Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Punishing bloggers in Egypt

The Washington Post has a disturbing story about how the Egyptian government is singling out bloggers for punishment. Given the country's perpetual state of emergency, they can be jailed indefinitely. Apparently bloggers are really beginning to annoy President Mubarak, which may simply mean their political criticisms are accurate. He then uses the following twisted logic to explain that he gets to decide what is free speech:

"Most of what they are writing could be punished according to the law, because it is libel and blasphemy," Mubarak said. Referring to himself as the source of whatever free speech exists in Egypt, he added: "If they think that what they are doing is an expression of their freedom, they should remember who gave them this chance, and who is insisting on its continuity."


Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Coffee and the radio

I was on Charlotte Talks this morning with Mariano Ospina, a Colombian whose award-winning coffee company is headquartered here. He very generously gave me some Premier Grand Cru Ospina Estate Coffee, and I am drinking some of it now. Excellent stuff.

The idea of the show was to explain why Americans (and Charlotteans specifically) should care about Latin America. Not surprisingly, the hour went very fast.


Immigration Op-Ed

Check out today's Charlotte Observer for an Op-Ed piece on immigration that I wrote with my dad.


Monday, May 29, 2006

Colombian election and the left in Latin America

As predicted by everyone, Uribe won the Colombian presidential election, though he received an even larger share of the vote (62 percent) than generally predicted. The candidate of the left, Carlos Gaviria, won 22 percent, the largest share the left has ever received.

I know I am sounding like a broken record, but I do get tired of the conventional wisdom about the left that keeps getting repeated without analysis. In this case, the Washington Post article argues that Uribe’s election “bucks the trend of leftist leaders taking office across South America in recent years.” It adds:

Recent years have seen left-leaning leaders take office in Bolivia, Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Chile. But the election of the conservative Uribe bucks the leftward trend in South America.

I've said this many times, but it bears repeating: the governments listed there are so diverse that lumping them together makes no sense.


Sunday, May 28, 2006

Padres beat the Cardinals

The Padres come from behind 6-2 to win 10-8 against the Cardinals, to win the rubber game of the series. Not bad at all. Jake Peavy did not pitch that well, but it shows we can score runs in Petco when needed, even against great teams.

And Barry Bonds hit number 715. I find myself totally uninterested.


Colombian elections

Colombia holds its presidential elections today, with incumbent Alvaro Uribe widely expected to win a majority, and thus avoid a second round. Check out Plan Colombia and Beyond for a good summary of how each candidate views the U.S.-Colombia relationship. On Tuesday I'll be on Charlotte Talks to talk some about Colombia but also about Latin America in general--the other guest is a Colombian in the coffee business, whose father was president just before La Violencia.


Friday, May 26, 2006

The U.S. Military and Latin America

Interesting stuff. The army general in charge of the U.S. Southern Command is openly questioning U.S. policy toward Cuba, saying it needs to be rethought. In particular, he wants to be able to make contact with Cuban officers. This comes on the heels of the Pentagon publicly saying that it did not like the policy of penalizing countries that refused to provide waivers to U.S. soldiers with regard to the International Criminal Court.

There is both good and bad intertwined in this. The good is that most aspects of our Cuba policy make little sense and at times have precisely the opposite effect intended, so it’s a good idea to rethink them. The bad is that, as Dana Priest has aptly argued in The Mission, the U.S. military is making policy in many parts of the world because the White House is paying no attention and/or is not interested. Civilians should be making coherent policy, but they aren’t.


Things I Don't Understand, Part I

One thing I don’t understand is why people back into parking spaces. My only guess is that they figure it will be quicker when they want to leave.

I had an example today. I drove into the parking deck here on campus, and pulled forward into a space. There had been a car well ahead of me when I entered, and the person was backing into a space. Back, forward, a little sideways, forward, back, multiple times trying to get straight. I had already parked and was walking well away from him or her before they finished. So the entire effort had wasted a lot of time, and I really doubt they will ultimately get out too much faster than me, even though I will have to back out when I leave.


Thursday, May 25, 2006

Student knowledge of politics

I am teaching Intro to Comparative Politics during this summer session, and yesterday for fun I gave my students a quiz on politics, which they could do anonymously. I just wanted to see how much people knew. Here are the results. N=19

How is the number of electoral votes for each state determined?

Correct: 32%

Who is the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives?

Correct: 5% (one person!)

Identify NC’s two senators:

Dole: 21%
Burr: 16%

Two people correctly identified both of them

Identify the Governor of NC:

Correct: 58%

Identify the Mayor of Charlotte:

Correct 47%

These numbers are quite low, of course, though I don’t know offhand how they compare to national surveys. It does help to underline a point I made in class, which was that it just seems so odd that the U.S. utilizes a system for electing its president that very few people understand. Even more odd is that people realize that they don’t understand it, yet still don’t care.


Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Does Chávez really want to break with the U.S.?

In his newly created blog, Andres Oppenheimer argues that, despite Chávez's rhetoric, he is working to increase Venezuela's investment in the U.S. A few weeks ago, though, Camilo gave evidence of what he argued was a concerted effort by Chávez to pull away from the United States, perhaps to break relations entirely.

I'm still in a "we'll have to wait and see" mood.


Bush's role in passing immigration reform

According to the WP, some House Republicans say that passage of a new immigration law is not possible unless President Bush puts all his energy into it.

One problem is that the last Bush approval rating I saw was 29 percent, just absurdly low (for a very cool graph of his approval ratings over time, check this out, compiled by Steven Ruggles at the University of Minnesota). Given the fact that immigration divides his party, the president has almost no incentive to use up what tiny amount of political capital he might have. There is thus a solid chance that nothing will be passed, though at this point there is pressure for Congress at least to look like it is doing something.

The Senate will likely vote on Thursday, and negotiations with the House will take place in June. Although I will be interested to see the Senate version, I wonder whether it will be relevant--either nothing will be passed or the ultimate law will scarcely resemble it given significant differences with House Republicans.


Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Most Useless Newspaper Article I've Read in a While

This AP article has the headline "Mexican migrants heading north" and after reading it, I learned the shocking news that many Mexicans are coming to the United States. Maybe this is what happens to reporters when their deadlines are looming and they don't have anything written.


Monday, May 22, 2006

Mexican immigration law

Here’s an interesting article in the Miami Herald about how Mexican law treats non-natives. Even if people become naturalized Mexican citizens, they are barred from serving in Congress, national legislatures, the Supreme Court, governorships, and sometimes even town councils. Here is a real shocker:

Recently the Mexican government has gone even further. Since at least 2003, it has encouraged cities to ban non-natives from such local jobs as firefighters, police and judges.

What basis could there possibly be for preventing naturalized citizens from serving in these positions? And why would the federal government make an effort to push for that sort of law at the city level?

Of course, these sorts of stories are getting more attention because the Mexican government has been so vociferous that its citizens should be treated better in the United States. I happen to agree completely with that position, but Mexico’s immigration laws are perhaps even more ridiculous than ours, which is saying something.


Sunday, May 21, 2006

Bacardi, Cuba and Political Science

An honors student of mine just graduated and is currently in Mexico (I will not name names, but his initials are John Hyatt). He emailed me that the label on a bottle of Bacardi in Mexico states that the company was founded in Cuba. He had never seen that mentioned in the U.S., and asked me about it. Being the good political scientist that I am, in the interest of political analysis I went and bought a bottle of Bacardi (I had to go to the store, so happened also to pick up a bottle of Coke). It makes no mention of Cuba at all, but only Puerto Rico, where the majority of production takes place. It says the company was established in 1862, but not the fact that it was in Cuba.

Bacardi is one of the very few companies that has not written off its losses in Cuba. An article in The Guardian (based on a book that was written on the topic—I cannot say I am interested enough to buy it) notes that Bacardi has given money to the Cuban American National Foundation (CANF) and to politicians who support anti-Castro legislation. Bacardi’s very glitzy website has a history timeline, which says that the company’s assets were “illegally confiscated by Cubas [sic] totalitarian regime.”

This raises some questions. Why refuse to list the Cuba connection (at least on the bottle) in the U.S., but not in Mexico? Is it because Cuba is not seen with disfavor in Mexico? Why does Bacardi hang on so much when other companies have decided their property in Cuba is long gone? What is now happening on the land and production facilities it once owned? Is this all just a good excuse for me to make a rum and Coke?

When I discuss Cuba in class, I always admit that I cannot see an easy transition taking place, though I hope I’m wrong. Apparently Bacardi will be right in there, demanding back everything it lost when Fidel began nationalizing.


Saturday, May 20, 2006

Hugo Chávez and Latin America

The NYT has an article about some of the negative responses in Latin America to Hugo Chávez. It doesn’t cover anything really new, but does make me wonder whether Chávez’s regional popularity has already peaked. There must be some more pro-Chávez analyses out there that deny this, but I haven’t yet seen them.

One theme the article brings out is the idea that Latin Americans reject the hubris of the United States, but that perhaps now they are doing the same with regard to Chávez. Maybe they will find a political solution that avoids the worst aspects of both.


Friday, May 19, 2006

Academic blogging

I’ve been reading a few blogs in recent days, written by people who are either ABD or recent Ph.D.s. All are anonymous, and are sometimes surprisingly frank, to the point that at times I feel like a voyeur just reading them. However, I’ve been attracted by their discussions about academic life as graduate school ends, especially in the social sciences. I now have tenure, but I can still relate to many of the same issues they raise, and perhaps reading them provides a good reminder of what recent Ph.D.s have to deal with. In short, academia is a pretty weird profession.

ABDmom is, as her name suggests, ABD at a large university, with an Assistant Professor job lined up in the fall.

Professor Me is revising her dissertation and has a job lined up.

BrightStar is an Assistant Professor in the social sciences.

ArticulateDad finished his Ph.D. in 2005 and is looking for a position.


U.S.-Venezuelan relations

The public diplomacy of U.S.-Venezuelan relations remains as childish as ever. The U.S. announced it would no longer sell arms to Venezuela because it wasn’t “cooperating” in the “war on terror.” Since we barely sell arms to Venezuela (which has been doing a lot of business with Russia) this seems to be a gratuitous policy meant primarily to rile up Chávez.

In response, Chávez obviously tried to think of what might really make Bush (sorry, I mean “Mr. Danger”) mad, so announced he was thinking of selling his F-16s to Iran. Since the U.S. has the right to deny the sale of its planes, such a sale can never happen. Funny enough, the Iranians even denied they were interested at all, thus showing the entire idea was never based in reality.


Tuesday, May 16, 2006


I am in the process of moving houses, so it'll be a few days until I post much again.


Sunday, May 14, 2006

Airlines & lost luggage

For three trips in a row now involving Charlotte--twice by me, and now once by my parents, on two separate airlines--flight delays have led to rushed connections, then lost (or I should say delayed) luggage. As for national security, the airlines are utterly clueless about where any bag is until it magically shows up somewhere. The stock answer is, "It will be on the next flight" but of the three times, that was only true once.


Friday, May 12, 2006

Senate immigration deal

Senators Frist and Reid “reached a deal” on immigration. What this seems to mean is that they came up with a plan that can pass the Senate, and have agreed on the composition of a group of senators to hammer out a compromise with the House. It still includes a path of citizenship for people here illegally, though I have yet to see any details.

Everything remains vague. Frist says there will be a “considerable” number of amendments next week when debate starts up again, but no word on what they might look like. The White House wants something passed by Memorial Day. Then the nitty gritty--deal making between the House and Senate--will really begin.


Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Chávez and Peruvian politics

First, there were reports that a reported connection to Hugo Chávez was hurting López Obrador’s in the Mexico presidential campaign. Now, Chávez (or more importantly, his penchant for making inflammatory comments) may be hurting Ollanta Humala, who is already trailing Alan García for the presidential run-off in Peru. In fact, Humala himself acknowledged that fact:

"Obviously (Chavez) is not helping. I'm not in direct contact with him, but we do say to him, please, leave us to do our job and run our campaign," Humala told current affairs television show Cuarto Poder on Sunday.

Chávez has often been compared to Fidel Castro, but I think Fidel is a far better diplomat. He knows when to hold ‘em, and when to fold ‘em, as it were. With his oil money and considerable popularity, Chávez had the potential to become a major hemispheric force, but especially recently he seems to be his own worst enemy.


Tuesday, May 09, 2006

The downsides of Latin American emigration

An article in the Washington Post highlights an issue that is receiving increased attention, including an NPR story I heard on the way to campus this morning. It is the emptying out of Latin American towns, as the working age population emigrates to the United States. Children live with their grandparents, not knowing when they will see their parents again, who for the most part have entered the U.S. illegally.

This is an issue that should be analyzed in tandem with remittance studies, which focus on the economic benefits for Latin America. Remittances can be life savers, but massive emigration may simply mean economic stagnation, with towns full mostly of the old and the very young, with people leaving when they’re teenagers.

Meanwhile, the NPR story talks about how some of those children are having behavioral problems due to lack of parental involvement.


Monday, May 08, 2006

The "Left" in Latin America

Given the headlines in today’s Chilean papers, I thought I would comment some more on the “left” in Latin America. President Bachelet is denying that she ever congratulated Evo Morales on nationalization (he says she did), saying that she doesn’t comment on other governments’ policies and simply was confirming a bilateral meeting.

Meanwhile, as NTKLA points out, in Peru Ollanta Humala has distanced himself from Hugo Chávez, and association with Chávez may have damaged the campaign of López Obrador in Mexico, who now seems to be behind in every poll.

Andres Oppenheimer has an interesting Op-Ed about how little the so-called “left” in Latin America agrees on anything.


Sunday, May 07, 2006

Chávez in power

Hugo Chávez says he wants a referendum to extend his presidency another 25 years. He also suggested he might ask to remain president “indefinitely.”

No matter how much you love any president, this sort of thing is not good.


Saturday, May 06, 2006

Maybe the Padres can win after all

I’ve been very dubious about Chan Ho Park, but he pitched nine scoreless innings (though no win) as the Padres beat the Cubs in 11 innings. We’ve now won six in a row, leaving us only one game under .500 and 2.5 games out of first. For the moment, the NL West is tied (with the AL West) as the worst division, in terms of the lowest winning percentage of the first place team (.567).

The other teams in the division don’t have awesome looking line-ups (and Barry Bonds is not hitting well) so maybe the Padres’ mix of the old and the young can really compete.


Friday, May 05, 2006

More on defining the left in Latin America

Further complicating the “leftist” label in Latin America, Uruguayan President Tabaré Vázquez has been talking with President Bush about trade, with the ultimate goal of a free trade agreement.

Vázquez is always cited as part of the leftist tilt, yet here he is negotiating trade with the U.S., and even taking a swipe at Evo Morales, saying that “he welcomed foreign investment and noted that his country respected its contractual obligations.” This refers to Bolivia’s recent nationalization of natural gas. Not the sort of behavior you’d expect from a “leftist.”


Thursday, May 04, 2006

Nice day in academia

This has been a very nice academic day. First of all, it is a gorgeous spring day. Classes are over but finals have not begun, so I have only a few things to grade for the next several days. This morning, a student in Latin American Studies whose honor’s thesis I am chairing, defended that thesis on reactions to the Argentine dollar peg—congratulations to John Hyatt on an interesting paper and good defense.

This afternoon I’ve finished up another article for submission and put it in the mail (yet another journal that does not do email submission—do they get too many submissions to make email work well?). I remember some time ago, Michelle (aka La Profesora Abstraida) had talked about the goal of having three journal manuscripts out at a time. Or was it Mungowitz? Vegreville? A quick look at her archives didn’t yield anything, and I don’t have time for more searching.

I think it’s a great goal—I’ve been into writing books, and so for the past three years or so have not written as many articles, which I am trying now to catch up on. It is not easy to have three going at once, but if you’re well behind that, it might be useful to think about whether there are other things you might need to spend less time on. Being behind also will make the tenure process very stressful, and later will make full professor a distant goal.

I’m not sure if I am in the majority or not, but I really enjoy the process of research, writing and publication (though the sting of rejection is still there—next year PS: Political Science & Politics will publish a piece I wrote on the issue of rejection in Political Science, which I wrote after a very annoying rejection I got from a top journal). The article I've just sent off is especially fun because I co-wrote it with my dad.


Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Immigration backlash or not?

I read this article in the Washington Post, and although it is on an important topic—the possible backlash against the immigration rallies—I found it annoying, probably because I have recently graded a load of term papers in my US-Latin American Relations class, and this article had some of the same common problems. In short, it has a clear hypothesis, but then does not provide sufficient evidence to support it.

The article’s main argument is the following:

While a series of marches focused much of the nation's attention on the plight of illegal immigrants, scores of other Americans quietly seethed. Now, with the same full-throated cry expressed by those in the country illegally, they are shouting back.

In short, the immigration rallies have created a significant backlash, and the article goes on to suggest that this will hurt the movement. Pretty strong stuff. I focused in particular on the idea that there is “the same full-throated cry” by those who disagree with the intent of the rallies. Given that there were hundreds of thousands of people, rallies all over the country, etc. then we would need to see evidence of something similar, or at least polls showing the backlash. Instead, the article provides:

--a seemingly random selection of quotes from 3-4 people
--the spokesman for John Cornyn (who himself apparently did not have the same full-throated cry, so passed it off to staff)
--a quote from Tom Tancredo, who said he had attended a dinner where people agreed with his views

I think the issue of backlash is extremely important, and deserves real attention. It is disappointing to see such a hash made of it in the Post.


Problems with U.S. drug policy

In a story that is getting less play because of all the immigration hubbub, even a key Plan Colombia supporter (Senator Charles Grassley) is contradicting the cheery report of John Walters, the U.S. “drug czar.”

Incidentally, when and why did the term “drug czar” come into use? Why czar, and not king, emperor, or maybe shah?

Anyhow, the czar claimed that purity of cocaine was down, and the price was up. U.S. drug policy is based on the idea that if we drive prices high enough, then people will stop using, so price hikes are a way of measuring “success” (whether that can ever work is, of course, another issue).

See Adam Isacson’s blog for a good discussion of how the numbers were being spun. He includes a final tidbit about immigration, namely that President Uribe suggested implanting microchips in the bodies of seasonal workers to keep track of them.


Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Immigration rallies but no boycott

Although on NPR this morning there was much talk of boycotts, the NYT does a good job of explaining that no boycott materialized. In fact, in Charlotte a number of Latino businesses closed as their owners participated in rallies, so the economic impact may have been felt largely within the Latino community itself. Ultimately, nationwide the day was similar to the previous rallies, meaning there was minimal economic disruption, but a large number of people participating peacefully. As a result, my guess is that there will be little or no backlash.

Now we get to wait and see what happens in Congress. To what degree will these public displays influence policy?


Monday, May 01, 2006

Latino immigrants in Charlotte

On a day when the nation is focused on immigration, it seems fitting to discuss some of the data I’ve been gathering for my grant on Latino immigration to Charlotte. For example, in 2000 Latinos accounted for 12.5% of births here, which increased to 18% for 2004 (2005 birth data is not yet available, but should reach 1 in 5, while white non-Hispanic births will account for less than half). About 62% of the mothers are Mexican. Somewhere around 9% of the total population is Latino.

Also interesting is that Latino women have healthier babies—there are fewer incidences of low birth weight, and fewer premature babies than non-Latinos.

With the aid of my GIS programmer wife, I’m going to (well, she’s going to) make some cool maps with all this and other data, which is at the zip code level.

I have no idea how well organized the Day Without an Immigrant is here, though Latino leaders (such as at the Latin American Coalition) are urging people not to skip school or work.


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