Saturday, July 31, 2010

A shootout with no winners

Just two days ago I wrote about how the Arizona law is a sign of everyone's failures.  Roberto Suro, who has been researching and writing about immigration for years, wrote an excellent op-ed for the Washington Post, beginning with the following:

Arizona's immigration law was never going to solve the problem of illegal immigration. That is not its purpose. Instead it is an invitation to a shootout in which there will be no winners. It is more of a provocation than an attempt to enact policy, and as a protest against Washington's failure to fix a broken immigration system, it resonates.

It's a very well-written piece.  An immigration system that functions properly must balance a wide variety of interest, but as he argues it must also consider what is good for the country as a whole:

Immigration policy needs to be about a lot of things, including national identity and security, but right now it needs to be about getting the economy's pulse up and improving our global economic competitiveness. These challenges are macro. The Arizona law offers micro solutions. It argues that immigration can be a law enforcement matter and pushes the decision-making down to the state and local level. That's a false hope regardless of where you stand on the issue, but it's a false hope that has struck a chord with many Americans.


Friday, July 30, 2010

Plan Colombia and Mexico

Gustavo Flores-Macías has an op-ed in the New York Times discussing the lessons Mexico can take from Colombia with regard to the drug war.

The problem is that the two countries have ignored a fundamental lesson from the Colombian experience: foreign aid, security cooperation and judicial reform were necessary but not sufficient conditions for reducing violence. Plan Colombia succeeded because, at the same time that it stepped up its antidrug efforts, Colombia aggressively reformed its tax system and greatly improved government accountability. Unless Mexico can do the same, antidrug efforts there will fail.

Two thoughts came to mind.  First, it is nice to see reiteration of the fact that a militarized solution just won't work on its own.  Tax collection is indeed a critical but not very sexy aspect of governance.

Second, I don't believe I have seen anyone write "Plan Colombia succeeded."  It has always been largely drug-oriented, and as such simply cannot be considered successful.  As the World Drug Report shows us, coca cultivation in 2008 was roughly the same as in 1998.  There are ups and downs in cultivation, but even the downs remain quite high.  In 2005, a Congressional Research Report concluded the following:

While there has been measurable progress in Colombia’s internal security, as indicated by decreases in violence, and in the eradication of drug crops, no effect has been seen with regard to price, purity, and availability of cocaine and heroin in the United States. Military operations against illegally armed groups have intensified, but the main leftist guerrilla group seems no closer to agreeing to a cease-fire. The demobilization of rightist paramilitary fighters is proceeding, but without a legal framework governing the process. Critics of U.S. policy argue that respect for human rights by the Colombian security forces is still a problem, and that counternarcotics programs have negative consequences for the civilian population, and for the promotion of democracy in general.

Those issues have not changed much in the past five years, and the eradication only works if you compare to the very worst years.  There are many studies examining Plan Colombia, which argue convincingly against breezy assertions of success.  At the very least, not every success in Colombia should automatically be attributed to Plan Colombia, and not everything claimed as a success--like coca cultivation--really is one.  Finally, there are all sorts of consequences, like false positives, that must also be taken into account.


Piñera's numbers

The new poll from the Centro de Estudios Públicos shows that Sebastián Piñera's numbers are stagnant:

Approval: 45%
Disapproval: 29%
Neither Approve nor Disapprove: 19%
Don't Know/Didn't Answer: 7%

In general, these numbers are lower than from Adimark and CERC, but even they have him fairly constant, hovering around 50%.

Chileans also have little confidence in how he is handling the economy, with 39% approving and 32% disapproving.  It is notable that Michelle Bachelet recovered in large part because of how she dealt with the financial crisis.  The right constantly argued that the Concertación hampered economic growth, but these numbers suggest that Chileans don't agree.


Thursday, July 29, 2010

More on enforcement first

I've been writing about the fact that it is likely impossible for the administration to "prove" it is being tough enough on enforcing immigration laws as a way to garner votes for immigration reform.  However, an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal by two high-level officials (Alan Bersin and John Morton) shows they're still trying the "enforcement first, reform after" strategy.

In all, more is being done—and more results are being achieved—to secure the border and enforce the law than ever before. This is important work that we will continue—throughout the nation and in Arizona—as we remain committed to actively working with members of Congress from both parties to make necessary reforms to our immigration laws.

I just don't think this will work.


The policy of failure

Not too surprisingly, parts of Arizona's SB 1070 were blocked by a judge as the law takes effect today.  But even if you oppose the law, this should give you little joy.

Everyone seems ready for the issue to go upward and onward to the Supreme Court which, as a lengthy NYT article notes, has been moving rightward.  What "rightward" means in the immigration context is unclear given schisms within the right, and the issue hinges largely on the interpretation of immigration's place in both domestic and foreign policy.

Regardless, immigration policy should not be set by the Supreme Court.  The judicial system is dealing with it only because Congress refuses to do so.  This should be seen by everyone as a total failure.  The federal government needs to make immigration policy in a way that renders state activism largely unnecessary--if a working system is in place, then the states should not need to add much of their own.


Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Enforcement first, nothing after

Michele Waslin at Immigration Impact takes a look at how by many measures the Obama administration has increased enforcement of immigration laws, in some cases much more so than the Bush administration, yet restrictionists argue he is doing less.

I wrote along similar lines a few months ago.  The rhetoric from opponents of immigration reform is that enforcement must occur first.  Since total enforcement is impossible, the second step will never come--the goal posts will simply keep moving.  So if administration officials are hoping the increased enforcement will bring in some votes, they are likely mistaken.  Instead, the administration may well lose votes from those who oppose that increase.


Tuesday, July 27, 2010

More Venezuela and Colombia

Recently I suggested that Alvaro Uribe wanted to allow Juan Manuel Santos to enter office as the conciliator with Venezuela from a position of strength.  The Venezuelan response may mean that strategy is working quite well.

Venezuela's U.N. Ambassador Jorge Valero asked U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at a meeting Monday afternoon to distribute a letter to the other U.N. member states which expresses hope that President-elect Juan Manuel Santos does not follow "the warmongering plans" of the U.S. government and Colombia's outgoing President Alvaro Uribe.
It also expresses hope that Santos, who takes office on Aug. 7, "gives clear and unambiguous signals that it has the political will to resume the path of dialogue, taking into consideration that the current government of Colombia has severed all diplomatic bridges with Venezuela."

So Uribe makes the accusations, which are now very public and therefore Venezuela cannot just ignore them.  Santos becomes president, says "I am not Uribe, let's discuss this FARC issue calmly" and Hugo Chávez must either accept the offer or look bad refusing.


Monday, July 26, 2010

Chile: no amnesty for you

Following up on previous posts about requests from the Catholic Church and the Chilean military to use the bicentennial to amnesty some members of the military convicted of human rights abuses:

Sebastián Piñera says he won't do it.

He also uses a fascinating rationale, namely that it would reopen the wounds of the past.  That is particularly interesting because it is precisely the argument the military uses in favor of an amnesty.  For amnesty supporters, a country moves forward by halting trials and ending jail time.  That Piñera uses it in the opposite direction is a really novel and positive step.

He also uses the argument that an amnesty creates a slippery slope, which could then jeopardize convictions in other areas, such as narcotrafficking.  Given that the dictatorship is such a specific and historical context, I find this argument unconvincing.  Yet the fact that he used it anyway seems to show a commitment to using every possible argument to nix the overall idea.

Following the argument of my book on the topic from years ago, this is very good for civilian supremacy over the armed forces.  Finding no formal channels open to favorably address highly salient issues, retired military and other amnesty supporters went through less formal and more public contacts as a way to exert pressure.  Forced to react, the president--and one from the right no less--rebuffed them.  The fact that this is not a Concertación president is important too, because now there is no opposition to turn to (an issue my book did not address, since the right had been in opposition the entire time).


Fun conspiracy theories

Eva Golinger writes about how Hugo Chávez "read from a secret memo he had been sent from an unnamed source inside the United States" with all sorts of vague but juicy information about some guy code-named Mauricio and how Costa Rica would help overthrow Chávez.

Pure comic conspiracy genius.  It is Mary Anastasia O'Grady in reverse.


Sunday, July 25, 2010

My member of Congress Part 2

On July 15, I wrote about how my member of Congress, Sue Myrick, believes that terrorists learn Spanish in Venezuela then enter the U.S. illegally through Mexico.  I didn't comment beyond that, given that the argument is, to put it mildly, nuts.

Then yesterday I received a form letter from the Congresswoman, dated July 22, which begins "Thank you for contacting me regarding illegal immigration and Arizona's new immigration law."  As I did not contact her, I can only assume it stemmed from the blog post.  The letter itself is bland and discusses her support for Arizona in fighting its "threat."

I am glad someone in her office checks in on my blog.  I would hope, however, that doing so would dispel some of the ridiculous conspiracy theories and lead to more focus on facts.  We can disagree on Arizona, but let's do so on empirical grounds.


Saturday, July 24, 2010

Colombia and Venezuela

Sara Miller Llana at the Christian Science Monitor looks at the Colombia-Venezuela dispute, and particularly at how it might affect President-elect Juan Manuel Santos:

President-elect Santos has indicated a willingness to forge a warmer relationship with Chávez, but this latest rift will set back those aspirations, says Carlos Romero, a political analyst at the Central University of Venezuela in Caracas. “The real loser here is Santos,” he says.
Mr. Romero agrees with Shifter that with Uribe out of office, there is hope of a stronger relationship. Even Chávez on Thursday indicated some willingness to put tensions behind. "Hopefully [Santos will] understand that leftist and right-wing governments can live together," Chávez was quoted saying.
“Colombia and Venezuela have different allies, but they are neighbors,” Mr. Romero says. “Unfortunately, Santos faces more obstacles now.”

I must say I disagree.  A more plausible argument is that Alvaro Uribe is doing this on purpose right before he leaves office, thus leaving Santos in the position of making nice with Hugo Chávez from a position of strength. Santos has already made a point of talking diplomatically, and thus far seems much less antagonistic than Uribe with regard to Venezuela.  Uribe will take all the heat, and Santos can calm things down.

Update: My idea is so good that Boz wrote about it a week ago.


Friday, July 23, 2010

Bishops and human rights

The Chilean Conference of Bishops is asking the government to pardon members of the military who show repentance for human rights crimes during the dictatorship.

In their letter to Chilean President Sebastian Pinera, the bishops said that not all of those convicted of committing crimes under the rule of Gen Pinochet shared equal responsibility.
"In our view, a general pardon is as much out of the question as a blanket refusal to pardon any former member of the armed forces convicted," they wrote in their statement.

I don't really follow that logic.  Some committed worse crimes than others, but that means their punishments vary as well, not that some are pardoned and some are not.

More from the Catholic News Agency:

“We are simply presenting to the country’s leaders the painful reality experienced by many persons deprived of freedom who have been convicted and have completed most of their sentences,” they said.  “It is for them that we request, in this bicentennial, a gesture of clemency, as we have done in the past with other situations of great human suffering.”
The bishops said female prisoners with children, elderly prisoners, and terminally ill prisoners, should be among those considered in their request, with some having their sentences reduced, and others being freed if they no longer constitute a danger to society and have shown good behavior in prison.

This is not the first time the bicentennial has been brought up in this way--last month retired officers asked Sebastián Piñera to provide a blanket amnesty on that date.

I would mostly repeat what I wrote then, which is that Piñera has little to gain and much to lose from doing so, and likely little interest.  If he does, it will be an indication of the continued strong influence of both the Catholic Church and the military.


Thursday, July 22, 2010

13 Bankers

I read Simon Johnson and James Kwak's 13 Bankers: The Wall Street Takeover and the Next Financial Meltdown, which is a very good, albeit repetitive (in the sense that they repeat certain points over and over), overview of the 2008 economic crash, focusing on the problem of having a small number of financial institutions that are "too big to fail."  It is not a fun read, particularly since the recently passed financial reform addresses the problem only at the margins.  It is well-footnoted and also clearly written, with succinct definitions of very complicated topics (like synthetic collateralized debt obligations, which I am not sure I yet fully understand--in fact, another theme is that Wall Street viewed complexity as a virtue, so that if you are not an insider, you should accept everything at face value).  It is highly critical of the way in which the crisis was handled--Johnson, a professor at MIT's Sloan School, takes particular aim at Democrats who talk about reform and then buckle under.

A core issue the book examines is the fact that in recent years large financial institutions have developed extremely complex products that are too often intended to obscure their dubious origin.  The interests of the customer are ignored.  This is not particularly new, but the sheer size and scope of these institutions is much greater than in the past.  Thus, moral hazard is a severe problem, because these institutions feel emboldened by the idea that the government will bail them out.  Indeed, the bailout (and likely the financial reform as well) has only made the problem worse: "we can see now that the largest, most powerful banks came out of the crisis even larger and more powerful."  In 2009, an executive from Goldman Sachs argued that "The injunction of Jesus to love others as ourselves is a recognition of self-interest...We have to tolerate the inequality as a way to achieve greater prosperity and opportunity for all."  In other words, being too big to fail was good for everyone.

But what to do?  Their argument is to ensure that no institution becomes that big in the first place.  Breaking them up and creating caps are the central policy prescriptions.  Left intact, they will take on even more risk than in the past, create new products that elude regulations (and regulators who care little about enforcement anyway, sometimes refusing to do anything, or whose budgets rely on those same financial institutions--the current reform only asks regulators to make some new rules in the future) and thereby inevitably create a future crisis.  You can close a barn door, or at least partially close it, but there are always new barn doors.  It is, as the authors say, the "doom loop."


Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Latin America and immigration

Seven Latin American countries are joining Mexico in its amicus curiae for the Arizona immigration law:

Bolivia, Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Paraguay and Peru filed separate, nearly identical motions to join Mexico's legal brief supporting the lawsuit filed by U.S. civil rights and other advocacy groups.
A federal judge formally accepted Mexico's filing July 1 but did not immediately rule on the latest motions filed late last week.

One of the less examined aspects of recent debates over immigration is the activism of Latin American governments, which transcends ideology.  Mexico is the most obvious case, and I've written about Felipe Calderón's statements before, but it is evident across the region.  It may well be one of the few things that governments as disparate as Bolivia and Colombia can agree upon.  It should be a topic of conversation for regional organizations.


Monday, July 19, 2010

Headline of the day: Venezuela

From the Seattle PI: Despite Chavez, Venezuela Economy Not Socialist

Since 2007, Chavez has nationalized and expropriated companies in sectors he deems strategic, including the oil industry, cement, telecommunications, electricity, steel and food. But economists note that those businesses make up a relatively modest share of the economy.
And the balance between public and private sectors remains nearly identical to when Chavez took office in part because the private sector grew faster than the government between 2003 and 2006, when the economy was booming.
Last year the private sector accounted for 70 percent of gross domestic product, including 11 percent in taxes paid on products, according to Central Bank estimates. The public sector was 30 percent, a slightly smaller share than when Chavez was elected in 2008.
By international standards, Venezuela has long had a large public sector because it includes the oil industry. By comparison, the public sector in Sweden accounts for 25 percent of GDP, and in United States less than 14 percent.
The whole thing is worth the read.


Evangelicals and immigration

This very interesting NYT article about evangelicals and immigration has more angles than you can shake a stick at, and therefore all sorts of unanswered but fascinating questions as well.  Such as:

1.  How much will support from evangelical leaders translate into congressional votes?

2.  How deep is the connection between Latino and Anglo evangelical churches?

3.  Can evangelicals forge political connections with pro-immigration reform business leaders?

4.  How will opponents of immigration reform frame their rebuttal to evangelicals?

5.  How much has evangelical support for immigration reform changed in the past, say, four years?

Not likely anything happening this year, but stay tuned.


Saturday, July 17, 2010

Border crossing deaths

A few days ago, I wrote about how economic recovery was increasing the number of border crossings.  Now (via Border Wall in the News) the number of border crossing deaths may hit a record high this month (the record of 68 was set in July 2005).

Apprehensions in the Border Patrol's Tucson Sector have decreased each of the past five years; remittances to Mexico have declined and anecdotal reports show the economic recession has slowed illegal immigration. Yet more people are dying than ever.
Border-county law enforcement, Mexican consular officials, Tohono O'odham tribal officials and humanitarian groups say the buildup of border fencing, technology and agents has caused illegal border crossers to walk longer distances in more treacherous terrain, increasing the likelihood that people will get hurt or fatigued and left behind to die.
The Border Patrol disagrees that it's pushing illegal immigrants into more hazardous terrain and points to its rescue efforts as evidence that its presence prevents deaths rather than causes them.

The Border Patrol certainly does not want people to die, and rescues those it can, but border enforcement pushes people to seek ever more dangerous routes.  Study after study has shown the number of deaths increasing as border security was tightened.  The essential point is that people will come illegally if there is no legal route, and take greater risks if they need to.


Friday, July 16, 2010

Hugo Chávez and Simón Bolívar's corpse

Hugo Chávez has exhumed Simón Bolívar's remains, with the stated goal of determining whether he died of tuberculosis.  This event was so momentous that Chávez announced it through some tweets.

Doing weird things with corpses and body parts has a long and distinguished history in Latin America.  Lyman Johnson, a colleague of mine in History at UNC Charlotte, edited a book a few years ago entitled Death, Dismemberment, and Memory: Body Politics in Latin America.  It's amazing how relevant dead bodies can be for contemporary politics.  Not quite zombies, but close.


Thursday, July 15, 2010

This is my member of Congress

From Peter Krupa at Lat/Am Daily, I give you Rep. Sue Myrick (R-NC):

Here we are with a porous border, not really paying attention to who’s coming over, what’s happening with Iran and Hugo Chávez and Venezuela. We know that there are people going to Venezuela, learning Spanish, and then coming up through Mexico with fake documents, trying to cross the border. If they’re stopped they say, I’m Mexican. You know. Or Spanish. The point is, a border agent who really knows the difference in their language can tell that they aren’t Mexican, and so it’s very difficult if those agents aren’t really trained in linguistics to know that. And they get across.

I don't even need to comment, but I think I could use a drink.


Immigration and crime in Arizona

Interesting chart from America's Voice Online about crime in Arizona, suggesting that local-level immigration crackdowns increase crime, while crime is down elsewhere.

It is a back of the envelope type of thing that does not take any other variables into consideration (past crime rates, socio-economic status of different jurisdictions, etc.).  Regardless, it is another example of how crime cannot be used as a justification for tougher enforcement.  There is already abundant evidence that crime overall is down, and this represents even more anecdotal support.


Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Immigration and backfire

Check out this NPR story on research showing how people hold inaccurate beliefs even more strongly when presented with contrary evidence.  The phenomenon is called "backfire."  There is an interview with Prof. Brendan Nyhan, who published on the topic.

The transcript includes discussion by Neal Conan and Dana Milbank about Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, who has been saying all sorts of outlandish and untrue things about immigration and violence.

CONAN: And on Sunday, the Post published a piece you wrote that started with Arizona Governor Jan Brewer's claim that law enforcement agencies found bodies in the desert, either buried or just lying out there, that had been beheaded.
Mr. MILBANK: Yes, I think Governor Brewer lost her head on that one in particular. Now, there's a huge problem with violence on the border, but virtually all of it happens to be on the Mexican side. And what happened in the case of this claim is a news organization out there called the Arizona Guardian called all the coroner's office, the medical examiners in those border counties, and they could not think of a single instance of an immigration-related beheading.
I called the governor's office to see if they could give me some of this decapitation information, and they didn't so much as return an email or a phone call. So I suspect if they had evidence of that, they would have furnished it.
CONAN: And no updates since publication.
Mr. MILBANK: There is no reply still. 

I'm pretty sure there never will be.


Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The U.S., Cuba and leverage

José Cárdenas at Shadow Government argues that the prisoner release in Cuba should not prompt a change in U.S. policy.  He ends with a rhetorical flourish, but one that is--as often is the case with embargo supporters--devoid of critical detail:

Rewarding the regime for a self-serving tactical maneuver that could be reversed at any time would be counterproductive and a waste of the leverage the United States does possess to push for fundamental reforms in the best interests of all 11,000,000 Cuban political prisoners.

What is this mysterious leverage we have?  The embargo laws and all their corollaries are supposed to exert the necessary pressure "to push for fundamental reforms," but they clearly have not done so.  If anything, they have benefited and continue to benefit the Castro regime greatly, because they offer an indefinite excuse for anything that goes wrong with the economy, and they are a global PR bonanza for the Cuban government.

Let's stop pretending about leverage, because we don't have any.  Fidel Castro has played embargo supporters like a fiddle for a very long time.


China ousts Venezuela

As Colombia's second largest trading partner, anyway.  The antagonisms, especially Hugo Chávez freezing relations and threatening to cut trade as well, have led to a 68.9% drop of exports to Venezuela in May, following a general trend since the 2008 bombing of Ecuador.

The net result has been more access for China to Colombia's commodities.  However, Colombian exports of manufactured goods (like machinery and spare parts) have dropped 4.5%, due in part to Venezuela's sagging economy.

Who would have thought that a trade dispute between Venezuela and Colombia would ultimately benefit China the most?


Monday, July 12, 2010

Weeks Population blog

If you are interested in demographic issues, then you might check out my dad's new blog Weeks Population.  Its main purpose is to be an added resource for his textbook on the topic, which was first published over 30 years ago and will soon be out in a new 11th edition.


Economic recovery and border crossings

If you are surprised at the following, then you may have your head in the sand or perhaps you are Jan Brewer:  as the U.S. economy slowly improves, the number of border crossings between San Diego and Mexico has started to hold steady or increase after several years of decline.

These are official counts of legal crossings, but there can be no doubt that illegal crossings are rising in parallel, regardless of state laws, real or virtual, fences, or unmanned drones.


Why the governors are wrong on immigration

The New York Times has an article about how Democratic Governors are complaining about the government's lawsuit against Arizona.  A few thoughts:

First, I am not convinced that voters will think much about the Arizona lawsuit when voting in November midterm elections.  The governors' argument rests on the assumption that the lawsuit will somehow tip people who otherwise would have stayed at home or who would have voted Democrat.  I have yet to see any evidence of that.

Second, as I've written countless times, people's views on immigration policy are never as simple as generally portrayed.  Kudos to the reporter (Abby Goodnough) for this perceptive paragraph:

The lawsuit contends that controlling immigration is a federal responsibility, but polls suggest that a majority of Americans support the Arizona law, or at least the concept of a state having a strong role in immigration enforcement.

Exactly.  People do want a functional system with a working enforcement component.  However, that does not necessarily translate into punishing Democrats because of the lawsuit.

Third, the main problem is a general sense of inaction, not the lawsuit per se.  Outgoing Washington Governor Christine Gregoire makes the following point:

“They described for me a list of things that they are doing to try and help on that border,” Ms. Gregoire said of the White House officials at the closed-door meeting. “And I said, ‘The public doesn’t know that.’ ”
She added, “We’ve got a message void, and the only thing we’re hearing is that they’re filing a lawsuit.”

I disagree that people are paying such close attention to the lawsuit, but the administration is doing a poor job of convincing anyone that it is committed to anything except nice words and more enforcement for PR purposes, and so it is criticized by all sides.


Sunday, July 11, 2010

Threats everywhere

Every so often you see an editorial that wraps up multiple conspiracy theories into a single, bizarre ball.  The NY Daily News argues that Hezbollah is in Tijuana, which apparently moved because they claim it is right across the border from Texas, and that will eventually help the FARC.  Or at least that is what someone in Kuwait says.

Who says the MSM is dead?


Saturday, July 10, 2010

Immigration and made-up stuff

There are all sorts of myths about the negative effects of immigration.  Now the discussion about Arizona has moved from myths to consistent lying.  I already wrote about how Jan Brewer says all sorts of things that simply are not true, and Matthew Yglesias points to more examples: "The upshot of all this is to create a toxic cycle of misinformation."

This may well be the most exasperating part of debating immigration, because the issue is complex enough without high-level elected officials lying about it (or being so ignorant as to spread untruths because they do not know the truth and cannot be bothered with it).


Friday, July 09, 2010

Correa and UNITAS

Rafael Correa continues to confound easy ideological labeling.  He is going to participate in UNITAS with countries that according to conventional media wisdom are supposed to be his mortal enemies, such as the United States, Peru. Colombia, Mexico, and Chile.  This comes on the heels of having nice words with Hillary Clinton, expressing concern about how Latin American culture focuses on lying, and slowly warming relations with Colombia.  This serves the dual purpose of improving relations and keeping his own military happy.


Thursday, July 08, 2010

Videla's argument

Página 12 (in Spanish) has a lengthy discussion of the latest declarations by former Argentine dictator Jorge Rafael Videla, as well as a succinct history of his case.  His argument is identical to that put forth by Augusto Pinochet and his supporters in Chile.  Marxist terrorists controlled by foreigners needed to be exterminated, and now these same Marxists were orchestrating the trials of patriotic members of the military.  Life is therefore unfair.

The nice difference is that Videla has spent 12 years in prison, whereas Pinochet spent none.


Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Warren St. John's Outcasts United

A feel good story about refugees coming together while playing soccer sounds trite, but in Outcasts United Warren St. John manages to show enough of everyone's rough edges to bring out a great story.*  A Jordanian woman, Luma Mufleh, came to Clarkston, Georgia and created soccer teams for boys composed of the rapidly growing refugee population there in the small town South.  The story avoids sappiness or oversimplification.

There is no climax per se, but rather a constant fight against poverty, exclusion, and fear.  Insert your "against all odds" cliche here.  Nonetheless, it is very well-written and avoids black-and-white descriptions of the reactions to the refugees.  St. John talks to everyone, and many of the people (some of the local politicians, community leaders, parents from other soccer teams, etc.) are more sympathetic than you might first think.

From a policy perspective, the book raises the point that immigration agencies do not bother coordinating with local government.  They find communities with available cheap housing and ready public transportation access to metro areas (in this case Atlanta).  They then bring in large numbers of people and say nothing to local officials, who find themselves in a sink or swim situation that raises tensions.  When St. John attended the single meeting set up between local elected officials and immigration agencies, he actually portrayed the latter in a negative light, as they became defensive and implied everyone was discriminatory.

One point St. John does not explore is the question of soccer itself.  Clarkston's mayor kept rejecting requests to play on a city field, saying that only baseball could be played there.  An undertone of the first part of the book is the idea that soccer is foreign.  Yet the second half of the book gives all sorts of examples of how wealthy Americans love soccer and support it.  Do people dislike soccer, or just immigrants playing soccer?  If a group of Spanish-speaking kids wanted to play baseball, would baseball also be banned?  This is relevant in the context of the World Cup--media commentators discuss how foreign soccer is, it is slow, we're not used to ties, etc., yet millions of kids play it all the time, even in the deep South.

*Almost exactly a year ago I reviewed Paul Cuadros' A Home on the Field, which deals with Latino immigrants playing soccer in North Carolina.


Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Venezuela aid

The Miami Herald notes Venezuela's aid to Haiti, and twists itself into a pretzel to portray it as bad.  However, if you remove "Venezuela" and insert "United States" then you could make U.S. aid look equally bad.  The article directly or indirectly makes three main points:

First, countries with domestic economic problems should be criticized for provided aid to other countries instead of giving it to their own citizens.  Under this logic, all U.S. aid programs should be ended immediately and indefinitely.  In fact, very few countries on earth should currently give aid.

Second, countries should be criticized if there are perceived political objectives associated with aid.  OK, though no country provides large amounts of aid without a political goal.

Third, countries should be criticized if they make huge promises of aid that they are unlikely to provide.  I agree with this, but Venezuela is hardly alone.


Monday, July 05, 2010

Fidel's latest offering

If you would like a definition of incoherent and rambling, check out Fidel Castro's latest column.  It is a hazy mix of World Cup and how the Iraqi government under Saddam Hussein was a good friend to Cuba, with some references to Iran sprinkled in.  Oh, and we're going to have nuclear war.  Signed, Fidel.


Sunday, July 04, 2010

Michael Lewis' The Big Short

I read Michael Lewis' The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine (by the way, what kind of terrible subtitle is that?) and highly recommend it as a perversely entertaining and straightforward narrative of how subprime mortgages were bundled into bonds few people understood, given too-high ratings, and then traded for enormous sums of money on the assumption that the booming housing market would go on forever.  The book focuses on the handful of people who realized it was all bogus and absolutely could not last.  As I read it, I kept thinking about Kurt Eichenwald's Conspiracy of Fools, another good book that tells the story of the bizarre and complex pyramid schemes dreamed up by Enron executives.  Everyone thinks they can make money by creating nothing, and indeed even having companies sell their own bad investments to themselves.

And the bonds that had been most ineptly rated were the bonds that Wall Street firms had tricked the ratings agencies into rating most ineptly.  "I cannot fucking believe this is allowed," said Eisman.  "I must have said that one thousand times" (p. 101).

Indeed, it was the bundling that helps accounts for the disaster.  Good mortgages were bundled with bad, and then sold as if they were all good.  Further, even different types of bad mortgages could be made to look good.

By assuming that one pile of subprime mortgage loans wasn't exposed to the same forces as another--that a subprime mortgage bond with loans heavily concentrated in Florida wasn't very much like a subprime mortgage bond more concentrated in California--the engineers created the illusion of security (p. 74).

We all know the outcome, and the story of greed and stupidity is not exactly uplifting.

With its personality-driven style, the book only touches on the broader structural issue of how regulation and deregulation created the environment in the first place, though it does not claim to do so.  What it also does not delve into is the fact that the "heroes" of the story, that is, the Steve Eismans of Wall Street who spoke out about how it was all a lie, made money only because of massive collapse.  Yes, Lewis does bring it up, but there is a broader point to be made about how in many ways these guys aren't heroes at all.  They were very smart, but they got rich only because many Americans got screwed.  At least Lewis does make the point that nothing has really changed.  Once the economy picks up again, something like this will definitely reoccur.


Saturday, July 03, 2010

Ecuador and Colombia, continued

I mentioned last week the possibility that the phone tapping allegations against Colombia were intended to halt the slowly improving relations between Colombia and Ecuador.  It appears that both Rafael Correa and Alvaro Uribe agree.  That agreement is hopefully a good sign, as the two countries need to move closer if they have any hope of attacking the FARC along their shared border.  Really, no good can come out of an indefinite break of diplomatic relations.  It will certainly make Colombia less secure.


Call for papers: women and defense

Mick Andersen, who is editor of Security and Defense Review (the journal of the Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies) has issued a call for papers for a special issue on "Women in Defense and Security."

Among the issues we hope to address in the Fall/Winter edition are the following:

        • Questions of gender in a variety of different contexts, including global; regional; military, police, and peacekeeping; and security and defense institution building;
        • An examination of what currently exists in terms of career paths for women in security and defense; what has worked and what more needs to be done to help ensure gender equity, including analyses of what countries have already done (or could do), both in terms of political appointments and in the civil service, to ensure both paths are open to women;
        • Potential opportunities for women as a result of both the expansion of, and changes in, the roles and missions of security and defense forces, where relevant;
        • Country-specific examples from the Western Hemisphere of where measures have been taken to ensure equitable education and training opportunities for women.
        • Role of women in science, technology, education, and math (hard skill sets) in supporting national security institutions.
        • The roles of women in security and defense in comparative perspective, with emphasis on region, but also in comparison with other regions.
Among the questions we hope these and other topics help answer are the following:
    • How does gender inclusion and mainstreaming contribute to effective security and defense institution building?
    • How do considerations of gender inform action plans, directives and operations in the military, police and peacekeeping context?
    • What is being done and what is missing for implementation and education?'
    • What is the role of the media in Perception and Reality vis-à-vis women in defense and security?
We are asking for two types of submissions for consideration for publication.
The first category will  be comprised of standard academic papers of between 5,000-12,000 words in length examining these and other related issues. Those interested in offering these kinds of contributions are encouraged to take a look at the most recent issue of the Security and Defense Studies Review so as to keep papers submitted as close as possible to standard SDSR format.
The second type of contributions we seek are 500-1,000 word contributions by women security and defense professionals about their own experiences. Of particular interest are those stories which address obstacles faced; personal strategies used to contribute to individual advancement, professional education and training, and institutional awareness; the roles of mentors; continued challenges, and new opportunities. (Please note: We do not wish to publish contributions heavy with rhetorical flourishes or unseemly generalizations; we do want frank, sincere, insightful and refreshing looks at critical issues women face, in their own words, based on their own experiences.) 

We also welcome a smaller number of pieces of the same length written by men that help promote understanding and dialogue about critical issues facing women professionals in defense and security. These, too, should avoid rhetorical and time-worn devices, and focus on insights based on personal experience and observation.

The deadline for submission of both types of contributions is September 17th, after which we will select no more than 10 articles from the first category and 15 from the second for publication. We hope to publish this dedicated volume before the end of this year.


Friday, July 02, 2010

Another presidential immigration speech

President Obama has again made a speech calling for immigration reform.  This is now problematic, because the political calculations behind these speeches are so transparent that they no longer have any impact--does anyone believe Obama will push hard for reform this year?  In fact, they may well have the opposite effect--the Latino voters he wants to reach are being told over and over that the Democratic Party wants their vote, yet it becomes more and more clear that speeches alone are supposed to hold those votes indefinitely.

Obama is hoping to minimize the damage that afflicts the president's party in Congress in midterm elections.  Fair enough.  But we're moving gradually toward a crying wolf situation in which people--including Republicans he claims to want to court--simply stop believing he will really take action.


Thursday, July 01, 2010

Media persecution in Cuba

Reading Amnesty International's press release about intimidation of journalists raises two interesting questions.

First, this alone isn't news, and is worded as if the state "has created" a climate of fear somehow in recent years, as opposed to having constructed one since 1959.

Second, the fact that independent journalists exist in Cuba is newsworthy, even if it is to highlight how they are persecuted.  But it points to the need for an analysis (and maybe one already exists) of independent journalism in Cuba.  Who is their audience?  To what degree does the average Cuban have access to their work, or even know that they exist?  Are they entirely online?


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