Monday, November 30, 2009

Reform Likely

Calderón's political reform proposal has earned support from a wide swath of the PRI (no surprise, given its similarity to the proposal from Manlio Fabio Beltrones) as well as from PRD Senate boss Carlos Navarrete, who says the proposal will be passed in April.

More Polling Difficulties for Calderón

Polling released today from Milenio shows growing dissatisfaction with the president, across a range of questions. How has Calderón governed? Thirty percent said he has done a bad job, up ten points from one year ago. Forty percent say the country is worse off now than when he took over, up ten from last year. Sixty-four percent say the country is spinning out of control, a twelve-point hike. Fifty-two percent say that they are not all satisfied with his leadership, fourteen points more than November of 2008. Interestingly, the positive corollaries to these answers also increased in many of these answers, and even when they dropped, it was usually not by much; the most striking declines were from those with lukewarm feelings last year. Most of them would seem to have hardened against Calderón.

But the most striking result is in that of confidence: a year ago, only 9 percent said that absolutely did not have confidence in Calderón to move the country in the right direction. This year, that figure is 40 percent.

Paredes Abuses Her Readers

I haven't read a whole lot of Beatriz Paredes' writing, but I was astounded by how much she focused on herself in this piece from Monday. By my count, the PRI boss is the subject of eleven of her first twelve sentences. The trend continues virtually unabated throughout, but I bored of counting. Beatriz: a column is not an 800-word memoir! An exemplary passage:
I initiated this article saying that I am a person, a woman, of definitions. Yes. I opted for valuing the state and the public.
That's just fantastic. Although on the plus side, the nearly psychopathic self-regard suggests that she writes her own columns, rather than pawning it off on a staffer. Kudos, I guess.

The topic of the column, aside from Paredes herself, is abortion. Paredes appears to be in favor of a woman's right to an abortion, despite the recent criminalization of abortion in PRI-run states. This incongruence has provoked some criticism in recent days, and this meandering, wholly unconvincing column (even funnier given that she sees herself as a "woman of definitions") is presumably Paredes's rebuttal. But although the PRI's position is incoherent and the party president is at odds with the prevailing view of the party, it seems unlikely to provoke a crisis of ideological identity within the PRI. Everyone from Paredes on down seems quite content to agree to disagree.

Examining Corruption in Mexico

Francisco Valdés Ugalde takes a deeper look at corruption in Mexico:
Democratization opened the authoritarian system like a flower. Transparency was introduced as a constitutional obligation, but accountability was not. We must distinguish between both. Transparency is the right of citizens to obtain governmental information that is by nature public. On this issue a battlefield has opened between the government and the governed. It's an incipient field dilled with unstable but not inocuous tools. The IFAI is already an institution through which it is possible to demand information to learn the origin and destination of decision and money.

But accountability is something else. It is the check against the exercise of power by groups institutionalized as part of the same power. Congress supervises the executive, the judicial branch is the judge of acts that can legally be sanctioned, the federation regulates the behavior of the states; the state legislatures and the courts are a check on the power of executives and municipalities.

Although the right to information was translated into a law after decades of existence, the structure described in the previous paragraph suffers from grave defects. The state institutes of transparency have advanced very slowly and are not a measure of effective control against the behavior of those in power nor of the administration of public money. The state legislatures are not a check for the governors. In practice, the latter have swept them aside so as to turn themselves into the little viceroys that today dominate their territories without adequate checks controlling them.

Although a dose of ethics doesn't do anyone harm, we shouldn't rely on that subjective side of conduct of people in power to instill a sense of ethics in the exercise of power. We need to turn it into an externally cotrolled, obligatory norm. Accountability is the only antidote to keep corruption under control, because it's illusory to think you can control it entirely.

If the authoritarian system was oiled with corruption, in democracy it is a cancer. It's not oil but rather the most corrosive element. If corruption strengthened the state when power was unipolar, it weakens it once it has been distributed between parties, branches, and society. The situation is grave and only a reform of the instruments of checks and accountability will remedy it, but it's doubtful that the topic will really be on the change agenda that is planned for 2010.

He's In

Juanito is back in the office he won, that of Iztapalapa delegation chief. This leaves a presumably frustrated, perhaps even exasperated Clara Brugada without a job. Of course, Iztapalapa politics ain't beanbag, and Brugada's brigades of followers are taking to the streets to protest. Consequently, there is quite a bit of worry that the situation could spin out of control. Whatever comes next, Juanito is basically all alone; El Universal says he has been abandoned by the PT (which he labeled traitorous in his famous tirade at his inauguration), the PRD, and Marcelo Ebrard's government are all hoping he finds his out of public office.

Juárez Isn't the Only Scary Place in Mexico

From commenter JD, this Carlos Loret column from last week opens with a bang:
What is the worst place in Mexico in terms of security", this reporter asked one of the quarterbacks of the war against drug trafficking, a member of Felipe Calderón's cabinet.

"In murders, Ciudad Juárez. In social decomposition and the penetration of drug traffickers in all of the structures, without a doubt Tamaulipas."

The business have flown from Tampico, in Reynosa the principal informants of organized crime are taxi drivers, in Victoria housewives in populous neighborhoods sell drugs, in Nuevo Laredo the citizens live in fear of speaking. In Tamaulipas, more than the president, the governor, or the mayors, drug traffickers rule and no one doubts it.

The criminal leaders in this state keep society with a pistol in its mouth so that no one talks: they levy taxes on merchants of all branches of economic activity (not just brothels, bars, and restaurant as in the beginning) and those who don't pay receive a grenade the following morning so that the clients never return.
Assuming none of this is exaggerated (and I think Loret gets a fact wrong elsewhere in the column, so perhaps it isn't 100 percent accurate), I guess the domination of one group (the Zetas and the remains of Osiel Cárdenas' group) explains the lack violence in Tamaulipas over the past few years. With all the reporting from Juárez and Chihuahua in recent months, a deeper look at this very different situation would be much appreciated.

Reaction to Calderón's Proposal

Leo Zuckermann says that given the political bottlenecks that choke off any serious attempt to deal with Mexico's most intractible problems, a political reform that unclogs the system would be Calderón's (or that of any president who pulls it off) greatest legacy. Still, he's not celebrating yet:
Calderón's decision to push political reform aimed at strengthening government so that it can confront powerful interest groups turns out to be very correct. Furthermore, if the president wants to do so, he doesn't have a whole lot of time because any political reform will become harder to pass as the 2012 election approaches.

The only thing I fear is that, as has been the story with this administration, the president sends good proposals to Congress, which the opposition than shaves down and we end up with a result contrary to the original proposal.
You'd think that with Manlio Fabio Beltrones' longtime interest in political reform (and his plan has a lot in common with Calderón proposal), the president would have a pretty good chance of getting a significant bill passed.

Whatever the case, it still remains to be seen how much reform will help. The incentives in Mexico's political system are totally screwed up, and there is far too much distance between a pol's performance in office and his future prospects, and this reform should address those problems. But as far as attacking special interests, other than a lack of will, there was nothing stopping Mexico's politicians from doing so before. Calderón's reform is a good idea, but I don't think it will necessarily bring about the necessary reserve of will to attack Mexico's monopolies and reform its oil industry (to take but two examples). At least, it won't do so overnight.

Will on Weed*

George Will has an odd column about medicinal marijuana and the debate over legalization, built on a handful of unsupported assertions. For instance:
In 2000, Colorado legalized medical marijuana. Since Justice's decision, the average age of the 400 persons a day seeking "prescriptions" at Colorado's multiplying medical marijuana dispensaries has fallen precipitously.
According to whom? A concrete stat would be nice there. Later:
Customers -- this, not patients, is what most really are -- tell doctors at the dispensaries that they suffer from insomnia, anxiety, headaches, premenstrual syndrome, "chronic pain," whatever, and pay nominal fees for "prescriptions." Most really just want to smoke pot.
Again, according to whom? It's logical that there is some of that, but I can't imagine that more than tiny fraction of Colorado's pot-smokers take advantage of the government's medical marijuana program. I have to think that for most, it's a lot easier to continue buying from the same people from whom they've bought for years, without getting the government involved.

Colorado ranks sixth in the nation in identity theft, two-thirds of which is driven by the state's $1.4 billion annual methamphetamine addiction.
What does that mean? It could be a really interesting factotum were it unpacked a bit, but there's no further explanation.

Following up on that:
He is loath to see complete legalization of marijuana at a moment when new methods of cultivation are producing plants in which the active ingredient, THC, is "seven, eight times as concentrated" as it used to be.
Jack Shafer demonstrated the silliness of the time-tested government panic about super-potent marijuana several years ago. As one might guess, just as a martini fan won't go beverage for beverage with a beer drinker, the weed may be stronger, but people smoke less of it.

*Of course I mean that the estimable columnist was writing about marijuana, not indulging in its use.


Disapproval of Felipe Calderón's term in office is growing, according to polling from El Universal. The average grade (from 1 to 10) from Mexicans slipped to 6.56 in November, down from 6.71 in September and 7.04 in March. The number of Mexicans who "reject" Calderón's tenure leapt from less than a quarter in March to 37 percent this month, while those who say the country is on the wrong track went from 36 to 49 percent. Mexicans who say Calderón has done less than what they expected of him jumped from 45 to 56 percent over the same time period. And on and on it goes.

The decline has been building for several months, which makes sense. But the thing is, the circumstances in March were in many ways worse than they were in November. A small dip in the first few months of the year notwithstanding, violence in March was close to as bad as it is now. The numbers for the economy coming out in the first quarter were far worse than those today, and the light at the end of the tunnel was farther away. One wonders if, after a natural lag time of a few months, Calderón's numbers will be begin to bounce back, or if this is a semi-permanent shift.

Colorless Bunch

Excélsior ran an article yesterday with experts commenting on the PAN's lack of charisma, and resulting lack of broad appeal. I couldn't agree more. There are a lot of good reasons to dislike the Fox/Creel wing of the party (and on balance, I think those reasons are a lot stronger than the reasons to dislike Calderón and his bunch), but there's no denying that the former group is more appealing to voters who vote on gut reaction rather than a careful measurement of the issues. (Which is to say, a lot of them.) Between Calderón, César Nava, and Germán Martínez, the face of today's PAN is a bespectacled technician. There's nothing wrong with that per se, but, with the economy plummeting and security a major issue, that's not the ideal image for the PAN, or any other political party.

(I feel obligated to add that agreeing with the article's conclusions is in no way an endorsement of making superficial electoral decisions, or of Fox's performance in office. Indeed, if Fox is your subject, charisma and effectiveness are inversely proportional.)

Electoral Reform Proposed

This is big news: Calderón is planning an electoral reform that, among other things, will permit the reelection of deputies and mayors, guaranteed television access for political parties and candidates during election season, a reformed presidential veto, as well as changes to the Supreme Court.

I've found no specifics on the final two planks, but the TV access and especially deputy and mayoral reelection are good ideas.

Remedy for a Problem

In regard to organized crime preying on immigrants, David comments:
[T]here definitely is a problem since migrants won't denounce crimes against and officials in some parts of the country show a crushing indifference toward launching investigations.
That's a good point, and it's something that immigrants mention, too. That makes me wonder if an anonymous denunciation system would be feasible for Central American immigrants. Of course, there would be some significant practical barriers; many crimes against immigrants take place in remote locations, the kidnappers of immigrants are unlikely to remain in the spot for long, and, whatever the assurances, convincing vulnerable immigrants to denounce their attackers rather than simply move on is always going to be an uphill battle. Nonetheless, this doesn't strike me as an impossible problem.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Popular Idea of the Week

In Mexico, that idea is to "fiscalize" the parties, which means to open up their expenditures to greater regulation and control from the Federal Electoral Institute. The idea first came from Calderón, and has since been endorsed by Senate leader Carlos Navarrete.

Aaaah, Carolina

Jake Delhomme's numbers today: 14-34, 130 yards, 0 touchdowns, 4 interceptions, 12.7 rating. Because of that terrific efficiency, John Fox called Delhomme's number twelve times more than he did all of the team's running backs combined. Not surprisingly, the Panthers scored only six points, and lost by 11 to a very underwhelming Jets squad. More on Fox's unhelpful Delhomme dependency here, here, and here.

Explaining Immigration Declines

Reporting from Pedro Escobedo, Querétaro, Excélsior says that the biggest reason that US-bound immigration has dropped isn't stricter border enforcement or the job market in the States, but rather groups like the Zetas preying on immigrants.

The premise is plausible, but it still seems far more likely that the economy is a better explanation. After all, even if there is a greater organized-crime risk for Central American immigrants sneaking through Mexico, the trip has always been dangerous. The one factor that has unquestionably changed recently is the horrible economy in the US.

David Agren on Zavaleta

Some more reporting on the departing former deputy:
"At this time and since the July 5 election, I don't share the way of doing politics in the PRD," Zavaleta said in her letter.

Zavaleta didn't mention López Obrador by name in her letter, but one long-time enemy of the self-declared "legitimate president," former PRD director of political formation, Fernando Belaunzarán, told the newspaper La Razón that she had tired of the "Stalinist intolerance against her," and, "she was attacked in a hypocritical way."

La Razón columnist Adrián Rueda, meanwhile, suggested on Friday that Zavaleta was disappointed that PRD president Jesús Ortega refused to endorse her aspirations for the 2011 gubernatorial race in her birth state of Guerrero - a move that "accelerated" her resignation.

The decision surprised many, but mostly due to the timing of Zavaleta's departure. The PRD holds a "refoundation" forum Dec. 3 - Dec. 6 that has been organized in response to the party's scandalous 2008 leadership race - that Ortega won by barely 16,000 votes and was settled by the federal electoral tribunal - and could result in disaffected factions and members heading for the exits.

Zavaleta expressed pessimism that the forum would produce results.

"I'm not willing to participate in the supposed discussion on the refounding of the PRD because I don't believe that discussion will be had," she said in her letter.

Not Adding Up

In a speech marking his first three years in office, Calderón said the army will remain on the streets for the immediate future. At the same time, the chairman of the National Defense Committee in the Chamber of Deputies, Ardelio Vargas, said that the money budgeted for military expenditures (some $3 billion, which suddenly does seem really small for a nation of 100 million people) in 2010 is insufficient.

I don't see what it preventing Calderón from offering a broad timeline for the removal of troops. The counterinsurgency argument against withdrawal timelines --the bad guys will just bide their time waiting for the troops to leave-- doesn't really apply here, and everyone agrees that the army is not a long-term solution. Genaro García Luna's efforts to revitalize the Federal Police should be far enough along for the federal government to offer a reasonable estimate of when the soldiers can be removed from the streets. Giving such a timeline would also offer Calderón the chance to articulate a policy as to when the army is to be called upon in the future.


This detail from the story of a Pirates reliever doing a government internship doesn't make sense:
Doug McKalip, confidential assistant to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, recalled the secretary's reaction when told of Ohlendorf's e-mail: "Are you serious? A major league player wants to do this?"
So confidential, in fact, that we learn all about the secretary's private reactions.

Cárdenas Not Optimistic

Next month, as we've recently mentioned, the PRD will be holding a "re-foundational" congress that holds the promise (however dim) of overcoming the deep divisions in the left, and offering Mexico a coherent progressive alternative to the PAN and the PRI. One man who's not optimistic about the congress is former presidential candidate and Yoda figure Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas. According to a report published by Cárdenas earlier this month, the congress won't adequately address the clientist quota systems, corruption, sectarianism, or the party's parasitic bureaucracy. Essentially, Cárdenas argues that the congress is attempting top-down reform, but the PRD needs to be rebuilt from the ground up.

Delicious Dessert

What could make a better companion to the Thanksgiving leftovers (if you still have any left) than Real-Barca, just a few hours away now? ¡Qué juego tan sabroso! I can't remember if they always play on the fourth weekend in November, but they certainly should. I like Barca, with Messi pulling a Willis Reed, Pedrito delivering a cannon shot from 20 yards out, and Ronaldo being kept off the score sheet.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Highlights of Local Governance

As long as we're on the subject of local law enforcement: 6 million pesos (a little less than half a million dollars) transferred from the federal government to the municipality of Gómez Palacio have disappeared, without anyone being able to account for their whereabouts. The money was to be spent on refurbishing the city's jail. The state of a local jail should never be a mere afterthought, but the condition of the Gómez jail is especially important, given that 19 prisoners were killed there in a jailhouse riot this summer.


One of the achievements trumpeted at the meeting of the National System of Public Security this week was a 3.8 percent increase in the number of cases handled by federal and state authorities, and a 33.6 percent increase in the number of kidnappers arrested. Both of these numbers should be taken with a grain of salt. The 3.8 percent increase is good insofar as it demonstrates that kidnap victims are increasingly trusting the legal authorities, but that could just as easily be interpreted as a reflection of an increase in the total number of kidnappings, which is the more important figure for the average citizen. And as to the 33.6 percent spike in arrests, it sure seems as though the government has been taking down more kidnapping groups, but if the statistics about drug arrests offer any indication (and I suspect that they do), this doesn't necessarily mean that the arrestees are being put behind bars.

New Book from Aristegui

One of Mexico's most influential personalities in the political media, CNN's Carmen Aristegui, has a new book coming out about the nation's tortured political transition over the past 20 years. It is called, fittingly, Transición.

Axing the Local PDs

Felipe Calderón voiced support for what is a popular idea on many opinion pages: getting rid of the local police departments, and replacing them with 32 statewide departments.

This proposal provokes great ambivalence at Gancho. On the one hand, local police departments are a veritable cesspool of corruption, and establishing new methods of accountability with new chains of command might bring about an improvement. At the same time, cosmetic changes of uniform have been largely unsuccessful in the past, because they don't necessarily strike at the heart of the problem: undertrained, underpaid, incompetent, and largely corrupt cops that are not adequately monitored by their political bosses. If the new regime that Calderón is proposing keeps better tabs on local cops and punishes wrongdoing more swiftly, that's great news, but there's no reason to assume that merely through centralizing local police departments, they will become more effective.

Furthermore, with apologies to Tip O'Neill, it's all police work that is local. All in all, it would be much better to keep the local police departments truly local, with the federal government focusing on improving the operation of the municipal governments that are in charge of them. Perhaps that's not a reasonable goal in the near term, but centralizing the police departments while doing nothing about local government corruption is an incomplete solution.

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Saga Continues

Sorry, not Wu Tang...Juanito says he will be coming back to govern Iztapalapa when his 59-day leave of absence runs out a few hours from now.

Pugilistic Crystal Balling

I like Bute over Andrade in the rematch by decision in a fight that looks a lot like a tamer version of the first 11 rounds of their first fight. I hope I'm wrong though (and there's been a pattern of that lately). I also like Ali Funeka in the undercard over Joan Guzmán, by knockout.

Culture Warring in Guanajuato

With no warning, explanation, or public debate, the state's public health system removed the morning-after pill from the shelves of the Guanajuato's pharmacies. (I assume only the public pharmacies did so.) Employees of the pharmacies told Excélsior that they recently received an email (it doesn't say who sent it) ordering the pill's immediate removal. After something of a public outcry (a PRI deputy called it a flagrant violation of women's rights), the pills are to return by December 15.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

More on Zavaleta

Bajo Reserva, after reminding readers of her fierce stance following Calderón's election, drilled Zavaleta today for her opportunism:
Today she is, in a manner of speaking, hand and glove with Ernesto Cordero, the chief of Sedesol. Soon, we are told, she will complete her shedding of skin: she presented her resignation from the PRD. She also has it in her plans to hand over her soul: it has been sworng to us, although she has denied it, that she has decided to join the PAN. Over there, way up top, they want her to reinforce the PAN in Mexico City: let's remember she was a delegate. And in 2011, the candidacy in Guerrero. A rapid transformation, that of Zavaleta. In three years she bought new convictions and principles.
Ouch. Though the soul-selling bit is perhaps a might extreme. César Nava fuels these rumors:
I have had some conversations with Ruth Zavaleta, she is in a process of reflection, I sent her a message of solidarity and friendship.

Another Recession

If the US falls into another recession (as Obama was warning not so long ago), Rogelio Ramírez de la O says the effects could be devastating for Mexico:
Now, it's only partly true that the crisis of 2009 initiated abroad. Mexico already had it's own crisis, expect the government and the business class had learned to live with it, thanks to high oil income and financial stability. The crisis consisted of the economy not growing by more than 2.5 percent a year and this obligated half a million people to emigrate each year.

An intensification of the American recession now with global financial consequences would expose the government and therefore Mexico to much greater risks, with much more negative effects than those experience thus far. Its problem has been that it was incorrect in its diagnosis and from the beginning lacked a genuine project for managing the country.
I like Ramírez de la O's columns a great deal, but unfortunately they frequently stop at mere criticism and fail to present alternatives.

Pascoe Pierce on the Left

In light of AMLO's relaunch and Zavaleta's goodbye to the PRD, a recent column from Ricardo Pascoe Pierce (a longtime leftist who was once a member of the PRD) seems particularly relevant:
What is true is that his present discourse marks an important change in political direction. Over the past year the discourse of the "great rupture" has been incubated and stimulated, which promises the fall of Calderón, takes up a supposed national feeling that, now as in 1810 and 1910, in the next year Mexico is magically condemned to live a revolutionary rupture of government. It assumed that the country would enter into a situation of presidential replacement, for which his favorite deputies already presented an initiative with eyes toward defining a quick replacement of the federal executive. Nevertheless, everything indicates that it is already clear that there don't exist the conditions for such a process in the country. The greatest reflection of this national mood is the scarce response that the SME movement is having...


The formal leaders of this supposed left would do well to think not only about themselves, but rethink their position on the country. Can they explain the advance of conservative and restorational thought in Mexico? Do they have any coherent idea to explain this phenomenon? Do they perhaps know that one important part of that explanation that they resist giving? The tomb of the left is in sight, tragically: it is prepared with the goal of the 2012 contest, turning over the country, from this point on, to projects that, still with their tricks and their lies, offer more hope than bitterness, more optimism than depression, more known options than magic offerings. What happened to creative, intelligent, and above all modern thought in the Left?
As someone who leans left but finds very little to like about its iteration in Mexico, I couldn't agree more. The lack of answers being presented to the above questions is a product of living in an alternate universe, a Manichean facsimile of Mexico. Unfortunately, despite the fact that making a clean break with this mentality is a prerequisite for the PRD's (or its replacement's) electoral relevance on a national level, such a development doesn't seem to be in the offing.

However, I don't agree that the tomb of the left is in sight; whatever happens to the PRD/PT/AMLO/Convergencia, their will continue to be a strong leftist sentiment in Mexico, waiting to be organized into a responsible political movement. We're just not there yet.

Unqualified Cops

The PGR, after conducting a survey of 1,065 state policemen, from whom they are trying to form 32 anti-kidnapping units, concluded that only 40 percent are qualified and trustworthy enough for kidnapping duty. The lack of qualified officers willing to take on the nation's toughest security tasks remains one of the most persistent problems in Mexico. No matter how well intentioned and well designed the solutions (new federal police forces, judicial reform, et cetera) are, if Mexico can't count on good people implementing them at the most basic level, there's a limit to their impact. Which is one reason why Genaro García Luna's biggest long-term impact could be in churning out well trained, motivated cadets with a sense of esprit de corps.

Just as important: there's a great picture of the new attorney general in the article above.


With Mexico's political class examining tax reform, Bank of America released a timely study recommending a gradual increase in the gas tax as the best possible way to untangle the nation's fiscal knots.

Measuring Calderón

Fifty-four percent of respondents to an online poll from Imagen say that Calderón's tenure has been a period of advances, while the remainder says it has been several steps in the wrong direction. Insofar as the poll measures Mexico as a whole and is not an analysis of the still relatively popular Calderón, I would have though the numbers would have been more negative.

The Cost of Mistreatment

According to the National Commission for the Prevention and Eradication of Violence against Women, the annual cost of mistreatment of women in Mexico is around $13 billion. This costs stems primarily from lost labor productivity, judicial procedures, and health services. That's a big number, but it's hard to put into context without looking at other nations. It wouldn't be surprising to find that Mexico should be spending more on judicial procedures against domestic abusers. Interesting way to think about it, in any event.


Juanito is out of the PT, evidently because they refused to continue paying his hotel bill.

More significantly (though less entertainingly), Ruth Zavaleta, the former president of the Chamber of Deputies, has resigned from the PRD.

Turkey Day

Happy Thanksgiving Americans, enjoy your turkey, stuffing (see left), mashed potatoes, beer, football, and the rest.

Happy Thanksgiving Canadians, apologies for being a month and a half late.

Everyone else, Happy November 26. Make it a good one.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Poverty Up

According to the ECLAC, Mexico was the country whose poverty levels were worst affected by the economic crisis. According to the UN agency, between 2006 and 2008, which is to say, before crisis really heated up, more than 3 million Mexicans sank into poverty. Calderón's secretary of social development, Ernesto Cordero, says that 6 million Mexicans are now newly impoverished thanks to the crisis, bringing the total proportion of poor citizens to about 47 percent. I'm not sure what the ECLAC measurement is, but it should be noted that Cordero's is rather strict on who is poor; one needs to make 1,900 pesos or less in the city and 1,200 in a rural area to qualify. That's a tough ceiling; someone making 2,000 pesos (or about $150) a month and living in Mexico City or Monterrey is barely eking out a living, even if they aren't "poor".

New Book on an Underreported Subject

Mexican reporter Cynthia Rodríguez has a book coming out next month about the relationship between the Zetas and the Italian criminal group known as the 'Ndrangheta. References to said relationship in newspaper articles have popped up periodically in recent years, but there's never (to my knowledge) been a very thorough explanation, so I have high hopes for the book. Here are some quotes from the author:
"I was very strict about not using anonymous sources, because I think that has done a lot of harm. In Mexico we are very accustomed to a source, even if he is from the government, saying any possible thing to us and we believe him, and it's not that journalists don't ask, but rather the authorities are not capable of giving complete information and that does a lot of harm; that's why I was very detailed in how the relationship between these groups came about."


"Presently the objective of the Italian mafia groups isn't to kill or even to do harm: it's to make money, and that's why they link up with whomever they have to, which explains their link with the Zetas", she said.

Potentially Great Idea

Mexico City is planning to set up a so-called Fan Fest in which all of the 64 games from the 2010 World Cup will be broadcast live. On network TV, only 32 games will be available, so this is the best place for Chilangos to maximize their World Cup experience.

First reaction: this is one of the first government-sponsored events I remember seeing that has adopted the popular marketing technique of Americanizing the title.

Second reaction: Good idea! People rag on Ebrard a lot for the triviality of his government's actions, and of course no one should confuse him with a historically significant official just because he built an ice rink in Mexico City. At the same time, there's no harm in such events. Furthermore, Mexico City lacks a strong sense of community spirit, and Fan Fest will both bring people together and provide an enjoyable experience for capital denizens. If carried out properly, this would qualify as a minor feather in Ebrard's cap. Or maybe I just have Cup fever.

Rumor Mill

Carstens to replace Guillermo Ortiz? Nothing against Carstens, but I hope not. Given his closeness to Calderón, that'd be bad news for the supposed independence of Banxico. It'd also be nice to see Calderón expand his horizons beyond his immediate circle.

Democratizing the Networks

Martín Moreno, among others, wonders what was the meaning of the second of AMLO's ten goals:
Nevertheless, he also showed his teeth, proposing "to democratize the media" What does he understand as democratization: supporting allies and insulting those who think differently? Snatching away the radio and television industries that, he claims, are in the hands of only a few, to place them in the hands of another few supporters? Concessions for his friends, the assassins' bullet for his enemies?
This is, quite obviously, a bit hysterical. Furthermore, the overwhelming majority of Mexican TV broadcasts come from one of two conglomerates, each owned by a billionaire. Those who criticize the lack of democratization of mass media in Mexico are on to something. However, AMLO's spent the last three years denouncing to the four corners of Mexico those who run the networks as part of a "mafia", which is as hyperbolic as what Moreno writes. If he really feels that way, an expropriation of Televisa is not out of the question. Obviously, AMLO doesn't support executing Emilio Azcárraga by firing squad (at least I don't think so), but what is his plan for democratizing the media?

Points for Peña Nieto

Jorge Chabat praises Enrique Peña Nieto for avoiding the aggrandizing entreaties from opportunistic politicians looking to piggy-back on his presidential run. In contrast, past hopefuls (Arturo Montiel and Santiago Creel) have floundered despite allowing everyone under the sun to trumpet their ambitions in the most public of ways.

Perhaps Peña Nieto deserves credit for not going overboard, but with the election so far away, he should go a little further in strategically taking some of the wind out of his sails right now. He seems like an NFL team playing great football in September, but he's got some flaws that need to be taken care of before the weather turns cold.

Decision Time

Carlos Loret de Mola points out that Calderón will soon face a decision about whether to award Banxico boss Guillermo Ortiz another term in office or replace him. Ortiz is well respected, but Calderón was a driver in his ouster as Finance Secretary when he was the PAN president in 1998. Loret wonders whether ancient grudges will play a bigger role than recent performance.

Loret's column's aren't for everyone, but if for no other reason they are fun to read for the comments beneath. I can think of no author in Mexico who provokes such anger. In the above column, one of them called him a disgusting man. Another column last week spurred a Torreón resident to leave a comment (which was subsequently deleted) questioning Loret's anatomical wholeness.

I Don't Wanna Buy Pirate!

The American Chamber of Commerce surveyed 1,000 Mexicans in four cities, revealing some alarming figures about pirate merchandise: nine out of ten Mexicans purchase pirate materials, which costs the would-be legitimate manufacturers and retailers of such goods around $75 billion annually. It also deprives the Mexican government of about $35 billion per year. Even assuming that the Chamber of Commerce is inflating the estimates (and I don't believe that 90 percent of Mexicans regularly buy pirate goods), compared to drug trafficking, those are simply huge numbers, and pirate merchants are, in a lot of cases, closely linked to organized crime. So where's the outcry?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

MVP Debate

Jeffri Chadiha writes in's NFL Power Rankings that "Brett Favre appears to be the front-runner for MVP." I didn't realize how good his stats were (21 TDs with only three picks, 112 QB rating, almost 2,500 yards), but with all due respect, after ten weeks, it's gotta be Manning again. His stats are comparable (21 TDs, 9 INTs, 103 rating, almost 3,200 yards), but more than anything, think of each team without the man in question. Last year's Vikings (a very similar team to the one around Favre, minus Percy Harvin) won the division with Tarvaris Jackson and Gus Frerotte at the helm; if you stuck Jackson or Gus on the 2009 Colts, how many games would they win? Somewhere between four and six, I'd say.

Reaction to AMLO's Announcement

Leo Zuckermann agrees that AMLO is definitely running. He adds that the rhetorical approach was the same as always in his Sunday rollout, but his chief target was unexpected:
AMLO redirected his missiles at the man he considers his new enemy: Enrique Peña Nieto. And it's because the mafia that controls the country already decided that the Mexican State Governor will be the next president.
He also added that AMLO managed to surround himself with a lot of respected intellects, including that of Rogelio Ramírez de la O, his economic advisor in the 2006 campaign. I find that a bit disappointing. I'd have thought that most of the intellectually honest, straightforward analysts who'd supported him in the past would have been so offended by his anti-democratic tactics over the past three years that they would have found a more deserving champion.

I remain convinced that AMLO's chances are nil; he crested in 2006 (though a few months before the election), and even then he didn't have enough votes to pull it off. Since then, he probably scared off millions of erstwhile supporters with his turn toward radicalism over the past three years, presumably without having turned a whole lot of people his way. Furthermore, an Ebrard candidacy and a divided left looms over anything. I guess the bet for el Peje's team is that Ebrard will stand aside, the economic circumstances will continue to punish anyone representing the status quo, and Peña Nieto can be effectively tarred as status quo despite coming from an opposition party. That just seems like an impossible needle to thread.

Kick in the Teeth for Calderón

The Senate rejected his plan to shut down three cabinet agencies (tourism, agricultural reform, and public function), which would have saved the nation $6 billion annually but would have also put a lot of bureaucrats out on the street.

Another Depressing Ranking

According to a Spanish organization called Fundación Alia2, Mexico is the leading country in the world in the exchange of child pornography. I'm not sure how accurate the study is (that seems like an awfully hard thing to measure), but whatever the case, this is not good news.

Aziz Nassif on Local Spending

Alberto Aziz Nassif speculates that the PRI-fueled rise of local government spending will make corruption worse:
It's not a surprise that the new PRI majority in the Chamber of Deputies worked to distribute funds in a feudal manner, not just in the sense that every governor, according to the number of deputies he controls, got his funds...What was a novelty was the disappearance of spending controls. If before there were some established accountability mechanisms on spending, now the locks have been eliminated; now spending commitments won't have to be fulfilled, nor will performance or results be evaluated for the possibility of receiving more funds.


A little while an evaluation of accountability in Mexico was completed, which found that in local government the panorama was the following: accountability mechanisms in local governments are incomplete; there is no link between results of evaluations and actions to improve them; there is no link between information, evaluation, and transparency; there is [not] a network of reactive accountability rules (study from CIDE, Accountability in Mexico, 2009).

To that you can add that the Superior Auditor of the Federation itself has found in state government spending problems such as: "Excessive payment for public works, payment for works that were not carried out, unauthorized transfers (...) interests on bank accounts not reported to finance authorities, improper aid for union sections, improper payments to popularly elected officials, and acquisitions at above-market prices" (Enfoque 812, 11/1/09). Before this panorama it is completely naive, to say the least, that Calderón would invite honest and transparent spending. What does that mean? How much more time will politicians think that they are fooling us with their "democratic" speeches full of good intentions?


With the LyFC takeover, now's not a great time for a scandal involving the CFE, but one can't quite plan these things:

John Joseph O'Shea, 57, of Pleasanton, Calif., was charged in an 18-count indictment returned by a federal grand jury in Houston last week. He faces charges including conspiracy, violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, money laundering and falsifying records.

According to the indictment, O'Shea and a Mexico City businessman, Fernando Maya Basurto, 47, conspired to funnel up to $900,000 in 2004 to four top officials with the Comisión Federal de Electridad, Mexico's grid operator.

The men coordinated payments to shell companies in Mexico and a bank account in Germany, which were then passed on to the Mexican officials, the indictment alleges. In one case a payment was made directly to a U.S. military school to pay the tuition for the son of one official.

The Houston Chronicle's business blog wonders why there hasn't been any action on the Mexican side of the case.

Update: The PGR has initiated an investigation into the matter.

Star Searching

As part of its new membership campaign, the PAN is signing up famous figures from sports and entertainment to wear the blue and white, among them former national team goalie Óscar Pérez and singer Patylu. Bajo Reserva reports that some panistas are grumbling that the celebrities who helped out in the 2009 elections were either a nonfactor or a disaster (depending on your take), and that relying on celebrities makes the party seem frivolous.

More Inadequacy

Via Boz, Moisés Naím employs one of today's most popular argumentative tactics in a recent column for the Financial Times: Brazil envy. This passage stands out:
But perhaps the most important and least discussed one is that Mexico is being held hostage by its cartels. I am not referring to drug cartels. The cartels holding Mexico back are the private conglomerates, unions, political groups, universities, media companies and professional associations that limit competition within their sectors. Mexico is full of cartels with privileges and veto powers that inhibit the nation’s ability to make the changes the country needs to move forward.

Return of the Narco-Posters

It's been a while since I've read about drug traffickers' favorite PR tactic: Morelia awoke yesterday with a handful of narco-posters attacking federal authorities hanging in public spaces. Morelia is, of course, fertile ground for La Familia.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Downgrades and Such

As rumored, Fitch lowered Mexico's credit rating to BBB (from BBB+) today, based on worries about the country's budget deficit and its falling oil revenue. The move provoked a defense of the reforms undertaken by the Calderón administration from the Calderón administration's finance secretariat. With somewhat more objectivity, Goldman Sachs said the downgrade was less than fair, calling it "unnecessary roughness". Pacific Investment Management predicts that the downgrade will spur a peso rally of up to 20 percent against the dollar in the next year, with investors taking advantage of the export rebounds. (According to the firm, investors had been awaiting the long-rumored downgrade before sinking money into Mexico, but now that it's finally happened, a flood of interest should result.)

A couple of other interesting Mexican business facts I came across while trolling for info: Mexican regulators slapped retailer Comercial Mexicana with a $3.7 million fine for withholding info on its derivatives transactions last October, when the company suspended debt payments. I believe there's some debate about whether the company can rightfully be charged with causing a peso decline that occurred at the same time, but it's certainly encouraging to see Mexican regulators with some teeth. Also, Televisa sold $600 million in 30-year bonds.

Beltrones' Past

Looking at the old NY Times article that questioned the integrity of one the 2012 presidential hopefuls, and of Mexico's most powerful politicians.

Fiscal Stuff, In Two Parts

Like Mayweather and Pacquiao, the PRI and the PAN are opening what will surely be a grueling, painful set of negotiations with a priceless prize awaiting at the end: a sustainable fiscal regime.

And a rough indication of the opposition to significant and progressive fiscal reform: more than half of the 429 largest businesses in Mexico are seeking an injunction to protect themselves from the latest tax regime passed earlier this month.

Slogging Through

Analysts from the OECD, like most of their counterparts elsewhere, are predicting a long, slow recovery: 2.7 percent growth in 2010, followed by 4 percent in 2011. As the article points out, this means that Mexico won't return to its pre-crisis growth rate (dated to September 2008) until 2012. Just as worrying, the jobless rate will remain above 6 percent for that entire lapse.

Given that the 6 percent will also be accompanied by very high rates of underemployment and informal employment, and Calderón seems intent on making this the social development half of his presidency, this would seem to be a fertile ground for government innovations in the informal sector.

Listen Up

Silvio Canto talks with Alfredo Corchado of the Dallas Morning News about Mexico and such.

Nice Gesture

The players for the Premier League team Wigan, disgusted after being slaughtered 9-1 by Tottenham, are planning to refund Wigan fans who made the trip to London to watch Sunday's game. I wouldn't mind seeing this adopted around the globe; as a lifelong fan of the Cubs who's attended dozens of games at Wrigley Field, I'd say I have at least a 50-spot coming my way.

More Criticism of the Left

René Áviles Fabila's take on the Mexican left has a lot in common with Jorge Fernández Menéndez's from last week:
To think that Ebrard or Encinas are worthy leftists is to ignore history and misunderstand reality. The left doesn't have to make ice rinks or giant Christmas trees, typical American values. It must protect with great care social struggles, not give alms without creating jobs and above all, providing the population with the instruments that allow Mexico to be seen under another model, distinct from that which we have, a legacy of the PRI in its most degrading moments. That's what I think when I read an article by Manuel Bartlett, a new arrival to the left, once his political life concluded with the PRI, where he was senator, governor, and a cabinet secretary. His language corresponds to that of a Pharisee, Marx would say, or better yet a useful idiot*, as Lenin saw those who were at time fighting for socialism.

The question is, where did the left that now show off insignias of the Virgin of Guadalupe, hand out alms like madmen and turn Mexico City into an immense circus where commercial spectacles predominate? From the PRI. That's where Dante Delgado, Camacho, Ebrard, El Peje. When they were priistas they didn't have even one leftist thought.
One notable difference is that Fernández didn't say anything about Ebrard. Come to think of it, I don't remember reading people questioning Ebrard's leftist credentials on many occasions in the past.

*As far as "useful idiot", I assume given the context that was what he referred to with "compañero de ruta", although there's a lot of distance between those two phrases. Which makes me wonder what the term really means in Russian.

Important Arrival

Some 650,000 dosages of the swine flu vaccine are to arrive in Mexico today. After being analyzed and tested for effectiveness and safety by the Federal Commission for Sanitary Risks (Cofepris), the vaccines will be given to doctors and nurses first. The Cofepris chief implied that the analysis period would be perfunctory, with the vaccine's effectiveness already proven through its use in Spain and the US.

Rising Crime Rate

We're not talking murder today, but car robberies: according to the Association of Mexican Insurance Institutions, the number of cars removed from their proper owners' possession has increased by almost 15 percent his year. Some of this comes from organized crime replacing interrupted drug income (at least, that's the most common excuse for car-jackings in Torreón), but I'd say this is also indicative a broader decline in security, made worse by the economic crisis. I've talked to some people who've been car-jacked by guys who seemed really professional (automatic rifles, ski masks, a cool demeanor throughout the robbery), but in most cases the perpetrators seemed more like nervous, hard-up kids.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

How Is This Possible?

I have the NFL's two leading rushers (Chris Johnson and DeAngelo Williams) and its leading yardage receiver (Randy Moss) on my fantasy team, and yet I'm 5-5, and losing this week. I need to pick up a win pronto or I'm on the outside looking in for the postseason. Cutler and Orton are my QBs, which explains some of the difficulties, but even so, how is this happening? It's like the fantasy football version of perpetual motion.

On the plus side, Orton's off the crutches and Cutler has less than five turnovers this week.

Binational Deja Vu

I swear I've read the following paragraph some 63 times in the last ten years:
After decades of mistrust and sometimes betrayal, Mexican and U.S. authorities are increasingly setting aside their differences to unite against a common enemy. According to interviews in Washington and Mexico City, the two countries are sharing sensitive intelligence and computer technology, military hardware and, perhaps most importantly, U.S. know-how to train and vet Mexican agents. Police and soldiers secretly on the cartels' payroll have long poisoned efforts at cross-border cooperation against some of the world's most dangerous criminal organizations.
I've probably written it once or twice as well. Many bits of interesting information follow, including about the 10,000 Federal Police cadets that Mexico hopes to graduate from its San Luis Potosí academy (with US help) by next spring.


New Stuff from AMLO

This sounds like the action of a man intent on running: AMLO has re-founded his legitimate government, with the following ten goals on his slate:
1) Rescuing the state and putting it at the service of the people and the nation

2) Democratizing the mass media

3) Creating a new economy

4) Combating monopolistic practices

5) Abolishing fiscal special treatment

6) Exercising politics as an ethical imperative

7) Strengthening the energy sector

8) Achieving nutritional sovereignty

9) Establishing a welfare state

10) Promoting a new current of thought
The idea that a government would list changing the way its people think as one of its foremost priorities is a bit unsettling, or at least unseemly. Others are the sorts of ideas that would be hard for anyone to oppose. Others are too vague to mean much of anything without some specific policy ideas attached.

Important Question

I think I may have asked this last year, so apologies if I repeat myself: Why isn't Joe Flacco's nickname "Skinny"? Imagine: "Skinny Flacco with three touchdowns in the air today, but a bigger test looms next week, when Skinny goes to Steel-town..." It hums. It would be the best nickname since Air Jordan or the Byrd Fidrych.

Bold Move

Lula obviously has good reason to be confident about his international prestige, but one wonders if this will actually happen: the Brazilian leader is proposing a friendly matchup between the Brazilian national team and a team made up of half Israelis, half Palestinians.

Let Us Now Mock Famous Men

It's been a while since we've had a good laugh at the expense of Vicente Fox around here. Far too long in fact. Righting that wrong...

Former president Vicente Fox showed up in public a few days ago with a pair of welts a couple of centimeters long. Fox and his wife, Marta Sahagún, said that it was the product of spider bite while Fox slept. But the couple said it jokingly, calling it a giant kicking spider, and the article seems to imply that the kicking spider might have been none other than Sahagún, who, by the way, is said to have gotten into a purse-swinging fight with Fox's ex-wife the night of his election in 2000.

Fascinating Study

Mitofsky links to something I've been wanting to see for some time: a study (courtesy of Center for Development Research, or CIDAC) that breaks down the 2008 Mexican crime rate by region. One of the most interesting findings was that in terms of murder, Mexico City is actually pretty safe. It has a murder rate of 6 per 100,000 inhabitants, which places it below the figure for Mexico at large (10.5), below the Latin American average (10), below the world average, and not far from the developed nation average (4.5). Murder isn't the only criminal scourge upon a society, and Mexico City still suffers from high rates of robbery and kidnapping, but one often gets the feeling that Mexico City is just a step up from Somalia. Not so.

No surprise to the entities that were the most blood-soaked: Chihuahua (47.1 killings per 100,000 inhabitants), Sinaloa (29.5), Guerrero (22.8), Durango (21.6), and Baja California (20.5). Oaxaca is next on the list with 17.8, though its figure derives more from rural violence than drug killings. In fact, eight years ago Oaxaca was the violent state in the country, with a murder rate in excess of 50, so the 17 plus today represents something of a triumph.

Lastly, according to CIDAC, despite the increase in drug murders by somewhere between 3,000 or 4,000, Mexico on the whole was safer in 2008 than in 2007. And, echoing a point made several months ago by former AG Eduardo Medina Mora, it is significantly safer than it was in the 1990s.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Suddenly, I'm Glad Not To Be an International Soccer Star

Evidently, the new fad for injured Premier League players is a placenta cream treatment from a Serbian clinic. Rafael Benítez says he's all for it, but Arsene Wenger is not convinced. Uggh. Rafa may have the Champions League title, but I'm going to have to go with the Frenchman on this one.

New Arrival

Twenty-five hundred paratroopers have been deployed in Ciudad Juárez, presumably to tamp down violence in the border town. The 7,000 troops sent to Juárez last March (I think) were unsuccessful in lower rates for more than a few weeks, so one wonders what will be different this time around. One also wonders if the government is betting that the problem with the 7,000 from this spring was not the fact that the army was incapable of helping lower the violence, but that there were issues of corruption or incompetence with the group that was sent. One further wonders why the government hasn't offered much explanation on this issue.

Revolution or Independence

Yesterday was the Day of the Revolution. I suggest everyone celebrate by reading Álvaro Obregón's Wikipedia page.

Mitofsky recently asked whether Mexico's independence or the Mexican Revolution should be more of a cause of celebration. I was somewhat surprised to see that so many Mexicans said the former was the more celebration-worthy event: 41 to 11 percent favored independence. Perhaps that comes from years of partying hard on September 15, but I would have guessed that, rightly or wrongly, the Revolution --both in terms of the historical lessons and they legendary cast of characters-- occupies a more substantial place in Mexican place. And, if you accept the Mitofsky findings, I would have guessed wrong.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Social Improvement

Here's something many people have been clamoring for: a social recovery initiative in Juárez, to help rebuild the societal fabric that has come undone over the past two years. Fernando Gómez Mont offered no details about the plan, which is disappointing. I'll have more once some concrete info becomes available.

Arrest and Attacks

A La Familia operator was arrested in Celaya on Wednesday, which led to a series of attacks on PGR installations around the region. Schools have been closed as a result. One civilian was hurt and no one killed, which should allow the kids to celebrate the surprise day off without feeling too guilty.

Castañeda Gets It Wrong. Very Wrong

Jorge Castañeda, presumably furthering a theory put forth in his book La Guerra Fallida (which I've not yet read), says that Mexico's war on drug traffickers is plainly not working, and the government should aim to reestablish the "tacit pact" with the country's drug traffickers.

The first part is a defensible position, but the second is wrong. First of all, because the previous two pacts that drug gangs have tried to hammer out (in June of 2008 and January of 2009, I believe), with the government's support, have not held, and the country has gotten a lot more violent. The biggest reason for that is, in my estimation, the fact that the trafficking industry is way too fragmented for any group to call a nationwide truce that means anything. As much as you hear about the five big cartels in the media, it's easy to draw a conclusion that if Calderón promises to let the five leaders go about their business, and the same five leaders agreed to not kill each other, then Mexico would turn into Costa Rica. But there's is nothing in the last five years to suggest that such a scenario is possible. Mexico's drug trafficking industry is not a battle between a few armed groups, but a wide open free market, a cauldron of splinter groups and new players and regional heavyweights. That's why the most "dangerous" gang today is one no one had heard of five years ago, and the most "dangerous" gang five years ago was one that no one had heard of ten years ago. This is part of the reason that I think the benefit of not using the word cartel goes beyond mere semantics: we simplify the situation far too much by classifying hundreds of different drug gangs into five cartels.

But even supposing that the tacit pact was a viable option, it would still be wrong. First, there's the moral issue; a government that establishes a pact with criminals, tacit though it may be, loses its moral authority to act on other issues, like strengthening the corporate tax code. If Slim armed a bunch of henchmen to start dropping bodies in response to a telecom tax in order to come to a tacit agreement, how would that be any different from the drug gangs?

Furthermore, the tacit agreement that persisted in the 1980s and 1990s was a) a lot more violent than is remembered today, and b) led to the disaster of a mole for drug traffickers working as Vicente Fox's travel secretary, among other achievements. This is something that was covered in De Las Maras a Las Zetas and last week's column from Macario Schettino: a lot of people in Mexican government, especially in the Fox administration, were slow to realize the threat that drug traffickers posed to the nation's democracy, not specifically because of the violence, but because of its corrupting power. That's not to say that Mexico is within light years of being a failed state, but leaving drug traffickers to their devices under a tacit pact, while it might lead to less violence, increases the threat to Mexico's government.

Update, 10-3-10: I agree with this much less now than I did when I wrote it, basically because I think misunderstood how "tacit" the pact is to be. That became clear upon reading a fuller explanation in Castañeda's book. My mistake.

More Good Drug War Stuff from TNR

Here's a convincing blog post from John McWhorter.

Carstens Reacts

Agustín Carstens pushes back against the criticisms of Joseph Stiglitz:
It seems that Stiglitz doesn't know that Mexico was battered by two blows: the global economic recession, including in the United States, and the decline in oil production of 800,000 barrels a day, Carstens said.

"We didn't have the option of taking on more debt. One has to act responsibly and that was what was president Calderón decided and what he did", added Carstens in a forum on Mexican infrastructure projects with international investors.
The effectiveness of Mexico's response often boils down to whether or not the nation should have taken on more debt. I can't offer an expert opinion on that, but it definitely seems as though most Mexican analysts were more leery of doing so (and, like Carstens, use the impossibility of indebting the government as a justification of the response) than were foreign observers. That in turn seems to be a lingering psychological effect of the crises of the 1980s and 1990s.

Little Men and Super Sixers

All the attention is on the next installment of the Super Six 168-pound tournament, but there also a few good fights in the lower ranks from the southern end of Mexico. In Chiapas, Edgar Sosa, the 108-pound titlist who looks by turns very vulnerable and all-but-invinceable, squares off against Rodel Mayol, an awkward challenger who gave wizard Iván Calderón a pair of really tough fights earlier this year. I think Calderón's troubles have more to do with his advancing years and a bad style matchup than Mayol's abilities, and I see Sosa getting him out of there much more easily: late-round KO for the Mexican champ.

In Mérida, another Mexican 108-pound champ, Giovanni Segura, climbs between the ropes to face off against another Filipino challenger, Sonny Boy Jaro. Like Sosa, I see Segura having an entertaining and ultimately successful defense, ending in a later-round KO. On the undercard, I like yet another Mexican 108-pound titlist (albeit a former belt-holder), Ulises Solis, to find success in his leap up to 112 pounds, with a decision win over very faded former title challenger Gilberto Keb Bass.

Elsewhere, I like the Filipino rising star Marvin Sonsona to take care of business in Ontario with a knockout of the never-before-stopped Alejandro Hernández.

And in the Super Six, I think Kessler leaves Oakland with an impressive decision over Andre Ward, which would be a solid win against a really tricky opponent on his home turf. The Americans, 0-3 with the Ward loss, will need to step up in the second round of the Super Six.

Gancho is 84 up, 28 down on the year.

Oil Projections

As is customary these days, the predictions are not favorable: oil income will fall by 17 percent next year, down to about $70 billion.

Another Bad Ranking

According to a survey of businesses from PriceWaterhouseCoopers, Mexico is the country with the fifth highest rate of fraud in the world. Sad, but not a huge surprise. But take a look at who's in fourth place: Canada, of all places! Both of them follow old corruption standbys Russia, South Africa, and Kenya.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Same Old Story

Halftime in Carolina, and obviously John Fox isn't convinced by Gancho's cogent arguments that he should make DeAngelo Williams the focus of the offense. Fox has called Jake Delhomme's number 20 times, which has resulted in seven completions, three sacks, 64 yards through the air, and a 52.1 QB rating. Williams is averaging more than five yards a carry (as is his custom), but on only 8 carries for 43 yards. Which is to say, on 40 percent of the plays that have gone to Delhomme. Oh, and Panthers have been held without a touchdown, and the Dolphins are up by 11.

Update: More of the same in the second half: Williams picked up 79 yards on only five carries. Delhomme passed 25 times in the second half, ending up with 19 for 42 for 227 yards, with a touchdown and a pick. And, as tends to happen when Delhomme throws three times as often as Williams runs, the Panthers lost a game they should have won.

Problems in the PAN

Jorge Fernández Menéndez says that the PAN is irredeemably divided. As evidence, he has the pre-candidacy Santiago Creel and Manuel Espino (now that would be a nice guarantee for a presidential loss); the ongoing fight between Calderón’s pragmatic centrist group and the more conservative Yunque; the anger from PAN senators over the budget enthusiastically approved by PAN deputies; and the opposition of federal security policies by PAN mayors and governors. The finale:
And if you add to this that toward the end of next year Nava must be ratified or a new leader to handle the election of a presidential candidate must be elected, all of the ingredients for panista division seem to be present. They can be united by only one episode, if it is understood as such: the existence of a common enemy.
The only thing I'd add is that such disagreement is not abnormal for a party that's not winning elections, especially with a presidential race coming up. To a certain degree, it's like team sports: winning can cover up a lot of problems.

Responsibility for Juárez

The Interamerican Court of Human Rights has issued a ruling that blames the Mexican government for failing to thoroughly investigate the murder of eight women in Juárez in 2001. The finding carries no penalty beyond embarrassment, of which there should be much to go around.


Martín Moreno is disgusted by the Transparency International ranking of corruption in Mexico, and finds enough blame to go around:
There are the decades of corruption from the PRI and its presidents. The corrupt indolence of the PAN governments. The perredistas corrupted across the nation. The corrupt unions. The corrupted and corrupting politicians. The great political family of Mexico turned into a bunch of thieves. It would take an encyclopedia to name all of the people that are the emblem of national corruption. They, as have many others, have contributed to the present decadence. They collaborate brilliantly in their robbery.
The anger is understandable, but I think Mexican analysts sometimes paint with too broad a brush on this kind of stuff. Instead of just calling them a "bunch of thieves", tell us who the dishonest are, but mention the honest politicians too. Mention the successes. And, once again, where was the finger-pointing to go with last week's gender gap ranking, which was far worse?

National Self-confidence

Mexicans have lost the will to believe in themselves, according to Miguel Carbonell:
We have lost the way. We don’t believe in ourselves, we don’t know where we stand nor in what direction we are going. The nation navigates, aimlessly, between the yoke of a mediocre, abusive, myopic political class, and population that debates the question of whether it’s better to return to the past and the desire to hop on the train of development that every day seems farther away.

While Brazil, Colombia, and Chile show us that it is possible to combine social inclusion, economic growth, and the rule of law, years ago we stopped believing in our capacity to continue improving.


We have to believe in ourselves again. Not in the Tlatoani incarnate, not in illuminated saviors that propose to throw us off a cliff, not in corrupt union leaders, not in those deputies who worry about their Christmas bonus, not in those parties that are sterile with proposals and avid about more money for their campaigns, not in the yellow journalists, disrespectful of the intelligence of the citizens. The answer doesn’t lie in them: it’s in us, who can do what we want, that must do so better than ever before, for ourselves and our children. The country is in play. We’ll have to see if there are patriots than opportunists and criminals. And we’ll have to see it soon, before everything falls apart.
I think there's a lot of truth to that; Mexicans are relentlessly down on Mexico. Of course, there's been a lot of reason for that lately, but much of it is not directly related to the grimness of the evening news. People just repeat the tired old saws because they've heard them a million times before. It makes me wonder a Reagan or an Obama-type of politician who builds a campaign that on hope and optimism, who focuses more on what Mexico can become rather than where it is lacking, could find a very responsive electorate right now. Peña Nieto would seem to be the most likely to implement such a strategy, but really, the door is wide open.

What the Budget Fight Tells Us about the PRI

From Leo Zuckermann:
My colleague Ignacio Marván hit the nail on the head: the approval of the 2010 budget has signified the beginning of the congressional government in Mexico. From Congress, particularly in the Chamber of Deputies, the PRI will try to govern the country. On this occasion they gave a lot of money to local governments, which is where the PRI has its principal power base. In the future, the PRI will continue strengthening the power of the legislative branch and of the state governments to the detriment of the executive branch, as one of the steps to return to Los Pinos in 2012. If the achieve this objective, well then they will have the presidency in their power. If they don’t, well they will have already weakened the executive; they’ll be able to continue governing from Congress and the local governments, as they do now.

Remittances Bouncing Back

The bank BBVA says that remittances to Mexico will continue to decline until the middle of next year, and that 2010 will close with between 1 and 5 percent growth in remittance payments.

New Mexico Stuff

The Atlantic has a long piece on Mexico's drug wars. Edgardo Buscaglia appears, as he does everywhere in the media these days. More on that when I read it.


Mediocre Folks

Alfonso Zárate is angry about the mediocrity that prevails among Mexico's political leaders:
The logic of mediocrity continues alive and well. In the recent election of the president of the National Commission on Human Rights (CNDH), the Senators overlooked the candidate with the most complete profile: that rare mix of experience, knowledge of the issue, strength, and serenity that Emilio Álvarez Icaza has. The political interests didn’t dare to elect an uncomfortable ombudsman, although this is the reason for being for a defender of human rights: to be uncomfortable to those in power.

The same thing that happened in the CNDH and in the IFE repeats itself in other crucial spaces of the republic, the brown-nosers arrive, those who assure the interests of those who put them there, that’s why the organizations have decayed and very little is left of their autonomy.

Another practice that prevails is that of quotas and exchanges between the parties. That’s why, when we are on the brink of settling other crucial elections --namely, those of the two ministers of the Supreme Court and the governorship of the Bank of Mexico—there are bad signals.

But if that is, irredeemably, the logic of the powerful, we citizens focus on watching them, scrutinizing, verifying the fulfillment of their responsibilities…
He has an interesting historical explanation for it, one I'd not heard before. In the years of the presidential dedazo determining who would rise to power, docility and quiet competence were the ideal qualities for an ambitious pol, not standout performance. In effect, there was a system-wide reward for mediocrity.

Economic Predictions

The OECD says that because of a weak recovery in 2010 (2.7 percent growth) and 2011 (3.9 percent), Mexico's economy won't return to 2008 levels until 2012. Unemployment will skip up to 6.5 percent next year as well. And that assuming that the US economy doesn't slip back into recession, as Obama was warning against yesterday.

Missing Cops

Almost three weeks after Nuevo León elected a new slate of mayors, almost 70 percent of the state's cities remain without police chiefs owing to the transition. I'm not sure if that's a lot worse than the standard lapse, but it sure sounds bad.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Euthanasia Builds Steam

Marcelo Ebrard is for the legalization of euthanasia in Mexico City, and is planning to meet with local deputies to discuss how to make it happen.

Stiglitz on Mexico

The Nobel Prize-winning economist says that Mexico's recovery will be weak, and that it needs a fiscal plan that stimulates the economy. Stiglitz singled out Brazil and Australia as having responded well to the crisis, thank to strong governmental supports and timely adjustments to the banking industry. I'd actually like to hear a little more about exactly what Mexico should have done differently. The stimulus in Mexico probably wasn't strong enough nor was it pursued with enough gusto in Los Pinos, but that wouldn't seem to be a sufficient explanation for a 7 or 8 percent GDP contraction. The banking adjustments in Australia and Brazil aren't particularly helpful, because Mexico's banks weren't in danger. If Stiglitz could have personally designed and implemented the Mexican response with all the benefit of 20-20 hindsight, how much different would the past year have been, in GDP, job losses, peso strength, etc? Or put another way, how much of the horrible 2009 was an unavoidable effect of the crisis and the US recession, and how much of it stems from specific bad decisions from the Mexican government?

The above article doesn't include anything specifically critical or admiring of Mexico's response, so it's hard to say. Despite the conspicuous lack of finger-pointing, the article carries the following title: "Mexico didn't know how to combat the crisis: Stiglitz".

Noel Maurer, your opinion would be greatly appreciated.

Update: Some more detailed articles today have more info, including some more specific criticisms. The biggest ones are that the stimulus was too weak, and that Mexico should have directed more cash to infrastructure and educational spending.

Still Sailing Smoothly

Carlos Marín notes that despite the PRI being the clear favorite in 2012 and dominating the agenda, the PAN and the PRD haven't been able to overcome their own internal problems enough to mount a coherent counter-attack. Hence perredistas slamming a budget bill that received the support of their chief in the Chamber of Deputies, and the PAN calling for Calderón to veto the spending bill passed earlier this week, despite the catastrophic impact such a move could have. With the help of a brilliant combination of mixed metaphors and offensive truisms, Marín hammers his point home:
In the midst of a raging river, the priístas gallop toward 2012 applying the maxim that "when your enemy is fucking up, don't distract him..."
I guess you can get away with more of that when you're running the place, as Marín is at Milenio.

I've always kind of assumed that the PRI's rise to political preeminence would be temporary, because a) the various factions of the PRI wouldn't be able to maintain unity for long with a presidential election coming up, and b) once the PRD and the PAN awakened to the real possibility of the PRI becoming a majority party in Mexico, they would find common cause in opposing the PRI at every turn, as they did at various points in the 1980s and 1990s. The first remains very likely, but I think I overestimated the second factor. PRD-PAN alliances in the 1990s were borne of the necessity of confronting an authoritarian party that had been governing for six decades. There was no other way to rip political power from the PRI. Today, with the PRI just another party in what is basically a level democratic playing field, a sufficiently strong imperative to overcome ideological differences is absent. In other words, even with the PRI looking great for 2012, what divides the PAN and the PRD remains a lot stronger than what unites them.

Not True

Abortion, euthanasia, gender's culture war day at Gancho.

Milenio reports that next week, on World AIDS Day, a pair of men in Argentina are planning to wed in what they are calling Latin America and Argentina's first gay marriage. Argentina perhaps, but Latin America no; Coahuila beat them to the title almost three years ago. You'd think a respected Mexican paper like Milenio would be able to catch such a mistake.

Disproportionate Attention

Bajo Reserva (among many others) laments the fact that Mexico's corruption ranking (89th out of 180 nations/governments measured) places it among a motley band of African dictatorships. Corruption is a big issue in Mexico, and the attention and disgust are warranted, but I wonder why there was basically zero attention paid to the nation's far worse ranking (99 out of 134) on the 2009 gender gap index, which was published a week ago. As I mentioned last week, the index places Mexico roughly on a par with Kuwait and behind such luminary states as Zimbabwe.

Leftist in Name Only

Jorge Fernández Menéndez doesn't think much of the supposed leftists hanging around Martín Esparza:
The best photo. The advancing march. There one would expect to find the best of the Mexican left concentrated. Well, together with Esparza there were Porfirio Muñoz Ledo, Manuel Bartlett, Gerardo Fernández Noroña, Jaime Cárdenas: none of them has ever been of the left. Muñoz Ledo, a man who was intelligent and now, in any forum or restaurant, like the street corner speakers from Hyde Park, limits himself to demanding the overthrow of Felipe Calderón. The same man who praised Díaz Ordaz for the massacre in '68, who was secretary of labor in the Echeverría government and organized the repression...of the SME. And the same man with a long history of betrayals and abandonments: of Cárdenas, Fox, and the PRD.

Bartlett has worked since 1988 to be in that group and only now is he achieving it. In 1987, he was the pre-candidate of the PRI of Porfirio and Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas: if he had been unveiled by Miguel de la Madrid the PRD wouldn't have been born. What a paradox: he wasn't and it was his job to handle the election of 1988. He had his prize: with Salinas he was the secretary of education and governor of Puebla, both by presidential designation, but Manuel says that he was never a salinista. And he still managed to be senator for six years. Bartlett is an intelligent and sophisticated man, who somehow must have enjoyed that the SME protesters received him with applause rather than pictures of the dinosaur Barney.

There was the now rock-hard deputy Jaime Cárdenas. But now is his political origin even remotely of the left. Jaime began to shine when he was designated counselor of the IFE: he wasn't proposed by the PRD, but rather by the priísta Fernando Ortiz Arana, to whom he was close adviser. Once in the IFE his enemy was Zedillo (origin is destiny) and he displayed an independence that took him even to demand a life-long pension upon leaving the Institute. And immediately after he presented himself as a loyal follower of López Obrador. Why even mention Fernández Noroña? When was the now-ferocious deputy ever a part of the left? In his days as an IMSS worker? Now, like all good converts, he is the grand inquisitor of the "new left".


[O]ur new left has ended up together with marginal provocateurs, together with the restorers of the oldest priísmo, allied with the broadcaster that it hated before, and with the most conservative wing of the church.

Ratings Agencies' Reaction

Moody's is staying put, but Standard and Poor's and Fitch are said to be considering bumping Mexico's credit rating below investment grade as a result of the spending plan, which opened the widest budget deficit in twenty years.


Abortion in Mexico

Veracruz's congress passed a constitutional amendment defining life as beginning at conception and outlawing abortion, punishable by up to 4 years in prison. The practice was already illegal, though it was not codified in the constitution. The new law refers to but does not specify exceptions to the law. El Universal says that Veracruz is the 17th state to outlaw abortion, but I believe it is not explicitly legal anywhere outside of Mexico City, and that in the remaining states it has not been written into the constitution but it is in effect illegal. In Coahuila, which is not listed among the 17, from what I understand there are no abortion clinics, and for a woman to have one performed she basically needs to know a friendly doctor.

Collective Blame

Today's editorial at El Universal isn't buying the idea that the corruption ranking stems from Mexicans' collective responsibility.
It is insisted that Mexicans in general suffer from [a corrupt character], when in reality it is the authorities of all of the political parties that allow its perpetuation as accomplices or simple spectators.
This follows an opinion piece yesterday from Ernesto López Portillo, which essentially made the opposite case (though before the ranking was known) about the causes of insecurity:
A few days ago I was riding in a taxi and the same driver that complaining about the bad government because of the insecurity was running every stop sign he could, increasing his insecurity and that of everyone else. We must carry out a job of bottom up and vice versa. The co-production of healthy living and of security goes in both direction. The leadership to promote it and make it a reality must come from within and outside of the public domain...So, dear reader, the next time you go out on the street, look in the mirror and ask yourselves if you are a producer of insecurity or security.
I agree with López Portillo that it would be nice if there was more respect for traffic laws, but I think to a certain extant this complaint is rote in Mexico. Furthermore, I'm not convinced of the link between respect for traffic laws and the society-wide existence of corruption or a bad security climate. That's a broken window too far. I remember being blown away by the way people drove in Santiago, far more than when I arrived here in Torreón, yet Chile was Latin America's least corrupt country, and is much less violent than Mexico. Personally, I break traffic laws on a daily basis (though none too grave), but that doesn't make me more tolerant of official malfeasance. I guess my lead foot makes me something of a hypocrite, but not a bad citizen (at least not in the watchdog sense). There's no reason that a society-wide improvement in respect for rules has to be a prerequisite for a Mexico that is more vigilant in penalizing corruption right now.