Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Uribe and a third term Part 2

I've done several posts on Uribe's likely push for a third term (here is the last one). Now in an interview Andres Oppenheimer tried to pin him down on the issue, and he refused to answer directly, but his answers (just as past statements) strongly suggested he would.

I told him that I have seen many popular former Latin American presidents, such as Argentina's Carlos Menem and Peru's Alberto Fujimori, lose their way as they got blinded by power. They sought third terms in office, and they ended badly.

''Don't worry,'' Uribe said, indicating that it wouldn't happen to him. Comparing himself to a peasant who is used to many hardships and rough roads, he said that ``a hard-working peasant can resist a long and abrupt road without losing his way.''

The guy is from a wealthy family and went to Harvard. Calling himself a peasant is very much like George W. Bush cultivating an image of a simple Texan. But the thing is, Bush is actually stepping down after two terms...


Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Primaries in Charlotte

The campaigns in NC are all over the place now. We’ve received about three robo-calls from each side, though Obama himself wasn't in any of them (his wife was in one, and others were just staff members).

Governor Mike Easley has now endorsed Clinton, but since he’s a largely invisible governor and I am willing to bet many voters (especially newly registered ones, of which there are many in the state) have never heard of him, I can’t see that mattering very much. She needs a boost, as a recent poll has her behind 52%-42% (with 4% unsure and 2% other, and a 4% margin of error).

Early voting has already begun here, and I had planned to go yesterday. With the baby’s arrival that did not happen…


Sunday, April 27, 2008

Elizabeth and me

My daughter Elizabeth was born this morning at 8:18. She and Amy are both perfectly happy and healthy--it could not have gone more smoothly (especially since she is our third, it also happened pretty fast).


Saturday, April 26, 2008

U.S. policy toward Ecuador

The L.A. Times offers up a solid editorial on U.S. policy toward Ecuador, counseling “respectful engagement, not Cold War bluster.” It also brings up an issue I had just discussed in my U.S.-Latin American Relations class on Wed., namely the importance of distinguishing between nationalism and hostility toward the U.S. government. For example, the Manta base in Ecuador is unpopular, and other presidential candidates similarly called for its closure. Yet when Correa moves ahead with it, the U.S. frames the decision as an ideological move that puts Correa in league with Chávez.

This is an age-old problem. During the Cold War, the U.S. was all too often blind to domestic realities, so nationalists were most often labeled either communists or dupes of communists. The unfortunate result is that we made (and continue to make) enemies of people who need not be so.


Thursday, April 24, 2008

Prize money

The Cato Institute has decided to give $500,000 to Venezuelan student activist Yon Goicoechea for the “Milton Friedman Prize for Advancing Liberty.” Think tanks are certainly free to give their money to whomever they wish, but my immediate reaction was that this prize could permanently derail his political career and end up having the opposite effect the Cato Institute and others who hate Chávez want.

In Venezuela and in the international media, from now on he will be known as the “guy who is having money funneled to him from the U.S. He wants to create a foundation to train young people who want to go into politics, and that foundation will also be labeled as the “foundation created with U.S. money to attack Chávez.”

His response:

''The government already says we're financed by the CIA. It already says we're paid by the empire. So if they say it one more time, it really isn't that important,'' he said.

True, but the real effect will be on Venezuelans, not just the government. Even Venezuelans who aren’t enamored of Chávez won’t necessarily be so happy to follow a young leader whose activities are all openly funded with U.S. money.


Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Correa and the military in Ecuador Part 2

So what’s a good strategy once you’ve really challenged the armed forces and fired the leadership? Buy them lots of new stuff.


Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Military legacies in Chile

The Chilean Congress is starting to debate the removal of military representatives from the National Television Council, which itself is a product of the latter part of the Pinochet government and was meant to act as a television moral watchdog. Three things come to mind.

First, this is a matter of very low salience to the armed forces so I'd be surprised if they offer any resistance.

Second, to my knowledge over the past 18 years the military has made no effort to affect any decision the organization has made (I wonder if officers even attend regularly) but it is the type of law that could easily be abused under certain circumstances. Every country, but especially those with dictatorship-era laws still on the books, should do the equivalent of a computer virus scan to make sure all obscure and potentially nasty laws are discovered and removed.

Third, it is really absurd that it took 18 years to do this. Better late than never.


Right on time?

There are reports that more Cubans have been leaving the island since Fidel stepped aside. At the same time, there are rumors that the Cuban government is going to lift requirements for citizens to receive exits visas.

The timing is notable, because this has happened every 14-15 years. Fidel has used refugees three different times—1965, 1980, and 1994—as a way to deal with his own internal problems and to affect U.S. policy (a “weapon of the weak”). There’s a recent article that analyzes the 1994 balseros crisis, putting it into historical perspective.*

It remains to be seen if the same is occurring now, but in the past it has begun with a signal that an exodus may occur, which is expected to prompt dialogue between the two countries on certain issues (in 1994 it was mostly immigration policy but normalization of relations is always an accompanying goal). If dialogue is rejected, then the exodus occurs, and the dialogue happens anyway but in the context of crisis, which a U.S. president must address quickly or be hurt domestically:

“[T]he appearance of loss of control over US borders, coupled with the perception inside the US that Floria might be overrun, would be viewed by US leaders as politically costlier than the alternative of dealing with him. Thus if Castro could transform his own domestic problems into the US’s problems via exploitation of refugees, he could coerce its leaders into helping him solve them” (p. 48).

One difference from the past is that there is no defiant speech, which was Fidel’s way of signalling. If a similar situation is happening, then this may just reflect a different strategy, because Raúl doesn’t make fiery speeches.

*Kelly M. Greenhill, “Engineered Migration and the Use of Refugees as Political Weapons: A Case Study of the 1994 Cuban Balseros Crisis,” International Migration 40, 4 (September 2006): 133-164.


Monday, April 21, 2008

Paraguayan presidential election

If you follow Latin American politics at all, then you know that Fernando Lugo won the Paraguayan presidential election with 41% of the vote (no runoff required) thus ending over six decades of Colorado Party rule. It is certainly nice to see that party (like the PRI) finally allow competitive elections.

President Duarte was gracious, perhaps more than you might expect given the heated campaign rhetoric against Lugo:

Sitting President Nicanor Duarte hailed the democratic process: "For the first time in our history, one party will transfer power to another without a coup, without bloodshed and without fighting among brothers," he told a news conference.
True enough.

However, there were also legislative elections, which include all 45 members of the Senate and all 80 members of the House of Deputies (both use proportional representation, with five year terms). The Colorado Party had a plurality in both from the 2003 elections.

I haven’t seen the results of yesterday’s elections, which are obviously very important for understanding how much Lugo can do. (This is the government’s official site for results, which up to this point only shows the presidential race). Remember that once the PRI lost the presidency, it worked successfully to block presidential initiatives in the legislature.

It will be also be interesting to see how he addresses regional issues, such as Venezuela’s entrance into Mercosur (which is being held up in the Paraguayan and Brazilian legislatures) and the U.S. obsession with the Triborder Area. As far as I can tell, no one in the U.S. government has yet said anything about the election. Lugo seems quite moderate but expect media attention about “leftists,” “pink tide,” etc. to lump him together with all other Latin American leaders who aren’t conservative.


Sunday, April 20, 2008

Laws are just nuisances anyway

I ran across this political cartoon, which addresses the problem of the Bush Administration voiding laws it doesn't like in order to build a border wall.

There is now a suit to end that process, arguing that it is unconstitutional. But you have to read this to believe it:

The Defenders of Wildlife and the Sierra Club first brought the suit against the Bureau of Land Management, challenging the legality of border fence construction in the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area in Arizona.

Though they eventually lost the case, the environmental groups won a restraining order from Huvelle in October 2007 that temporarily stopped border wall construction and instructed DHS to investigate the local environmental impacts of the project.

Chertoff responded by using the waiver authority; in November, he circumvented the restraining order by waiving 19 federal statutes. He followed that up this month by authorizing two waivers — involving some 30 laws — in order to complete construction of the fence and other protective measures in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.

In other words, if you don't like a restraining order, then you waive federal law so you can ignore it. I am tempted to use the cliché that it "boggles the mind" but in fact with the administration my mind cannot be boggled any further.


Saturday, April 19, 2008

Writing book proposals

Notorious Ph.D. offers some good advice about writing book proposals. I've reviewed a number of pretty bad ones, and so her emphasis on clarity--which seems obvious but is too often neglected--should always be kept in mind. But I also like her discussion of making it interesting.

Be interesting quickly. I suck at this. It's why online dating didn't work out for me. Maybe my proposal needs a push-up bra. I'm not sure how I'm going to get there in my own proposal, but I do know that I've got to get it out there in the first paragraph, rather than embrace my own tendency to meander.


Friday, April 18, 2008

Latinos are not swing voters

David L. Leal, Stephen A. Nuño, Jongho Lee, and Rodolfo O. de la Garza, “Latinos, Immigration, and the 2006 Midterm Elections,” PS: Political Science and Politics XLI, 2 (April 2008): 309-317.

There’s no abstract, but full text is available.

As the title suggests, the article takes a close look at the 2006 midterm elections and compares conventional wisdom about Latino voters to the actual results.

The most important conclusion is that despite conventional wisdom, Latinos were not swing voters. Their partisanship was relatively solid, and any changes (e.g. a drop in support for Republicans) were similar to that of other voters. Here’s a great quote:

Some pundits, journalists, and political consultants may repeat the myth for professional reasons. It would produce much more interest, as well as create suspense, if a substantial share of the Latino electorate was said to frequently switch its support for political parties and candidates. Such a portrayal would help generate more demand for those who provide interpretation of, commentary about, and outreach to the Latino electorate (p. 313).

They note that 23.5% of Latinos are undecided about party affiliation, which I think is a topic that deserves more attention. I’ve blogged about that before, and in a previous post had some interesting discussion in comments.


Thursday, April 17, 2008


I was about to put this in my Shared Items, but it was disturbing enough that I thought I would post it. The blog Fujimori on Trial shows how Alberto Fujimori has become much more popular after being extradited to Peru and put on trial for human rights abuses. In February 2007 9.8% sympathized with him, and in February 2008 that had risen to 14.7%. In a survey of Lima residents, 31.2% said they would vote for him again. Further, his daughter Keiko is a rising star and is increasingly being seen as a viable presidential candidate.


Venezuelan oil tax

The Venezuelan legislature approved “windfall” taxes on oil profits. From the BBC:

They face a 50% tax when a barrel of crude is priced at $70 or more, rising to 60% when average prices tops $110.

It is President Hugo Chavez's latest attempt to get greater control over his country's oil.

Two things come to mind. First, windfall taxes do not give the Venezuelan government any more control over oil. They give it more profit, which is different.

Second, the 60% rate is actually identical to what the Venezuelan government was getting in 1959 for all oil profit regardless of price. Coincidentally, I just finished reading a book chapter on U.S.-Venezuelan relations as part of a big Latin American Research Review multi book review I am doing on U.S.-Latin American relations.* Despite its title, the chapter focuses primarily on the 1940s-1960s, arguing that the U.S. government—even in the face of the treatment Richard Nixon received in 1958—accepted Venezuelan nationalism with regard to state control over natural resources. In addition to oil, a 1965 law required majority Venezuelan ownership of insurance companies.

Obviously, the context is quite different. At that time, harsh criticism of the U.S. government came from civil society rather than the presidency (which generally followed U.S. cold war policies). Nonetheless, it is worth keeping in mind. Even in the 1960s, in the wake of the Cuban revolution, the U.S. government and companies accepted the measures.

*Darlene Rivas, “Patriotism and Petroleum: Anti-Americanism in Venezuela from Gómez to Chávez.” In Alan McPherson (ed.). Anti-Americanism in Latin America and the Caribbean (New York: Berghahn Books, 2006): 84-112.


Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Political Science blogging

I just received the latest issue of PS: Political Science and Politics, which has a supplement. The first page has an article by the APSA Director of Web & Publications, entitled “Informed Publishing in Political Science.” APSA is going to focus more on teaching political scientists “the basics of and trends affecting publishing in political science.” This sounds like a really good idea, and will include a soon-to-be-released book Publishing Political Science: the APSA Guide to Writing and Publishing.

Daniel Drezner is writing the chapter on blogs. He had asked for comments (for some reason I thought I had written one, but looking at his post again I must’ve forgotten to do so). There are certainly a lot of general comments to be made about writing blogs, but I also think there are differences according to subdiscipline. This is the sort of issue that will come up at our LASA workshop (assuming it is accepted--I do not want to jinx myself, and notifications won't come until October). For Latin Americanists vs. Americanists, for example, there is a very different audience, range of issues, and expectations.

Regardless, I’m glad the topic of political science (as opposed to “political”) blogs is getting more professional attention. I must say it still surprises me that so few colleagues really seem aware of them.


Tuesday, April 15, 2008

F.C. phone home

When given the chance, Cubans really like the idea of getting cell phones. Also, it appears that Fidel came up with the idea, pushed for it, and simultaneously doesn't like it.


Monday, April 14, 2008

China and Cuba

President Bush on Cuba (March 2008):

In the face of these abuses, the United States has not been silent, nor will we be silent. (Applause.) We have been consistently joined in condemning the Cuban regime's brutal outrages by a small band of brave nations.

They must release all political prisoners. They must have respect for human rights in word and deed, and pave the way for free and fair elections.

President Bush’s National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley on China (April 2008):

Asked whether confronting the Beijing government about Tibet in public was counterproductive, Hadley said: "It's an issue of the Chinese government. It's also an issue of the Chinese people, who are very invested in the Olympics, who see it as a coming of age for China. And so it's a balancing here. We think that it is very important to deal with the Tibet issue. But we think the best way to do that is through the kind of diplomacy we have been undertaking, not by the kind of frontal confrontation that's being suggested by some."


Sunday, April 13, 2008

More on defense

José L. Díaz Gallardo, “Carrera Civil en Defensa: Análisis y Propuestas Para el Caso Chileno.” Security and Defense Studies Review 7, 2 (Fall 2007): 130-144.

Full text is available

Following up on a discussion about Ecuador and lack of ministerial expertise, I remembered this article, in the journal edited by the Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies in DC. It’s a relatively new online-only journal and has published some interesting stuff on civil-military relations and defense. Díaz has written quite a few articles and books on Chilean civil-military relations, both historical and contemporary.

Abstract: Scholars have analyzed participation by civilians in defense ministries in Latin America from a dual perspective: as part of a civilian-military integration and as an instrument of civilian control of the sector. These practices have been adopted in a context of democratic consolidation and, in the governmental sphere, of a demand for rationalization and greater efficiency and effectiveness in the conduct of government.

The case of Chile is a good example of this. Since the restoration of democracy (1990), the inclusion of civilians in the Ministry has been a constant. All of the ministers have been civilians, as have all undersecretaries; however, because the Ministry does not have a permanent staff of civilian professionals, an Advisory Committee has gradually and inorganically developed within the Ministry, which brings in people who provide advisory services on political, politico-strategic, budgetary, international, communications and auditing issues.

The modernization of defense requires a new ministerial organization, which structure must take into consideration the Administrative Law that governs civil public administration. The new law governing the ministry should provide for, as one of its cornerstones, a civil service track for civilian professionals. Finally, the new Undersecretariats, divisions and departments must contribute to improving relations with the Armed Forces.

In Chile after 1990, only 3 of 10 Defense Ministers have had any defense expertise, though at least that was a greater percentage than the 1932-1973 period. However, in the postauthoritarian era the government has been paying more attention to professionalizing the bureucracy (and the Defense Ministry has been undergoing reforms to eliminate duplication of duties). Whether or not that translates into a larger, decently paid, and permanent staff remains to be seen.

But this is the sort of thing is something that all other Latin American countries should pursue because it will pay future dividends. It does no one any good to rely on political appointees with little or no relevant knowledge and informal kitchen cabinets to be the bridge between the president and the military leadership.


Saturday, April 12, 2008

Cementing a relationship

Is the Venezuelan government going to nationalize the foreign-owned cement industry?

Chávez announced nationalization plans, and there was talk of a 60%-40% split. But then he said it would only apply to companies that were previously state-owned and subsequently had been privatized, which would not to apply to the big foreign companies like Cemex.

I can’t find anything clarifying it at the Agencia Bolivariana de Noticias site. On the Venezuelan government site, there is a quote from the Energy and Petroleum Minister from several days ago that “conversations” continued with foreign firms to give up at least 60% control. But he didn’t mention Chávez’s remarks. According to Cemex, Ramirez also informed the company “that other options may be considered during a negotiation period.”

At some point I will follow up on the issue of making threats of nationalization, especially as multiple announcements have been made in the past week or so. But I do want to see what the outcome is of this case. It is hard to imagine Chávez not following through at this point, but for now the government is not clarifying its intentions.


Friday, April 11, 2008

Correa and the military in Ecuador

The civil-military conflict in Ecuador bears watching. I published an academic article five years ago about the role of Defense Ministries, which included a (now outdated) mention of Ecuador. One of the arguments was that military-dominated ministries represent a long-term obstacle to civilian supremacy over the armed forces. I further argue that naming inexperienced Defense Ministers is also an obstacle. [Not everyone agrees, I should add, and I have sometimes been portrayed as too pessimistic]

Rafael Correa is in a very tough position. The Defense Ministry in Ecuador has traditionally been dominated by the military, and until recently the minister himself was an officer (that shift to a civilian minister is, at least, a positive step). This makes it very difficult to establish civilian authority, as shown by Correa’s constant shuffling (four ministers in fifteen months). This is especially true in a country with a relatively recent history of military political intervention.

Correa is angry, and has a right to be. If the military leadership is withholding or hiding information from the president, they need to be fired. He did so, and the fact that it happened smoothly (at least thus far) is a good sign. He is also investigating the relationship between the intelligence services and the U.S. (the autonomy of military intelligence services is another troubling issue I’ve worked on).

However, naming an activist as minister who has been highly critical of the military will likely not turn out well. I understand the motivation, the message that Correa wants to send to the armed forces, as well as his desire to have a close associate in the position. But the most likely outcome is greater civil-military tension and less respect for the government. The military will do its best to ignore the ministry and will use various means to circumvent it, thus making life more difficult for the president. With any luck, I’m wrong.

The problem all over Latin America is a critical shortage of people from the left or center-left who are knowledgeable about their militaries. This doesn’t mean being sympathetic, or kowtowing, but just knowledgeable about defense policy and the military world. What Correa needs is someone who can bridge the gap by talking to the military leadership and gaining their respect without either doing their bidding or alienating them. I do not know how many people there are in Ecuador who fit that description.


Baseball bullets

Here are some early season baseball bullets:

  • I don’t think Jim Edmonds is going to work out too well. This year’s Baseball Prospectus says “The Padres’ plan to play him in center in spacious Petco Park is misguided.” Then for Wednesday’s game the money quote from the San Diego Union-Tribune was “Jim Edmonds didn't have the speed to reach Daniel Ortmeier's winning double over his head in center in the ninth, or score from third on Josh Bard's fly to left in the seventh."

  • After the end of last year and the beginning of this year, I get nervous when Trevor Hoffman comes in, which is a drag. I love him but his days seem numbered.

  • Because they are on TV so much, after a total of about 11 years living in NC, I find myself liking the Braves. As a teenager (when they were in the NL West) I would’ve laughed in disbelief at such a possibility.

  • As I mentioned sometime last season, there are few more likable players than the Twins’ Pat Neshek, who blogs here. How many players tell fans exactly when to come down to the bullpen before a game so he can sign autographs?


Thursday, April 10, 2008

New links

I received an email from the Venezuela Information Office in DC asking if I would link to their blog Venezuela World. Sure, why not? For fun I will also link to the Western Hemisphere part of the State Department’s blog Dipnote. Get government-sponsored news to your heart’s content!

Governments’ entrance into the blogosphere deserves some attention. Everyone tends to focus on how blogs may affect politics or serve to frame political debate, but I don’t recall any analyses of how governments use blogs to offer their own contribution.


More talking points for the Colombia FTA

Nancy Pelosi has announced plans to change the rules about the 90 day up-or-down vote on the Colombia FTA bill.

I laid out some of the key talking points on Tuesday, but this is crunch time and so I am providing some more. People, we need to pass this FTA:

--Because we might be able to sell more motor graders.

--Because the administration had 400 meetings with members of Congress and sent 60 members to Colombia to check things out. Do you really want all that time and money to be wasted?

--Because an FTA symbolizes a commitment to democracy, hope, prosperity, anti-terrorism, stability, national security, and social justice (note: be sure to say really fast which makes it sound more impressive)

--Because changing the fast track rules is “unfair.” (look hurt while saying—wiping away a tear would also be effective)

--Because they like this deal in Vegas

And my personal favorite:

--Because otherwise you’re just like Herbert Hoover. Do you really want to be like Herbert Hoover? (maybe call the other person “punk” while saying)

But if for no other reason, do it for the children!

Update: a bonus talking point from Daniel Drezner: pass the FTA so that free trade can get locked in forever and ever, no matter what.


Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Not an argument you see every day

NC’s own Heath Shuler is pushing a bill to force employers nationwide to check the immigration status of their employees through a government database. The Congressional Budget Office reported that if passed the law would be very expensive. Part of the reason is that the enforcement would drive people further underground, thus depriving the federal government of $17 billion they otherwise would’ve paid in taxes. In other words, the U.S. economy depends in part on undocumented immigrants paying taxes and not receiving anything in return.


Bachelet bump

Michelle Bachelet’s approval rating is up to 46.4%, and the percentage disapproving has also dropped, to 35.2%. This is quite possibly related to her ability to get pension reform passed, which helps those not covered by the private system.

However, she’s currently facing a host of other challenges, such as the Constitutional Court ruling that her morning-after pill distribution program was unconstitutional. She is also dealing with rising prices (12 month inflation is 8.5%) so has announced a voucher program for poor families.

Any rebound in the last half of her term will be good news for the Concertación in the next presidential election, especially since the right shows no signs of getting its collective act together.


Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Key points in the Colombia FTA debate

The Bush administration has officially taken what’s been dubbed the “nuclear strategy” by sending the Colombia FTA to Congress for fast track consideration even though Congress is clearly skeptical. It must get an up or down vote within 90 days. Boz has a good summary and links.

For my readers who might be following the debate, here are the key points you need to know when discussing this at your next cocktail party.

  • Passage of the FTA is the linchpin to the stability of all South America
  • The FTA will “lead to a better life
  • If you oppose the FTA, you are “protectionist” and probably a closet socialist
  • If you oppose the FTA, you are in league with Hugo Chávez (or at least an unwitting dupe)
  • If you oppose the FTA, then you like drug trafficking
  • Colombia has been benefiting too much from the current situation, so opposing the FTA means you don’t want to “level the playing field” for American workers.


Monday, April 07, 2008


I couldn’t help but juxtapose the two following news items:

--Cuba is privatizing to ease shortages

--Venezuela is nationalizing (or at least announcing nationalization) to ease shortages

This also highlights the changes in the Cuba-Venezuela relationship after Fidel’s departure. Hugo Chávez and Raúl Castro have a regular diplomatic, rather than a personal, relationship. With Raúl, Chávez does not have the same type of ideological soulmate.


Sunday, April 06, 2008

A good year for Political Science bloggers

First, Chris at Signifying Nothing announced his acceptance of a tenure track position, then Miguel at Pronto*, and now Professor Chaos--who coincidentally I knew from my M.A. program--has as well.

For anyone not in academia, the job market is a strange, stressful, and unpredictable thing, that leaves many people (including all three above, and also including me in the past) taking temporary (i.e. adjunct or visiting) positions while you work to get more publications out. The market itself can change considerably from year to year, simply depending on what departments happen to be hiring and what they happen to need.

So congratulations to all!


Saturday, April 05, 2008

Belated April Fool's?

Hugo Chávez claims he will not speak publicly about the hostage negotiations. I'm not sure he can do that without exploding.


Friday, April 04, 2008

The politics of credible threat Part 4

In February I wrote about the many threats Chávez was making about oil and domestic nationalization, but not carrying out. He has now carried one out by nationalizing the cement industry. I hadn’t included that on my list, but he did threaten nationalization a year ago. The industry, he argues, is exporting too much and selling too little to the domestic market at a time of housing shortages.

The three main foreign players in Venezuela are Mexico's Cemex SAB, France's Lafarge SA and Switzerland's Holcim Ltd.

Holcim operates two cement plants in Venezuela with a production capacity of roughly 2.4 million tons of cement a year, while Cemex runs three plants that also produce about 2.4 million tons annually. Lafarge has two plants that produce 1.5 million tons a year.

Given the intense debate over food shortages and hoarding, at what point will he take aim at food producers? Or will he?


Thursday, April 03, 2008

Venezuelan dependence

Kay Bailey Hutchison, Texas Senator and now head of the Senate Republican Policy Committee (though fortunately not on any foreign policy-related committees) argues that Venezuela should perhaps be put on the State Department terrorist list. This is not remarkable, since a number of conservatives have argued the same, but she has her own special twist. Chávez threatens to cut off oil, but let’s call his bluff because if he cuts off exports to the U.S., he will be overthrown by the Venezuelan military.

While imposing additional sanctions on Venezuela could cause adverse short-term economic consequences, Mr. Chavez needs us more than we need him. Venezuelan oil has an extremely high-sulfur content, which requires special refineries to turn it into gasoline. Most of those refineries are in the Southern U.S. along the Gulf Coast. In short, Venezuela would have a very hard time finding other buyers if it loses its most important customer.

And with the increased willingness of Venezuela’s military to stand up to Mr. Chavez — not to mention his sinking popularity among the public — the United States is one customer Mr. Chavez can’t afford to lose.

I don’t recall the last time I saw this type of argument made so bluntly by a U.S. official. Or made so gleefully.


Wednesday, April 02, 2008

JC Bradbury's The Baseball Economist

If you like baseball, then you would likely enjoy JC Bradbury’s The Baseball Economist: The Real Game Exposed. He is an economist at Kennesaw State University and also blogs at Sabernomics.

Each chapter has a different theme, and the general idea is to challenge conventional wisdom by using regression analysis and economic theory. Actually, he sometimes gets some really vitriolic comments on his blog because in baseball, like pretty much everywhere else, people hate having their core beliefs challenged.*

So, for example, he criticizes the use of batting average (and even batting average with runners in scoring position) and shows how OPS (on base percentage plus slugging percentage) does a much better job of predicting whether a given player will contribute to run scoring. He also argues that runs scored and RBIs are overrated because they depend so heavily on a player’s teammates.

Perhaps more controversial:

--having a power hitter “protect” you in the on-deck circle is a myth.

--Even if MLB is a monopoly, that’s good for fans: “Price discrimination by multi-price monopolists leads to higher profits for owners, but also more games at acceptable prices for fans” (p. 216).

There are also other fun chapters like why there are no left-handed catchers and how Leo Mazzone is not overrated.

* That includes me too. I still like statistics many people now call useless, or even bad, like stolen bases. I guess I am already getting somewhat old and crotchety.


Tuesday, April 01, 2008

More on Ecuador

Ecuador is taking the border fumigation conflict with Colombia to the International Court of Justice, and has an international group of lawyers to make its case. The two countries had created commissions last year but they had not reached any agreements. This has, however, been a bone of contention for years, as chemicals don’t respect borders, and chemicals are an integral aspect of Plan Colombia.

The complaint has three elements:

First, to declare that Colombia violated Ecuadorian sovereignty

Second, to order Colombia in the future to stop fumigation at least ten kilometers from the border

Third, to order Colombia to pay reparations

This is a good move for Rafael Correa, especially since the Colombian government keeps putting out info from the laptops, all of which is juicy but unverified. So this serves to put Colombia back on the defensive. Combined with the Ecuadorian helicopter going into Colombian airspace, it’s a message to both Alvaro Uribe and to the Ecuadorian people.


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