Friday, October 31, 2008

Respek!

According to the Barómetro Iberoamericano, Felipe Calderón is the region's (although it's not really a region with the inclusion of Spain; "concept" maybe?) fourth highest rated president, behind only Álvaro Uribe, Tabaré Vázquez, and Lula. Sixty-one percent of respondents expressed approval of the Mexican president, compared to 85, 67, and 67 percent, respectively, for the others.

Boxing Worldwide

Lots of bouts across the globe this weekend, and in most of them I'm familiar with only one fighter. In such situations, I will pick the fighter I know, favored or not.

I like Mijares over Darchinyan by comfortable decision (but, as often happens with Cristian, a clueless judge will give one card to the other guy). I think Chávez wins somewhat more easily in his second test against Vanda (and if he can't, if it wasn't just a horrible night at the office but a question of skill the first time around, then I think we can all stop waiting for Chávez to develop into something more and go ahead and assume he just ain't that good). I like Arce to beat García, and Donaire will take care of business against Mthalane (but honestly I have no idea on that last one). I'll take Joel Julio over Sergei Dzindziruk, and Felix Sturm over Sebastian Sylvester.

Taking Fox to Task

Esteban Moctezuma Barragán condemns Vicente Fox in an open letter for his dismissive hostility to his political opponents:
You lived in Los Pinos. You know how important it is to have the general support for the public policies of any president. You know the significance of having your entire party's support. You even benefitted from the solidarity of many people who, without having voted for you, always respected the presidential figure because of its impact on everyone's quality of life.

Why, then, are you dedicating yourself to deepening the division between different groups of Mexicans, just when we most need generosity and unity?

A few months ago you demanded to be called "president," not "ex-president." And I ask you: do you behave with presidential stature, with responsibility in what you say and what you do? Do you look for the best for all Mexicans from your new position? If that's the case, why then do you attack, ridicule, and preen in front of other political groups?

Do you want an important segment of the Mexican Left to be convinced that law and democracy aren't effective paths to political power? Do you wish to incite political violence in Mexico? Are you trying to confirm yourself as the most anti-democratic "democrat" in our history? Are you behaving to embarrass your party and everyone that voted for you? Your declarations about using "all the minutiae of the law to give it in the rear" to Andrés Manuel López Obrador is an affirmative response to these questions.
It may (may!) be a little over the top, but it gives a good flavor of how small Fox has become, and big he still thinks he is.

Shakeups Coming?

Ricardo Alemán says that after having been brought into his post solely to shepherd oil reform through the Congress, now that the reform has passed, Juan Camilo Mouriño is on his way out as the Interior Secretary. The possible replacements, according to Alemán: Secretary of Education Josefina Vázquez Mota, IMSS chief Juan Molinar Horcasitas, Secretary of Health José Ángel Córdova Villalobos, and Calderón confidant César Nava.

Alemán adds that notwithstanding his middling performance in guiding the oil reform legislation, this is not a bad result for Mouriño.
[I]n effect, one of the winning hands seems to be that of Juan Camilo Mouriño, a campechano who, according to the local polls, has everything he needs to become a panista governor in his native Campeche. At the same time, it's increasingly likely that the refinery that Felipe Calderón's government announced as part of its oil strategy will be built in Campeche.

Krauthammer Is for McCain, against Reality

Krauthammer today breaks down the two candidates:

Start with economics.

Neither candidate has particularly deep economic knowledge or finely honed economic instincts. Neither has any clear idea exactly what to do in the current financial meltdown. Hell, neither does anyone else, including the best economic minds in the world, from Henry Paulson to the head of the European Central Bank. Yet they have muddled through with some success.

Both McCain and Barack Obama have assembled fine economic teams that may differ on the details of their plans but have reasonable approaches to managing the crisis. So forget the hype. Neither candidate has an advantage on this issue. [Emphasis mine]

Really? John McCain, who said the fundamentals of the economy were strong in the midst of the biggest crisis in 70 years, whose principle economic advisor called us whiners and mocked the growing concern over the economy, and who has professed no interest or aptitude for economics himself, isn't at a disadvantage? Obama can speak without preparation with depth and literacy on the economy, and holds an 18-point lead in "which candidate do you think understands the economy better?" I know Krauthammer is speaking in terms of substance and not politics, but in this case the majority of Americans have it right.

I do appreciate, however, Krauthammer's willingness to put an Obama victory in perspective:
This is not socialism. This is not the end of the world. It would, however, be a decidedly leftward move on the order of Lyndon Johnson's Great Society.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Afores Abajo

The value of Mexico's afores, the retirement account given to every worker with a formal job, has dropped by about $5 billion, or almost 20 percent of the total, in 2008 thanks to declines in the Mexican stock market.

Revelations

The Beltrán Leyva brothers' infiltration of Siedo has been the subject of much recent reporting. Excelsior adds to it today with its rundown of the brothers' response to the capture of baby bro Alfredo Beltrán Leyva. The group threatened to kill all of the informants in their pay because they failed to warn them of the operation, and planned an operation to bust Alfredo out of captivity. The plan was ultimately abandoned, but at one point, only 11 AFI officers were charged with guarding the kingpin.

Mijares Stateside

In advance of his Saturday bout with Vic Darchinyan, the Laguna's own Cristian Mijares is all over the American boxing sites: Maxboxing twice, Secondsout.com, and ESPN.com.

Where Things Went Wrong

I think Howard Wolfson's synopsis of John McCain's campaign failures is so good, I'm posting it in its entirety.

The economic crisis dealt the McCain campaign a fatal body blow. None the less, the choices that Senator McCain has made during this race will impact the margin of his defeat and the fortunes of other Republicans on the ballot. Today it's worth considering what Senator McCain could have done differently. The usual caveats about hindsight apply.

1) Avoid Faustian Bargains.
Campaigns don't begin on announcement day and Senator McCain's most fateful decision predated his. Following the election of 2000 John McCain enjoyed a national reputation as a moderate maverick who was willing to challenge the voices of intolerance within his own party and work across the partisan divide. After 9/11 Senator McCain changed course dramatically and yoked his fortunes with President Bush's. This strategy clearly helped Senator McCain capture his party's nomination -- but it left him poorly positioned to compete in a general election in the current political environment. The John McCain of 2000 would still be giving Senator Obama a run for his money -- unfortunately for him that John McCain no longer exists.

2) A Second Act for Sarah Palin.
Sarah Palin's introduction to the American public was a strong one. She helped to rally the Republican base and drew interest from blue collar voters and some women who might not have otherwise given John McCain a second look. Since then her performance has been poor. Her interviews with Charlie Gibson and Katie Couric were embarrassments and instead of rallying swing voters she spends her days on the campaign trail engaged in increasingly vitriolic attacks on Barack Obama. What if Gov. Palin had instead spent September engaged in a series of round table discussions with families struggling to balance work and family and unveiled innovative family friendly policies designed to appeal to those blue collar women who had served as the backbone of Hillary Clinton's campaign?

3) A Different VP Choice Entirely.
The choice of a VP speaks volumes to the American public about the candidate making it. Given her performance on the trail it's hard to argue that Gov. Palin has helped Senator McCain. What if he had chosen Gov. Tom Ridge, a pro-choice former Governor or former Senator Joe Lieberman instead? Either would have burnished Senator McCain's bipartisan credentials in a way that Gov. Palin did not. Would the choice of Mitt Romney have helped credential Senator McCain on the economy? At least Romney could discuss the economic collapse with some degree of knowledge.

4) Distance from George W. Bush.
George W. Bush ends his second term in office as the most unpopular President in the last fifty years. Once Senator McCain had secured his party's nomination he should have been out every day trying to find a high profile way to demonstrate that he would be a very different President than Bush had been -- especially on the issue of the economy. Instead he allowed Senator Obama and Democrats to define his prospective first term as President Bush's third. The last thing the American public wants is four more years of the last eight. Senator McCain never made a compelling case that he would do anything differently. In 1992 Bill Clinton ran as a "different kind of Democrat." in 2000 George W. Bush ran as a "compassionate conservative." Both men sought to distance themselves from unpopular associations with their own parties. That approach was arguably more important this election cycle and Senator McCain never even made a serious attempt to implement it.

5) Attempt to Define Senator Obama Earlier.
Senator McCain's efforts to hang Bill Ayers around Senator Obama's shoulders are totally irrelevent to the current mood of the country and only serve to reinforce how out of touch he is with the real concerns of the American people. They are also much too late to do any good. The swiftboating of John Kerry began in August of 2004. If John McCain had wanted to tag Senator Obama with Mr. Ayers he should have begun months earlier.

6) A Coherent Response to the Economic Crisis.
Senator McCain's response to the economic crisis -- first lauding the economy, then suspending his campaign to pass a bill that failed on its first try, threatening to skip the first debate -- was lurching, incoherent, and tone deaf. This was a critically important test in the campaign; an opportunity for voters to assess the actions of both candidates in the midst of a real time crisis. John McCain failed this test. A high profile, bipartisan summit with a mix of economists, business leaders and ordinary Americans to consider and articulate solutions to the crisis would have served Senator McCain much better.

What am I missing?

TMQ Steals from Corcoran Family Conversation

Honestly, John and I were making this very same point several weeks ago in my mom's living room: an overwhelming majority of the Super Bowl coaches in the last decade have been retreads who got better their second time around. There are some exceptions (Brian Billick, Bill Cowher), but it's uncanny how many of the recent winners (Mike Shanahan, Tony Dungy, Tom Coughlin, Dick Vermeil, Jon Gruden, Bill Belichick) flopped elsewhere.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Lowering Expectations

Mexico's Central Bank lowered growth projections for 2009 to between 0.5 and 1.5 percent. Not to go all Gramm-McCain on you (ya buncha whiners!), but it's still not a recession. It's all related, but the crisis's effect on the labor market (as opposed to growth alone or banking solvency) remains the most worrying aspect of it.

Diego! Armando! Maradona!

Jumping back to Argentina, if you were in a high-level government job --say, the presidency-- and you wanted to initiate a plan that threatened to be wildly unpopular, now would be a great time to do so. Thanks to yesterday's news (which incidentally is news today, and will remain so for many tomorrows), Diego Armando Maradona will be occupying about 85 percent of national mental space until at least 2010.

After watching Hugo Sánchez flop in Mexico, and viewing from a distance Dunga's struggles, I am a bit skeptical about the ex-star taking over the national team. Matt, who knows a lot more about soccer than I do, is more circumspect:
We'll see. Not a whole lot of experience as a coach but the players will obviously respect him. And for Maradona health-wise, it's good to see him step up. A few years ago he was on death's door and now he's coaching la selección. Quite a turn-around.
In any event, it will certainly make Africa more entertaining.

Other Foot, Meet the Shoe

The infiltration of the American embassy in Mexico by a drug cartel may not have been Watergate, but Mexicans, long resentful of American tut-tutting about their own security scandals, are sure milking it. A rough translation of that headline would be, "Spy easily fakes out American security."

Although it's not quite clear how much exactly was compromised, the story is worrying. A man known only as Felipe (he is in Mexican witness protection now) was instructed by the Beltrán Leyva gang to apply for a security-related job in the embassy via internet. He overcame the background check and personal intervew and was hired. Over the course of the decade since his hiring, Felipe was granted clearance to work with congressmen on diplomatic visits. All the while, he was providing the cartel with the names of people being investigated by the American authorities.

More on Argentina

In his harsh reaction to the Mexican oil reform that I posted below, Macario Schettino also mentions Argentina gobbling up its population's pensions. In case you missed it, here's Alvaro Vargas Llosa with more info:
I recently suggested that the U.S. government's bailout of the financial system, which includes the de facto nationalization of several banks, would arouse populists around the world and give them the perfect alibi to confiscate private property. President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner of Argentina has been the first to confirm my prediction.

Terrified that she would not be able to pay off about $10 billion of public debt fast approaching maturity, Fernandez de Kirchner nationalized her country's private pension funds. The 10 affected funds constituted the biggest source of savings for Argentina's economy and the financial system's primary source of liquidity. With the stroke of a pen, the savings of 10 million people--about $30 billion--have been passed on to the Peronist government, which is sort of like putting the family jewels in Ali Baba's care.

Macario Not Satisfied

Schettino is pessimistic on the oil reform:
Today Pemex is reformed. Not energy nor oil, just the company. That is to say that to resolve a problem its cause is strengthened. Suffice it to say that it is an absurd solution. The believers in the myth will insist that only this way can the nation of the Revolution continue existing. The optimists will see in the reform the success of negotiation, a show of the reliable politicians' capacity. From outside of the myth of self-satisfaction, the size of the error is evident. We have been caricature of a country for so long, like so many Latin American nations. Once again, only Argentina exceeds our self-destructive enthusiasm: its government has plundered for the second time the savings of its country. And part of the population celebrates it, as here part of the political class celebrates the reform.

Mexico has never been an oil-producing power, but rather only because of Cantarell, which is running out irremissibly. We never managed to construct a national oil industry, despite our production and our being neighbors of the country that has produced the most oil in history. Pemex is an inefficient company that occupies at least three times more staff than required, a sinkhole of corruption, and that now will reduce its payments to the government, appropriating more oil-based profits. But even if it kept all the profits, it wouldn't be enough to explore deep water, which is the type of investment that must be made. Where did Mexico come out ahead?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Shifting Polls

Leo Zuckermann cited a Consulta Mitofski poll I'd missed in yesterday's column, which shows the following breakdown for projected votes in the 2009 congressional elections: 46 percent for the PRI, 35 percent for the PAN, and 15 percent for the PRD. This poll shows significant movement toward the PRI and away from the PAN. Only a couple of months ago, most polls were showing about 39-40 percent for the PRI and the PAN, with about 17 percent for the PRD. The Mexican punditry has been talking about the PRI's improving position for what seems like an eternity now; it seems like the polls are starting to catch up with that sentiment.

Zuckermann highlights the danger in a poor performance by the PAN.
In fact, with these numbers from the poll two possible scenarios that would be terrible for the president take shape. First: that the PAN loses more than 50 deputies. Why 50? Well because that's the number of legislators that the PAN lost in the mid-term elections in 2003. If it shrinks more than that, everyone will say that Calderón lost more deputies than Fox, which would be a message of governmental weakness. But that's not the worst scenario for the PAN now that, with 46 percent of the votes, in the mixed electoral system that we have, the PRI could win a majority in the Chamber of Deputies. This would send an even more forceful message of government weakness.

Marcelo and Andrés Manuel

Carlos Loret offers an interesting assessment of the relationship between the last two mayors of Mexico City (excluding the Encinas appointment). They aren't close, but they both avoid spats because each needs something from the other. The mass political movements in the capital are still loyal to López Obrador, so Ebrard needs his support to ensure that in a fit of pique he doesn't sink DF in a wave of protests. At the same time, López Obrador has no actual political position, so he needs Ebrard, who governs the PRD's most important base of support and the controls the nation's second biggest coffer, to keep the money flowing to his movement, or else it dies. (He doesn't specify how exactly Ebrard funds AMLO, but I would guess Loret means that he gives money to his supporters within the DF government rather than directly transferring city funds to AMLO. Given that AMLO doesn't have an office, the latter would have to be illegal, right?)

Loret correctly points out that this marriage of convenience is destined to come to an end by 2011, as both men start gearing up for a presidential run. I think Ebrard should have done more to distance himself from AMLO, especially his more extreme actions, like taking over the congressional building and persisting with the protest in 2006. In 2012, he'll have a hard time overcoming Mexicans' dislike of AMLO and his present connection to him, even if it is just for convenience. As far as AMLO, unless something truly catastrophic happens to Mexico (and I struggle to conceive with something of sufficient magnitude), his presidential ambitions will never advance much beyond his imagination.

A Mexican Aldrich Ames

Yesterday I mentioned that the Beltrán Leyvas had allegedly inflitrated one of the government's most potent narcotics agencies, Siedo. Today, the US is reporting that there is evidence that through Miguel Colorado González, a high ranking Siedo official, the group has had agency infiltrated since 1997.

Cabinet Picks

Foreign Policy has a fun feature on 10 public figures' picks for the next cabinet. Robert Gates was the choice at Defense for half of the participants. There were some intriguing selections Secretary of State, like Bill Bradley and Bill Clinton. Grover Norquist, having no trouble adapting to the new political reality, opted for Steve Forbes at the Treasury, Dov Zakheim as National Security Advisor, and his brother David as the Director of National Intelligence.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Jobless

Javier Lozano, Mexico's labor secretary, said yesterday that Mexico will not be able to generate more than 300,000 new jobs until at least 2010. Most experts estimates that the nation needs at least 1 million per year to keep pace with the expanding labor force, although if you factor in migrants returning from a declining American job market, the figure is probably much higher.

Cuba and Mexico, Friends Again

The two neighbors are continuing their rapprochement, the latest iteration being the love-in during the Cuban Foreign Minister's visit to Mexico last week, which included an invitation for Calderón to return the favor in a trip to Havana.

Jorge Chabat attributes the gooeyness to Calderón's domestic needs, especially oil reform. The Cuban Minister pointedly mentioned during his trip that Cuba allows oil partnerships with private companies. With Latin America's socialist icon basically signing off on the most controversial element of the reform, the Mexican Left's case against reform lost a lot of salience. More generally, Calderón backtracking from Fox's harsh treatment of Cuba makes it a lot harder for his adversaries to paint the mildly conservative president as an American pawn. Chabat wonders the panistas --who tirelessly criticized the PRI for its close ties to Cuba during the Revolutionary Era-- will do when and if Calderón "is sipping mojitos in Havana?" It's an unsavory choice: they can either attack their own president, or abandon their principled opposition, which was less than a decade ago one of the few major differences between themselves and the business-friendly wing of the PRI.

I also wonder what Calderón will do if Cuba's democratic transition starts while he is still in power. He has more than four years left, so it's certainly not inconceivable. A too close embrace of the Castros could preclude any Mexican influence over the transition.

Baker's Take

George Baker of the consulting firm Energia.com offers his initial impressions of Mexico's oil reform.

Infiltration

El Universal is reporting on an investigation by the Mexican Department of Justice that revealed that the Beltrán Leyva gang had infiltrated Siedo, Interpol in Mexico, and the American Embassy. The cartel was supplied with information about the identity and movements of DEA agents and Mexican military officers.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Eagles Grounded

Chivas 2-1 América! Two goals from Omar Arellano. With a little less than a month before the liguilla, is Chivas peaking at the right time? I say yes.

Trickling Down

One of the economic crisis's side effects: some 20,000 Mexico City kids have withdrawn from private schools in favor of the free public schools, says the local government. 

Another AF Kingpin Goes Down

A fourth Arellano Félix brother is captured/killed, this one being Eduardo, who follows Ramón, Benjamín, and Francisco Javier. This comes days after a major operator in the family's organization was also captured

Weed and Tequila

Actually, the title should be "Weed in Tequila," as in the Mexican army confiscating ten thousand pounds of marijuana in the town of Tequila, outside Mexico City. 

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Rough Break

Three hundred Mexicans who bought trips through a travel agency to Turkey and Egypt were flown to said countries, then stranded. I can't say I envy them. The agency's owner is looking at fraud charges.

Hunting Chicken

Ricardo El Pollo Estrada, one of the FBI's 35 most wanted criminals and an associate of the Arellano Félix cartel in Tijuana, was captured by the Mexican army yesterday. The cartels are still killing huge numbers of people, but Estrada is just one of a number of big fish caught by the Mexican authorities in recent weeks, which could buy Calderón a little patience from the public. Then again, catching all the biggest kingpins while the country went to hell around them didn't work too well for Vicente Fox, so one of Calderón's top priorities has to be to limit the violence.

Peso Update. Or, Crap, Part 2

The peso has slid to almost 14 to the dollar. Mexico's central bank has exhausted $14 billion, or more than 15 percent of its foreign reserves, in an effort to prop the currency up in the past two and a half weeks.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Questioning Trade

Paul Blustein, the author of a great book about the Argentine economic crash, has an intriguing and unconventional take on trade in this summer's World Policy Journal (I'm taking a long time to catch up on my summer book-buying spree in Gringolandia). Blustein is an advocate of trade, but he opposes free trade agreements (which he calls PTAs) and those whom he calls knee-jerk free traders. The gist of his argument is that PTAs are far inferior to multilateral trade bodies, and that they are no longer necessary, because tariffs do not pose the barrier to trade that they did a generation ago, regardless of the agreements in place. He also says that PTAs are so vigorously pursued because they give politicians a nice shiny hook on which to hang their hat, but the long-term benefit doesn't measure up to the immediate excitement. 

It's definitely worth a read, but I feel like Blustein is making the perfect the enemy of the good. The points about the WTO are well taken, but the most vital issue now (and probably for the next decade) isn't whether PTAs are better or worse than multilateral bodies. The more relevant question is if, given the growing resistance to trade in the US and the world's failure to complete Doha, is having a PTA in place generally worse than not having one? He seems to think so, but I don't think he makes a strong case. 

Final Tally

All told, 89 percent of the Mexican Senate voted in favor of oil reform, including 20 perredistas who will presumably be erased from el Peje's Christmas card list. 

Greenspan and the Free Market: On the Rocks?

Jon Chait wonders why Alan Greenspan's acknowledgment of the market failures that contributed to the present banking crisis wasn't bigger news. After all, it was like if Dr. Ruth had suddenly advocated abstinence. I know he wasn't talking about attention from Mexicans, but for what it's worth, Greenspan's testimony was on the front page of Excelsior today. 

Oldies but Goodies

A couple of columns from weeks past that I've been meaning to highlight: 

Mauricio Merino sees a slippery slope between the culture of impunity that prevails in Mexico and the broader failures of state institutions: 
From the impotence of the State to punish those who violate the most elemental social codes we have drifted, bit by bit, to the imminent risk of State capture so as to affirm impunity. Something like that has already happened, in any event, in other spheres of public life, from spheres where rules were bent so that the authorities could avoid punishment, to surrealistic extremes like the handout of Hummers by the leaders of the teacher's union, which is another form of impunity turned into State policy.
And Jorge Fernández Menéndez thinks that the proposal to legalize marijuana shouldn't be debated within the context of the war on drugs, and worries if Mexico's relationship with the US will withstand the proposal's passage.
In other words, if the legalization of marijuana is going to be discussed, it should start from other principles: it's not because of the failure or not of the war on drugs, but rather it must be debated based on the benefits or harm that legalization could generate. Those who propose {legalization] have a point in their favor when they indicate that, in normal doses, marijuana has not been demonstrated to be more harmful than alcohol or tobacco.

[break]

Key questions remain: Can a country decide to decriminalize one of these drugs without an international consensus? Can it do so when it has a border of thousands of kilometers with the principal consumer market of drugs in the world that maintains, above all toward marijuana, an attitude that is at the very least divergent in the legal and the moral aspect?

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Doing Business in Juárez

Junkyards and auto parts shops, known locally as yonques, across the border from El Paso, Texas, have turned into a major target for mafia extortion. According to a leader of a group of Juárez yonqueros, armed groups demanded up anywhere from $500 to $1,000 a week from the business owner. More than dozen businesses whose owners refused to pay were burned down. As a result of all this, more than 70 local junkyards have closed up and moved on.

Rice in Mexico

Condi Rice is in Puerta Vallarta urging the release of the $400 million in American equipment that has been approved for transfer to Mexico under the Mérida Initiative.

Oil: Reformed!

Mexico's Senate today approved oil reform legislation. Debate and likely passage awaits in the Chamber of Deputies.

Despite the PRD's acceptance of the legislation, Andrés Manuel López Obrador mobilized a protest that attempted to block entrance into the Senate building. The senators instead met in a building called the Torre del Caballito, where security was handled by the Federal Preventative Police, and overseen personally by Secretary of Public Security Genaro García Luna.

Gay in Mexico

Evidently, that can be a problem in Cancún. Now, in all fairness to the officers, it's certainly possible that they weren't homophobic, merely abusive and corrupt. Based on the same logic of moral turpitude, heterosexual couples also get hit up for bribes when caught kissing on a street corner. Of course, they aren't then held in jail for 15 hours.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Palin's Future

The soon-to-be-failed campaign of John McCain seems to me to be the culmination of the gutter electoral politics practiced by Republicans since the days of Richard Nixon. I'd sum that up as voters being prompted to choose their candidate based not merely on the relevant issues of the day, but also on poignant though largely irrelevant cultural cues, often accompanied by scurrilous personal attacks. (That's obviously a simplification, though the basic thrust of it holds up.) Thanks in large part to electoral kidney shots and rabbit punches, the Republicans have controlled the White House for 28 of the last 40 years. This time around, the attacks were an order of magnitude sillier and more transparent, and they failed. Ironically, the man who resembles (cosmetically, I mean) the largest bloc of the American electorate less than any other president in history will have defeated a war hero.

So where do the Republicans go now? Will they ease up on their rough electoral tactics, or will they play even harder next time around? What happens to Sarah Palin will provide some clues. If she is anointed the front-runner for 2012, as Jon Chait predicts, that'll be a pretty good indication that the Republicans view the loss as an aberration, and think that Americans will still respond to their tactics in other circumstances.

But I hope they consider the possibility that culture warfare doubling as campaign strategy may have finally run out its string. (Way to go Americans!) McCain, the Republican presidential candidate with probably the most natural appeal to independents since Reagan, lost because he went too far right, and Palin was a big part of that. Just as Geraldine Ferraro became a timeless emblem of over-the-top identity politics, I don't think Americans are going to be quick to forget what Palin was about in 2008 (incoherent and thoughtless answers to vital questions, baseless personal attacks against her opponents, et cetera), and how much they disliked that.

Consensus

Mexican pols are cutting deals and making things happen, and Alberto Aziz Nassif can't believe his eyes:
All of a sudden, as if we were in another country or in another moment in our history, several of the principal actors coincide on some important public policy projects.

Felipe Calderón presents an anti-crisis [economic] program and his biggest critics affirm that it has the correct focus, only they indicate that the program was maybe a little late [in arriving]. Carlos Salinas supports said program and López Obrado signals that the construction of the new refinery [part of the program] in the country is positive, and he even sees it as a triumph of his movement. At the same time, the senators of all the parties agreed on the approval of energy reform. The deputies approved the Law of Revenues unanimously, a rare word in the Mexican landscape these last few years. Maybe you could call all these decisions the strange days of consensus.

Superpeso

The peso, which for most of my three years in Mexico has wiggled between 10 and 11 to the dollar, has declined to close to 13 to the dollar in recent weeks. Analysts say that the halcyon days of the 10-cent peso are over, which led to this brilliantly titled El Universal article: "Requiem for the superpeso."

Unequal

According to a new report from the organization, Mexico is the most unequal of the 30 members of the OECD. While poverty and inequality have declined in the last decade, they are both higher than they were in the 1980s. Mexico's Gini Coefficient presently stands at about .48, while the OECD average is just above .30.

And the US? It has the third highest level of inequality and poverty, topped only by Turkey and, of course, Mexico. A telling stat for Bush-haters: after a half-decade of decline, the American Gini Coefficient stood at about .35 in 2000, and has spiked sharply over the past eight years, so that it now exceeds .38.

Credit goes to Clay Risen at the Plank for opening my eyes to the report.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

We'll Be Back

A prediction from Coahuila Governor Humberto Moreira, fresh off of a forceful win in the statewide congressional elections in Sunday, graced the front page of today's El Universal: in 2012, the PRI will be back in Los Pinos. He denies it, but it's hard not to suspect that Moreira is holding out hopes that he's the nominee. He isn't often mentioned as a possibility and isn't too well known nationally, but he is successful, popular in his state and in his party, and has less baggage than many of the other possibilities.

Narco Party

A couple of addenda to the big bust at this weekend's gathering of drug smugglers and exotic animals in Mexico City: among those arrested was the nephew of one of Mexico's biggest capos, Ismael El Mayo Zambada; also, the music was provided by Luis Enrique Guzmán, a member of one of Mexico's most prominent families of entertainers.

Five Years*

This month marks the five-year anniversary of Mikhail Khodorkovsky's arrest. Serge Schemann comments on the case's lingering relevance to Putin's Russia.

*Readers are encouraged to read the post's title as though David Bowie were singing it.

Oil Reform: Imminent?

It appears so, as the seven elements of the reform package were passed by the committees in the Mexican Senate yesterday, and appear poised to win the approval of the entire body with broad support. The two most controversial (and potentially beneficial) points: Pemex will now be able to contract private companies for oil transportation, storage, and exploration, though Pemex will remain owner of the oil itself; and Pemex now will have budget autonomy, which will free it from the Mexican treasury's leeching.

El Peje's response is yet to come, but we are to understand that it will involve loud and public protests from all-female support brigades, called Adelitas. I, for one, can't wait.

Monday, October 20, 2008

New Man

Jorge Tello Peón, an expert in corporate and governmental organization, has been named Felipe Calderón's national security advisor. From what I gather, he is not replacing anyone but rather filling a new position, a perfect example of the on-the-fly reorganization that is all-too-typical here.

Tello Peón will hopefully smooth out the recent friction between Secretary of Public Security Genaro García Luna and Attorney General Eduardo Medina Mora, and generally make the security strategy more wholistic and better coordinated. Evidently, no man is better suited for the job. Tello Peón had been working at Cemex, and before that he had decades of experience working in the highest levels of Mexico's security agencies. Tello Peón oversaw the creation of Cisen, and later directed the intelligence agency in the 1990s. In today's column, Jorge Fernández Meléndez wrote:
Jorge Tello Peón is perhaps not only the most respected national security specialist inside and outside of the country, but also the man that, with a complete team and, as a result, very clear political direction, provided the best results to the Mexican state in those difficult tasks.
He's got his work cut out for him.

Buzzkill

Mexico elite anti-drug unit Siedo broke up a party of drug traffickers yesterday in Mexico City, a gathering attended by two Mexicans, an American, an Uruguayan, eleven Colombians, as well as two lions, two tigers, and two panthers. The two women escorted from the party by ski-masked commandos look none too content on the front page of Excelsior.

The Family

Malcolm Beith has a rundown of la Familia Michoacana, a shadowy and expanding group that one federal deputy quoted in the article called the most powerful cartel in Mexico.

Mexico in the Meltdown

A somewhat optimistic (and possibly wrong-headed) take on Mexico's economic woes.

More Bad Election Signage



Truth be told, the PRI's ridiculous election signs (see below) were better than their competitors'. The all-hands-in PAN billboard is simply an abomination that, were there any justice in the world, would precipitate the party's relegation to the political wilderness for a decade. And the Green Party's slogan --Dare to vote Green-- is among the worst I've ever heard, topped only by the "Don't Take Us Seriously" campaign of the mythical Irrelevant Illinoisans Party. Any party that makes a vote for it seem like an extreme sport deserves to fare poorly, as the Green Party did.

PRI Takes Coahuila



With only 39 percent of the electorate turning out to vote, the PRI took the Coahuila state Congress with almost 60 percent of the vote. How did they manage such a wipeout, despite the relative strength of the PAN in the region? Well, it's fair to say that the signage wasn't a big help. The two examples included are a representative sample of the PRI's marketing silliness: there is no justification for the ensemble ad, with the slate of local congressmen casually posing for the photo like the cast of a bad sitcom. They deserved to lose for that alone. Additionally, Verónica Martínez's five-meter visage (as well as that of her colleagues, also sprinkled around the city) will haunt my dreams for years.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Innovation

Mexico, which until judicial reform earlier this year used a written-trial system, has a new innovation on tap that goes completely the other direction: real-time online broadcasts of trials.

Brilliant Old Man

What to make of 43-year-old Bernard Hopkins' brilliant performance last night in a decision win over Kelly Pavlik, just a few months after he looked like a spent bullet for the last few rounds of the Calzaghe fight? As always, styles make fights. Once he got used to Hopkins' precise counterpunching/mauling strategy, Calzaghe was able to adjust, and he threw a lot of crazy-angled punches that swayed the judges, even if they didn't hurt Hopkins. Calzaghe shortened up on his shots like a batter with two strikes, and he took a majority of the rounds. Calzaghe also moved well laterally very well, jumping in and out of range from different spots. Pavlik, on the other hand, wasn't able to adjust; he is a forward-moving jab-jab-cross bomber, and that's about it. Hopkins had that jab-jab-cross figured out from the first minute, and Pavlik couldn't change up.

Help Wanted

For the first time in four years, the number of unemployed workers in Mexico hit two million, and will presumably keep rising. That brings the unemployment rate up to a still low 4.25 percent, though in Mexico the big problem has long been underemployment, not unemployment. 

Response

The American response to the attacks on the Monterrey consulate and the general surge in violence was appropriately tough: "They surrender, or they die," drug czar John Walters said

I'd have liked the comments a little better if they were directed specifically at those behind the consulate attacks, especially if followed up by the swift investigation and destruction of the group responsible. That would draw a clear line about what sort of threats the US simply won't accept. By addressing his remarks to everyone involved in the drug trade,  the threat loses all credibility, since plenty of drug smugglers neither die at the hands of the government nor do they surrender. 

Eating Lunch at the Cool Table

Mexico is back on the UN Security Council. 

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Beware of What's to the South

Peter Hakim, president of the Inter-American Dialogue, says that Mexico could be the United States' greatest challenge in the region in the years to come, given its reliance on the staggered American economy and the ongoing struggles with drug gangs. 

Distress

According to polls on the front page of yesterday's El Universal, 75 percent of Mexicans are very worried or worried about losing their job right now. When prompted to blame a level of government for the economic turmoil, and given the option of federal, state, municipal, or a combination of the three, 55 percent pointed the finger at Felipe Calderón and co. It'll be interesting to see if this leads to a drop in his approval ratings. 

Friday, October 17, 2008

Bombs in Monterrey

Several days after someone shot up the outside of the American consulate in Monterrey, a few bombs were exploded in a street adjacent to the complex yesterday. For obvious reasons, drug cartels are suspected. Assuming that it is cartel henchmen behind the attacks, it seems like a monumentally bad move on their part. The US can't win the war on the drugs, but, properly provoked, it won't struggle too much in taking down on one individual organization. If, as some suspect, the attacks are a response from the Zetas to the indictments against the group's three leaders, than they demonstrate a fundamental misunderestimation of the obstinacy of the American government. This will surely make the push to arrest the trio more determined, not less.

Speculation

An unusual back-and-forth between Mexican central bank chief Guillermo Ortiz and Treasury boss Agustín Carstens over whether the sliding peso is the result of speculation from Mexican businesses has sparked a lot of conversation this week. Carstens had said yes there was speculation, and a day later Ortiz contradicted him. Macario Schettino explains the confusion: yes there was speculation, but that was speculation in favor of the peso. The companies presently accused of speculation had for years been betting on the future strength of the peso against the dollar, which had paid dividends. When the dollar suddenly strengthened a couple of weeks ago, the balance sheets of companies like Comercial Mexicana instantly got a lot worse. They had to buy dollars to pay their foreign debts, which was problematic than it had been because the peso was suddenly weaker than the dollar. Past speculation scandals saw Mexican companies selling out their pesos in favor of dollars right before a devaluation, which not only saved them millions, it made the peso's plummet all the steeper for everyone else. The present case is fundamentally different, though it's not clear if it is better or worse for Mexico.

Polling Incoherence

According to El Universal, 33 percent of Mexicans would vote for Barack Obama if they could vote in US elections, against only 8 percent for McCain. Nonetheless, 25 percent think bilateral relations will worsen under Obama, compared to 5 percent who feel the same about a McCain administration.

The Ghost versus the Executioner

After three undefeated weeks in a row, Gancho Boxing looks like the pitcher from Cleveland: 19-5 on the year.

This week, Kelly Pavlik squares off against Bernard Hopkins at 170 pounds. It was among the worst possible matchups for Pavlik; it's almost impossible to look good against Hopkins, losing is a very real possibility, and he won't get that much credit for winning, given that Hopkins is 43 and coming off of a loss. The only way he enhances his career is if he really beats Hopkins down, but that just doesn't seem likely. ESPN.com's Eric Raskin sums up the essential question of the fight thusly:
Can Hopkins make it as ugly as he needs to and frustrate Pavlik into making fight-altering mistakes? Can Pavlik pump out a steady stream of punches and put rounds in the bank without opening himself up to counters?
I'm guessing the latter will scenario will win out, but Pavlik's lack of lateral movement and predictable offense is tailor-made for Hopkins' counters, so I expect some tough moments early on for Youngstown's favorite son. However, I think Hopkins is going to have to throw combinations to keep Pavlik off of him, and he just hasn't shown an ability to throw more than a punch or two at a time in years. As in the Calzaghe-Hopkins bout, down the stretch punch output will be the difference. The fight will probably be a stinker, although if anyone can force Hopkins to fight three minutes of every round, it'll be Pavlik.

No undercard bouts really grab my attention, with the exception of the Laguna's own Marco Antonio Rubio against Enrique Ornelas in a middleweight eliminator bout. This will be like two old pick-up trucks driving into each other at full speed time after time. It should be fun while it lasts. I like Rubio. ¡Arriba Laguneros!

Romo

If I'm the Cowboys, I'm not so sure I want Brett Favre offering my young franchise quarterback too much advice. That's like if your talented 16-year-old daughter announced that she was adopting Sharon Stone as her mentor. The unseemly exit from Green Bay aside, Favre's style really shouldn't be copied, and Romo already has too much Favre in him. Romo should be seeking advice from boring drop back passers.

Plus, as Whitlock points out, he fumbles way too much already.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Capital City Doobies

While his party works to legalize marijuana in Mexico City, local legislative president Victor Hugo Círigo adopts "I did it when I was young, so it's not that bad" as his debating strategy. I don't remember ever seeing any other politician make such an admission in Mexico, where drug use is less frequent than in the States and as a result more taboo. 

Not Bitter

Despite supermarket chain Comercial Mexicana's role in the recent peso slide, customers aren't holding it against them. If the price is right, Mexicans told El Universal, they'll keep buying.

Settlement

World War II-era Mexican migrant workers --the braceros-- have reached a settlement to recover the portion of wages denied to them, which in some cases amounted to 10 percent of their wages over a four-year period. Under the agreement, the Mexican government will pay $3,500 to each bracero or a surviving heir.

Narcotours

Kids in Chihuahua have taken to escorting customers through houses that have hosted recent gunfights, all while narrating the events, a la the standard guided tour in Gettysburg. The fee for the Chihuahua tour is ten pesos.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

More Debate Commentary

I confess a bias, but I think McCain's comment on Colombia was one of his best moments in any of the debates, and one of Obama's worst. Obama's justification (violence against labor leaders) for opposing the Colombia FTA is simply not convincing, for reasons I elaborate on here

Also, two good points from Eve Fairbanks on The Stump (especially the first):
"My campaign is about getting this economy back on track" is a quintessentially anodyne, standard thing for a politician to say.

Why did it sound so terribly jarring when McCain said it? Because he had just spiraled off of an extended riff of complaint about John Lewis's "outrageous" comments, about Bill Ayers, about Obama's negative advertising during a Dallas vs. Arizona football game he watched, etc., etc. McCain's focus couldn't have seemed farther from the economy right then. It was just a patently weird thing to say at that moment -- like seeing somebody adamantly insisting he's wearing green when he's standing right in front of you in red clothes.
And later:
ACORN "Is Destroying The Fabric of Our Democracy"

Seriously? The dead have voted in past elections and it didn't destroy the fabric of our democracy.

Debate

Did anyone else notice that as McCain talks about Palin, he talks like her as well? He repeated "special needs" like six times in a bizarre 30-second diversion during his 90-second response about her.

However the senator from Arizona does get points for using the word "cockamamy" seconds later while talking about Biden.

Alvaro Vargas Llosa on Latin America

Mario's son travelled around Latin America for a documentary, offering the following as the lasting wisdom he achieved:

I think the most important lesson was that Latin Americans don't consider themselves Latin Americans. Despite the increased migration, trade and political connections among countries of the region, most citizens are unaware of the recent and not-so-recent histories of their neighboring countries.

Which is why so many nations keep repeating the mistakes of the past--and why in those countries that seem to be on the right track, the forces pushing in the opposite direction are so powerful.

That conceit --that Latin Americans are a coherent geopolitical group-- has driven a lot of misguided policies in the region, both from the Gringos and their enemies (Guevara a generation ago, Chávez today).

Grenades

Just a month after grenades killed eight partiers at the Independence Day festivities in Morelia, a couple more unsettling grenade attacks in Mexico:

Six people were injured in an attack on installations Secretary of Public Security in Guadalajara earlier this week, for which one person has already been arrested and detained. This prompted the governor of Jalisco to say that he was going to "fuck the narcos up." In addition, this weekend a dud grenade was tossed into the American consulate in Monterrey. The Zetas have been fingered in the Morelia attacks, and they certainly seem like the most likely perpetrators in the Monterrey incident, given the recent press on American efforts to take down the group.

Industrial Production

Macario Schettino's Informal Economics blog has been an indispensable source of insights about the financial crisis. In a post earlier this week, he wrote that industrial production is the key indicator of how bad the recession will be, and is so far the projection for 2009 is a 5 percent drop. In 2001, industrial production was down 3.4 percent, so the present catastrophe is worse, but not overwhelmingly so. By comparison, from the 1929 to 1932, industrial production fell by 47 percent. One question that he doesn't answer: given that the US economy is less dependent on industry now than it was 80 years ago, is that really such an all-encompassing indicator? Are their other measurements we should be looking at as well?

Schettino, who is pragmatic but typically leans pretty hard right, also comes down in favor of Gordon Brown's plan to buy shares of British banks, and criticizes the US reluctance to do so.
[T]hey will have to nationalize a portion of the banks, and that is what the Bush administration officials don't want to accept. There exists, I believe, the rigid thinking that we tend to associate with neoliberalism. But that thinking has failed continually, not just now: it was the same that failed in the early '80s in Reagan's first term, for example.
He also includes a message for Paul Krugman, who publishes a column in El Universal:
Allow me to congratulate myself for the award of the prize to [Krugman], and for a moment let me enjoy the fact that he is a colleague on these pages. It's the closest I'll be to a Nobel, so it's worth taking advantage of.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Infighting

Christopher Buckley's departure from the magazine his father founded and turned into the engine of conservatism gives me a weird blend of schadenfreude and sadness, as if the snobby family living next door that had always looked down its nose at me suddenly started punching each other in the nose during a mild argument one evening.

Warning

The State Department issued one of those periodic announcements that get everyone so riled up here, discouraging Americans from traveling in Mexico. It reminds me of my relationship with the dentist: like a teeth-cleaning, the present admonition will last for six months, at which point another mildly uncomfortable announcement will undoubtedly arrive, just like one of those "It's That Time Again" cards. 

All in the Family in Coahuila

El Universal has a nice rundown of the family connections that are at play in Sunday's elections in Coahuila. The gist: even though Mexico outlaws reelection, nepotism keeps certain posts from moving beyond the grip of one family for a number of terms. I'm not sure how unusual this is for Mexico (or even compared to the United States, where it's certainly not rare to see an undistinguished son or daughter or nephew or sister try to capitalize on a family member's success), and I'm not really sure if it is really such an evil that is worth worrying about (despite our own recent experience with such politicians). More frustrating is the related lack of dynamism among Mexico's politicians, which owes to the fact that almost all political candidates (regardless of whether or not they are someone famous' son or daughter) are lifelong political militants, steeped in the same tired rhetoric and ideas of yore. It would be great to see more big shots from business or sports or culture or wherever find room on the major parties' candidate lists.

The NFL Plot Thickens

The average NFL season, like a good Victorian novel or Mexican soap opera, has lots of crazy plot deviations that you almost forget about at the end. Three such mini-plots wrapped up this weekend: 1) the NFC East being the SEC to everyone other division's Big East. Three horrible losses on Sunday, and that idea is kaput. 2) The Colts being finished. 3) Eli being better than Peyton. I almost bought into the first two ideas, but the last always was silly. In any event, after Sunday, obviously all are false. The thing people forget about Eli Manning when he is playing well is that his floor for poor performance is subterranean. Even when he doesn't move his offense that well, Peyton never gives the game to the other team the way Eli sometimes does.

So where will the writers take the show next?

Sinking the Peso

Evidently, four firms were primary among those responsible for the steep decline in the peso over the past couple of weeks. According to the article here, the companies (which include giants Comercial Mexicana and Cemex) agreed to a set exchange rate in the derivatives market, but the appreciation of the dollar obliged them to pull money out of the peso to cover their debts. The rapid exodus sank the peso.

Brooks' Crystal Ball

David Brooks imagines the aftermath of the financial crisis:
One the one side, liberals will argue (are already arguing) that it was deregulation and trickle-down economic policies that led us to this crisis. Fears of fiscal insolvency are overblown. Democrats should use their control of government and the economic crisis as a once-in-a-lifetime chance to make some overdue changes. Liberals will make a full-bore push for European-style economic policies.

On the other hand, the remaining moderates will argue that it was excess and debt that created this economic crisis. They will argue (are arguing) that it is perfectly legitimate to increase the deficit with stimulus programs during a recession, but that these programs need to be carefully targeted and should sunset as the crisis passes. The moderates will stress that the country still faces a ruinous insolvency crisis caused by entitlement burdens.

Obama will try to straddle the two camps — he seems to sympathize with both sides — but the liberals will win.
Brooks goes on to say that this will lead to liberal overreach and an eventual conservative backlash. His certainty is hard to justify. It's impossible to say where the financial crisis will end; a Japanese-style lost decade sounds no more or less plausible than a quick recovery in the second half of 2009. As it's very difficult to imagine with any confidence the ongoing circumstances to which the Democratic majority will be responding, predicting which wing of the party will win out is equally problematic.

Furthermore, I am not convinced that the Robert Reich wing will be stronger, whatever the circumstances. The past decade's criticisms of Rubinomics are more related to a lack of positive impact on the middle class, which is an issue separate from the causes of the present crisis. Going forward, Robert Rubin's association with loose derivitive regulation may forever taint everything he believes in, from balanced budgets to low trade barriers; then again, it may not. Right now, it seems like there are enough moderate Democrats and Republicans to prevent the onset of a European-style superstate. I suppose a lot depends on the positions we see from Barack Obama should he win, which is why a meaty economic philosophy speech would serve voters well.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Gifting Hummers

For the second time in a week, Gancho tackles Hummers: the famous SUV is again in the news, thanks to 59 of them being given by SNTE (the famously corrupt national teachers union) leadership to local branches. Many people have been understandably puzzled by why the SNTE has enough cash on hand to make such a purchase, and what a local union outfit is up to that requires a Hummer. One of the more creative and unsatisfying explanations came from the Querétaro SNTE: it's no big deal, because Hummers aren't luxury cars. For the record, the Hummers in question cost about $40,000 a pop (although the official who made the claim said that theirs cost only $35,000), which is roughly four times the average annual Mexican salary.

Beating Football Metaphors into the Ground

Noam Scheiber on McCain's floundering:
McCain still faces the same basic dilemma he faced heading into last week's debate: On the one hand, he needs to do something dramatic to catch up. On the other hand, doing something dramatic would reinforce his reputation for unsteadiness, which is a big part of his problem. McCain needs to come off as more even-keel, not less.
After reading the passage, the GOP candidate reminds me of nothing so much as a ground control offense down by two touchdowns in the fourth quarter. What they do well isn't going to be enough.

And, right-of-center columnists today ask McCain to put the gloves back on his campaign, a move which seems unlikely to reconstitute the sense of honor that eroded in the past couple of weeks as McCain's supporters and running mate all but accused Obama of being a terrorist. After all, the Patriots didn't run the score up much at all over the final two months last season, but everyone still hates them.

Broken Record

Agustín Carstens continues pressing the government's most important talking point: Mexican banks are doing fine, and, despite the abrupt exhaustion of 10 percent of Mexico's foreign reserves to shore up the peso last week, the Mexican financial situation is good.

Zetas versus United States

A couple of stories in Excelsior have dealt with the increasing presence of Mexican cartels, especially the Gulf Cartel and the Zetas, around the world. Here we see they are running wild along the southern American border, here that they are becoming big players in Italy, and here we have a rundown of redoubled American efforts to track down the top three figures in the Zetas/Gulf Cartel.

Along the same lines, El Universal reports on a Gulf Cartel bigwig extradited to the States.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Whining about the AP's Boxing Coverage

I admit, this is all nitpicking, but I find it irritating. After all, would you cover Congress without knowing the fundamentals of the American legislative process? I think not.

The following appeared in the AP summary of Chad Dawson's decision win over Antonio Tarver:
The Connecticut fighter had the lone knockout when his powerful left jab sent Tarver to the canvas with 2:11 left in the final round.
Chad Dawson is a southpaw, so although it's not impossible it would be rather odd for him to be throwing left jabs. In any event, based on the highlight on ESPN.com, the knockdown seemed to come on a right hand. Furthermore, there cannot, of course, be more than one knockout in a fight so the adjective "lone" is completely unnecessary, and this fight went to a decision in any event. But surely the author meant "right" when he typed "left" and "knockdown" when he wrote "knockout," right? Perhaps, but other reporting on Saturday's fights make you wonder.

There are more examples of such lack of basic boxing knowledge in another article about a Saturday fight:
In an undercard fight, heavyweight Odlanier Solis improved to 12-0 and grabbed the WBC international heavyweight belt by beating American Chauncy Welliver (34-5-5, 13 KOs) in the ninth round. Belarussian Alexander Ustinov (13-0, 11 KOs) dealt a heavy-handed knockout to Detroit's Julius Long (15-10, 13 KOs) in the first round of another heavyweight matchup.
Knockouts aren't heavy-handed, boxers are. Indeed, knockouts don't have hands. And when a fight ends early via knockout, "beat" is not the best verb, as it is rather unspecific in that it doesn't imply a knockout. For all we know, it could have been a technical decision after a head-butt opened a cut that ended the fight. That's why for decades, boxing writers have used "stop" or "knock out" or "end via knockout." These errors, while minor, could be fixed in a quick, 20-minute primer on the fundamentals of boxing terminology. Associated Press, I offer my services to you.

Football, College and Pro

Tennessee's defense is a little better than I'd given them credit for being. The 30 points against Florida looks a lot better in light of last night's LSU-UF drubbing. They made some plays yesterday and kept the team in the game, despite some horrible calls (especially the personal foul on the nonexistent helmet-to-helmet hit at the end of the first half; without that miscall, Tennessee might well have won the contest). I thought the strategy was pretty bad, though. Chavis had his safeties starting each play at about 18 yards deep and dropping, content to give the Dawgs anything from 8 to 2o yards over the middle. In any event, the offense remains a mess, a hopeless mess. 

Rumors of the Colts' demise appear to be exaggerated. Through one half, the offensive line has looked about seven billion times better than in the past, Manning has been brilliant throwing downfield, and the linebackers seem to be making lots of plays. Keep it up, boys!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Humming Along

Apart from the United States, no country in the world has more Hummers on the streets than Mexico. Since 2006, some 5,000 have been sold in Mexico. The article cites statistics showing that most of the humming is taking place in the Mexico City area, though we certainly have a fair number here in Torreón. A sustained drop in the price of oil should make that lifestyle easier. 

Aguanta Pesito

The peso keeps sliding, which has provoked the injection of $9.3 billion from the Mexican central bank into the currency market. This sum represents more than 10 percent of the nation's foreign reserves. 

Friday, October 10, 2008

The IMF Opines

I'm waiting for a Mexican satirist to come out with a Mexico City Consensus for orthodox economists to hand out to the United States and Western Europe. Continuing with that up-is-down motif in global economics, the IMF likes Calderón's response to the crisis. 

Calderón Live

At 9 p.m. last night, Felipe Calderón spoke to Mexico about his five-point economic stimulus plan. Such addresses in the US are always solemn Oval Office affairs, with the president always projecting the utmost solemnity. Not so in Mexico. A few subtle differences give the whole thing a much different feel (but I can't find video, sorry). Calderón wasn't sitting at a desk, but was standing in front of a Mexican flag, as is standard here. He didn't employ the even, measured diction of a American president during a crisis address; instead, he pounced all over certain syllables ("...canalizar fondos di-RECT-amente al apoyo..."), usually while making an emphatic hand gesture, which made him seem a bit like a carnival barker. Another oddifying (which should be a word) factor was that he talked a lot about small and medium businesses (one of the five points is a small business credit program), which in Mexican shorthand are referred to as "Pymes"). If you can imagine how "Pymes" would be pronounced in Spanish, it sounds strikingly like "penis" does in English.

Unfortunately, what Calderón didn't even attempt to fix the jumping peso's effect on the sports books. I want to bet on Sunday's games, and the wagers are denominated in dollars. So to make a ten-dollar bet today, I am looking at about 140 pesos, taking the juice into account. But when I win (and I will), do I get paid out using today's (Friday's) exchange rate? I suspect not, which would probably work in my favor if I waited a week or so to cash in the ticket, or it could bite me in the rear. In any event, it kind of turns me into a currency speculator, when all I want to do is win some honest bets. Gosh darn it. Fix that for me, Felipe.

Fistic Nicknames

Two of the weirder nicknames in boxing will be together this weekend when Humberto "The Skunk" Soto squares off against Gamaliel "The Banana" Diaz in Torreón. I like Soto to win in a fight I will hopefully be watching live. In the big American bouts, I like Dawson over Tarver by decision and Klitschko over Peter by knockout. I don't know what my predicting record is at this point, but I've picked a string in a row.

Chabat on Legalization

Jorge Chabat on Calderón's renewel of an old proposal to decriminalize drug use:
In fact, the attempts that have been carried out to criminalize behavior that is propitiated by social conditions have been largely unsuccessful.

The criminalization of religious expressions in public during the era of President Calles only led to the Cristera War, which didn't resolve anything and obviously didn't change the desire on the part of the population to practice its religious beliefs. It's also the same case with abortion. Attempting to criminalize such an act, lamentable as it absolutely is, doesn't solve the problem and generates additional problems.

In that sense, Calderón's proposal to set maximum limits of drug possession for personal use is a show of sensibility in a country used to trying to modify reality by decree. These changes would allow end of the persecution of drug addicts, who are sick people, not criminals, as signaled by President Calderón himself and as dozens of experts on the subject have said over the course of many decades.

The decriminalization of drug consumption absolutely doesn't solve the problem of corruption and drug violence, whose origin in precisely in that prohibition. Nevertheless, it would help to concentrate the forces of the State on combating criminal bands and it would avoid the extorsion of addicts by the authorities.
It's worth mentioning that Chabat, one of the most lucid commentators on the war on drugs, isn't a weak-kneed liberal. He was in favor of the deployment of the army in 2006, and has been generally supportive of Calderón's policies. There are surely plenty of smart people paying close attention who would disagree with Chabat (Ana María Salazar, for one), but there are a couple of reasons that this is more feasible and makes better sense now than when Fox tried it a couple of years ago.

First, Mexican drug use and street killings caused by narcomenudeo disputes are on the rise. Legalizing drugs won't rid Mexico of smuggling cartels so long as the American prohibition remains in place, but it could help nip the growing narcomenudeo problem in the bud. Second, Calderón has earned some goodwill from Washington. I doubt it will be enough to make the proposal workable for Washington, but surely it has a better chance now (with an Obama presidency looking ever more likely) than it did with Fox in 2006.

What Goldman Sachs and Nas Have in Common

Over on The Daily Beast (perhaps the best name of anything, ever), William D. Cohan dismisses the conspiracy theories alleging that all the Goldman Sachs alums (Josh Bolten, Hank Paulson, Robert Zoellick, etc.) in Washington are pulling strings to keep their old operation above water while the rest of Wall Street tanks. The specific theories are a little far-fetched, as Dennis Kucinich's devotion to them demonstrates. However, that doesn't mean that it's a good idea to have so many policy-makers coming from one firm. Potential conflicts of interest to one side, the mere fact that so many people were formed by the same firm and were influenced by the same ethos inevitably leads to, at a minimum, a narrow perspective guiding policy.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

McCain's Got Troubles (And Other Brilliant Insights)

Ross Douthat captures McCain's strategic mess perfectly.
At this point, the McCain camp seems to be taking its cues more from the liberal caricature of past conservative campaigns - that they've all been fundamentally unserious exercises in culture-war button-pushing - than from the campaigns themselves. It's as though they're being paid under the table by Thomas Frank to goose his book sales and vindicate his thesis.
McCain's campaign has a lot in common with Bush's, but everything seems so much more transparent this time around. Instead of subtly addressing the concerns of soccer moms, they are openly addressing them as such. Instead of metaphorically winking slyly at the base, Palin can't stop literally winking at the camera. The awful economic climate, and McCain's inability to discuss it with any credibility, only makes this problem worse. This ham-handed version of Bush's campaign is poorly suited to the candidate and the moment.

Making a Stump Appearence Interesting

Here's how Dana Milbank does it:
A Washington Post columnist [Milbank himself] created two hand-lettered signs -- one saying "MAINSTREAM MEDIA" and the other, "I NEED A HUG" -- then carried them among the McCain supporters. McCain, and particularly Palin, have railed in recent days about the failings of the mainstream media, and Platt picked up the theme Wednesday, telling the crowd about "vicious attacks from the media."

The result was reassuring. Most of the McCain supporters enjoyed the sight, and several of them offered hugs or handshakes. Some others used the opportunity to give polite voice to their displeasure with the media. Only a minority in the crowd turned ugly. "Put your hands around me, you'll spit your teeth out," said one gentleman. "Barack Osama -- he'll give you a hug," said another.

Oppenheimer's Opinion

Oppenheimer examines the US crisis with the Mexican meltdown in 1995 at the front of his mind. He quotes ex-IMF bigwig Claudio Loser talking about today's and yesterday's crisis:
''The main lesson is that financial bailouts and new regulations are not enough if you don't adopt an austerity plan and cut public spending to put your house in order,'' Loser said. "Mexico did it, and the United States will have to do it.''

Relief

President Felipe Calderón last night announced an emergency program to alleviate the negative effects of the financial crisis. Perhaps most notably, the government injected $2.5 billion into the economy to steady the peso, which had lost around 40 percent of its value in past weeks, after several years of impressive stability. The Mexican currency jumped from 14 to the dollar to 12.25 as a result. Projected spending for 2009 was cut by about $27 billion. Spending was also shifted into public projects (infrastructure and a refinery) as a way to stimulate the job market. In addition, tariff barriers were lowered and a new subsidy for small and medium businesses was announced. It seems like other than the spending cut and the infusion of dollars, these aren’t really crisis-specific measures, but programs that could have (should have?) been implemented years ago. Macario Schettino says it’s a sensible plan, but it will only soften rather than avoid the blow.

Depressing

Dan Rafael is reporting that 45-year-old Evander Holyfield is getting another (completely undeserved and dangerous) shot at a heavyweight belt, against Nikolai Valuev, a 7-foot, 300-pound Russian.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Timing

Somehow, in the midst of the worse financial crisis in 70 years, Mexico landed what Calderón is calling the most important investment by a private business in the history of the nation, a mining project worth $6 billion. It kind of seems like a bath towel trying to soak up a flood, but it can't hurt.

More Crisis Polling

More polls, this time from El Universal: Seventy-seven percent of Mexicans say that an economic crisis is upon us, yet only only 13 percent say it is the nation's biggest challenge. Insecurity tops the list, with 52 percent naming it as the countries top concern.

Competition

Mexico dropped eight spots, from 52 to 60, in the World Economic Forum's annual ranking of the most competitive economies in the world. The United States, thanks to a flexible labor market, a culture of innovation, and the return to greatness of the Dream Team, is once again the globe's most competitive nation.

Shocker

Mexicans say that drug trafficking and public insecurity are the biggest threats to Mexican security, with 37 percent putting the former in the top spot, and 15 percent the latter. How the public-security threat is distinguished from the drug-trafficking threat is unclear. Also, how could insecurity not be a threat to security? That's like saying that the biggest challenge for the Tennessee defense this weekend is the Georgia offense, or that the most important threat to dryness is moisture.

AFI Disappearing

Excuse the length, but I think this Salvador García piece is worth repeating almost in full.
In just seven years, the Federal Agency of Investigation (AFI) went from being the “modern and scientific” police that the country was waiting for, to an “undesirable, corrupt, and inefficient” body that will be dissolved. Its agents, many trained abroad and in whose preparation the nation invested millions from the budget, will be merged and reintegrated into the Federal Preventative Police (PFP).

The failure of the AFI, one more in a long list of failed government projects, confirms that improvisation and happenstance have dominated for a long time the actions and policies in security. And this explains, in part, why we are in the midst of the worst crisis of insecurity and violence in modern times and why the delinquents—narcos, kidnappers, stick-up artists, people smugglers—take control all across the Republic and think that they are the authority.

Just when the government is bragging about capturing three alleged perpetrators of the terrorist grenade attack in Morelia—still without explaining clearly the motives behind the attacks or if there were intellectual authors, who they were, and what led them to attack the civilian population—the security institutions are shaken up with the disappearance of the AFI and federal agents publicly accuse their bosses, Attorney General Eduardo Medina Mora and Secretary of Public Security Genaro García Luna.

Created in 2001 to replace the extinct Federal Judicial Police, the AFI was presented in the sexenio of Fox as the “great solution” to the corruption, inefficiency, and infiltration by criminals of the federal investigative police. With the change of sexenio or secretary, it would be understood that new officials arrived to “reinvent” with their ingenious ideas—as has historically occurred—the public policies, organizations, and institutions.

But right here the same “genius” who created the AFI, and who directed it five of its seven years of existence, today decides to disappear it. Thus, Genaro García Luna accepts his own failure and provokes many questions. How do you explain, for example, that in such a small amount of time a body with supposedly the strictest controls of its agents now must disappear because of infamy and incriminating documents relating to some of its members?

If the AFI didn’t fulfill its objective and was corrupted…there must be a resignation…of the official who spent hundreds of millions of pesos to create an agency that failed so miserably. Or is it just the agents who are responsible, and not those who directed them for so long?
The points about the haphazard nature of modifications in Mexican security policy are right on target, and it’s what I was getting at here. It’s also reflected in the 100-day security countdown (we’re almost half way there!), which is repeated on a daily basis on Cadena Tres, in Excelsior, and on the programs of Radio Imagen. I understand that Mexicans are fed up and want improvements now, but if the goal is to create a sustainable and long-term revitalization of Mexico’s public security institution, putting everything on such a short and arbitrary timeline is counterproductive. Hurrying something that should be a deliberate and methodical process will likely lead to more AFI-style fiascos in the future.

From Mexico City

Law enforcement representatives from around the hemisphere are meeting in Mexico City this week to talk about common security challenges. This was an occassion for Michael Mukasey to say that Mexico does not face a security crisis, and for the Colombian delegation to release a report detailing Mexican gangs' efforts to buy cocaine directly from FARC rebels along the Colombia-Ecuador border.

Chait on Debate (But Not from Slate)

Granted, he's biased, but this is a pretty strong endorsement:
I'm often frustrated when I watch these debates because the candidate I want to win failed to make the points that occurred to me as I watched. I have never seen a stronger performance than the one Obama gave tonight. I'm very bad at judging how something will play with the public, so I could be wrong yet again. But in substance, in demeanor, in the clarity of his replies, this was a rout.

Why Tennessee is Suffering

The beat reporters have to love this. Veeeek!

Matt says, "How do you say 'fumble on the goal line...again?!?' in Pterodactyl?"

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

On Behalf of Those of Us Whose Paycheck is Denominated in Mexican Pesos

Crap.

Expert Comment

Trolling for information about Mexico's economic situation, I came across this column from the always reasonable Rogelio Ramírez de la O:
The Mexican banks don't confront a problem with insolvency of Mexicans, but in credit cards and to a lesser degree housing loans, there is a clear deterioration of bad debt, which will worsen when the economy generates unemployment. Still worse, they will be obligated to reduce loans, because their overseas branches will need all the possible resources to increase their capital.

In the longer term, the negative impact will be in the investment and business climate. The Americans, beaten up by the crisis, will favor excessive credit regulation and protectionism and will turn even more hostile toward Mexican workers.

The [Mexican] government should be working, adapting its agenda to a new situation... It will first have to understand the reality and transmit it with clarity to the Congress, to the business class and to the public opinion. And, absolutely, [it will have] to reduce its enormous spending, which has increased by almost $40 billion in just two years.

A start could be to revise the goal for economic growth for the economy from 3 percent to 1 percent, because this is realistic and it would allow the government to realign its spending projections. Otherwise, spending will be excessive and in the long term they will have to be savagely cut. It should also communicate to the governors of the states that they won't be able to keep spending as they are today, and that they must avoid the high level of waste in their spending that is today evident in in various states.

Catching Assassins

The mayor of a city in Mexico State, Salvador Vergara Cruz, was executed Saturday by a team carrying high-powered assault rifles. Vergara, a political ally of Governor (and future presidential candidate) Enrique Peña Nieto, had evidently denied political protection to a group of narcomenudistas, or retail drug dealers. The group of frustrated criminals allegedly killed him in retaliation.

A couple of worries, plus one bright spot: First, narcomenudistas are typically not closely aligned to the cartels. They are not international, but rather local, much like the corner boys in the Wire. That they would be bold enough to murder a politician, not to mention one close Peña Nieto, who has as good a shot as running the country from 2012 to 2018 as anyone, is an ominous sign. Second, as far as we know, Vergara was killed for not for protecting the wrong band, but refusing protection. Further revelations may well cloud the picture, but for the moment it seems that Vergara was killed for being honest.

The silver lining: 14 people have already been arrested for the crime. If Mexico's police agencies can start dismantling the groups responsible for particularly heinous or destabilizing crimes, not merely arresting the designated patsy but taking apart the organization from top to bottom, that would be a huge step forward in making Mexico more governable.

Not Good News

This weekend's elections in Guerrero brought bad news for the PRD: they lost 20 of the 44 mayorlaties that they controlled, and a majority of the municipal councils. Poorer southern states like Guerrero are where the PRD typically has the most success; sinking there does not bode well.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Scary Project

As far as I have seen, libertarianism doesn't seem to have much of a following here in Mexico. Over the course of the nation's two centuries, the federal government has had a hard enough time getting the government to control the whole of its territory; the concern that it could turn into an all-powerful big brother doesn't keep a lot of people up at night. Nonetheless, the plan to have all Mexicans submit "physical characterists" to a national database in order to create a national ID card might awaken some fears of government.

Fear

Economic problems in the United States are generating fear in Mexico, despite the relative resilience of Mexico's economy thus far. According to polls published today in Excelsior, 72 percent of Mexicans think that American turmoil will drag Mexico down, while 53 percent think it will affect them on a personal level. Fifty-six percent do not believe Felipe Calderón when he says that Mexico's economy can withstand the crisis.