ninguna fuente oficial quiso confirmarla, empero, una fuente oficiosa confirmó a NEIKE que efectivamente el jefe de Estado norteamericano compró las tierras y su hija Jenna recorrerá el campo durante la visita que está realizando a Paraguay desde el pasado fin de semana.

The conspiracy theorists are having a field day with this one. Maybe he is planning to flee the U.S. because otherwise he'll tried for war crimes (as if Paraguay would protect him better than the United States?). Maybe it is a plan to invade Bolivia. Maybe the U.S. has run out of space in New Mexico to communicate with aliens, and so is looking elsewhere? (OK, I just made that one up, but I like it).


Illegal immigrants in each district

Via ImmigrationProf Blog: A new study estimating the number of illegal immigrants per congressional district. Its key findings:

In 2005, undocumented immigrants accounted for about 10 percent or more of the total population in only 27 (or roughly 6 percent) of the 435 congressional districts.

Conversely, undocumented immigrants comprised about 5 percent or less of the population in more than half (or 232) of all congressional districts in 2005.

Between 2000 and 2005, the undocumented population of 107 districts doubled, although most of these districts had relatively few undocumented immigrants to begin with.

More strikingly, 39 districts experienced either a decline or no change in their undocumented population between 2000 and 2005. Many of these districts had been major destinations for new arrivals in the past, but are becoming less so as immigrants move to other parts of the country.

There’s not much analysis, but it’s interesting nonetheless. Even though there may be only 27 districts where illegal immigrants comprise 10% of more of the population, there are many where the percentage growth has been quite high.

I see that in my own district, illegal immigrants are 3.6% of the total population, and the total number has doubled since 2000. My representative is Sue Myrick, a Republican who is running almost entirely on this issue. Unfortunately, she is also considered a shoo-in to win handily over Bill Glass.


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