Saturday, May 31, 2008

Matty on McClellan

Brother Matt on Spokesman Scott:

The most important thing to come out of of this McClellan thing isn't that the war was propagandized, the Libby-Rove meetings or that he (McClellan) might be a turncoat who, as an insider, took two years to process something that many outsiders knew in 2003. That's all water under the bridge or a problem related to one administration. No, the important thing is the number of journalists that are saying they were spun or 'indirectly pressured' into doing positive stories on the president and the war pre-March 2003. It's a much scarier situation because the problem is systemic. When major, bottom-line drive corporations own our news outlets, how do you resist the urge to tell people what they want to hear?

Time agrees with him. I'd also add that a compounding factor is that the press inclines toward easy-to-grasp narratives. I don't mean to be unduly hard on the media, because actual reporting is much, much harder than blogging, but I think it bears mentioning that once a certain idea takes hold in the Washington press corp (Kerry is a flip-flopper, Gore said he invented the internet, Saddam is a direct threat and has WMD), it's like a stampede of buffaloes. No one can hold it back. Facts get crushed by "truth," at least for a time. And the financial pressure gave the prevailing narrative in 2003 a turbo boost.

I Spy

One of the stories brewing in Mexico this week was the discovery of a signed contract between Mexico's intelligence agency and a high-end private investigation firm to monitor the activity of congressmen while using a special informational database created for congress. (The system sounds like an advanced version of ProQuest. What benefit this could bring to the people spying is beyond me.) So far the reaction has been rather muted, at least for an American who immediately thought of Nixon and wondered who was going to have to resign as a result of this. Thus far, no one has. The chief of CISEN, as the agency is called, denied having spied on anyone. Ana María Salazar points out that while none of this is illegal, it leaves some thorny questions unanswered. I agree. And I'd like to hear something from President Calderón, who often seems to remain strangely quiet in these sorts of cases, as if he doesn't want to get his hands dirty even by denouncing others' shady activities. 

Robinson on Cuba

Here it is

It's always struck me as ironic that the United States is the country most associated with savage capitalism and the creative destruction of businesses while, at the same time, a dysfunctional, unproductive government policy can limp along for decades. What would the business equivalent to our Cuba policy be? If Eastern Airlines was still offering $12 tickets from Washington to New York? If New Coke was still on the shelves, selling three cases a year? And it's not just Cuba: the drug wars, farm subsidies, etc. 

Friday, May 30, 2008

Random Semantic Proposal

Today I meant to write the word "rebuke," but instead I typed "repuke." And it turns out to be a much more evocative word, despite the mild handicap of not existing. Can we work on integrating "repuke" into the lexicon as an intense slapdown? I think we can. 


I asked for a raise, but the boss responded with a cruel repuke.
The guy was totally unaffected by my repukes. 
The more you repuke me, Bhodi, the fiercer an enemy I'll be. 

We Criticize Because We Care

It's pretty weird that Barack Obama fired advisor Robert Malley for holding talks with Hamas, given that the meetings came as part of his job with International Crisis Group. Obama wants to emphasize that he draws a clear line between unfriendly states like Iran and stateless terrorist groups, but he's speaking as a potential president.  Malley was working for an NGO, not as a politician. If groups like his can't meet with Hamas or other similar groups, than they don't have much value. 

And at the same time, Obama has Bill Richardson, who as a public official has serially met with America's worst enemies, singing his praises around the globe (presently, in Mexico). I'm not saying that Obama should ditch Richardson, but Malley meeting with Hamas is certainly more defensible than the governor of New Mexico sitting down with the North Korea. 

No Time to Post

In lieu of a proper post, I point you to two recent pieces on elitism in the United States: This from The Atlantic, this from The New York Times.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Santos: One Step Closer

Santos came through with two brilliant second-half goals to take the victory 2-1 over Cruz Azul in Mexico City in the opener of the Mexican league final. All they have to do now is come back to the desert and hold Azul to a tie in the sweltering Sunday heat, and we dance in the streets of Torreón (and, in all likelihood, I call in sick on Monday). 

Cruz Azul dominated the game, but Santos has a great goalie and four guys who can find the net at any moment, so they're dangerous even when they're getting drilled. Call them the Tommy Hearns of Mexican soccer. My unexpert analysis: they're best player for the last two years has been the Argentine Daniel Ludueña, a midfielder whose role in the offense was a bit like Zidane's for France. He was the offense; when he wasn't scoring, he was the guy setting others up. When he missed time with tendinitis this year, the team shifted the offense on the fly to run through forwards Matías Vuoso and Cristian Benítez. Even after returning, Ludueña hasn't been the same, and the team has continued to rely heavily on the pair up front. Ludueña's hopefully temporary decline makes the team a lot more vulnerable in the middle of the field, and overall they seem much less balanced now, which tonight's game showed. But it hasn't mattered, because their scorers have come through when needed. 

Check out Fernando Arce's goal at 0:42 of this clip. Sick pass, and a cañonazo of a goal. 

And Now a Not-So-Good Piece on

The silliness of this article, titled "Spelling bee icon Samir Patel moves on to next challenges," really can't be grasped with any one quote. Try and get through the whole thing. Maybe there are people that care about the sport of spelling, but subjecting a 14-year-old to 1,200 words of the Buckner treatment is perhaps not the best use of Worldwide Leader's time and money.

Don King on Tinkling

Thomas Hauser has a good article about the Peterson brothers on Lamont and Anthony, future stars at 140 and 135 pounds respectively, recently accused their ex-manager, Shelley Finkel, of neglecting to pay them several hundred thousand dollars. Don King's take:
"Anyone who tries to deal in good faith with Shelly Finkel winds up getting 'Finkeled.' And that's not good. Finkeling is much worse than tinkling. It's hard to explain to someone who has never been Finkeled what the experience is like. He does it with words, but words fail to describe it."
There should be a wing in Canastota dedicated to King's best quotes.

Running Guns

Mexico's deputy attorney general José Luis Santiago Vasconcelos ruffled some feathers over the weekend by reacting to cuts in the Mérida Initiative with the following:
"Some of us were talking, remarking that, well, this (sum of money) is all very well, but why don't we tell the Americans they could spend it on their (border security forces) to stop the flow of arms to Mexico."
Click here for an example of what he's talking about. The article talks about Culiacán, a city in which loads of outgunned cops have been killed recently. The Mérida Initiative aims to give more firepower to the Mexican authorities, but it would be much more effective to simply cut off the narcos' supply, which comes from the US. First of all, many of the officials who would end up having the hardware in their hands are sure to be corrupt. Furthermore, if you have a mortal enemy, would you rather that you both have tanks, or that neither of you do? I'd say the latter. Of course, the logical conclusion of such thinking like would be a crackdown on gun sales in the American border region, but that'd be a bigger political problem in the US than Mexico's dystopian descent, so it won't happen.

Frank Hearts Barack

Endorsements have about as much impact on the winner of an election as water boys on the outcome of a football game, but this one from Francis Fukuyama for Obama is interesting. (I think got the link from the Plank.) Fukuyama has been among the right's foremost thinkers since his book The End of History came out almost two decades ago, but after the Iraq War, he grew disillusioned with neoconservatism (imagine that).

"I think the Republicans don't deserve to get re-elected this year," he said in an interview in Sydney yesterday. "I think they could use four years, or eight years, in the wilderness."

It is not merely that he does not endorse the Republican candidate for the presidency, Senator John McCain. "I think John McCain is by far the best of the candidates the Republicans had, but when you have some responsibility for policy failure on the scale of Iraq, I don't think you should be rewarded."

The Republicans' future offerings do not impress Fukuyama either: "Their two big things are fear of [terrorism] and fear of immigrants - that's not an agenda."

I especially like the last section. He's absolutely right. The Republicans have used fear (and outrage and disapproval) as their primary electoral tactic for so long now that it seems normal, but we optimistic Americans will only put up with it so long. A charismatic, credible optimist almost always has an advantage over a dour realist (think Reagan over Carter), and the Republicans have put themselves on the wrong side of that equation.

This is a rather passive endorsement given to a newspaper a world away, so even if endorsements did matter, this one wouldn't. However, given Obama's celebrated lack of foreign policy experience, I'd be interested to see if the defection of more conservative hawks to Obama's camp could remove some of the sting from McCain's inevitable attacks on national security. Probably not.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

A Grim Day in England

Unfortunately, we're not talking about the weather. I missed the game, due to work and England's unwillingness to schedule the game in the middle of the night, but it seems like it wasn't an inspired effort from the Yanks. Anyone happen to see it? Opinions?

The Ryan Leaf of Running Mates

The veepstakes are a lot of fun this year, and have produced some interesting recent commentary. Part of the reason that the process seems more gripping than usual is that there is no incumbent, so we get to play the guessing game twice. Another factor is that both candidates, for all their great qualities, have some pretty glaring shortcomings, both in terms of politics (Obama with Latinos and whites, McCain with conservatives) as well as experience (Obama with foreign policy, McCain with the economy). And, as always, the electoral map gets a lot of attention, despite the lack of recent evidence that a running mate's provenance is likely to have a big impact.

I’ve mentioned my belief that the worst possible move for Obama would be to tab Hillary Clinton as his running mate. I think almost as bad an idea is for McCain to enlist Mitt Romney. The former Massachusetts governor would help McCain with his economic liabilities, but there are a lot of pols who could do that. He would probably not reassure conservatives distrustful of McCain, as Romney was until not long ago a moderate Republican running the nation’s most reliably liberal state. Romney’s Mormonism would add a wild card that could keep conservatives at home (though, if he thinks he’s the best man for the job, McCain should absolutely ignore that consideration). And, because his disdain for Romney in particular was so visible during the primaries, having Mitt on board would also make McCain seem like a hypocrite. Putting Romney on the ticket would be a strictly political move for a man who still tries to cast himself as a maverick.

If burnishing the resume is the goal, I’d choose Rob Portman for McCain and Sam Nunn for Obama. If geographical considerations take precedence, I’d go with Charlie Crist for McCain and Ted Strickland for Obama.

Pot and Kettle, Aquaint Thyselves

One of the first responses I came across to Calderón's food subsidy scheme comes from Rogelio Ramírez de la O, in today's El Universal. Ramírez de la O's take on things is usually anti-government, and this was no different. After commenting on the new program announced Sunday, he expands his disapproval to the last 8 years of PAN economic stewardship:
In the year 2000 the chapter on aid and subsidies in the Budget of the Federation was 96 billion pesos. In 2007, it had already tripled to 288 billion. And in 2008 it lists more than 330 billion. This growth is alarming, even when the intention is support groups with few resources.
What makes this expansion of subsidies possible, just as with the massive growth in the government's current expenditure, is simply the increasingly high oil prices. What makes it easy to criticize the expansion is the lack of an articulated program of economic growth and in place of it the use of a non-renewable resource to artificially sustain a certain level of various population groups' consumption.
As always, Ramírez de la O delivers his opinion in a measured tone, amply supported by logic and statistics. Nonetheless, it's a bit odd to see Ramírez de la O write a critical column under the headline "New Populism," given that he served as the principle economic adviser to Mexico's most famous populist, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, when he ran for president in 2006.

Medina Mora on Drug Wars

The drug war in Mexico is often called Calderón's Iraq, and the comparison is a poor fit, to say the least. However, reading this article, it's easy to see how Mexicans could have the same feeling that Americans did during the era of reality-challenged quotes from the Department of Defense and the White House in 2005 and 2006. The gist: Mexican Attorney General Eduardo Medina Mora says the government is winning the drug wars, although it doesn't look like it at present.

Are Medina Mora's comments supported by the facts (at least, the facts the public sees)? Not recently. It's extremely hard to gauge progress in the battle with the cartels, but probably the two most important indicators of progress (or "metrics," to continue with that word that Rumsfeld left behind, a regrettable semantic legacy that matches his operational one perfectly) are the level of violence and the amount of territory in which the cartels dominate. In 2008, the first has clearly been on the rise, while the second's trajectory is less clear.

My first reaction was that Medina Mora's comments sound really foolish given all the violence of the past month, but then I wonder what else he should say. I don't think he's lying, and I'm not sure what a pessimistic assessment would accomplish. Unlike the United States in Iraq, pulling out of Mexico is not an option for Mexicans. Unlike the White House's silliest comments, this isn't witless optimism designed to maintain a disastrous adventure. Perhaps he should have phrased it "We will win" instead of "We are winning," but at the very least he didn't declare the cartels to be in their death throws.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Going After the Ladies

I basically agree with Jonah Goldberg's column in today's LA Times; if the Obamas want Michelle to have a prominent role in the campaign, what she says is fair game for his adversaries. However, this explanation for why people are somehow reluctant to criticize Michelle is hard to stomach:

Indeed, there might even be something sexist in all of this, somewhere. After all, no one thinks that criticizing Hillary's husband is "unacceptable."

Or, the difference could be explained by the fact that Bill Clinton has been a public figure for three and a half decades now, and one of the world's two or three most famous faces for more than 15 years. That might have something to do with it.

Cheats, Criminals, and Mexican Union Leaders

Everything that is wrong with Mexico's unions is on full display in this article about mining boss Napoleón Gómez Urrutia. The short of it: Nap Gómez (I don't think that's his nickname, but it sure is snappy), who inherited his post from his father, stands accused of embezzling $5 million from his union. As such, he has been hiding out in Canada since 2006. The union has somehow remained loyal to its sticky-fingered boss, and has struck many times to protest the government's charges. Nineteen times, in fact. (Now try reading the preceding sentence fragment in Ed Rooney's voice from Ferris Bueller's Day Off.) The strikes have cost the nation around $2.5 billion.

Even more frightening, Gómez's union is probably not the worst and definitely not the most important. I'm not sure labor reform--which could come to pass in late summer--has ever mattered more to a nation.

Jihadis Divided

I'm working my way through the New Yorker's and the New Republic's respective stories about growing resistance to Al Qaeda's methods among militant jihadis.

In the TNR piece, there is one particularly memorable passage about a Brit who'd trained at a jihadi camp in Afghanistan:

Still, as Al Qaeda continued to target civilians for attacks, Hassan began to rethink. His employment by an artificial intelligence consulting firm also integrated him back toward mainstream British life. "It was a slow process and involved a lot of soul-searching. ... Over time, I became convinced that bin Laden was dangerous and an extremist."

The depth of his commitment to militant Islam was simultaneously so great that he was inspired to train in Al Qaeda camps a world away, yet so superficial that something as banal as a job in a mainstream business could break the spell. Hmm. I'm not sure what to make of that.

Kissing Up to the New Boss

Via Ana María Salazar, Carlos Salcido's reaction to Mexico potentially hiring Sven-Goran Eriksson as the national team coach. He may be right, but not exactly a red carpet. I guess Salcido wants José Pekerman or Javier Aguirre.

Market Reaction to Calderón's Plan

Bloomberg's Valerie Rota reports that the markets are reacting favorably to the food subsidy plan announced on Sunday. Wait, now she changed her mind. I guess we could say the reaction is mixed.

Stepping Up the Competition

'Bout time. Here's the important part:

When the U.S. men's national team squares off against England on Wednesday, it will mark the beginning of perhaps the most daunting stretch of friendly games the U.S. has ever undertaken. A matchup against host Spain in Santander will follow on June 4, with a home match against Argentina finishing off the run on June 8; all so the Americans can be in peak form for their World Cup qualifying series against Barbados one week later.

Petrobras Scores!

Sometimes real events make much more eloquent arguments than people do: while Mexico's energy debate trudges along (today's expert witness: the head of the electricians' union), unlikely to provide more than a cosmetic opening in the oil industry, Petrobras announced the discovery of a new oil field at almost 9,000 meters of depth in the Gulf of Mexico. Also involved in the operation were Shell, Marathon, and ENI.

Petrobras, the nationalized oil company of Brazil, is a model for what Pemex should become: a flexible, efficient, technologically advanced operation that can compete against and work with the world's oil giants while supplying the Brazilian state with a steady stream of income. But that obvious goal is forgotten amid the cacophony of a populism and nationalism better suited to another century.

(Thanks to the fantastic morning show of Pedro Ferríz de Con for pointing all this out today.)

Monday, May 26, 2008

Applebaum vs. Baker

Over on The New Republic's website Anne Applebaum has a forceful dismissal of Nicholson Baker's Human Smoke, a book of selectively chosen vignettes and quotes meant to show that World War II wasn't worth fighting. I've not read the book, but it seems truly preposterous, both in concept and structure. Everything I'd say about it, Applebaum already has, so check her article out.

Applebaum attributes the book to the same impatient and anti-intellectual zeitgeist that has birthed wikipedia and the blogosphere. She has the following to say about blogs:

It is true that there are many excellent, well-educated bloggers, whose contributions to public debates are invaluable, and who have served to prod the establishment institutions of many professions to try harder. At the same time, there are also many bloggers who, without any knowledge or expertise whatsoever, believe their opinions must by definition surpass those found in the "mainstream media, " or the "conventional histories," simply because they are self-appointed "critics," whether right-wing, left-wing, or off the charts.

I have no problem with that. In today's Washington Post, Howard Kurtz also expresses disappointment over the changes internet newsdom is wreaking on his newspaper. It's clearly a shame that someone like Tom Ricks, whose coverage of the Iraq War was as important as any journalist's, was bought out, but if the end result of the reorganization of the newspaper industry is that the Post no longer remains a place that is able to "support a staff that can hold public officials accountable across the region and still cover every Nationals game," I don't think that's the end of the world. I just hope they realize that the former is the essential function of a newspaper. After all, I can watch the Nationals on television and draw my own conclusions; they may be less expert than Wilbon's, but that's not a tragedy. But if I don't have access to Ricks or someone like him, I can't understand issues that are far more important.

Calderón's New Plan to Help Mexicans Eat

Felipe Calderón announced a plan to help stabilize the prices of basic staples yesterday. The 19-piece scheme involves a variety of measures, from removing tariffs on wheat and rice to subsidizing fertilizer for small farmers. Calderón is promising big money to support the plan; some $20 billion of windfall oil profits will go toward maintaining gas prices at their present level, and another $450 million will be used to pay for increases in the payments to Mexicans enrolled in Oportunidades, the government's targeted welfare program.

I'm interested to see what independent economists say about the plan; as a matter of policy, it's a bit out of my depth. Thus far I've heard only one government expert discussing it, and he was predictably biased. From a political standpoint, this should be a winning strategy for the PAN. The party is already viewed as a basically responsible entity, a party that can be trusted to run the federal government, unlike the PRD. The main complaint against the PAN is that it is home to a lot of right-wing kooks, which it is. However, Calderón is said to be pretty distant from the looniest wingnuts, and if he makes a consistent effort to tack visibly to the center, the PAN could eat into a lot of soft center-left support for the PRD and PRI. However, popular skepticism being what it is, one program will not be enough to recast the PAN. Indeed, the reaction of many campesino organizations to Calderón's 19 points was decidedly hostile.

Mexico in The Times

A lot of the news coverage of Mexico in the American papers is formulaic and not too enlightening: Official X was killed, drug wars are uncontrollable, people in Washington are worried, experts have suggestions but are basically stumped, yada yada yada.

That was emphatically not so with James McKinley's piece in The New York Times today. Really, a terrific piece of analysis and reporting. Two portions stand out:
Drug traffickers have killed at least 170 local police officers as well, among them at least a score of municipal police commanders, since Mr. Calderón took office. Some were believed to have been corrupt officers who had sold out to drug gangs and were killed by rival gangsters, investigators say. Others were killed for doing their jobs.
The last sentence is key; increasingly, it seems that high-level officers are being targeted despite the lack of any connection to one cartel or the other. That marks a shift away from the standard practice among cartels that had endured for years. I'm not sure if it is a sign that the cartels are getting desperate, as Calderón says; that sounds like a willful optimism. I'm not really sure what it means, but it is unsettling.

McKinley's paragraphs on Calderón's efforts to reform the federal police are also worth reading, probably the most detailed description of it that I've read in the American media.

Judging Salinas by His Cover

I picked up Carlos Salinas' new book this weekend, and I'll be shucked if this isn't the most uninspired cover I've ever seen. Not to be anal, but take a look at it. The central image isn't even a boring picture of the author (who, incidentally, is constitutionally incapable of looking boring), but the table of contents! This is the most eye-catching thing they could find? Other head scratchers: Why is "Lost Decade" in quotes if the book's central thesis is that the period in question actually was lost? You might say, because he's actually talking about eleven years, not ten. Not so fast, I would retort. If that were the case, it would read '"Década" Perdida,' not "'Década Perdida.'" In any event, no one writes about the Big "Ten" Conference. And that leads us to the final riddle: Why does he call it a decade if he's talking about a span of eleven years? Hmmmmmmmmmmmmm. Must have been someone important's day off.

Not that the folks at Debate are the only ones capable of foolishness: I really wanted to post this, and for about 30 minutes I was freaking out about the impossibility of there being an image of the cover on flickr, while the entire time the book itself and my camera were separated by maybe seven inches.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Santos Duro! Sí Se Pudo!

Santos advanced to the finals of the Mexican league with a last-minute goal against Monterrey. Mexico City powerhouse Cruz Azul now awaits. The photos to the left were taken about an hour after the game. The car in the above shot was moving at a pretty good clip, and there's a decent chance that the kid on roof is now in the hospital. After taking the picture below, I learned that the three shirtless teens dancing in front of the car are ex-students of mine. Keep on making me proud, boys! It was probably the most festive street atmosphere I've ever seen for a sporting event, with the possible exception of the area around Wrigley Field in 2003 and Knoxville in the pre-Pickle era. Even now, two and a half hours after the final whistle, cars continue with the trademark Santos honk (two long blasts, followed three in quick succession) without cease, and what is now a cool atmosphere will turn annoying really quickly if they're still at it when I want to go to bed.

Irony that I should have noticed a long time ago: the squad's official name is Santos (Saints), but its nickname is Guerreros (Warriors). Was that intentional?

Know Your Neocons

Jorge Zepeda Patterson's column today is a characteristically unhappy analysis of the rise of right-wing religiosity in Mexico. I share his distaste, but Zepeda Patterson, who is perhaps Mexico's most distinguished journalist, has no excuse for this:

The emergence of this conservatism [in Mexico] incorporated into politics is tied to the neoconservative (neocons) movement in the United States during the last 20 years. They are distinguished by their criticism of any form of state intervention, their affinity for Christian values, their disaffection with all expression from society that doesn't have its origin in the family, their distrust in the intellectual, the unfamiliar, or the different.

This shows a remarkable ignorance of the subject. Neoconservatism was founded by a bunch of radical Jewish intellectuals (rather famously, I might add), so Zepeda Patterson's comments about Christian values, intellectualism, and "the different" (the phrase sounds better in Spanish) are completely, starkly, demonstrably incorrect. Also, I don't ever remember the neocons adopting any particular view of the family as a big part of their agenda. I imagine that Zepeda Patterson is talking about the rise of the Christian right and got his American conservative movements a little backwards. Given that he gets extremely exercised about American conservatism in this column and others, perhaps he should acquaint himself with it a little better.

Is He Serious?

Real Archaeologists Don't Wear Fedoras, we're told. Uh, thanks? I can't say I ever suspected Indiana Jones of being anything like a real-life archaeologist. I imagine that most people above the age of 8 agree with me.

Cuba Policy: Where Thoughtful Politicians Go to Lobotomize Themselves

Via my brother Matt, Obama on Cuba. The candidate told the audience of Cuban-Americans that his Latin America and Cuba policy would be summed up "the simple principle that what's good for the people of the Americas is good for the United States." Matt doesn't like the line, and nor do I. It means nothing in terms of policy, and gives no clue as to his priorities in the region. That wouldn't be a huge problem if the rest of the speech was more substantive, but it really wasn't. He mentions having a special envoy for the Americas and creating an Alliance for the Americas, but it would be nice to hear a little more detail. The speech was a laundry list of general problems in the region, not a plan for alleviating them.

Obama could have done more with this speech, his first major address on Latin America. The depth he has demonstrated in talking about other regions was mostly absent here. Obama has come across as being not particularly well-versed on Latin America, and the speech didn't do a whole lot to reverse that notion.

Update: While he was in Miami, Andrés Oppenheimer interviewed Obama, and came away more impressed than he did ten months ago.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Book Choices

Barack Obama's reading has gotten an inordinate amount of attention in recent days, both for the admiration for Philip Roth he expressed in an interview with Jeffrey Goldberg, as well as for Fareed Zakaria's new book, which the candidate was recently spotted toting. It's kind of a silly phenomenon, all this concern about important people's reading lists. The reading contest that the White House cooked up between Karl Rove and W was the trend's ludicrous apex. (Though if the president really is spending as much time reading as he claims, maybe that explains the problems of the last eight years.)

If I were a presidential candidate, it'd be really hard not to poke fun at the press corps' obsession. I'd let them see me with, say, Jenna Jameson's autobiography, and revel in the inevitable questions:

Reporter: Senator Corcoran (that's fun to write, by the way), what can you tell us about the new book?

Me: Well, I've long admired Ms. Jameson as an underrated artist. People want to pigeonhole her as being one certain type of performer, but she's breakin' the mold. Just like we're breakin' the mold. We're not going to practice politics as usual, just as Ms. Jameson isn't following the same old tired porn-star career arch.

I guess that's why I'm not a politician. Has a presidential candidate ever uttered the words "porn star" in public?

The End of the FARC?

The Miami Herald is reporting that the 44-year-old guerilla organization's founder, Manuel "Sureshot" Marulanda, died of a heart attack almost two months ago. This follows the death of the movement's second-in-command in February, and the surrender of the group's top female commander a week ago.

Boring Week in Boxing

I'm not much of a Paulie Malignaggi fan (though you gotta love the hair weave he was sporting at the weigh-in for his fight with Lovemore N'Dou), so not a lot to get excited about between the ropes this weekend. Given that, I'd like to congratulate one of boxing's most exciting fringe contenders, Edner Cherry, for his knockout of ex-lightweight champ Stevie Johnson on Wednesday. It'd be great if Cherry could have a Mickey Ward-type payday at some point.

Bravo to Omar Bravo

Omar Bravo
Originally uploaded by . karlitoz
Chivas' Omar Bravo is the latest New Spain footballer to head to the Old World, and Gancho wishes him luck. There are now four European clubs with two Mexicans on the roster: Stuttgart (Osorio and Pavel), Barcelona (Rafa and Gio), PSV Eindhoven (Salcido and Masa), and Coruña (Guardado and now Bravo). Arsenal's Carlos Vela and Man City's Nery Castillo bring the total to ten Mexicans playing in Europe. (Am I forgetting anyone?) Unfortunately, the sporadically dominant Bravo is the second key member of Las Chivas Rayadas de Guadalajara to take off since the season ended, Masa Rodríguez being the other. Time to reload.

Saturday Morning Sanity

Jorge Chabat has a typically sensible look at Mexico's oil reform debate in Thursday's El Universal. He touches on a lot of points, but one that bears repeating is the show-trial quality to the congressional hearings that make up the debate. The legislators all know how they are going to vote going in; the PAN will vote for the reform, the PRD against, and the PRI will try to extract as many concessions as possible from the PAN in exchange for its support, which it will eventually give. Congressmen don't need the debates to make up their mind; virtually no deputy or senator is going to go against the party leadership (since there is no reelection in Mexico, pols are beholden to their party for their next job, not their constituents). What is actually discussed in the debates is secondary to this political logic, if not entirely irrelevant. In theory, the debate could be used to influence public opinion, but that is also unlikely here, as the debates are highly technical and not really designed to persuade Joe Six-Pack of one side or the other. The result is a series of debaters who aren't really debating so much as offering their opinion, with varying degrees of expertise. Everyone is essentially talking past each other. So, while the reform debate is not quite a sham, it's also "very probable that the monologues of spring won't be remembered by history."

Friday, May 23, 2008

Drugs Made Worse

Today I read two heart-breaking accounts of people marginally involved in the drug trade who were victimized by overzealous authorities, one on The Plank, one in Reason, which was linked in The Plank. Just awful, both of them.

Calling Cuba

I meant to mention Bush's announcement that the US would allow people to send cell phones to Cuba earlier this week: it's a tiny step, but a step in the right direction. This alone probably won't have any appreciable impact on American-Cuban relations, nor on the quality of life of those living in Cuba, but if Bush is inching toward a more open dialogue with Cuba's leadership about the nation's future, then this might wind up being something more than a footnote to a footnote to a trivia question.

Something else stood out: Bush called the Cuban leader "Raúl" rather than "General Castro" or just plain "Castro," which is in keeping with his pattern of personalizing all relations with foreign leaders, whether he is acquainted with them or not. (A brief list: saying he loathed Kim Jong-Il, giving Angela Merkel a massage, expressing toothpaste preferences with Tony Blair, famously seeing Vladimir Putin's soul through his eyes.) It's a silly practice, and not just because it's mildly undignified: expressing a personal dislike hardens the intransigence of the adversary (as was the case with Kim Jong-Il), while going to far in admiration allows a potential ally to take advantage (which was what Putin's did, after the soul examination).

Peaking Too Soon?

No sir!!

Sanchez on Extraditions

Marcela Sanchez has a nice commentary on the recent extraditions to the United States of Colombian paramilitaries (accused of drug trafficking and sundry atrocities in the Andes), what it could mean for Colombian politics, and the prospects of justice for the victims.

Best Headline of the Week

From my friend Sean, this is fantastic. Also, scroll down to the fifth paragraph: how is it possible that the chief of MADD is a man?

The Decline of Sports Journalism

Pat Jordan has an interesting article about the decline of sports profiles (and by extension sports journalism) on Slate. Jordan is a veteran sportswriter and celebrity profiler, and his anecdotes from decades past are the most entertaining part of the piece. (Roger Clemens was angry about a piece he’d written despite not having read it. That guy’s a piece of work.) He writes how athletes, now wealthy and famous in a way they weren’t a generation ago, have closed themselves off from the press, and consequently from their fans. As a result, sports reporters are more hostile toward their subjects, and delight in gotchya moments.

There’s nothing new here, but Jordan’s measured tone is entirely appropriate to the subject, much more so than the now-famous ire of Buzz Bissinger. (I know Bissinger was talking about a different topic, but the rise of blogs is related to the decline of traditional sportswriting.) At a very basic level, sports journalism doesn’t matter, and I don’t mean in the way that sports don’t matter. Even for folks who have repeatedly broken household objects because of a tough loss, sports’ reporting is an ancillary part of sports. That holds true whether the writing is beautiful or profane, whether it appears on a blog or in The New York Times. As much as I love the work of Bill Simmons today and A.J. Liebling half a century ago, their writing merely complements a Patriots game or a Ray Robinson fight; it is not essential to it. Bissinger negatively compared bloggers with the legendary W.C. Heinz, but would the sports Hines covered have been any different if he’d dedicated his life to selling knives? Bissinger is obviously quite angry about what he sees as the future of sports journalism, but the essential element of sports, namely the games themselves, is completely unaffected by the rise of blogs and the decline of profiles.

The Politics of Policing the Hemisphere's Biggest City

Polishing off an old issue of the magazine Gatopardo, I came across this nugget:

Pegaso, which is how Sánchez Amaya is identified in the capital city police, got his position in the way many high-ranking police bosses do in [Mexico City], for his leftist political activities.

Aside from the obvious problems created by awarding police fiefdoms based on political service, it’s worth noting that it’s a reward for leftist politics. Usually law and order is the province of the right. Then again, the left has long had a chokehold on the capital, and law and order and the police have little to do with each other in Mexico City.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Bad Taste

Speaking as someone who would probably vote Democratic in 2008 under any circumstances short of Abe Lincoln's rebirth and subsequent nomination by the GOP, I hope left-leaning magazines avoid comments like this.

If the Weekly Standard posted something comparable about Obama's race or name, Democrats would rightly call it classless.

Referendum + Confusing Subject = Bad Idea

I see from Ana María Salazar's blog (always a useful read for English-speakers wanting a quick synopsis of the day's news) that Marcelo Ebrard wants a national referendum on oil reform. If there is a policy issue less apt for a referendum, I can't think of it. Oil reform has about as many moving parts as a space shuttle, and all of them are vitally important. The basic issue--how can Mexico's oil flow best be guaranteed for future generations, and how can the revenue be most effectively harnessed--is pretty clear, but addressing it raises a host of other questions. For starters: How can Pemex reduce its staggering debt? How much should Pemex contribute to the federal government each year? If Pemex can't do it on its own, what sorts of affiliations are necessary for Mexico to access deep-water oil fields in the Gulf of Mexico? Would these affiliations require changes to the Constitution? What is the best way to streamline the Pemex employees' union? How can Pemex cut down on corruption? To answer these questions expertly, you'd need to be an economist, an oil industry engineer, a labor expert, and a lawyer with three different specialties. Needless to say, the majority of Mexicans are none of these, much less all of them at once.

Marie Cocco vs. Obama Supporters

I have no doubt that sexism plays a role in a lot of the political opposition to Hillary Clinton, and that her gender is possibly a bigger obstacle than Barack Obama's race. But Marie Cocco's column in today's Washington Post, titled "The 'Not Clinton' Excuse," implies that all the other reasons that people dislike her are weak covers for their sexist prejudices. Ridiculous. The Clintons (and no, it wasn't really possible not to take Bill into consideration) are far better than the person presently in the White House, but there’s a constellation of legitimate arguments against Hillary for Prez: the dynasty thing (even if other countries are OK with it, as Cocco says), the Clintons’ confrontational attitude toward the press (though again her hostility is nothing compared to Bush's), the need for a relatively non-polarizing president after eight years of W, her shady campaign tactics, her questionable general-election prospects, and, most importantly, the fact that Obama is simply a better candidate.

Cocco also quotes a political scientist saying that now that Clinton has been rejected by the electorate, it could be a generation before there is another credible female candidate for the presidency. That too is a dubious supposition. Five years ago, how long would you have guessed that we’d have to wait for the son of a Muslim Kenyan to make the White House? Eight years ago, who would have said that an obscure academic named Condoleezza Rice would soon be a conceivable candidate for the presidency? Circumstances change, and, for all we know, the woman who’s to be inaugurated in January 2013 could be brokering compromises among city council members in Charlotte as we speak. To automatically assume that no woman will be able to succeed where a very flawed female candidate happened to fail is quite a leap.

Reading up on Mexican Security

I just started La Urgente Seguridad Democrática: La Relación de México con Estados Unidos (which means basically what it looks like from the cognates) by Abelardo Rodrígues Sumano. Rodríguez Sumano studied international relations at a number of eminent American institutions, which means readers get lots of sentences like the following:

Therefore, our study is based on the theory of international relations in general and the sub-discipline of security in particular, with the object of delineating our language and defining the form in which the history, idiosyncrasy and plurality of a nation influence the character of the security policies that are expressed in the type of political regime so as to abandon ambiguity and give greater force to the arguments.

Ugh. It's like wading through a swamp. But I heartily agree with the thesis of the book, or what appears to be the thesis after the first 25 pages or so, that "Vicente Fox wasted a historic opportunity to develop a national security policy that would put the interests of Mexico ahead of the party, the administration, and the factions." Fox is often lambasted for not moving any big pieces of legislation, but this was just was an equally significant failing. Mexico could really use a bipartisan security consensus along the lines of the United States' containment, some basic framework to shepherd the nation through the next decade or two or three. I don't really think Calderón is working to build it either, though he's hardly alone in his responsibility for a lack of consensus.

Cue the Crickets

A week after Interpol verified that Hugo Chávez had promised $300 million (that's a Founder's Circle commitment Hugo!) to the FARC, the silence is deafening. Andrés Oppenheimer takes on the topic today.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Anguiano on Racial Politics

I've written in the past about the Mexican punditry's general favoritism toward Barack Obama, and today's "A Black American President?" by Eugenio Anguiano is another good example. He closes his piece with the following:
Returning to the question heading this article, to an occasional visitor to the region around could seem that Americans have matured to the point where they could vote without racial prejudice, but the US is big and racial conservatism is still widespread, which makes you wonder about the arrival of a black man to the presidency of the country. Despite that, I dare predict that, should he be confirmed in August to the Democratic candidacy, his chances of winning the big one would be very high.
I think Mexicans typically misread where lies the biggest challenge in Obama's candidacy: it's more his name than his race. Americans' anti-black racial prejudice in the post-Civil Rights era is surely less pronounced than Americans' anti-Muslim-sounding-name prejudice in the post-9/11 era. I'd be willing to bet a lot of dollars that there exist no small number of Americans who have no prejudice against African Americans (or whose light prejudice wouldn't affect their voting choices) but who would be uncomfortable with a White House occupant whose middle name is (famously) Hussein. At the same time, I'd also be willing to bet that there are fewer Americans who would not vote for a black man but who would vote for a white man named Muhammad.

In Obama's case, it's impossible to completely separate name prejudice from racial prejudice, but I think of the two, the former is the bigger obstacle. Of course, bets I'd make don't really equal evidence, and I have no polls to back me up, so maybe Anguiano has it right.

More on Mérida

Perhaps your physical distance from the Mexican-American border is directly proportional to your capacity to see bilateral issues clearly. Wait a second, that wouldn't speak too highly of my opinions, so scratch that. In any event, Barry Cooper of the University of Calgary has a terrificly concise summation of the challenges facing Mexican and American drug warriors in today's Calgary Herald. It covers a lot of ground in its 750 words, but this paragraph stands out:

Just as the grandchildren of Canadian rum-runners who made their pile during Prohibition in the U.S. are now both wealthy and respectable, the same sort of development can be expected with Mexican drug-runners. To reach that happy ending, however, Mexico will have to get past a couple of crisis points.

That's exactly the right frame of mind one needs to take a reasonable look at the Mérida Initiative. In just these two sentences, Cooper either implicitly or explicitly makes three important and often neglected points: 1) Mexico is not doomed; 2) dismantling not just a cartel but the cartels is a generational struggle, not something likely to result from three years of American aid; and 3) Mexico now faces a crisis, which American policy-makers should feel obliged to alleviate. Of course, for rum-running Canadian families to turn permanently honest, we had to legalize booze. That's not going to happen with any popular recreational drug any time soon.

Also, the Chicago Tribune weighs in with an endorsement of the Mérida Initiative, and thankfully avoids the delusional language employed yesterday by the Miami Herald.

AIG 1-1 Samsung (AIG Wins on Penalties)

avram grant
Originally uploaded by Polls Boutique
Wow, what a final. Congrats to the winners, with the exception of Cristiano Ronaldo.

I'm disappointed by the result, and it's too bad it ended on penalty kicks, but I have recently been haunted by nightmares that the game would somehow end in a knife-fight between Avram Grant and Vladimir Putin, so from that standpoint it was a relief. And Grant, now that is one terrifying guy. I saw him talking to Lampard at one point, and I wasn't sure if he was giving advice or threatening to eat him.

Was this Drogba's last game with Chelsea? Even if that's not the case, the parallels between his exit-inducing slap and Zidane's head butt in the finals of the '06 World Cup are eerie.

Cohen on Clinton

Richard Cohen’s column yesterday somehow found a silver lining for Hillary Clinton in her failed primary campaign: that she could now come back in 2012 as a gritty political vet who can stand on her own two feet and punch with her own two hands, rather than trade on her husband’s legacy. He also says that her association with Bill reminded us that she has been victimized, and is therefore unleaderly (can that be a word?).

Cohen’s probably right in saying that she was hurt by that fact that her public image contradicted the prevailing notion of what is the quintessential leader. Nonetheless, it's kind of silly. I don’t particularly like Clinton, but I’d like to think someone could be a nationally successful politician without always trying to be the alpha dog.

A lot of politicians seem to equate being a leader with imitating Thatcher or Churchill: someone who is aggressive and self-assured and tough as nails. Being Churchill was fine for Churchill, but most everyone else—not just in politics but in life—ends up looking like an ass. (W, I’m talking to you!) Indeed, even Churchill wasn’t Churchill until he had a challenge that measured up to his outsized personality. When I think of the worst bosses I’ve ever had, and more generally the most disagreeable people I’ve ever had the misfortune of knowing, almost all of them were men (though there’ve been a few women) who tried to dominate the group, who tried too hard to be the leader. I'd like to see less of those folks.

Counting Down

chelsea v man u
Originally uploaded by Baby Skinz
We're about two hours from kick-off in Moscow, with lots of uncertainty swirling about two teams, especially Chelsea. We have rumors of Didier Drogba going to Inter Milan. Frank Lampard has also been linked to Inter, as well as to Spanish clubs, depending on where Jose Mourinho lands. Supposedly Michael Essien wants his Chelsea exit visa as well. What's forcing running all the Blues off? My brother Matt's theory: "No one wants to play for the Undertaker. Just showing up to practice every day and seeing that guy is enough to make breakfast come up."

Firing the Special One remains a gigantic mistake.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Calderón vs. the Cartels! Next Stop: the Steel Cage!

Today's Miami Herald editorial supporting the Mérida Initiative opens with the sort of exaggerated language characteristic of the aid package's backers:

The outpouring of drug-related violence in Mexico over the last few months has made it indisputably clear that President Felipe Calderón's government is engaged in a fight to the death against the powerful criminal gangs that run the cross-border drug trade. For Mexico, the stakes are all too clear: Either it prevails or the country becomes one big sanctuary for druglords.

A few problems: first, it isn't a fight to the death. The cartels that operate now will probably be around in some form or another when Calderón leaves office in four and a half years, and even if they aren't, other groups will surely take their place. Calderón's government, in all likelihood, will survive intact for the duration of his term as well. So does that make it a fight to the ... stalemate? Accommodation? I don't know, but to the death it isn't. The second sentence is likewise a gross overstatement: regardless of the Mérida money, Mexico will neither decisively defeat the drug lords, nor will it become a gigantic safe house. It will remain well within the two extremes, much as it is today.

This may seem like minor nitpicking, but with all this ridiculously big talk, the initiative's backers are setting Americans up for disappointment, and setting Mexico up for a congressional beating when the package invariably falls short of the promises. The potential improvement in Mexico's security situation is limited, and the initiative's supporters should know this. Rather than peering into the same rose-colored crystal ball that made the Iraq War possible, they should be explaining why the package makes sense despite the grim outlook.

For more of my opinion of the Mérida Initiative, click here. Or here.

The UN vs. Mexico

Two different UN-related stories paint Mexico in a less-than-beautiful light today. The first comes from a conference about Mexico's mistreatment of Central American immigrants, the second from a UN-rep's opinions about the use of the army in the fight against the drug cartels.

On the first point, special rapporteur Jorge Bustamante said, "We see Central American migrants as inferior to us; that's racism Mexican-style, a cancer about which we do nothing." This bold statement speaks to Mexicans' nebulous relationship with race, which I always find fascinating. Mexicans are certainly less color-conscious than Americans, which is refreshing to anyone tired of the identity politics and racial political correctness that prevails in the US. Race isn't a barrier to a collective sense of identity in Mexico, and the idea that someone would be disliked strictly for their skin color is laughable. At the same time, Mexicans do not always own up to racism as a society, and clearly it does exist, though not in the hateful form people from the US might expect.

The second story deals with Amerigo Incalcaterra's impression of the Mexican army's anti-drug operations. Incalcaterra, the Mexico representative to the UN's High Commissioner on Human Rights, said explicitly that he was not in favor of the army leaving the streets, but was instead promoting enhanced training and greater safeguards against abuses. I'm glad he made that distinction. The more common message--using the army against drug cartels is bad--is missing a great deal of context. Mexico's police forces, at every level, are rife with dysfunction and criminality, ranging from daily extortion to murder. Fixing this cannot be the chore of one president, or one director of public security, or even one administration. It is a society-wide problem, and one that will take a generation to fix. The police simply cannot effectively combat the drug cartels, and won't be able to for years. Given that, in the near term, the army is the only other viable option. But if the army is the best of a bunch of bad options, it can be made less bad, as Incalcaterra points out. I hope people in Calderón's administration will be open to his critiques.

Four Decades in Twenty-Seven Words

A fantastic sentence about the arch of modern conservatism from a fantastic journalist: George Packer calls it "the movement that Goldwater began, Nixon brought into power, Ronald Reagan gave mass appeal, Newt Gingrich radicalized, Tom DeLay criminalized, and Bush allowed to break into pieces".

Check out the whole article.

The Honorable Gentleman from New York

This is a fun idea. Well, at least part of it is. Senator William Jefferson Clinton would obviously be a powerful force for the Democratic side, though one wonders if he would be more of a headache than an ally for President Obama. And Clinton, being the political animal that everyone says he is, might not view the constant fundraising and gladhanding as beneath the dignity of an ex-president. Then again, the only precedent author Jack Bass can come up with is Representative John Quincy Adams, though he also might add Chief Justice William Howard Taft. That's not too encouraging.

Unfortunately, Bass pegs his scheme to Hillary leaving her senate seat in order to stand as Obama's veep. Honestly, I don't understand how anyone who's not either Republican or a part of Hillary's campaign can think this is a good idea. The advantages of Hillary as a running mate--the disappearance of the spurious danger of a divided Democratic side--are far outweighed by the disadvantages: namely, that half the country's voters and a majority of independents avidly dislike her. Presumably, almost assuredly, Hillary for veep would be enough to drive such voters to McCain. The solution to Democratic division is for Hillary to act like a grown-up, admit defeat graciously, make a few campaign stops for Obama, point out how much her agenda resembles his, and then return to New York to work with the new president in January 2009. This doesn't need to be too complicated.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Cursed Oil

UCLA professor Michael Ross has a couple of interesting suggestions (subscription required for full article) to leaven the oil curse in the latest Foreign Affairs.

First, since large companies are better than governments at both absorbing large windfalls as well as withstanding sudden shortages of cash, he suggests altering the distribution of risk in the standard oil contract, wherein the oil company is guaranteed a certain stream of income, but the government reaps the reward if oil prices rise.

Second, he says that developing countries, often woefully deficient in the basic staples of a middle-income nation (roads, hospitals, et cetera), should sell their oil not for dollars but for infrastructure. Ross:

The governments of Angola and Nigeria are now experimenting with this type of barter: they have awarded oil contracts to Chinese companies in exchange for the construction of infrastructure. Western oil companies have been reluctant to make similar deals, pointing out that they know little about railroads and have trouble competing against state-owned enterprises in this arena, such as the Chinese oil companies. But they could easily team up with reputable companies that could carry out the work. And why stop at infrastructure? By forming partnerships, with experienced providers, oil companies could pay back host countries by, say, conducting antimalaria campaigns or building schools, irrigation projects, or microfinancing facilities.

Both of Ross's suggestions would have the added benefit of reducing the opportunities for corruption. With fewer dollars in play, it'd be harder for a dirty official to siphon a stack of Benjamins off into his own pocket. And it's not like he could jack a stretch of highway or a hospital wing. Of course, with Pemex's domination of Mexico's oil being absolute, such ideas are no more than daydream fodder here.

Futból a la Mexicana

Originally uploaded by codicebit
Mexico's soccer season wound down to the final four this weekend. Santos and Monterrey will face off in one semifinal matchup, and San Luis will measure itself against Cruz Azul in the other. With Chivas out, the Gancho pick is Santos.

Mergers and Aquisitions

From the DEA, this could wind up being a huge piece of news.

The gist of it is that half of the leadership of the La Federación, up to now the most powerful of the Mexican cartels, has merged with the Zetas, the group of ex-army soldiers known for their bloody tactics. The Zetas, who served as the army of the now-extradited Gulf Cartel leader Osiel Cárdenas, are now being linked to the Beltrán Leyva brothers, who were a part of the La Federación. As the name indicates, La Federación was a relatively loose grouping of various kingpins from Sinaloa and Juarez. This merger leaves the group quite a bit less federated, with the wing associated with El Chapo Guzmán now isolated. The split helps explain the recent violence in Sinaloa.

One wonders where this will lead. Any time a cartel breaks up, the factions often wind up targeting their erstwhile allies, so that would suggest that Mexico has a violent period ahead. It's also possible that the consolidation of two formidable and formerly competing groups will help create a hegemonic cartel, which could ultimately lead to relative calm. Of course, the alliances and enmities change faster in the Mexican drug industry than they do in Grand Theft Auto, so by the time I finish posting this it could well be dated.

Speculation Sunday: This Time, It's Ignatius

David Ignatius had a characteristically entertaining column yesterday suggesting either Chuck Hagel or Mike Bloomberg as Obama's running mate. Ignatius is right that each man would help Obama in areas where he's perceived as weak: Hagel on national security, Bloomberg on managing a large organization. It's a fun read, but I think ultimately neither man is very likely, a) because they're not Democrats at a time when the party is more than a bit divided, and b) because it could come across as gimmicky for a campaign that needs more grounding. I could see a certain portion of swing voters reacting to Obama-Hagel with an unreasonable and unarticulated but nonetheless very real aversion to a ticket that is so unlike any we've ever seen. Each man would probably be an easier pick for cabinet positions: Hagel at defense, Bloomberg at treasury. The safer choice for veep would be Chris Dodd, Joe Biden, Sam Nunn, or some other Democrat with national security credentials.

In any event, both Bloomberg and Hagel are likable, have impressive records, and appeal particularly to the center, so I could be totally off.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Mijares Solves Muñoz! Plus, Baseless Speculation about His Future

Cristian Mijares walked away with the WBC and WBA 115-pound belts on Saturday night after a split decision victory over Alexander Muñoz. Maxboxing's Cliff Rold called it a masterpiece. I didn't see it, but I expect it was, as Mijares is about as good a technician as there is in boxing. The only real challenge left at 115 is Fernando Montiel, who holds the WBO strap.

Assuming that fight can be made and Mijares wins (which is no easy task, but I'd bet on him), where does he go? He relies more on movement than punching and he has good size, so he could probably find some success as well as some big fights moving up. At 118, Gerry Penalosa and rising star Abner Mares stand out, though with just 16 fights Mares is probably too green for Mijares. Both the risk and the payoff would be even greater at 122, where Mijares could face off against countrymen Daniel Ponce de Leon, Rafa Márquez, Israel Vázquez, and Jhonny González. Those guys are all big punchers and each one would represent a huge challenge, but as I noted, Mijares isn't a puncher, so it's not like he would be trading with any of the four. I think he would spin Ponce de Leon in circles in the archetypal matchup of master boxer vs. huge puncher. It's possible that Márquez, Vázquez, and González won't have a lot left in the tank by the time Mijares would be ready for them, but they would be big promotions and about the only chance Mijares has to increase his popularity beyond the admiration of boxing nerds.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Saturday Morning Idiocy

John Gibson's piece for has to be read to be believed. It is rife with silliness, but two general flaws stand out.

First, there is Gibson's utter lack of familiarity with the situation about which he is writing. He turns Mexico's recent spate of violence into an attack on Felipe Calderón's government, calling him "a little late out of the starting gate" and generally painting him as a man unwilling to take on the cartels. Gibson evidently didn't do a whole lot of research for his column. After his election in 2006, Calderón lost no time in deploying the army against the cartels, which was something of a taboo. He has 30,000 soldiers out battling the cartels, which may or may not be the best approach (I think it is for the time being), but it is certainly the most aggressive. The president's strategy has failed to reduce the violence in Mexico, but he has made an aggressive stance toward drug runners a pillar of his government. Gibson calls Calderón "flaccid", which betrays a total ignorance of the situation. (As well as of the English language, as he wrote it "flacid".) In short, regardless of what you think about his policies' effectiveness, criticizing Calderón for being weak on drug policy is like attacking Bush for being soft on Iraq.

Second, as the "flaccid" comment indicates, Gibson views the government's posture in war on drugs in Mexico as a test of manhood, complaining that "there isn't a blue pill to cure this impotency". This is so stupid as to warrant a check of the author's pulse. Drug traffickers succeed not because the government lacks huevos, but because it's a great business, and human ingenuity being what it is, they find their way around whatever obstacles the authorities throw at them. The United States has more than a couple of drug dealers as well, and no shortage of users. Is that because W, Bubba, HW, Reagan and the rest weren't real men? That's ridiculous. It's the prism a 12-year-old Bruckheimer fanatic would use to analyze the issue. Mexico's security is a complicated problem, but anyone writing about it really needs to avoid imposing simplicity on a situation about which they have little knowledge and even less understanding. Shame on him.

And lastly, take a quick look at this picture. Where does this clown get off attacking anyone's manhood?

Friday, May 16, 2008


Dan Rafael reports that Cotto-Margarito is a done deal, scheduled for July 26 in Las Vegas. Both men are terrific action fighters with shaky defense, so it should be great. Cotto has advantages in athleticism and probably in hand speed, but his chin has been more dentable in the past than Margarito's. (Then again, so was the Terminator's.) Cotto is probably Gancho's favorite athlete, so of course I'll lay a lot of money on him, but I'm a little nervous about getting that money back. He'll will have to fight in bursts, punch going backwards, and move constantly to win this fight. Cotto has looked sensational over the past year, but I think this is probably the most difficult fight in existence for him. Neither Mosley nor Judah presented the challenge that Margarito will.


Last night I saw "Ladrón Que Roba a Ladrón" ("Thief Who Robs Thief" in English, though I imagine the English title wouldn't be directly translated). As you might guess from the repetition of "ladrón" in the title, thievery plays a big role in the movie. Indeed, it works on many levels. Most obviously, theft is a key portion of the plot: the heroes, a ragtag bunch of Latino immigrants in California, make off with the fortune of an unscrupulous Argentine billionaire. Second, with his million-pieces-moving-at-once script, screenwriter JoJo Henrickson blatantly ripped off Ocean's 11. And last, the local branch of Cinepolis should be prosecuted for robbing me of the 96 pesos I paid for two tickets.

On Your Marks...

Santiago Creel
Originally uploaded by jmrobledo
And the debate has begun!!

Mexican senators began debating the oil reform this week, which will probably result in some form of tepid legislation being passed toward the end of the summer. This has been a frustrating issue, not just because the PRD took over the congressional building in a flagrantly anti-democratic act, but also because the discussion is taking place in some bizarro world where 70-year-old concepts of nationalization are sacred but math and common sense and expert opinion are shoved aside. As a result, Mexico's oil industry, upon which the nation is enormously dependent, remains bloated, indebted, and with little hope for improvement.

But on the plus side, we get to see Santiago Creel, the leader of the PAN's senate bloc, on TV a lot more. Creel has got to be the only politician on the planet who always sports the five o'clock shadow. He never misses. He's like an indie movie actor, though with more responsibility, less talent on screen, and more luck with big-time actresses.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Manlio and Felipe, Sittin' in a Tree...

This seems like an uncharacteristically strong endorsement of President Calderon from the PRI’s Manlio Fabio Beltrones, regarding the former's policies in the battles with drug cartels. It’s heartening to see support from across the aisle, especially considering that one major party would be unlikely to voice confidence in the president even if Satan came up to Earth and invaded Mexico. It also serves another example of the PRI learning how to use their minority status more constructively than it did under Vicente Fox. Granted, it’s a relatively insignificant example, but the PRI has helped pass a lot of major legislation, whereas from 2000-06 it was blocking everything.

In general, Beltrones' comment reminds of the old saw about politics stopping at the water’s edge, which is typically associated with the US in the Cold War. The only difference, of course, is that Mexico’s USSR lies inside its borders.

From the Department of Huge Surprises

Hugo Chavez supports the FARC. Evidently, he does so avidly.

I wonder if this will make everyone take him a little more seriously. Thus far, lots of people have focused more on his buffoonery than his capacity to wreak havoc in the Andes and beyond. And while he was out of line calling Bush the devil, and it was satisfying seeing the Spanish king shut him up like a schoolboy, Chavez's potential menace goes far beyond rhetorical fireworks. Hopefully, the world community (especially South American leaders) will hold him to account, and stop treating him like a well-intentioned cut-up.

We Demand Recognition

Mexico, which has a day for everything, celebrates the teacher today. Damn straight, says I.

Gancho quiz: which of the following is not a real holiday?

a) Taco Day
b) Oil Nationalization Day
c) Police Corruption Day
d) Julio Cesar Chavez Day

Answer: d. What about c, you ask; there can't possibly a holiday for police corruption. But in Mexico, you see, each and every day we all give a nod to the country's beloved dirty cops.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008


Wow, that was a crushing loss. Chivas got that arse kicked, and now they need a miracle this weekend to stay alive. Dammit.

Soldiers in DF?

Marcelo Ebrard, Mexico City’s mayor, is resisting calls for an army deployment in the nation’s capital. Good for him. The army is the best of a bunch of bad options in lots of cartel-plagued cities, but Mexico City is nothing like Reynosa or Laredo.

In the border towns, drug trafficking is the principle driver of lawlessness, so theoretically if the army puts the screws to a handful of drug runners, they’ll go elsewhere, and the city will be safer. In Mexico City, on the other hand, you’re much more likely to be the victim of street crime than of a shootout between cartel hitmen. Even if the army was capable of eliminating every cartel member in Mexico City, it would still be extremely violent.

Then there’s the sheer size of Mexico City. There are more than 20 million Mexicans moving to and fro in the metro area. What good could a group of 2,500 soldiers (deployments are typically only a few thousand soldiers) really accomplish in a city of such size? If a cartel operator sees a group of soldiers setting up shop down the street, he doesn’t need to leave town but merely change neighborhoods to put a few million people between himself and the army. You could argue that although the army won’t make Mexico City a whole lot more peaceful, it could still help protect federal officials. However, with Tijuana and Juárez all but falling apart, I don’t think that’s necessarily the best use of limited resources.

The calls to send in the army come in response to the recent assassination of Edgar Eusabio Millán Gómez. The killing was sad, all the more so given the way he was betrayed by a man on his staff, but will the army make things any better? I don’t think so. It’s a shame that Mexico City’s police force is dysfunctional, even predatory, but a handful of extra soldiers wouldn't be an improvement.

Finally, Something Good from Gitmo

There’s a great night of boxing ahead on Saturday: a handful of up-and-comers on HBO, including can’t-miss prospect Yuriorkis Gamoa. Gamboa, a Cuban defector with some of fastest hands in the game (and the best name in sports since World B. Free), is ranked fifth in the WBA super-featherweight rankings after just nine bouts. You could compare him to Roy Jones, Jr. for his speed and the crazy-angled punches. The way he stands in front of his man without ever taking much punishment makes Jake Donovan of Maxboxing think of James Toney. He also reminds me of Meldrick Taylor because of both the hand speed and the volume of punches. But of course, Gamboa is just a pup; lots of guys make you think of Roy Jones in their first few fights and then wind up making themselves famous while lying on their backs. In Darling Jimenez, Gamboa faces a decent opponent on Saturday, but even if he wins, his people would be crazy to stick him in with WBA champ Edwin Valero. Valero has knocked out each of his 23 opponents, 19 of them in the first round. As fast as he is (and that’s a lot faster than Valero), Gamboa’s hands spend way too much time at his thighs to risk being in with a guy is probably the hardest puncher in the sport.

Further south, in my beautiful dustbowl of a city called Torreón, Coahuila, we have the 115-pound unifier between Alexander Muñoz and Cristian Mijares. Of course, I can’t go because I have a wedding that night. Incidentally, I’ve got a nice streak of weddings falling on fight nights: my cousin Alex got married the night of the Tszyu-Mitchell rematch in 2004; friend Anthony tied the knot while Mayweather bludgeoned Gatti in 2005; brother John got hitched right before Klitschko buried Brock in 2006; friend Marcelino said his vows the night of the Cotto-Judah bloodbath in 2007; and now this. I’m sure it goes back further, I just can’t think of too many weddings before that. Don King, Bob Arum, Gary Shaw, et al: could you guys please start checking my social calendar?

Lopez Obrador, Banish Thyself!!

New article about the Mexican left.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Aziz on Democracy in Mexico

Alberto Aziz Nassif, one of Mexico’s most prominent columnists, opens today’s piece in El Universal by lamenting that the “fight for human rights has turned into a fundamental problem for our ever weaker democracy.”

I agree with him on the first part; I like Calderon a lot more than he does, but I’ve written that human rights has the potential to be a black spot on his legacy. However, I’m not quite sure where Aziz Nassif is coming from with the woe-is-me-ism about Mexican democracy. The last time there was a major challenge to democratic institution was only a few weeks ago, when the PRD occupied the congressional building and locked out the lawmakers with whom they didn’t agree, in order to force a prolonged to debate on oil reform. Aziz Nassif didn’t exactly condemn the move. Indeed, he treated it as a slight excess by the well-intentioned:
"It’s true that the Broad Progressive upset the apple cart and the social movement flooded once more the downtown streets of the capital; it’s true that it’s annoying that some legislators wear two hats; it’s true that you can’t use force to obtain the results that you want, that you can’t cancel a parliamentary session just for not agreeing, much less when you are part of the institution.

But, at the same time, it’s no less true that the government hasn’t had any sensibility, that it used the wrong strategy, that it wanted to play with the timetables and format, and that it presented a privatizing reform initiative…but in the end it shot itself in the foot."
And there you have it: holding congress hostage is the same as pursuing a strategy that Aziz Nassif deems incorrect. Now just a couple of weeks later, we have him wringing his hands over Mexico’s enfeebled democracy. If you’re going to excuse attacks on democratic institutions, I think you then forfeit the right to complain about their fragility.

Rich guy telling you you're ignorant

Diego Luna hasn’t made too many movies in English, but he’s already got Hollywood condescension down pat. This from a recent column titled “Fame and Philanthropy” in the Mexican business mag Poder:

“Indifference and ignorance are in my opinion the sicknesses of our society. They turn us into ghosts in life, they impede us from understanding ourselves as part of a whole, and they remove us from real human pleasures, the most basic ones, such as loving and being loved…We can all do something, the famous and the not famous alike.”

Thanks Diego!

Monday, May 12, 2008


In nine days, Manchester United and Chelsea go at it for the Champions League title. Gancho is rooting for the Blues for a number of reasons:

1) I can't stand Ronaldo, because he flops, he whines, and he reminds me of Tim Roth's character in Rob Roy.

2) Man U already took the EPL.

3) I like Chelsea, even though the owner is a Russian Steinbrenner and the Special One is gone.

4) At a wedding in Puebla last August, I was one of two native English-speaking men. The other was a Brit, who spent most of the reception cooing at a small baby he toted around with him. I instinctively resist talking to people in any situation like that, I guess because it's irritating that just because we're minorities we should have to hang out. Nevertheless, I found myself next to him at one point, and we began to chat. This I immediately regretted, as every sentence out of his mouth was accompanied by a half dozen globules of saliva. When we started talking about soccer, he lobbed a good deal of arrogance along with the spittle, and he was forceful on the point that Manchester with Tevez would be unstoppable. He all but guaranteed an EPL and Champions League title. There was no reason to even think about any other team, he moistly assured me. I desperately wanted him to be proven wrong, especially while my face was wet, but also later after toweling off.

So to hell with that guy and go Chelsea!