Thursday, November 30, 2006

More on Bolivia

Yesterday I wrote about the land reform bill passed by the Bolivian senate, and now signed by President Morales. The update today is that the two assistants voted in place of their respective senators, though it is not clear why the senators themselves did not vote. From the Associated Press:

The reform's rocky passage in the Senate could also hamper Morales' effort. The president relied on votes cast by two absent senators' assistants to pass the controversial bill, granting the opposition legal leverage to question the law's validity.

Former Bolivian President Jorge Quiroga, leader of the conservative party Podemos, which led the Senate boycott, said Wednesday that Morales' tactics were "contemptible and disgusting, both legally and morally."

Podemos has accused the senators' assistants of accepting government bribes to pass the law. On Wednesday, the assistants were being guarded by police for their safety.

So the plot thickens. Did those two senators want to vote for the bill, or were the assistants paid off?


Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Quick update: Bolivia

I had recently written about the political stand-off in Bolivia. Now the BBC reports that three opposition senators broke ranks and voted with the government on President Morales' land reform bill. Democracy, though very fragile, is hanging on.

Update to the update: the anonymous commenter alerted me to the fact, not reported by the BBC, that only one senator voted. From CNN:

But Tuesday night, one Podemos senator returned to the chamber to vote for the land reform, joined by assistants filling in for two other opposition senators.

It was not immediately clear whether the assistants' votes would hold up to legal scrutiny.

Now, who exactly were these assistants? What legal right do they have to vote?


Anticipating the Venezuelan election

The Venezuelan presidential election is coming up on Sunday. The Miami Herald has an interesting article on the proliferation of questionable polls. You can find a poll that gives either candidate a clear victory.

There is even dispute about popular mobilization, as both candidates just held large rallies. But which was larger? Ka even comes up with a very creative estimate using Google earth, and calculating width of the road used, etc.

The article makes the very good point that these disputes suggest that each side believes it should win, and therefore will claim fraud if that outcome does not occur. An article by Oxford Analytica concurs, and has an analysis arguing that Rosales will lose and his campaign has failed. It also speculates that Rosales supporters are more likely to stay home because of fraud concerns, which will further fuel mutual suspicion and hostility.

It is hard to conceive of an outcome that will contribute to political and social stability in the country. Or at least I haven't seen one.


Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Hall of Fame list

This year’s crop of first time eligible baseball Hall of Famers just came out. Topping the list are Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken. They both will easily make it in, and the only question is how high their tallies will be. And why wouldn’t they be 100%?

Then we get to Mark McGwire, who has been nailed hard by the steroids investigations, famously refusing to answer questions at a congressional hearing. I say no to McGwire, whose individual accomplishments are just too tainted, even though I loved watching him when I was living in the Bay Area.

He’s not a first timer, but I think Goose Gossage should be in the Hall of Fame (and yes, I have a soft spot for Padres). He was one of the people who revolutionized the idea of an intimidating closer, and worked much harder than any current relievers, by commonly pitching 2-3 innings. Does that mean Lee Smith should be in there? And Trevor Hoffman eventually? Very tough call.


Monday, November 27, 2006

Ecuador election postmortem

Initial results suggest that Rafael Correa won by a wide margin in Ecuador (he won 57% of the vote or even higher). We will, of course, have all sorts of articles about how he’ll cozy up to Hugo Chávez and fight the power.

This would ignore the fact that for the runoff he moved to the center, and toned down the radical rhetoric (even toward the United States). The message he sent was more populist, with promises of bonuses, housing, and other payments that would presumably be based on the current high price of oil. We’ll have to wait and see whether he governs like the traditional left or a more mainstream populist (or some sort of mixture).

Perhaps the most problematic for democracy will be the resistance he will face in the legislature, with the lack of a loyal opposition, though this will obviously depend on what types of reforms he attempts. That plagued recent presidents (including a military ouster) and may be similar to the situation in Bolivia, where the opposition recently exited the Senate to ensure that a quorum was unobtainable and thereby prevent votes on President Morales’ more controversial measures. In both countries, the president has expressed a desire to place more power in the hands of the president (or, in the Bolivian case, eliminate the Senate altogether). Neither solution (blocking every presidential proposal or moving toward hyperpresidentialism) is good for democracy.


Sunday, November 26, 2006

Today's election in Ecuador

There are many articles today framing the presidential election in Ecuador as a microcosm of Latin American political divisions, the left versus the right, the haves versus the have-nots, free trade versus socialism, Venezuela versus the United States. Kudos to the Washington Post for publishing an article rejecting such alarmist and simplistic analyses:

No matter who wins Ecuador's presidential election on Sunday, many outside the country will view it as a decision between dueling political stereotypes: Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez's dream of a unified region liberated from U.S. influence, or that of free-market backers embracing a globalized economy.

For most who will actually make the choice, it's nothing of the sort.

Ecuador has experienced some of the worst instability in the region in recent years, and people want someone who will provide results. Unfortunately, the following is also true:

"It doesn't matter which of the two candidates wins, Ecuador will have a weak president, at the mercy of the Congress and facing difficulties of governability," said Adrián Bonilla, director of the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences in Quito.

So let’s stop claiming that Latin American elections are a titanic struggle between the opposing forces of Chávez and Bush, which essentially removes Ecuador from the equation through the claim that we can only understand the election by looking outside the country.


Saturday, November 25, 2006

Pinochet takes "political" (but not legal) responsibility

On his 91st birthday, Augusto Pinochet has issued a statement in the form of a letter read by his wife (audio is here), saying that he takes “political responsibility” for everything that happened while he was in power, a shift from the past, when he blamed “excesses” on subordinates. I’m not sure what “political” responsibility is versus other types of responsibility, though I am guessing in legal terms it is supposed to be different from “criminal” responsibility, so that this letter can’t be used against him in court. In other words, he’s not taking much responsibility for anything.

Over the past several years, since his arrest in Great Britain, Pinochet has issued a number of similar letters, and I don’t see this one as especially different. They all do the following:

--assert that the military saved Chile from a totalitarian dictatorship
--argue that current human rights proceedings are political motivated and unfair
--portray himself as a selfless advocate for the country
--offer up platitudes about achieving national unity and harmony

Ultimately, he really wants to be a hero in Chilean history, and is concerned that as he gets very old, it isn’t happening.


Philip Short's Pol Pot

I finished Philip Short’s Pol Pot: Anatomy of a Nightmare. A while ago, I had seen a very positive review in The Economist, and finally got around to reading it. It is a bit slow, but very compelling. The magnitude of killing and starvation in Khmer Rouge Cambodia is staggering, and Short does a good job of detailing how it came about.

Ultimately, though, it isn’t really a biography per se. The first half does discuss Pol’s exposure to Marxism, especially in Paris, but the latter half focuses on the regime itself. There is a missing connection there—what transformed the quiet, polite student into a killing machine? Murder was indiscriminate, based on Pol’s paranoia and his everchanging view of Marxism (so, for example, you might be tortured and killed if you foraged for food, because that is selfish, and your family would then also be tortured and killed).

Mostly, Short comes back to Khmer culture, combined with the fact that Cambodia was caught in a dispute between Vietnam/USSR and China/U.S., all of which were aware of and mostly unconcerned with the massive and unnecessary loss of life taking place. Once Vietnam had invaded Cambodia, both China and the U.S. wanted everyone there to suffer, as that would weaken Vietnam and by extension also the Soviet Union. But this seems to make Pol Pot just a cog in a machine, and suggests that anyone else would’ve done the same. Maybe we can never really know.


Friday, November 24, 2006

Ecuador election

The presidential runoff in Ecuador takes place on Sunday. As Boz notes, the campaign has become very negative. The AP has some examples of the exchange of insults.

Correa: "At stake here is whether to have a nation or be just one more plantation for the conceited Noboa."

Noboa: "He runs with communists but he isn't man enough to call himself communist."

The big question is whether the people of Ecuador win either way.


Thursday, November 23, 2006

Charlotte Turkey Trot 8K

All over the country, people get up on Thanksgiving morning to run races. For the past several years, we've run the Charlotte Turkey Trot 8K. This year, over 2000 people ran (even more when you count the shorter fun runs), and it was cool to see that someone 83 years old finished the race, which is what I hope to be doing at that age. I see that the overall winner for women was Cassie Ficken, a very good runner for UNC Charlotte (who I think has now graduated).


Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Pinochet's legal problems

The Miami Herald has a good discussion of Augusto Pinochet’s legal woes. My only complaint would be that it is vague about the laws that block prosecution. It’s not simply a matter of “lax amnesty laws” but rather an often confusing combination of immunity as former head of state, and protection via the 1978 amnesty, depending on when the crime took place. Added to that is the argument is that he has “dementia” (he will soon be 91) and therefore is unfit to stand trial. All of these issues must also filter through several levels of court hearings and appeals.

I had also neglected to mention the truly surreal statements his daughter made a few days ago, in which she said Pinochet “felt great pain” for people who suffered while he was in power. Further:

"He is not prepared to ask for a national forgiveness as some want, but he is prepared to meet any of those people and talk to them," Lucia Pinochet told the television's Wednesday late news program. "There, he would see whether to ask for their forgiveness."

Under his personal direction, the dictatorship was engaged in cold hearted, cold blooded murder. And yet he talks about a) having a chat with victims’ families; and b) deciding afterward whether he would bother asking for forgiveness.


Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Trade agreements with Latin America

An interesting debate is brewing about whether to extend the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act, which is a trade preference deal that provides access to U.S. markets for certain goods from Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. Unless Congress acts, it will expire on December 31.

Democrats have expressed skepticism about all the pending trade deals (e.g. FTAs with Colombia and Peru). Charles Rangel has indicated that he wants more labor provisions in the ATPDEA. This is a standard criticism by Democrats, and often it is a legitimate one, as labor is routinely abused.

In this case, however, and especially with regard to Bolivia, it doesn’t make much sense. Not only do human rights organizations (like the Washington Office on Latin America) support it, but Evo Morales himself wants it extended, and is sending his Vice President to the U.S. to lobby for it.

Trade agreements should certainly be scrutinized, and not rubber stamped. But when it comes to whether an agreement will hurt the poor in Bolivia, I think Evo Morales is the expert I’ll listen to. In addition, the purpose of the agreement is to provide alternatives to growing coca. So if we criticize the military response to drugs (which I have often done) then we need to offer up something else.


Monday, November 20, 2006

Mexico report

The Mexican government released a report about the targeting of government opponents from the 1960s to the early 1980s. Most importantly, it directly implicates three former presidents (Gustavo Diaz Ordaz, Jose Lopez Portillo and Luis Echeverria) as knowing about killing and torture and doing nothing about it.

"This was not about the behavior of certain individuals," Carrillo said. "It was the consequence of an authorized plan to do away with political dissidents."

News reports say that the report is on the internet, but I haven't found it (I'll keep looking, but if anyone comes across the link, let me know). This leaves a lot of questions. How many people were targeted? Was it the police? Military? A combination?

It is also further evidence that Mexico's one party state wasn't as different from Latin American dictatorships as it would like to claim.


Sunday, November 19, 2006

Immigration reform

Apropos my question of whether Democrats would really start moving on immigration reform, there is an article by Tamar Jacoby in the latest issue of Foreign Affairs. Right away, it argues something I’ve been saying for a while:

In fact, the nation is far less divided on immigration, legal or illegal, than the current debate suggests. In the last six months, virtually every major media outlet has surveyed public attitudes on the issue, and the results have been remarkably consistent. Americans continue to take pride in the United States' heritage as a nation of immigrants. Many are uneasy about the current influx of foreigners. But an overwhelming majority -- between two-thirds and three-quarters in every major poll -- would like to see Congress address the problem with a combination of tougher enforcement and earned citizenship for the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants already living and working here.

The thrust of the article is that now with the elections behind it, Congress will likely move quickly to address immigration. It provides a really good analysis of the U.S. economy’s need for labor, the futility of enforcement-only policies, etc.

These facts are stark, and those who buy into the comprehensive vision see no point in quarreling with them. Rather than seeking to repeal the laws of supply and demand -- or trying futilely to block them, as current policy does -- reformers want an immigration policy that acknowledges and makes the most of these realities.

The only problem is that she never addresses her initial premise: that Congress will start working on reform. At the beginning of the essay, she writes:

The political stars will realign, perhaps sooner than anyone expects, and when they do, Congress will return to the task it has been wrestling with: how to translate the emerging consensus into legislation to repair the nation's broken immigration system.

But she then takes this as self-evident, and never gets back to it. Why is it obvious that Congress will tackle it? There is a vocal minority against it, and therefore it will be tempting to avoid it. Nonetheless, if you're interested in the debate it is a nice, concise analysis.


Saturday, November 18, 2006

Is that juice really worth the squeeze?

Like a number of other local governments, Gaston County, right here next to Charlotte, has enacted new laws prohibiting illegal immigrants from receiving local services. The essential argument is that illegal immigrants represent a net cost to the county, so this law should save the county money. Right? Well, no.

First of all, the county commissioner who sponsored the bill said illegal immigrants are a “drain” on county services. When asked how much money was being spent, his response was…he didn’t know.

Second, county officials believe that the enforcement efforts will cost more than illegal immigrants do.

For instance, the county Health Department must provide some programs by federal law, regardless of citizenship, said Colleen Bridger, health director. Why, she asked, should illegal immigrants be excluded if they're entitled to programs anyway?

"It would add expense to ask a question we can do nothing with," Bridger said.

Another issue is the number of people such screenings would catch. About 11 percent of Health Department customers are Hispanic, Bridger said, and officials don't know how many are in the U.S. illegally.

"Is that juice really worth the squeeze?" she asked. "If you're looking for efficiency in government, this isn't it."

This law would also mean that when is story time at the Gaston library, librarians would be breaking the law if they did not determine the immigration status of every child there.

Unfortunately, unless the federal government addresses immigration these local laws will continue to gain momentum.


Friday, November 17, 2006

News Flash: Border Enforcement is Not Cheap

The inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security has issued an estimate that the recently authorized border fence will cost anywhere between $8 and $30 billion. You may remember that the original estimate, confidently asserted right before an election, was $2 billion. Given that only $67 million has actually been approved so far, I don't see Congress coughing up that much.

This entire episode annoys me in many ways and on many levels. One of the outcomes will be a confirmation that the federal government is simply not interested in addressing immigration at all. Unfortunately, this will lead more local governments to enact their own laws, with a resulting morass of lawsuits and local political conflict.

I've been mulling over whether the new Democratic leadership will push for immigration reform in 2007, and although conventional wisdom suggests they will, I'm not sure yet. Certainly, they want the Latino vote, but I think doing nothing also secures some of that vote--in other words, the only harm comes when you go for enforcement-only policies. Many of the newly elected Democrats are fairly conservative, and might not want to jump right into a sticky topic. Plus, with the Murtha episode it also appears that the Democrats aren't very united and don't have a solid idea what they're doing. Or maybe I am just tired and cynical this morning.


Thursday, November 16, 2006

Say it ain't so

The Padres are reportedly pursuing Barry Bonds. We lose Bruce Bochy and then might gain Barry Bonds? What a strange off season.

I hope this isn't true, or at least doesn't happen (his price tage must be massive). I'm not sure if I can learn how to root for him.


Wednesday, November 15, 2006

U.S.-Venezuela podcast

My second podcast, a look at U.S.-Venezuelan relations, is now up on my website. Thanks yet again to Scott Phillipson, who reduced the size of the files and made it much easier to just click and listen.


Blogging anonymously

I think students might be surprised to learn how many professors blog anonymously. I read a number of such blogs, and thought about this in light of a gaffe yesterday by Dr. Crazy, who inadvertently left a clue about her real identity in a post and didn’t notice it for some time. She then wrote about the dynamics of blogging anonymously. I don’t think I could ever do so, precisely because everything you write potentially tells people who you are, which would take the fun out of it.

Something else struck me—it seems that for academic blogs, more men use their real names, while most (though not all) anonymous blogs are written by women. There are many blogs out there I haven’t read, so maybe there is some sort of selection bias, but that is the trend I’ve noticed. For example, out of all the political science blogs out there (admittedly, a small sample), Michelle Dion’s is the only one I know of written by a woman. If I am wrong, I'd love to learn otherwise.


Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Remittances in El Salvador

Via Tim’s El Salvador Blog: an interesting article on the effects of remittances. Especially because of the 1980s civil war, about ¼ of Salvadorans live in the U.S. and send money home, to the tune of a whopping 16.6% of GDP. This in turn creates an incentive for recipients not to accept low paying jobs. To fill these jobs, more Nicaraguans and Hondurans are entering the country, almost entirely illegally. Meanwhile, economic growth in El Salvador in 2005 was the lowest in Central America.


Monday, November 13, 2006

Cuba embargo vote at the UN

A few days ago, the UN voted overwhelmingly to request that the U.S. end the embargo against Cuba. The vote was 183-4, rejected only by the U.S., Palau, Marshall Islands, and Israel (for some reason, the Federated States of Micronesia abstained).

These days, it's just plain hard to defend the embargo and sound rational, especially since we've opened up to China and Vietnam. For example, part of the U.S. response was that:

The measures had been maintained in an effort to promote the exercise of human, political and socio-economic rights for all Cuban people.

I'm still trying to figure out that logic.


Sunday, November 12, 2006

College professor is a great job

So says Money Magazine. We're second to software engineers.

NEW YORK (MONEY) - To find the best jobs in America, MONEY Magazine and, a leading provider of employee compensation data and software, began by assembling a list of positions that the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects will grow at an above-average rate over 10 years and that require at least a bachelor's degree.

Using compensation data, we eliminated jobs with average pay below $50,000; total employment of less than 15,000; dangerous work environments; or fewer than 800 annual job openings, including both new and replacement positions.

Next we rated positions by stress levels, flexibility in hours and working environment, creativity, and how easy it is to enter and advance in the field.


The U.S. government believes that Castro may die someday

In one of the more incisive examples of political intelligence I’ve seen, the U.S. government thinks that Fidel Castro’s health is “deteriorating” and he is unlikely to live past next year. As the article notes, this is all hush hush: “American officials will not talk publicly about how they glean clues to Castro's health.” Now maybe I am going out on a limb here, but I’m guessing this startling conclusion was reached after months of careful examination of such things as:

--Castro himself saying his health problems were serious
--everyone in Cuba saying his health problems were serious
--publicly aired videos showing his health problems were serious

U.S. government officials believe he has cancer of the stomach, colon, or pancreas. Or something. A year ago it was Parkinson’s, but maybe that one didn’t pan out.

Here’s my question: why does the U.S. government bother leaking these predictions? I guess officials figure that one day, they’ll finally be right.


Saturday, November 11, 2006

Burrito vs. sandwich

The rise of Americanized Mexican fast food is remarkable. In the early 1970s, when my parents lived briefly in Michigan as transplanted Californians, no one had even heard of Mexican food, much less eaten it. Nowadays it is ubiquitous, and of course transformed, because in the U.S. we don’t particularly like the true, healthy style of Mexican food. Americans tend to want nacho cheese, extra sour cream (why, I will never understand), and we want massive burritos that resemble white bricks.

Anyhow, via Crescat Sententia comes a court case in Worcester, MA, which shows just how popular the burrito has become.

The burrito brouhaha began when Panera, one of the country's biggest bakery cafes, argued that owners of the White City Shopping Center in Shrewsbury violated a 2001 lease agreement that restricted the mall from renting to another sandwich shop. When the center signed a lease this year with Qdoba, Panera balked, saying the Mexican chain's burritos violate its sandwich exclusivity clause.

A judge denied the claim, saying a burrito was not a sandwich. That is a no-brainer, as I have never ordered a bean sandwich with guacamole, just as I have never ordered a burrito with pickles and mayo. They even had someone from the government weigh in.

Judith A. Quick, who previously worked as a deputy director of the Standards and Labeling Division at the US Department of Agriculture, said in her affidavit: "The USDA views a sandwich as a separate and distinct food product from a burrito or taco."

And she got paid for that testimony. I’m glad we’ve straightened that out. But it demonstrates that Mexican food is so widespread and popular that it’s seen as threatening to sandwiches. For those of us addicted to it, that’s just fine.


Friday, November 10, 2006

Immigration and "irrational" voters

Thanks to my brother for pointing out this article at Cato Unbound by an economics professor on the irrationality of voters, which uses immigration as its main example (and, I should say, he sent me the link because it was provocative and not because he agreed with it). The argument is that economists agree that immigration is good for the economy, and therefore voters who disagree are irrational. If voters are wrong, politicians will pursue bad policies in order to win elections.

The Survey of Americans and Economists on the Economy asks respondents to say whether "too many immigrants" is a major, minor, or non-reason why the economy is not doing better than it is. 47% of non-economists think it is a major reason; 80% of economists think it is not a reason at all. Economists have many reasons for their contrarian position: they know that specialization and trade enrich Americans and immigrants alike; there is little evidence that immigration noticeably reduces even the wages of low-skilled Americans; and, since immigrants are largely young males, and most government programs support the old, women, and children, immigrants wind up paying more in taxes than they take in benefits.

Even though I have argued many times in this blog for a more open immigration policy, I think his argument is oversimplified. First of all, since 1 out of 5 economists do think it is a reason, are they irrational too? Or just defined as bad economists and therefore not expert? His claims that “experts” find consensus and are "right" is unconvincing, since highly intelligent, capable people can make disastrous policy decisions (just read The Best and the Brightest) that others find repugnant.

But a bigger problem is that “too many immigrants” is the wrong question. A better question is whether illegal immigration has a positive or negative effect on, say, wages of low income groups. Since the recent debate on immigration is focused on the illegal side, any argument about immigration should include the perceptions of that phenomenon. Especially on that point, experts disagree far more than he gives credit for, and if experts disagree, then the public cannot be labeled “irrational” because they receive highly conflicting information (and, unfortunately, some of this information comes from suspect sources like Lou Dobbs).

Here is a possible twist on his argument. Voters are perhaps rational about illegal immigration, because it does have a number of negative effects. However, many are less rational about the optimal solution, which is to find a way to legalize them, rather than to spend money trying to eject people who will come right back anyway. On that point, I would love to see a poll asking people exactly how enforcement-only can work. Then you might point to irrationality.


Padres moves

In comments in the previous post, Matthew Shugart wondered why I hadn’t made any mention of the major Padres news. Truth is, I’ve been so busy I’ve barely had time to sort it out.

First, Bud Black is the new manager. I guess it is old fashioned, but I like the idea of teams having a hometown angle. He went to SDSU with Tony Gwynn, and later was a good pitcher (Royals) and then pitching coach (Angels). The only negative is that he doesn’t have managerial experience, but I get the impression that these days the major moves are going to be decided upstairs, not in the dugout, as is the case with the A’s. For the Padres, I think it is becoming Moneyball time (all baseball fans should check out the book, it is a great read).

Second, we traded Josh Barfield for two guys I’d never heard of (Kevin Kouzmanoff and Andrew Brown) though apparently Kouzmanoff is a very good hitting prospect. Some have argued it’s a good trade, mostly out of the belief that Barfield won’t exceed his 2006 numbers, and a hot July pumped them up. I’m not sure about that—he is so young and has so much potential (and his dad Jesse had good power). Now we also have a hole at second, which we’ll fill with a few agent (Marcus Giles’ name keeps popping up).

It is going to be a very different team in 2007, with a different style as well. Alderson and Towers do know how to win, so I’ll just try to keep the faith.


Thursday, November 09, 2006

Ortega and the U.S. media

The Associated Press has an article today with a garish headline about Daniel Ortega's embrace of leftists. Its first paragraph claims he will "reject Republicans." However, when you read more closely, you see the following:

--he pledges to work with the U.S.
--he says specifically that no land will be seized and that the country needs private investment
--he wants to build on the Central American Free Trade Agreement

The article then quotes a businessman:

"My fears aren't really about Ortega," said Berry, general manager and part owner of the Pelican Eyes resort in San Juan del Sur who holds both American and Nicaraguan citizenship. "He's among a group of wealthy men who want to protect their investments."

Corruption is a much greater problem than supposed "leftism." At the very least, let's wait and see what policies he pursues.


Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Good morning, Mr. President

Not a fun morning for President Bush. The Democrats have control of the House, a majority of governorships, and are poised to take 51 seats in the Senate (a tense few weeks while those two contested races are sorted out). But on top of that, Daniel Ortega officially won the Nicaraguan presidency. Further, a new poll shows Hugo Chávez with a 22 point lead for the December 3 presidential election in Venezuela (though, I should ask, why is the state oil company commissioning polls?). Finally, Mexican president-elect Calderón is scheduled to visit the White House to ask him why he signed the ridiculous authorization for a border fence.

I will be very curious to see what kind of tone the president takes at his 1 p.m. press conference.

Update at 1:40 p.m.: announcing Rumsfeld's resignation is far more than I expected. Amazing.


Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Voting machines

I wonder how many voting machines had problems today. There are already scattered reports. There is even one story of a guy going nuts and destroying one with a paper weight (which carries a charge of felony criminal mischief and tampering with voting machines).

I used an ES&S iVotronic touch screen machine to vote today, which also produces a printed copy as you go. I asked whether they'd had any problems, and the answer was no. At that point (11:30 a.m. or so) all had been working fine.


Annoyed on election day morning

This is the first election since we moved houses, and in the past I would usually vote in the morning, at a church not far from our house. I have a morning meeting, so I figured I would vote on the way, just leaving a little early. But something hadn't registered (no pun intended). Now I vote at an overcrowded elementary school on a school day. Who thought this up? The school is on a major street, but both lanes were backed up so far that the school was not even in sight, and the traffic wasn't moving much. I didn't have time to wait, so made a u-turn and came to campus. I'll have to go back later in the morning, and wonder where I will even park.

In addition, the school system has Friday off as a teacher workday. Why couldn't they schedule it today instead?

I am definitely going to make sure I vote early in the future.


Monday, November 06, 2006

Transparency International

Transparency International's 2006 Corruption Perception Index is out. Latin America doesn't fare all too well, though Chile is tied with the United States as 20th least corrupt country in the world. Venezuela and Ecuador are tied for worst in Latin America. Incidentally, Iraq is now considered the third most corrupt country, behind only Myanmar and Haiti.

20 Chile
28 Uruguay
55 Costa Rica (it has been slipping down)
57 El Salvador
59 Colombia
66 Cuba
70 Brazil
70 Mexico
70 Peru
84 Panama
93 Argentina
99 Dominican Republic
105 Bolivia
111 Guatemala
111 Nicaragua
111 Paraguay
121 Honduras
138 Ecuador
138 Venezuela


Sí Ortega?

Initial results show Daniel Ortega with a bigger lead than expected in Nicaragua. With 14.65% of the ballots counted, he has just over 40%. This is the magic number, because it means winning the election outright without a runoff. However, Montealegre is at just over 33%, so there is more than the 5% gap necessary to win if Ortega dips under 40% (unless, of course, that is accompanied by a big Montealegre surge). I haven’t seen anything about results for the legislature.

The U.S. government issued a statement:

The U.S. Embassy said it was too soon to "make an overall judgment on the fairness and transparency of the process."

"We are receiving reports of some anomalies in the electoral process," including polling stations that opened late and closed early, the embassy said.

A fairly bland statement, but still I wonder why say anything at all before the final results are announced.

Roberto Rivas, president of the Supreme Electoral Council, dismissed the U.S. statement.

"We have promised the Nicaraguan people transparent elections, and that's what we've done," he said. "I think there were enough observers to witness that."


Sunday, November 05, 2006


In the wake of the video scandal, in which employees of the state oil company were told to vote for him or leave their jobs, Hugo Chávez has once again raised the possibility of cutting off oil exports to the U.S. He’s done so many times before, so there is a boy crying wolf feeling to it.

"If they try to destabilize PDVSA, if the empire and its lackeys in Venezuela attempt another coup, ignore the outcome of the elections or cause election or oil-related upheaval, we won't send another drop of oil to the United States," Chavez said in a speech to PDVSA workers in the coastal city of Puerto La Cruz, 150 miles east of Caracas.

At the same time, the NYT has an article about the boom in the auto business in Venezuela, where American auto makers are increasing production at their Venezuelan plants. A few months ago, another NYT story highlighted all the many mutually beneficial capitalist relationships that exist between the U.S. and Venezuela.

The example of Cuba is there for all to see. Can a Latin American country, even one rich in oil, really afford to cut off economic ties with the U.S.? A unilateral cut in oil would trigger a host of other cuts as the U.S. would retaliate, Venezuela would counter, etc. Is Hugo Chávez really ready to take that step? He is aggressive but, I think, not irrational. Can his fear and loathing of the U.S. actually trump economic realities?


Saturday, November 04, 2006

Half marathon

Amy and I ran the Dowd YMCA Half Marathon this morning, alternating pushing the kids in the double jogger stroller. Very chilly race (about 30 degrees at the start). I can’t say I felt fast (just over 2 hours) but it went pretty well, despite a lot of hills (the finish was straight up).

To the spectator at mile 12—blowing a whistle in runners’ ears as they pass is not a good way in encourage them.


Friday, November 03, 2006

Upcoming election in Nicaragua

Thanks to my student Carla for sending me the link to this article on Daniel Ortega. The Nicaraguan presidential election is coming up this weekend.

The U.S. government has made known its desire for Ortega to lose, and yet is doing all it can to help him win. Oliver North was in Managua and couldn’t help himself--he compared Ortega to Hitler and Mussolini. And that has worked so well with Hugo Chávez. These signs of meddling will very likely turn off voters.

Perhaps it’s because so many in the Bush administration are old Cold Warriors that they view Nicaragua as if it is still 1981. The current incarnation of Ortega isn’t exactly pleasant, but neither is it Marxist. His power sharing deal with conservative former president (and convicted embezzler) Alemán shows willingness to make deals that clearly violate his old ideology. So he may be corrupt, but he’s not very Marxist.

Michael Shifter wrote a good Op-Ed about this Cold War flashback. Amazingly, the U.S. reaction has included calls from some members of Congress to block Nicaraguan remittances if Ortega won. I agree with Shifter’s overall assessment:

Yet Ortega's possible comeback would not have far-reaching repercussions in Latin America and surely would constitute no threat to the United States. Intervention in Nicaragua's internal affairs is unwarranted.

The curious thing about this particular race is that because of Nicaragua’s electoral rules, Ortega has a very good chance of winning in the first round, but if it went to a second, he would almost certainly lose. A candidate needs 35% of the vote, with the closest challenger at least 5 percentage points behind. Polls show Ortega very close to that (see Matthew Shugart’s post). The right is split, but would unite in a second round with only two candidates.


Former Padres becoming Giants

It was bad enough that Bruce Bochy became the Giants manager, but now he has brought Tim Flannery along as a coach. Although he was never a great hitter, he became one of the most popular Padres of all time, and never played for any other team. Next thing you know, Tony Gwynn will become hitting coach.

I guess this is similar to how Red Sox fans feel, when The Boss signs all their players.


Thursday, November 02, 2006

Immigration talk

I just did a radio interview for Think Mornings, a new radio program in Charlotte, regarding a talk I’m giving tonight on immigration. I am really looking forward to it, as the other speakers will be a Captain from Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Dept., and Angeles Ortega-Moore, Executive Director of the Latin American Coalition. (If you are in Charlotte and want details, just email me).

Interestingly, I think almost everyone—regardless of ideology—agrees that the latest effort at the federal level is a joke, despite the flowery words at the signing ceremony for the border fence. It’s really an abdication of responsibility.

On that topic, there was a good column recently in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review by someone who actually wants more enforcement. The columnist started making calls to figure out whether any money was appropriated for the border fence (and if so, how much), the estimated overall cost and whether there was any start (and completion) date for construction. After calling Frist’s office, OMB, DHS, he came to the following conclusion:

No money is appropriated for the fence. DHS does not know the total cost. There is no start date for construction. No one can say when -- or if -- it will be completed.

In addition, a recent poll shows only 45% of those surveyed supported the construction of a border fence. I would like to see the results of the question, “Do you believe the recently passed legislation for a border fence will decrease illegal immigration?”


Wednesday, November 01, 2006

And the winner is.........Panama

That's right. The latest news is that after 47 rounds and many hours of negotiation, Venezuela and Guatemala have agreed to step down and to introduce Panama as a consensus candidate. Forget the Dominican Republic rumors, forget my Costa Rica prediction (yes, please forget it), forget the Bolivia addition, and forget the darkhorse Uruguay possibility.

There is much we don't know here, to say the least, because as far as I know Panama was never mentioned by anyone. I will be waiting for the insider accounts that will inevitably start appearing before long. I will also be very interested to see how all the countries involved spin it.


Time management and academia

Dr. Crazy has a really good post on publishing and getting other work done even with a heavy teaching load. Actually, the lessons are good even if you don't have a heavy teaching load.


47 rounds and counting

Now we’re up to 47 rounds. In the last, Barbados, Ecuador, and Uruguay each received a vote. In another vote, Jamaica also got one. I suppose those are just frustration votes. In recent days, the Dominican Republic has been the most commonly rumored choice as consensus candidate, but there is nothing concrete.

The Venezuelan and Guatemalan foreign ministers are going to meet again today, but in the absence of an agreement, voting will start right up again.


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