Saturday, June 30, 2007

Quote of the day (actually yesterday)

"I think that is something that can be dealt with at a later time."

Senator Elizabeth Dole's answer about how she proposed to address the issue of millions of undocumented workers in the U.S.


Drenched! 5K

We ran the Drenched! 5K this morning, so named because H2O magazine was a sponsor, though it also accurately describes everyone's condition after the race (though it started at 7:30 to avoid the summer heat and humidity). I pushed the kids this time, and won the male baby jogger division. I did, however, have to suffer my son's comments as he sat there, such as "those people are passing us" and "why don't you go faster and catch up with Mom."


Friday, June 29, 2007

Immigration reform=dead

I realize that to argue we’re at a “crossroads” with regard to immigration is terribly cliché, but it’s true.

Talk radio is gleeful, as are those who hate going to Wal-Mart because there are just too many Mexicans there. Also happy are those, like Harvard economist George Borjas--who normally offered well-reasoned arguments against the reform bill--who say that this is a blow against the “establishment” (despite the fact that the grassroots campaigns by religious groups, activists, etc. in support of reform were also strong) and the “academic elite” (I do not know whether I count as such or not). In sum, the people spoke and saved us from the evils of reform.

Senator Jim DeMint tells us that “The American people won today.” If you believe the status quo represents winning, then he’s right. But if you want real change, that’s where the crossroads comes in, because now we get to see whether the arguments of reform opponents will work in practice. I have not heard any alternative solution except for “enforcement,” so that seems to be the only game in town. Supporters of reform failed, and now we’ll see whether enforcement-only has a significant effect, or whether we will settle back, watch some high profile workplace raids, and transform nothing.

Little remarked upon is the fact that we still await a decision on the Hazleton case, which will help determine the degree to which local governments can create and enforce their own immigration laws. If the courts give a green light, then watch the free-for-all as local governments enact a patchwork of different laws, which may simply give Congress an even greater incentive to do nothing.

BTW, was I the only one who realized the bill was truly dead after reading a few days ago that the White House Deputy Chief of Staff said, ““Our intelligence suggests that there will be the votes there”?


Wednesday, June 27, 2007

CIA family jewels

Everyone should take a peek at the documents posted at the National Security Archive, which filed a Freedom of Information request for the so-called “family jewels,” some of the more sensitive CIA documents from the Cold War, which were released yesterday. They censored them to death, of course, but they are worth a browse for the rampant disregard for the law they represent.

They also include reports on the efforts to kill Fidel Castro, and although the U.S. government-Mafia ties are infamous, it is still rather jarring to read things like the following (this is from Part I, page 12 of the file):

“In August 1960, Mr. Richard M. Bissell approached Colonel Sheffield Edwards to determine if the Office of Security had assets that may assist in a sensitive mission requiring gangster-type action. The mission target was Fidel Castro.”

“Gangster-type action”? Who writes like that? It goes on further:

“Mr. Maheu advised that he had met one Johnny Roselli on several occasions while visiting Las Vegas. He only knew him casually through clients, but was given to understand that he was a high-ranking member of the “syndicate” and controlled all of the ice-making machines on the Strip.”

So the U.S. government, looking for gangster action, found the guy who controlled ice making in Vegas, and eventually concocted a plan to produce 6 lethal pills, which would be put into Castro’s drink. The plan was later shelved after the Bay of Pigs.

Yes. This is U.S. foreign policy toward Cuba.


Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Villa Grimaldi

Chileans are ambivalent about their past. I visited Villa Grimaldi, the most infamous of detention centers--Bachelet herself was tortured there, 4,500 other Chileans were taken there, and 226 were never seen again. A Chilean friend had told me that it was visited mostly by tourists, and my impression did not contradict that. It almost seemed intentionally hidden—the address on the website has the wrong number, there are no signs, and there is almost no parking, so we drove back and forth several times to make sure we were in the right place. Once inside the grounds, there is no museum. The military destroyed most of the buildings, so it is primarily a memorial park. To my knowledge, it is the only detention center that has been made into an official memorial, but it receives relatively little attention. It is powerful to stand there and think about all the people who passed through, but it deserves more.


Monday, June 25, 2007

All good things must come to an end

One day, I'm having a winter lunch at a Chilean vineyard, and the next I am in a hot, humid, southern summer.


Sunday, June 24, 2007

Bachelet numbers

Strangely enough, President Bachelet’s approval numbers have improved: 42% compared to 40% a month ago, and up to 37% from 33% in Santiago. Nationally, her disapproval ratings also improved, but remain high (43% compared to 46% a month ago). However, people greatly disapprove of the government in general (55% versus 53% last month) though it receives much better ratings outside Santiago.

Check out Pato Navia’s blog (in Spanish) for a highly critical commentary of the Concertación, in which he argues that it has failed to reinvent itself. I think he’s overly critical, but I do agree with his assertion that the right just can’t get its act together. Bachelet’s numbers have improved slightly, but remain well under 50%, yet the right has not stepped in and taken political advantage.


Saturday, June 23, 2007

Golden rules of the metro

A few days ago, when I put more money on my Bip! card (the Transantiago card) I was given a little paper case for the card, and on the back were the ten “Golden Rules of the Good Metropolitan." Here are the basic rules of Metro life, my translation:

1. I am tolerant and I wait my turn
2. I show sympathy toward and help others
3. I always have a positive attitude
4. I give up my seat to those who need it
5. I follow the Metro’s instructions
6. I let others off before I get on
7. I stay on the right on the walkway
8. I use the stairs without running
9. I keep my Metro clean
10. I put more money on my card ahead of time

Shoot, I think with two young kids I may post this in my house. Just a few tweaks. On #5, replace “the Metro” with “Mom & Dad.” On #9, replace “Metro” with “room.” I’m not sure about #10.


Friday, June 22, 2007

Baseball and Cuba

The NYT has a story about a young Cuban baseball player who is now in a U.S. high school. Unfortunately, it is a fluff piece, never mentioning the ways in which agents try to smuggle people out or the promises of huge contracts dangled in front of people’s eyes. The article claims that “his recollections provide a rare glimpse inside the secretive world of baseball development in Cuba” but we don’t really get any insights.

Pete Bjarkman is an expert on Cuban baseball, and it’s noteworthy that in a post from a few weeks ago, he wrote the following:

Personal Wish for the Future: That major league baseball stays out of Cuba for as long as possible

Meanwhile, Jonathan at Global Baseball writes about how MLB is making its move into China.


Thursday, June 21, 2007

80s music in Santiago (Part 4)

I was told last night that the idea to pump music (which, as I've noted, is almost all 80s music from the US and UK) into downtown Santiago came from Joaquín Lavín, a member of UDI (the far right party) who was once mayor of Santiago and twice a loser in presidential elections. Apparently it was an effort to beautify downtown. Ideology aside, I’d vote against him for that alone.


RCTV in Mexico?

RCTV is looking into the possibility of broadcasting from Mexico. This would create a very interesting dynamic between the two governments. Despite having no ideological affinity with Chávez, Calderón has tended to avoid criticizing him, but I would think that this sort of move would be viewed as at least tacit support for antichavistas. Further, Chávez would have to say something inflammatory about it--you know he can't help himself.

Nonetheless, the vow to transmit into Venezuela by cable, satellite, or internet makes me wonder how many people will even see it. What percentage of Venezuelans regularly have access to such media? I'd have to think it is relatively small.


Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Getting more money for Transantiago

At the last minute, President Bachelet got the votes she needed for the Senate to pass the money for Transantiago. The senator (Carlos Bianchi) is independent but leans toward the right, and there is speculation about what he got out of the deal. Meanwhile, the Christian Democrats will likely make some formal criticism of their own member, Adolfo Zaldívar, for voting no after demanding the resignation of two cabinet members for a yes vote. This has all been entirely negative for the unity of the Concertación.

Drivers of two more bus companies went on strike starting today. I have yet to find a single person who speaks well of Transantiago. Today I chatted with a taxi driver, and I asked him what he thought of it. He first asked me to excuse his language, and then said it was “total shit.”

Even though blame can be placed on many different people, it is Bachelet who suffers. Not only is she associated with it, but she has had to use some of her very limited political capital to get more money into it. She can’t afford to limp along very long, because the presidential term is now four years (it had been six) and she’s been in office over a year already. She has spent nearly the entire time on the defensive. I am waiting to see some updated approval numbers, but they must be lower than ever.


80s music in Santiago (Part 3)

Yesterday I boarded a bus for Valparaiso, and the driver had on the stereo pretty loud, which was playing Starship, "We Built This City." Once we were on the road, his assistant closed the door to the driver's cabin, but since I was close to the front I could then clearly hear him listening to Van Halen's "Jump."


Tuesday, June 19, 2007

More adventures of Fujimori

Alberto Fujimori is apparently studying the proposal by a Japanese political party that he run for the Senate in Japan. The only problem--just a small one--is that there's no way Fujimori can get to Japan, and I don't know if Japanese law accounts for someone who happens to be under house arrest in Chile, awaiting extradition to Peru. Campaigning, voting, etc. might be tough, and would get tougher once he's eventually put in the slammer in Lima.


Monday, June 18, 2007

More on Iturriaga

If anyone is interested in more info on Iturriaga, both in terms of his DINA background and his decision to go into hiding, check out PiensaChile (Spanish only).


Further thoughts on Transantiago

The Transantiago issue continues to be big news here. I’ve now used the system both for bus and metro, and in principle it seems very efficient (though, obviously, I am not someone going long distances during rush hour to get to and from work). You buy a credit-type card (called a “Bip!” card for the sound you hear when you scan it) for about $2 and then add money to it. Once you use it in the metro or bus, for two hours you can make any switches you want for no more cost. In the past, if you went from metro to bus, you paid twice. The buses, all of which are new, have a machine in the front with a scanner for the card.

But the reality is that everyone I’ve talked to (from a variety of backgrounds) complains about it. Mentioning the word “Transantiago” almost always yields a moan of some sort. The complaining is not about the desirability of changing the system, but the fact that both metro and buses get way overcrowded (I’ve seen huge lines for buses), people were given an over-rosy vision of how it would work, a general sense that the government had not been straight with everyone about the potential problems, the new bus lines were not well thought out, and/or a resentment that it was done all at once without providing any time for adjustment. In short, the previous system—at least for buses—was chaotic and inefficient, but everyone knew how it worked. Overnight, people who depended on the micros were presented with a new system that had all new bus lines, new rules, and multiple problems.

The right wants a new design, and I have talked to people decidedly not from the right who agree, but no one outlines what that would mean. The senate is now debating the $290 million injection (already passed in the Cámara de Diputados with the abstention of the right-wing Alianza) and it’s been ugly, including an open demand (by Adolfo Zaldívar, a Christian Democrat) for the resignation of two cabinet ministers in exchange for a vote.


Saturday, June 16, 2007

80s music in Santiago (Part 2)

In a metro station, there was a large TV to watch while waiting for the train. Did it tell me when the next train was coming? No. Did it have anything remotely Chilean on it? No.

It played the video for Berlin's "Take My Breath Away," complete with all the Top Gun scenes.


General in hiding

Retired General Raúl Iturriaga (who, incidentally, is also wanted in Spain and Italy) is still in hiding, and this is putting army Commander in Chief Izurieta in a tough position. He came out and said explicitly that the army does not support acting outside the law, but there are rumors that active duty officers helped to transmit Iturriaga’s declaration. He is also concerned that there might be a domino effect, where other retired officers will similarly go into hiding rather than face jail time. Some members of UDI (the far right party) have more openly supported him, saying the entire process is politicized and aimed only at vengeance.

A major complaint is that the charge is kidnapping, but like with so many cases, no body was found. Therefore the army says it is illogical to say someone has been kidnapped for over 30 years. This is one of the central elements to the legal debate about how to address the detained-disappeared.

In recent years, the army leadership has been doing a balancing act, trying to end the prosecutions while distancing itself from the individuals who committed crimes. As Pinochet’s image became more and more tarnished, and human rights activists unearthed more and more information, association with the dictatorship has become a political liability. Actually, I just read a good analysis on this general point by Felipe Agüero in a recent edited volume—he has done a ton of work on this topic.


Friday, June 15, 2007

Chavez is going to invade Aruba

So says an Op-Ed in the Houston Chronicle. He might also invade Colombia, Curacao and Bonaire. The author uses the Malvinas war as a clumsy parallel.


Thursday, June 14, 2007

80s music in Santiago

If you flip through radio stations, you hear a lot of classic hits from the 1980s. I was on the metro, and a guy about undergraduate age had on headphones absolutely blasting Guns ‘n’ Roses.

The topper, though, is the muzak that, for reasons I can only guess about, is played on the various pedestrian-only streets downtown from speakers up on the buildings. Perhaps it is to discourage loitering. About 90% of said music is from the 1980s, like what you would hear in a cheap hotel lounge, on a tinny keyboard with light drum machines, without any singing. A sampling is Madonna, Phil Collins, and even Roxy Music. The only exception to the 1980s was hearing The Bee Gees (“How Deep Is Your Love”). If I am walking downtown, it is entertaining to guess which song is coming on.

But if you decide to play music in that setting, why not Chilean music?


Immigration as national security

The immigration bill is on life support but not yet ready to have a fork stuck in it. President Bush is trying very hard to prove that he is not irrelevant, as he continues to push for it. The new approach is to label it a national security issue, and pump more billions into enforcement.

Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, who was haggling with senators over possible amendments, said: “This is a national security bill. We are fixing a national security problem.”
“It’s a matter of our national security,” Mr. Kennedy said Wednesday. “We have broken borders and a broken immigration system.”

The notion that we need to verify who is in the country is not too controversial, but as the article correctly points out, the Senate debate is skirting around the difficulty of developing a verification system that all employers can access. No one should expect such a system to be up and running quickly, or to be free of any number of glitches.


Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Cool museum

Today I went to the Centro Cultural Palacio la Moneda, which opened last year and is located directly under the presidential palace. I didn’t know what I would see, but figured it would center on Chilean cultural heritage. Turns out I was wrong.

I went and saw an enormous sculpture, like a huge banner depicting flags of the world. I got closer, wondering what it was made of. Closer still, and I realize it is made entirely of different colored human hair, ingeniously glued together. This was no ordinary museum.

I proceeded to the exposition rooms, dedicated at the moment to Asian artists as a statement of Chile reaching out toward that region, and more surprises awaited. Up on the walls in one room were various videos, one of which flashed words that formed part of an essay. The theme of this essay was that women deserved multiple orgasms, oral sex, and various other things I won’t detail, but bourgeois women are controlled by bourgeois men who deny them.

Another room had copper tiles on the floor, showing images of Salvador Allende, Che Guevara, Pablo Neruda, Mapuches, and others, even Arturo Prat, who is the main naval hero of Chile. On the walls were various videos of performance arts, and one of them was so compelling I stood there a few minutes, almost laughing out loud. It showed a guy in Tokyo, who apparently went to all different parts of the city and vomited bright colors. So you’d see him in a garden, and suddenly he’d convulse and puke up yellow. Then he’s on a sidewalk, throwing up orange.

Not a typical "below the presidential palace" museum...


Finding the general

Raul Iturriaga, an army general during the dictatorship, has said he is going into hiding rather than serve a 5 year sentence for kidnapping.

His impassioned statement can be read here (only in Spanish). He is being treated unfairly, the legal system is biased, we’re not going to take it anymore, etc. It is hard to imagine much of anyone listening sympathetically. Maybe 10 years ago, definitely 15, but not now. Both the right and the army leadership want such people to go away because they constitute a political liability.

It shows, however, how the legacies of the dictatorship still linger. They are fading, as the protagonists die or go to jail, but they haven't gone away.


Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Chilean right and Transantiago

The Alianza (composed of RN and UDI, the two parties of the right) has announced it will abstain from today’s vote to inject $290 million into Transantiago. The right has no interest in bailing out Bachelet, and prefers instead to talk vaguely of a complete “redesign.” They’re banking on the idea that the money will not solve the system’s problems, and view it as an issue that can unify the right in the longer term.

Meanwhile, drivers of one of the Transantiago bus companies had a successful strike, obtaining salary increases and other benefits. I would think they believed, correctly, that since the companies have been criticized for some of the problems, they would be more willing to negotiate.


Monday, June 11, 2007


A question now in Chile is whether former President Lagos should come and provide testimony to the congressional commission investigating Transantiago. He has said he is willing. This would suit the Bachelet administration, which surely would like him to share the blame for the design.

My initial impression here is that the general idea is solid. Anyone who has been in Chile remembers the confusing system of yellow smoke-belching buses, which has now been replaced by larger, more fuel efficient buses. You buy your fares ahead of time and the system appears much more efficient. I took the metro today, which was no more crowded than before, suggesting the kinks are getting worked out (I haven’t yet taken a bus but of course see them everywhere).

Bachelet will probably not live down the anger generated by the initial chaos, but if they get the financing figured out, I think this could be beneficial for santiaguinos.


U.S. business in Chile

I've just arrived in Santiago for two weeks, to discover that the ultimate in U.S. culture has come to Chile. That's right, Chuck E. Cheese's is here. My kids aren't with me so fortunately I can avoid it.


Saturday, June 09, 2007


It’s one thing that Hugo Chávez has yet to figure out. Lula just chided him for calling the Brazilian Senate “parrots” of Washington, because Chávez needs that very same senate to approve Venezuela’s membership in Mercosur. Earlier in the year, Chávez apologized after an identical incident where he criticized the Chilean senate, which put Bachelet in a difficult position.

Calling people parrots, stooges, puppets, pawns, lackeys, etc. may play well to an internal audience, but can actually have an adverse effect on achieving policy goals and cultivating alliances. Interestingly, the Bush administration has become more muted in recent months—no references to Hitler, Stalin et al.


Friday, June 08, 2007

Adios immigration bill?

Harry Reid could not get the votes to end debate and have a final vote on the immigration bill. It’s not officially dead, as there will be much maneuvering behind the scenes, but it is on its last legs. Already it was bleeding from a thousand cuts, as opponents had a long list of amendments to attach. Remember, too, that this is the Senate, which has been more open to compromise than the House, even after the change of party majority.

So we end up with nothing. As I’ve written before, I think many people have convinced themselves that we don’t need the workers who are now coming into the country illegally. The point system was intended to bring only “desired” workers, and low-skilled jobs would somehow magically get filled. And if we build more fence and add more Border Patrol, more sensors, unmanned drones, and cameras, then this whole problem will disappear of its own accord.

I don't have any good answers. There were things I didn’t like about the bill, but I wonder whether it is possible for any bill to have everything I like, or everything anyone likes. I’ll just end with a quote from Trent Lott:

“Are we men and women or mice?” Mr. Lott asked. “Are we going to slither away from this issue and hope for some epiphany to happen? No. Let’s legislate. Let’s vote.”


Thursday, June 07, 2007

Chilean economic growth

The Chilean economy is exceeding expectations, with average growth of over 6% for the year.

Bachelet will get criticized anyway. For the left, she is not leftist enough. The right, meanwhile, is making lots of money, but feels she is an obstacle to making even more.


Student bloggers

Michelle is leading a group of Georgia Tech students doing a summer exchange program in Mexico at Monterey Tec and asked me to help publicize the blog they've put together. So go check out Tech on Tec.


Wednesday, June 06, 2007

OAS and energy

I hoped there might be some debate at the OAS meeting about the energy direction the region should take, but it didn’t happen.

The Declaration of Panama explicitly endorses biofuels and participation of the private sector, but interestingly this did not seem to have generated any controversy. The RCTV case and the vote on Venezuela’s seat in the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights got the bulk of attention. The Uruguayan delegation even questioned the entire discussion about energy and poverty.

Obviously, energy is only one of many challenges Latin America faces, but it deserves more public debate and scrutiny. In the NYT, former Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo just published an Op-Ed, but it was about Chávez, and the only reference to the OAS meeting was about RCTV.


Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Coca cultivation

Via Plan Colombia and Beyond: Remember the billions of dollars we’re pumping into the Colombian military and private defense contractors, all the chemical spraying, the Ecuador-Colombia border disputes over eradication policies, etc., etc.? All that, and Colombian coca cultivation has increased. As of right now, President Uribe made the revelation, but the U.S. government has yet to admit it.

Don’t forget that just last month we learned that coca cultivation in Peru had increased. But wait, there’s more. Two months ago, we learned that coca cultivation in Bolivia had remained stable. In other words, the country with the government we like the least, with a cocalero president, is achieving our foreign policy goals most effectively.


Monday, June 04, 2007


The OAS General Assembly opened yesterday, and the general theme is “Energy for Sustainable Development.” That alone will be interesting to watch because of the disagreements about moving forward on ethanol production, which goes along “food vs. fuel” and “corn vs. sugar” axes.

But the timing of the meeting means that the sideshow will be RCTV. The U.S. submitted a copy of the Senate’s call for the OAS to do “something.” The question is whether representatives of other countries really want to get involved, as there is resistance to hopping on the U.S. bandwagon. Plus, strong statements from the U.S. tend to backfire and create more sympathy for Chávez.

The Venezuelan government has said that discussion of RCTV would constitute “interference,” but if you’re a member of the OAS, then you have agreed to submit to such interference. That’s the whole point, though if the debate gets contentious Chávez may well follow up on his threat to withdraw.

At any rate, you could easily come up with a Fantasy OAS game. Count up and get points for every mention of:










Sunday, June 03, 2007

Republicans and immigration

The NYT has a pretty good discussion of how Bush’s push for immigration reform is making waves in the Republican Party. Unfortunately, the article doesn’t provide any numbers. I’d like to see breakdowns about exactly which Republicans favor or don’t favor the proposal (age, gender, religion, residence, etc.).

Also, Shannon O’Neil published an Op-Ed in the Washington Post about how the debate needs to address demography and also bureaucratic capacity, as our immigration institutions are notoriously overworked and underperforming. I'd say the debate over bureaucratic capacity should extend to Mexico as well, since its government has to assist in the process.

The heat is on next week.


Saturday, June 02, 2007

RCTV aftermath

Let’s set aside the normative debate over RCTV for a moment (debated very extensively here) and just address the political implications. I have to wonder whether Chávez grasped how extensive the outcry would be. At least for the moment, what he’s done is to breath new life into a splintered opposition. A week ago, outside Venezuela virtually no one had heard of RCTV, but now opposition leaders and RCTV executives get more attention than ever. A google news search of “rctv” gives me 2,742 results from all over the world.

The government claims that the protests are all manipulated, though thus far the evidence they present is thin at best. For Chávez, however, it’s a moot point—controlled or not, manipulated or not, the protests started because he handed his opponents a gift on a golden platter. They needed an issue to grab onto, something to unite them and to bring unfavorable international attention. Now let's see whether this escalates or whether it just eventually fizzles out.


Friday, June 01, 2007

Trader Jack

Thanks to Geoff at Ducksnorts for linking to this interview with Jack McKeon. I had to chuckle at his appraisal of the increased use of statistics in baseball:

We're playing New York, and Tom Glavine is pitching against us. I had an executive call to ask me who was catching, and I told him Pudge. He asked if I knew that Redmond was hitting .780 against Glavine. I said I didn't give a shit; I don’t care what he’s hitting--Pudge is my catcher. So what happens? Pudge hits a two-run homer in the first inning and we win 2-0.

I have a soft spot for Trader Jack because he put together the 1984 Padres. I was so excited about that season that I got my parents to get tickets for opening night, where we beat the Pirates 5-1. Thinking of relievers and the Hall of Fame, note that Goose Gossage pitched two innings even without a save opportunity. Here is Kevin McReynolds running out his homer:


Remittances in Guatemala

The AP has a story about the effects of remittances on local communities in Guatemala and Mexico. There’s been a shift in perceptions about remittances, highlighted not only in academic literature but also in the media. For years, they were viewed as largely positive because unlike foreign aid they bypassed corrupt governments, went straight into people’s pockets and gave a needed boost to ailing economies.

It’s unclear, however, how much that is happening. The story on Guatemala discusses the closure of local looms because their potential workforce prefers to live on remittances and wait to emigrate rather than accept low wages.

The article highlights some issues that really require more study:

--how do we (a global “we”) ensure that remittances contribute to, and do not stunt, local economic development?

--is it possible to encourage businesses to pay better wages rather than close? Basically, at what wage will local workers eschew emigration?

--if, as the story says, some local businesses are simply going further out into the countryside to find workers, what is the economic impact? The impact on poverty?


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