Sunday, November 30, 2008

PRI on the Rise

Marco Rascón argues that the coming rise of the PRI is nothing of the sort, but rather a descent of the PAN and the PRD. I think there's a lot of truth to that, and (as Rascón suggests) there's a good chance that after a series of wins in 2009, Mexicans will be reminded why they weren't that crazy about PRI governments.

He also mentions what seems to me to be a hair-brained scheme from the PRI:
From the PRI's standpoint, it is seeking to become without allies the primary force in the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies and from their drive the cabinet reform so that the secretary of the interior, as with a prime minister, is named by the Congress, which would mean an advance in the PRI's takeover of the executive branch, taking without a doubt Manlio Fabio Beltrones to Interior.
The chances of this happening don't seem too great (it is a blatantly horrible, horrible idea), but what is all this mania about changing structures? Every week someone is proposing fairly significant changes to the government, as if the all that makes Mexico hard to run is ill-planned agencies. Any government's institutions are imperfect, and perhaps Mexico's more than most, but I always find myself asking why people jump to replacement without taking a longer look at improvement. This scheme is a most egregious (and self-interested) example of "changeism" that I've seen in Mexico, in Rascón's telling nothing less than a smoke-and-mirrors change from a presidential to a parliamentary system (and a naked grab for power). Whatever the case, there's something to be said for not looking for a magic bullet with structural changes (and all the inevitable surprises that come along with major modifications), but rather making the existing bodies work as best as they can. How about it Mexico?

Also, in case it is unclear from the rest of the post, I think this is just a plainly awful idea from the priístas, both in its essence and its proposed implementation. May they suffer nightmares as punishment for their devious schemes.


Anne Applebaum's analysis of the attacks in India is Smart (with a capital S):
Too often over the past seven years, it has been easy to forget this initial analysis [about Al Qaeda being less of a single operation than a global movement spawning that farms training and inspiration out to local imitators]. After all, most of our major military efforts since 2001 have, at least early on, involved rather more concrete enemies, whom we have fought in specific places, using traditional means. The initial assault on Afghanistan was, in fact, a proxy war, not a postmodern, post-globalization game of tricks and mirrors. The same was true in Iraq: We overthrew a dictator, toppled his statues and set up an occupation regime.

Only later, in both places, did we find ourselves contending with groups invariably described as "shadowy," with enemies who melted in and out of the civilian population, with terrorist cells that might be connected to al-Qaeda, to Pakistan, to Iran -- or might not be. It took some time before we understood that our opponents in Iraq were not merely disgruntled Baathists but in fact encompassed a range of both Sunni and Shiite groups with different agendas.

Only now, for that matter, do we comprehend the degree to which the very word "Taliban" is misleading: Though the term implies a definite group with clear goals, American commanders in Afghanistan understand very well that what they call the "Taliban" is an amalgamation of insurgents, some of whom fight for tribal interests, others for money and only some for a clear-cut ideological cause.

Perhaps the Mumbai gunmen will, like some of those in the Afghan Taliban, also turn out to be members of a homegrown, locally based, ad hoc organization with its own eccentric goals and training methods. Or perhaps they will turn out to belong to a definite group with a clear ideology, which would, of course, be easier all around. Surely the point, though, is that we should be well-prepared to deal with either -- and wary of mistaking one for the other.

More on Lane

My brother Matt defends Lane Kiffin's hiring: 
I don't really see him as an NFL guy, though, more of a young bad-ass from USC. He must have learned something from the NFL experience, despite Davis, but more than anything I like that he's got experience with a winning college program and has the offensive side of the football down. He'll be able to recruit in SoCal and if we can keep Chavis, you can see us getting back on the right track pretty quickly.

As far as the rest of it - the leadership, dealing with alumni, the press and running a major program - it'll fall into place. Just win, baby. Anyone with the right personality and a little charisma can take care of the rest. It may be something of a gamble, but it's got a big upside.
I guess Chavis won't be sticking around, but Manning agrees with Matt on the hiring. Taken together, their word is gospel on this frontier. I feel slightly better now.

I wonder how many third-rate Knoxville paraphernalia shops are planning some cheesy "Life in the Fast Lane" tee shirts right now. I'm guessing one or two. 

Insight into the Changes

Jorge Fernández Meléndez makes sense of the musical chairs in the federal government, saying the entrance of Francisco Gómez Mont as the secretary of the interior and Luis Felipe Bravo Mena as the president's personal secretary shows two things: first, the tight-knit group of panistas that Calderón brought with him to Los Pinos no longer exists, especially following the death of Juan Camilo Mouriño; second, he's replacing that group with heavyweights (like Mont and Bravo Mena) who dominated the party during the 1990s (a very successful decade for the PAN) but were later sidelined by the (less successful) foxista wing of the party. 

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Huge Surprise

The 100-day deadline for the implementation of security reforms and subsequent improvement in the lives of Mexicans (sorry for the wordiness of that prepositional phrase, but it's only a reflection of the lack of direction behind the deadline itself) has now expired, and wouldn't you know it, 92 percent of Mexicans say life isn't any better. Shocking. I don't want to question the good faith of anyone who was pushing the countdown, but was any other result possible?

Felipe Calderón offered a report indicating a light drop in the number of kidnappings (which is a dubious figure, because so many kidnappings are never reported to the authorities) in the past 100 days, as well as the arrest of 272 kidnappers and the takedown of 52 kidnapping syndicates. 

A Reminder of Why We Like Obama

Actually, two of them, one from David Broder (down a bit in his column), and another from John Dickerson: He actually listens to the questions in his press conferences, and actually considers their content before offering a thoughtful answer. A lot of the criticisms against Bush were to a certain degree convenient canards for his opponents, but his empty repetition of talking points, insofar as it reflected his unwillingness to critically examine his own positions, was among his worst flaws. 

Here's Broder:
He has not been tested that rigorously in the news conferences he has held so far, but his ability to respond to the questions he has been asked, to make his points in a coherent, balanced way and to avoid any misstatement has certainly been a treat to watch.
And Dickerson:
Perhaps it's the former professor coming out, but unlike other candidates and presidents, who recite talking points or ramble on to other topics, Obama seems to really listen. A local reporter referred to Obama's "friends" in local government in what sounded like a throwaway line to set up his question about budget pressure on states and cities. After a long answer on the main point, Obama circled back and noted that the reporter had mentioned his "friends." "I want to be clear," he said. "Friendship doesn't come into this. That's part of the old way of doing business."
It is worth remembering that neither of these guys was a blind worshipper of Obama's, especially Dickerson; he had his number more than anyone in the liberal media throughout the primary and general campaign. 

Friday, November 28, 2008

Andean Cartels

Another indicator of the global scope of Mexico's drug cartels: Alan García has just asked for help from Mexican government in combating the Mexican groups operating in Peru. In the last few weeks, Argentina has been the hotspot for Mexican drug runners abroad. The US and Italy are also paying close attention. African governments, too. The Tri-Border Region also has a cartel presence. Next plaza for the Mexicans: Mongolia. After that: Mars?

Boxing News and Picks

Paul Williams has had a one-round blowout in each of his last two fights, once in a rematch against Carlos Quintana to reclaim the welterweight title, another time against at 160 against a much less tested foe. So what will Williams look like against Verno Phillips at 154? Phillips was long in the tooth the first time I saw him on HBO, which was four and a half years ago against Carlos Bojorquez. Phillips is a smooth fighter with a bit of pop, but he's lost 10 times in 54 fights (though only once by knockout, in his fifth fight, in 1988), so invincible he ain't. He's now 38, and although he's carried his skills and chin with him into middle age, the only way he wins is if Williams comes in totally out of shape and unfocused. He's already done that once in his career (the first loss to Quintana), but I don't think it happens here: Williams by late stoppage. 

I see Jorge Arce and Vic Darchinyan are going to go at it in February. Arce has to hurt Darchinyan often to keep him on defense, or he's going to get broken down and knocked out. Right now I'm leaning toward a mid-round stoppage for Darchinyan in a great scrap. 

And lastly, this article about Mike Tyson's Punch Out was a thoroughly enjoyable trip down memory lane. 

New Coach

The Knoxville News-Sentinal is reporting that Lane Kiffin is to be named Phil Fulmer's replacement. My thoughts were summarized as concisely as possible in the following (slightly edited) email to my brother, who also went to Tennessee:
I dont like that at all, man they should have gotten a guy with some head-coaching experience in college (ie Mike Leach), not some NFL washout. Gosh darn it, my turkey's coming back up. Great picture in the article, the guy's working a Fat Albert double chin...
I don't view his time at the Raiders as a resume-builder. As Bill Callahan proves, spending time working under Al Davis, while it may make you more capable of withstanding psychological torture or of providing insight into a Kafka novel, doesn't help you win games at the college level. Take that away, and you have a 33-year-old guy who's had one year as a coordinator at a major school. We're supposed to believe he is ready to build Tennessee back into a powerhouse? Maybe he is the guy, but I'm not all convinced.

Protecting and Serving, Poorly

In a question-and-answer session before Congress yesterday, Felipe Calderón affirmed that more than half of the federal, state, and local police were "not recommendable," whether for corruption, criminal antecedents, lack of training, or other disqualifiers. Interestingly, Zacatecas (71 percent) and San Luis Potosí (65 percent), neither of which has a tremendous drug violence problem, were first and third, respectively, on the list of states with highest rate of unqualified cops. According to the president, Coahuila is second, with 69 percent failing to make the grade, which brought a swift refutation from the chief of the State Police.

Fox's Problems

This goes into the Funny But Really Not category: The online magazine Reporte Indigo somehow got a hold of the Catholic Church's report on the annulment of Vicente Fox's first marriage in 2007. The report's author declared that Fox has "serious personality disorders" that would prevent Fox from remarrying in the Church (he has remarried, to the famous Marta Sahagún, but I guess it was a civil ceremony).

A few comments: Fox is, by virtue of his career and the way he approaches it, the most public of officials, but, wow, publicizing that report is digging pretty deep into his private life. Of course, with this post I further its dissemination (albeit much less than its publication in the nation's most widely read newspaper), so maybe I should get over myself.

His behavior in and out of office certainly supports the idea that he is a megalomaniacal narcissist, much more so than, say, Ernesto Zedillo or Miguel de la Madrid or Felipe Calderón (though probably no more so than Carlos Salinas). Maybe Mexico (and other nations) should apply one of those personality tests to prospective presidents like the NFL does to rookies, just so we can stow the information away for later.

If they were all to be examined, what would be the percentage of world leaders with serious personality disorders? I'm guessing more than half.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Don't Worry Family, I Am Eating Well Today

Thanksgiving a la mexicana: fresh French bread roll, four slices of ham (it's turkey-based today, of course), beans, tomatoes, mustard, homemade tomato salsa, piquín chile sauce, all oven roasted and served hot with a cold can of Coke. Very nice. 

Adios to the Army

Mexico tells the UN that the army is on its way out as a cartel-fighting force, pending a minimum level of security and police profiency. Of course, Calderón's been making noise about that for a while.

Changes at the Top

The president's personal secretary César Nava is leaving Los Pinos, moving instead to the PAN headquarters to focus on strategy for the 2009 mid-term elections and to seek a post in the Chamber of Deputies. He will be replaced by Mexico's ambassador to the Vatican, Luis Felipe Bravo Mena.

It occurred to me as I glanced at the photos of the press conference with Nava and Germán Martínez that the calderonistas are kind of a nerdy-looking bunch, especially without the late Juan Camilo Mouriño. I still like that wing's eggheadedness much better than Fox's clownishness or the yunquistas' ultra-right positions, but that could matter from an electoral standpoint. Not to overdo the superficiality, but Calderón snuck to victory as a responsible technocrat largely because his opponents in 2006 were (fairly) characterized as a lying cheater and a populist firebrand, but in 2012, the faces of the PRD and PRI are likely to be appealing moderates who are married to/dating soap opera actresses.

Good Idea, 'bout Time

Attacks on journalists in retaliation for their work are set to become a federal crime in Mexico. I'm skeptical as to how great a deterrent that will be, but at least it shows there taking it seriously. This was always a favorite proposal of the late Jesús Blancornelas.

Happy Thanksgiving!

That is all.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Ticking Clock

As the unwieldy 100 Days to Improved Security ticks away (and the concept itself is much more awkward that the silly title I just slapped on it), Mexicans aren't seeing changes. According to a poll on the cover of El Universal today, 60 percent perceive any improvement in the government's efforts to combat security.

Alejandro Martí, whose son Fernando's murder sparked the push for the security deadline, is laudably not obsessed with the countdown's dwindling days, but rather the decades to come. His just announced group, SOS, is focused on fostering a more enduring change, on creating a society that responds to crime not with cynicism but with optimism about combating it. The following comes from an Excelsior report on Martí:
"The idea is that citizens and our companions in pain come aboard this movement. We want them to subscribe and contribute their information. The idea is that the people should make a commitment to do away with corruption, to not be a part of the problem.

"The idea is to encourage the citizenry denounces [criminal activity]. If the government phones don't work, we have these phones with which we'll encourage them to attend to us."
That makes lots of sense. Ever since his son's death thrust him into the national spotlight, Martí has been perhaps the most lucid, common-sensical (which should be a word) commentator in the country. I hope he continues to play a constructive role for years to come.

Back in Business

I'm delighted to see that Antonio Margarito-Shane Mosley is back on, January 24th in Las Vegas. It's always nice to start the year with a barnburner.

Nation of Lies

This post shares its title with the newest book by Sara Sefchovich, a researcher at Mexico's flagship public university, UNAM. In her column summarizing the book, she says:
In [the book] I submit that Mexico is entering the 21st century walking hand in hand with lies and dissimulation, which have been loyal partners throughout our history, but now they have become the only form of government.

They have told us that we have a solid economy, that we live in a democracy and we have advanced in the fight for objectives which the international community considers correct, such as social justice and respect for human rights, the environment, and diversity (religious, sexual, ethnic, ideological, cultural). But none of that is true. Our democracy is purely electoral and hasn't passed the tests of agreements and negotiation, there's no citizen participation and bandied-about transparency and accountability are non-existent. The economy, which according to the government discourse would place us among the biggest on the planet, doesn't pass the test of competitiveness and Nafta hasn't turned into the motor of development that they told us it would be, half the population lives in poverty as was the case half, one, two centuries ago, racism toward the Indians is brutal, justice hasn't been informed that its name must be honored, scholastic education is a disaster, and even in the sacrosanct family violence reigns. Now we don't even know if we're a nation and if we have an identity, something that a short time ago wasn't in doubt.
That is a remarkably pessimistic take on Mexico. Not to understate the problems of today, but compared to where Mexico was 15 or 20 years ago, there's a lot more cause for celebration. Twice in the 1980s and once more in the 1990s, devaluations wrecked the economy. Now, the country's financial and monetary positions are strong enough that, despite the present crisis, its foreign reserves have withstood the wild see-sawing of the peso, Mexico's banks are in no danger of insolvency, and the nation is a model for recovery and sensible financial regulation.

Two decades ago, a blatant electoral fraud robbed Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas of the presidency, and murder was a not-uncommon tool for silencing political enemies. Today, despite Sefchovich's complaints about the lack of depth to Mexico's democratization, a 1988-style fraud is unimaginable, and suspected political murders are rare. (Despite his many political enemies, no one even mentioned political murder as a possible cause of the plane crash that killed Juan Camilo Mouriño.) As far as deception becoming "the only form of government," is today's government really less honest than Salinas' or López Portillo's or Echeverría's or Díaz Ordaz's? An examination of each of episodes contradicting that assertion (just to run off the first examples that come to mind: Pepe Ruiz, Tlatelolco, Raul Salinas) could fill an entire blog by itself for years and years.

With the possible exceptions of violence and racism toward Mexico's indigenous population, every one of the problems Sefchovich lists in her manic tantrum, from deficiencies in education to the economy to the democratic system, was unquestionably worse one decade ago, and even more unquestionably so two decades ago, 50 years ago, a century ago.

Calderón and Fernández

Felipe Calderón recently completed a successful visit to Argentina, one of happy photos with Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and visits to art exhibits and overall good feeling, which offered a sharp contrast to the pained relationship between Vicente Fox and Nestor Kirchner. La Jornada couldn't resist an up-close photo of the two leaders on its cover that makes it look like they just finished making out. The caption, fittingly, includes Fernández's expressions of affection for Calderón's wife.

Slim in the Citi

A few weeks ago it was The New York Times; now, it's Citigroup. It feels like in a couple of years, Carlos Slim will own several million shares of every American institution, from Major League Baseball to Clint Eastwood.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Beinart on Obama's Transition

This makes sense
Despite passing NAFTA and a deficit reduction package, his first two years were a comedy—and tragedy—of errors, marred by the gays in the military fiasco, several aborted cabinet nominations, the health care disaster, and humiliating reversals on Haiti, Bosnia, and China. Part of the reason was that Clinton—wary of being associated with the much-maligned Carter administration—chose relatively few of its veterans. From Defense Secretary Les Aspin, who had never before worked in the Pentagon, to Chief of Staff Mack McLarty, an old Arkansas buddy, to George Stephanopoulos and Dee Dee Myers, both in their teens when Carter left office, Clinton’s staff was plagued by inexperience. Things only got better when Clinton brought in old hands like David Gergen and William Perry, who helped right the ship.

So what Obama is doing is smart—unusually so for a Democrat. Knowing that he is new to Washington himself, he’s surrounding himself with people who aren’t. He’s doing something neither Carter nor Clinton could: taking advantage of the fact that the Democratic presidency before his was a success. And as a result, his first year in office probably won’t be amateur hour, which is a good thing, since we can’t exactly afford that right now.

The liberal blogosphere is worried that all these Clintonites spell timid centrism, but that is probably wrong. Remember, Reagan stocked his administration with people who had worked for Nixon or Ford, and yet he pursued a far more conservative path. Similarly, Obama will likely be more ideologically aggressive than Clinton—even with many of the same appointees—because he is governing in a different time. Clinton, after all, won the presidency by running as a New Democrat, and even then failed to garner 50 percent of the vote in what was still basically Reagan’s America.

Obama and Mexican Leaders: The Latter Look Worse by Comparison

Julio Madrazo puts into print to what a lot of Mexicans have been saying about Obama over the last few months:
Having heard [Obama's victory speech], one would like to know that some Mexico politician was capable of offering a speech like that, and more important still, putting the words into practice. Let's take a look at just some of his sentences.

"We may not get there in one term." When has a Mexican politician dared to accept that the problems of the country are so deep, so severe, that the solution will take a long time? Here we believe that if we don't sell immediate achievements and results we aren't doing our job well. We're not capable of accepting that our country requires us to set the rout, define the path, and work in the same direction for decades. Eradicating poverty will take decades, a quality educational system years, better health services, building the infrastructure that is needed; the transformation of Mexico will take many years. But, aside from that, to get there we must have a clear strategy. [Emphasis mine.]

"I will listen to you, above all when we disagree." In Mexico we disagree more than we listen to each other. When we listen to each other, as was the case with the reform of Pemex, we move forward. Listening to others requires respect, a constructive attitude, and a real will to understand others.

"Change can't happen if we go back to how it was before. I couldn't happen without you, without your new spirit of sacrifice." Who in Mexico has adopted a position like this? Who in Mexico has made a call for a new spirit of sacrifice, a new patriotic spirit? No, on the contrary, here we want things to change doing the same as always, acting as we did before.

What sacrifice are the union leaders who hang on to a labor law that doesn't allow Mexico to be competitive prepared to make? Or those of the SNTE [the teacher's union] so that there is a real change in the quality of education? What sacrifice are businessmen that hide in tax loopholes prepared to make? Who in Mexico has told us that we need to change is to help ourselves and work harder? What changes are the public and private monopolies that strangle the economic growth of the country prepared to make?

"Let's resist the temptation to fall back on the same partisanship, pettiness, and immaturity that has poisoned our politics for so long." How would this phrase be applied to [our] political leaders? Let's hope that they'd take it as a call to attention. Mexico isn't advancing very quickly in its transformation, we're not advancing in our democratization, en our modernization that is urgent, because our leaders are poisoned with partisanship, pettiness, immaturity. But what leader has dared to say this with clarity?

In Mexico, to talk like this, with the truth, is counterproductive. The aforementioned get angry, take offense, and cooperate less. It's an attitude of payback, because they don't accept the criticisms, adopt the wrong attitude, one of blocking, not of changing. "If I changed," they think, "it would benefit my opponent. Never."
The piece's thrust seems basically true, although after several months in office and a few missteps and a couple of moves that look worse in Mexico, I'm sure Obama will seem less that the transcendent politician that every country needs. However, the part in italics gets at an enduring flaw in Mexico's security policy, most evident in the arbitrariness of Excelsior's (and other media's) 100-day countdown for the implementation of Mexico's security pact: a dose of steadfastness and patience is sorely needed. It's easy for me to say, since I haven't been living here for decades as crime has worsened, but the nation's security problems are so entrenched that all you can do in the short term is hammer out a long-term strategy acceptable to all, establish some baseline tactics to help you get there, and then wait. One hundred days is way too short a time-span to evaluate a public policy. 

Dispatch from Juárez

The Washington Post has a depressing story about the difficulties of reporting in Juárez. Passages of note follow: 
Several reporters have fled Juarez. Jorge Luis Aguirre, the owner of a popular Juarez news Web site called La Polaka, told reporters he was threatened by phone while on his way to Rodríguez's funeral. He gathered his family and raced to the United States. A correspondent for the Mexico City-based Reforma newspaper also left the city. A reporter for El Diario crossed the border after being threatened and is seeking political asylum in El Paso after repeated threats.

In Juarez, where a journalist might earn about $200 a week, the newspapers have removed bylines as a security measure. Photographers wear Kevlar vests. Reporters have been ordered by their editors not to arrive at crime scenes before the police, and when they do go, they are told to arrive in groups, along with their competitors. Police routinely tell reporters to stay away entirely from certain crime scenes.

"Right now we have no permanent police reporters," said Alfredo Quijano, editor of El Norte. Because of threats, his two crime reporters have been reassigned to other duties, he said. "We're in a tough spot. We're trapped between the police and the mafia -- and they are making a sandwich of the journalists," he said.

Quijano said he is limiting stories to the facts of a killing -- the who, what, where, when -- and forgoing questions about the why. "We print the basic news. What the government says. So we are not publishing everything we know, which is not good. But we are trying to survive," Quijano said.


Some of the last stories Rodríguez wrote include reports about relatives of a top prosecutor in Chihuahua state, where Juarez is located. Rodríguez tied the relatives to the drug trade. The prosecutor is the same Patricia González who vowed to find Rodríguez's killer.

In the dark world of drugs and corruption in Juarez, speculation about Rodríguez's death is rampant. Some of his fellow journalists wonder why he would have been killed by the drug traffickers, since he had covered them for so long. Why now?

"Perhaps it was not even personal," said Jesús Meza, president of the Association of Journalists in Ciudad Juarez. "Maybe it wasn't anything he wrote. He was a prominent journalist. He was known. So he was killed as a symbol. He was killed to create panic and paranoia. This is a technique of terrorism. They want everyone to be afraid, because that will destabilize the society."


About a year and a half after the last major pact between the Gulf and Sinaloa Cartels was completed, Excelsior is reporting that high-level representatives of the two groups met in a Mexico City restaurant on October 1st. The meeting took place 300 yards from the national headquarters of the Secretariat of Public Security. An impromptu operation arrived too late to capture either Antonio Cárdenas or Ignacio Coronel, or anyone else. Excelsior didn't mention if anything was hammered out, but the last such pact did lead to a temporary drop in violence.

Heavyweight Cabinets

Ana María Salazar from Friday, drawing lessons about Obama's transition: 
Now, as president-elect [Obama] has sought to not only surround himself with advisors with a lot of governmental experience, but also the Cabinet of political heavyweights is coming into view, people tested in "the difficult art of governing," nothing of inexpert rookies who don't know where the controls are, that don't know how to react to the turbulence that they'll surely face.

In Mexico, what has been the case with the selection of some of the cabinet secretaries, which is to say, the pilots that the have the responsibility of implementing projects and public policies that reflect the president's proposals? Many people would say of some of those selected that their principal attribute would be their closeness to the president, which obliges them to use their post to grow and acquire a level of experience that the don't have. When it should be completely the opposite.
I think one way this could work in the security cabinet would be more help from academia. Most American administrations install something of a revolving door between the elite institutions and White House, even the Bushies (Philip Zelikow, Ben Bernanke among others). It seems men and women who've studies the issue for years --Jorge Chabat, Luis Astorga, or Salazar herself-- could have a lot to offer a Mexican president. 

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Fallout That Hasn't Fallen

Despite the ongoing embarrassment generated by Operation Clean-up, the Secretary of Public Security, Genaro García Luna, has remained untouched. Yesterday, Felipe Calderón offered his embattled subordinate a hearty endorsement:
[I]f there were any doubt about his probity or beyond that, any evidence that logically called into doubt that probity, surely he wouldn't be the Secretary of Public Security.
I'm of two minds about this. If it were any other developed country, García Luna's personal honesty wouldn't even factor in (unless of course he was part of George W. Bush's cabinet); the mere fact that he was heading a bureaucracy so plagued by corruption would warrant his swift dismissal. There's a pretty good case for Calderón removing him on that basis. At the same time, honesty is by far the scarcest virtue in the Mexican government. If Calderón trusts García Luna, and if he can't be sure of replacing him with someone equally trustworthy, you could just as easily argue that he should stay put.

Dirty Money

According to Transparency Mexico, about 200 million bribes are paid each year, amounting to about $2.5 billion in payments. That's two mordidas for every man, woman, and child in Mexico.

Russia and Latin America

Via Mexidata, we have Gallup polling showing Latin America's unenthralled opinions towards Russia.

Via The New York Times, we present a long and insightful article about how the financial crisis and falling oil prices has complicated Russia's attempts to improve its position in Latin America.

Good Day for the Venezuelan Opposition

The New York Times report includes this fantastic quote:
“I am tired of Chávez treating the entire country as if it were his military barracks,” said Heriberto González, 65, a carpenter, after he voted in Petare, a sprawling patchwork of slums here.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

NFL Thoughts

Wow, that was a lot of points today.

The Colts are on their second drive, and this offense looks like it's starting to click. If everyone is healthy and the line holds up, they have so many ways to beat you: two good running backs, a great pass-catching tight end, three wideouts who can light it up, and Manning, who's no longer losing five or ten throws a game like he was in the first half of the year. The defense is still shakier than Bruce Seldon before the Tyson fight, but they could walk into the postseason as the AFC favorite. 

As far as Manning goes, it seems like the job he's done on a bum knee is getting way too little attention. I defer to Bill Simmons:
Put it this way: If Tom Brady played every down after two summer knee surgeries, limped around for all of September, kept his injury-depleted team alive with some clutch plays, rounded into shape and improbably positioned his team as a sleeper contender, I'd be covered in body oil and sparkle right now. Peyton Manning has to be the MVP through 11 weeks.
Steve McNair won an MVP while putting up worse numbers than Manning is now a few years ago for the Titans, basically for being banged up, but not too many people are talking about Manning as a candidate. I repeat my question during the famous Heisman Robbery of 1997: Where's the love?

Any team can look bad for a week, but the Titans got pantsed at home by a decent but unexceptional Jets squad, who ran all over them. That's a week after getting jumped on early by the Jaguars, and two weeks after not being able to run at all against the Bears. Basically, every week they look flawed in a new way. They still have to be the betting favorites to get out of the AFC, but the Titans were the least intimidating 10-0 team I've ever seen. 

Matt Cassel looks better every week. He may not look the same without Randy Moss and Wes Welker, but he's accurate, can make lots of throws, and is doing it without a really solid running game. The Scott Mitchell comparisons are unfair. I think he'd be worth a risk for Seattle, Tampa Bay, or any other team without any good long-term options at quarterback. 

Breaking Up, Continued

Following last week's pushing and shoving as the PRD re-accommodates itself under Jesús Ortega's leadership, the party's lower-house moderates (also known as the Chuchos and the New Left) has opted to suspend personal contributions to AMLO's "legitimate" government. They had been contributing between 500 and 2000 dollars on a monthly basis from their legislative salaries. There are 50 Chucho deputies, so this could be a anywhere from $2,500 or $10,000 a month that AMLO won't have to spend.

This is the Mexican political equivalent of after a rough breakup, the salesman saying to his second-year med student ex: "You're on your own, cold turkey, I'm not giving you another cent."


Mexico City subway cars, despite passing more frequently than any subway system I've ever encountered, are usually full of people the way a Coke can is full of soda after being shaken up for five minutes. Not surprisingly, women often complain of being on the receiving end of an unsolicited grab or fondle. But stealth ass-grabbers beware: now, anyone guilty of such an offense can be fined 12,000 pesos or tossed in prison for six months.


My comment on the all-but-impossibility of renegotiating Nafta was confirmed by Felipe Calderón, who (somewhat crabbily) said "I hope that the next government of the United States won't commit that error [of reopening Nafta] because I perceive that there will be enough talent and common sense in the next administration, at least I hope that there will be."

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Bad News for Normal People

Over the course of 2008, Mexicans have deposited around 70 billion pesos in the afore, the ubiquitous retirement vehicle roughly equivalent to the 401k. Roughly 90 percent of those contributions have been devoured by stock losses brought on by the financial crisis, according to Consar, the acronym by which the National Commission for the System of Retirement Savings is known. 


Operación Limpieza continues. Yesterday, the big news was the detention of Noé Ramírez, the chief of Siedo, a major anti-organized crime unit in Mexico. Ramírez had been paid close to half a million dollars by the Beltrán Leyvas. Today, Interpol Mexico is guaranteeing that despite being infiltrated by the same band of traffickers, no vital information landed in the hands of the drug dealers. The head of the Mexico office was arrested (not some low-level intern) was arrested on Tuesday for his links to the Beltrán Leyvas, so that claims seems somewhat dubious. El Universal is also reporting that the Beltrán Leyvas paid $720,000 every month for Siedo's services.

Madison's Legacy

I came across this nugget in an article in The National Interest about the likely legacy of George W. Bush's democracy promotion:
In 1999, a University of Connecticut survey* found that only 23 percent of seniors at America’s top fifty colleges correctly identified James Madison as the “Father of the Constitution,” while 98 percent knew that Snoop Doggy Dogg was a rapper.
I think author Amy Zegart makes too much of American ignorance. Yes, our elite schools' students should know what Madison did, but there’s a perfectly logical explanation for Snoop Dogg’s continued importance compared to Madison’s declining relevance: Mr. Madison famously had no flow. He couldn’t spit it. Calling him the Vanilla Ice of the colonial era would be an insult to the creator of Ice Ice Baby.

A little background here would, I imagine, be helpful. Poetic narration was a little known colonial pastime particularly popular in Madison’s corner of Virginia. In this precursor to freestyle rap, competitors tied together impromptu rhyming verses over the sounds of a lute, harp, or rollmonica. For instance:
“Behind a defecating pony walks Old Schmidt/Careful not to step in it!”
In one notorious episode, Madison, endowed with one of the most eloquent pens of his generation, was routed in front of dozens of spectators by John Frederick Adams, a Portuguese ex-indentured servant originally named Juan Federico Adame. Madison choked on beautifully conceived rhymes like “hope for the intervention of Providence” and “treat you as my serving wench,” as well as “house of ill repute” and “mother’s origins are not in dispute.” Despite performing before a group of rabid Madison partisans, Adame, a thoroughly middling poetic narrator for whom English was likely his third language, couldn’t but win the crowd’s support. Madison recovered from the embarrassment to father the Constitution, but his lack of rhythm has always cost him the attention of the 16-26 crowd.

*If the survey had been conducted in Columbus, would it actually be written, “…a The Ohio State University survey…”, with the double article? If so, how tiring that must be.


Mexico's soccer postseason kicks off today with an eight-team tourney called the liguilla. Chivas didn't qualify despite being just four points off of the league leaders because of an unfortunate division breakdown and some bad bounces in the last two weeks. Coupled with their annihilation against in the Copa Sudamérica, it's a bummer finish to a season that looked like it was going in the right direction a month ago. Oh well, they should be ready for next year.

Santos, which opens up against regular-season points leader San Luis, will have a hard time defending their title without speed demon Christian Benítez, who suffered an injury in the last game of the season. To compensate for the loss, the team brought Cuauhtémoc Blanco on loan from the Chicago Fire. Futbolísticamente (that adverb doesn't exist in English, but it should, there's no other way to cut right to the grain in the Beautiful Game), I’d guess Blanco will play the offensive, distributor midfield spot Daniel Ludueña occupies now, and Ludueña will move up to forward. I question whether that will work out; Blanco has looked great playing in the MLS, but in a faster-paced game, he is limited at this stage of his career. Ludueña also does everything Blanco does but better, and now will have to readjust to a new role that isn't as well suited to his skills. Santos would have been better off finding someone who could approximate Benítez’s role without mixing everything else up as well.

From a sheer entertainment standpoint, I love the Blanco transfer. It's hard to describe his relationship with Mexican soccer fans. He's perhaps of the most offensively talented Mexican of his generation; he's also clearly the most offensive soccer personality. I can't quite think of a modern parallel, so I'll jump back two decades: he's a cross between John McEnroe and Esa Tikkanen. Most of the Santos fans have long had hatred of Blanco, who starred with América, written into their DNA, so if the deal doesn't work out, it'll be fun to watch them all tear the hair out of their angry, angry heads.

The best first-round matchup pits Mexico City rivals Cruz Azul and Pumas against each other; the winner will probably be the favorite to win the title.

Friday, November 21, 2008

More Bad News in the Annals of Laguna Security

Torreón, which houses between 20 and 25 percent of Coahuila's population, has been home to 80 percent of the state's kidnappings in 2008.


From Ta-Nehisi Coates: I didn't know this, but it goes without saying that for someone pleased about Obama's potential to change directions in the War on Drugs, it's distressing.
Here's Hit & Run on Holder back in the Clinton days:
Holder wanted "minimum sentences of 18 months for first-time convicted drug dealers, 36 months for the second time and 72 months for every conviction thereafter." He also wanted to "make the penalty for distribution and possession with intent to distribute marijuana a felony, punishable with up to a five-year sentence."
I think the worst part of all this is you can bet that not a single Senator is going to question Holder about his views on the drug war. No one fucking cares. This thing is wreaking havoc on communities across the country, and yet it's left to the Mike Gravels and Ron Pauls of the world to tackle. Damn. This is not a good sign. Here's Obama during the campaign:
"I think it's time we also took a hard look at the wisdom of locking up some first-time, non-violent drug users for decades. Someone once said that '...long minimum sentences for first-time users may not be the best way to occupy jail space and/or heal people from their disease.' That someone was George W. Bush - six years ago. I don't say this very often, but I agree with the president. The difference is, he hasn't done anything about it. When I'm president, I will. We will review these sentences to see where we can be smarter on crime and reduce the blind and counterproductive warehousing of non-violent offenders. And we will give first-time, non-violent drug offenders a chance to serve their sentence, where appropriate, in the type of drug rehabilitation programs that have proven to work better than a prison term in changing bad behavior. So let's reform this system. Let's do what's smart. Let's do what's just".
He needs to be real about that. I hope the Holder deal isn't an indication of his thoughts on drug policy. I also hope Holder doesn't still hold on to those neanderthal veiws.


First, a note on last week's predictions. A week ago, I wrote of Monte Barrett:
He's crafty, he'll be ready to go twelve rounds, he has a pretty good chin (although it has let him down at times in the past), and he has decent pop.
This was a silly comment. I don't know why I wrote this. I hadn't been drinking, and I wasn't exceptionally tired. I don't consider myself stupid, but I can't fathom why, just a couple of fights after getting starched by Cliff Couser in two rounds, I thought Monte Barrett was ready to go the distance with David Haye. Just plain silly. Even though I pegged the correct result, I can't in good faith count this as a win. It's a No Contest.

Onto this weekend's scraps: I like Paulie Malignaggi over Ricky Hatton in a battle of two guys who have big names but aren't that exciting. I also like Steve Molitor to sneak to a decision over Celestino Cabellero. I haven't seen Molitor a whole lot and I have no idea how his chin is, but he moves really well and I think he takes it on his own turf.

Also, for no good reason: a post-Margarito interview with Miguel Cotto.

Why Nafta Won't Be Overhauled

Even if Obama were as intent on modifying Nafta as some of his (mostly primary) campaign rhetoric would seem to indicate, this article, titled [Mexican] Senate Analyzes Redrawing Nafta, demonstrates how hard it would be to go beyond minor tinkering. As the Senators' and experts' comments indicate, the Mexican case for amending the agreement is based on ideas (new protection from American grains, harsher penalties for Americans firms in violation of environmental provisions, lower subsidies for American companies, especially in agriculture) that are anathema for the US. Likewise, the American argument for renegotiating Nafta is based mostly on erecting new barriers for Mexican firms. Whether or not you think that's a good idea from the American perspective, the Mexicans aren't voluntarily going to sign on to it.

Love from the Experts

According to a survey of economists working in Latin America, the performance of Agustín Carstens throughout the present crisis is the second most highly rated of any finance secretary, behind only Chile's Andrés Velasco.

Fun Article

Five chores for a real-life 007. I've never visited, but I'm guessing the number of potential Bond Girls in Waziristan and North Korea is a bit limited.

PRD Maneuverings

After being declared the loser of the March contests for party presidency, Alejandro Encinas resigned from his post as the party's secretary general. That, along with rumors of an alliance between smaller leftist parties and AMLO followers, seemed to spell the end of the extreme left's membership in the PRD. Then, however, stalwart Encinas ally Hortensia Aragón agreed to take over the post, so it's possible the move was just a face-saver by Encinas, and predictions of the pejistas' defection were premature. Ultimately, I think the forces pulling the PRD (as it exists today) apart will be more powerful than those holding it together, which is to say that the ascension of the moderate wing as the most visible and powerful of the PRD will be more than AMLO, Encinas, and the rest will be willing to stomach. In the near term, though, I can't make heads or tails of it.

Shouldering the Blame

Tony Garza has had an up-and-down tenure as American ambassador to Mexico, with more up lately than down. As his exit from Mexico City approaches, these last couple of weeks have offered a fitting distillation of his service, with an unnecessary misstep --declaring the Mouriño plane crash an accident before anyone from Mexico did so-- followed by an unusually frank admission of American drug users' role in Mexico's insecurity.

Another Day...

...Another story about the Venezuelan opposition's, um, opposition to Hugo Chávez in Sunday's local elections.

For a Friday bonus thrown in at no extra charge, all courtesy of Gancho, we present a story about Daniel Ortega's Nicaragua. The mask worn by the Ortega supporter could well become the surprise hit costume of the 2009 Halloween season, (homemade mortar gun included, of course). There is a great parallel biography to be written one day about Alan García and Ortega. One learned his lesson after his failures in the 1980s, one didn't.

Thursday, November 20, 2008


Dan Rafael reports that Antonio Margarito has turned down a January matchup with Shane Mosley that would have paid him $2 million. Mosley's speed certainly could have given him problems, but Margarito would have been a heavy betting favorite, he has no one else lined up, and he can't really expect to make anywhere near as much money until a summer rematch with Miguel Cotto.

In short, this decision makes little business sense, and it's especially disappointing given Margarito's reputation for fighting anyone, anywhere. He also recently chose not to pursue a rematch with Paul Williams, who narrowly beat him last year. Maybe Margarito took more of a bruising in the Cotto fight than it seemed. Maybe after fighting professionally for close to two decades, he wants to enjoy some of the new-found financial security by fighting less often. Who knows?

New Blood

Jorge Zepeda Patterson, one of the most prominent Mexican journalists alive, is the new editorial director of El Universal. The newspaper has a wide range of authors on its editorial page, which I imagine will remain unchanged. The paper itself has a slightly leftist slant comparable to that of The New York Times, and I'll be interested to see if Zepeda Patterson pushes the paper farther from the center.

Retroactively Agreeing with Gil Scott-Heron

The 98th anniversary of the beginning of the Mexican Revolution is today. Speaking about the event, perredista Pablo Gómez said that it wouldn't be possible today because of television because, "all of the [tv] broadcasters would have attacked, 24 hours a day, those that rose up in arms and achieved the defeat of the federal Mexican army."

Beyond the facile comparison between modern Mexico and that of Porfirio Diaz, the anti-modernism, the celebration of violent revolution per se, and the faux provocativeness, that's a really insightful comment.


The plane crash that killed 15 people, including Interior Secretary Juan Camilo Mouriño, is turning into something of a scandal for the government, not because there was an attempt on his life and a subsequent cover-up, as many people erroneously believe, but because of the sheer carelessness. Today, Excelsior reports that the FAA had issued a warning in 2003 about design flaws in the Learjet 45. Nonetheless, in 2004, Mexico bought several of them. Given the warning and the incomplete training of the flight crew, the government's second man never should have been up in the plane.

Football 'round the World

Lots of notable results on the international soccer circuit: first, after the staying home during the Euro Cup, and barely sneaking by Andorra, the English seem to be playing a lot better lately. After crushing Croatia 4-1 a few weeks ago, an English b-team downed the Germans yesterday 2-1 in Germany.

The Brazilians finally played like it yesterday, cruising to a shockingly easy 6-2 victory over Portugal at home. Kaká, Robinho, Adriano, and Luis Fabiano kept the pressure on the Portugese all night long, with the latter erupting for a hat trick. And as if watching a Brazilian offense hitting on all cylinders wasn’t fun enough, Cristiano Ronaldo was kept off the score sheet. That should take some of the heat off of Dunga.

For a coach still firmly planted on the hot seat, we need only look to the north, to Sven-Goran Eriksson. A 1-0 loss to Honduras showed the Mexicans looking hopeless and frustrated. Flat and uninspired. Listless and unimaginative. Limp and timid. Simple-minded and simpler-footed. More adjectives? Just plain crappy.

Given the number of talented Mexican players on the offensive end, there is no reason for them to be scoreless against Honduras. Ever. Part of the problem was despite saying that the team needed to be more offensive, Eriksson started only one forward, Matías Vuoso, who plays a lot better when balanced by a speedy guy creating space on the other side, a la Christian Benítez. Eriksson also waited way too long to go with a more talented offensive lineup that included Omar Bravo, Carlos Vela, and Nery Castillo. Well before the final whistle, the Mexicans weren’t playing like they believed in the chances of getting an equalizer, and frustration abounded. The normally sportsmanlike Carlos Vela's expulsion with a couple of minutes left could not have been more deserved without the aid of a firearm. The Tri advanced to the next phase of World Cup 2010 qualifying thanks to goal differential, but there is now serious concern about the team’s ability to punch their ticket to South Africa.

And lastly, congratulations to Diego Maradona on getting a win to open his career as the coach of the Argentine national team. Hopefully his entire tenure can provide as much non-football drama as this game did, what with Diego dodging questions about the Hand of God goal and claiming to not know who Terry Butcher is; Diego and Kun Aguero jetting off to Madrid to visit Diego’s daughter, six months pregnant with Aguero’s child and hospitalized with some minor complications; and, of course, the mere sight of Diego engulfed by a jacket that would have been two sizes too big even before the stomach stapling surgery. Te quiero Diego!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Laguna Killings

The number of murders in Torreón, generally considered the safest of three major cities of the Laguna, has tripled this year.


A couple of ideas floating around in response to the Mouriño plane crash: the Mexico City government wants to build an airport that for which the approaches to landing don't pass over some of the city's most populated zones (imagine if it wasn't a Learjet but a 747 that had crashed), and Secretary of Transportation and Communication Luis Téllez has discussed ensuring that the pilots for flights carrying top functionaries come the same air force elite that supplies the pilots for the president's plane. Those are both good ideas, but the first will be complicated, and the second seems like it should have been in place decades ago.


Wow. According to an online survey of almost two thousand people on the website of El Siglo de Torreón, 24 percent believe the government's case that the Mouriño plane crash was caused by pilot error in response to turbulence. Seventy percent say they have doubts, with the remainder not expressing an opinion. Given the openness of the government in the wake of the crash, such numbers are a bit disheartening.

Jorge Buendía addresses the persistence of rumors in today's column:
The rumor of an attack being behind the air tragedy is plausible because of the ruthless war between the federal government and drug traffickers, and also because Mouriño was accompanied by Santiago Vasconcelos, a key figure in that war and over whose head death threats hung. Those two elements, the war against drug traffickers and the presence of the ex-subprocurador [equivalent to maybe an undersecretary in the US bureaucracy], easily and rapidly created the attack hypothesis.

Rumors like those that surround the death of the Secretary of the Interior also require the existence of a conspiracy. The conspiracy is based on presenting as an accident what is believed to be an attack. No one talks about an attack ordered from governmental spheres, as was the case with Colosio, but rather that authorities simply quiet the fact that Mouriño was the victim of an attack prepared by drug traffickers.
That last line could be something of a silver lining in all this: yes, the government remains distrusted by 70 percent of the population, but at the very least no one suspects the active involvement of one faction or another of the government in Mouriño's death. I haven't been in Mexico long enough to really gauge this change, but that seems like progress; less than 15 years ago, members of the government were suspected by the public not only in Colosio's death, but also that of Pepe Ruiz Massieu and, to a lesser degree, Cardinal Posadas.


Nobel Prize-winner Mario Molina, a key figure in the uncovering the link between CFCs and ozone depletion, will be advising the Obama administration on scientific issues. Molina himself says that he "will help to define policy." He worked in a similar capacity during the Clinton years, but his post had been filled by a series of anti-condom activists and Arab horse breeders since January 2001.

The Smug Satisfaction of Getting It Right

Prominent Mexican historian Jean Meyer:
When in May I dared to write that the next president of the United States could well be Barack Obama, a sarcastic reader responded: "Obama never will be able to occupy the presidency of the United States. How is that a professor of your credentials could be so naive? This only means that you are ignorant of the reality of our neighbor to the north. Do you really think that discrimination has been overcome in that country? You don't realize that this is a situation created by the Republicans as the only way to win the next election?" Fidel Castro and Armando Hart made the same affirmation, although more crudely.

Contradictory Pessimism

Eugenio Anguiano kicks around the idea of Mexico being a failed state, eventually settling (I think) on, "Not as a whole, but it is a failure for lots of individuals" as his response. (My characterization of his words, not his.) He's also the first analyst I can remember to directly consider the idea of a Mexican recession, saying, "[T]he contraction of the economy in 2009 is practically a fact; the IMF just lowered its world growth projections and it placed that of Mexico at 0.9 percent."

Not to be a Phil Gramm, and I concede Enguiano's broader point that the government shouldn't be building its budget on an unrealistic growth projection (the budget is based on 1.8 percent growth), but if Mexico is going to grow at 0.9 percent in 2009, how is contraction "practically a fact?"

Winning Strategy

I know little about the internal dynamics of Venezuelan politics, and obviously Chávez has some formidable advantages built into the system, but it's always seemed to me that Chávez gallivanting abroad and lavishing foreign aid on other nations while the country's crime rate has gone through the roof should be a powerful case against his movement. Indeed, that's the argument Manuel Rosales attemped to make in 2006, though it didn't win him anything beyond a 25-point loss. The Washington Post's Juan Forero examines the same line of thinking in an article that appeared yesterday.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Launching Grenades

The newspaper El Debate in Culiacán, Sinaloa was attacked with grenades late last night. It is the seventh such attack against a newspaper's installations (not counting those against individual journalists, of which there have been far more) in the past four years.


A third of Mexicans told Latinobarómetro that insecurity is their biggest worry. Actually, despite the sarcastic title above, this represents a big increase from a similar poll in 2001, when the figure was 18 percent. Taking into account how much more worrying the economy is now than seven years ago, that's a huge jump.

Raphael on PRD

Ricardo Raphael offers a sharp insight into what the breakup of the PRD means for Marcelo Ebrard:
What’s true is that if the PRD divides, the first victim of the events will be the mayor of Mexico City. It’s necessary to rememeber that here the majority of the perridistas in the Mexico City legislature belong to the New Left; that is, the political current headed by Jesús Ortega.


If the PRD splits in the capital, Marcelo Ebrard could lose a big part of the support that [the New Left] has offered until today. He would be left with a minority insufficient to govern this extremely complicated city.

Being as pragmatic as he is, the mayor can’t abandon the political institution that brought him to power. His best option in this dry season is to use the jackhammers, bulldozers, and earthmovers at his disposition to reconstitute the relationship between the New Left and Andrés Manuel López Obrador.
In that last part, Raphael means that now that it is not raining daily in Mexico City, Ebrard should try to spread the building projects around (and hurry them up, I assume, because it doesn’t stay dry for long) to please everyone on the left in DF. That sounds to me like a Hail Mary, but then again I don’t live there, so what do I know?

It’s worth pointing out that Ebrard created the mess he’s in now. The split in the PRD was certainly no unforeseen calamity; the path has grown increasingly visible over since the election, and it was all but inevitable following the election for party presidency in March. Navigating this minefield would have (and will) required some finesse on Ebrard’s part, but failing to distance himself from the López Obrador wing of the party is hard to justify politically, especially since Ebrard has admitted to wanting to stand for the presidency in 2012. The AMLO group has steadily lost credibility among the electorate at large since the 2006 election, and López Obrador himself hardly seems resigned to accept an Ebrard candidacy in 2012. Perhaps Ebrard is a true believer in López Obrador’s movement, but given Ebrard’s pragmatism, and the fact that López Obrador’s movement amounts to little more than the man himself at this point, Ebrard’s alliance with AMLO seems like more of a grave political miscalculation.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Referee: I Owe Patrick Corcoran an Apology

The headline says: Referee: Polamalu's return for TD should have counted for Steelers. The correct ruling would have won me about 1000 pesos, as the Steelers (minus 5) were the final game in an otherwise winning three-team parlay. A penalty disparity that wasn't thirteen to two in the Chargers' favor would have probably done the trick, too. I left to cash in the ticket at the casino thinking that it was an 18-10 final, so the right call would have saved me an embarrassing conversation with the sportsbook manager as well, whom I all-but-demanded to see. Roger Goodell: fix the refs. I demand satisfation.

Dispatch from Mexico

The New York Times builds a typical Mexico-is-going-to-hell story on the increasing popularity of bodyguards. It focuses on a businessman named José, whose alarm about his family's vulnerability is hard to reconcile with his choice of automobiles:
Despite José’s expensive clothing, eye-catching jewelry and luxury home in
the hills, he insists that his family is different from many others in their
income bracket.

“We’re not nouveau riche,” he said with a huff. “Those people want guards
to show how important they are.”

As for the Ferrari, which he acknowledged is the opposite of discreet,
José said it was the car’s engine that attracted him to it. “It’s not to sit
back and have everyone look at me,” he said. “It’s to drive.”

Chait for Summers

In rare form:
Of course, even if you buy the notion that Summers couldn't run Harvard--and I think he was a successful innovator in areas like financial aid for middle-class students and forcing faculty members to concentrate on teaching--there's something in his background that's a bit more relevant to his ability to serve as Treasury Secretary than his Harvard tenure: He already was a well-regarded Treasury Secretary.

Another stated concern, according to Politico, is "a sense among some Clinton supporters that picking Summers would reopen wounds from the contentious presidential primaries." Well, sure, if you're the one who's reopening the wounds. Likewise, there's a sense among some racketeers that a failure to pay protection money could lead to a shop undergoing property damage.

Mexico at the G-20

Writing before the G-20 summit, Emilio Rabasa discussed how Mexico could be in a unique position to contribute to resolving the current crisis:
Mexico should bring in its briefcase of proposals the economic philosophy of a country that didn't provoke these crises, but that is suffering from its indirect effects (for example, the fall of remittances coming from Mexicans working in the North). A country that has suffered from the same sickness that generated this crisis: the irresponsible governmental tolerance for cheap access to credit without effective guarantees (with Salinas), and that, therefore, now knows the measures to prevent it, such as proper regulatory control that avoids a capital free-for-all. 
Excelsior also reports that Mexico used the occasion to build more communication with the still-unformed Obama administration. 

After the fact, the prevailing opinion seems to be that Calderón added little valuable to the event, and despite both sides making the right sounds, it seems less than likely that Mexico will occupy a healthy part of Obama's foreign policy attention. (That's not necessarily a criticism, merely a fact.)

Obama and Latin America

Three takes: Andres Oppenheimer's, Jesús Esquivel's, and mine

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Next Up: Security Reform

A pair of PRI committee chairmen are shooting for security reform, Excelsior reports. A welter of complicating factors make it hard to predict whether this will come to fruition, or what it'll look like. First, upcoming elections: applying the American electoral logic in other nations is perhaps an ill-advised move, but as summer 2009 closes in on us, cross-party cooperation seems less likely. Also, unlike the judicial reform that was passed earlier this year, it's unclear exactly why legislative changes (as opposed to narrower modifications in the executive structure pushed by the president) are needed to improve Mexico's security forces.

But then again, security is an issue where consensus is possible, and every party can look good in the event of a successful reform. Also, the arbitrary 100-day countdown to security improvement that the media initiated in the wake of the Martí murder in August, comes to an end in a couple of weeks, and a reform will be a way for the parties to deflect some of the inevitable criticism. Further, Mouriño's death threw the Secretariat of the Interior (and by extension all of the Mexican security agencies) into a state of flux, with some commentators (see yesterday's post about Leo Zuckermann) urging the president to use the tragedy to examine possible changes.

Dangerous Sport

ESPN the Magazine has a conceptually interesting article about deaths in boxing that wound up being little more than a hodgepodge of looney comments and ill-formed ideas. Among them:
Dr. Michael Schwartz, chairman of the Association of American Professional Ringside Physicians: The resulting dehydration from fighting outside a weight class can be a big deal. It's not uncommon for fighters to lose up to 20% of their body weight two or three days before a fight and we're still trying to figure out what effect this has on the brain.
Twenty percent? Is he serious? So welterweights the week of a fight commonly weigh 175 pounds? That's ridiculous, absolutely ridiculous. 

Other questionable suggestions: 
Ed Hutchinson, president of the North American Boxing Council: Boxing gloves are one of the biggest scams of all time. That they're presented as safety devices is a joke. By wrapping fighters hands with gauze and tape, boxers are essentially turning their hands into casts. It makes for spectacular knockouts on television, but it's bad for pugilistic dementia and injuries.
I would follow the example of the MMA. They go three rounds, and five for title fights. Boxing should probably be 4 rounds for a non-title fight and 6 rounds for the title fights.
It's always been my understanding that really dangerous knockouts are not the spectacular one-punch variety, but rather when they are the product of punch after punch after punch, when the fighter in danger is strong enough to withstand hundreds of blows from the gloved fist, which add up to a life-threatening beat-down. That's certainly been the case in the recent fights where one fighter suffered a serious brain injury: Leavander Johnson, Victor Burgos, Beethavean Scottland come to mind. Therefore, the hand-as-cast (or the bare fist, MMA-style) is less dangerous, because it is more likely to produce a knockout quickly. That's why MMA's knockouts, while flashy, aren't deadly. That's why fighters who suffer horrific one-punch knockouts are usually able to bounce back (physically at least): think John Ruiz, or Vic Darchinyan. Hutchinson has it backwards: softer hands are worse for the boxer. 

And as far as his second suggestion, well, that'd be like asking the NFL to play three 12-minute periods. Not gonna happen, at least not this century.

Also, the author quotes "Dr. Martha Goodman, Las Vegas neurologist and writer for Ring Magazine." Goodman, a ubiquitous presence at Vegas fights, is a good place to start (and ESPN should have just let her write the article), but there's one problem: her name is Margaret Goodman. Aside from the journalistic rudiment of knowing the name of the experts you quote, anyone who has watched a half-dozen fights on HBO has seen Goodman a number of times, and probably seen her play an active role in a fight. Such a mistake undermines any shred of authority that the author has in writing about boxing. If a writer referred several times to Ted Hochuli, you'd probably not take his opinion on the NFL all that seriously. 

Solution: ESPN, and maybe the mainstream media in general, should pay Dan Rafael to read every word written about boxing, so that there'd be less of this stuff out there. 

Saturday, November 15, 2008


Leo Zuckermann had a thoughtful column earlier this week on a couple of changes Calderón could make to the operation of the executive branch in the wake of Juan Camilo Mouriño's death. The first is to run any major legislative initiative not out of Gobernación, but out of Los Pinos. As evidence of this method's superiority, he points to Calderón's record of legislative successes (the basically smooth passage of IMSS/ISSSTE reform, electoral reform, fiscal reform, and judicial reform) while Mouriño, his point man and closest collaborator, was working as the president's chief of staff. Then, after Mouriño went to Gobernación ahead of the oil reform, the process was plagued by missteps and faulty communication between the president and his erstwhile chief. Zuckermann even quotes Mouriño, after having moved to his new post, talking up the benefits of pushing legislation straight from Los Pinos. The suggestion Zuckermann offers (and Calderón seems likely to implement) is to give Mouriño's replacement Fernando Francisco Gómez Mont a more narrow portfolio, and take more direct control of his own agenda. This makes obvious sense to me, much like the advantage of controlling the executive branch through the White House rather than relying on an illusory cabinet government.

Zuckermann also recommends removing the federal police from the purview of the Secretariat of Public Security in favor of Secretariat of the Interior/Gobernación, which I find a lot less convincing. The argument in favor follows:
"A threatened State needs centralized agencies with a great capacity to operate. The present scheme of 'coordination' of various dependencies to combat organized crime doesn't work. It's time to centralize the command with a Secretary of the Interior that can count on an effective federal police and a civil intelligence agency equal or better than the one the military has."
The problem is that it's unclear how the second idea will bring the solution desired --effective, honest police-- any closer to reality. In contrast, the first suggestion directly addresses the problem of an uncoordinated, confused approach to the president's legislative agenda. Zuckermann's a big believer in police centralization, but as I wrote in August, centralization is a means to an end, not an end in and of itself:
The essential issue is control, not centralization; the local police in Mexico too often answer to criminals, not 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.

Buns out of the Oven

I see that the results for the world's greatest derrière are in, with the crown to rest upon the backsides of Brazil's Melanie Nunes Fronckowiak and France's Saïba Bombote. If Vegas was taking bets on the nationalities of the winners beforehand, what would the odds have been on it being a Brazilian woman and Frenchman? 1 to 10? 1 to 50? Honestly, could it have gone any other way?

Now, not to be picky, but does this search really qualify as worldwide? I mean, no one even contacted me. Am I saying I would have won? No, obviously Bombote was going to be tough to stop. But would I have at least been in the conversation? With my new taco-heavy diet, I don't see how you argue that I wouldn't have been.


Based on the cockpit conversations, the best explanation for the cause of the plane crash on November 4 is pilot error in reacting to turbulence. Evidently, the pilot was not expert in the Learjet he captained, and was questioning and deferring to the copilot throughout the dialogue that the government has released. You can find links to the transcript and even the audio here (though I can't bring myself to listen to the tape). Kudos to the government for handling this as cleanly and as transparently as possible. It won't be enough to tamp down every conspiracy theory, but at least it won't actively erode Calderón's credibility among the more informed and reasonable voters. 

Friday, November 14, 2008


Now that moderate Jesús Ortega has been declared the winner of the March contests for the PRD presidency, the extremist wing of the party loyal that inclines to El Peje is making noise that they are going to break from the rest. Evidently, the pejistas are negotiating an alliance with the smaller leftist parties that are now part of the Broad Progressive Front in advance of the summer elections.

It seems like this is the end of a single leftist party as a major force in Mexican politics. Another will certainly reemerge, but one wonders what it'll look like: a further left version of today's PRI that includes Ortega and his clan; a more permanent version of the coalition mentioned above, which could shove Ortega's wing into the PRI; or an Ortega-centered party that includes neither the PRI or the more extreme wing of the left (which would struggle mightily for votes).

As you can see, I think where Ortega and his kind wind up will be the key indicator. I really don't have a clue which of the above scenarios will win out, or how long it will take. I am somewhat suspicious of the PRI's ability to gain a lot of support on the left, because most of the left's intellectual leadership grew in opposition to the PRI. Essentially, the memory of the authoritarian, anti-democratic PRI is too fresh for it to be a credible leftist party for a good ten years or so.

Complaining about Movies

This week I saw Mejor Es Que Gabriela No Se Muera, an inventively absurd flick that generated more laughs than any Mexican film I'd seen in years.

However, like so many movies to set in Mexico City, it barely avoids drowning in its own seriousness. Such movies can't keep from draping themselves in the suffocating intensity of life in the world's second biggest metropolis, even when it adds nothing to the picture, as is the case with Mejor Es Que Gabriela No Se Muera. The depressing backdrop worked really well in Amores Perros (or maybe it's just that that was the first of these movies that I saw), but after watching Sexo, Pudor y Lágrimas, Fuera del Cielo, Búfalo de la Noche, Así del Precipicio, Batalla en el Cielo, Párpados Azules, frankly there's nothing left to say about it. Filmmakers of Mexico City: I get it, life in your town is tough! Stop already! And it's not just that I've seen the idea many, many times; it's also totally unconvincing. Happiness and laughter are a fact of life just as much as depression, even in Mexico City.

Making History

The 2012 Mexican presidential race could truly be a historic event for Mexico, not so much for the candidates, but rather their significant others. PRD favorite Marcelo Ebrard is married to actress Mariagna Prats, and now that the PRI’s Enrique Peña Nieto has admitted to seeing Angelica “La Gaviota” Rivera, there’s a good chance that the contest could pit soap star versus soap star in the battle for first lady. Televisa should already be planning a novela/reality show around the election.

Also, allow me to reprint the transcript of the talk show where Peña admitted to the relationship, which could be among the top ten most inane conversations featuring a major politician in the history of television.
Sabina Berman(SB): And some questions of the heart: Are you going out with La Gaviota, yes or no?

Enrique Peña Nieto (EPN): I’m choking on the words. (Laughter)

SB: Are you boyfriend and girlfriend?

EPN: Nobody has asked me before. It’s odd, but never, no one has asked me. There’s been speculation since people saw me with her.

Katia D´Artigues (KD): Nobody has asked you?

Enrique Peña Nieto: No, nobody has asked me.

SB: How odd.

EPN: Nobody has asked me.

KD: Let’s ask you then.

EPN: What did you ask? Yes, yes I’m dating her.


I'm fired up for the Jeff Lacy-Jermain Taylor bout. Although neither is anywhere near the player he was four years ago, they're still two guys who hit like mules, and are there to be hit. Based on what I saw from Lacy his last time out, the pick is Taylor. As always, the big question with Taylor is if he'll punch enough. I'm not sure I've ever seen such a talented fighter so limited by his refusal to throw his hands.

I also think Monte Barrett could give David Haye a world of trouble in the latter's heavyweight debut, because he neutralizes a lot of Haye's advantages. He's crafty, he'll be ready to go twelve rounds, he has a pretty good chin (although it has let him down at times in the past), and he has decent pop. Haye, on the other hand, likes to knock guys out early, has a dentable jaw, and hasn't shown that he can go to war for twelve rounds with a smart and rugged cruiserweight, much less an experienced heavyweight contender. Also, you get the feeling that Haye is kind of a playboy prima donna, while Barrett is all about boxing. Still, Haye is younger and more athletic. Ultimately, I (kind of) think the Brit will win.

Gancho boxing is 25 up and 9 down on its predictions in 2008.

Bolaño in The Times

Check out a review of Roberto Bolaño's 2666 in The New York Times.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Wood Gone

Sad news for longtime Cubs fans. 

New Judges

Mexico has sworn in 19 new federal judges whose responsibilities will revolve around combating drug traffickers. Six of the judges have been labeled "controlled" officials, a slightly ominous-sounding designation which actually means that they will have greater freedom to sign arrest and search warrants and arraign suspects in a matter of minutes, via phone, fax, or internet. The selectiveness of the group will hopefully allow the government to safeguard the portion of the judicial branch that has its hands closest to the meat grinder. (For whatever reason, I've lately been thinking a lot about the summer I spent work in the prep kitchen of a meaty restaurant; does it show in that last metaphor?)


El Universal reports that Rahm Emanuel told someone from La Raza in July (before he was named Obama's chief-of-staff, obviously) that a first-term immigration accord wasn't in the cards an for Obama administration. Not much of a surprise there, although I'm not sure I expected to read it laid out quite so clearly.

Turned In

Somehow I'd missed the fact that the black boxes from the Mouriño plane crash were found, and now after being analyzed by American experts, they will be turned over to Mexican authorities. According to the government, all signs up to now point to a "tragic accident."

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


The reports about a potential Obama-as-president-elect visit to Mexico are continuing, with apparently more interest on the Mexican side of the equation. He's not even in office yet, so one can't even begin to jump to conclusions, but this doesn't give you much confidence that Obama is eager to overcome his relative lack of familiarity in the region.


Eight months after the election, Mexico's independent electoral arbiter finally has a winner in the contests for the PRD presidency: moderate Jesús Ortega. The question now is if he actually will take over, or if for unity's sake, the moderate and extremist wings will agree to let Guadalupe Acosta continue in the post.

Zuckermann on the Government's Response

Leo Zuckermann praises Felipe Calderón response to the plane crash last week:
[T]he government has reacted well. There haven't been information vacuums that fill up with speculation. The secretary of communication and transportation has punctually reported each and every one of the discoveries. Luis Téllez has promised that the information will continue flowing, which will permit us to establish if what happened was an accident or an attack. Meanwhile, President Calderón has been very careful in not rushing to judgment. He doesn't refer to an accident or an attack. Such a judgment, as it should be, must wait for the investigation.
He also throws water on the idea that Calderón would want to cover up a sabotage, should the investigation reveal one.
If it turns out that the crash was an attack, the government should be the party most interested in announcing that. I don't see what the motive would be to cover it up. What would it gain? Not appearing vulnerable to the guilty parties? In fact, it would be very risky for the government to mount a cover-up operation that involves international institutions [American and British officials are also investigating the accident].
I agree with this analysis, and it also reminds me that Mexicans' skepticism is not part of the national DNA, but rather a lingering result of decades of governmental lies. As the political system has opened up, events like the Mouriño plane crash have been more likely to be handled honestly and openly, whereas in the not-so-distant past (like the 1994 murder of PRI bigwig José Francisco Ruiz Massieu) the opposite was the case. Should future episodes continue to be treated transparently by the government, I imagine that future generations of Mexicans will be much likely to trust their government.

Third Post in a Row Featuring a Contrarian Response/Middle Ground between Two Points of View*

David Brooks and Noam Scheiber (among others) go back and forth about the struggle between conservative reformists and traditionalists for the GOP ring of power. Brooks says that in the short term the traditionalists will win, but their inability to deliver electoral triumphs will mean that the reformists will eventually take over. Scheiber emphasizes that, because the traditionalists control the apparatus of the party, that transition is a long, long way off.

Predicting the future of a party in the aftermath of a lost presidential election is a fraught process that inevitably places too much value on the most recent disappointment, which often hinged on one or two bad bounces. Four years ago, the Democrats barely lost (and maybe wouldn't have had they responded better to the Swift Boat attacks, or had the Bin Laden video not popped up days before the election), but many people actually believed the Rovian master plan for a generation of Republican dominance was coming to fruition. The Democrats' ideas were outmoded and inferior and static. George Lakoff, the anti-Kerry, was the Moses who was going to lead the Democrats on their long trek out of the wilderness with his brilliantly simple messaging. In short, Democrats were as apoplectic as Republicans are today. As it turned out, Rove's generation of control lasted a mere two years, the Democratic idea gap was nonexistent, and the importance of Lakoff's ideas for the Democrats was completely undermined by the popularity of a nuance-spitting candidate who just happened to be a ten million times more charismatic than Kerry.

I agree with the thrust of George Packer's recent article about the decline of the conservative movement, and I think Brooks' column is quite logical, but I guess I'm not quite convinced that a Republican soul-search is a prerequisite for their return to power. For all we know, Obama could have a Clinton-esque first term and lose in 2012 to Mitch Daniels**, or some other obscure Republican, which would make all the direness of today's righties a bit overstated.

*And hopefully the last.

**Perish the thought.

Interest vs. Morality! Coates Refereeing! Today, on The Atlantic!

Ta-Nehisi Coates had an interesting meditation yesterday on whether it's morality or interest that makes one group support the advancement of another (i.e., northern whites in the '60s backing civil rights). He says it's all about interest.
Perhaps, I define "interest" too broadly. I include in that definition, not simply your short and long-term well being, but how you want to live your life. I hear people say that they support "black issues" even when they aren't in their interest. Hmm, I guess. But that's like saying it wasn't in my interest to be a writer. I should have gone to law school. Certainly I would have made more money. But I include in my interest what I want to see out the world, what makes me happy, what makes me smile, what I like and love. I guess it's not in my interest to spend a whole day watching football games--I could be making money. But it certainly makes me happy.
I'm not sure he defines "interest" too broadly per se, but there is a point where it's impossible not to conflate the two, and Coates is way past said point with his football analogy, and probably his law school analogy, too.