Friday, April 27, 2012

End of an Era

Not a shocker, but a bummer to hear that Pep Guardiola is on his way out in Barça. Hopefully Tito can keep the machine humming.

Here's Sport's send-off, which strikes as less than gracious, considering his accomplishments:

Developments in Tamaulipas and Michoacán

New pieces here (on Chapo's entrance into Nuevo Laredo) and here (on the different groups fighting in Michoacán).

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Another Book Flub

At this rate, this will be remembered as the Bad Book Criticism election, which does not speak well of the contest nor its participants. This mistake is from Josefina Vázquez Mota, though it is significantly less embarrassing than either Fox's on Twitter or Peña Nieto's at the FIL in Guadalajara. (She mixed up the authors of one wonky book on Mexico's future--Jorge Castañeda and Héctor Aguilar-- with the authors of another wonky book on Mexico's future.) Nonetheless, it is another misstep from a campaign that seems incapable of actually stepping straight forward.

It also strikes me as ironic that the article linked above misspells Castañeda's last name, calling him "Catañeda". Fox's foreign minister just can't win today.


I have a new post in favor of negative campaigning at Este País. Highlights:
Si uno teclea “Peña Nieto” en el buscador de Google y espera las opciones para completar la frase, la cuarta opción que aparece es “peña nieto mato su esposa”. Como todos los que conocen el caso, yo no tengo evidencias para apoyar esa versión de la muerte de Mónica Pretelini, y por lo tanto, pese a cualquier otro problema que tenga con el probable sucesor a Felipe Calderón, prefiero darle el beneficio de la duda y no ficharlo como un asesino.

Es decir, menciono esta teoría no para promoverla, sino simplemente para demostrar que tan fácil es que existan los cuentos escandalosos. El de la esposa de Peña Nieto es el más famoso, pero sobran las historias y rumores sobre todas las figuras más sobresalientes de hoy. Si uno cree los rumores, México es liderado exclusivamente por borrachos, asesinos, rateros, y secuestradores.

Estos cuentos no necesitan evidencias ni lógica para seguir existiendo, ni mucho menos el respaldo de un político adversario. Su oxígeno es otro; supongo que tales historias persisten efectivamente por la naturaleza humana, tan chismoso, sospechoso, y escandaloso que es. A nivel personal, creo que todos deberíamos resistir estas tendencias, pero legislar en contra de nuestra naturaleza no tiene sentido.
Lamentablemente, eso es precisamente lo que intentó hacer la reforma electoral de 2007. La prohibición de los spots negativos tenía la meta de fomentar un estilo político más limpio en México, y de evitar circunstancias como la famosa acusación en 2006 de que AMLO representaba un peligro para México. Pero como podemos ver, y como muchos supusieron en el momento de su aprobación, la reforma no era capaz de eliminar los ataques o las opiniones negativas; nada más los sacó de las campañas oficiales, dejándolos a la anarquía cibernética de Youtube y Twitter.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The PRI's Ideology

The PRI is sometimes described as "centrist", basically by default, because the PAN and the PRD are much more aggressive about staking out a specific ideological terrain. However, the label is really not ideal. More than centrist, the PRI is amorphous and opportunistic. And depending on the issue, it is outright conservative. As this poll from Excélsior shows, the PRI is basically indistinguishable or even to the right of the PAN on a number of social issues.

Also, Peña Nieto polled at 50 percent of the projected vote according to Excélsior's latest survey, compared to 29 for Vázquez Mota and 20 for AMLO.

Finally, Peña Nieto said that it was simplistic to propose legalization of drugs. Surely, he's right: even if you favor it, "legalization" alone is a slogan that leaves far more unanswered than it solves. If only Peña Nieto would flesh out his thought process a bit, under the pressure of adversarial questioning from people with different points of view. Like, say, in a debate.

New Reading

So I had hoped to finish off Malcolm Beith's new book before plugging it here, so I could honestly write something along the lines of, "I've never had such a profoundly life-changing experience as I did during the closing stretch of this opus". Or perhaps slightly less extreme, but you get the idea.

Unfortunately, the Man and the School have combined to make any pleasure reading impossible for several more weeks, if not months, and I want to strike while the iron is hot. So: Malcolm Beith, former Newsweek editor, former The News editor, author of The Last Narco and lots of other good stuff, has a new book out. It's called Hasta El Último Día, and it deals with insecurity in Mexico. You can buy find it at Amazon and at Gandhi. Though I've not read it (see above), I say with all confidence that it is entirely worthy of your time, and will leave you a more thoughtful, informed human.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Not the Best Way to Put to Bed Those Lingering Ideas that You Are a Lightweight

El Universal says Enrique Peña Nieto is bailing on the debates. That's a weak, anti-democratic move, but if I was advising a airhead with a 20-point lead and was not concerned about the intellectual quality of the campaign per se, I'm not sure my advice would be different.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

On Bonner's Bizarre NY Times Piece

Earlier this week, I wrote a rebuttal to former DEA honcho Robert Bonner's op-ed in the NY Times, which canned be summed up with a short compound sentence: Calderón is super, that is all. Highlights:
Bonner points to Colombia as an example of the kingpin strategy successfully deployed, yet close to 13,500 people were killed in 2011, good enough for a murder rate of roughly 30 per 100,000 residents. In Medellin, the supposed site of a historic public security miracle brought about in part because of the application of the kingpin approach, more than 1,600 people were killed in 2011, a larger figure than in Juarez. In contrast, Mexico, for all its notorious travails with criminal groups, had a rate of about 20 murders per 100,000 residents last year. If Colombia’s “victory” is actually a model for Mexico and not just a convenient comparison, why is the state of public security in the former nation so precarious?
Bonner's piece has other weaknesses, but most glaring is that he makes no mention of Mexico’s recent spike in violence whatsoever, though he does refer dismissively to the “negative headlines” early in the piece. His point seems to be that the violence receives too much attention, and that bloodshed notwithstanding, Calderon’s strategy has proven very effective. But while may be an easy argument to make while living in Washington, the case is rather more difficult to make in Juarez, Acapulco, or Torreon, and Bonner never examines the counter to his point. The two perennial goals in security policy -- in a nutshell, weaker gangs and safer streets -- are often in conflict, and reasonable people can disagree as to which of the two is more important in a given moment. However, no reasonable analysis entirely ignores either objective, which is precisely what Bonner has done here. As far as we can tell from his piece, spikes in violence don’t matter, period.
Given that the historic increases in murder, extortion, kidnapping, and other crimes in Mexico provoke no self-reflection from Bonner, it’s worth asking if there even exists a threshold at which Bonner would begin to question the soundness of Calderon’s approach. It appears that there is not, which, to anyone who has followed Mexico with an objective set of eyes over the past five years, is simply baffling.
Bonner's op-ed will be expanded and published in Foreign Affairs next month. I am skeptical that the added space will make his argument more persuasive.

Friday, April 20, 2012

The Definitive Clásico Analysis

Here's Eduardo Alvarez, and truer words have never been written:
But fourth and more important, Bayern unveiled the ultimate anti-CR7 weapon: you only need one of your players, in this case Arjen Robben, to wear an impossibly tight shirt, far tighter than Ronaldo's. When this happens, CR7 reacts like the bride of the wedding when she discovers a stunningly beautiful bridesmaid equipped with an unseemly cleavage: first shock, then denial, finally frustration. On Saturday, Pep Guardiola should order Carles Puyol to dress an S-size Barcelona shirt and Ronaldo will be history.

Thursday, April 19, 2012


I've mentioned before that I really liked Down by the River, while I've found subsequent work from Charles Bowden close to insufferable. I've always wondered how much of that was due to me initially knowing very little about Mexico but subsequently learning a fair amount more, and how much of it is due to shifts in the author's writing. I am writing something on Amado Carrillo so I went back and thumbed through parts of Down by the River, and I found the prose rather enjoyable, far more so than in Murder City, which suggests that is is Bowden who has changed, although I suspect the world-weariness and willful cynicism quickly gathers weight.

In any event, Bowden's superficial grasp of verifiable facts in Mexico are as evident as in any of his subsequent writing. For instance, he appears to think Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo is named Félix Gallardo, which is not an insignificant mistake. (Checking all of the index entries, I could find no reference when "Miguel Ángel" was used throughout the book, even when other figures were referred to using their full name. Also, "Gallardo, Félix" was the index entry.) He also refers to Félix Gallardo's "palatial" prison suite, which is at odds with rather detailed reporting from Diego Osorno. Of course, Osorno's reporting came a decade after the publication of Down by the River, so Bowden can be forgiven for not being aware of it, but unless there was a dramatic decline in Félix Gallardo's living conditions in the ten years since, the depiction was unsubstantiated, and included because it advanced the thesis of the book--i.e., Mexico is a chaotic wasteland run by gangsters. This was not the only questionable assertion I came across in my 30 minutes of perusing.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Fun Matchup

I suspect the Bayern Munich-Real Madrid tie could be one of the most entertaining of the Champions League. My reasoning: Real runs on eight cylinders against any team other than Barça, and as a result, they are often vulnerable at the back. A lot of teams seem to mentally fold with the Ronaldo, et al's first wild run up the field, as though they were being attacked by the Mongol horde instead of just in danger of losing a soccer game, and are therefore unable to make the most of the opposition's vulnerabilities. When teams don't do that, such as Real's last 135 minutes of action against Valencia, the product on the field is quite something. Bayern, playing at home, amply endowed with attacking talent of their own (though not so much that Mourinho will get scared, as with Barça), will find and exploit Real's vulnerabilities. I expect lots of goals today.

The Plot Thins

Enrique Peña Nieto is polling at 50 percent in Excélsior's survey (which ignores undecided voters). As you can see, that gives him a 21-point edge on Vázquez Mota and a 30-point advantage over López Obrador. The difference has grown marginally as well. Most polls are showing a broadly similar margin as well as a similar trend. (More here, in the "varias empresas" section off to the right.)

So...who do you like in 2018?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Overwhelming Evidence That We Should Not Take Pele Seriously


"Now everyone is talking about Messi; he is a star. But [to be the best ever] he must first become better than Neymar," Pele said. "At the moment Messi is just more experienced."
There is not a lot of context to his quote in the piece, although, unless that context was that he made the comment with a gun in his back, it's hard to see how this is anything but a horribly silly remark.

I wonder if the sports legends who were a cut below the best ever have an easier time in old age than do the viable contenders for GOAT. Pele and Maradona seem perennially tortured by their place in the game's history in a way that, say, Platini does not, although maybe I just need to follow Platini a bit more closely. Same with Jordan compared to, for instance, Charles Barkley. That's a small sample size examined from great distance, and Gretzky certainly does not seem overly wrapped up in his status in hockey history, so maybe this is nonsense, but it strikes me that building your identity around a legacy that you can never add to, all while the debate over the significance of said legacy is heated and often compels you to come to its defense, would be an emotionally exhausting chore.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Meaning of Winning

Here's a new piece about how "Is the government or are the narcos winning?" is the wrong question. Highlights:
Que significa “ganar” para los grupos del crimen organizado? La idea de que los narcos quieran o puedan tumbar al presidente y operar abiertamente desde la sede del estado, encargándose de todas las funciones del gobierno a todo nivel, desde la colección de la basura hasta las negociaciones con el SNTE, es impensable. Los narcos quieren cooperar con el gobierno, no derrocarlo. Mientras grupos como el Sendero Luminoso querían rehacer el estado con uno que sigue su modelo, los narcos en México nada más quieren el espacio necesario para conducir sus negocios.

Sin embargo, la percepción de un estado sitiado por el narco persiste, alimentado por reportes oficiales como el del Pentágono en 2008, que identificó a México, junto a Pakistán, como uno de los países con mayor posibilidad de una caída repentina del gobierno.

Por el otro lado, solamente un ingenuo diría que el gobierno es capaz de acabar con el narco. Tendría más probabilidad de ganar una guerra contra el odio o la discriminación. Entonces, ¿que significa “ganar” para el gobierno? Es una pregunta importante con muchas respuestas posibles (que por cierto Calderón nunca ha querido contestar de fondo), pero ninguna se parecería a una victoria militar después de una batalla culminante. Con mucho esfuerzo, el gobierno puede alentar e incluso imponer un modo de operación más pacífica de las pandillas, pero no puede derrotar el fenómeno del narco.

Hay una competencia entre el gobierno y los narcos, eso sí, pero el rango de los resultados posibles de ésta es muy cortita. Puesto que el resultado inevitable no puede ser cualitativamente diferente a la situación de hoy, buscar el lado ganador es demasiado simple.

Back into the Groove, Slowly

Blogging is a little like exercise, in that inertia goes a long way to determining the intensity with which you pursue either activity. Blogging a lot yesterday makes it a lot more likely that I'll do the same today. The flip side is that it's a lot harder to get off the couch the couch and jog a few miles if I haven't done so in a few weeks. That's where I am now.

Anyway, here's a couple old pieces of mine --one on a new report from México Evalúa, and another on US officials' gaffes regarding Mexican security-- and hopefully I'll be able to build on today's workout.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Legacy of the Washington Consensus

New piece here. Highlights:
Entonces, si casi todo lo que sugirió Williamson era tan sensato, ¿por qué tanto rencor?

El factor clave es la implementación: las reformas se llevaron a cabo de una forma dogmática, apresurada, e ideológica. Es decir, los políticos latinoamericanos y los asesores en las instituciones como el FMI resultaron más papistas que el papa, e ignoraron cualquier matiz o nota de precaución que Williamson expuso.

Vean, por ejemplo, lo que escribió Williamson sobre la privatización:

“Mi opinión personal es que la privatización puede ser muy constructivo cuando una mayor competencia es el resultado, y útil cuando alivia las presiones fiscales, pero no estoy convencido de que el servicio público siempre sea inferior a las adquisiciones privadas como la fuerza impulsadora.”

Ese comentario cauteloso tiene muy poco que ver con la campaña de liquidación de los paraestatales de Salinas, presidente responsable por 96 por ciento de las privatizaciones de los 1980s y ‘90. En lugar de más competencia, México recibió el Telmex de Carlos Slim; en lugar de la eficiencia, México se quedó con la banca que se desplomó en la crisis que estalló en el ‘94.

Apologies for the lack of posting, I have visitors in my parts.