Sunday, August 31, 2008

Random Thoughts Based Around León Krauze's Opinions of Barack Obama

I don't think too many people watched Obama's convention speech here, but the average reaction of those I've spoken to who did catch it was blown away. León Krauze, one of the more knowledgeable US-watchers in Mexico, liked Obama's performance a lot, calling him a "mature politician" and saying that "he's grown," but he seems to like McCain's veep pick even more. I disagree; the Palin pick seems like a big risk with little upside. I don't think any significant number of Hillary voters will switch because of Palin, and the obvious calculation behind the pick may turn off swing voters of both genders. It may help solidify McCain's status as a maverick (I hate that label more every day; I wish you could kill words), but whether the Republican nominee carries his iconoclastic reputation into November depends more on whether Obama goes really negative than on McCain's veep pick. It seems like a lot of unflattering sound bites from Palin are already trickling out, and who knows what other silly statements she may have made during her years as a tiny-town mayor?

Two weeks ago, despite his obvious admiration for Obama and his slim lead in the polls, Krauze said he'd bet against Obama if he was laying his money on the line, so I'd say he's being unduly pessimistic. Of course, I said the same thing four years ago about people predicting a Bush victory.

Another notable thing about Krauze: his newspaper columns feature perhaps the longest paragraphs in the game today. Over his last three columns, Krauze has averaged four paragraphs over about 1,000 words. Quite something.

The Times from Tijuana

Marc Lacey from the New York Times with a dispatch from Tijuana.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Mexicans March

Tonight, Mexicans around the country and as far away as Tel Aviv will march against insecurity. Ana María Salazar reminds everyone why it is so important to send a message to the political class. March, Mexicans.

More Boxing

Forgot to mention this: I like Cristian Mijares to retain his title against Chatchai Sasakul, a Thai fighter who got knocked out Manny Pacquiao before he was a world-beater. Hopefully a unification bout against Montiel follows. 

Friday, August 29, 2008

Fox Force Five

Mexico State has announced the formation of a new, all-female security force called Athena. The group will dedicate itself to protecting businessmen and businesses in the state. It's not clear how the twenty women staffing the group (and obviously the same holds true for twenty men) will be able to make much of a difference in a region with tens of millions of people, but maybe if they can get track down Mia Wallace they can really kick some tail.

Biden's Impact

For all his smarts in foreign affairs, Joe Biden is an empty book on Latin America, writes Marcela Sánchez. Not that it will have impact whatsoever on the election.

Friday Polls

Excelsior hides a bunch of crazy facts in a series of security polls today. Only 43 percent of the population is aware of the momentous (or maybe not) security pact signed last week. Sixty-three percent of respondents had a favorable opinion of the army, the only security institution above the Mendoza line. A total of 77 percent said the security situation is bad or very bad, the second highest total on record (it hit 88 percent in '99). Fifty-two percent said that the government has been overtaken by organized crime. Despite that, 64 percent still expressed a favorable opinion of Calderón's security policies. This divergence has emerged before, and it reflects an interesting characteristic of the Mexican polling base (i.e. Mexicans): they have separated their opinion of Calderón from their desperation about the insecurity.

The Giant and the Dwarf

It's great to be off of Olympic boxing, but the first post-Beijing headline bouts feature boxers who aren't a whole lot more entertaining than those amateur slappers: Iván Calderón versus Hugo Cázares and John Ruiz versus Nikolai Valuev. This is the boxing equivalent of going from heroin to methodone.

Calderón is as smooth a technical fighter as there is in the sport, but he has zero pop, and his fights are as patterned and predictable as an assembly line. I like him to stink it out even more than usual against Cázares, who roughed him up in their first bout, and win a decision.

John Ruiz, who would be this generation's Sugar Ray Robinson if boxing rewarded clinching, steps back into the ring with Russian giant Nikolai Valuev. Valuev, a seven-footer who looks more like a Grand Theft Auto villain than anyone on the planet, scored a controversial decision over the Quiet Man in 2005. Both men are said to have improved in the interim, though I've seen neither fight since then. Just as in 2005, this fight is in Germany, so any decision will go to Valuev, and I don't see Ruiz throwing enough punches to knock him out. Hopefully, Valuev takes on Vlad Kitschko next. It would be a fun promotion, building up to an easy knockout for Lil Bro.

Gancho Boxing is 5-4 on the year.


George Will writes:
Obama has vowed to "cut investments in unproven missile defense systems."
Steamboats, railroads, airplanes and vaccines were "unproven" until farsighted
people made investments.
A fair (if underdeveloped) point. But then, a mere four paragraphs later:
Obama's rhetorical extravagances are inversely proportional to his details, as
when he promises "nothing less than a complete transformation of our economy" in
order to "end the age of oil." The diminished enthusiasm of some voters hitherto
receptive to his appeals might have something to do with the seepage of reality
from his rhetoric. Voters understand that neither the "transformation" nor the
"end" will or should occur. His dreamy certitude that "alternative" fuels will
quickly become real alternatives is an energy policy akin to an old vaudeville
joke: "If we had some eggs, we could have ham and eggs, if we had some ham."
I love that vaudeville joke (and applying it other timeless combinations: gin and tonic, Gibson and Glover, Swedish bikini teams and Old Milwaukee/Old Milwaukee Light), but how is the second argument any different from the first?

Abortion in Mexico

Mexico's Supreme Court delivered a ruling a couple of days ago that clears a hurdle to legalized abortion. The Times calls this a setback for Calderón, and it is, though he has been careful not to spend too much political capital on it.

I heard on Pedro Ferriz de Con's radio show this morning that 72 percent of his listeners had come down agains the ruling, which would seem to be a pretty strong argument against legalized abortion in Mexico. However, his presumably conservative audience plays a big role here. I dug up a poll by Consulta Mitofski that shows 59 percent of Mexicans are in favor of legalized abortion. I'm guessing the latter poll is a more accurate reflection of the Mexican population.

Let's dedicate this Friday to heated American reproductive hot-button issues, transplanted to Latin America: take a look at Chile's squabbles over the morning-after pill here.

Thursday, August 28, 2008


Private universities in Mexico are a kidnapper's dream: a concentrated group of rich kids away from their parents, more concerned the guerita (or guerito) sitting across from them then the Suburban with tinted windows that has been trailing them all day. As such, this is a good, proactive idea: a security plan for the nation's private institutions, to be presented in October. 


Jorge Chabat returns to the theme of control of the police in his latest column, arguing that in order to allow the police to effectively replace the military in the fight against the drug cartels, the former should ape the latter.
[T]he idea of having greater controls on the police agencies, by way of the
establishment of military-style disciplinary measures, doesn't sound
hair-brained. One of the characteristics of the Mexican army for which it has
been used in combating drug trafficking is precisely that: there
are stronger mechanisms of corruption control, although it hasn't
disappeared, nor will it.

But, unlike what is occurring today with the country's police, the incomes
of the soldiers are known by everyone and there's no possibility of, through
legal means, earning more. If a soldier with a low salary appears overnight with
a house in Bosques de las Lomas and a Ferrari, it's obvious that he is receiving
illicit money. It's that simple.

There's also a very strict control of the activities that they carry out:
where they are and where they go. There exists, at the same time, a greater
institutional support in the case of sickness or incapacity, which generates
esprit de corps, a sense of belonging to the institution, which doesn't exist
in the great majority of Mexican police forces.

Republicans for Jimmy

From the memoirs of Robert M. Gates, who at the time of this writing had worked for four presidents:
Contrary to conventional wisdom, I believe the Soviets saw Carter as a
committed ideological foe as well as geopolitical adversary--and as a President
prepared to act on his hostility in both arenas. And in that he represented
a decided change from his predecessors going back to Eisenhower. Further,
I think the Kremlin later came to see great continuity between Carter's
approach to them and that of his successor, Ronald Reagan. In fact, Carter
prepared the ground for Reagan in the strategic arena, confronting the Soviets
and Cubans in the Third World, and in challenging the legitimacy of Soviet
authority at home. He took the first steps to strip away the mask of Soviet
ascendancy and exploit the reality of Soviet vulnerability. Unfortunately for
Carter, until now hardly anyone has known.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Zuckermann from Denver

Leo Zuckermann says forthrightly that neither Mexico nor Latin America figures into the foreign policy conversations at the Democratic National Convention. It's unclear whether Zuckermann is surprised (doubt it) or disappointed (doubt this too, though not as much) by this. It's the old paradoxical Latin American complaint: the region never gets enough attention from the Americans, but that's partly a sign of the fundamental health of Latin America, and it's not clear that the benefits of increased American attention would outweigh the drawbacks.

It's On

Dan Rafael says De la Hoya and Pacquiao are gonna get down December 6. I think Pacquiao has a great shot of winning; I'll be interested to see where the betting line opens up.

Worldwide Infamy

The governments of Europe have collectively issued a warning to tourists in Mexico to be wary of corrupt police officers. Mexican officials tend to be very defensive when such statements come from the US Embassy; I wonder what the reaction will be to this.

Back in the Fold

José Luis Santiago Vasconcelos is back in a government role three weeks after resigning his position at the PGR, Mexico's DoJ. He'll be supervising the implementation of reforms to the criminal justice system, which, if you buy the hype around him, probably ensures that said reforms will be more properly implemented than would otherwise be the case.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Brooks in Denver

David Brooks on Obama's port-partisan pretensions:

At the core, Obama’s best message has always been this: He is unconnected with the tired old fights that constrict our politics. He is in tune with a new era. He has very little experience but a lot of potential. He does not have big achievements, but he is authentically the sort of person who emerges in a multicultural, globalized age. He is therefore naturally in step with the problems that will confront us in the years to come.

So as I’m trying to measure the effectiveness of this convention, I’ll be jotting down a little minus mark every time I hear a theme that muddies that image. I’ll jot down a minus every time I hear the old class conflict, and the old culture war themes. I’ll jot down a minus when I see the old Bush obsession rearing its head, which is not part of his natural persona. I’ll write a demerit every time I hear the rich played off against the poor, undercutting Obama’s One America dream.

I’ll put a plus down every time a speaker says that McCain is a good man who happens to be out of step with the times. I’ll put a plus down every time a speaker says that a multipolar world demands a softer international touch. I’ll put a plus down when a speaker says the old free market policies worked fine in the 20th century, but no longer seem to be working today. These are arguments that reinforce Obama’s identity as a 21st-century man.

I'm all for pundits and reporters pointing out the gap in Obama's idealistic rhetoric and his less idealistic campaign tactics (John Dickerson's been all over that for months), but two points are worth mentioning: first, there is a difference between campaigns and governance. A dirty campaigner may be more likely to inject partisanship into his government (see Bush, George W), but that doesn't mean that Obama can't apply a new post-partisan paradigm to governing after several months of hammering McCain. In any event, aggressively pointing out where McCain has changed his opinions over the last few years and why the maverick image is something of a sham is not one the same level as the Swift Boaters.

Second, holding Democrats to a standard that Republicans dynamited a generation ago is a bit unfair, and a recipe for Democrats losing races that they should win. Obama's invited a lot of that with his persona, but anyone who takes him to task for not holding as firmly as perhaps he should to his new-politics promise should also recognize that Republicans have made it very hard to win the presidency without periodic trips to the gutter.

Good Sense

PRD leader Guadalupe Acosta says that come what may, there will be no takeover of Congress by his party following the passage of energy reform.

Poor Kid

The same thing always used to happen to me, too. Tough break.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Message from the Media

Excelsior ran four almost entirely blank pages in the middle of its front section today, each with a short paragraph in small type dropped into its middle. The four-page message read
These blank pages are not an error. It's the sad evidence of how, as a society, we have become the target of insecurity and terror: kidnapping, violence, organized crime, impunity. These blank pages are cries of fear. Cries to the emptiness lifted up by victims of insecurity and violence. Cries that the society listens to with horror. Cries that the authorities don't hear, don't attend to, leave blank. These blank pages are absence of action from the authorities. Without worrying about the clamor for protection of citizens, they have left blank their promises to combat crime, to reform the obsolete judicial system. To guarantee us tranquility. These blank pages are the new banner of the society. A banner of peace and insistence from all of Mexico waving before the authorities. We demand that the put to one side their political differences and fulfill their fundamental obligation: our security. Now, enough already!

Not Fair

Mexico's gender salary gap is the third largest in Latin America. The nation's women earn only 63 percent as much as their male countrymen, a figure bested (worsted?) only by Guatemala (58 percent) and Peru (61 percent). 

No! Yes!

Matt Bai says that Barack Obama won't lose because of his race. Jacob Weisberg says that if he doesn't wind up in the White House, race is why.

Failing Teachers

Andrés Oppenheimer tackles Mexico's teacher-testing in his second consecutive Mexico-related column.

Monday Laughs

Jon Chait pokes some amusing holes in the right's distaste for the supposed obsession with Barack Obama:

Of all the complaints made against Barack Obama, the one I least understand is that he's some kind of millennial cult leader. An ad for John McCain and endless conservative commentary have harped on the theme of what National Review editor Rich Lowry called Obama's "secular messianism." Conservatives have sternly lectured Obama's fans that he will not, in fact, deliver paradise if elected. I agree! But why is this a reason to vote against him? McCain isn't going to create heaven on earth, either. Obama, however, might deliver health care reform and a more moderate federal judiciary.

Next, there is Obama's declaration that "we are the ones we've been waiting for." The point, which he has made many times, is that voters should take responsibility themselves for enacting change, and thus that his supporters should not treat him as a savior. Obama-as-cult-leader screeds insist upon reading the meaning as the exact reverse. Conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer wrote, "in the words of his own slogan, 'we are the ones we've been waiting for,' which, translating the royal 'we,' means: 'I am the one we've been waiting for.'" As a pundit, I'm intrigued by this technique of taking a word out of your subject's statement and substituting its opposite. Did you know that McCain's slogan, "Country first," could be translated via the Krauthammer method into "Country last"? Why does John McCain hate America?

No Changes

A staff writer for the State Department's Americas publication says that no matter who wins in November, US policy in Latin America will remain fundamentally unchanged.

The Mexican Political Landscape of the Future

My version of it, anyway.

Sunday, August 24, 2008


A pair of interesting ideas surfaced from the PRI this week: 1) Charging Cisen, the Mexican intelligence agency, with monitoring police around the country, and 2) removing the amparo, an often abused Mexican legal mechanism that amounts to a delay in prosecution, from those charged with drug crimes. The first idea seems a bit far-fetched and unwieldy. Requiring more law enforcement support from Cisen is one thing, but is it practical to have all the nation's police work monitored by one federal group, as opposed to building independent internal affairs bureaus operating within the departments? And if it is practical, is the nation's intelligence body the best candidate? The second idea, if it can be achieved without infringing on civil rights (I'll leave it to Mexican legal experts to figure that out), seems more useful. In any event, at least they're thinking. 

Much Love for Peña

Enrique Peña Nieto, the governor of the State of Mexico, evidently brought the house down at the party's national meeting. Given his youth, high profile, relatively clean history, and compelling personal story, he looks to be the favorite for the party's presidential candidacy in 2012. It is of course a long, long way off, but I can't think of anyone who has a better chance of occupying Los Pinos after Calderón. 

Pay Up

Vicente Fox doesn't seem to be the best guy in the world to work for (or, for that matter, as the whole of Mexican society can attest, to have working for you). Today it surfaced that Fox never paid for three life-size portraits done by a prominent artist while he was president. 

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Going Backwards

The LA Times summarizes the proposals coming out of the National Security Council session earlier this week. It mentions the political sniping that has persisted throughout this present security crisis. 

Before that, Alejandro Martí, discussing the challenges in improving Mexican security, offered a barbed suggestion to public officials: 
Gentlemen: if you think the bar is very high, if you think it is impossible to do, if you can't, quit. But don't continue occupying government offices, don't continue receiving a salary for not doing anything.
Before that, the Bajo Reserva column, which appears in El Universal, reported:
It's absolutely serious that Marcelo Ebrard doesn't want to shake hands nor sit with President Felipe Calderón. For the first time they will find themselves in the session of the National Security Council and the perredista [Ebrard] doesn't want a photo.

Five-Ring Disappointment

The US Olympic boxing team came away Beijing with just one bronze medal, the nation’s worst performance in more than 50 years. I haven’t quite put my thoughts together into a logical sequence, but here are two of them:

Olympic boxing is little more than a sword-less fencing match, and the scoring is a joke. The scoring system takes a flaw inherent in boxing—human judgment and therefore human error—and, without doing anything to alleviate it, hides it behind a mask of technological objectivity. Twenty years ago, at least we knew who was screwing Roy Jones in Korea. Today, a corrupt or biased judge is nearly impossible to finger individually. 

It also creates a gigantic gap between the skills needed to succeed at the highest amateur and professional levels. This year's Olympic failure coincides with a steep decline in the professional fortunes of the Olympic team. From 1960 to 1996 (with the exception of the boycotted 1980 Olympics), there was an average of one boxer per team who was destined to be a pound-for-pound top three entry, and arguably top 50 all time: Mayweather, de la Hoya, Jones, Holyfield, Whitaker, Leonard, Foreman, Frazier, and Clay. In Jermain Taylor and Jeff Lacy, the 2000 team had two guys loaded with physical talent but saddled with technical flaws, and both were ultimately unable to make the leap into superstardom in the pro ranks (though I guess there’s an outside shot Taylor could still add a great deal to his legacy at super-middleweight). The cream of the 2004 crop, Andre Dirrell and Andre Ward, seem even less likely to break through. It's not a coincidence that almost all of the best American boxers to come up in the last eight years --Paul Williams, Kelly Pavlik, Juan Diaz-- haven’t been Olympians. Nor is it just the Americans; by my count, Miguel Cotto is the only ex-Olympian on Dan Rafael’s top ten pound-for-pound list-- and his very un-amateur style got him bounced in the first round in the Sydney Games.

Now, back to the pros!


Thanks, Chicago. I'm content with the pick, even if the wait was interminable. 

Marc Ambinder: 
Obama-Biden will be a formidable ticket, and a risky ticket, and not a comfort zone choice for Obama. "It's a big ball pick, not a small ball pick," an adviser said.

Put aside the obvious: Biden has foreign policy meat on his bones...He's a great debater... he's the party's best foreign policy surrogate... world leaders call him...he has a working-class Scranton-bred Irish-Catholic heritage...he knows Washington very well...he has known tragedy in his life..

He was elected to the Senate as a change agent at the age of 29. He is comfortable but not wealthy -- he has not used the prerogatives of office to enrich his personal wealth, although his family has benefited from his stature. (The GOP will quickly point out that one of his sons is a lobbyist.)

Biden premised his presidential candidacy on the notion that Obama was unqualified and not ready from day one. You can expect that the McCain campaign or the RNC will run a national television advertisement featuring Biden's many and various quotations to this effect. Biden will have to explain why he has changed his mind.

I gather that what impressed Obama about Biden is that Biden gets things done. He's a man of action. He's not a bullshitter. I also get the sense that Biden, 65, is pretty well aware that, at age 73 in eight years, he's not going to be a viable presidential choice, and thus was able to convince Obama that because the vice presidency would be his terminal position, the famous Biden ego will take a subordinate role.

I gather that Obama realizes that he needed a pick that would demonstrate some level of intellectual seriousness about the condition of the world. One of his sons heads for Iraq soon. Obama knows that, for Biden, getting Iraq right is much more than just about proving a point. If Georgia had not been invaded by Russia, would Biden be as attractive? Maybe. Counterfactuals for another time.

Biden is also a fighter on domestic policy. He touts as one of his greatest legislative accomplishments 1994's Violence Against Women Act. He's a mainline Democrat whose fingerprints are on most of the major liberal policy accomplishments over the past few decades.

Some liberals think he's a bully who got the Iraq war wrong (although Biden did try to pass a less bellicose resolution.) But I suspect that the general response from most Democrats will be "Great choice."

The criticism will focus on Biden's 1987 plagiarism bout, his support of credit card companies (he pushed the bankruptcy bill that Dems hate), his comments about Obama, his racial obliviousness (the comment about Indian-Americans in 7/11). He's a DC Insider. Obama didn't double down on hope. In a normal year, this stuff would have disqualified him instantly. The biggest trope may be that the Dems are an All Talk ticket. Two famous talkers.

That Obama (apparently) picked him demonstrates a recognition that the Democratic ticket ought to be more than just about Obama's personality... or a statement of bipartisan pragmatism... it's easy to float on gossamers when the world is safe, but when it's burning down, a guy like Biden is just the ticket. I take it that Obama likes the fact that Biden gets things done. Sure, he talks a lot. But he gets things done.

Ron Fournier says the pick demonstrates a lack of confidence. Maybe. Or maybe the pick demonstrates Obama's confidence and a tempering of his overconfidence. Confidence, because Biden could upstage him, will be independent, and will be better at certain things than Obama. But if Obama were overconfident, if he believed that his personality and story alone were enough, then he'd have chosen someone less threatening.

On the trust issue: I take the conversation went something like this: "Barack, you can trust me because what you see is what you get."

Friday, August 22, 2008


Whenever you guys are ready in Chicago. 


Vicente Fox plugs the Centro Fox and takes a few shots at the US.

Chief Caught

The alleged leader of the kidnapping group known as La Flor, thought to be responsible for the abduction and murder of Fernando Martí, has been arrested.

Mexico's Security Pact

The 75-point agreement was signed today. Calderón says this will result in concrete changes: "This is not a letter of good intentions."

No Recession Here

If he'd been talking about Mexico, Phil Gramm would have been right: the Mexican economy will grow 2.1 percent in the second trimester of 2008. (The article linked discusses this in the past tense, not as a projection, which is odd since the second trimester is not yet completed.)

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Oppenheimer Ambivalent

Check out his take on Mexico's anti-crime march, scheduled for August 30, here

Meeting Up

Marcelo Ebrard will speak with Felipe Calderón's security team today to discuss steps toward a security agreement at the meeting of the National Security Council. Certainly, Mexico is in need of a long-term security framework that will be somewhat removed from the political realm. I would feel more optimistic about today's meeting being a step in that direction if the event didn't seem so forced. Calderón and Ebrard have for years now been more likely to take shots at each other on security policy than to collaborate, and it's hard to see them overcoming that fraught personal history. It also seems unlikely that there would even be a meeting today if Calderón and Ebrard hadn't been shamed into it. In short, one wonders if the political will to address the issue really exists, or if this today is mostly for show. Today's meeting will result in a handful of sensible points of agreement, but will they be cosmetic changes (like a plan for a special kidnapper's prison) or thorough reforms? 

Dodging Bullets

Mexico was lucky to sneak out of last night's World Cup qualifier with a 2-1 victory over Honduras. After a golazo on a free kick from Parma's Julio de León in the first half, Mexico looked out of sorts and uncoordinated. Sven-Goran Eriksson started Giovanni Dos Santos and Carlos Vela together at forward, a risky move given their lack of experience. Those two may be Mexico's future, but they had little success last night linking up with the rest of the squad. After pulling Vela and Dos Santos (for Omar Bravo and Guillermo Franco) shortly after the half, el Tri saw some more chances, and the tying and then winning goal two minutes later came from an unusual source: defenseman Pavel Pardo. Whew. Losing in Estadio Azteca in Sven-Goran's first meaningful game would have been a disaster.

I'd like to have more to say about the US win over Guatemala, but as is often the case, they didn't televise it here in Mexico. If Nafta is renegotiated next year, Mexico's blackouts of the US national team should be at the top of the agenda.

Cemex Sinks in Venezuela

The tug of war over Cemex's assets in Venezuela continues. Actually, any sentence with "Cemex's assets in Venezuela" needs to be written in the past tense, as the company no longer has any. Chávez sent National Guard troops to take over the cement plants a couple of days ago. Evidently, it was a quite party.
Nationalization supporters who had gathered outside a Cemex plant in eastern Venezuela sang the national anthem while fireworks exploded overhead, according to news reports.
This part of the LA Times story is quite misleading:
The bad blood between Mexico and Venezuela has been brewing for some time. Last year at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Calderon publicly chastised Venezuela for moving "toward the past" with "harmful" socialist policies.
That slip of the tongue a few months after Calderón got to office was one of the very few examples of Mexico aiming any fire at Venezuela. (And if I remember correctly, it was an indirect criticism. I don't think he mentioned Venezuela's or Chávez's name in regard to the harmful socialism, though I may be mistaken.) Calderón may be right-of-center, but the salient aspect of his foreign policy has been a more accommodating approach toward Cuba and Venezuela. And look what it got him.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Reaction to the PRI's Maneuvers

PRD elder statesman and ex-priísta Porfirio Muñoz Ledo criticized his old party's shift leftward, saying it was little more than a scheme to win votes next summer. Inadvertently kicking dirt on his own ideology, he also said that social democratic movement is strongest in South America, thanks to leaders like Cristina Fernández and Hugo Chávez, among others.


David Ignatius makes a good point that will likely become much more important in the coming decades:

There's a moral problem with all the pro-Georgia cheerleading, which has gotten lost in the op-ed blasts against Putin's neo-imperialism. A recurring phenomenon of the early Cold War was that America encouraged oppressed peoples to rise up and fight for freedom -- and then, when things got rough, abandoned them to their fate. The CIA did that egregiously in the early 1950s, broadcasting to the Soviet republics and the nations of Eastern Europe that America would back their liberation from Soviet tyranny. After the brutal suppression of the Hungarian revolution in 1956, responsible U.S. leaders learned to be more cautious, and more honest about the limits of American power.

Now, after the Georgia war, McCain should learn that lesson: American leaders shouldn't make threats the country can't deliver or promises it isn't prepared to keep. The rhetoric of confrontation may make us feel good, but other people end up getting killed.

'Bout Time

Every good coach makes the right adjustments at halftime. John Dickerson tells us about Obama's:
[In] the last few days he's made his attacks even sharper, emphasizing the link between McCain and Bush and portraying McCain as a poll-driven Washington insider out of touch with regular people. In perhaps the most aggressive attack on his opponent's values, he raised questions about McCain's honor. "I have never suggested, and never will, that Sen. McCain picks his positions on national security based on politics or personal ambition," he said. "I have not suggested it because I believe that he genuinely wants to serve America's national interest. Now, it's time for him to acknowledge that I want to do the same."
I'm not sure that I see Obama attacking McCain's honor in that quote. It seems more like he's defending himself against attacks on his own (like the suggestion that he would rather win an election than a war).

Kidnapping Stats, Wednesday Edition

The PGR, Mexico's version of the Department of Justice, released a report showing strong links between drug cartels and kidnappers. From the beginning of 2007 through May 2008, federal forces arrested 273 people for kidnapping. (Concrete numbers are impossible to obtain, but, based on an estimate of between three and four kidnappings a day, there were around 1,800 total kidnappings during that period.) Of those arrested, 40 percent belonged to the Gulf or the Tijuana cartels. The article leaves a lot of details uncovered: is the Sinaloa cartel not kidnapping, or just not getting caught? Are cartel kidnappers more likely to be caught than independent kidnapping rings because they are already being watched because of their involvement in drug trafficking? Are they kidnapping people uninvolved in the drug trade simply as a means to raise cash, or are the abductions a way to intimidate associates? In any event, the report make the connection between the two activities seem more significant than anything else I've read.

Police Bodies

Leo Zuckermann writes that there are nearly 2,500 police departments around Mexico, with some 427,000 carrying a badge and a gun. Only 4 percent of the total are federal officers. He thinks that's an absurd decentralization of the state's monopoly on power, but I'm not so sure. First, if you accept the idea that the security problems in many cities are not caused by inter-cartel battles but rather by local gangs fighting for turf, local police working among local populations are going to have to take the lead role. Second, according to the American Bureau of Justice Statistics, there are more than 18,000 police departments in the United States. The US is by no means free of extralegal violence, but nor is it struggling to assert the authority of the State.

The essential issue is control, not centralization; local police forces in Mexico too often answer to criminals, not the proper political bosses. It may seem easier to oversee one giant police agency from the federal government, but there's no reason that a governor or mayor or city council can't do it on a smaller scale. And there's also no reason to think of centralizing the police as some sort of corruption cure-all. After all, federal officers, though by and large more reliable than locals, are involved in plenty of illegal shenanigans, too.


John Bailey, writing in El Universal, cites a stat from Transparency International indicating that 55 percent of Mexicans have paid a bribe to a cop at some point in their lives. Coincidentally, another poll released yesterday revealed that 45 percent of Mexicans wouldn't object to telling a little white lie if the truth would make them look mildly irresponsible.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008


Jorge Fernández Menéndez opens today's column with the following:
The PRD is no longer a party, nor does it behave as one.
He later says that the party "has renounced politics," and goes on to discuss how the party's embrace of extralegal obstructive tactics --first against political enemies, later against ideological allies as well-- has led to its self-immolation. (I made a similar argument a few months ago.) Last week, the López Obrador crowd forced the party's national meeting out of its headquarters with a blockade of the entrance. Again, this was a protest of their fellow perredistas. Now, there are two sides with swords drawn and almost zero hope of reconciliation. Such a result was perhaps not inevitable, but it certainly was a predictable consequence for the continued backing of López Obrador. If you're not a democrat, a democracy's probably not the place for you. 

One More Time...

Making Hillary veep is an awful, awful idea. It'd be like firing a torpedo at the Titanic as it closed in on the iceberg. Next week, we can look forward to an end to articles like this one.

From said article:
Now if only the two former rivals could get past ... oh, where to begin?

Think back to high school: In interviews on Monday, Clinton aides said they thought Mr. Obama did not like Mrs. Clinton. Clinton aides also said they thought Mr. Obama thinks Mrs. Clinton does not like him. And, like him or not, she is skeptical that he can win, her aides continue to say. Bottom line, chemistry might be a problem here.

I'm not sure I've ever seen a more colloquial style in the Times. How did all the above make it through edits? Also, I understand that with a conversational approach you can take some grammatical liberties, but wouldn't it be more correct to have "bottom line" (which, for your convenience, appears in the bottom line of the quote) followed by a colon rather than a comma? After all, he's in essence saying, "The bottom line is that which follows:"

Kidnapping Stats

The Mexican Justice Department says that kidnapping is up 9 percent from last year, but the article I read "supports" that with the revelation that, comparing the first five months of 2007 to the same period in 2008, the rate went from 62.5 to 64.6 per month, which of course is a rise of much less than 9 percent. Who knows?

The article also mentions that the department says there is increasing interconnection between drug traffickers and kidnapping cells. This would seem to suggest an increasing number of drug traffickers don't have access to their product thanks to higher levels of interdiction over the past couple of years. To maintain their cash flow, drug gangs turn to other activities, kidnapping among them. This pattern has been documented in Tijuana and will likely be repeated elsewhere. It's a phenomenon that the government needs to keep in mind as it charts security strategy.

Lugo Leaning

The Miami Herald thinks that new Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo will lean more toward the Lula camp than Chávez et al. Lucky Paraguay.

Not So Hot

The teacher's exam that 76,000 Mexicans took last Monday was a success of sorts: testing is certainly a much better way of filling the spots than selling them or passing them along to family members. However, it's disconcerting that two thirds of the aspirants failed.


Mexico has a new pilot program for elementary school English school, targeting 5,000 schools around the country. This is a good start, but it doesn't make up for the fact that the overwhelming majority of Mexican students don't start studying English until seventh grade and never become proficient. China, on the other hand, has more students studying English than the US does and, despite being half a world way, starts its kids out on the basics in third grade.

Monday, August 18, 2008

No Love for the Ex Prez

Polling on Vicente Fox's return to a prominent role in the PAN's midterm election campaign: 59 percent of respondents think his involvement will have not have a positive impact on democracy, against 30 percent who think it will. Thirty percent think that the PAN has given him an official role to protect him from prosecution, while 48 percent think it's simply because they want his experience. 

Glimpse of the Future

Excelsior leads with an article dissecting the PRI's shift to the left. Coupled with the possible disintegration of the PRD, this could mark a new era in Mexican politics, with the PAN being the broad party of the right (much as they already are), and the PRI occupying the same sphere on the left (which is a bit of a change). I think this would mostly be a good thing, but I wonder what would happen to all the people who voted for el Peje in 2006: would most of them jump back to the PRI, or would they follow the various PRD splinter groups? And what would happen to the moderate perredistas? Would they be willing to jump on board a more socialist PRI? Would the pro-business moderates follow the PRI leftward or would they jump ship?

Also, the PRI mentions reaffirming its roots as the party of Lázaro Cárdenas, but will that mean anything beyond rhetoric? It makes sense politically since Cárdenas remains a beloved figure, but his ideas are 70 years old, and the PRI is in the midst of partially undoing his most celebrated achievement in office, the oil nationalization.

Cool Dude

Michelle Cottle argues that Barack Obama's cool demeanor is a disadvantage in these stressful times, that Americans should see him convey some sense of the urgency and alarm they feel about the economy particularly, but also in regard to foreign policy flareups like Russia's invasion of Georgia.

I agree that Obama needs to show some urgency, but more as it relates to his campaign than on the issues and events making news. I've never felt that an Obama victory was less likely (although I think it's still probably a coin flip) than I do now. The polls (both nationally and in key states) have been moving in McCain's direction recently, and a big reason is that Obama isn't being aggressive enough. McCain has flipped on more positions than Kerry ever did. He has said that his grasp of the economy is quite limited. He has foreign policy views (and a cohort of foreign policy advisers) well to the right of the mainstream. The image of McCain as a moderate maverick is simply wrong, but not enough voters recognize this, and it's Obama's job to inform the public of this. I understand that he wants a new brand of politics, but there's no dishonor in going negative if you aren't tarring the man personally.

Beltrones Attacks

A story about Manlio Fabio Beltrones swinging at Felipe Calderón over security policy is splashed on the front page of El Universal today. The combination of the inept response to the Martí fiasco and the daily drug violence has made Calderón a lot more vulnerable in recent weeks. Beltrones, an erstwhile (and maybe future) ally, accuses him of governing past on public opinion polls and not recognizing that his criminal justice policies have been a failure. Ouch.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Will on McCain's Campaign

George Will has an interesting proposal that he says would fit well with McCain's populist streak: 
The proposal, for which he has expressed sympathy, is: No officer of any corporation receiving a federal subsidy, broadly defined, can be paid more than the highest-paid federal civil servant ($124,010 for a GS-15). This would abruptly halt the galloping expansion of private economic entities -- is GM next? -- eager to become, in effect, joint ventures with Washington.

Salazar Savages Politicians

Ana María Salazar on the official response to the Martí case: 
The lack of leadership demonstrated by Felipe Calderón, Marcelo Ebrard, and in general the entire political class is worrying. And I'd say to them that before the growing demands of the citizens to do something to combat the epidemic of kidnappings, violence, and insecurity in which the country lives, the reactions have left a lot, a whole lot, to be desired.

What a shame that it has to be civil society headed by María Elena Morera, who directs Mexico United Against Delinquency, and relatives of kidnapping victims, such as Alejandro Martí, who have to request that those who direct the fate of the this country get to work, that they search for solutions or listen to those objectively offered and that they reach agreements to drive down criminality.
Salazar's harsh tone is apt, but I think it's still possible that the politicians make a credible showing of themselves in regard to the Martí case; if in ten years Mexico has independent and competent security agencies around the country as a result of reforms undertaken in these next few months, no one will remember the squabbling and the lack of coordination now occurring. However, that doesn't seem to likely at this point, and if it doesn't happen, they all share the blame for letting a golden opportunity slip away.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Arias on Mérida

Costa Rican President Óscar Arias writes about the Mérida Initiative in today's Washington Post: 
The Merida Initiative is stingy by any standard but especially by U.S. standards. Central America, Haiti and the Dominican Republic are allocated only $65 million -- one-sixth the amount that legislators initially deemed necessary. Mexico receives $400 million a year, a comparatively princely sum but the same amount that the United States spends in Iraq in a single day.
It's kind of ironic that the leader of Costa Rica, the safest of any of the nations receiving Mérida money, would makes this point, but it's hard to dispute.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Nice Bosses

Pablo Montero, an important piece of the hit novela/chippendale show Fuego en la Sangre, was released after being jailed in Miami on a drug charge. The actor walked free after Televisa and other famous friends sent letters to the judge testifying to Montero's character and imploring his release.  After reading the missives, the judge, evidently auditioning for his own TV show, told Montero:
"This demonstrates that there is a lot of love for you...I think you should use some of that love for yourself."

Friday Polling

Excelsior ran a poll today (no good link, sorry) asking respondents if, after being stopped by the police, they run away from them, pay whatever fine is imposed, or offer a bribe. Twenty-eight percent admit to paying the mordida, four percent say they take off, and 68 percent say they pay the fine. 

Klein's Crutches

I'm not sure how long this has been the case, but I recently noticed that Joe Klein uses the ellipse and long dash a staggering amount in his Swampland blog posts. His punctuational affinity borders on the obscene. My favorite example:
The high moral dudgeon on display today is an obscenity--not nearly as obscene as the Russian violence in Georgia, of course, but ghastly in its own way because it promises continuing American myopia and the policy puerility that--as we have seen in Iraq...and also, as Fred Kaplan argues, in Georgia--gets innocent people killed.
That's three dashes and an ellipse in just one sentence. Impressive.

La Liga

I've not had much to say about the opening weeks of the Mexican soccer league, basically because the horrible start from Chivas and Santos has left me dumbfounded. Neither team had a win through the first three weeks. Chivas won on Wednesday, but since it was a week six advance rescheduling, technically you could leave that in the present tense: neither team has a win through three weeks. Chivas has let two quality wins (against Monterrey and Cruz Azul) slip away with late goals, and I think they'll get it together once everyone gets used to playing without Michel, Bravo, and Rodríguez. Santos is a little more worrying. They just seem complacent after winning the title. They've had some injury problems, but they did last year as well, and they never looked this bad. We'll see if they improve when Ludueña returns, but right now it seems like their issues are deeper than one stud midfielder's absence.

Also, Guillermo Ochoa criticized Mexico's extensive use of nationalized foreigners on la selección. The large number of talented South Americans playing in Mexico combined with the relative weakness of the homegrown talent puts the program in a unique situation. You have lots of guys with extensive ties to Mexico who would be able to contribute on their national team but not on the Argentine or Brazilian sides. Sven-Goran has ramped up the use of naturalized Mexicans, too, calling up Matías Vuoso, Leandro Augusto, Sinha Naelson, and Guillermo Franco. Four foreign-born players is too many for one national team, in my view. I'm not sure there should be a rule against the practice, since it's not as extensive elsewhere, but it would be a shame if a Mexican team playing two Argentines and two Brazilians knocked a purely Nigerian (or Croatian or American) squad out of the World Cup. 

Bowden Was Right

A couple of weeks ago, I expressed skepticism of Charles Bowden's hypothesis in a recent GQ article that the explosion of violence in Juárez has little to do with drug cartels, but rather with retail drug dealing. I've read a lot since then that makes me think I was wrong to do so, though I still suspect the cartels have been a if not the driving force behind the violence in Juárez and Chihuahua (a city a couple of hours south of Juárez and part of the same smuggling route). Today's example: a recent massacre of eight people in Chihuahua has been attributed to narcomenudistas, as the low-level slingers are called.

Thursday, August 14, 2008


I've been working my way through The Wire this summer, usually between the hours of 11 p.m. to 3 a.m. It's great (quite an original reaction, I know), but I think it would have been better without two conspicuous though tangential elements: the quote at the beginning of each show, and the montage at the end of each season.

Also, in the penultimate episode, the quote opening the show is, "Deserve's got nothing to do with it." Unless I am mistaken, that is word for word the exact same thing Will Munny tells Little Bill right before discharging the contents of his shotgun into Bill's face. I can't decide if that was a coincidence or someone paying homage to Clint Eastwood (perhaps from Wire writer Dennis Lehane, whose novel Mystic River was the basis for the great Eastwood-directed film of the same name).

Good Luck

In order to combat "sexual aggression," the Catholic Church is on a campaign against cleavage and miniskirts. I imagine this will yield slightly better results than a drive to stamp out consumption of water and oxygen.

Weird Stuff

At least twice in every movie review, Slate's Dana Stevens writes something that strikes me as very bizarre, at least for a movie review. Today's examples, from her review of Tropic Thunder:
Anyone walking into Tropic Thunder looking to be offended by Downey's minstrel turn will soon find that the movie is two steps ahead. His role is no one-note, let's-shock-the-audience race joke—it's a densely layered little study of American racial anxiety.
At any rate, never has a role so cannily taken advantage of [Tom] Cruise's compact, thumblike body shape—that is, his physical resemblance to a penis.

More Aftermath

The chief of Mexico United Against Criminality, speaking with Alejandro Martí (the father of the Fernando) at her side, released a letter urging a meeting between Felipe Calderón and Marcelo Ebrard. Calderón immediately agreed; Ebrard agreed only if it was a broader National Security Summit, involving all the relevant actors.

Such a meeting, like many of the proposed changes to Mexico's crime-fighting strategy, is great, as long as it's not confused with being a solution in and of itself. Greater communication and trust between different police agencies, levels of government, and political parties is an important step; a one-off meeting designed to give the illusion of cooperation is worthless. I'm not sure into which category the proposed event will fall.

I've seen/heard/read a few interviews with Alejandro Martí in the last couple days, and he has been monumentally impressive. His last few months were more difficult than any experience most people will ever face, and yet he talks very little on himself, focusing instead on what Mexico can learn from his tragedy. He's been the most logical and forward-minded of anyone commenting on the event.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008


Peter Beinart says that Obama could overcome the racist inclinations of American voters by renouncing race-based affirmative action. Ta-nahisi Coates says Beinart's being silly.

It's Wednesday, Here's Chabat

Jorge Chabat makes three related points about Mexico's security in today's column:

1. Impunity is the biggest barrier to Mexico improving its security. When only 1 or 2 percent of crimes result in convictions, people will do pretty much anything their conscience will allow. And with so many other criminals running around, the conscience backslides. 

2. Whatever the legislative or bureaucratic barriers to achieving a greater degree of justice, police corruption is the single most important. (I made the same point about judicial reform several months ago here.)

3. The level of control over the police is demonstrably inadequate. Chabat: 
A few years ago there existed a commercial that asked: "It's 11 at night, do you know where our children are?" That same question should be put to the authorities: Do you know where your police are? It's obvious that most do not. 

Thus, stricter control mechanisms are urgent. You could think, for example, of satellite positioning systems for patrol cars and even for the police themselves. You could think systematic controls of confidence and a oversight of bank accounts and assets of police.
Other control measures that should be implemented across the nation: random drug and polygraph testing, and internal affairs departments in every city. I read today that Mérida Initiative money will start arriving in September. Supporting reforms like these would provide Mexico (and consequently the United States) a lot more than a few helicopters will. 

Aircraft Carrier Carries Aircraft, Not Translators

David Axe runs down some of the roadblocks (or perhaps "torpedoes" works better) confronting the USS Kearsarge on its goodwill mission through Latin America.

Corruption in High Places

The big headline today is about revelations of links between big shots at SIEDO, an elite federal narcotics investigation unit, and the Beltrán Leyva brothers. Six functionaries, including one intimate associate of recently ousted SIEDO boss Noé Ramírez, have been accused of providing the brothers with official protection. This certainly helps explain the shakeups of the last few weeks.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Fernández on Santiago Vasconcelos

José Fernández Menéndez sees the resignation of José Luis Santiago Vasconcelos as a sign of the increased power of the chief of the Mexican justice department, Eduardo Medina Mora, but hopes that Santiago Vasconcelos will land on his feet in another important post.
Santiago Vasconcelos is a man who knows like few others the environment of law enforcement, organized crime and the relationship with the institutions of other countries, especially the Untied States. And he should be protected for that.

Polling Paradox

Jorge Buendía observes that, despite a deteriorating security climate and some very dark clouds on the economic horizon, Felipe Calderón remains quite popular. How to explain this head-scratcher? Buendía says that Mexicans have adapted their assessments of the presidency to a democratic era. In other words, whereas 60 years ago Miguel Alemán pulled virtually all of the nation's essential security and economic levers, not all of today's bad news is Calderón's fault, and people realize that. 

Let's Agree to Agree

Mexican Interior Secretary Juan Camilo Mouriño has called for a National Agreement for Legality and Security. The clunkiness of the title aside, I think this is a great idea if it is done correctly. The outrage over the kidnapping and murder of Fernando Martí presents the government with an unprecedented opportunity to establish long-term parameters to Mexico's security strategy upon which every political party and each level of society agrees.

Business in Mexico

Excelsior has a story today about the security costs of doing business in Mexico that's loaded with crazy facts. According to the authors, in some businesses 10 percent of expenses go to security. Multisistemas de Seguridad, a private security heavyweight, says its business has grown by 20 percent in recent months. It also says that the number of kidnappings last year in Mexico exceeded 800, almost double the official total. A group called Centro de Estudios Económicos del Sector Privado says that the economic impact from robberies over the course of a year in Mexico is 8 billion dollars, or 0.9 percent of the GDP.

Monday, August 11, 2008


Today's LA Times has a lengthy article about American guns in Mexican hands. Among the more frustrating pieces of info:
Just 100 U.S. firearms agents and 35 inspectors patrol the vast border region for gun smugglers, compared with 16,000 Border Patrol agents, most of them working the Southwest border.

Elias Bazan, a supervisory agent with the ATF in Laredo, Texas, has a staff of just six agents at one of the grittiest stretches along the Rio Grande.

"I don't have an analyst," he said. "I don't have an administrative assistant. I don't have an inspector. One major case can soak up my entire office. And we have major cases all the time."
I liked this part, too:
Last year, 2,455 weapons traces requested by Mexico showed that guns had been purchased in the United States, according to the ATF. Texas, Arizona and California accounted for 1,805 of those traced weapons.

No one is sure how many U.S.-purchased guns have made their way into Mexico, but U.S. authorities estimate the number in the thousands.
That's not exactly the most insightful estimate from U.S. authorities. Since 2,455 guns found in Mexico had American roots, how could the number not be in the thousands?

More Ripples

The fallout from the Martí case continues: Marcelo Ebrard made his own structural change to Mexico City's security forces: the long disrespected Judicial Police will disappear, replaced by the Investigatory Police, which will focus primarily on kidnappings. He also announced the creation of a $10 million fund from which rewards will be paid to citizens who serve up information about kidnappers.

The speed at which Mexico's leaders are responding to this crisis is impressive, but it makes you wonder how much it has all been thought through, if politicians are more worried about being seen to respond than actually responding. For instance: is the Investigatory Police going to amount to more than a change in name for the Judicial Police? Is Calderón's proposal of life sentences for kidnappers going to be accompanied by any rise in the conviction rate? Is the federal anti-kidnapping division, which seems to have been thrown together at breakneck speed, the result of careful planning and adequate training? I think it's great that there's this groundswell of outrage against criminals and even better that the government at all levels seems to be responding, but it remains to be seen if all this will lead to an improvement in security.

Morales Survives

A postmortem on the Bolivia referendum, which allowed both President Evo Morales as well as many staunch adversaries in state governments to stay in power.

Kidnapping Reaction

Mexico's frustration over rampant kidnapping is boiling over in the wake of the abduction and murder of Fernando Martí. Excelsior ran a long story today about businessmen fleeing the country because of fears of abduction. Grupo Imagen has an online poll that show that 80 percent of respondents would leave Mexico if they could because of personal security fears. The Federal Preventative Police created a kidnapping unit the starts operating today, with 300 officers to be deployed to the areas suffering the highest rate of abductions. Congressional groups from all three major parties are analyzing possible legislative changes that could make the nation more secure. Citizens groups are planning a march on August 30th in Guadalajara, Monterrey, and Mexico City, where collectively about a third of the nation resides. This kind of society-wide unanimity and sense of purpose is pretty rare. One can only hope that something concretely postive comes of it.

I Have Opinions

And you can read them here, specifically those that relate to rising drug use in Mexico.

Sunday, August 10, 2008


The leftist current of the leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution --essentially Andrés Manuel López Obrador and his followers-- says that if the energy reform is passed in September, it will engage in protests like the taking of the congressional building. This despite (or perhaps because of) the participation of PRD boss Guadalupe Acosta in reform negotiations last week. Taking over the building would be a merely symbolic gesture, since the body can meet elsewhere and has plans to do so. However, it's hard to see how the PRD could hold together in such an event. If such protests amount to much more than a symbolic moment, the leftist wing of the PRD could bring about the party's disintegration next month.  

Bolivians Vote

A report from Bolivia, which, amid governors' hunger strikes and street protests, votes today on a series of measures to strengthen (or not) the nation's democratic structure. 

Testing Teachers

Tomorrow, Mexicans aspiring to teach the children must demonstrate their competency in an exam, an unprecedented demand upon Mexican educators. In some states, the number of public school openings is far outnumbered by the applicants. For example, in Hidalgo, a small state not far from Mexico City, administrators will have their pick of the litter; there are close to 4,000 people competing for 18 spots. Assuming it's a clean process (not a foregone conclusion), the test is a huge step from the status quo, in which teaching spots are usually bought or inherited from family members. 

Lots o' Dealers

Mexican Secretary of Defense Guillermo Galván says that there are 500,000 people involved* with the drug trade in his country: 300,000 involved with the production of drugs, 160,000 more involved in the transport and logistics, and 40,000 who are part of the cartels' operating structure. 

Needless to say, that's a big number. I'm not quite sure what distinguishes the second and the third categories, but I imagine the smaller number reflects the group of hard-core criminals who must be arrested or killed, while the 160,000 that dedicate themselves to logistics are more loosely affiliated. Even supposing that Galván exaggerated the number by a third, that's still a lot of folks in the cartels. 

*Of course, if you extend the meaning of the world "involved"  by a few degrees of separation to people who unwittingly patronize money-laundering businesses, or people who owe their jobs to drug-fueled economic growth, there's probably barely 500,000 who aren't involved in the drug trade. 

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Krauthammer on Energy

For the first time since the presidential race began, I am able to honestly write the following words: Charles Krauthammer wrote a fantastic piece on Friday. Indeed, it may even be The Perfect Column. 

Every reasonable assessment of energy independence says that a) it's a long way off, and b) it's going to require a breadbasket of different measures, such as massive increases in wind and solar power, coal gasification, and, for the time being, increased domestic production of oil. 

Recognizing this, Krauthammer writes: 
Barack Obama remains opposed to new offshore drilling (although he now says he would accept a highly restricted version as part of a comprehensive package). Just last week, he claimed that if only Americans would inflate their tires properly and get regular tuneups, "we could save all the oil that they're talking about getting off drilling."

This is bizarre...


Do everything. Wind and solar. A tire gauge in every mailbox. Hell, a team of oxen for every family (to pull their gasoline-drained SUVs). The consensus in the country, logically unassailable and politically unbeatable, is to do everything possible to both increase supply and reduce demand, because we have a problem that's been killing our economy and threatening our national security. And no one measure is sufficient.
He even takes some inspiration from an unexpected source: 
Let's start a national campaign, Cuban-style, with giant venceremos posters lining the highways. ("Inflate your tires. Victory or death!") Why must there be a choice between encouraging conservation and increasing supply? The logical answer is obvious: Do both.

Vols versus Republicans

Tennessee opens its 2008 campaign on September 1 against UCLA. That happens to be the night that George W. Bush and Dick Cheney are speaking at the Republican National Convention. Presumably, the more people watching the speeches of those two major political figures/bogeymen, the worse for the GOP. Jason Zengerle says that by occupying viewers, the above-mentioned game could have an outsized impact on the election in November: 
You think Steve Schmidt et al are hoping the Tennessee-UCLA game on September 1 is a barn burner?
Sorry boys, East Tennessee may be the most conservative place on the planet, but we can't help you out here. This one is going to be over in the second quarter. The Vols march into LA and take the Bruins' heart; utter domination from kickoff to final whistle. Bush and Cheney play to an entirely undistracted, attentive TV audience. Go Vols!

Ramírez Nervous

Rogelio Ramírez de la O looks into his crystal ball, and finds himself disturbed. With inflation on the rise, he thinks the United States should be raising interest rates more aggressively. Instead, the Fed is hoping that a weaker economic climate will drive down the price of oil and other basic staples, thus keeping a lid on inflation. At the same time, the cheap money will hopefully prevent a prolonged recession. 

That's a pretty fine line to walk, says the author. Ramírez de la O argues that if the strategy doesn't work, the consequences could be a recession much more severe than that of 1990 or 2001. For the first time that I can remember, he raises the specter of stagflation in Mexico. Despite Mexico's relative economic resilience, he writes that the success or failure of the US strategy will determine Mexico's fate: 
Mexico's economic destiny will continue to be inextricably linked to that of the United States. Even if the United States escapes from inflation and recession, its recovery will be slow and Mexican growth will be very limited. If in this scenario the government takes care of qualitative issues, for example, security, spending austerity, quality of education, and honesty, it will advance a great deal. If it can't even achieve visible progress in these fields, it will dangerously magnify the effects of the lack of growth. We'll see the results shortly.

Friday, August 8, 2008

AIDS Conference

As the Olympics kicked off, the International AIDS Conference in Mexico City, which brought Bill Clinton and Ban Ki-moon into town, wrapped up today. Here is the's coverage of the event. 

Olympic Mistakes

About the Olympics: I can imagine nothing more boring than sitting through hour upon hour upon hour of the opening ceremony. Do Lebron James and all the other athletes have to be there the whole time, sitting on their hands? Do they stop selling alcohol to the fans at some point in the event, like after the seventh inning at Wrigley? I shudder. 

About the soccer tournament, I was glad Lionel Messi got the green light to play from Barcelona, even more so after watching his brilliant performance against the Ivory Coast. Given Messi's importance to the squad, and having witnessed the Ronaldo melodrama this summer, why would Barca risk having the only other Ronaldo-level talent in the world unhappy? Makes no sense to me. 

Also, why are five teams in the tournament from East Asia or Oceania (China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand), which is hardly a soccer hotbed? At the same time, there are only two South American clubs and three African teams. That's even sillier than pissing off Lionel Messi. 

Thursday, August 7, 2008


The leaders of the PAN, PRI, and PRD agreed to pass a Pemex reform during the September legislative session. The presence of the PRD would seem to rule out a protest (such as retaking the congressional building) from the party's militants after the reform is passed. Or, it might precipitate the disintegration of the party of the Aztec sun. Who knows what AMLO has planned.

Crime in Latin America, Crime in Mexico

Kevin Casas Zamora, the former vice president of Costa Rica, writes that the mano dura is not controlling crime in Latin America. 

Felipe Calderón, who missed that column, is calling for a life sentence in some cases of kidnapping. Kidnappers who are police or ex-police, who abduct children, or who torture or murder the victim will face life in prison if a piece of legislation that Calderón is sending to Congress today is passed. Mexican society's frustration with kidnappers seems to have boiled over with the murder of 14-year-old Fernando Martí, whose killers certainly deserve a harsher penalty than a liberal society has to offer, but if the goal is reduce the number of abductions, this isn't the proper approach. Impunity is the problem, not the severity of sentences. If kidnappers knew that they had a 98 percent chance of getting caught and spending eight years in prison, there probably wouldn't be a whole lot of them. However, if they had just a 2 percent chance of spending the rest of their lives in prison, but the rest got off scot free, that's not much of a deterrent. 

Prosecuting Kidnappers

Stats from Excelsior: from start to finish, the prosecution of a kidnapper can last up to four years. Despite being, according to some sources, the country most plagued by kidnapping, Mexico only convicts 9.6 people a year with offenses related to the crime. One thousand minors are presently missing. 


Now that's plagiarism. Unreal.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Reaction to an Execution

The AP's Mark Stevenson writes about the subdued reaction in Mexico to the execution of José Medellín, attributing it to Mexicans being fed up with violent crime. 

That fits pretty well with what I've seen. I've been reluctant to bring the matter up with people around here, since I generally don't go out of my way to set the US up as a punching bag, but the only conversation I've had on the matter was not what I expected: 
Mexican: What did he do?

Me: He led a group that raped and killed two teenage girls. 

Mexican: And he's dead now?

Me: Yes. 

Mexican (with finality): Good.

Obama Counterpunch

I agree with Joe Klein's response (and Jason Zengerle's) to Obama's line about Republicans taking pride in being ignorant: 
It seems to me that this gleeful counterpunch thrown by Barack Obama shows exactly the sort of facility that Al Gore and John Kerry lacked as candidates....and it gets right to the heart of the teenaged, testosterone-addled irresponsibility of the McCain campaign.
I acknowledge that the presidential campaign is not the same as the West Potomac High School lunchroom, but for every election I can remember Republicans have won when they painted the other guy as a dweeb (Gore, Kerry, Dukakis), and lost when they couldn't (Clinton). In the clip, Obama comes across as superior, but all politicians do, albeit in very different ways. What Obama isn't is nerdy, and that's an important difference.

Economic Disruption

The rote complaint about Mexican cartels' financial networks never being disturbed is often contradicted by reality. Here is more evidence: 14 businesses were fingered for laundering drug money connected with the Sinaloa Cartel. 

More Bolaño

Triple Canopy has a translated speech from Roberto Bolaño on its website, which is really cool if you have a Mac, but kind of a pain if you don't. 

Cabinet Changes

More changes among cabinet heavyweights: Felipe Calderón sent Secretary of the Economy Eduardo Sojo to INEGI, the agency charged with demographic analysis. INEGI is a respected body, so this isn't quite the step down it may seem, but I'm guessing there aren't a whole lot of smiles in the Sojo household today. Gerardo Ruiz Mateos, a businessman said to be close to Calderón, is the new Economy boss. In response to the changes, Macario Schettino strikes a note of slight concern. 

Calderón has a long way to go before he approaches the haphazard turnover that we saw in the Fox cabinet, and presumably he wants to get pending changes out of the way before the mid-term campaign begins in earnest, but one has to wonder how many more cabinet adjustments are in the offing. For the sake of appearances, the fewer the better. 

Update: Salvador García Soto sees the move as a promotion for Sojo, as well as a step further in the "Guanajuatizing" of the PAN. I'll take his word for it. 

Bolivia Boils

I just read Javier Santiso's book The Latin American Political Economy of the Possible, which examines how the most successful countries in the region have adopted a pragmatist economic approach that uses the best practices of the left (greater social spending) and the right (fiscal and monetary discipline). Brazil, Chile, and Mexico have enjoyed unprecedented spells of economic stability because they've stopped searching for an instant fix in strict neoliberal orthodoxy or Marxist statism.

Bolivia, as today's Washington Post article demonstrates, hasn't gotten there just yet. With a vital referendum on President Evo Morales and his governors looming on Sunday, the country is torn between Morales' socialist approach and the Santa Cruz-based elites demanding more autonomy. To be fair, Morales' economic team hasn't been terribly irresponsible, and the opposition to him owes a lot to the old ruling elites' racism and the loss of their privileges, but whatever the reason, the pragmatic consensus remains elusive in Bolivia.

For more info on Bolivia, check out any one of these detailed Crisis Group reports.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008


Richard Cohen has a column today complaining about the decline of books, the latest in a string of pieces that seem like caricatures of Grandpa Simpson. 


Next Monday, Mexico will apply a test in order to fill 7,000 teaching positions at public schools around the nation. The prevailing custom is to sell positions or pass them to a friend or family member. While such practices will most likely remain quite common, this is a step in the right direction. A pure teaching meritocracy would eat into the influence of the super-powerful union boss Elba Esther Gordillo, so the process will only move in fits and starts. In a long interview with Excelsior, Secretary of Public Education Josefina Vázquez Mota said that she trusted Gordillo, after which she was presumably not given a polygraph test, because none was necessary. 

Another interesting nugget: 
Q: Are you familiar with the test [to be taken on Monday]?
A: No I'm not.
Q: Shouldn't the secretary of education be familiar with the test?
A: I prefer not to; otherwise, one gets suspicious. It's better like this, because it's a great responsibility. A letter was made up from Transparency Mexico, and they have agreed to accompany us in the process of confidentiality.
Such is Mexico's all-encompassing distrust of officials that the Secretary of Education doesn't feel comfortable even glancing over one of her greatest accomplishments in office. Nice. 


Excelsior turned its popularity meter, which measures both voter recognition as well as public opinion of different figures, toward the PRI yesterday. Of the three most likely PRI presidential candidates, Beatriz Paredes scored 82 on voter recognition and Enrique Peña Nieto tallied 80, while Manlio Fabio Beltrones scored only 40. Part of the discrepancy is owed to the fact that the first two have long track records in Mexico City, and Beltrones is from more remote Sonora, but the latter lags on the confidence scores as well. Fifty-five percent of respondents have a good or very good opinion of Paredes, 69 percent feel the same about Peña, but only 33 percent offered such an endorsement of Beltrones. 

Kidnapping and Stuff

According to some outlets, Mexico now occupies the top spot internationally in kidnapping. Mexican society marked this dubious achievement with collective indignation toward the kidnapping of Fernando Martí, a 14-year-old Mexico City boy who was kidnapped in July and found dead on Friday despite his family having paid the ransom. The group behind it was a kidnapping syndicate called The Flower, which included active members of the capital city police. Three people are in custody for the crime so far. 

In a poll about kidnapping today on Imagen Radio, 92 percent of respondents say that kidnappers should receive the death penalty. 92 percent! Imagen has a slightly more conservative audience than the society in general, but that level of outrage, in a country that has never applied the death penalty for any crime in the modern era, is staggering. 

And the position at the head of the organized crime division at Mexico's Justice Department has been filled by Marisela Morales, who says that her priority will be stamping out kidnapping. 

Monday, August 4, 2008


Recent polling makes a mockery of Jorge Zepeda Patteron's claim that the PAN is staring into an electoral abyss: the panistas are tied for with the priístas in voter preference at 40 percent (excluding the quarter of respondents who expressed no preference). The PRD, whose decline in voter confidence has been well documented, mustered 17 percent.

Davidow on Executions

Jeffrew Davidow, the former American ambassador to Mexico and the author of a great memoir about his service there, writes about the pending executions of 51 Mexican nationals in the United States who were denied consular access during the course of the judicial proceedings.

More on Ousted Officials

El Universal is reporting that the recent reorganization in the highest levels of Mexico's law enforcement bureaucracy is the result of American conditions under the Mérida Initiative.
The agreements included [in the Mérida Initiative], he said, will permit the elimination of officials connected to corruption and the possible protection of the cartels, but they will also establish new areas of responsibility and the need to make the actions of each judicial department more transparent...

"We know that their exist officials in the Mexican government who have been threatened by drug traffickers, but we also know of complaints about performance, which is why the restructuring will allow the improvement of civilian judicial institutions," detailed another State Department official consulted on the matter.
So were those removed from their positions allegedly corrupt or inefficient? It remains unclear.

Zepeda on Fox's Return

Jorge Zepeda Patterson sees Calderón's cozying up to Vicente Fox as an act of desperation, a tacit acknowledgment that his branch of the PAN can't get it done electorally.
Nothing better exhibits the political difficulties through which Felipe Calderón is passing than his decision to throw his arms around Vicente Fox and the group [of panistas] from Guanajuato.


It's a decision that must have cost President Calderón sleep, and forced him to swallow a healthy dosage of his pride. And it shows that the PAN is entering the zone of desperation.

One poll after another reveals that the PAN will be erased by the PRI in the mid-term Congressional elections in 2009, which will further reduce the margins of operation in Los Pinos. The problem for the PAN is that in 2009 every one of the 300 districts goes to the polls, and in such terrain the PRI could presumably win 200 of them (let's not forget that it still governs 60 percent of the federal entities [i.e., local governments]).


The SOS call to Fox is a strategy to gain time. The panismo of Calderón lacks the charisma or the leadership to successfully deal with the bad times that are gathering around it.
Zepeda overstates the PAN's weakness. As far as the 2009 mid-terms go, the PRI has put itself in a great position to make gains, but it's way, way too early to start calling Calderón a lame duck. I've seen no polling that makes a PRI wipeout seem likely, and tellingly Zepeda offers no specifics. The PAN remains the strongest party in Congress, and the president remains a very popular figure. One of its biggest competitors, the PRD, has all but fallen apart, and barely gets off the ground in voter identification polls these days. The PRI might, might be able to take over as the largest congressional bloc, but it'll almost certainly fall short of an absolutely majority. In such a situation, I don't see the PRI going back to a strategy of constant obstruction, as it did while Fox was in power. Instead, I think it'll continue with the constructive approach that has served it so well over the past two years (though the bargains the PRI drives will likely be harder). As far as the outlook for the presidency in 2012, there's no question that the PAN's potential candidates look weak right now, but a lot can happen in four years. Calderón was unheard of in 2002.

It's also odd to see Fox hailed as some paragon of electoral leadership. Th 2003 mid-terms were an unmitigated disaster for the PAN. As a popular president, he couldn't even shepherd his own man through the PAN primaries before the 2006 elections. And Calderón, while not endowed with the same sort of cowboy charisma that Fox deployed in 2000 (and then discredited through six years of clownish ineffectiveness), is a dogged campaigner. Just ask Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Santiago Vasconcelos Out

The reorganization of Mexico's version of the Justice Department continues: the deputy official in charge of international affairs, José Luis Santiago Vasconcelos, has resigned. Santiago Vasconcelos is said to enjoy a tremendous reputation in American circles, as well as a not-so-friendly rivalry with federal police boss Genaro García Luna, so I'm not sure if this will wind up being a bump up or push out. The article, which mentions the admiration with which he is held in Washington, seems to suggest the former. I'll be interested to see what the Mexican security experts make of all this. In any event, no one can accuse Calderón of sitting on his hands. 

Let's Have Another Look

Mexican Secretary of the Economy Eduardo Sojo declared his country's willingness to reexamine Nafta after the presidential election this fall. He said the aim of such talks should be an "upgrade," which makes you wonder how Mexico's goals would square with those of an Obama presidency. 

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Latin America: Not Abstaining

Latin American governments --including Mexico's, which is led by a broadly conservative party with intensely religious factions-- have agreed to phase out the teaching of abstinence in sex education, directly opposing the Catholic Church. This also places Latin America to the cultural left of the United States, at least the version of it led by W. 

Brooks on the League

From David Brooks' insightful column yesterday about the decline in executive authority compared with decades past.
The answer is that, in the late 1940s, global power was concentrated. The victory over fascism meant the mantle of global leadership rested firmly on the Atlantic alliance. The United States accounted for roughly half of world economic output. Within the U.S., power was wielded by a small, bipartisan, permanent governing class — men like Acheson, W. Averell Harriman, John McCloy and Robert Lovett.

Today power is dispersed. There is no permanent bipartisan governing class in Washington. Globally, power has gone multipolar, with the rise of China, India, Brazil and the rest.
As a result, none of today's problems can easily be solved by one or even a handful of strong-willed leaders, which frustrates voters accustomed to more able executives. Brooks lists the many industrial-country leaders whose approval ratings are in the toilet, not just Bush but Gordon Brown, Yasuo Fukuda, Nicolas Sarkozy, Angela Merkel, and Silvio Berlusconi.

All that seems right on. His solution, however, does not: the League of Democracies proposed by (among others) John McCain, effectively a China-less and Russia-less end run around the UN Security Council. The logic for such a plan is contradicted by Brooks' analysis in the column's first 600 words. As he notes, the world is multi-polar, and today's problems are such that everyone needs to be on board to solve them. We can't simply pretend that China and Russia don't have the power that they do. What use is a League of Democracies on nuclear proliferation if Russia can't be involved? How can you solve global warming or establish a more comprehensive international trade regime if China doesn't have a voice?

Nor am I convinced that a League of Democracies would make solving problems like Darfur and Iran a lot easier. Countries threatened by the West would rush to take cover under the Chinese/Russian umbrella (which the two powers, thumbed in the eye by the mere creation of the League, would be even more ready to provide than today), and we would probably find ourselves risking more Cold War-type escalations. As such, a League would inevitably lead to more antagonistic relations with between the US-led West and both nations mentioned above, which undoes a truly the historic achievement of the last 20 years: the absence of great-power animosity.