Friday, October 19, 2012

La Maestra Leading the SEP?

I've been paying more attention to non-Mexico topics lately, thanks to The Man, but I did see earlier this week that Leo Zuckermann tossed Elba Esther Gordillo's name out there as a potential Secretary of Education. It made for an interestingly provocative article, one whose point was certainly not pro Gordillo --it was more, Make her put her money where her mouth is-- but of course that would be a giant kick in the stones to anyone interested in Mexico's educational system, which is to say, Mexico itself.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Messi Speaks

Interesting interview here with El Pais. Highlights:
P. ¿Cuál es el partido contra el Madrid que más recuerda?
R. Recuerdo todos los que ganamos. Es lo más lindo, ganar al Madrid, por la trascendencia. Es un equipo buenísimo. Quizá me quede con la semifinal de la Champions allá, por lo que significaba.
P. Y, al parecer, meter goles a Casillas. ¿Le cae mal o qué?
R. No, al contrario. Tuve suerte y en los últimos clásicos pude marcar. Ojalá siga así. Iker es un grandísimo arquero, uno de los mejores. Le he metido goles, pero me ha parado muchas, muchas. Es muy bueno, muy rápido.
P. ¿Los partidos con el Madrid de Mourinho son especialmente duros?
R. Cada partido es diferente. Todos son duros. Contra el Madrid, por lo que significa, por la capacidad de sus jugadores, se hace más duro, pero ya todos son duros. Al Granada hasta el minuto 85 no pudimos hacerle un gol, contra el Spartak casi perdemos. Es cada vez más difícil. Queremos atacar y nos cierran atrás todo lo que pueden... Venimos jugando así hace tiempo. Los rivales lo saben y nos buscan el punto flaco. Si tienen suerte y cogen una contra buena, igual Valdés no consigue pararla y con muy poco te complican la vida. Y cada vez va a ser peor, más complicado.
P. ¿Qué admira del Madrid?
R. Me gusta mucho jugar en el Bernabéu. Es un gran club con una gran historia.
P. ¿Del equipo de Mourinho?
R. El Madrid, a la contra, te mata. Tiene delanteros rapidísimos y la conexión defensa-ataque dura cinco segundos y es gol. No le hace falta jugar bien para meter tres goles. Tiene muchas situaciones por sus jugadores, que son muy buenos. Yo tengo la suerte de conocer bien a Higuaín y Di María. El Pipa no aparece, toca dos pelotas y te hace dos goles. De la nada el Madrid te hace un gol.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Very True

Will Leitch makes a point that is so obvious that it hardly bears mentioning, yet sadly it is:
We have a Today-show culture that covers box-office grosses like they're sports scores, like they're numbers that clearly delineate winners and losers in every possible way. (When I interviewed Spike Lee, a common question people wanted me to ask him was, "Why don't your movies make more money?" as if there was something wrong with him for not being Michael Bay.) If Looper existed solely to win its opening weekend, it would be called Bad Boys 3 or, maybe Hotel Transylvania, I guess. [Looper] is a movie that attempts to do something different and intelligent and emotional while still remembering to entertain. If it doesn't do well this weekend, it will be because of a failure of marketing, not production. That the two are very often the same thing is the only thing worth caring about.
In fact, I'd say that thanks to Grantland's fixation on turning pop culture into a competition, the above viewpoint is actually losing ground.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Two Takes on Barça

The first: this team has 15 points in five games, despite playing really well just twice, and playing outright poorly twice. (The Valencia game was in between.) The Osasuna and the Granada games would have both been losses last year, which is a big part of the reason they fell short in La Liga. (Madrid was great last year, but they also caught late-in-game breaks where Barça often didn't.) And their biggest rivals are eight points back, and look as though a collapse upon themselves is entirely plausible, if not likely. Messi is scoring goals every bit as furiously as during his record-setting pace set last year. They picked up a pair of nice transfers, and, assuming a regression to the mean following a dismal spell of injuries last year, they should remain healthier this year. If they can pick up 15 points playing the way they have thus far, when they inevitably kick things into gear as the season carries on, they'll be in great shape.

The second: the backline is a shambles, with their two best options for central defense out for several weeks and two natural mid-fielders starting starting in their place. When Xavi is out, the offense doesn't run. When Iniesta is out, the offense doesn't hum. The offensive reliance on Messi is worse than ever, with Alexis, David Villa, and Pedro all unable to find the net with any consistency. And now Messi is (uncharacteristically) bitching at Villa on the field, in plain view of the cameras. They have played badly in four of eight competitive games this year (the vuelta against Madrid, the two games mentioned above, and the Champions League opener), and a month into the season is too advanced for these to be mere reflections of kinks that will be inevitably ironed out.

Not sure which I find more convincing. I sure am glad about that eight-point margin though.

Violence Is Not on the Rise

Alejandro Hope makes that case here. He makes a lot of points worth reading, if you speak Spanish and are in the middle for some technical info, but this closing line is my favorite, for obvious reasons:
2011 fue el año de la masacre de San Fernando, de las fosas de Durango y del Casino Royale. Este año hemos visto muchos horrores, pero hasta ahora nada de esa escala.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Time for Cesc to Earn His Fee

No Iniesta against Getafe, and Messi starts on the bench. This will be interesting, but something tells they'll pull it out. It just makes too much sense for Barça to drop points; they'll win today and tie against Granada at home. Cesc Fábregas has gotten a lot of heat for his lack of production, which in some senses in unfair: he is the same player he was at Arsenal, and as great as he is, such a player doesn't fit as well in the crowded attacking third of Barça's lineup. That shouldn't have been a big surprise, and indeed it wasn't to a lot of people, but given the 40 million they shelled out for him, Cesc's inability to become a key contributor is a bit unseemly, even if it's not quite disappointing (at least not to me). 

Part of the problem is the simple lack of opportunities: Cesc's minutes typically come at the expense of Iniesta or Xavi, which is to say, Barça is usually worse with him on the field than it would be with an alternative. Inevitably, this means more cameos and fewer chances. That problem is solved today, and hopefully he can take advantage.

But another problem is that Fábregas just doesn't seem to be perfectly in-synch with a lot of his teammates. Iniesta and Xavi have been hurt enough to give him consistent playing time in the middle of the field (at least periodically), but even then he's never been brilliant. (I suspect he would look better without Messi on the field, a theory that will be put to the test today; however, if there's any truth to it, Fábregas's future at Barça is pretty much hopeless, so let's just put that aside for now.) There was an interview a few weeks ago in which he explained the lukewarm reviews to as follow:
When Guardiola retired, Xavi had a tough time. No one understood his game well and he was criticized. Now he's one of the best players in Barça history. People take a while to get accustomed. With Iniesta something similar happened.
On the one hand, the call to not overreact (which was emphasized throughout the conversation) makes complete sense, but the idea that the problem isn't his game but the fans' perceptions is jarring. Perhaps that's just a rationalization that's easier on the stomach than the alternative: "I'm good, but compared to the group here, I guess I'm not quite that good." Maybe it was just an empty thought that filled the space in the interview. But it's an odd explanation, nonetheless. He's essentially saying, "I'm different, I'm English (in style though not nationality), settle down, you'll get used to it." But he's the one searching for a place on the one of the best teams ever, a team with a very distinct approach to the game. It's a philosophy he should know well, given his upbringing, and he's been there for more than a year now. If it's a matter of styles clashing, Fábregas is the one who needs to give ground, not the fans. If a resolution is only a matter of patience, fans shouldn't have to wait a year and a half.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Coss is Caught

Mexican Marines captured Jorge Eduardo Costilla Sánchez, leader of the Gulf Cartel, in Tampico yesterday. He looks appropriately unhappy, unlike some other recent captures:

I tend to think this is bigger news than does Boz. The Gulf Cartel may not be the force it was ten years ago, but it is plenty active in one of Mexico's most violence-riddled regions. Indeed, Gulf gunmen and kidnappers have never stopped operating in Tamaulipas and Nuevo León. Plus, given all the recent upset among the Zetas leaders, this is one more jolt of instability rattling the region. As always, it's impossible to predict exactly what kind of impact this will have, and under present circumstances, it's even more difficult than usual. However, I do expect it to have a significant effect on the Northeast.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

The Future of the Left: More of the Same

This week, Bajo Reserva published a column on Ebrard's definitive break with AMLO:
LO SIGUIÓ durante una década, le pagó con creces el apoyo con el que lo impulsó a la candidatura para la jefatura de Gobierno del DF (bueno, hasta contratos irregulares le extendió a su círculo cercano). Se hizo a un lado cuando se debatió la candidatura presidencial. Pero Marcelo Ebrard inició ayer su deslinde de Andrés Manuel López Obrador con una frase impecable: la ley me obliga a respetar la decisión del tribunal federal electoral. No faltarán los fans del tabasqueño que le quieran cobrar a Marcelo lo que estimarán una afrenta. Como sea, es el principio del fin entre ambos personajes.  
I guess it depends on what you mean by definitive, but I don't think this marks in any way a break with the dynamic that has held Ebrard back lo these many years. (Or at the very least two years or so.) That is, Ebrard didn't break with AMLO in the past not because the time hadn't come yet, but because AMLO retains veto power over a divided left. He can call it a break now, but AMLO's power is still such that Ebrard won't enjoy the support of a united left unless AMLO decides to cede it to him, and there's no evidence that he will. To wit: Bajo Reserva and other sources have also reported that AMLO was considering forming his own party. Essentially, Ebrard would be able to take over the PRD, but he just won't be able to win the presidency with it as long as AMLO refuses to step aside.

Nothing lasts forever, and six years is a long time in politics, so it's certainly not a given that AMLO will spike Ebrard's chances in 2018. Nonetheless, knowing what we know about the principals, the scenarios in which this doesn't happen are less plausible than the ones in which it does.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Cross-Ideological Similarities

Here I examine an unfortunate similarity between the GOP and the AMLO wing of the PRD:
Con esto en mente, yo diría que mis preferencias políticas, como las de muchos ciudadanos, se determinan principalmente por el disgusto. Es decir, más allá que una consideración afirmativa de cuáles propuestas servirían mejor, me dejo guiar por las prácticas políticas que más molestan.
Y curiosamente, la misma tendencia que más provoca mi rechazo político proviene, en Estados Unidos y México, de partidos ideológicamente contrarios. Me refiero al desdén para los hechos verificables, el desinterés en las opiniones de los expertos, y la idea de que no existe una verdad que no esté subordinada a las narrativas políticas, para usar o ignorar o manipular según la conveniencia del momento.

Esta tendencia de elegir en lugar de aceptar la verdad es una característica desde hace mucho tiempo en el partido republicano, que se manifiesta tanto en la campaña de Mitt Romney como en las propuestas de la agenda. Es el partido que ignora toda la lógica y evidencia relevante e insiste que recortar los impuestos incrementa los ingresos gubernamentales. Busca un regreso al patrón oro, un anacronismo monetario que desapareció hace más que 40 años, pese a que la mayoría de los economistas importantes dirían que es buena idea. Los republicanos son los que rechazan el cambio climático y la lógica de los estímulos keynesianos, pese a un consenso científico contundente en contra de su posición. (En cuanto al Keynesianismo, no me refiero a los que dicen que el estímulo aprobado en 2009 fue mal diseñado o que no alcanzó lo prometido, que es un argumento perfectamente defendible, sino a los que afirman que incrementar el gasto gubernamental no tiene un impacto positivo a corto plazo en la actividad económica.


En México, existe algo parecido de un sector político, pero no es la derecha sino una parte de la izquierda que no quiere aceptar los hechos. El problema es un poco diferente en México, pues este uso selectivo de la verdad no se trata principalmente de posiciones políticas, sino de las reacciones a las derrotas electorales. Igual que la elección presidencial del 2006 o la elección interna de 2008, estamos viendo que la corriente de AMLO tiene poca capacidad de imaginar un revés electoral, aún cuando uno se le ha presentado. Así que enfrentando una verdad dura o inconveniente, no la acepta; la anula a través de acusaciones exageradas o hasta inventadas, como la historia de que Agustín Carstens falsificó documentos para esconder pagos recibidos por Luis Videgaray; o con narrativas maniqueas y poco relevantes, como la justificación de AMLO que “las instituciones están secuestradas por la delincuencia de cuello blanco.”
Given that the circumstances for each party's selective truth-accepting are so different, it may come across as a bit of a stretch, a sort of manufactured link for the purposes of writing something. I promise that's not the case! For what it's worth, I actually think AMLO's tendency is far less problematic, because it pops up only periodically (that is, after a lost election), whereas a systematic disregard for truth affects policy prescriptions for the GOP to a far greater degree.

Getting out of the Game

I have a new piece about an interesting new study here:
The factors they uncover are not particularly surprising, but though they may seem commonplace, Mexico’s crime strategy often suffers from a lack of consideration of the incentives driving the principal actors in the drug trade--i.e., the criminals themselves. Unfortunately, such obstacles are highly personalized and individual, so while the government could make more resources available to fund transition programs, it’s not clear that there are any obvious policy choices that would remove or lessen the barriers for thousands of traffickers, especially at the federal level. Instead, such a transition would seem to be better encouraged and managed as close to the trafficker as is possible, so as to tailor the efforts to his specific situation.

In any event, adopting a wider lens, Campbell and Hansen close their study with a call to sponsor ex-trafficker support groups, and provide the philosophical underpinnings of a more socially sophisticated drug policy:

“[H]arm reduction policies need to address the seductive appeal of trafficker images in Hollywood and pro-cartel narco-media...and the embeddedness of trafficker identities in dense webs of family, community, drug-using circles, gangs and cartels, and the larger society, such that traffickers may stop selling drugs but not fully get out of the game. Thus, policies affecting ex-traffickers should go beyond individuals in isolation (the atomized trafficker) and address the interlocking socioeconomic structures, cultural values and systems of ideas that push and pull traffickers out of the game and make it hard for them to stay out. Moreover, policies should be considered vis-à-vis the ways traffickers actually view their own lives.”
 As far as the study's authors, Howard Campbell has an interesting book on the drug trade here.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Madrid Deals

Real Madrid's big-spending path to trophies is an easy target for teasing and distaste. There's a lot that's worrisome about it, and of course there is much that is odious about the current iteration of Los Blancos, but, as this Sport article purporting to tease Madrid demonstrates, one thing that gets lost is that they have made a number of really shrewd signings. Particularly, Marcelo for €6 million, and Ozil, Higuaín, and Khedira for €10 million are rather astute fichajes. Especially Ozil: after the 2010 World Cup, after four seasons in the Bundesliga with Schalke and Werder Bremen, how did they pry him loose for so little? Maybe this photo has something to do with it:

Wow. That is something. Anyway, obviously, Kaká for €65 million is quite something else, as is Lass for €20 for that matter. But there has also been a lot of wisdom in Madrid's signings in recent years.

New Material

Here a couple of pieces of mine from last week on Honduras and El Salvador. I am broadening my horizons ever so gently. And temporarily: here's a piece about Mexico's Federal Police in light of last week's attack. Here's the close:
According to many analysts, the heavier reliance on the military in recent years is a mere stopgap, with a revamped and newly competent federal police the eventual replacement for the armed forces that are today operating in a domestic capacity. Throughout his presidency, Calderon has also embraced this logic, even as he deployed tens of thousands of soldiers to all corners of Mexico. By expanding the size of the agency, giving it a larger budget, and making the SSP’s boss Genaro Garcia Luna one of his most trusted advisers, the president has bet Mexico’s future security on an expanded role for the federal police.
Yet as Calderon reaches the end  his six-year term in office, the federal police seems far from being a reliable nationwide replacement for the armed forces. Consequently, the deployments of the soldiers and marines are to continue indefinitely even after Calderon exits his post on December 1. The day when the armed forces can focus exclusively on foreign threats remains well beyond the horizon.
Also, here's a piece about the growing ambitions of YoSoy132. Highlights:
Por supuesto, esta decisión ha inspirado reacciones muy fuertes (véase la emoción de John Ackerman aquí), pero visto objetivamente, un camino no es mejor que el otro, sino presentan riesgos y ventajas distintas. Lo positivo es que vincularse a las demás fuerzas de oposición les amplía el terreno político y les da más posibilidades de influir en otros aspectos del debate público a los líderes de #YoSoy132. El cambio en las políticas públicas se logra a través de la política, por más sucia o desagradable que sea, y los grupos que buscan mantenerse fuera del ring se imponen a sí mismos límites muy fuertes a sus logros. De cierta forma, #YoSoy132 está cambiando el uniforme del árbitro para el del jugador, lo cual le ofrece más oportunidad de influir el resultado del juego.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

This Is Kinda Funny

Hopefully the Bimbo bread somehow translates into an end of the poor road form. Also, this was a good piece from Michael Cox about Radamel Falcao.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Peña Nieto's Reforms

Leo Zuckermann has a column about the reforms that Peña Nieto will be pursuing, and this portion seems particularly worrying:
Todo indicaría entonces que, en diciembre, una vez que Peña se ciña la banda presidencial, se apruebe la reforma laboral. Pero no. Ahora resulta que comenzará a discutirse hasta febrero. ¿Por qué?

Me temo que la respuesta tiene que ver con algo que sospechábamos antes de la elección: hay muchos priistas que les disgusta la agenda modernizadora de Peña porque afectan sus intereses. Cuando a principios de año entrevistamos al hoy candidato ganador le preguntamos eso: ¿cómo haría para promover una agenda reformista si dentro de su coalición electoral tenía a elementos que se oponían a ella? ¿Podía un Presidente priista, por ejemplo, promover una reforma laboral que afectara los intereses de sindicatos que militan en el PRI?
I don't know the details of the labor reform, so it's hard for me to comment specifically on that proposal, but the underlying dynamic is unfortunate. Macario Schettino has written about how more than party dynamics, the real division in Mexico is Revolutionaries (i.e., those who retain privileges from the old regime) vs. reformers, a face-off that transcends party lines. I'd say we're looking at a pretty good example of that.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Chasing Chapo

Here's my skeptical take on the Pentagon's efforts to send a Seal team after Chapo Guzmán. Highlights:
Lo más importante es que, al parecer, hay una sola fuente mexicana detrás del artículo, y él se esconde bajo el anonimato. Los autores escriben que “Fuentes militares en México y Estados Unidos confirman la existencia del plan…”, pero no citan ni un solo oficial estadounidense, así que no podemos poner su confirmación en contexto ni saber a qué grado llega. (Es decir, puede ser cierto que se ha discutido, pero lejísimos de ser aprobado.) No identifican ni una sola fuente gabacha, así que es imposible saber si es un personaje de confianza que lo ha confirmado. Identifican al mexicano como parte de la “alta jerarquía”, pero tampoco nos ofrecen pista alguna de su ubicación institucional. Teóricamente, hubiera sido posible llegar a la noticia a través de cualquier coronel que le guarda rencor a Felipe Calderón (que en el artículo sale como el gran proponente del plan). Claro, también es posible que su fuente sea Guillermo Galván, pero sin saber quién es y cuantos eslabones quedan entre él y los protagonistas verdaderos, y sin ver la información confirmada a voz alta por otras fuentes, es imposible poder evaluar su veracidad. El anonimato opaca todo.

Una respuesta es, “Obviamente nadie en el Pentágono va a querer hablar con Proceso”. Quizá, pero la verdad es que lo dudo. Muchos mandos militares y asesores en temas de seguridad nacional se caracterizan por cautelosos y aversos al riesgo. Seguramente, la consideración seria de un operativo arriesgado en un ámbito donde no hay ni una gota de conocimiento institucional habría despertado esta precaución entre los funcionarios estadounidenses. La carrera del periodista Seymour Hersh demuestra que, cuando estos personajes perciben políticas peligrosamente imprudentes, no están ajenos a la filtración mediática. (Si quiere un ejemplo, véase este reportaje del 2007, sobre planes secretos de lanzar un ataque contra Irán; pese a ser un tema bastante delicado y clandestino, Hersh logra citar a varias personas distintas.)

De todas formas, las normas periodísticas existen por una razón. Puede que los reporteros hayan descubierto algo muy importante, pero también puede que un solo oficial mexicano con agenda propia esté filtrando información exagerada o hasta falsa. Al publicar una nota tan explosiva, no puede haber ni una duda de que éste último sea el caso. Si eso quiere decir que algunas historias no se publican, ni modo; mejor perder algunas noticias jugosas que arriesgar la publicación de tonterías. No estoy diciendo que lo de Proceso es una tontería, pero la verdad es que en la gran mayoría de los periódicos y revistas de buena reputación, una acusación anónima lanzada por una sola persona no llega a la publicación.

No me sorprendería que existiera un plan en los corredores del Pentágono para lograr tal objetivo, pero hay muchísima distancia entre la existencia de un plan y la realización de un operativo. Existen planes por un sinfín de planes de contingencias improbables, desde un ataque nuclear contra Corea del Norte a una defensa de Polonia de una invasión rusa. Incluso existe un programa para diseñar aves mecánicas capaces de pasar desapercibidos en cualquier rincón del mundo; hay otra que busca elaborar una droga que elimina el sueño sin dormir. Eso no quiere decir que las Fuerzas Armadas están preparando un ataque contra Corea del Norte ni mucho menos que el colibrí afuera de su ventana realmente lleva una cámara conectada al Pentágono.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

A Red Flag

I'm not sure if anyone has mentioned this element of the Proceso piece on the Pentagon's plans to send a SEAL team for Chapo, and I'll have more on it later, but this can't be emphasized enough: there is evidently only a single, anonymous person willing to be quoted for the piece. They say American and Mexican sources confirmed it, and maybe that's true, but as far as we can tell from the quotes and paraphrases, we have one person, about whose job functions we are given no detail (they only say that he is from the "alta jerarquía"), who is behind this piece. No direct confirmation nor context is ever offered from a Pentagon official, nor even from other Mexican officials. I'm not saying the reporters are wrong, but that should raise alarm bells.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Chicharito Should Be One Angry Little Pea

It's ironic that this is the picture accompanying many of the Van Persie articles this summer, because, my, he is emphatically not a young striker, even beyond the cold reality of his 29 years. He was phenomenal last year, but 24 million for a guy with that much gray hair and that injury history is a lot of cash.

The Van Persie signing is also, of course, a bit of a bummer for Chicharito. The formation that Ferguson adopts will be key to determining if he's a super-sub or forgotten entirely (more here), but absent injuries, it's hard to see him figuring even as much as he did last year, forget starting the Champions League final. Price tag aside, it's hard to blame Ferguson for bringing in a player of Van Persie's quality, but what a pisser for Hernández. He was forced from the Olympics by Ferguson on the pretense that he needed a full preseason to ready himself for the season, the unspoken message being, Sacrifice the Olympics, it will pay off for you in the season. It's not that Ferguson owes anyone anything other than his best efforts to make the team successful, and nor could he be sure ahead of time that he would wind up with Van Persie, but Hernández missed out on a Gold Medal to get in top shape for a team for whom he'll be lucky to start a dozen games.

Stuff I've Written, Others Have Written

Here are my last two posts from Este País: one responding to Paul Ryan being named to the Romney ticket, another about the middle finger toward the rest of the world evident from both sides of the campaign. In the former, I particularly enjoyed translating John Nance Garner's famous assessment about his post into Spanish:
Típicamente, el candidato para vicepresidente importa muy poco para la elección de un presidente estadounidense. Hay excepciones, la más famosa siendo Sarah Palin en 2008, pero si los candidatos estuvieran acompañados por burros en lugar de aliados políticos en sus giras por el país, el ganador no cambiaría en la mayoría de los casos. Y si pesa poco en la campaña, el puesto importa menos aún después de la elección. En las palabras vívidas de John Nance Garner, vicepresidente de 1933 a 1941, el puesto “no vale ni una cubeta de orina tibia”.
And from InSight, here's a piece/excerpt about/from a new book from Diego Osorno, which deals with the rise of the Zetas. Here's a piece from Elyssa Pachico about the Calderón government's decision not to publish data regarding murders related to organized crime, and here's a translated piece from Alejandro Hope about the recent wave of violence. Dig in!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Footballing Ego

Alexander Netherton has a new column about the growing importance of ego and selfishness in European soccer, which promises a lot because it slams Ronaldo for being a princess and John Terry for being a tool, but it is ultimately unconvincing. Much of what is wrong with the article is evident in this passage:
A man less obsessed with cups perhaps than his own Google page-rank, Hazard of course elected to join Chelsea in the end, but only after a full two days of incessant Twitter wibbling. Which self-respecting club would allow a player to announce his choice on Twitter rather than the relative dignity of a press conference?
Eden Hazard may be the second coming of Ronaldo, and I didn't follow his "Twitter wibbling" (at least, I don't think I did, but since I'm not quite sure what that is, I can't be certain), but how is an announcement on Twitter inherently less dignified than a press conference? Indeed, as LeBron versus Durant shows, a simple Tweet offers the potential at least for sidestepping a mountain of pretentious self-importance. Netherton also uses the Spanish national team's purported self-promotion as evidence of the same phenomenon, which is really odd. The claim by some that there is a moral superiority to the Spanish approach could certainly be grating, but the system itself is anti-ego. The team is not built around a superstar, and no one player is categorically more important than the rest. How many different Spaniards were arguably man of the match during the six Euro 2012 contests? At the very least, Alba, Iker, Iniesta, Xavi, and Xabi Alonso qualified in one of the games. Much more so than Barça, it's a team of variable individual greatness, and it has been throughout their run. It strikes me as an inherently anti-individualist approach.

I can only imagine that football players have been pretty much the same since the game turned into a truly global phenomenon, which I guess you could date to the post-WWII era. I mean, Maradona is second to no earthling in terms of ego, and he arrived on the scene more than 30 years ago. In David Winner's fantastic book Brilliant Orange, Johan Cruyff comes across as a Picasso. There's nothing new about people like Ronaldo. Characters like that are built into the fabric of international football. The only thing that is really new about the modern era is the way's in which players communicate their ego and their selfishness.

Friday, August 10, 2012

For the Gold!

Last year, as Mexico prepared to face off against the US in the Gold Cup final, I wrote:
Of course, the defeated opponents named above are not an impressive lot. The US is, as always, a stiffer test, but even a win in the final in the Gold Cup on enemy turf doesn’t count as a concrete achievement so much as a potential frustration to be sidestepped. If Hernández and the rest can’t lead el Tri to something more substantial than a Gold Cup trophy over the next decade, that will indeed qualify them as underachievers, and Mexico will be right to be disappointed.
I was basing my judgment on the current 23-25-year-old generation, which includes Carlos Vela, Andrés Guardado, Pablo Barrera, Giovani Dos Santos, and, of course, Javier Hernández: compared to previous generations, those cats are something. Since that article was published, Mexico has won the under-17 World Cup, finished third in the under-20 World Cup, won the Pan-Am Games, and, of course, plays for a Gold Medal tomorrow morning. It's been quite a year or so, sullied only by the prostitute-laden disaster in the Copa América, which, prostitutes aside, was a B-team up against some of the best squads in the world. But more than the results, the striking thing is that the composition of these successful teams has been tremendously varied. The quintet mentioned above has collectively appeared only once in the four post-Gold Cup tourneys mentioned (Dos Santos in the Olympics, whose final he'll unfortunately miss with injury). The long list of vital contributors to all of these teams, from Ulises Dávila to Carlos Fierro to Jorge Enríquez to Oribe Peralta to Jesús Corona, in addition to Hernández and co., reflects not so much a single great generation punching above its weight (from whom as much success as possible must be wrung before the inevitable regression to the mean), but rather a nation that seems like it is ascending to another cruising altitude. And, of course, the US needs to step up to keep pace.

Also, if Mexico wins tomorrow, over a Brazilian U-23 (plus some helpful vets) team that is not far from the best squad the country can currently put on the field, that certainly qualifies as more substantial than the Gold Cup, and could probably be counted as the most significant victory in the nation's history.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

On the Zetas' Future

Alejandro Hope had a post on the rumors of a split between the two principal Zetas bosses earlier this week, which is, as always, worth your time. Highlights:
  1. La atomización tiene muchas rutas: con este, serían ya dos los ejemplos notorios de escisiones en grupos criminales, que no tienen como prólogo inmediato la captura o abatimiento de un capo de primer nivel. El ejemplo anterior es, por supuesto, la ruptura entre el Cártel del Golfo y los Zetas en enero de 2010 (salvo que se quiera contar como causa de ese hecho la captura de Osiel Cárdenas siete años antes, pero me parece que eso sería jalar la cuerda de más). Esto significa que, si bien la política de decapitación puede producir una atomización de las bandas delictivas, claramente no es la única causa que puede provocar divisiones violentas. Esto debería provocar una revisión de las teorías que ubican a la decapitación como motor principal de la violencia: no es que estén mal en sí mismas, pero probablemente no sean suficientes para explicar las complejas realidades del submundo criminal.
  2. El tamaño eficiente de las bandas criminales es (tal vez) más pequeño de lo que pensábamos: los Zetas han estado en fase expansiva desde hace algunos años. Es posible que el crecimiento acelerado los haya llevado a toparse con pared: la mayor notoriedad probablemente les generó más presión externa, produciéndole con ello dificultades crecientes al liderazgo para mantener el comando y control sobre la estructura de la organización (las mantas con mensajes cruzados tras la matanza de Cadereyta parecerían una señal de ese efecto). Asimismo, no es imposible que se haya relajado la disciplina interna, multiplicando las traiciones y delaciones. Si en efecto se dieron esos fenómenos, no es extraño que se haya producido una ruptura en el primer nivel. Pero, de ser el caso, podría tal vez existir un techo a la expansión de los grupos criminales: pasado cierto umbral, tal vez sea inmanejable una organización delictiva (al menos en el contexto mexicano), volviendo inevitables los conflictos y las escisiones.
  3. No es lo mismo extracción de rentas que tráfico ilícito: una de las características principales de los Zetas es que, según se sabe, dependen mucho más de la extracción de rentas (el robo, el secuestro, la extorsión) que sus rivales de Sinaloa. Ese hecho podría generar juegos de suma cero dentro de la organización: la renta que captura uno de los líderes es renta que pierde el otro (si la gente del 40 extorsiona un negocio, ese negocio ya no le puede generar ingresos al Lazca). En cambio, es posible que el tráfico ilícito se preste más a juegos de suma positiva: todos pueden ganar con un mismo embarque de drogas (uno porque la produce y otro porque la contrabandea). En ese sentido, es posible que las organizaciones traficantes tiendan a ser más estables que las organizaciones extractivas. Nótese que esto es especulación, pero creo que es una línea de investigación sobre la cual valdría la pena profundizar.

Duopoly Safe

I met someone from Málaga this summer, and I congratulated him (audibly) on the upward trajectory of his hometown club and myself (silently) for finding a La Liga fan in the DC area. I was surprised to see that he wasn't feeling all that good, despite besting its best finish in the Liga table by four spots and earning a Champions League spot for the first time ever. Obviously, they were a long way from Real and Barça, etween Manuel Pelligrini, Santi Cazorla, Jérémy Toulalan, rumors of a Giovani Dos Santos signing, and, not least, the ownership of a fat cat from the Qatari royal family, but the evidence definitely argued for optimism.

Maybe he knew something I didn't, because this summer has been, to say the least, a bit disappointing. First, there was the lack of rumors of big-fish purchases, a la Cazorla last summer. But a run through the headlines from As any one of the last seven days or so, complete with lawsuits by players for nonpayment and stories about crises of liquidity and rumors that the sheik is on his way out, should make malagueños pine for the days in which a subpar transfer season was the worst of their worries. To wit:

The bottom right headline is particularly jarring.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Transfer Market Peculiarities in Bilbao

One more point on the Barça-Bilbao negotiations for the latter's Javi Martínez: I think Phil Ball wrote in Morbo about how the transfer-market pricing for Bilbao shakes out differently than for most teams, because of the limited player base. (Bilbao doesn't field non-Basques.)  There are roughly 3 million people in all of the regions designated as Basque for purposes of eligibility for Athletic Club Bilbao. There's not another Javi Martínez among that population, and there won't be one for at least a few more years. And even if there is, Bilbao probably has him anyway, or could potentially scoop him up from Sociedad or another regional team, regardless of whether or not they sell Martínez. The obvious logic of selling your most popular players is that if you get a good price you can reinvest and increase your stock of assets --i.e. a powerhouse squad like Milan selling their two best players in a single summer, both of them in their prime or close to it-- but if you can only pull new assets from such a limited population, that logic falls apart. Bilbao could collect $100 million for Martínez, but they can't turn that into a more talented team, at least not in the short run. Which makes you wonder, wouldn't a Bilbao player always be overpriced?

(Aborted?) $40 Million Transfers

Barça evidently doesn't want to spend $40 million on Javier Martínez, which seems like a wise decision. I'm assuming they see him as a guy who can swing between center back and defensive midfielder, but they already have a guy like that who is among the best in the world at both (Mascherano), so, given the youth of Piqué, Mascherano, and Busquets, it's essentially $40 million for a guy who will be a second-best utility option. I don't want to be unfair to Martínez, who's a great and versatile player, and you can make the case that last year show's that Barça could stand to spend a lot more on back line depth, but that's a lot of money.

Also, evidently Real is easing their way toward Tottenham's $40 million asking price for Luka Modric. I'm sure Mourinho has a plan for him, but as with Martínez, it'll be interesting to see where they play him as well. It seems like he could replace Ozil, Alonso, or Khedira, though in the latter two cases the formation would have to change a bit, as his skills don't match up. But it's hard to imagine a first-team Real squad that doesn't have Ozil, Alonso, and Khedira anchoring the midfield. Modric could play wide, or I guess they could experiment with Ozil moving out wide as well. Or the two could kind of shift back and forth, the way Iniesta often starts as a winger but spends most of his time in the middle of the field. But again, their first team will almost assuredly consist of Benzema/Higuaín, Ronaldo, Ozil, Di María, Alonso, and Khedira. As such, $40 million for Modric as a backup or an insurance policy is insane.

In summary, it's quite a luxury to be able to contemplate $40 million investments for complementary players.

Savaging Savages

Here's by brutal review of Oliver Stone's new movie by Lilián López Camberos. Highlights:
Hagamos una película de narcos, debió pensar Oliver Stone. Hagámosla realista. Habrá descabezados y  mensajes intimidantes, como en los cárteles. Sangre. Explosiones. Persecuciones. Hackers que hackean golpeando furiosamente un teclado. Habrá humo de marihuana y entonces la cámara se alejará, la imagen se distorsionará, nuestros actores pondrán ojos de beatitud, sumidos en la pacheca, como en la vida real. Además, como es de narcos, tendremos a Demián Bichir y a Salma Hayek. Y a Benicio del Toro, que no es mexicano, pero qué bien le salen los mexicanos (piensa Oliver Stone). Y sexo, sexo desenfrenado, sexo entre tres incluso, pero como un acto de amor. Todo eso tendremos.

Pero Savages, cómo pudo anticiparlo Stone, es un fracaso. Parte de una anécdota que por sí sola es poco verosímil (chavos fresas en Laguna con negocio sustentable de marihuana enfrentados a un cártel poderoso) y luego pretende desenvolver el conflicto como si éste fuera posible, como si dos chavitos que fuman marihuana recreativamente pudieran enfrentarse –tener la oportunidad de hacerlo– contra un cártel sanguinario.


Ahí es donde Savages, además de churro dominguero, es deshonesta. Retrata la violencia del narco (decapitaciones, torturas), asumiéndolos como los salvajes que, en su infinita hipocresía, se escandalizan con el mènage a trois de los gringos, pero termina presentándolos como una bola de pendejos. Eso son para Stone: mandan mensajes violentos con imágenes de víctimas, que sin embargo no son las víctimas de los receptores del mensaje. Además, los mandan por internet. Por internet. Lo tecleo de nuevo: por internet. Con tonaditas del Chavo del Ocho.

Savages es, además, obsoleta. Pensé que ya habíamos superado la idea folklórica de la reina de cártel. Pero no. Y para que quede claro: se llama la Reina Roja. Y es Salma Hayek. Hablando spanglish, usando pelucas, viendo películas de Pedro Infante. Un cliché. Si a Oliver Stone le interesa tanto el narco, si respeta el tema tanto como pregona, ¿por qué no se molesta en inventarse un jefe de cártel creíble, duro, estratega, curtido, desalmado hasta donde es necesario, un hombre que ha perdido todo y lo ha creado de nuevo?

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Halfway through 2012, and Another Capo Falls in Guerrero

I had a piece earlier this week summarizing a report from Eduardo Guerrero Gutiérrez's Lantia Consultores on organized crime-linked murders through the first six months of 2012. Highlights:
The murder rate has dropped in these two notorious cities, but violence stemming from criminal feuds has dispersed to neighboring towns. Monterrey’s fortunes have improved, but the violence in many nearby areas, such as Cadereyta Jimenez and Juarez, Nuevo Leon (not to be confused with the more famous Juarez, in Chihuahua), has grown far worse: the number of killings linked to organized crime in these places were 87 and 60, respectively. In Cadereyta Jimenez, the discovery of dozens of bodies in May was an outlier event that could skew the perception of the overall level of violence in the town, but the murder rate in the city has grown significantly even discounting this incident.
In Chihuahua, two states to the west of Nuevo Leon, a similar dynamic appears to be at play. The decline in bloodshed in Juarez has been more than matched by an uptick of 165 murders in Chihuahua City, the state capital which lies just a few hours south of Juarez. As a consequence, Chihuahua has become the city with the third highest number of murders in the country.
On the state level, both Chihuahua and Nuevo Leon saw decreases in murders in June, and much of the violence seems to have transferred to Coahuila, which lies between the two. Torreon, Coahuila’s biggest city, which is a few hours drive from Monterrey and Chihuahua City, witnessed more organized crime-linked killings than any other urban area in Mexico in June, with a total of 83. In the first six months of the year, the city was the site of 275 executions -- the sixth-highest in the country). This is a jump of 104 from the previous six-month period, giving it the country's third-largest increase in killings.
Criminal violence has long been bubbling up in Torreon, and the city has suffered a series of highly publicized criminal acts in recent years, including a gunfight last August outside a stadium that brought a soccer game to a halt as players and fans took cover. However, the current level of violence is unprecedented for the city of some 600,000 people. Should Torreon stay toward the top of the list of murders and executions, it would represent the culmination of a years-long trend that would reshape the map of violence in Mexico.
Also, I saw this note from Milenio not long ago that tagged the number of total murders in Juárez during the first six months at 952. The same article says that state authorities place the number of murders in Juárez during the same period at 653. Wow, that's a huge difference! Although both show a sharp decline from the same period last year, with the army showing a drop from 1, 642 and the state placing the corresponding figure for 2011 at 1,322. So does the army just start counting on January 1 with a base figure of 300, or is the state just really bad at counting dead bodies? I'd be interested in a detailed explanation; the Milenio note merely offers the following:
Los números son más bajos debido a que la autoridad civil registra los asesinatos de manera distinta, según la fiscalía. 
Manera distinta, you say? Yeah, no kidding. 

More conflicting pieces of the number stew: the National Public Security System has a five-month total for all of Chihuahua of 1,031, which, given the number of violent areas that are not Ciudad Juárez, would seem to be irreconcilable with the army stats. The tally from the city's Mesa de Seguridad is a mere 481 through five months, which makes you suspect that the Mesa's counting techniques are poor indeed.

Also, here's a previous piece on the arrest of the leader of Guerreros Unidos, yet another gang to emerge in Guerrero in recent years.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Mexican League Kickoff, and the Return of Nery, Efraín, and Pablo

It seems like the Mexican apertura starts off at an earlier date every year. Here we are, July 20, and a pair of games are scheduled for this evening. The European powers are just starting their North American swings, the Olympics are weeks away, the British open just teed off yesterday, the MLB All-Star game was only last week, and NFL teams are yet to report for training camp, and yet here Mexico goes with its rite of the fall. In short, summer has barely even started, but I'm happy for any sporting diversion, so no complaints.

Here's a new piece of mine about the return of a Mexican footballer from Europe generally, and the specific challenges faced by three such players this coming season. Highlights:
Of course, all players get old, and many greats have also put the final touches on their career in their native leagues. Ronaldo (the chunky Brazilian one), Maradona, Juan Sebastián Verón, and Ronaldinho, among many others, came home after shining in Europe. Verón was twice voted the South American footballer of the year and won the Copa Libertadores in his dotage; Ronaldo made headlines for running around with a transvestite hooker (I’d call it a win for both.) Even Leo Messi, who arrived in Barcelona at the age of 12, has mused about returning to his youth team, Newell’s Old Boys, back in Rosario at the end of his playing days, a move that might cause Catalonia to break off into the sea.

Yet the homecoming is typically bittersweet for Mexican players, for a number of reasons. Most obviously, there is the question of attention: there are relatively few Mexicans in Europe, which magnifies those who do make the jump across the pond. (In contrast, according to one tally, there are some 600 Brazilians in European leagues.) The Mexican league is also a cut beneath its counterparts in Brazil and Argentina. In Verón’s case, playing for Estudiantes may not have been the Serie A, but winning the Copa Libertadores represents quite a comfortable consolation (not to mention still playing well enough to start for Argentina in the World Cup).

There’s a certain uniformity to the Mexican pattern that is absent elsewhere. While many fabulously accomplished Brazilians come home for a victory lap, a significant handful have not: Roberto Carlos last played in Dagestan, Rivaldo still suits up in the Angolan league (!), Bebeto finished his career in Saudi Arabia, and Cafu retired as a member of AC Milan. The best African players are rarely lured back home—Didier Drogba is now playing in China, Samuel Eto'o lines up for Russia’s Anzhi Makhachkala. Americans often return from Europe, but the quality of American-bred players and the MLS has been so fluid over the past decade and a half that there is no real set pattern. A return from Europe in the twilight of a great American footballer’s career provokes relatively little interest, if only because it hasn’t happened that often in the MLS era. We’ll see if that remains the case when and if Clint Dempsey comes home.

 In Mexico, it all plays out with an almost stifling sense of predetermination.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Mexico Needs a Curt Flood. Or Perhaps Just a Renegade Owner.

Hérculez Gómez, an American striker currently suiting up for Santos Laguna (and how!), gave an interesting interview to the Spanish newspaper Marca about the "pacto de caballeros" in the Mexican league that basically screws free agent players. The way Gómez explains it, even being without a contract, the various owners basically have an understanding that they won't sign free agent players without the consent of their previous team. That is, the previous squad has to negotiate the release the player in order for other teams to sign him, despite the fact that they don't have him under contract. That would be infuriating for the player, and makes little sense from the standpoint of a self-interested business, i.e. the team that would like to swoop in for the free agent. It would seem that any good businessman from outside the Mexican old boys club would disregard the pacto, but I guess that's why they make sure that only caballeros are given teams in the Primera División.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012


This headline appeared earlier today in El Universal:

The gist of the story is not that Chapo Guzmán and the rest are moving into software startups --though would that necessarily be a bad thing?-- as the headline sort of implies, but rather that independent of the software industry, there is ever more Mexican gang activity in the cities of Silicon Valley. Scary!

Except, the only supporting evidence mentioned by the DA whose interview formed the basis of the article was that of a triple homicide in Club Mexicali, in San Jose. In that case, the suspects were all from Salinas, California. (I am not familiar with the case, so perhaps later developments revealed the involvement of Mexican criminals, though I doubt it.) That's not much of example.

Not Taking Advantage

Did you know that eight nations send more students to the US than does Mexico? It's true! It's also unjustifiable, and, as I argue here, it's an easy area for educational improvement for Peña Nieto.

Mexico v. Spain and Messi on Tito

Mexico and Spain are facing off in an U23 pre-Olympic match as we speak. Twelve minutes in, Spain looks better, though not embarrassingly so for the Mexicans. Hopefully the power will hold up for the remaining 78.

Also, here's Leo Messi talking to As, offering thoughts on, among other things, his new boss:
¿Qué diferencias ha visto a las órdenes de Tito Vilanova?
Lleva sólo dos días, pero lo que está haciendo ya lo hacía el año pasado y los cuatro años que estuvo con Pep. Son entrenamientos similares y los hace la misma gente que estaba con Guardiola. Por ahora, todo es igual. Arrancamos de la misma manera o parecido, aunque es cierto que él aún no ha podido hablar con todos los jugadores.
¿Qué recuerda de Tito de las categorías inferiores?
Éramos muy pequeños todavía, pero entonces ya hacía de entrenador. Era una persona que formaba jugadores y ayudaba mucho a nuestro crecimiento, pero nunca imaginé encontrármelo como entrenador del primer equipo. Lo conozco y estoy muy contento de que sea nuestro técnico.
Tito insiste en reforzar la defensa y el medio campo. ¿Cree que con la recuperación de Villa ya no hace falta reforzar el ataque?
Eso no me compete a mí, pero sí puedo decir que Villa está entrenando fuerte, que está muy bien y ojalá vuelva a ser el Villa de antes de la lesión, porque es un jugador importantísimo para nosotros, hace muchos goles y el año pasado lo extrañamos en eso.
And there was a goal for Spain, on an easy-as-pie header by Javi Martínez off of a corner. Corona should have gotten to that.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Good Reading on Issues Related to Organized Crime

Noel Maurer has a characteristically informed and thorough explanation of the case against Wachovia for money laundering. The issue has often been described as Wachovia allowing close to $400 billion be laundered in their system, which is untrue. A lack of adequate controls were applied to a similar amount, but the indictment says that $110 million could be tied to criminal operations. A lot of money, sure, but not a system-shaking amount of money. That's worth keeping in mind as the news spills out about HSBC's money laundering investigation.

Also, Alejandro Hope has a handful of good points in his most recent post. This last one is worth repeating:
El narcotráfico no necesariamente produce (mucha) violencia: en México, identificamos al nracotráfico con masacres y balaceras y descabezados. En Colombia también. Pero eso no es una constante universal: por Turquía pasa 75% de la heroína que se consume en Europa y ese país tiene una tasa de homicidio de 2.9 por 100 mil habitantes (ocho veces menos que en México), Marruecos es un gran exportador de hachís y su tasa de homicidio es similar a la de países europeos (1.4 por 100 mil habitantes). Perú es el principal productor de hoja de coca del mundo y sus niveles de violencia están muy por debajo de los de Colombia o los de México. Esos casos muestran que, si bien desterrar al narcotráfico es una quimera en el futuro previsible, podemos contener la violencia. De hecho, ese debe ser el objetivo primario de nuestra política de seguridad, no frenar los flujos de drogas.
You often see a certain fatalistic cynicism in discussions of violence related to the Latin American drug trade, which is rather frustrating. This is a good antidote to one manifestation of that mindset.

The Left's Future

Via Aguachile, Marcelo Ebrard says he will kick off his campaign for 2018 on Dec. 6, once he leaves office in Mexico City. He was one of the earliest announcers ahead of 2012, so this doesn't necessarily suggest that he will be more successful the next time around. As before, they key variable remains his position within the party vis-a-vis AMLO, and starting early guarantees very little on that score.

Also, in an editorial that garnered a lot of attention in Mexico, Spain's El País called on Mexico's left to drop AMLO as their standard bearer. AMLO responded by telling the paper to stop their "colonizing journalism".

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Only Game that Matters

In its announcement of the schedule for La Liga's coming season being published, Sport jumps right to the heart of the matter:

I'm not quite sure how I feel about the earlier date for the Clásicos. We now are assured that they won't interfere with the Champions League semis again, but I don't think we should place to much blame on fatigue for the losses to Bayern and Chelsea. After all, the Spanish sides each lost their first leg ahead of the showdown at Camp Nou last year. Then again, maybe we could stand to take some of the air out of the Clásico pressure cooker.

Stone is Wrong!

New piece here about some recent silliness from Oliver Stone. Highlights:
The problem continues with Stone's statement that flows of drug money in Mexico are larger than those from tourism, oil, or remittances. Estimates for the value of the Mexican drug trade are all over the map, but the most rigorous analyses have concluded that export revenue from the drug trade is far lower than Stone suggests. Alejandro Hope, for instance, places the figure somewhere between $4.7 to $8.1 billion, while the RAND Corporation estimates that Mexican traffickers earn roughly $6.6 billion per year from sending drugs to the US.
In contrast, remittances sent by Mexicans living abroad in 2011 amounted to $22.7 billion. Mexico’s tourist trade, notwithstanding the nation’s unfortunate image in the international press, still managed to generate $11.9 billion in 2010. Stone's claim is even further from the mark with regard to oil: the revenues for Pemex, the national oil company, amounted to $125 billion in 2011.
Consequently, Stone’s statement that the Mexican economy “would die” without drug money drifts into the terrain of the indefensible. Unfortunately, Stone is not alone in this exaggerated view of drug money’s role in the Mexican economy. One story, put forward by authors like Richard Grant and Charles Bowden, holds that a 2001 study by CISEN, Mexico’s intelligence agency, found that an end to the drug trade would result in a 63 percent contraction of the Mexican economy.
The study is not public -- citing a story from El Diario de Juarez, Bowden wrote that it was leaked to the media in 2001, though InSight Crime's online search for the original study turned up nothing. It is difficult to know, therefore, if its authors were perhaps making a more nuanced point that was lost in subsequent references to it. However, the scenario posited by Grant and Bowden, and the implicit idea that the Mexican economy would “die” without drug money, is simply absurd.
After the article's publication, Hope, who used to work for the agency, told me on Twitter that the CISEN study is nonexistent. Also, by way of comparison, it's worth noting that in 2011 the GDP in Libya, which suffered through a brutal civil war and the overthrow of the longstanding government, declined only by 60 percent.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Political Barriers for Peña Nieto

Peña Nieto is giving interviews talking about how Mexico has arrived at the hour of reforms, though as I outline in a new post for Este País, I don't think it's happening:
El problema más grave para los que esperan un sexenio que rompe la racha de inactividad presidencial es la falta de una mayoría en el Congreso. Todas las demás barreras políticas habrían sido superables si Calderón contara con una mayoría panista en el Senado y la Cámara de Diputados; en los hechos, éstos faltaron, lo cual le dificultó al presidente aprobar reformas e implementar su agenda.
No quiere decir que la historia se tiene que repetir. Ideológicamente, sectores distintos del PRI se encuentran en todas partes del espectro político, lo cual le da la oportunidad a un Peña Nieto oportunista a ofrecer acuerdos jugosos a sus adversarios. Pero esa lógica se impondrá siempre y cuando haya otro partido que esté dispuesto a jugar. Como se indicó arriba, el PRD de AMLO no es una posibilidad real para reformas delicadas. El PAN puede convertirse en un aliado de conveniencia de vez en cuando, pero tarde o temprano, éste se dará cuenta de que su futuro electoral va de la mano con los fracasos del PRI. Si quieren regresar al poder, su jugada es tronar las iniciativas presidenciales, sean lo que sean, tal como lo hizo el PRI durante la mayoría de los 12 años anteriores.
Los resultados de su sexenio no están escritos, pero muchas de las barreras que han impedido a Calderón serán igual de fuertes ahora con Peña Nieto, lo cual sugiere que el gran cambio de diciembre no será tan grande en los hechos. Los límites puestos a la agenda peñista pueden o no representar una buena noticia para usted, pero lo preocupante es que viene de una estructura política fundamentalmente opuesta al progreso, y esto es un problema para todos.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

More Election Reactions

Happy Birthday America! To celebrate, here's one of my favorite Americans:

Now on to Mexico, and noteworthy reactions to the recent political events therein. Rogelio Ramírez de la O, who closes thusly:
Hasta ahora los gobiernos del PAN prefirieron la estabilidad macroeconómica al mayor crecimiento. Por esa razón el récord que entregan es muy pobre para el potencial de México, de sólo 2.0% de crecimiento del PIB anualmente entre 2001 y 2011.

Desde luego, en este periodo hubo dos recesiones globales, una en 2001 y la otra en 2009, pero es difícil que en la era que vivimos haya crecimiento global sin caídas. El hecho es que México creció menos que Brasil (3.6%), Argentina (5.0%), Chile (4.1%) o Perú (5.8%) en ese mismo periodo.

El PAN no intentó escapar de este equilibrio de bajo crecimiento y explorar uno de mayor crecimiento, pues ello hubiera requerido aumentar la recaudación, reducir el gasto corriente y controlar los precios exagerados de monopolios y oligopolios.

Cualquier nuevo gobierno enfrenta el mismo problema y, como el PAN, tendrá sus limitaciones políticas propias. Sus riesgos, sin embargo, serán mayores a los del PAN, pues los problemas de un crecimiento muy bajo son acumulativos. Incluyen una caída en la producción de petróleo y una situación social con mayores presiones.
Macario Schettino on the counters of the political dynamic to come:
La próxima Cámara de Diputados tendrá, además de los 240 diputados mencionados del PRI-PVEM, 8 o 9 del PANAL, que podrían sumarse a la coalición para acercarse a la mayoría. Pero van a salirle caros a Peña. Del lado del PAN puede haber poco menos de 120 diputados, que son menos que los que hoy tiene. Si la elección de 2009 fue considerada un fracaso por el PAN, e incluso provocó la renuncia de su presidente, imagínese la de hoy. Como lo escribió el mismo Germán Martínez ayer, es “el desastre”.

Los ganadores están en la izquierda. El PRD pasará de 70 a cien diputados, mientras que PT y MC que hoy suman 20 pueden llegar a 36. Así, tendremos una Cámara con, digamos, poco menos de la mitad en la alianza “gobernante”, con dos grupos más o menos del mismo tamaño a ambos lados. Sin embargo, al interior de esos dos grupos hay diferencias que no son menores. En la coalición PRD-PT-MC, entre 40 y 60 diputados serán cercanos a López Obrador, y el resto a la fracción moderada. Así, la tensión entre AMLO y los moderados será determinante en la posibilidad de alianzas entre este grupo y el gobierno. Del otro lado, el PAN seguramente vivirá un proceso muy serio de ajuste, que igual puede alterar su relación con el gobierno y favorecer u obstaculizar alianzas.
Más claramente: Peña Nieto no tendrá mayoría en el Congreso, pero tampoco tendrá escenarios favorables de negociación con los otros partidos. Aunque hay un grupo de legisladores panistas y perredistas que estarían a favor de hacer algunas reformas, la posibilidad de que lo hagan depende de su posición al interior de sus fracciones parlamentarias, que no está clara aún, pero no que no parece que vaya a ser muy favorable. Por ejemplo, la reforma energética que permitiese una modernización relevante de Pemex habrá que olvidarla. Tal vez pueda salir la laboral, en la versión simple que el PRI presentó y no quiso votar cuando podía. Ahora le va a salir cara. Veo muy difícil la reforma fiscal, que obligadamente requiere IVA generalizado y a tasa mayor a la actual. Y si ésta no pasa, pues la idea de tener un sistema universal de seguridad social se queda en idea, porque no habrá dinero para aplicarla.

Bajo Reserva on the future role of Luis Videgaray, Peña Nieto's foremost political operator:

AHORA dedica una buena parte del tiempo a tejer el gabinete para los próximos seis años. Enrique Peña Nieto está ocupado en la revisión de los perfiles de quienes lo acompañarán en el próximo gobierno federal. Desde el edificio central del PRI, los grupos comenzaron a empujar varios nombres para las secretarías de Estado y, por supuesto, muchos se sienten ya acomodados en el presupuesto. Pero don Enrique tiene en la mira un primer bloque: los más cercanos, aquellos que lo acompañaron en el gobierno del Estado de México, para luego pasar a las “figuras” de la clase política del PRI. La relación seguramente comenzará por Luis Videgaray, su principal operador. Hay quienes lo imaginan como “supersecretario” de Hacienda, pero otros lo ven como jefe de la Oficina de la Presidencia, virtual jefe de gabinete. La “gabinetología” será deporte nacional los próximos meses.
Mark Weisbrot, whom I often find to be a bit knee-jerk in his support for creatures of the left and rejection of their opponents, is hard to dispute here:
Between 1980 and 2000, when the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, lost control of Mexico for the first time in more than 70 years, the country saw a precipitous drop in economic growth. Before the 1980s, Mexico was growing at a rate that would have lifted the country to European living standards, had it continued.

It is not fashionable among observers, in the United States or Mexico, to mention that Mexico’s economy has performed abysmally for more than 30 years. Starting with the recession and Latin American debt crisis in the early 1980s, the PRI shifted toward what economists call “neoliberalism”: abandoning state-led industrial and development policies, tightening monetary and fiscal policies and liberalizing foreign investment and trade. The North American Free Trade Agreement, which took effect in 1994, was only the most visible example of this transformation.

Of course, not all of these policies were mistaken, but the overall result was an unqualified failure. The same thing happened across Latin America from 1980 to 2000, where gross domestic product, per capita, grew by 6 percent, as compared with 92 percent over the prior two decades. 
And Leo Zuckermann, who sees a weak president in Enrique Peña Nieto:
Esto cambia de manera radical las perspectivas de Peña. Ahora tendrá que conseguir los votos de la oposición en el Congreso. Podría negociar con el PAN algunos acuerdos en reformas donde tienen coincidencias (laboral y energética, por ejemplo) y otras con los partidos de izquierda (en materia de seguridad social). El problema es que los partidos opositores no tendrán incentivos para apoyar a un nuevo Presidente que prometió eficacia gubernamental. Al revés: política y electoralmente les conviene que Peña no saque nada para que los votantes se desilusionen pronto de él.
¿Suena familiar? Desde luego que sí. Es lo que ha ocurrido con los presidentes panistas: tanto el PRI como la izquierda les negaron reformas. No querían que se colgaran ninguna medalla. Pretendían debilitarlos para que ellos pudieran regresar al poder. Fue claramente la estrategia del PRI en los últimos años. Pero ahora, en el Congreso, el poder del cambio lo tendrán el PAN y la izquierda, si ésta no se margina del proceso de negociación política. No dude usted: van a venderle muy caro su amor al nuevo Presidente.
Durante estos dos últimos sexenios, los priistas siempre dijeron que los panistas eran unos ineptos porque no sabían negociar con el Congreso. Ahora le toca a los priistas demostrar que ellos son mejores para conseguir votos de la oposición en el Poder Legislativo. No va a ser nada fácil.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Too Optimistic

Lots of people in the US seem to be struggling to develop opinions on Peña Nieto all of a sudden, which has led to some odd takes Mr. Angélica Rivera. For instance, this piece from Michael Werz and Eric Farnsworth, which asserts:
His record as governor of the State of Mexico received solid marks, despite inevitably coming under fire during the campaign, especially by critical Internet activists and protesting students.
That's quite a broad claim, and it has the added feature of painting the critics of Peña Nieto as mindless rabble-rousers. If only! If you want to hold the executive responsible for crime, then Peña Nieto deserves good marks for not letting his state's murder rate climb. Yet kidnapping, rape, robbery, and (most famously) murders of women increased substantially under Peña Nieto. Mexico State had the nation's largest increase in extreme poverty during the world financial crisis, with 214,000 more people suffering from nutritional poverty in 2010 compared to two years prior. His maneuvering ahead of the 2011 election to replace him was patently anti-democratic. While Calderón and Ebrard were both at their best during the initial Swine Flu scare, appearing seemingly hourly on the television to calm the nation, Peña Nieto all but disappeared. His performance during the Paulette scandal, the other moment when the nation was waiting for him to act, was no better. And according to his political opponents, he left the state with a debt of roughly $6 billion.

In short, his actual governing performance (as opposed to his political performance as governor) was pretty bad. To make the opposite case, especially as blithely as the authors above do, is to ignore all of the above (any many other issues), which amounts to a not insignificant list of black marks.

Then there's this line:
Peña Nieto’s next-generation image is a solid foundation, but observers will closely scrutinize the advisors appointed to surround him.
Actually, an image is pretty close to the opposite of a foundation, both literally and in this metaphorical Mexican context. A solid foundation would be, say, a proposal for a revamped industrial policy, or a detailed understanding of Southern Mexico's infrastructure problems and how to fix them. That we haven't seen from Peña Nieto, and I can't help but think we would have if he were capable.

I'm probably not as pessimistic as others about the next six years, but that's just because there are so many factors at play that we can't anticipate that it's really impossible to guess whether Mexico will be better or worse off in six years than today. Many of these factors go well beyond who is occupying Los Pinos. But the fact that people seriously point to his image as a foundation for his capacity to govern tells all we need to know about the man today. It's worth trying to avoid undue pessimism, but that absolutely does not mean that Peña Nieto provides much reason for optimism.

A Modest Proposal

Like many, I'm more than a bit tired of hearing how handsome Peña Nieto is. It's not particularly relevant--at least not relative to the amount of times it's been mentioned. It's also a subjective quality, of course, so it's even odder that it's slipped so ubiquitously into the prevailing rhetoric regarding the president-elect. In that sense, it's not like "Harvard-educated", another overhyped attribute that at the very least has the benefit of being a verifiable fact.

With that in mind, I'd like to propose that we balance out this silly bias by substituting any number of largely untouched modifiers when discussing Peña Nieto: "freakish", "unattractive", "miserable-looking", "untelegenic", "heinous", "criminally ugly", and "physically unlovable" are a couple of suggestions.

Mea Culpa

Ciro Gómez about his paper's polling failures:
Editorialmente, no hay justificación que valga. Anunciamos el miércoles, luego de 100 días consecutivos de medición y publicación, que Enrique Peña Nieto superaría por 18 puntos a Andrés Manuel López Obrador. Peña Nieto le ganó por 6.5. Falló la encuesta de seguimiento diario MILENIO-GEA/ISA.

Por eso, antes que nada, una disculpa a nuestros televidentes y lectores, leales compañeros en estos tres meses de emocionante travesía. Como empresa periodística fallamos en lo más valioso: la precisión informativa.

Ricardo de la Peña, director de ISA, responsable de hacer la encuesta, fue muy cuidadoso el último día que presentamos números. Mostró y explicó los márgenes. El mínimo de Peña Nieto era 44 por ciento; el máximo de López Obrador, 33. Aun así serían 11 puntos de distancia, estaríamos fuera del margen de error.

Polling Mishaps

Diego Valle-Jones discusses the polling failures ahead of Sunday's election here:
Measuring the euclidian distance from the normalized "quick count" to the voting preferences, the most accurate pollsters were:  SDP Noticias-Covarrubias, Grupo Reforma, Ipsos-Bimsa, and UNO TV-María de las Hera. The worst performing pollsters were Milenio-GEA ISA and Indemerc.
In some of the cases, the problem would seem to be motivated by a bias for Peña Nieto--Milenio's largely fawning coverage of Peña Nieto squared with its polling that vastly overstated his popularity. Although I also wonder if there's a frontrunner bias in Mexican polls--AMLO fell short of the polls giving him a wide margin in 2006, and, if I remember correctly, I believe there was a similar dynamic in the governor's races in 2010.

Update: The polls actually weren't so far off in 2006. Most leaned toward AMLO in the weeks leading up to the election, but nothing like what just happened this time around.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Spain's Victory. Also, Validation of Spain's Greatness from an Odd Source

Spain was obviously fantastic yesterday, everything that Peña Nieto, with his relatively paltry six-point margin, was not. And Spain did it against a succession of worthy rivals, whereas Peña Nieto had the equivalent task of beating England, Serbia, and Andorra.

Iniesta also seemed the best pick to me for MVP, even though I read a fair number of comments throughout the tournament that he wasn't playing at his absolute best. That's probably true enough--his finishing wasn't what it could have been, and he never had a game quite as dominating Xavi's yesterday or Xabi Alonso's against France. However, he was among the two or three most important players in every game, while every other player possible contender for the trophy had significant lapses in which they were conspicuously less influential. He was also a huge factor in Alba being so dangerous--those two will be fun too watch next year as Barça tries to recapture what's theirs in Spain.

Finally, I've mentioned how any article on Mexico in the Wall Street Journal, NY Times, or Washington Post subsequently becomes a news story in Mexico, even when there is nothing newsworthy to a Mexican audience in the original text. You could interpret this either as US newspapers conferring some sense of expertise that would warrant coverage, or as just a general interest in what the rest of the world (especially the gringos) is saying about us. My instinctual reaction in either case is that this is a bit odd, both because there's no inherent expertise in a news story, and because American news media (lamentably) doesn't regularly show much interest in the rest of the world's opinion of the US.

But if an Excélsior nota on a standard Post drug violence feature is a bit absurd to my eyes, I simply cannot fathom why the Spanish sports magazine As would turn to the New York Times, of all sources, for validation following yesterday's win:

Worse yet, it was their general interest columnist, George Vescey, who was cited (though he was writing for their soccer blog). Vescey comes across as a knowledgeable follower of the sport, but he's not a soccer specialist, and I would bet that they average Spanish fetus is endowed with more soccer insight than the typical sports-story-of-the-week columnist in the US. (See Jemele Hill's performance in South Africa for more.) Reading this article gives the same sensation I might have seeing a blurb from Bill Simmons on the cover of Cormac McCarthy's next novel.

Peña Nieto's Victory

So it's this guy:
I have bathed myself in hair gel in honor of his victory. Best of luck Quique.

Boz has some thoughts worth reading here, as does Noel Maurer here and here. On the latter post, I like the bit toward the end, though Noel worries it might be cheesy. I won't spoil it for you--you have to click.

Also, AMLO still refuses to concede. Sigh. There seems to be little risk of any 2006-style crisis of legitimacy, so one should not make too much of this, but I just can't imagine what he thinks he's gaining by refusing to follow the standard protocol in a race with such a significant margin.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Today's Other Hugely Important Contest

Notwithstanding a fantastic performance on Thursday and a Balotelli whose confidence is at an all time high, I still like Spain over Italy. They'll be able to neutralize Pirlo more than any other team has, they are more rested, and they won't go 210 minutes without finding the back of the net. They're the better team, even without Villa and Puyol, even with the floundering Niño, the forgotten Llorente, and the overlooked Soldado. Two-nil, Iker keeps his clean sheet streak. Goals from Iniesta and Pedro, whom I would start (dropping Silva).

Thoughts on Election Day

Here we have some comments from Aguachile, here we have more from Richard. I have none further at this point.

So...who likes Ebrard in 2018?

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Questionable Assertion

From the NY Times, this is an odd way of looking at Mexico's PRI era:
Strangely perhaps, in the past the PRI never actually ruled Mexico. It ran a skilled vote-gathering (or vote-fixing) operation, but the country was run by a political bureaucracy in league with other power centers, such as banks, labor unions, the army, television magnates and industrial moguls. The PRI provided a rubber-stamp Congress and, every six years, the outgoing president picked his successor. 
The most obvious error is that it's not an either-or proposition--i.e. either the banks, et al or the PRI ruled Mexico. Of course, they all did, as is the case in most countries, where any number of power centers play a role in making the system hum.

But beyond that, the PRI may not have run the country, depending on how you define the word, but it indisputably was the primary mechanism around which the country organized itself. The party co-opted all of the above into a system over which the president, a priísta, reigned supreme. The other power centers could throw their substantial weight around and even push back against other purely political actors, but they did so within the confines of the system that the PRI held up. Perhaps the party didn't run Mexico the way that Jobs ran Apple, but getting such a wide range of actors to buy into a common system over which their leader held the most sway seems a pretty close approximation for running a nation. Any other explanation seems like semantic hair-splitting.

Return of the Revolutionary Right

Via Macario Schettino, Roger Bartra, author of a really sharp book on the fractures in the Mexican left, has an insightful new column that describes Peña Nieto's election as the return of a revolutionary right wing in Mexico. Intro paragraph:
México está en vísperas de que gane las elecciones presidenciales la derecha revolucionaria. Esta situación paradójica –un conservadurismo revolucionario– es el fruto de muchos decenios de alquimia política, durante los cuales el PRI logró la transmutación de las corrientes que emanaron de la Revolución de 1910 en expresiones claramente derechistas y conservadoras. La derecha revolucionaria mexicana ha logrado colocar a su partido, el PRI, y a su candidato a la presidencia, Enrique Peña Nieto, a la cabeza de las intenciones de voto. Hoy en México pocos dudan de que gane la presidencia el partido del antiguo régimen autoritario.
This strikes me as a valuable point to keep in mind over the next six years.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Recent Stuff of Mine

From InSight Crime, here's a two-parter on the impact of the election on crime policy. Highlights:
For a number of reasons, the organized crime issue is a pickle for policy-makers: broadly speaking, Calderon’s policies are popular, but their results -- more than 50,000 deaths over the past six years, and a doubling of the murder rate -- have been disastrous. Worse still, the links between Calderon’s strategy and the increased bloodshed are indirect and unclear. That is, radical changes to Calderon’s approach carry a definite political risk, but there is no certainty that they would bring about lower murder rates.

Consequently, the Calderon administration’s approach will likely continue to feature over the next six years. Should he win, Peña Nieto will surely seek some cosmetic changes, and he may push the philosophy underlying Mexico’s crime strategy in a new direction. But the obstacles to a different approach are enormous; as a result, for better or worse, the shifts are likely to be marginal.
And here's a piece on a misguided attempt to ban narcomantas:
The rise of the manta is a consequence of changes in Mexico’s criminal environment over the past few years. One is that the territorial dominance of criminal groups is typically far less stable -- making them far more violent -- than in the past. Many of the common uses of the manta -- from denouncing a new police chief to announcing a criminal group's arrival in a city -- reflect gangs’ responses to changing dynamics. In a more static landscape, such public relations gambits on the part of criminals would not be necessary.

The increase in mantas also demonstrates the degree to which the civilian population has emerged as a terrain for conflict between gangs. While a decade ago, organized crime was centered almost exclusively on the drug trade, today extracting revenue from the population through extortion and kidnapping is far more common. As a consequence, mantas frequently urge the civilian population to refuse to make extortion payments, in order to hurt their rivals' income stream. In contested cities, groups often use mantas to try to show themselves in a better light than their competitors, often claiming not to kidnap, extort, rob, or carry out other criminal activities that prey on civilians.

Mantas are also the favored medium of communication when a group wants to distance itself from a particularly notorious crime and avoid a government crackdown. The Gulf Cartel, for instance, used a manta to deny responsibility for the murder of Juan Francisco Sicilia, son of a famous writer turned peace activist, while the Zetas hung mantas to distance themselves from 49 mutilated bodies discovered in Nuevo Leon last month.
 Finally, here are a couple of pieces from Este País about the Euro (the currency, not the tournament, though I might have preferred the latter topic) and recent reports regarding the prevalence of jailhouse rape in the US. Highlights of the latter:
Esta creencia que los criminales merecen sufrir es entendible, pero muy equivocada. La primera razón es moral: por más mala que sea una persona, nadie debería sufrir tal desgracia. El castigo que se le impone a un convicto es tiempo en la cárcel, no la violación, y al ignorar este problema, la sociedad se convierte en un cómplice.

Para los que no les convence este argumento, es claro que todos tenemos un interés más directo en prevenir estos tipos de ataques: la gran mayoría de los que viven tras rejas van a volver a la sociedad en el futuro, y las personas que son abusadas repetidamente son más propensas a llevar trastornos antisociales y violentos. Entre más fregados deje a los convictos su experiencia tras rejas, más daño harán al acabar su sentencia. Y de ahí, se vislumbra un ciclo vicioso: los ex-reos vuelven a cometer crímenes, regresan a la cárcel, donde vuelven a ser violados o donde se convierten en los victimarios, dejando una nueva generación de convictos victimados.

Finalmente, si queremos que la cárcel sea una rehabilitación además de un castigo, deberíamos hacer más para que la cárcel no sea un infierno en el cual un reo no se puede recuperar.