Friday, September 30, 2011

Intellectual Author of the Casino Royale Attack Arrested

Big news from Nuevo León:

I'd never heard of this before, just as Comandante Kilo was totally unknown to me before he was arrested for allegedly being responsible for the San Fernando massacres and mass graves. It's not exactly news, but the people behind the bloodiest crimes in Mexico are increasingly lower-level guys, and it's not clear if, in carrying out these crimes, they are acting on behalf of the most famous capos or against their wishes. This is especially true of the Zetas, but I think it goes for all of the gangs.

And Before This Law Was Passed?

From EFE:
The Chamber of Deputies in Mexico approved a reform that opens the possibility of a woman being named for the first time to serve as secretary of national defense, to head a department where 10,565 women work.

The bill, approved by 359 deputies, establishes that "without distinguishing between gender, the members of the Mexican army and the air force can be promoted to all levels of command, including positions of high command in the army and air force".
The law had been tabled for six years before the passage. So prior to this, were women actively barred from heading the military branches? Can that be? Or was it just the case that tradition (and the military's demographic makeup) has always led presidents to select men in the past, and this law is merely a reminder that capable women should also be considered? If it's the latter, I'm not sure this accomplishes much. Also, are the marines already officially gender-neutral, or are they lagging?

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Going Too Far

The bar for over-effusiveness regarding Ryan Fitzpatrick has been set, and it has been set high.

Tamaulipas, Corruption, and Police Salaries

New piece at InSight:

The salary can, of course, feed into other factors as well; a poorly paid police force is not likely to have a high level of morale and esprit de corps, which makes offices less likely to resist entreaties from criminals. This leads to a general climate of corruption, which makes more likely that an honest police officer would face pressure from his colleagues for turning down offers of illicit cash, and less likely that offending officers would be nabbed for wrongdoing.

Viewed this way, police corruption becomes a self-perpetuating feedback loop, and if the authorities tinker with only one of the variables, whether by raising salaries or recruiting better qualified officers, the corrupting dynamic will likely remain intact. An effective plan to reduce corruption needs to address all of the factors more or less simultaneously. This would involved (among other measures) more robust internal affairs bureaus and vetting tests for officers, protection for threatened police, and, yes, higher salaries to improve institutional morale and reduce the appeal of illicit earnings.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Credit Where Due

Peña Nieto admitted that The Economist was right that the numbers regarding murders in his sexenio were massaged and misleading. Good for him! Whatever the reason for the admission, it's always nice to see a politician willing to admit mistakes.

No Trust in Nuevo León

From Milenio:
The population of Nuevo León is the least trustful in the federal, state, and municipal police agencies, according to the results of the Encuesta Ciudadana sobre percepción de Seguridad Pública 2010.

The document released this Tuesday by the federal government, signals that in the 28 states where the State Public Security Councils applied polls, Nuevo León was in last place with a level of trust of 4.7 on a ten-point scale.

This figure is beneath the national average of 5.8 and it contrasts dramatically with Yucatán, which reached 7.1.
From one standpoint, this is not surprising, because Nuevo León has had a lot of spectacular attacks as well as general security decline. At the same time, in terms of murders, the region is not even close to being the worst in Mexico. There may already be research confirming or denying this, but that seems to suggest that citizens lose faith in government more in the midst of a decline in security rather than an ongoing crisis that may well be more severe. In other words, your expectations and level of disappointment shift to compensate for the decline after a while.

More Mano Dura

The Justice Committee in the Chamber of Deputies has approved life sentences for rapists, kidnappers, and murderers. It's hard to have much sympathy for anyone guilty of any of those crimes, but as always, the issue isn't the severity of the penalty but rather the government's ability to impost any penalty.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Criticizing the Critics of the Partidocracia

I have a new piece at Este País. Other non-Mexican readers: do you think the constant harping on the partidocracia is odd, or is it just me?

Is Moreira Joshing? A Speculative Answer to That Burning Question

Humberto Moreira, who seems to have again been shamed into a lower profile following the Coahuila debt scandal --I say again because something similar happened in January after he talked and talked and talked and then the PRI was defeated in Guerrero and Baja California Sur-- says that AMLO is the PRI's principal adversary in 2012, not the PAN candidate nor Ebrard.

It seems untrue on the merits: AMLO has the highest negatives of any candidate, indeed of any major politician in Mexico. There's no way he could best Peña's vote total unless the former Edomex governor is caught with a dead body in his trunk, and even then it's not a guarantee. He also would seem to be boosting AMLO's profile with the comment, which probably dampens enthusiasm from Ebrard around the margins, which is likely the intended effect. Whatever the case, Chucho Ortega says it's not true, and accused the PRI of trying to impose a candidate on the PRD. Also, Ebrard, noting Moreira's unusual interest in the PRD's determination of a candidate, invited the PRI president to vote in the coming referendum which will (in theory anyway) determine the winner.

Notes from Peña Nieto's Informe

This column from Francisco Garfias is a bit dated, but worth mentioning:
Elba Esther Gordillo must have felt terrible that Enrique Peña Nieto overlooked her at his last Informe. There was a special mention for many invitees that attended the crowded event, celebrated at the Teatro Morelos, in Toluca, but about the Maestra nothing, despite her being in the front row.

In other times it was unthinkable that the keynote speaker would ignore her. The affront could turn out costly. The power that she holds with her leadership of the teachers union; together with the myth that she always wins, made her seem as indispensable for a victory in any important popularly elected position.


Peña has now started his metamorphosis. He toughened up his rhetoric toward President Calderón. That's how it will be from now on --separated from the obligation to be institutional-- according to the rumors.

He said in his final message: "We still have not transitioned from an exclusively electoral democracy to a democracy of results, of a regime that secures agreements... The best option isn't that which condemns us to the past, but rather that which looks forward, which calls all of us (pay attention Los Pinos!) to confront the problems..."
It's not clear to me if that was Garfias saying watch out in Los Pinos or Peña Nieto, but in any event, there you have it.

If the Gordillo bit is a harbinger of a split, it will be interesting to see where she goes from here. AMLO famously blew her off in 2006, saying he doesn't work with mafiosas. He may be a bit more desperate now, but I doubt that we will see a rapprochement or anything resembling an alliance between the two. Vázquez Mota (assuming she is the PAN candidate) and Gordillo have a famously turbulent relationship during the former's spell as education secretary, a tenure that Gordillo is credited with ending prematurely. Vázquez Mota may well be desperate for support as well, but it's hard to see that old wound being healed. So that leaves Ebrard, but I don't believe he is particularly close with her, and he still may not run. Otherwise, could la Maestra be left out in the cold? It doesn't seem possible, but her cozying up to anyone outside of Peña Nieto seems more unlikely still.

Monday, September 26, 2011

On COIN in Mexico

I have a new piece in InSight that argues against COIN for Mexico. Highlights:
The basic question that COIN advocates must answer is: Why? Given the above differences between Mexico’s security problems and the basic elements of insurgency, why would COIN be better than a constantly refined law-enforcement approach? What is makes Mexico different from, say, Italy in the 1980s, or any other country that has engineered a vast improvement in security without using COIN? These questions have not been adequately addressed, yet the burden of proof is on the COIN crowd. If they can’t provide an answer, then the major argument for COIN is simply that it hasn’t been attempted before, which is exceedingly unpersuasive.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Lionel and Barry

Lionel Messi has always reminded me of Barry Sanders. Part of it is their size--both are much shorter not only than their would-be tacklers, but also their offensive contemporaries. Part of it is the way they often seem to absorb contact and transfer the kinetic energy to the ground without letting it substantially alter their progress. And part of it, a big part, is the subtlety of their movements. Sanders was famous for his acrobatics in avoiding tacklers, but I also remember the way he would make one quick hesitation in the open field, follow that up with the slightest change of direction, and then all of a sudden there would be five yards of space between the safety and him, where a second ago their was just one. Messi can be an acrobat too, but his goal above was an example of that second trait. The defenders were caught lead-footed, but the move was fantastically subtle: just one quick opening of the hips, a 30 degree shift in direction, and suddenly he has a wide open look at the keeper and time to pick his spot.

Ronaldo also had a hat-trick on Saturday, though two of them came on penalties. His one goal in open play was rather typical of Ronaldo: running as hard as he could (which is quite hard indeed) to the keeper's right, and kicking it as hard as he could (which is harder still) through the keeper's legs. It was an impressive feat of athleticism, but it was, particularly in light of the display of genius that was to come an hour or so later, a bit plain, somehow.

More Information from the PGR

I'll be eager to see the results of this:
The Procuraduría General de la República must conduct an extensive search and turn over statistics regarding the number of daily arrests allegedly related to the criminal organizations the Gulf-Zetas, Beltrán Leyvas, La Familia, Milenio, Arellano Félix, Juárez and Pacífico, during 2010.

That was the order of the Federal Institute of Access of Information and Data Protection, which added that this information must be broken down by criminal organization, date, state, and municipality, as the petitioner solicited.
It remains to be seen how that develops, but more information regarding the composition of the criminal groups and the government's attempts to combat them is always a positive.

More Signs of Trouble?

The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in Mexico ticked up to 5.44 percent in August, above both the 5.28 percent rate from July as well as the forecasts from analysts. Unemployment is typically a lagging indicator so this specifically isn't a sign of coming problems, but coupled with the downward revision of growth projections and the peso's slide in the past week, the climate is unsettled.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Drogba's Concussion Problems and Mourinho's Ramos Problem

The Chelsea striker on his recovery from the knock to the head several weeks ago:
"I was scared. I couldn't remember anything from after Norwich equalised until I was being rushed to hospital. I didn't know what was going on.

"But I'm really grateful to everyone who helped me, the stadium staff and the medics who calmed me down. They told me I'd been unconscious for between six to eight minutes.

"I've had some injuries before - I've broken a leg and arm but this was worse. I had concussion and a perforated ear drum which is why I needed time. I was feeling dizzy and needed to wait for my ear to heal.

"I couldn't cope with any noise, it was too noisy in my head and I wasn't allowed to fly because it was too dangerous.

"Not playing was frustrating, but I was lucky I was still alive and I knew it was only a question of time and I'd play football again."

That sounds pretty awful. And now, rumors of a Real rift:

Less can be said about Real Madrid, who after an attractive and energetic-looking start have suddenly fallen into the doldrums. Their draw up at Santander was a morale-booster for Hector Cuper's men but left the whole Madrid thing looking a bit on the soggy side. Conspiracy theorists point to the first rumblings against Mourinho from the players' ranks, with Sergio Ramos allegedly left on the bench because he dared to deviate from the manager's line last week regarding referees, cheating opponents and the slings and arrows of life in general. There are those in Madrid (Ramos is one of them) who do not buy into the new Madrid-as-victims gig, and Mou may have to be a little more careful in future. If he's bothered.

Winning a few games convincingly should quiet a lot of that, but you wonder how long such a polarizing figure as Mourinho can continue without winning some of the major hardware. If they come up short in La Liga and in the Champions League once more, and Mourinho continues to cry conspiracy while sending Marcelo and Pepe out to play a modified brand of rugby, will he last into his third year? I suspect not. Another reason to root for Barça.

More Promises of a Continuation of Calderón's Combat

Josefina Vázquez Mota:
If I am the candidate of the PAN, of course, I will offer no truce, no amnesty, no space for organized crime.

Friday, September 23, 2011

No Confidence in the Political Reform

Leo Zuckermann feels confident that nothing significant will happen, despite the flurry of renewed Congressional interest, because the party's won't do anything that significantly reduces their power:
Many years ago I declared myself sick of the much-talked about reform of the state. Today, with the Senate once again discussing the idea of changing the Constitution so as foster coalition governments, which sounds interesting, I reiterate: I don't believe the parties at all; I am sick of everything remaining in infinite discussions with no results. With that in mind, once again I bet that nothing will come of this initiative of coalition governments, much less now that it is quarter to 12 for this sexenio. Bets will be taken.

"Me Llamo Pat Corcoran López"

I finally saw Euforia last night, the Mexican movie in which the hero, played by Torreón's own Humberto Zurita, for some inexplicable reason, shares his name with your blogger, though he uses the nickname and adds López to the end. Still, a really odd coincidence, one for which I feel like I should be receiving royalties. The above phrase kicks off the movie, which was quite a thrill, but it mostly went downhill from there. Zurita was better as a kingpin/politico in La Reina del Sur than he was an aging rocker. Or maybe it's that he can handle playing Epifanio Vargas, but Pat Corcoran was a bridge too far.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

"Effective Institutions, not More Institutions"

Similar to Leo Zuckermann's, this take from Jan-Albert Hootsen on Calderón new federal agency is right on:
In his fifth ‘Informe’, Mexico’s equivalent of the State of the Union, President Calderón announced the creation of a new Social Attorney’s Office for Attention to Victims of Violence (Procuraduría Social de Atención a Víctimas de la Violencia). Amongst its tasks will be finding disappeared people and assisting the victim’s families.

This may sound like a good idea. Forced disappearance has become a scourge in Mexico since levels of violence, insecurity and impunity have increased dramatically during Calderón’s presidency. Last year alone an estimated 20.000 Central American migrants have disappeared on their way to the United States. Kidnapping has become big business for criminal groups in Mexico, often with brutal violence. Some gangs, such as the enigmatic La Mano con Ojos (‘The Hand with Eyes’) are almost exclusively focused on kidnapping and extortion. These are the kind of crimes that increase the perception of insecurity more than any other. The president is right to prioritize the issue.

However, it remains to be seen how founding yet another government institution can help. It is not the number of law enforcement institutions a country has, but the effectiveness of these institution that determine the success of law enforcement policy. And unfortunately Mexico is a star in the first and fails miserably in the second.

Down to Three Panistas, Officially

In announcing the end of his presidential campaign, Emilio González Márquez today made official what has seemed inevitable since he announced his ambitions to represent the PAN in the 2012 election: he will not be president.

Also, Ebrard is planning on leaving his job at the head of Mexico City's government on January 1.

Calderón's Contradictions

I have a new piece at Este País about the fundamental contradiction of Calderón saying he wants Mexicans to speak well of the country while he goes around trumpeting the need for his actions on organized crime. Read it!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

More Security Ideas from Creel

From Excéslsior:
With the absence on the monopoly of organized force to combat organized crime, panista Santiago Creel Miranda proposed the creation of a "Mexican DEA", a special and specialized agency that has the training, personnel, resources, and investigative system to combat the criminals.

This agency should be composed of elite elements from the army, the marines, the Federal Polic and four other governmental security institutions, operating beneath a unified civilian command that would be charged with directly combating organized crime, with 20 percent of the work being police-related and 80 percent investigative labors...
That actually doesn't sound much like the DEA to me. It's also the case that proposing hypothetical new agencies during a campaign is the easiest thing in the world to do, but neither the ideas nor the mere attempt to build the agency alone do much to improve security. I also think it's odd that he separates police work from investigative work. By police work, I imagine he means the sort of force patrols that the Federal Police and the army conduct, and he is right to de-emphasize that aspect of security.

In any event Santiago Creel seems to be the candidate who is generating the most ideas on security. I don't expect that to last, nor do I think the quality of the ideas is particularly astonishing, but that's where we are at this point.

Downgrading Expectations

Thanks to concerns about the US economy, the IMF's growth projections for Mexico have been downgraded from their more optimistic levels in June, from 4.7 to 3.8 percent in 2011, and from 4.0 to 3.6 in 2012.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

My Experience in Torreón

Longtime reader JD asked me to describe living in Torreón a few weeks ago, and aiming to be as responsive a blogger as possible, I accepted, and then did nothing about it for three weeks. Apologies for the delay, but this is a tough topic to write about. And not in the self-important sense of it bringing up a lot of difficult emotions, but rather from the standpoint of actually making it readable. On the one hand, you don’t want to come across as though you fancy yourself a survivor of Stalingrad just because your town got a little dicey. For the love of God, GET OVER YOURSELF PATRICK! At the same time, you need to have something for which it’s worth putting pen to paper; a simple, “I was kinda nervous for a while. The end.” doesn’t cut it. Quite the tightrope, you see, and I’m sure I fell off on a number of occasions.

Anyway, to kick things off...the first thing I would stress is that, again, my experience in Torreón was nothing like living through a war zone, or at least what I imagine that feels like. As a foreigner without much income or connection to the drug trade, I wasn’t anyone’s target, nor was I particularly concerned that anyone wanted to kill me. In that sense, I imagine that my experience was not unlike that of a law-abiding citizen in a rough American neighborhood, only against a more generalized backdrop of the government losing control of things everywhere.

It’s also worth noting that when I first arrived in Torreón, in 2005, it was Mayberry safe. There were 25 or 35 murders a year, in a city of between 500,000 and 600,000 residents, which gave it a homicide rate comparable to the average across the U.S., and much lower than many of the big cities. (By comparison, last year there were more than 300 murders in the city.) Beyond the murder rate, Torreón just felt really protected; I moved there from Chicago, and it was amazing to me how casual people were with their physical safety, especially with regard to being in certain neighborhoods and being out at nighttime. Throughout that time, the drug trade certainly existed, but it was very remote. Its local iteration was little more than another subject of gossip.

That initial tranquility made the subsequent decline seem all the more extreme. The feeling I always remember is how crime started encroaching on an ever-increasing number of activities starting in mid-2007 or so. It was like a virus invading healthy cells.

The first aspect of my routine that was directly affected was my social life. Stories about Zetas hanging out in certain bars began to circulate as of 2007. This made one a little nervous about bringing a girlfriend to those establishments, because who wanted to stand up to some asshole stranger hitting on your date when you don’t know who those serious-looking fellows to one side are. (Not me.) Then the bars started shutting down--because of extortion demands, according to the prevailing rumors. Eventually they --or more precisely, the people drinking inside them-- turned into targets. At that point, bars were no longer a part of my social life. There were still plenty of restaurants, and I had a seafood place around the corner from my house that I loved. But when the local cops started coming by to collect a payoff every other time I would hang out there, I stopped going. In fact, any restaurant where they served booze and I didn’t personally know the owner seemed a bit suspect, so I did little of that for the last two years that I lived in Torreón.

Stories of violence also steadily inserted themselves on everyday conversation. Every single party for three years featured some story of mayhem and/or powerful narcos. At work, such tales were water-cooler conversation. Every morning, someone had a friend or cousin who’d been threatened or whose best friend had been killed. One coworker once told me that she had driven past a human head while heading home from a wedding reception. Like the emailed warnings and grizzly reports that began to flood my inbox, this seemed a little far-fetched, but the growth of what I think you could call conversational violence porn was itself a symptom.

Throughout all of this time, the degrees of separation between the typical act of violence and me also began to shrink. First it was people driving by the murder scenes in which strangers had been attacked. Then it was the friend of a friend of a cousin of a friend. And then it was a student’s father who was taken away and never found. Or a coworker’s brother, who worked as a ministerio publico and who was murdered in his driveway. A second cousin of my wife was killed in the most brutal way imaginable, though it was not someone I’d ever met, nor someone she was close with. But crime continued to come closer. My sister-in-law suffered two car-jackings in the past three years; in the most recent, she had a gun fired above her head to scare her, and her boyfriend was beaten about the head with a pistol, though thankfully he was not seriously injured. And on and on it went, and continues to go.

The geography of the crimes also began to shift: initially, the spike in murders was limited to handful of neighborhoods. While these zones remained overly burdened by the violence, there were more and more episodes that were close to where I lived and worked. I drove by El Ferrie, for instance, every day; for months after it was attacked, there was a single shoe right in front of the patio where 30 or so people had been shot, a depressing memento indeed.

The fact that no one cleaned up the scene always struck me as a small yet telling failure of the local government; I was reminded of a piece in the Atlantic (I think) about the Israeli teams that cleaned up after suicide bombings in the Second Intifada. The details are sketchy several years removed, but the gist was the government made sure that the physical signs of bloodshed were removed as quickly as possible, so that life could continue normally. Israelis would drive by the afternoon after a bus was blown up, and there’d be almost nothing to suggest the violent loss of life just hours before. In contrast, the thousands of cars that would pass by the ex-nightclub on a daily basis would have this indelible reminder of the massacre staring at them.

There was also, unfortunately, a spike in crime right around my house. Most of it was petty theft; my wife woke up one morning to find her tail lights to her Beetle had been removed. Some neighbors had antennas stolen from their roofs. One was mugged for his wallet by a kid with a knife. The nice señora who ran the Oxxo down the street from me was held up at gunpoint. I walked in a few minutes after the incident, and she was visibly traumatized. It was the last time I ever saw her; her family took over the establishment after that. At one point, a kidnapping victim was released naked less than a block away from my home; upon seeing him, my wife and a neighbor came inside, somewhat scandalized, thinking it was just a crazy guy. They subsequently ventured back outside, at which point he was in the company of the local police, relating his experience.

But throughout this period, it wasn’t as though there was a palpable sense of terror or anything like that. There were a few moments when I was genuinely fearful, but they were stupid and baseless, always more the product of generalized anxiety boiling over. One of these was when a cousin of my wife’s knocked on the door unexpectedly. He didn’t stop by often, and he is a huge dude, and he was dressed all in black. Looking through the upstairs window, which only gave you a look at the back of someone at the door, I saw this big, unrecognizable dude banging away, and I don’t know why nor do I recall what I had been doing, but it just floored me. I realized it was he after probably two seconds, but I remember that I had a hard time speaking when I opened the door, like I’d hopped into a freezing river and was just recovering my normal breathing rhythm. And it was such a silly thing--he just came by to give us a party invitation. Lesson: I can be a big chickenshit.

Anyway, in summary...with every new development that made the city more dangerous or less livable, one adjusted, much like the frog in the heating water. It is just in retrospect that life in Torreón seems insane.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Dodgy Numbers on Organized Crime

New piece:

Peter Andreas, the co-editor of "Sex, Drugs, and Body Counts," a book released in 2010, makes the case that there is much reason for concern over the statistics that are used to measure the drug war. As he writes: “One DEA agent describes his desk job in the Latin America headquarters: ‘The other half of the job is makin’ up fact sheets and briefing papers -- you know, statistical bullshit, how we’re winnin’ the war -- so one of these clowns can go on TV or testify before Congress.’ When asked where he got the statistics, he laughed. ‘Outta yer head, where else?’”


Drug trafficking isn’t the only illicit industry where this lack of clarity and precision in estimates is a problem, though often the numbers are not just unreliable, but non-existent. There are no formal government estimates regarding the revenues of kidnapping and extortion, two of the crimes that most worry policy-makers and ordinary Mexicans. (Indeed, because both the victims and perpetrators have an incentive not to report the crimes, an informed estimate is probably impossible.) For other crimes, like pirate merchandise and smuggling undocumented migrants, current estimates fail to give a good sense of the nature of the industry.

Media and government reports suggest that these crimes have exploded in recent years, as has the involvement of the nation’s largest gangs. Yet beyond that general sense, little is known. Despite an ocean of statistics, a clear picture of the revenue structures for gangs like the Zetas and the Sinaloa Cartel does not exist, which makes it difficult to formulate a comprehensive plan to attack them.

Internal Migration

El Universal has had a couple of pieces in recent days about how insecurity in Mexico is driving internal migration flows. In super-safe Querétaro, six out of every ten people looking for work are from outside the region, and businesses from the North are also flowing into the state. And last week the paper reported that some 1,650 new businesses in Mexico City had relocated from the more violent regions in the North.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Guerrero on Extortion

Over at InSight, I have a comment on and a partial translation of Eduardo Guerrero's new Nexos piece on extortion. It's easily the most detailed look at the application of extortion in Mexico and why it is different from other crimes. (His piece, I mean, not mine.) From my comment:

There are a few of elements of extortion that distinguish it from drug trafficking. One is that it necessarily includes the periodic employment of violence. A successful drug shipment is moved without any bloodshed; the violence that the characterizes the industry isn’t a product of the criminal act in and of itself, but rather the smugglers’ reaction to things that get in their way. While it is true that in Mexico all of the known drug gangs are highly violent, other nations’ experiences show that it is possible to run a successful drug trafficking enterprise without relying too heavily on murder.

In contrast, extortion gangs can’t make money without a fearsome reputation based on a credible threat of punishment for those business owners who refuse to pay. Therefore, from time to time, successful extortion gangs will be obligated to demonstrate their willingness to burn the businesses or take the lives of those who don’t comply. The fire that killed 52 people in a Monterrey casino last month is just the most recent illustration, but there’s been an abundant supply of less deadly examples over the past several years.

Violence stemming from extortion also targets civilians (though not exclusively) rather than just members of opposing criminal groups. As a result, extortion presents a more direct threat to citizen security than drug trafficking alone. It also has a multiplier effect that makes extortion more harmful to the society at large, beyond the direct victims, than most other common crimes. Insofar as it targets the wealthy, extortion disincentives success and acts as an illegal tax on prosperity. Consequently, extortion is a burden on free commerce to a degree that most crimes are not.

Extortion thrives against a backdrop of lawlessness; if the victims of extortion schemes had confidence that the authorities could protect them, far fewer protection payments would be made. As a result of the generalized breakdown, smaller extortion gangs (as well as gangs specializing in bank robbery, kidnapping, et cetera) can proliferate and flourish. The rise of extortion is not just the product of the biggest illegal organizations in Mexico seeking new revenue, but also demonstrates the organic growth of a new criminal industry.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Symbolism in Juárez

The embattled border town, where the levels of violence have crept south this year though they remain extremely high, will have an Independence Day celebration this year, which was not the case last year. The slogan for the celebration: "No more celebrations under the bed".

/Obligatory ¡Viva México!

Is Ronaldo Really Such a Complete Asshole, or Is He, Bear with Me Now, Perhaps a Performance Artist Whose Arrogance Doubles as His Masterpiece?

Think about it as you read this:

The former Manchester United winger went on to highlight jealousy as the reason why he feels he is often singled out by opposition players.

He said "I think it's because I'm rich, handsome and a great player. They envy me - there's no other explanation."

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Fix the PGR First

Leo Zuckermann captures my instinctive reaction to the news that Calderón announced the creation of a federal agency specializing on attention to victims:
...I think that the priority must be to strengthen, for once and for all, the Justice Department (PGR). Because the results from this institution are lamentable. At least in cases of politicians allegedly linked to organized crime. Whereever you look, the PGR has an awful record. Of the 12 mayors from Michoacán who were arrested just ahead of the mid-term election in 2009, all of them are free today. All of them. The 12 exonerated because the PGR, according the judges, did not manage to prove collusion with criminals.

[Break, in which he talks about Greg Sánchez and Jorge Hank Rhon]

These are the most conspicuous cases. Who knows how many there with people with a lower profile. I'm afraid there are many. And what is the point of arresting alleged criminals if the judges release them because of the poor actions of the PGR's prosecutors? There is none. Above all for the victims and their family members that don't feel justice has been done because the authorities are incapable of winning prison sentences for the criminals responsible for the existence of said victims.

If the goal is to help the victims, the priority should be to strengthen the PGR. To have ministerios públicos capable of keeping criminals behind bars. True, the president announced earlier this year that he was going to "deepen the clean-up and strengthening of the PGR. We will do so with an intense program that seeks to increase the capability of the personnel in the Policía Ministerial, and, of course, the federal Ministerios Públicos." Let's hope. Even though there is just one year left of this government.
In other words, good news, but a bit of a sideshow.

Odd Knock on Barcelona

From Soccernet's Champions League preview:

FLAW IN THE MAKE-UP: Guardiola has been fortunate to have Messi, Iniesta and Xavi fit and available on a consistent basis throughout his time as Barca boss, but we have yet to discover whether his side would continue to thrive amid an injury crisis.

I grant you that Messi, Iniesta, and Xavi have not all been simultaneously laid low by a bout of staph infection [furiously knocking on wood], but the latter two have both been limited by injuries at different points over the past two seasons, and Messi did miss a few weeks at the beginning of last year for the ankle problem. But more to the point, how about the defense? Two backline starters were out for basically the second half of last year. Two oft-used substitutes (Maxwell and Adriano, who was actually a regular starter by then) also went out for the year toward the end of the season. A pair of holding midfielders were given significant time at center back, with Mascherano starting in the Champions League final. There were essentially three healthy backliners on the roster for that game, with one of them just returning from cancer surgery. If that wasn't an injury crisis, I don't know what is.

Monday, September 12, 2011

New Reading Material

Miguel Carbonell is a very good columnist and penal reform is an important topic and Este País typically runs quite insightful stuff, so even though I haven't yet read it, I feel comfortable recommending Carbonell's long piece on penal reform from Este País.

Words That You'd Perhaps Rather Not Read of the New Ambassador to Mexico

From the Washington Post:
In interviews with The Washington Post, Wayne’s tutors at the day-long briefing described him as “the diplomat’s diplomat,” who did more listening than revealing. One participant offered, “He asked smart questions.” Another said, “He didn’t seem to know a lot about Mexico.”
He sounds like the W of diplomacy! Although maybe a blank slate is a better fit here. In any event, the job is probably given greater weight than it has in practice.

Provocative Conclusion

From Jorge Zepeda Patterson, a column titled "Bin Laden Won":
But the principal victim of that war [on terrorism], regardless of how fictitious it was, is the US itself. The Tea Party of today, the fundamentalism of the political right, the radical opportunism of Fox News can't be explained without the ascent of that hateful narrative and the fear generated by the necessity of a war in which the enemy had to be invented.

Ten years after the attack on the towers the US is a more divided country, with greater unemployment, growing social inequality, with a government in crisis, a worldwide leadership in full decline. Something was broken in the American soul in deeper and more violent way than those beloved and admired towers.
It's always worth seeing what others say about us, but this is, as I often find to be the case when Zepeda Patterson digs into American conservatism, not a particularly nuanced or astute analysis. There is no question that the reaction to 9-11 included some horrible mistakes (namely torture and the invasion of Iraq), but it's not clear that those will be long-term additions to the American way of life. They will remain horrible blemishes, but if we don't invade any more nations on the shakiest of premises, then the idea that 9-11 left scars that turned the US into an unrecognizable monster doesn't hold up nearly as well.

Furthermore, many of the symptoms he mentions aren't closely related to the war on terror. The Tea Party, for instance, is much more a product of the economic crisis, or more accurately, the response to it. Greater unemployment has virtually nothing to do with 9-11. And in general, the conservative mood today is much more animated by economic concerns than security threats, and the conservative mainstream has also been drifting rightward in fits and starts for half a century. In short, even on 9-11, not everything is about 9-11, though the NFL seemed to disagree.

More Fast and Furious Details

This account from one of the gun dealers involved in Fast and Furious is worth a read. In particular, it is striking to see a gun dealer taking a far more cautious approach to gun control than the ATF:
In the fall of 2009, ATF agents installed a secret phone line and hidden cameras in a ceiling panel and wall at Andre Howard's Lone Wolf gun store. They gave him one basic instruction: Sell guns to every illegal purchaser who walks through the door.

For 15 months, Howard did as he was told. To customers with phony IDs or wads of cash he normally would have turned away, he sold pistols, rifles and semiautomatics. He was assured by the ATF that they would follow the guns, and that the surveillance would lead the agents to the violent Mexican drug cartels on the Southwest border.

When Howard heard nothing about any arrests, he questioned the agents. Keep selling, they told him. So hundreds of thousands of dollars more in weapons, including .50-caliber sniper rifles, walked out of the front door of his store in a Glendale, Ariz., strip mall.

He was making a lot of money. But he also feared somebody was going to get hurt.

"Every passing week, I worried about something like that," he said. "I felt horrible and sick."


Howard recalled that a chubby, bald and "very confident" man named Jaime Avila walked into the store on Jan. 16, 2010, and bought the AK-47s. Under the Fast and Furious protocol, agents were supposed to use the video cameras, surveillance, informants and law enforcement intelligence to follow the weapons and hope they led them to the drug cartels.

But no agents were watching on the hidden cameras or waiting outside to track the firearms when Avila showed up. Howard faxed a copy of the sale paperwork to the ATF "after the firearms were gone," assuming they would catch up later. They never did.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Peña Nieto's Empty Applause Line

There was lots of attention to Enrique Peña Nieto's final informe speech this week, especially the line, "Let there be no confusion. Mexico has a clear project, which is contained in its political Constitution. What is missing is an efficient state that can make it a reality, that will put it into practice in the daily lives of all Mexicans."

Of course, Peña Nieto, over the course thousands of words, offered very little indication of how he intended to create that efficient state, or even what that means. The above may or not be a good political line, but that kind of meaningless hokum and mindless reverence for the past posing as something profound makes me want to kick something. (Of course, that goes for a lot of politics.) A constitution is a legal framework, not a governing agenda. Does the constitution tell us how to boost Pemex's production or to remove the government's reliance on it? Does it tell us the ideal tax regime for Mexico over the next five, ten, and 20 years? Does it explain how to structure the police given the present constraints and challenges from organized crime? Does it give us a clue as to how to make Mexico a developed nation over the next fifty years? No, no, no, and no. For virtually all of the pressing questions in 2011, the answer is no. Politicians seeking important offices should fill that void with their own ideas, provided they have some. Does Peña Nieto?

Friday, September 9, 2011

Cabinet Surprise

The departures of Ernesto Cordero and José Ángel Córdoba to run for, respectively, the presidency and the governorship of Guanajuato was not much of a shocker, but Guillermo Valdez being sent to Spain to make room for Alejandro Poiré at Cisen was less expected. Poiré has turned into one of the most prominent administration voices on security over the past year or so, and he's heading to what I'd say is the security agency with the lowest profile, so it'll be interesting to see how that plays out.

What Targeting the Zetas Looks Like

Earlier this year, there were reports that Calderón government had formally made the Zetas their top priority. And then the Casino Royale attack occurred, which furthered the logic that the Zetas as the most dangerous gang. The formal (though off-the-record) recognition likely means something, but it remains to be seen what, exactly. Over the past few years, the group seemed to have the de facto recognition from the government that they were the biggest threat, and officials often said as much, but it more in an offhand sort of way, rather than as the organizing principal of their policy. In short, it wasn't quite clear how this was going to change the government's approach in practice.

But the marines' mass arrest of 80 Zetas in Tabasco and Veracruz, which form part of the gang's stronghold, suggest that there is a genuinely intensified effort to reign in the group. This investigation, which resulted in more arrests and seemed significantly more sophisticated than what you typically see from the military, follows last week's arrest of 31 Zetas in a cell operating out of Hidalgo, another state where the Zetas have long been dominant. So we'll see if this keeps up.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Shocking Confession

So Qatar is willing to put a dollar amount on the bribes paid to win the 2022 World Cup? Wow, didn't see that coming.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Persistence of the Violence in Mexico

From Jorge Fernández Menéndez, writing last week:
It's politically incorrect to declare, before a tragedy of this size, that the criminal groups have become weaker. But it's true: in all of the cartels, the operational level of the high-ranking and intermediate capos that really run the business and even the groups of gun men, that the chiefs of these organizations formed over the course of years have weakened with the killings and the arrests, In some cases the bosses have fallen and figures of second or third level have taken control of the cartels, which has happened with many, for example, the Zetas, the Familia, or the the Barbie. In each of the, the norm has been the incorporation, in the most overwhelming form imaginable, of young gang-members, simple members of common crime that suddenly have turned themselves into gunmen or operators of organized crime.


Why doesn't the violence stop then? Because the local police don't combat crime, neither the organized nor disorganized versions. Because the two criminal realms of fused, the police (in some cases co-opted, corrupted, in others, fearful) simply have refused to fulfill their role.
That point about the fusion of common and organized crime is right on, and it's a point I don't think is made nearly often enough. It drastically increases the threat to the regular population, for two reason: first, the common criminals have more ability to intimidate the local business owners who in the past would have told the 17-year-old extortionist to piss off. Now, said business-owner thinks twice, because who knows if the kid is backed by the Zetas. He (or she) may suspect not, but he is likely not willing to bet his business, not to mention his family's physical well being, on that hunch. And second, the petty crimes that are now the province of the Zetas (among others) by their nature affect civilians a lot more. He goes on to draw the conclusion that a unified police command, with the municipal departments reorganized under state control, is the only exit from this morass, though I remain skeptical. It's not as though the state police are a model of honesty.

I also think Fernández Menéndez doesn't pay enough attention to the fact that as the violence increases, the reasons for it, ultimately hope-inspiring though they may be, matter less and less. In 2007, the idea that the grizzly news from Michoacán was an unfortunate side effect of a necessary process was a lot easier to swallow for most Mexicans. But at a certain point, as a resident of Juárez/Torreón/Monterrey/Reynosa, you stop caring that the violence is a sign of an otherwise optimistic development. The generally positive sweep of Mexican history, the idea (unverifiable, to be sure) that Mexico will be safer in 2025 because of Calderón's actions today, mean nothing compared to the murder of your neighbor, or the closure of all your town's nightclubs, or whatever symptom you like. This phenomenon, of course, depends on how close the violence is to you, but as it expands and encroaches on an ever-increasing number of people, that explanation loses force.

The Josefina Consolidation?

A new poll in Milenio shows Vázquez Mota with a 19-point advantage over Santiago Creel (46.5 to 27.4) in the race for the PAN nomination. Ernesto Cordero lags behind with 12.9 percent.

Vázquez Mota had a nine-point edge in the same poll last week; such a big jump suggests that this might not be the most reliable sample, but she probably got a boost from the news stories about her resignation from the Chamber of Deputies, and, in any event, the trend is going her way. The one criticism lodged by political professionals at the PAN contest was that it was taking far too long to determine a single or a couple of favorites, which meant that the party was going to be playing catchup, with its opponents much further along in the process. If others polls continue to track toward Vázquez Mota, that problem should disappear. It will also be interesting to see if we see some movement in the voter preferences that have tilted overwhelmingly toward Peña Nieto now that he seems to have an identifiable rival (as opposed to a generic PAN candidate and AMLO or Ebrard). Peña Nieto has a huge visibility edge over Vázquez Mota owing to his position and his marriage, but that advantage will certainly start to ebb now, so I think we will soon get a better sense of how enduring his support is than we have had up to now.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Unexpected Stat

I'm not sure which is stranger: that a Spanish team featuring Xavi Hernández and Andrés Iniesta would be unable to achieve 50 percent possession, or that such a result would come against Liechtenstein.

Kleiman's Scoring System

In addition to a drastic reduction in American drug demand, Mark Kleiman's security proposal for Mexico is based on a sophisticated scoring system that, coupled with attempts to put the worst offenders out of business, would change the incentives guiding the drug trade. He writes:
The Mexican government could craft and announce a set of violence-related metrics to be applied to each organization over a period of weeks or months. Such a “scoring system” could consider a group’s total number of killings, the distribution of targets (other dealers, enforcement agents, ordinary citizens, journalists, community leaders, and elected officials), the use or threat of terrorism, and non-fatal shootings and kidnappings. Mexican officials have no difficulty attributing each killing to a specific trafficking organization, in part because the organizations boast of their violence rather than trying to hide it. At the end of the scoring period, or once it became clear that one organization ranked first, the police would designate the most violent organization for destruction. In this case, “destruction” might not mean the arrest of the organizational leadership, as long as the targeted organization came under sufficiently heavy enforcement pressure to make it uncompetitive.
Even overlooking his inattention to Mexican security agencies' inability to implement any strategy competently, which is a far more important obstacle than the difficulty in properly identifying the most violent gang, I see a number of problems with the scoring scheme.

The first is that Kleiman seems to be operating with the idea that the gangs in Mexico are well defined entities, and that the 500,000 or so Mexicans who live off the drug trade are full-time employees of one or another of the big six. To a large degree, this is not the case; that half-million people is organized more into a series of loose federations and patterns of alliances, which are constantly in flux, especially the further down the food chain you go. He refers to the six big organizations as though there were some formal distinction bestowed upon these groups. I'm not sure which six he has in mind, but I think you could easily make a case for eight dominant organizations (Sinaloa, Gulf, Zetas, Beltrán Leyvas, Juárez, Tijuana, Familia Michoacana, Caballeros Templario, though I imagine he is ignoring Tijuana and considering the latter two as a single group) that have significant production or smuggling or territorial-control networks (or all three), and there are scores of upstarts (CIDA, South Pacific, La Mano con Ojos, et cetera), local gangs (these groups aren't as famous, but I remember Los de la Casa del Cerro in Torreón, for example), and enforcer groups that have varying degrees of autonomy from their ostensible bosses (La Línea, Los M, many, many others).

This murky reality makes it a lot harder to positively identify one of the big six with the crimes. Are the killings in Durango, a product of the Sinaloa Cartel, or are they a product of different sects of Gente Nueva targeting each other? What about two rival narcomenudista bosses in a Zeta-controlled town, who pay their quota but aren't part of the organizational structure, killing each others' hoppers? Are those attributable to the Zetas, even though they have nothing to do with Lazca's ambitions and they could be occurring regardless of who was in control of the town? Related to this, how much confidence should we have in the Mexican government to positively determine who is behind the killings? Kleiman writes that "Mexican officials have no difficulty attributing each killing to a specific trafficking organization", but that's quite a sweeping assertion that he doesn't back up in the slightest. Sometimes there is a note attached, but my impression is that far more often there is not. Sometimes there is a logical suspect; often, however, the killings remain shrouded in mystery. I don't know the proportion of the killings in which the federal government would be capable of assigning blame, but it's worth noting that this is a country where 98 percent of all crimes remain unpunished, and where the federal government, which is the most competent level, is unable to secure even a trial for 70 percent of the people it arrests, to say nothing of a conviction. That certainly cuts against the notion that the government always knows whose behind a murder.

A second problem is that such a method of determining policy would leave itself open to manipulation by the very gangs that the government seeks to combat. For instance, if Chapo wanted his rivals to come out with the largest number of killings, he could just send 100 poor, ill-armed saps to Veracruz, and also let it be known who are the wardens who are taking money from Sinaloa so as to make life hard on La Línea in Chihuahua jails. All of a sudden, his enemies would be the authors of a handful of crimes that would make their score higher. I think the idea is that the scoring system would impose a race toward better behavior by the gangs, in order to avoid government attention. But if you think about it from the perspective of the clever gangster, it could just as easily spark an ever-escalating series of provocations.

Or how about the inevitable result that Chapo et al would spend their millions buying off the people who determine who is responsible for a given murder? A trustworthy score of technocrats working from Los Pinos would not alone be able to make much sense of 15,000 murders; a dependable scoring system would require lots of local knowledge, which would, in turn, create many juicy targets for corruption, and make the scoring system far less reliable even on its own terms.

Another problem relates to the policy-makers' understandable desire to remain flexible. Such a system could certainly be a guide to government policy if used internally, but I can't imagine a president wanting to tie himself to the results of a publicly available scoring system ahead of time. What if the metrics seemed logical beforehand, but then they told you that the Cártel de Jalisco Nueva Generación was Mexico's biggest threat? In other words, what if it became obvious halfway through the process that the system was crap? (Is anyone else reminded of the BCS?) The government is then tied to something that it no longer believes in. Perhaps there real-world examples that refute my conclusions, but it's hard to believe that a politically competent president would voluntarily subject himself to the possibility.

And this is not just a matter of insufficient commitment; a president should want to remain flexible. A scoring system devised in 2007 would almost certainly have placed little emphasis on extortion, but today, I'd say that's among the most important crimes plaguing the nation. Organized crime groups in Mexico are quite flexible, and there's no way a president could know now what will be the most dangerous element of their behavior years or even months ahead of time. I guess you could just constantly tinker with the system, but then this would undercut this sense of objectivity and empirical certainty, which is presumably what appeals to Kleiman to start with. Although it remains unclear to me why Kleiman thinks that the reasoned judgment of the professionals who have dedicated their careers to analyzing and combating organized crime is insufficient, which is probably the most fundamental flaw behind the proposal.

Kleiman certainly is right that the goal needs to be a less violent pattern of behavior from the Mexican groups, and that a reversal of the incentives driving the violence today is necessary. But I don't think the program he lays out is capable of engineering that switch.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Rising Violence in Edomex

From Milenio:
Despite the fact that Mexico State authorities assured that the capture of Óscar Osvaldo García Montoya, El Compayito, leader of the criminal organization La mano con ojos, removed from society one of the "most dangerous gunmen in the country who would have done a great deal of harm", since then the number of executions [killings related to organized crime] has spiked in the cities bordering the DF.

According to the tally of Milenio, from July 1 to August 10, which is to say, 41 days, in the State of Mexico there were 37 executions.

Nevertheless, from August 11 (the day in which El Compayito was captured in Mexico City) to September 3, when the discovery of four corpses abandoned in the neighborhood of Santa María Chiconautla, in Ecatepec, was reported, there have been 46 executions in this period of 24 days.
This is too short of a time period to make definitive statements about the impact of capturing capos, but it, along with a number of other cases, does refute Alejandro Poiré's somewhat odd argument from earlier this year that arresting capos actually limits the violence. If I were in the Calderón government, I would concede the point that violence typically does go up in the short term, but try to pull the time horizon back as far as possible. The argument is that a sustained campaign against the Compayito's of the world will eventually lead to a safer Mexico, but we are talking a decade or more. In other words, it's not the arrest this capo or that one that will make a difference, but rather the continuing process of arresting capos that will eventually lead to lower levels of violence.

Of course, this being true is contingent on a number of other factors (principally, in my opinion, a vast improvement in the capacity of Mexico's institutions), and all of that probably wouldn't play too well with a public eager for some good news now. But it would be closer to the truth.

Wise Man Fox?

More on Vicente Fox's column here later today, but the title of the column in which he outlines his plan for a truce with the drug gangs requires immediate mention: "Invitation to audacity."

My oh my.

US Seeks Milenio Readers as Citizens

This ad has been running for at least the last several days on Milenio's website.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

What to Read Tomorrow

Fox has a piece coming out in El Universal where he details his plan for a truce. Among other issues, I'll be interested to see if he addresses whether he operated under such an agreement in his presidency. Also, in an interview with the Argentine paper La Nación, Fox denied that murders increased during his presidency, said that the attack on Casino Royale was not a terrorist act, and said that the army was regularly guilty of human rights violations. All of these assertions contradict recent statements from Calderón to a certain degree.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Corruption and Institutional Decay in Nuevo León, as Witnessed by the US Consulate

From Excélsior:
Municipal and state police in Nuevo León are roughly 50 percent infiltrated by drug cartels, the US consulate general in Monterrey informed the State Department, the DEA, the FBI, the Commerce Department and the other US consulates in Mexico two and a half years ago, according to a diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks.

"The lucrative drug-trafficking routes in the state of Nuevo León are controlled by the Golf/Zetas Cartel, with the exception of the wealthy suburb of San Pedro, which is under the control of a wing of the Beltrán Leyva cartel", says the document dated March 4 2009.

Where Calderón Is To Blame: Economy

Schettino finds less blame on this issue:

On the economic side, for practically the entire sexenio we have suffered pressure from abroad: since mid-2008, and the immense subsidy to gasoline and diesel the rest of the year. Later, the financial crisis that in its diverse manifestations remains with us and will continue the final year of the government. Against these foreign pressures, the Mexican economy doesn't have tools. The corporations of the old regime have become independent from the system and defend their privileges with all of their power: oligopolistic businessmen, union and campesino leaders all erect obstacles for the country and continue extracting rents from the rest. It's not possible to approve a labor reform that opens spaces for competitiveness; a reform of the Law of Competition was passed, but the judiciary made it useless with a series of injunctions; the privileged have dug their trenches and are defending themselves.

Meanwhile, commentators stuff their mouth criticizing the uselessness of the president. Heck of a favor we do for a country that cannot construct a political regime. But it's conventional wisdom that everyone who has access to the media must insult the president and the Congress. Well, no. If we do have a future, it won't come from that comfortable position, but rather the effort to find feasible exits with the few and poor tools that we do have. For this government, and those to come.

Won't Someone Rid Me of This Troublesome Party President?

Leo Zuckermann on Peña Nieto's options with regard to Moreira:
Literally and symbolically, Moreira has turned into a liability for the PRI's presidential campaign. He adds little and could potentially subtract a lot. Because for Peña to become president he will have to present himself as a figure of a new, modern PRI, different from the authoritarian version, that has learned to govern in a democracy; that, absolutely, doesn't commit the same abuses of the past, like those that Moreira committed in Coahuila.


If Moreira is removed, Peña will minimize one of the most harmful attacks that will come during his campaign, that of "an old dog doesn't learn new tricks", but he will run the risk of alientating all the PRI politicians who are seek protection given the abuses of power they have committed in their states. In contrast, if Moreira remains at the head of the PRI, Peña would leave a very dangerous flank open during the presidential campaign, but he will keep calm the priístas who are willing to help him in exchange for his subsequent protection from the presidency.

Friday, September 2, 2011

What's With Spain's (Relative) Decline in Form?

Eduardo Alvarez says:

The national team indeed felt the consequences of this energetic renewal of the Madrid-Barcelona rivalry. The four consecutive derbies at the tail-end of last season, overhyped and played in an extremely charged atmosphere, have taken their toll in the hitherto successful and harmonious squad. David Villa and Alvaro Arbeloa barely speak to each other after their fight during the Copa del Rey final. Despite Sergio Ramos' efforts during Spain's summer tour, most Real Madrid players still refuse to accept Gerard Pique as one of their own team-mates in the national side. Xavi Hernandez still can't come to terms with the fact that Villa, his protege for both Barcelona and Spain, has suffered several dangerous fouls at the hands of his fellow Spain internationals when they have donned the Real Madrid shirt.

Although the summer tour seemed to have calmed the waters to some extent, the Supercopa final then stirred things up again brutally. Marcelo's challenge on Cesc Fabregas at the end of the match and the subsequent bench-clearing brawl only heightened the ill feeling among the internationals from both teams. Skipper Iker Casillas, initially incensed by what he thought was another instance of diving from Barcelona, re-watched the match, reflected on Marcelo's tackle and decided to call a truce by talking with Xavi and Carles Puyol. That he decided to leak these exchanges to the press got him in trouble with his coach and Real Madrid's media department, but it proved that someone finally had realised the risk of failing to deal with this abnormal level of tension between players on the same national team.

I love that everything changed when he watched that tackle: "Oh shit, that was a horribly dirty challenge. Sorry boys, I take it all back!"

Anyway, Chile has a two-goal lead on Spain through 20 minutes in today's friendly.

Where Calderón Is To Blame: Security

On the occasion of his penultimate informe, Macario Schettino writes:
Although organized crime has always existed, the advances it has achieved against a diminished state (without a regime) is evident. What Calderón should be criticized for is not having decided to confront it, but rather having erred in the target. It's not drug trafficking that is the fundamental problem, but rather the exercise of violence against the society, which is to say, the intention of organized crime to contest with the state the monopoly on violent. That's Calderón's error, which will have to be corrected. But whoever wants to do it will confront the same problems as the current president: fractured, captured institutions, lacking in human and financial resources, distrust from the society, a culture of illegality, and add it all up.

One Other Point from that Mitofsky Poll

When not given an option and asked to spontaneously choose their preferred candidate for the presidency, just 3 percent of the survey named Ebrard. How did that happen? He has (more or less) successfully governed some 8 percent of the electorate for five years, he has far fewer negatives than many of his rivals, he performed very well in probably the scariest crisis in recent Mexican history (swine flu), he has been one of the three most recognized public officials for almost five years, and he has been transparent about his ambitions since 2008 or so. The electoral process isn't over with and this is just one poll, but he looks to be moving in the wrong direction, and has enormous obstacles in front of him, despite all the advantages listed above. So, seriously, how did this happen? Aguachile?

New Attack on Journalists

Two employees of Contralínea, which has done some quite good reporting on organized crime in recent months, were found dead in Mexico City. This is unusual in that it is usually local papers in rough areas where reporters are targeted, not national magazines based in Mexico City.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Ruin Your Argument Before You Even Start the Piece

Here's the headline from a new Grantland piece:
Why We Should All Be Rooting for Notre Dame
Unless they are playing the Al Qaeda all-stars, the only fitting follow-up is, "We shouldn't."

Zuckermann on Extortion

From earlier this week:
It is, absolutely, one of the crimes that most affects the society and the well-being of the nation. Furthermore, typically it generates disproportionate violence as criminals need the publicity to make themselves credible. Violence as cruel as what we saw last Thursday in Monterrey. After what happened in Casino Royale, what business wouldn't pay?
That sentiment seems to be growing, for obvious reasons.

Incidentally, the figures for extortion are all over the map. One report I've linked to a fair amount pegs the number of complaints at 50,000 in 2008 alone. However, a new report from Excélsior says that there have been 24,000 criminal complaints over the course of the sexenio. Than there are studies like this one, which tosses telephonic extortion attempts in with the rest, that place the number of extortion attempts at well over a million annually. They all seem to be in agreement, however, that the trend is heading upward.

Disagreeing with Fox

Reiterating past opinions, here's why Fox's comments (and ED Kain's, for that matter) that Mexico needs to pact with the drug gangs are off.

More on Josefina, Santiago, and Ernesto

Mitofsky also has Vázquez Mota with a lead in the contest for PAN nomination, though with a mere four-point lead over Creel. Cordero checks in with just 7 percent of voter preferences, though this is before Lujambio, who had 10 percent, bowed out. Whatever the case, the road for Cordero looks impassable.

Ciro Gómez Leyva agrees, and described the options for the finance secretary as follows:
[Cordero] can kick aside the folder full of polls and come out shooting for the nomination with the probabilities severely against him. Or he can play his cards, which are significant, in favor of Creel or Josefina. If he and Emilio [González, the other remaining panista in the race] choose one of the two, the candidacy is defined. If they opt for Josefina, they will run over Creel two to one. And vice versa.