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?