Saturday, October 31, 2009

Unfortunate Artistic Decisions

Anybody's who looked at a female celebrity in a magazine is familiar with what airbrushing can do: color gets brighter, blemishes are removed, certain body parts become bigger and rounder, while others become narrower. I offer the preceding sentence as an objective observation rather than a passage of judgment, but regardless of your opinion of airbrushing, have you ever seen a worse bodily augmentation than the backside of actress Paola Núñez, pictured above? Ignore the graffiti, and look at it again for a second. It's not only that it's unnatural and unattractive; it's that it has the shape of a giant pimple, or a small volcano. What was the airbrusher thinking? If I were Núñez, I'd sue for defamation of derriere.

Overly Honest

According to Federal Police sources quoted in Excélsior yesterday, federal troops are in the midst of a large-scale operation aimed at bringing La Familia's Servando Gómez and his collaborators to justice. Supposedly the operation started two weeks ago, so I guess surprise was already off the table, but I wonder why they made that information public. It even includes official suspicions about his recent movements, and where the government is concentrating its efforts. Maybe it's all blowing smoke, but if not, that seems like info that a police agency would want to keep close to the vest.

The sources claimed that their goal was to trap Gómez "before the FBI finds him", which is also a bizarre thing to make public. First of all, since Gómez is presumed to be in Michoacán and not Miami, there aren't likely to be hundreds of FBI agents hot on his trail. Furthermore, while friendly (or even unfriendly) rivalries between different nations' security agencies are inevitable, it strikes me as kind of odd to see them broadcast so openly. Would you see the US military say, "We just want to catch Osama before the Brits do"?

Unconvincing Argument

Cameron Stracher on running's long fade in the US:
Some have blamed performance-enhancing drugs for the loss of American dominance on the roads; others have criticized United States training methods; still others see a shifting of interest to other sports, like lacrosse and soccer. But the real reason for the decline is a failure of narrative.


Today, pick up an article about the New York City marathon and you’re as likely to read about a blind dog running with his septuagenarian master as you are a serious analysis of the race favorites. Even Runner’s World, which actually used to write about races, is now full of articles about how to tighten your abs and sculpt your behind. Imagine if instead of writing about the Yankees-Phillies World Series, sportswriters focused their attention on the Yankee fan who organized a Wiffle ball game in his backyard. Yet that is essentially what happened to writing about running: it lost its narrative.

The marathon may be an event, but at its heart it is a race — a competition among highly trained athletes. A man who has never seen a baseball game couldn’t possibly appreciate the beauty of the hit and run. But give him an understanding of the difficulty of connecting with a ball traveling at 95 miles per hour while another player is in motion as the ball is pitched, throw in all the nuances of the pitch count, the double play and the stolen base, and he might actually want to get out there and take a few swings. Add a long-simmering rivalry, a curse, bad blood and betrayals, and you’ve got a national pastime that draws the most talented athletes to its fields.
If the best explanation you can come up with for a sport's decline is the lacrosse explosion eating into its fan base, then it's fair to say we're not talking about a particularly popular sport to start off with.

I think it's a lot simpler than human-interest stories crowding out an appreciation for the sport: running is boring. Practicing the sport or knowing the rivalries can only do so much when the strategy is so simple and the action so monotonous. I wouldn't care to watch any race that lasts more than three minutes or so, maybe five if unpredictable obstacles or challenges were included in the bargain. I don't know how true the complaint about the flood of human interest stories in running magazines is, because I wish to spend no more than 10 minutes or so a year consuming running media. And I was once a serious runner (relatively speaking)! If they can't get me to care, why should anybody else?

Blanco Back in Mexico

In a move that is somewhat akin to bringing in a retired Goldman Sachs CEO to shore up flagging sales at the local tire retailer, once the Chicago Fire season is up, Cuauhtémoc Blanco will return to Mexican soccer with the second-division squad Veracruz. He'll presumably stay through the end of the spring season, at the end of which Veracruz of course hopes to vault itself back into La Liga. I have no idea how successful they will be in that endeavor, but I can say with certainty that it will be odd to see Blanco, who is the most famous and one of the best active Mexican stars, laboring alongside ten unknowns in small, dilapidated stadiums on third-rate cable channels.

Late Picks

A decent fight card tonight in Las Vegas: I like Joseph Agbeko to retain his 118-pound title via decision over Yonnhy Pérez, and I'll take Antonio DeMarco by decision over José Alfaro. I'm tring to bounce back from an 0 for 2 in the opening night of the Super 6 tourney, but actually, I wouldn't be totally surprised if both of the above predictions were off as well, especially the latter. Alfaro's a good puncher, and DeMarco gets hit a lot; I think we'll learn how good his whiskers are if he can take Alfaro's best shots.


Echoing Sean Goforth from a few days ago, Genaro García Luna says that municipal police improvement is key to improving Mexican security. He also went to say that beyond the levels of corruption, municipal police departments suffer because they operate based on a model from three decades ago, when keeping the public peace meant breaking up a bar fight or two, but not taking on transnational gangs armed like an infantry division.

Happy Halloween

It may not be supernatural, but Oscar de la Hoya's soft Latin pop music is scarier than any phantom haunting. Don't click that link if you're all alone, or if you have any kind of heart condition.


The Senate approved the 1 percent value-added tax hike passed in the Chamber of Deputies earlier this month, as well as an increase in the corporate profit tax from 28 to 30 percent. Cash deposits in excess of 15,000 pesos will now be taxed (the floor was 25,000 before), at a rate of 3 percent (it used to be 2 percent).

Friday, October 30, 2009


Excélsior's front page was devoted to the denials from the elite business community that their tax contribution amounts to 2 percent of their profits, as Calderón claimed yesterday. It's kind of an odd dynamic, in that a business-friendly president went after business, and business doesn't quite know how to respond. As such, despite the unusually aggressive comments from Calderón (relatively speaking), the responses from representatives of business were generally reserved. Take this comment, from the president of the Coordinating Business Council:
We don't share his opinion that the big businesses aren't contributing. We think that they are contributing and that they are within the legal framework.
Take that, Felipe! Of course, some people, like Ricardo Salinas, Mexico's third richest man, were a bit more cantankerous in their assessment:
Then what does the government live on if it's not the corporate tax and then who is paying the corporate tax? What the SAT [Mexico's version of the IRS] does is the responsibility of the government.

What the Budget Debate Has Wrought

Bajo Reserva yesterday reported that the PAN's senators and Agustín Carstens are unhappy with one another, and today weighs in with more details:
What people are saying (and it's not one person's but rather many people's rumor) is that the fight over the budget bill has not only provoked division in Congress and between the parties, but also between the interior of the executive branch and among different party wings. The rumors confirm that Felipe Calderón not only scolded the business representatives, but also the PAN senators and the Finance Secretary, Agustín Carstens. The PAN senators are deeply divided among themselves. It's everyone against everyone.

Between Good and Bad News

Remittances sent to Mexico fell in September (compared with August) by $38 million, or about 5 percent of the total. This marks the third straight month of decline, and on the year, remittances are down 13 percent. However, the 5 percent drop suggests that the decline in remittances is slowing; the drop from June to July was almost $90 million, or around 10 percent. With the Christmas consumption surge and consequent economic jolt just around the corner, one can reasonably hope that the slide in remittances to Mexico may be coming to an end.

Payouts Proceeding Apace

The federal government says that 40 percent of the liquidated workers from LyFC have received their buyouts. As that number rises, it would seem decreasingly likely that there will be any sustained pressure on the government from the SME; indeed, hitting 40 percent is probably a big reason why there has been less noise on the matter in recent days. Of course, the budget debate dominating the news also helps.

More Support for Removing the Pluris

This time it comes from Leo Zuckermann:
In political science there exists "Duverger's law" in honor of the French sociologist who elaborated it. This thesis says that majority electoral systems, where the legislature is composed only of plurinominal legislatures, generates bipartisanship. In these systems the first past the post principal is followed: the candidate that obtains the post is he who wins even if it is by only one vote in his district. This polarizes the competition between one party on the right and one on the left. The clearest examples are the United States (Republicans and Democrats) and the United Kingdom (Conservatives and Laborites). In a system like this it is practically impossible the survival of a third party.


A clear example is the 1983 election in the United Kingdom. The Conservative Party won 42 percent of the vote but it obtained 61 percent of the seats in Parliament. As such, Margaret Thatcher had a very comfortable majority with which to govern. She took advantage of it to carry out an agenda of aggressive change. Hers was, without a doubt, a strong government.
He goes on to say that the system holds down the Liberal Democrats, who won 22 percent of the vote in 2005, but wound up with just 10 percent of the seats. I find the thrust of this argument much more convincing than that of Pedro Ferriz de Con, which basically amounted to the simplistic claim that the plurinominals are dead weight holding back the rest of the legislature. But I remain unconvinced, for a couple of reasons: first, any attempt to install a British system in Mexico would force the PRD to play the role of the Liberal Democrats --i.e., receiving a percentage of seats half as large as their vote total-- and could precipitate a potentially serious political crisis. Second, I don't know about Britain, but the tradeoff for a uninominal system in the US is legislators whose focus is their district first, and the country second. For a federal congress, said focus is the opposite of what it should be, and it is not worth the benefit of ditching the plurinominal legislators. Third, a bipartisan system is not incompatible with plurinominal representatives; you'd just need to recalibrate it so that it disproportionately benefited the top two finishers nationally.

Screwing Up

On a new 100-peso bill commemorating the 200th anniversary of Mexico's independence, Mexico's Central Bank aimed to mark the indelible anti-Díaz mantra of Francisco I. Madero, Sufragio efectivo, no reelección (Effective voting, no reelection). Instead, someone (or someones) with a slippery grasp of Mexican history replaced it with Sufragio electivo y no reelección (Elective voting and no reelection.) Given that the above utterance is one of the most famous in the nation's history, I think we might dare to call this a somewhat embarrassing mistake.


It is not even November, and the sun rose today over a Torreón frozen stiff by temperatures in the high 40s. Stock up on canned food stuffs and portable weapons, because the apocalypse may well be nigh.

Update: Another possible sign of doom: the Jonas Brothers are touring Mexico. I'm rereading The Road, just in case.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

And He's Out

That didn't take long: a day after his speech celebrating drug dealers as successful agribusiness practitioners managed to unite the PAN, PRI, and PRD for the purpose of his expulsion, Jeffrey Max Jones, surely the most famous undersecretary for agribusiness in the history of Mexico, has resigned.

As much as the speech reminds one of George Costanza's trophy-dragging campaign to get fired from the Yankees, it's hard not to feel a twinge of sorrow for the guy. It was a pretty creative speech, but one better suited for a university lecturer than a government spokesman.

Long Lost Brothers?

I can't claim to have made this observation myself (a fact that will always haunt me), but though unoriginal, the uncanny resemblance between ex-Chelsea boss Luiz Felipe Scolari and Gene Hackman deserves to be passed along. In the course of, ahem, researching this post, I learned that Scolari, whose last three jobs have been three of the more prestigious coaching jobs in the world, is now at the helm of an Uzbek club called Bunyodkor. Not only that, but the old Brazilian great Rivaldo, now 37 years old, plays there, too. I wonder how much their contracts are worth.

The Age of Reform

Adding to what Zuckermann had to say about the poisonousness of the word "privatizations" last week, Rogelio Ramírez de la O says Salinas spoiled the concept of structural economic reform for a generation:
In effect, the first generations of globalization reforms dealing with globalizations came from Carlos Salinas. But for them to continue, they had to be well done, generating greater growth and employment and, with that, grassroots public support.

And there's the problem. Salinas' reforms weren't those of Margaret Thatcher in England, but those of Boris Yeltsin in Russia. Instead of creating competitive markets and equal rules for everyone, they merely transfered state businesses to big private groups. The state protected these groups, lowered their taxed allowed them to charge monopolistic prices. And eventually it allowed them to accumulate so much power that they came to capture regulatory agencies, judges, or even Congress itself so as to preserve their dominance in the markets.

That's why, although Mexico scored privileged access to the American market, the largest in the world, and increased foreign investment and exports, the economy only grew 2.5 percent annually between 1983 and 2009. As a result, it couldn't create new opportunities, causing more than a million and a half workers in search of employment to emigrate each year.

That's the objective reason for the lack of enthusiasm and therefore support for reforms. The very term "structural reforms" is now held in contempt.
He goes on to talk about Mexico's bank privatizations, which by and large placed the keys of the nation's financial institutions not in the hands of experienced bankers, but connected and ambitious businessmen. The consequences, of course, were less than ideal.

I think there's a lot of truth to the above, but the idea of "reform" doesn't seem to be the key issue. After all, five important reforms were passed under Calderón. At least three (oil, electoral, and fiscal) either didn't fully address the problem or created new ones, but that was more of a matter of faulty design or a lack of political will rather than a society-wide rejection of reform in the abstract, which their very passage demonstrates.

It's also notable that AMLO's former economic advisor would openly praise England's most famous conservative of the modern era. That speaks well of Ramírez de la O's intellectual honesty, for one, but I think it also demonstrates that many of the problems facing Latin America, such as ossified companies and protected industries limiting growth and fostering immigration, aren't really right-left problems, but rather matters of competency and best practices. Javier Santiso makes that point in much greater depth in this very helpful book.

Mexican Justice in the American Media

It's not a pretty picture, at least not in these two pieces: The Wall Street Journal looks at the case of Antonio Zúñiga, the subject of a recent documentary, who was wrongly and ridiculously accused and convicted of murder. Also, Ioan Grillo looks at rising vigilantism is Mexico, something we mentioned briefly here, and, even more briefly, here. Responding to the second piece, Sean Goforth argues that this demonstrates the need for more serious police reform at the local level.

Tax Cheats

At meeting of the nation's mayors, Felipe Calderón said that the 400 largest companies in Mexico pay taxes amounting to, on average, 2 percent of their profits.

A Gaffe of Epic Proportions

A Mexican official in the Department of Agriculture said yesterday that the business model used by drug traffickers is "ideal for Mexican campesinos". My first thought was that I understand that Calderón is deemphasizing the government focus on confronting drug gangs, but I didn't expect them to go so far in the other direction as to offer rhetorical admiration of drug dealers. In fact, the government has disavowed the comments.

More here.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

An Honor for the 42nd President

Obama may have beaten him to the Nobel, but can Barack claim to have any Mexican drug lords adopting monikers to celebrate him? No, he can't, but now Bill Clinton can. It must be a big day in Little Rock.

Expert Commentary on Mexico

Mexican crime expert Edgardo Buscaglia argues that Mexico must suffer more violence in order to break up the criminal rings that dominate the news. The alternative scenario would be a wholesale state capture by criminal groups, which would lead to a decline in violence but a more firmly entrenched band of criminals.
Despite everything that has happened, Mexico still must suffer through the scary violence that occurred in Russia or in Colombia in the '90s, when bombs were exploding everywhere in the cities, when planes were falling from the sky or more accurately they were blown from it, when ministers were assassinated by the score...

"When society and above all the elite feel under siege is when things begin to change"...
There's a lot of interesting stuff in the interview, but the idea that Mexico has to suffer through X amount of violence, that it can only begin to cleanse itself when it has gone through a Colombia-in-the-1990s sort of trauma is mistaken. Think of two addicts. Both can't get better until they hit bottom, but one's bottom might be showing up high to his parents' anniversary party, while the other's might be sleeping with his sister-in-law, driving his car into a river, and firing a gun at police. It doesn't strike me as logical that Mexico's bottom will be the same as Colombia's or Russia's. Given the former's greater political instability over the course of the twentieth century and the latter's political revolution (of a sort) in the 1990s, it would be pretty surprising if stable-by-comparison Mexican sank to the depths of Colombia and Russia in their worst moments. Mexico's security policy should in part be dictated by a desire to avoid the fate of Russia and Colombia, not the understanding that such a descent is necessary and inevitable.

I do agree wholeheartedly with the idea that a durable security strategy that transcends political party and level of government, sort of like containment for modern Mexico, would be of huge benefit for Mexico. The mania for overhauling institutions means that Mexico often takes two steps back to take three forward in a future that never arrives. The national security pact from 2008 was a real lost opportunity in this regard, something I wrote about here and here.

Mexican Politicians and Social Networking

Excélsior takes Mexican pols to task for their lack of social networking prowess:
After the proven electoral success of Obama in the social networks, many expected a bounce in the Mexican campaigns last July. That wasn't the case. Among the minutiae of the electoral law and the poor political imagination, the activity of the candidates on the web turned toward their own pages, some videos on YouTube and a few who tried on Twitter, such as Ana Gabriela Guevara and Guadalupe Loaeza, for the PRD; César Nava, of the PAN; the ex panista that tested the waters as an independent Tatiana Clouthier (@tatclouthier) and the Convergence Party. But once the search for votes was over, they abandoned their microblogging.
The article goes on to offer evidence of the prevalence of fake Twitter accounts in Mexico. There are four accounts purporting to speak for Enrique Peña Nieto, plus false outlets for Carlos Salinas, Roberto Madrazo, Elba Esther Gordillo, AMLO, and Calderón. Given its recent decision in Connecticut, I wonder if Twitter will have anything to say about the fake Mexican accounts.

More Geography of Drug-Running

They may not be in Colombia, but Mexican narcos are investing heavily in Bolivia, according to the latter nation's security service. Evidently Mexican and Colombian groups are cooperating to build mega-labs for processing cocaine in the South American nation.

Hitchens on Franken, Stewart, Colbert, and the Like

Two thoughts come to mind as I read Christopher Hitchens' attack on liberal comedy. But first, some samples:
Bathos is not irony, though Franken and Stewart and Colbert seem unaware of this. Irony usually partakes of some element of the unintended consequence. How might I give an illustration of the laws of unintended consequences? Let us imagine that Senator Franken composed a chapter about government lying and cover-up, which involved the use of the irresistibly hilarious instance of Sandy Berger, President Clinton’s former national security adviser, being caught red-handed as he stuffed his pants with classified papers from the National Archives. In a capital city that witnesses quite frequent alternations of power between the two main parties, what will be the chances that fiasco and corruption occur at the expense of only one of them? Yet meticulous care is taken by the senator to make sure that no such “fair and balanced” laughter is ever evoked, which is quite a sacrifice for a comedian. Consistency of this kind allows no spontaneity, let alone irony. It might even go some way to explaining the howling success of the “Air America” network, the collapsing-scenery rival to the right-wing dictatorship exerted over the rest of the ether.

Stewart, too, has something of a fat-target problem, and seems partly unaware of this problem’s source in his own need to please an audience that has a limited range of reference. In Naked Pictures of Famous People, when he decides to lampoon Larry King—who in any context is a barn-door-size target—he still manages to make the attack too broad. There’s no slight nudge, but a huge dig in the ribs. It needs to be “Adolf Hitler: The Larry King Interview.” And Hitler has to be a guest who has been helped by therapy to become more of a people person. Here’s his opening reply to King’s welcome to the show.

HITLER: (biting into a bagel) First of all, Larry, I don’t know what I was so afraid of. These are delicious!!!

At whose expense, I wonder, are those three (count them!) exclamation marks? Who is afraid that who will miss what point?
The first thing that came to mind is that humor suffers from analysis. What determines whether or not a comedian is good is not a matter of reason or argument, but of visceral reaction. It either makes a person laugh or doesn't. Further insight or understanding is simply unnecessary, at least for consumers (as opposed to practitioners) of comedy.

Second, it was one of the most elitist things I have ever read. The breadth of a comedian's range of reference strikes me as a bizarre measure of comedic value. I'm not sure any comedian has made me laugh harder than Dave Chappelle, but I don't think he mentions much of anything that I wasn't familiar with by the age of 13. Whether or not a comedian can match Hitchens Baudelaire reference for Baudelaire reference has nothing to do with whether or not he's successful. This isn't like slamming an economics columnist for an unsophisticated grasp Hayek; such a criticism gets to the heart of the function of his job. Hitchens essentially criticizes mass-marketed comedians precisely for taking aim at that mass market. In other words, the more people who can find humor in a joke, the less funny Hitchens finds said joke.

The PAN's Future

Carlos Loret de Mola reports that ambitious panistas are itching to get their presidential campaigns cranking, and they are awaiting Calderón's decision to embrace one candidate or remain above the fray. It would be the height of irony if Calderón were to opt for the former approach, given his tortured arrival to the PAN nomination. Loret also speculates that given the increasingly diminished profile of security issues in the Calderón administration, the door could be wide open for someone surprising like Secretary of Social Development Ernesto Cordero.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Senate Tax Update

The Senate has approved to increases in taxes on beer, cigarettes, and gambling. The 16 percent VAT (which would be a 1 percent uptick) is still up in the air (although the powerful contingent of PRI governors, with the exception of Coahuila's Humberto Moreira, supports it), and the 3 percent telecom tax is out.

I'm not sure if this is still the case, but as of Sunday they were pegging the projected price of oil at 64 dollars, which is slightly higher than the proposed peg from the Chamber of Deputies, and would make up a great deal of the budget gap from the removed taxes. The fact that the budget's viability relies so heavily on a figure that is impossible to accurately predict is somewhat silly. (After all, when oil was flying off the shelves at $140 a barrel in the middle of 2008, few guessed that it would close the year at less than $40.) In all fairness, Mexico's legislators, who are influenced but as I understand it not bound by projections from the finance secretary, are being relatively responsible, in that they are not pegging public spending to a plainly impossible price of oil. Fixing a $140 projection for 2010 sure would fund a lot of neat new programs. Nonetheless, it seems like there must be a more organized way to deal with the uncertainty.

Soccer Novelties

Real Madrid, which perennially aspires to be the best club team on the globe, lost to Spanish Second Division B team (which essentially makes it the third division) Alcorcón 4-0 in a Copa del Rey contest. Kaká and Ronaldo didn't play, but who cares; you'd think 11 empty Real jerseys could play Alcorcón to a scoreless tie. This would be like the Giants' second team losing to a MAC squad by 21 points.

Also, Mexico beat Brazil for the second straight time in the U-17 World Cup. Something must happen to Brazilian footballers between the ages of 17 and 21, because those victories are a lot harder to come by when the big boys suit up.

The Plurinominal Scourge

Pedro Ferriz de Con advocates the disappeareance of the plurinominal, party-list deputies:
The first of the actions that we must take is getting rid of deputies. There are 200 that get in the way...The plurinominals have no reason to exist. The leadership of the parties is dominated by them. The bridge of the party line. They are the point of the spear than harms or kills ideas, proposals, solutions.
I find this argument extremely unconvincing. (More here. And here, though I can't remember exactly where.) First of all, for all his certainty, Ferriz provides nothing to support the idea that by virtue of plurinominal election, a senator loses his creativity. The obvious counter-example to that supposition is Manlio Fabio Beltrones, who's tossed more ideas out there than anyone in the PRI over the past three years, and who was elected by plurinominal votes.

More broadly, why shouldn't a party be able to tab its most talented figures for indefinite service? Wouldn't the Democratic party be better off if the rightward swing of South Dakota didn't mean that Tom Daschle was out of the Senate? Wouldn't the Republicans be better off if Jim Leach or Chris Shays could have perhaps survived the anti-Bush backlash?

On the other hand, the perils of strictly geographic voting are well known to followers of American politics. Strictly local priorities are regularly placed ahead of a broad conception of the national interest. Consequently, pork is as vital to the political body as blood is to my physical body, and important and undeniably beneficial legislation is held hostage, for example, to Ben Nelson's relationship with Nebraska's banks.

New Book

Jorge Castañeda and Rubén Aguilar, who both served in the Fox administration, have released a book called El Narco: La Guerra Fallida (or Drugs: The Failed War). I've not read it, but based on what I've seen, it's quite critical of the strategy taken by Felipe Calderón's team. Here's an interview (in Spanish) with the pair from Carmen Aristegui's show on CNN.

Mexico's Version of the JFK Assassination

That would be the murder of PRI presidential candidate Luis Donaldo Colosio in Tijuana in 1994. Discovery released a documentary of the event this week challenging the (universally disbelieved) version that Colosio's killer worked alone. Virtually everyone, including the makers of the documentary, assumes he was killed because of the threat he represented to Mexico's political system. An ex-intelligence officer who worked the case has also come forward with doubts as to the identity of the triggerman, an anti-government misanthrope from Michoacán named Mario Aburto. Because of discrepancies related to his youth schooling and subsequent studies in prison, the former CISEN employee wonders if the person serving time for murdering Colosio is, in fact, Mario Aburto. That seems a pretty flimsy piece of evidence, but it is an illustration of the tornado of confusion and disbelief surrounding the episode.

Municipal Dilemma

I've mentioned how every time it rains in Torreón, roughly half the intersections in the city fill up with 18 inches or so of water. After the rains subsides, potholes as big as a humvee are left behind, seemingly across the length and breadth of the city. (The floods are equal opportunity menaces; the city's poshest commercial drag as well as its priciest residential area are two of the most effected zones.) In fact, El Siglo reports that a full 70 percent of the city's streets have damaged pavement stemming from rain storms a couple of weeks ago. It will cost the city between $20 and $25 million to fix the damage, which is quite a chunk for a mid-sized, export-reliant northern Mexican town in the middle of an economic crisis.

Since it only rains heavily here maybe five or ten times a year, this isn't a persistent problem, and there doesn't seem to be much pressure on political leaders to install a functioning citywide drainage system. Nonetheless, the damage mentioned above is a recurring event. Furthermore, the fact that a 40-minute shower can create such havoc, even if it does so only seven times a year, in a place that aspires to be one of the premier cities in the North is embarrassing. A new mayor will soon be inaugurated in Torreón; together with the state government, his predecessor sank millions into showy but basically unnecessary building projects. I'd much rather that the incoming administration go the opposite route and invest in a drainage system that will less conspicuous but far more beneficial. Although I'm not too optimistic, given that the new mayor (Eduardo Olmos) was the state official responsible for local projects over the past four years.

Delays, Delays

Because of ongoing negotiations of the budget bill in the Senate, the election of Mexico's next human rights boss will have to wait.

Last week, Alberto Aziz Nassif pointed out that the official organ that truly has made progress in human rights over the past decade is the Mexico City Commission for Human Rights. It did so by adopting international standards, setting objective goals, and fostering transparency and accountability in its operation. Given the capital city commission's marked progress, Aziz Nassif supports the candidacy of its outgoing boss, Emilio Álvarez Icaza, for the national post.

Heath Hearts Lane

Number 21 (D-NC) is a big fan of Lane Kiffin.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Annals of Stupidity

Evidently, the Secretariat of the Interior has issued 71 penalties to radio stations for broadcasting narcocorridos, the traditional-style Mexican songs that celebrate drug lords, since 2001. That's done a great job in tamping down drug culture in Mexico.

Half of the Apples Are Rotten

According to a report by a group called Mexicanos Primeros, only half of the members of the teacher's union SNTE presented the teaching exam that has now been applied for the past two years. Furthermore, only 30 percent of the teachers filling new positions took the exam. The remainder presumably came into their job through connections, nepotism, et cetera.

Laying Blame a Bit Too Narrowly

Lorenzo Córdova wrote a column last week about the lamentable lack of tolerance for opposing views in Mexican politics. Most of the column was written about intolerance in the abstract, and then he ended the column with the following:
In recent days we have seen a contemptible expression of that discursive tone in the shameful dismissal that Hugo Valdemar, spokesman of the archdiocese of Mexico, made of Emilio Álvarez Icaza, one of the most recognized aspirants to occupy the presidency of the CNDH, when he stated that he was "the most noted abortionist in Mexico City".

That Valdemar doesn't agree with the positions of someone is absolutely legitimate; nevertheless, that he uses that done --especially from the position he occupies-- is worrying, because his attack just aggravates even further a society that is already polarized and that is increasingly susceptible to the logic of the good and the bad, friends and enemies, that, instead of expressing a democratic vocation, foments precisely the emphasis on contrasts that feeds authoritarianism.
I agree with the argument, and I agree that the comment was ugly. Nonetheless, it strikes me as willfully misleading to write about the lack of tolerance for the other side in Mexico without at least mentioning the famous politician who refers to his adversaries as "the mafia" (even in book-length form), or his allies who have more than once taken over public spaces to protest legislation of which they disapprove. Such activity from some of the nation's most recognizable officials would seem to be not only much more divisive in and of itself, but also much more consequentially so than a regrettable comment from an unknown Church spokesman.

The PRI and Coherence

Carlos Loret de Mola had some interesting things to say about the PRI last week:
Manlio Fabio Beltrones overwhelmingly supported the federal government's decision to extinguish LyFC, Enrique Peña Nieto half endorsed it while he maintained dialogue with the union leader Martín Esparza, Beatriz Paredes continues acting as though nothing has happened.

The PRI national leader and the Veracruz governor, Fidel Herrera, wanted to reject all of the taxes proposed by President Calderón, the governor of the state of Mexico wants them approved didn't dare to voice support, and Senate leader of the PRI declared from the beginning that he saw the VAT on food and medicine in a good light, a position with which he charms businessmen.

Two recent events --the discussion of the 2010 budget and the takeover of LFC-- have put in evidence that the PRI unites in times of famine, but it divides with abundance: they lost as they never had before the presidency in 2000, they came together and recovered ground by beating back Fox in 2003; the failure united them and this July they rolled; three months have gone by and the fissures --motivated by the fight surrounding the 2012 presidential candidacy-- begin to show.
I'd add that the infighting may be motivated by the presidency, but it is made worse by the lack of ideological coherence. I don't think the other parties are a whole lot better, but if the PRI was a party that, for example, had a 40-year tradition of advocating for lower taxes, or for supporting unions against all opposition, or what have you, the voices would probably be a lot more uniform. Not that I'm not arguing for litmus tests, mind you, but this is the downside of the PRI's ideological flexibility.

Today's Creepy/Hilarious Photo of the Day

Courtesy of El Universal, that would be fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld. The article tells us that he doesn't think much of curvaceous women. The photo tells us he thinks way too much of 70-year-olds in shiny suits and racecar-driver gloves.

More on El Universal's Drug Crime in the US Series

Jorge Chabat on the idea seemingly behind the series' agenda, that drug crime in the US is no different than in Mexico:
This argument absolutely has some truth to it: very efficient distribution networks obviously exist in American territory and it's clear that the politicians of the government in that country haven't managed to break them up. And that of course explains the existence of corruption among the authorities of the United States. Nevertheless, it would be an error to think that this phenomenon has the same form in both countries. The fundamental difference is that, despite the corrupting influence of drugs, the American institutions are more solid and have managed to maintain this criminal activity as a problem of public security and not a problem of national security as has happened in Mexico. In other words, drug traffic in the United States doesn't threaten governability --not yet, some would say-- as it does in Mexico. This is due not only to the greater strength of the institutions but also to the fact that the distribution networks are fragmented, unlike what has happened with the drug cartels in Mexico, at least up to now. Indeed, that is the goal of the Mexican government: fragment these criminal organizations so that the effects of drug traffic, violence and corruption, don't place at risk the stability of the country.


The goal of the Mexican government is that the phenomenon of drug trafficking presents characteristics similar to those of the United States and that it ends up not threatening the governability of our nation, but if Calderón's government fails in this endeavor, the opposite could happen: drug traffic in the US could begin to resemble Mexican drug traffic, with similar levels of corruption or violence.
As far as his final conclusion, I suppose that could happen, but I don't see much evidence of it. The border area aside, I don't see why drug traffic is today much more of a threat today than it was in the 1980s, when Medellín and Calí were two of the scariest words in the American media. If US institutions could survive the rise of cocaine and the crack epidemic, I don't see any reason to assume that governability could be at risk in the near future. Rather than the Edgar Millánes of the United States being killed and the its Noé Ramírezes being bought and the nation one day facing its own group of untouchable kingpins, I think the threat is more small-bore and tactical: the US should be wary of kidnapping (see Phoenix) playing a larger role in areas where Mexican gangs operate, and should be conscious of the possibility that municipal police departments are purchased wholesale.

Kidnapping Info

A study from something called the Council of the Law and Human Rights found that 90 percent of Mexico's kidnapping are perpetrated by independent gangs, not by moonlighting drug gangs. Which serves as a reminder that Mexico's security ills go way beyond a few big kingpins. It found that in excess of 7,000 Mexicans have been kidnapped each of the past several years. The report also said that 75 percent of kidnapping victims are men between the age of 35 and 45.

More on LFC

Here's the NY Times' take from over the weekend, and here's mine. Both concur that, in the words of Elisabeth Malkin, the LFC was "low-hanging fruit", and that a repeat performance from the Calderón administration will require it to reach higher and leave it dangerously exposed to a backlash. (Overextended metaphor alert.)

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Annals of Stupid Coaching

We're at 8:21 left in the fourth quarter, Saints up 37 to the Dolphins' 34. Tony Sparano has called six straight passes, all of them incomplete. Chad Henne is now 9 for 22 on the day. They face fourth and ten from their own 20, which makes this their second straight three and out. To remind you, they have Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams in the backfield, who have together rushed for 123 yards and scored four touchdowns. Not coincidentally, the Dolphins started this sequence with the lead. It seems unlikely that they recover the lead. Isn't Tony supposed to be a good coach?

Update: By my count, it has now been thirteen straight passes, culminating in an interception returned for a TD that put the game away for the Saints. All of these plays were before the two-minute warning, with the Dolphins either winning or losing by less than a touchdown. If Sparano was a doctor, the malpractice lawyers would be hovering around his office like sharks.

For Pennsylvania Residents

I mentioned several weeks ago that there is a recently made Mexican movie called Euforia whose protagonist shares a name with your blogger. I've been unable to uncover any explanation of this coincidence, despite dogged investigation. (By "dogged", I mean that I sent a single email to the movie's public relations contact, who neglected to answer.) I've also been unable to view the film, as it has not yet been released in Mexican theaters (there's a maddening two or three-year interim between a movie's completion and its distribution here). However, I have followed the movie's wanderings around the film festival circuit with some interest, and if you're going to be in southeastern Pennsylvania in the next couple of weeks, Euforia will be playing at the Greater Reading Film Festival on November 7th. I'd love to know how it is.

First-Rate Stuff

Via Boz, John Lyons of the Wall Street Journal has a really good profile of Genaro García Luna on its website. Here's a taste:
To give the new federal force a fighting chance, Mr. García Luna has provided officers with souped-up patrol cars, body armor, AR-15 assault rifles and an array of technology including surveillance balloons that hover above cities. He guards these assets jealously, and senior Federal Police officers say he gets particularly upset when an officer crashes one of the fleet of Dodge Charger squad cars he acquired.

For the first time, Mexico is putting together a national database of vehicle registrations, arrest warrants, jail inmates and other data, a crucial tool for nabbing fugitives.

Of course, all the fancy technology in the world can't take down drug gangs if the police themselves remain corrupt and inefficient. That is where Mr. García Luna's plan to recruit middle-class college graduates comes in. Many in this demographic have a hard time finding good jobs in a sluggish economy where the highest paying positions still tend to go to the elites. And though Mexican law enforcement has always favored brawn over brains, recruiting primarily from the lower classes, Mr. García Luna says the world's best police agencies actually have it the other way around: "When I first visited the FBI, I realized most everyone there had master's degrees. Why can't we do that?"
It says that Federal Police officers have a base salary of 16,000 pesos (about $1,200) a month, which is quite good. (It's hard to generalize, but I'd say that a 26-year-old graduate from a non-prestigious university would be really lucky to make that kind of cash without family connections playing a role; indeed, even a recent grad from a high-end private university would be fortunate to walk right into a job that paid like that.) It's probably not enough for many to stave off the temptation of drug cash, but it certainly is enough to attract more talented people.

The finale is also dead on:
Even if Mr. García Luna proves he is clean, his biggest obstacle may be time. Mexican politicians are not big on institutional continuity, meaning the Federal Police could be dismantled and Mr. García Luna pushed out the door after elections in 2012.
Of course, as good as this one was, for the reigning champ of American media profiles of Genaro García Luna, one must click here.

The Geography of Drug-Running

Colombia's attorney general, in Mexico City for a conference on regional security, says that there are no major Mexican groups operating in Colombia. He also said that both Colombian and Mexican gangs are digging their way into African nations like Senegal, Guinea, and Guinea-Bissau. We've seen lots of info on Mexican drug traffickers in Africa recently.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Life Imitates the Opening Scene of Boyz n the Hood

Officials in Juárez are asking for the assistance of the Juárez population in keeping young children away from crime scenes in which they might witness dead bodies.

Binational, Bi-sport Rivalry Weekend

Neyland Scoreboard
Originally uploaded by ermd2000
This weekend offers a pair of games in series that have lost their luster just a bit in recent years. The most important is Tennessee-Alabama, with the Vols having their second chance this year to take on top-ranked squad on the road. This time, an upset is in the offing. A dominating performance from the defense, complemented by some timely passes from a newly confident Jonathan Crompton, will upset Saban's apple cart and put some buzz back into the third saturday in October (at least, it's usually on the third). Go Vols. GO VOLS!

Further south, we have the Clásico in Mexican soccer tomorrow, with Chivas and América squaring off in the country's most storied rivalry. Unfortunately, it's been I believe six seasons (the Apertura in 2006, if I remember correctly) since América was halfway decent, and of course now that they are playing well this year, Chivas is playing its worst soccer of the decade. Chucho Ramírez says América is better man for man, and it's hard to refute that opinion. Still, I'm optimistic for an upset: tomorrow, the Goats down the Eagles.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Script-Flipping at El Universal

El Universal continues its series on the drug trade on both sides of its northern border with a piece about Phoenix called, "Phoenix, kidnapping capital". Among other things, it tells us that the city has one reported kidnapping every day. (George Will of all people had an interesting take on Phoenix's crime earlier this year as well.) The existence of this series strikes me as more interesting than any specific thing I've read in it, and I can't quite figure out how I feel about it. It all comes across as a somewhat transparent attempt to turn the tables on the American media that are endlessly fascinated by Mexico's crime but basically ignore any systematic view of its own crime. Americans have no right to complain, and there is certainly news value in the US crime resulting from the same industry that tortures Mexico. Although I'm not sure pique is the best journalistic motivation.

Missed Opportunity

Macario Schettino says that while the basket of new taxes agreed to in the Chamber of Deputies is a one-year balm, the 2 percent tax had the potential to establish a long-term revenue source to replace oil:
What the legislators, and many Mexicans, haven't been able to understand is that an era has ended. Oil has run out, and we won't be able to finance our expenses with the revenue that it generated. Production still is sufficient for internal consumption, and we can still export, but in decreasing amounts. But now we have to finance our spending with taxes, and that hasn't happened for 45 years, which means that no one can remember how to do it.

Krauze in English

Good news for English-speakers: TNR has a translation of the Enrique Krauze article on Gabriel García Márquez that I mentioned earlier this week. Enjoy.

Another Questionable Conclusion from a Drug Warrior

Yesterday, Mexican soldiers arrested an alleged Zeta outside of Monterrey who, according to authorities, controls 4,000 hit men. Four thousand is a big number, well more than half the total figure of drug murders in 2008. So one guy, whose public profile was nil until his arrest, controlled half the killers in Mexico? Or are most of them inactive (perhaps the Zetas take their managerial cues from the LCF)? The conclusion was based on receipts of payments made to more than 4,000 people in various states around the nation, but why do they assume that all of the recipients of the cash were hit men?


Fernando Gómez Mont hailed the deputies for raising taxes and placing a priority on the interests of the nation, despite the inevitable irritation of certain parts of society. Excélsior took this to mean praise for the PRI.

However, PAN-PRI relations are not all milk and honey, thanks to César Nava's criticism of the PRI for killing the 2 percent consumption tax, and for the other tax increases. The logic of the first part of Nava's criticism was sound (had the PRI supported the 2 percent tax, it would indeed have passed), but the complaint came across as sour grapes, and it was unproductive, to say the least. The PRI fired back by calling him ignorant, a cowardly little kid, a crybaby, and irresponsible. Update: Excélsior and El Universal are both reporting that the agreement is dead, next year's budget is a hash, and the fault is Nava's. I wonder if Calderón regrets not selecting someone with a bit more political seasoning.

The difference in experience between the Interior Secretary (Gómez Mont) and the PAN's chief (Nava) couldn't be clearer.

More Progressive Policies from Ebrard

He's in favor of gay marriage. It's odd how this issue doesn't provoke much grass-roots anger here. Even in Coahuila, the conservative state where I live and where gay marriage was first legalized a couple years ago, I barely ever heard a word in passing about the measure, much less impassioned opposition. I'm not sure if the relative calm (at least compared to the States) is due to the absence of right-wing demagogues, or the nature of Mexican conservatism, or some other factor, but it's just not much of an issue here.

Reports on the Arrests of the La Familia

Here's the Times, the AP, the LA Times, the Post. Talking about La Familia, a DEA spokeswoman called it "the first time we have seen a cartel take on meth trafficking", which strikes me as odd, given that Ye Gon, who we know amassed more than $200 million from meth trafficking, was supposed to be working for Chapo Guzmán.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Kidnapping Immigrants

The vulnerability to kidnapping and exploitation of South and Central American immigrants passing through Mexico has earned some American press recently. Excélsior followed that up today with the chilling story of a Chilean man kidnapped by alleged Zetas and now stranded in Mexico:
Carlos remembers that the next day the kidnappers said he was with one of the maras. They thought so after seeing his tattoos. Soon enough, they tied him completely naked to a pole that was hanging from the ceiling and the torture began, "they began to beat me with a piece of lumber, around the backside, two or three shots, but with one shot with the lumber and you've already had enough. They asked me, Where are you from? And I told them, "No, I'm Chilean, I'm not a mara like you say," he remembers.
He also said that at one point the kidnappers were speaking to one another in an Indian dialect, which is noteworthy, because I don't remember the Zetas ever being linked to indigenous groups. Nor, for that matter, do I remember reading about indigenous groups being linked to kidnapping. Carlos survived but, lacking the money for a plane ticket, is still stuck in Mexico.

Another Crazy Football Star

Diego's not the only one: I was amused to find out that a hot new brand among drug-users in Brazil is "Ronaldo" (which is actually just crack wrapped in a paper with Ronaldo's name on it). This must be the proudest moment for him since he was extorted by the transvestite hooker.

More on the Arrests

The AP released a report on Eric Holder's press conference announcing the arrests of 300 people linked to La Familia. No further info on whether these people are supposed to be American criminals or close associates of Servando Gómez, but I continue to assume it's the former case, which makes the breathless announcements of blows to La Familia in the United States rather disingenuous. (Though evidently some actual members of the group were arrested in Mexico today.)

Also, I love over-attribution in news stories:
In July, after a dozen Mexican police officers were found murdered, officials say Gomez-Martinez publicly proclaimed his membership in La Familia and said the cartel was locked in a battle with Mexican police.
Officials say? Well, he went on the television to talk about it. You can see said video or read the transcript all over the web. Although the point of his appearance didn't seem to be to declare his involvement with La Familia.

Update: Now there are reports that 1,200 people were arrested.

Damn It

The December 5th fight between Kelly Pavlik and Paul Williams is off, because of lingering (and lingering, and lingering) problems with a staph infection in the former's left hand. Evidently, he can't make a fist, and can't train. What a bummer. What is it with Ohio and staph infection?

Williams is reportedly looking at Sergio Martínez as a replacement, a guy who could potentially be just as tough an opponent for Williams, but will not generate the buzz.

It's Official

Carlos Pascual presented his diplomatic credentials to Felipe Calderón, officially making him the American ambassador to Mexico. Some of his comments to mark the occasion focused on the importance the US government places on rooting out corruption, which I assume is in response to the articles from El Universal this week, if not in response to a question from one of its reporters.

Maradona Justifies

Diego points out that he made his infamous comments when the kids were in bed and presumably not watching television, and that he already begged the pardon of the ladies. He adds that had he lost, he would've had to go live in Haiti, and it was just some stuff that he needed to get off of his chest.

Fifa is unmoved by Diego's mea culpa sans culpa, and Maradona faces a fine of around $20,000 and a suspension of five games.

How Connected

The headline to a story today reads, A cell of La Familia falls in Texas. The Dallas Morning News also ran a story on the arrests. Here's the lead:
Federal and local authorities early Wednesday arrested 90 people in Dallas as part of a nationwide methamphetamine drug distribution bust tied to the notorious "La Familia" drug cartel.
"Tied" is a pretty vague word. Dick Cheney and Peyton Manning are just two of the people I could be "tied" to, if one had a mind to do it. The important question is, were these 90 people michoacanos who'd infiltrated the US, or are they American criminals who just happened to buy their stuff from La Familia? That's a vital distinction. If it's the former, we should be concerned. If it's the latter, than the DEA should be ashamed of its alarmism. I tend to think its the latter, although the articles don't confirm that, and the DEA web site has no info. The Dallas Morning News article does, however, go on to recount the butchering of 12 federal police in Mexico in July, which comes across as totally irrelevant, and closes with the following sentence:

Through the current investigation, DEA agents learned that several Dallas-area cell leaders oversee independent drug distribution branches supplied by members of La Familia in Mexico.

Update: It was actually 300 people arrested around the land, and El Universal says that US officials will have more information in the days to come.

The Source of 16 Percent

Even though it was hailed as the PRI's alternative to Calderón's 2 percent consumption tax, Bajo Reserva reports that the idea came from none other than Agustín Carstens. The increase in revenue should amount to about $2 billion.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Accepting Payment

Some 15 percent of the laid off workers from the SME have accepted their severance package. SME leader Martín Esparza has around $60,000 coming his way, though he seems among the least likely to accept the cash.

More on the US's Drug Problem

Piggy-backing on the El Universal reports mentioned below, Jorge Luis Sierra argues that while drug trafficking in the United States is a growing danger, official attention lies firmly focused elsewhere. I don't entirely agree with the premise that drug-trafficking is more of a menace now than, say, the late 1980s, but there's no question that there is an incongruity in the intensity of American diagnoses of the problem in Mexico, and its willingness to look in the mirror. There is also a lot to agree with here:
Drug-runners are also exploiting the extreme poverty that dominates both sides of the border area. They have found that the lack of development is the ideal context for cultivating control of border populations, corrupting their police, recruiting their adolescents, increasing their drug sales, and developing routes of transport. Twenty-one out of 23 border counties in the US are considered areas of economic crisis. Close to 432,000 people are in these circumstances, many of them undocumented, who live in the 1,200 "colonias" in southern Texas and New Mexico.

President Obama's new anti-drug strategy includes more security, but not more development along the border. It's still too early to know how far that policy can go. For now, we can say that the idea that drug trafficking is an external evil that has to be contained predominates. The new circumstances indicate that drug traffic is also an internal evil that is growing inexorably.

Another Mainstream Voice for Legalization

It's conservative Kathleen Parker of the Washington Post. This line is the clincher for me:
Alcohol and cigarettes -- not to mention 700-calorie cheeseburgers -- are inarguably more harmful than a little reefer, she wrote.
This fact transcends the questions about the whether or not legalization will lead to a spike in drug use, or whether or not it signifies government surrender. The fact that we allow far more harmful products undermines whatever rationale to which one could cling in order to justify marijuana being illegal. The proper policy for harder drugs is, of course, a bit trickier.

Tax Update

The PT takeover of the Chamber of Deputies wound down around midnight last night, and the economic package hammered out the day before was passed very early this morning. There were 415 votes in favor, 15 votes against, and 10 abstentions. Some members of the Senate objected to the hike from 15 to 16 percent in the border VAT, and promised to make adjustments to what they deemed the mistaken provisions of the budget bill.

Cementing Your Reputation as a Serious Newspaper

The undue attention on Angelina's physique notwithstanding, El Universal is still blazing ahead with its journalistic duties. In the past couple of days, it has published a series of reports on the drug trade along both sides of its northern border. The reports aimed to demonstrate the presence of corruption on the American side of the border. And while the agenda was a bit too obvious for my taste, and while they didn't uncover any blockbuster exclusives, the reports did offer a broader look at examples of police corruption in the US than one typically sees in the US. In the words of one of the sheriffs interviewed:
Here all that corruption happens too, it's just that the US is very good at covering up those problems. We've had federal bodies that have arrested [corrupt officers], that have taken them to federal court, but the press doesn't pay much attention, as they do in Mexico.
Another notable feature from the articles was how much school-age kids figure in the binational drug trade. I'm not sure if this is really that different from 15 or 20 years ago, but lots of different cops coincided in their concern over the fact that a dropout can pick up $400 or $500 a week for running drugs between one Texas town and another.

Toying with Your Reputation as a Serious Newspaper

El Universal gives column space to commentators from a wide variety of disciplines, from boxing big shot José Sulaimán to sideline reporter Inés Sainz. Yesterday, that trend scraped absolute bottom, with a column about the asymmetry of Angelina Jolie's breasts. Seriously. The comments beneath the piece were not favorable.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Dark Days in Hog Country

My reaction to the neutering of Zorn (indie directors, take note: the preceding four words would make a great title; if you're interested, we'll talk price in the comment thread) largely mirrored Gregg Easterbrook's:
The Redskins have a losing record against opponents who are a combined 9-26. Now, Jim "Dan Snyder Hasn't Fired Me Quite Just Yet" Zorn finds his play-calling authority removed by the team's general manager, and handed to a "consultant" (that's what the Redskins are calling him!) the GM just hired. In what sense are you head coach if the front office tells you that you're not allowed to call plays? Redskins management is likely to discover that staging a coup against its own coach will not improve team spirit, nor are there magical uncalled plays which will now be called. Zorn should have said, "If you want to fire me, then fire me; I will not accept an impossible position."
This was a transparent panic move. There's no way that Sherman Lewis is going to make the difference for the Skins' anemic offense. It's turning the inevitable coaching change into a long, drawn-out process, when a band-aid approach is the only way to go.

As long as we're on the NFL: every football season has a weekend in which the few prognosticatory rules of thumb holding my gambling record together are flung into oblivion. After said weekend, picking games becomes a total crapshoot, and one can only make a buck at the local casino by sheer luck (imagine that!). I think that last week, with the Bills, Rams, and Raiders all covering, was that hinge weekend for 2009.

When in Doubt, Go with What You Know

I hadn't realized this, but deputies from the PRD and the PT have taken over the Chamber of Deputies to protest the tax hikes agreed to yesterday. To his credit, Jesús Ortega has distanced the PRD from the move, saying that it was not the action of the party as a whole.

LyFC Polling

Reforma says that 50 percent were in favor of Calderón's takeover, 37 percent against. Sixty-two percent said that the liquidated workers should accept the severance packages being offered by the government, while 30 said that they should reject it.

María de las Heras, with one of the more convoluted polls I've ever seen (or maybe it's just the graphic that is killing me), shows a slightly less supportive public. Only 49 percent of those who said that the takeover was necessary thought that Calderón picked the best possible moment. Following the takeover, 60 percent of those polled said that Calderón should have negotiated more. Sixty-eight percent expressed confidence that the government's position was not going to change a whole lot despite the pressure from the union.

Also, a group called Prospecta Consulting polled LyFC customers and came away with some interesting results. Forty-eight percent had a bad or very opinion of LyFC, and 56 percent felt the same way about their union. Meanwhile, the positive feelings for each entity were only 14 and 8 percent, respectively. Forty percent favored Calderón's takeover, against 34 who opposed it, but a majority (56 percent) thought service would improve under the CFE, with only 4 percent predicting that it would be worse.

Chapo in the States?

Sylvia Longmire, whose writing I don't know very well but quite like, closes a recent column with the following warning:
Mexican cartels have demonstrated time and time again their uncanny ability to adjust to changes brought on by law enforcement actions and market activity. They are already masters at trafficking drugs, whether by air, land (above and below), or sea. There is no reason to doubt they can become masters at producing them – and doing it well – in any country they choose.
This scenario seems really unlikely to me, at least for a sustained period of time. In terms of the supply chain, a Mexican kingpin has no reason to be involved in the American production of weed for the American market. For those in charge of production in the US, said kingpin brings nothing to the table. He's dead weight. Why would criminals making millions in the US keep answering to (and kicking cash up to) a boss upon whom they don't have to rely for anything? Even if they are initially sponsored by him, they would eventually cut ties and establish themselves in the States and become not Mexican criminals, but American criminals, much the way the Cosa Nostra in the US has little to do with Sicily and everything to do with New York. The basic reasons Mexican kingpins have been able to become so powerful are because they are gatekeepers, ideally situated at the US border, and they are huge marijuana producers. Take the production and that geographic good fortune out of the equation, and they have no role.

Mexico in the Times

A pair of articles from Marc Lacey this weekend went down real smooth, like a pair of tacos de suadero, followed up by a Sprite from a recyclable glass bottle. But then they lingered in my brain and bothered me for hours, much like a pair of tacos de suadero bought from a shady street vendor might rattle around my stomach. This passage, about the investigation into the murder of a Juárez police reported, echos some of the complaints made by Carlos Lauría in a column I mentioned last week:
Pedro Torres, Mr. Rodríguez’s editor and close friend, was similarly unimpressed with the government’s effort to find the killers of his top police reporter.

Investigators waited for months before visiting the newsroom, interviewing some of Mr. Rodríguez’s co-workers and getting copies of his articles. The government has not yet established whether Mr. Rodríguez’s killing stemmed from his work as a police reporter, infuriating his colleagues, who are convinced that such a connection is clear.

“He’s the godfather of my child,” Mr. Torres said. “I’ve known him for years. They’ve never talked to me. What kind of investigation is that?”

Interpreting the PRI Victories

Grupo Imagen asks if the PRI's wins in Coahuila and Tabasco are due to a new and presumably improved PRI, or if they are due to exhaustion with the PAN. Ninety percent favor the latter explanation.

Knee-Jerk Reactions to Privatizations

Leo Zuckermann was depressed by the swiftness with which Calderón shot down any talk of a privatization of LyFC:
In countries where the privatization was accompanied by greater competition (or better regulation in the case of natural monopolies) it continues being used as a public policy to benefit society. Not only in governments of the right, but also of the left. There is, for example, the case of the Labor Party in Great Britain. Gordon Brown is thinking about privatizing various state activities to cut the public debt of the nation. The prime minister will put up for sale the railroad network of the English Channel, several highways, a gambling house, a uranium-enrichment company and government land.

This would be unthinkable in Mexico. Here privatization is an evil verb that can't even be mentioned. The most pathetic case is oil, where, for the sake of not opening the industry to private investment, Mexico is running out of oil. We didn't allow private oil platforms even though these could extract a lot of oil and the state could charge a right of exploitation as high as the one leveled at Pemex today. We don't want capitalists that make money and produce oil. We prefer the exclusivity of the state although oil production is plummeting.

What can you say: in Mexico privatization has turned into a myth as diabolical as that of the chupacabras.
Good point. Thanks Salinas!

Gabo and Castro

Enrique Krauze has a fascinating meditation (in Spanish) on the career and politics of Gabriel García Márquez in the latest Letras Libres, built around a review of the new biography of the Colombian from Gerald Martin. Much of the article focuses on García Márquez's relationship with Fidel Castro. García Márquez's support of Castro, according to Krauze, has been just short of unconditional, despite Castro's execution of erstwhile political allies (and friends of García Márquez) on trumped up charges, and everything else we know about him. In the mid-1970s, when Gabo was closing in on 50, he called witnessing Cuba under Castro "the most exciting and decisive experience of [his] life". Later, he said that he would never write another book without giving Castro a chance to read it before publication.

Krauze also digs into García Márquez's journalism, and chides Martin for largely ignoring it. Very little of it has been translated into English, but Krauze argues that while his fiction is anchored squarely in magical realism, his journalistic realm is socialist realism. The gist of it is that the crimes of many anti-imperialist regimes and their charismatic leaders --not just Castro's Cuba, but also the Vietnamese communists, János Kádár in Hungary, even Stalin-- are not given their due treatment. The political imperatives driving these regimes was far more relevant to Gabo, in Krauze's view, than the moral compasses that they lacked.

Krauze suggests that García Márquez's adoration of his grandfather, a man who'd killed an acquaintance in less than noble circumstances, taught him to justify the excesses of an otherwise admirable man. He also developed at a young age some useful conceptions --useful from the point of view of both a novelist and an apologist-- about the flexible relationship between memory and truth.

One more detail merits mention: García Márquez justifies the torturous pace of Autumn of the Patriarch with the following: "It's a luxury that can be granted the author of the One Hundred Years of Solitude." Years after reading it, I find that arrogance kind of amusing, though while in the midst of the 87-page paragraph that starts the book, not to mention the one-sentence chapter that closes the book, I would not have.

Krauze's politics color most everything he writes, so I'd like to read a rebuttal. In any event, good reading.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Tax News

The PAN faces reality, and admits that the 2 percent tax is dead. The PRI aims to replace it with a basket of measures, including an increase from 15 to 16 percent in the border VAT, a 3 percent tax on telecom service (minus cell phones), and a tax on cash deposits above 15,000 pesos instead of the 25,000 floor in place today.

Slim's Rise

Simon Johnson wonders who will be the Carlos Slims of the present American crisis, those who use the economic turmoil to vault themselves into titans of unprecedented strength. Interesting question, but I don't think Slim is the best example, at least not in regard to the 1994-95 meltdown. That debacle was a banking catastrophe, a realm where Slim's presence is relatively limited. Moreover, the keys to his fortune --Telmex and Telcel-- were secured in 1990, during the infamous privatizations of the Salinas presidency. In the case of the former company, that purchase included a promise to keep competition down for years to come, so his obscene wealth was assured regardless of the crisis.

The LA Times on LyFC

Courtesy of Boz, the LA Times on the LyFC takeover:
Since Calderon's decree, the union has turned out tens of thousands of demonstrators to protest the "authoritarian" decision. But there also was support for the liquidation among ratepayers fed up with poor service and alleged fraud in the reelection of union boss Martin Esparza. Many Mexicans are tired of a lack of public accountability -- for union dues or government funds -- and welcomed the move.

But experience tells Mexicans to beware of hidden agendas. Many suspect that breaking this union was a precursor to privatizing electricity in the hands of foreigners or friends of Calderon, as was the case previously with banks and television. It would be a terrible mistake for the government to perpetuate a system of crony capitalism that has cost the state legitimacy and created monopolies impeding economic growth. Instead, many Mexicans are asking whether Calderon will go after corruption in other unions, notably ones that have backed him. Doing so would go a long way toward convincing his countrymen that the dissolution of the electricity company was more about pesos than politics.
Note how the last paragraph seems to equate "politics" as a motivating factor to "privatizing electricity in the hands of foreigners or friends of Calderon". That's asinine. I also don't think there's any need to separate pesos from politics here; both can, indeed they did, simultaneously play a role. As I've said, I think it's a good idea for Calderón to frame this not merely as a budget issue, but as part of a broader political problem that has existed for generations. What's important is that he not let the idea of politics playing a role become indistinguishable from his adversaries' worst caricatures of his actions.

Tax Polling

Some new polling on the proposed changes to Mexico's tax structure: Mitofsky shows that only 6 percent of Mexicans support the 2 percent consumption tax, and only 16 percent were supportive of a general tax that excluded food and medicine. It's not a huge surprise to find the public opposed to new taxes, but 6 percent is a sobering figure. There was decidedly more support for telecom taxes (11 percent in favor), increasing the maximum profit tax (21 percent), and cigarette and alcohol taxes (39 and 41 percent, respectively).

Also, Buendía and Laredo has a poll in which more than 70 percent of respondents rejected the 2 percent consumption tax and the 4 percent telecom tax. Excélsior today reports that Calderón and co. are planning a final push on the 2 percent proposal, but the above numbers, not to mention the dogged opposition of the PRD and the PRI, have to make you wonder if they wouldn't be better off letting it die.

One other interesting note: I've seen no specific polling on the LyFC takeover, but the Buendía and Laredo poll showed 70 percent supporting laying off federal government employees as a cost-saving mechanism. That would seem to indicate a public well disposed to Calderón's sabadazo.

The PRI in Tabasco

It also rolled there, winning nine of the 17 mayoral races. The PRD won six cities. Five of the races that the PRI won came in cities that had been governed by the PRD for more than a decade. The PAN won two races, a historic effort in Tabasco for Calderón's gang, and I suppose something of a silver lining in what was otherwise another dismal election day.

No Surprises

The PRI's Eduardo Olmos won the mayoralty of Torreón, with a twenty-point margin over the PAN's Chuy de León. He is the first priísta mayor in seven years. In total, the PRI won 31 of the 38 mayoral races disputed in Coahuila yesterday, with the cities where it was victorious encompassing 93 percent of the state's population.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

For Fans of Laughing at Vicente Fox

As you can see above, someone broke the forefinger off of the ex-president's V-salute statue, making Fox seem a misanthrope who holds the public in very low esteem. What shouldn't be lost in this is what a weird statue this was. Does he confuse himself with Churchill?

Election Day

It's election day in Coahuila, and El Siglo reports that the PRI is paying 500 pesos for the promise to vote for their man in the poorer colonias of the city. The PAN's strategy is allegedly to pay from 500 to 1,500 pesos for the electoral ID of known PRI voters, so as to drive down their opponents' total while simultaneously fraudulently voting for the PAN candidate with rented ID. Frustratingly, all of the information in the article is from anonymous sources, so a grain of salt is in order.

Update: Grizzly news: Three dead bodies were dumped in front of a voting center today in Torreón.

Saturday, October 17, 2009


During the middle of a concert in Peru, the lead singer of Depeche Mode expressed his gratitude with the words, "Thank you very much, Chile!" Evidently, Maite Perroni made the exact same mistake a few years ago during a concert with RBD.

Ruiz on the Court, Fox on Calderón

The public reaction to the Oaxaca Supreme Court decision focused primarily on the implicated Ulises Ruiz and the exonerated Vicente Fox. Both men were in the news today. Ruiz, with all due respect to the Court, rejected the ruling that he had contributed to violating human rights, and said the decision was politicized. He also questioned Fox's exoneration.

Fox's comments today had nothing to do with Oaxaca, but rather another criticism of his successor in the presidency. He called Calderón's anti-drug strategy a failure, and said it was time for the army to return to its barracks and to let the Federal Police take over the fight against organized crime.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Rudderless Ship

Leo Zuckermann, referencing the confused PRI response to abortion policy, Calderón's economic package, and the LyFC takeover, wonders about the party's lack of leadership:
Every party requires a project and leadership to carry it out. It's evident that the PRI doesn't have either one. On the one hand, it's a federation of economic and political interests to for whom it is difficult to agree on a common posture. On the other, there still hasn't emerged a dominant leadership that defines the path that they are taking and how to react to the stances of the government.

Without a project or clear leadership, the PRI is a party with vacilating positions on what to do with their power. It seems that the strategy of Calderón is working. Launching deep changes, which corners the PRI: it makes evident the lack of definition of the priístas that want to return to Los Pinos but don't know how.
It's striking how quickly the idea that the PRI is the center of Mexican politics and Calderón's day had passed has petered out. From the budget proposal to the informe to the LyFC, all of the biggest post-election moments have come from Los Pinos.

A lot of that has nothing to do with the PRI, but I do think that a lot of the shift back to Los Pinos has to do with, as Zuckermann argues, a lack of leadership and, consequently, coherence to the PRI's agenda. That was a good point hidden in César Nava's otherwise largely forgettable defense of the LyFC takeover earlier this week. The PRI's project for 2009 was winning the elections, not presenting a coherent vision for Mexico. So now that they've won, we see them arguing for 18-year-old deputies. Obviously, that's not the extent of the PRI's activity since July, but what we definitely have not seen is a broad, party-wide, integrated plan for where Mexico needs to go.