Friday, April 29, 2011

Left in Venezuela

When talking about the thaw between Venezuela and Colombia, the most common focus is how it annoys the U.S. government and Alvaro Uribe.  But it also annoys the Venezuelan left, which is furious that Hugo Chávez arrested a suspected member of the FARC, Joaquin Perez.

The move is considered a betrayal among many Chavez supporters, including prominent lawmakers, journalists and at least one former minister. It has provoked a furious reaction.
"Next we will be the chased and arrested," said Luis Alvarez, one of about 200 protesters outside Venezuela's Foreign Ministry, "This is terrible and dangerous for the whole international revolutionary movement."
Protesters set ablaze an effigy of Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro, calling him and Information Minister Andres Izarra "traitors." Some anger also was directed at Chavez, as shown in road graffiti that said "Chavez, betrayal is not revolution."

The idea that going after the FARC is betrayal is not likely shared by too many Venezuelans, so it is entirely worth it for Chávez to risk their ire and improve relations with Colombia.  That will be beneficial for gaining moderate votes in 2012 and for the economy.


Thursday, April 28, 2011

Obama and immigration

Ruben Navarette takes a very critical look at President Obama's record on immigration.  I agree with much of it, but am less sure about this:

Obama may not be a good leader but he has good timing: ramp up immigration reform groups in the spring; work with congressional leaders to draft legislation in the summer; propose a bill in the fall. Then he can spend early winter watching Republicans tear apart the idea — and themselves — in time for the New Hampshire primary in February 2012. Obama can waltz through next year's campaign with the confidence that he'll do fairly well with Latinos who will show up to vote not for him but against the Republican candidate.

Maybe.  But this does not adequately explore the possibility that Latinos (and others) will stay home rather than vote against Republicans.  At any rate, it is hard to see any "waltzing" in Obama's future.


Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Getting moderates in Peru

Ollanta Humala had his about face to woo moderates for the run-off, and here is Keiko Fujimori's.  Before, her father headed the "best government in Peru's history."  Now she apologizes for his "mistakes" and "crimes."  And he might have been "authoritarian" but not a dictatorship.  Before, she said she "would not hesitate" to pardon him.  Now she swears she won't.

So will the real Ollanta Humala and Keiko Fujimori please stand up?


Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The WHINSEC debate goes on

An article at the Council of Hemispheric Affairs has generated some heat (updated: see more on COHA's own response here), as it questions the assumptions of those--particularly the School of the Americas Watch--who want the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC, formerly the School of the Americas) closed.  I don't think it is a very well-written or well-argued article, though it remind me of several problems people face when discussing this hotly charged issue.

First, WHINSEC and the SOA should not be viewed as the same thing, or at the very least that assertion should be treated as something to be proved rather than assumed.

Second, any analysis of SOA's influence on individuals should also take into account the domestic Latin American civil-military context.  Both SOA and WHINSEC have an impact, though not necessarily in the simple way (we teach, they go and practice our teachings) that many supporters and critics alike assert.

Third, the fact that WHINSEC's budget is small does not mean it should or shouldn't be closed.  Arguments should focus more on what it is actually doing.

For my 2003 academic article on the topic, see here.  I last wrote about WHINSEC on this blog in 2007.


Monday, April 25, 2011

Peru and moderation

While I am glad to a the mainstream media (in this case Newsweek) contradict conventional wisdom about the Peruvian election, I do wish it could be done more cogently.  The basic argument is that whoever wins in Peru will likely govern more moderately than people tend to think.  That argument can be made most convincingly by focusing on political institutions: Ollanta Humala needs the center to gain a majority in a second round, and then will face an opposition majority in the legislature.  Therefore he will need to move toward the center.  Maybe this is wrong, maybe it is right, but it is a logical argument.

Instead, the article veers off into how Humala might copy Lula, without any evidence to suggest precisely why he would do so other than that he wants to win--that makes more sense if you ditch the Lula comparison and just look at the dynamics of winning a presidential election in Peru.

Then it heads into what seems an inevitable part of U.S. media analyses of the election.  Macroeconomic indicators make everyone say Peru is a success story (and, of course, in the past similar stories circulated about Bolivia, Venezuela, etc.) and we cannot understand why Peruvians themselves seem not to understand that.  The article gets into that only very briefly.  If you get an outcome that seems to make no sense, you should start thinking of alternate hypotheses.  In the case of Peru, that is not happening very often in media accounts of the election.


Saturday, April 23, 2011

Juan of the Dead

Best idea for a movie that I have heard in a long time.

Mysterious attacks break out across the island, leaving the victims disfigured and drenched in blood. The government and state media blame US-backed dissidents and assure the population the situation is under control.
But as the attacks spread, Juan, a fortysomething loafer in Havana, identifies the true culprit – a plague of zombies – and does what Cubans traditionally do in times of crisis: becomes a capitalist. He sets up a business, Juan of the Dead, and makes a quick profit ridding customers of infected loved ones by bashing, smashing and stomping out their brains.
Welcome to the world of Cuba's first feature-length horror film in half a century, a gore-filled black comedy which satirises social mores in the twilight of Castro rule.
"It makes observations about who we are," Alejandro Brugués, the director and writer, said. "A government which blames the US for everything. A people who are very passive. And then when confronted with a crisis we go into business."

I have to see this movie.  It also made me wonder if there is any correlation between political regime and movie genres.  Dictatorships don't seem to produce many horror movies, perhaps because people aren't in the mood to be frightened further?


Friday, April 22, 2011

State law and guest workers

Fascinating stuff.  Republican members of the House are criticizing the Utah immigration bill because it contains a guest worker provision.  As I've noted, the Georgia bill that seems likely to be signed into law also contains such a provision.  For these reasons, we need to be careful about lumping all such laws together as the same as SB 1070 (something I have to admit I have tended to do).  Here is an interesting quote from that article:

But Utah legislators said the state needed a bill that covered enforcement as well as the state’s need for immigrant labor.
"Being reasonable and being conservative are not mutually exclusive,” Herbert said in a statement to a local Utah television station. “Part of being conservative is being practical.”

Again, very interesting.  Conventional wisdom is that Republicans must play to an enforcement-minded base.  Is there room in there for "practical" and "reasonable"?

I have not bothered to go into the hypocrisy of criticizing state laws while also refusing to pass federal law.  It is like shooting fish in a barrel.


Thursday, April 21, 2011

Brazil and Honduras

Boz writes about how Juan Manuel Santos did an end run around Brazil with regard to getting Hugo Chávez's support for Honduras' reincorporation into the OAS, which puts Dilma Rousseff in the position of either supporting it or looking extreme.

I would offer a slightly different argument, namely that Rousseff doesn't care.  The Honduran coup obviously touched a chord with Lula, who inserted Brazil in an unprecedented fashion.  But Rousseff, despite her own strong leftist and anti-dictatorial credentials, does not appear particularly interested.  So the end run may more accurately be labeled as taking action while Brazil chooses not to.


Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Juxtaposition: Honduras

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen says the U.S. should not pressure Honduras because it is "blackmail."


Ileana Ros-Lehtinen says the U.S. "must make the defense of human rights and democratic principles a foreign policy priority."


Runoff dynamics in Peru

It is interesting to watch the incentives generated by the presidential runoff system in Peru.  With only 31 percent in the first round, Ollanta Humala needs to woo a lot of voters, and he has clearly decided he needs to go to the center to get them.  To that end, he is backing off previous statements about nationalization, such as in his "Nationalist Proposal."  He put together a team of moderates, and his top advisor keeps saying there will be no state takeovers and an Humala administration would respect existing free trade agreements.   Now he says the pension system will remain in private hands, saying "We want to give confidence to the Peruvian people."

A new poll is expected on April 24, so stay tuned.


Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Immigration gridlock

Esther Cepeda has a good analysis of the appellate court ruling on SB 1070, particularly how it does not clearly articulate the proper relationship between federal and state governments with regard to the foreign policy issue of immigration.  I really like her conclusion, and I agree completely:

Observers of Arizona's audacious law had hoped its judicial spectacle would at least prod the federal government into some action. But based on this decision, it seems that at least for the foreseeable future Washington's message to Arizona and other states who want to take immigration matters into their own hands is: You're not allowed to deal with illegal immigration yourselves, only we can. And we will. Sometime. Maybe. Stand by.


Monday, April 18, 2011

Brazilian immigration

Tyler Cowen asks why Brazilians migrate less frequently to the United States than Salvadorans.  He then offers some hypotheses, some of which ("Brazil is too much fun to leave") seem only to be feeble attempts at humor, while others ("Brazil has a history of viewing the United States as a rival; El Salvador does not") don't actually make sense to me.  Cuba is a rival, yet Cubans come to the U.S. in large numbers.  So let me offer three others:

1. The United States did not spend billions on a violent civil war in Brazil.  That alone accounts for a lot of Salvadoran migration (see also: Colombia and Iraq).

2. Speaking Portuguese rather than Spanish puts low wage Brazilians at a distinct disadvantage in the United States compared to Spanish-speaking migrants.

3. Brazil is geographically a lot farther from the United States than El Salvador.


Sunday, April 17, 2011

Quote of the day: Cuba

Two plus two is four. Never five, much less six or seven, as we have sometimes pretended.

--Raúl Castro on the continued reform of the Cuban economic and political model

Of course, this conflicts directly with his assertion that Cubans will enjoy free access to a wide variety of social services.  It will be interesting to see whether the state opens the door for, say, small medical businesses for those with money.

I also assume that embargo supporters will argue that it is the reason this is happening.


Saturday, April 16, 2011

Juxtaposition: Bay of Pigs

Staunch anti-Fidelista Enrique Ros on why the Bay of Pigs was so great.


Staunch pro-Fidelista Hugo Chávez tweeting about how the Pay of Pigs was great.


Georgia bill

After some hope of moderation, the Georgian legislature passed an SB 1070-type immigration bill and the governor is expected to sign it.  It is ironic:

The bill helps the governor fulfill a campaign promise and sends a message to Washington, Mr. Robinson said: “States are picking up the tab for the gigantic cost of a problem that Washington won’t fix.”

Of course, this bill will become extraordinarily expensive both in terms of lawsuits and in terms of implementation, while not accomplishing its goals.  Georgia is therefore voluntarily increasing its own tab.

One silver lining is that Georgia, like Utah, has included a guest worker program.  This suggests that when we get to federal reform, a national-level guest worker program will be easier to pass.  No enforcement measures will work without that.


Friday, April 15, 2011

Commodity exports and growth

The presidential election in Peru is more evidence of the fact that macroeconomic growth alone is not enough to understand whether people are becoming more prosperous.  Too many basically sit back and wonder why those Peruvians don't know what's good for them when they vote.

But the issue of growth comes back to an entirely unoriginal point I keep making, namely that commodity-driven growth is unstable. An article from the Brookings Institution, while even giddy about Argentina of all places, provides a glimpse into the problem.

Traditional Dutch disease has been linked primarily to the effects of high commodity export prices or volumes in one sector at the expense of other sectors. The symptoms are already apparent in commodity exporting countries like Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Colombia, where the volumes of non-primary net exports have been falling rapidly and industrial output and employment are starting to dwindle despite solid GDP growth figures. 

The authors also discuss "financial Dutch disease" and argue that a bit of financial tweaking will largely address the problem.  History suggests otherwise.  Plus, growth alone says nothing about distribution of wealth.  In short, nice looking growth rates obscure problems with employment (not to mention the fact that the nature and wages of the employment is almost never discussed) and commodity dependence.  These are very old ideas and arguments, but so often get lost in the shuffle.


Thursday, April 14, 2011

Juxtaposition: economic reform

I kept going to the people and saying, "We're doing this because we have to save stability, and you just can't keep spending." Even [though] we had a very tight budget, we had to cut it more, simply because we had been hit by external shocks, and what he told us was don't put it off, do it, and explain it to the people, and the people will accompany you if you have credibility and you're taking the steps at the opportunity. If you put it off, if you want to finesse it and forget it and push it aside hoping that things will improve, you'll find it very difficult to apply; it's too late.

--Bolivian President Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada in a 2001 interview

We need to cut spending, address our insolvent entitlements programs and tighten our belt by doing more with less as Republicans propose in our budget. Americans don’t want their taxes raised, they want Washington to get its fiscal house in order, and I call on President Obama, Leader Reid, and Leader Pelosi to follow our lead in cutting spending and rule out raising taxes in our current economy.”

--Eric Cantor in 2011

Take a look at Bolivian political history to see how well that worked out.  A good post at The Monkey Cage is a reminder of what "the people" really want.


Wednesday, April 13, 2011

New McCain immigration bill

If you want to see a non-serious and failure-guaranteed bill, then look at the new one from John McCain and John Kyl (courtesy of  It is a five year, $4 billion plan to do more border patrol, more fencing, more National Guard, etc.  Like the Cuba embargo, the idea is that just more will finally do the trick without wondering whether the underlying logic is flawed.

And how to pay for it?  Take away money from other unnamed sources, but specifically nothing from defense.

IN GENERAL.—Notwithstanding any other provision of law, of all available unobligated funds, $4,030,000,000 in appropriated discretionary funds are rescinded.

It won't work, and from many past statements I think McCain knows that.  He and Kyl can use it as an argument for more enforcement even if it doesn't pass.  But it is also a convenient way to argue for taking away money from other projects that do work but you don't like so want to de-fund.



CIPER Chile points out a Wikileaks cable the U.S. embassy sent in 2005, fairly dripping with paranoia about Chinese espionage.

China’s growing commercial, educational and military ties with Chile will increase its access to many areas of Chilean government and society. This, in turn, will increase Chile’s vulnerability to Chinese intelligence gathering activities. And – if used as a base for increased Chinese presence in the region – Chile may become a platform country in more ways than it ever imagined. End Summary.

No drama here.  Of more interest, though, is Craig Kelly's assessment of Chilean foreign policy.  It is the best example of the pot calling the kettle black that I have seen in some time.

Given its political “”shyness”", it is unlikely Chile will independently raise difficult issues of human rights violations, democratic processes, labor protections or environmental preservation for the time being, especially if it perceives its continued economic prosperity to be at risk.

This is, of course, precisely what the U.S. does, and has done forever, and it is just a basic articulation of realism.  That it is draped in a naivete argument makes it pretty insulting as well.


Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Political effects of inequality in Peru

Provocative op-ed by Dennis Jett, former U.S. Ambassador to Peru.  The upshot is that when the distribution of wealth is highly unequal, people will vote for extremes, and that this can happen in the United States just as well as in Peru.

Income inequality in the United States is at an all-time high and approaching that of Latin America. Even though the tax burden is lower now than at any time since the Eisenhower administration, the rich here, as in Latin America, always insist they pay too much. Given the cost of running for office, the market economy ensures that the winners are the best politicians money can buy. The result is the current budget debate in Washington, where the discussion centers on how to dismantle the social safety net in order to cut taxes on the wealthy even more.
When any of this is pointed out, the reaction is that the critics are resorting to class warfare. But the war has already begun. Common sense and common purpose have already been victims of that war in much of Latin America. Now Peru has set itself back economically and politically by decades. America is on the same path to division and irrelevance. That process is a tragedy for Peru. It will be a disaster for the world if it happens here.


SB 1070 blockage

The Ninth Circuit Appeals Court upheld the ban on enforcing parts of Arizona's SB 1070.  The decision highlights what many opponents have been saying for some time--states who make such laws will face considerable expense.  Jan Brewer is already asking for money:

Bottom line is that I'm going to ask everybody tonight to remember my legal defense fund, because this is not cheap, but we can win. So I want people to go to and help us fight this battle.

As study after study has shown, undocumented immigrants are far more safe than the average American.  In the context of a serious recession, then, it makes no sense to throw away money at the issue.  Indeed, that rationale is reaching into Georgia:

“There is no reason for us to be forging ahead on this to be simply the second state to go forward and spend millions of dollars litigating this issue,” Sen. Curt Thompson, D-Tucker, said during an impromptu news conference before the Senate vote. “It doesn’t produce jobs unless it is jobs for lawyers. ... The bottom line here is we need to let this process work its way through the courts.”

Eventually it will go to the Supreme Court.  And the country will have spent quite a lot on lawyers.


Monday, April 11, 2011

Peru election

Populism is a reflection of, among other things, dissatisfaction with the status quo and established political parties.  In that context, media portrayals of the Peruvian election show a consistent contradiction.

As it currently stands, Ollanta Humala and Keiko Fujimori would go to a second round.  That could change as more votes come in, but the basic idea is the same.  Peruvians are not happy with the status quo and are open to potentially very radical change based more on individuals than on parties.

So CNN International's rhetorical question "Who will make the most of the recent combination of good macroeconomic management and high commodity prices?" is misplaced.  A more accurate question is why so many Peruvians don't believe "macroeconomic management" had any impact on them at all.  Or we have the Wall Street Journal: "financial markets fret that Mr. Humala might reverse the market-oriented policies that have helped turn Peru into one of the world's fastest growing economies." Bloomberg gets more to the point, though far down in the article:

Under Garcia, Peru created 2.5 million jobs and had its first-ever investment-grade ratings from Moody’s Investors Service, Standard & Poor’s and Fitch Ratings. A third of Peruvians still live in poverty, most of them in the Andean highlands where support for Humala is strongest.

This is an old, old story.  Marcoeconomic indicators look great, so the country must be doing all the right things and is held up as a model for others to follow.  So we are perplexed when a majority of people seem so dissatisfied.  The result is that we get the essential causal question backwards.  Instead of asking what effect populism will have on the economy, we need to ask how economic policy helped generate populism.


Sunday, April 10, 2011

Human rights in Honduras

The State Department's newly released human rights report on Honduras is a curious mix.  On the one hand, it has 47 single-spaced pages detailing a wide variety of serious abuses--acknowledgment of these abuses is commendable.  On the other, the report dances around assigning specific responsibility to anyone through creative use of the passive tense and vague phraseology.  One of my favorites comes right at the beginning: "There were instances in which elements of the security forces acted independently of civilian control."

Another good one: "The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, but authorities at times failed to enforce these prohibitions effectively."

But sometimes they hit the nail on the head.  This is a good one: "The news media continue to suffer from venality, politicization, vulnerability to special interest manipulation, and weak professionalism in reporting and analyzing news."

At the very least, the catalog of abuses should give State Department officials pause before issuing glowing statements about the progress made by the administration of Porfirio Lobo.

As an aside, it appears Hugo Chávez has agreed to support Honduras' return to the OAS.  Clearly, seeing Juan Manuel Santos' relationship with Chávez as automatically negative for the U.S. is simplistic.


Saturday, April 09, 2011

Fox and drugs

For several years now, former Mexican President Vicente Fox has been a man on a mission: legalize drugs.  However, I would suggest that he get some better talking points.  In particular, you will not sway many people by saying that we might as well legalize drugs since we've legalized so many other things.

“We’re talking about the last frontier of prohibition. Tell me something else that is prohibited today? Abortion is permitted. Marriage between same-sex (people) now is permitted … smoking cigarettes is permitted, alcohol is permitted,” Fox said.

It is essentially telling people they should just grease up because it's a really slippery slope and you might as well enjoy the ride.


Friday, April 08, 2011

Immigration debate in SC

To get a sense of how incoherent state-level efforts can be with regard to immigration, consider South Carolina. The Senate wanted to create a parapolice force, the Illegal Immigration Enforcement Unit, the legality of which has to be questionable.  How much would this cost?  Well, no one even bothered to guess.

Sen. Larry Martin, R-Pickens who led the effort to push the immigration bill through the Senate, said Thursday he did not know how the state would pay for the unit. He also did not know how much the fee would have raised.

The fee in question is one that would have taxed wire transfers, obviously aimed at immigrants. The problem is that this punishes the South Carolinian businesses who do the transfers, and they were unhappy enough to get the fee scrapped.

So where to get the money?

S.C. Rep. James Harrison, R-Richland, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said he did not think the fee was an appropriate way to pay for the immigration enforcement unit. He suggested money come from the state general fund.
Harrison challenged the Senate to find the money.
“If this bill passes through the House, the Senate still has the budget,” Harrison said. “If they want to fund it, they can put it in the budget.”

But when you're dipping into the general fund for a parapolice force of unknown cost, remember that South Carolina has a $877 million budget deficit.


Thursday, April 07, 2011

Ecuador ambassador kicked out

The Ecuadorian Ambassador the US, Luis Gallegos, has been proclaimed persona non grata in response to the same gesture by Ecuador to the U.S. Ambassador.  This is particularly unfortunate, as when he came to UNC Charlotte in January I had a really favorable impression.  Hopefully things will calm down soon and both can return.


Broken immigration court system

The Chicago Tribune has a long, sobering, and troubling article about the immigration court system.  This gets way too little attention.  The court infrastructure is terrible, and leaves judges in a position of trying to make snap decisions about the lives of thousands of people.

Judges handle, on average, more than 1,200 matters a year, leaving them so overwhelmed they mostly issue oral decisions "that sometimes are not fully researched or based in law or fact," according to a 2010 report commissioned by the American Bar Association. 

This puts a strain on the judges themselves, who have to digest the details of cases rapidly, all of which have high stakes.  Even at that pace, people sometimes have to wait years to have their cases heard.

On Thad Gembacz's first day as immigration judge in Los Angeles, he had 1,198 cases. 
On his last day, a dozen years later, in 2008, he had 1,464. 
No matter how hard he worked, he says, cases kept coming "like a flow out of a spigot. You can't turn it off." 

As more restrictive laws are passed, this will only get worse without comprehensive reform, and that reform will have to address the court system as well.


Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Colombia FTA imminent

Apparently the Colombia FTA is imminent.  From the AP:

The U.S. and Colombia are expected to announce Wednesday a deal on a key free trade pact, three people close to the agreement said, ending a years-long stalemate over the highly-coveted pact.
An agreement appeared to come together following weeks of intense negotiations in Washington and Bogota, focused in part on Colombia strengthening its protection of unions and labor leaders.

I take this to mean that whatever was negotiated will lead to a favorable vote in the U.S. Congress.  My main conclusion is that there will be relatively few significant effects.  This will have no effect on Hugo Chávez, no effect on the FARC or terrorism more broadly, will likely not boost either economy significantly, and will not strongly affect the U.S. role in the region.  By virtue of being blocked by congressional Democrats, the FTA has taken on exaggerated importance.  Until Republicans held up the ATPDEA, Colombia had access to U.S. markets already anyway for many key exports.


Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Yet more on Colombia FTA

I've written quite a bit on the strange arguments people make about the Colombia FTA.  Here is an entirely new one from Michael Barone: the FTA has not been passed because of support from, and I quote, "black or Hispanic left-wingers, from union operatives, from antiwar groups."   This is the first time I've seen a racial or ethnic argument, and he provides no evidence for it.  As for unions, what people do not realize is that some unions support FTAs.  To argue otherwise is false.

Regardless, I am not ready to make predictions but I would argue that from a strictly pragmatic perspective the current political climate is potentially propitious for passing the FTA.  In particular, President Obama just came back from Latin America and would like to show he is making an effort.  It would also be a bipartisan effort, which shows he is trying to reach out in the context of a bruising budget debate.


Monday, April 04, 2011

Enforcement blues

From USA Today: Congress is going to take a look at the following issue:

From 2006 to 2010, the number of Customs and Border Protection officers who inspect people and cargo crossing through the ports of entry along the southwest border increased by 15%, while the number of CBP Border Patrol agents who patrol the rugged terrain between those ports increased by 59%, according to CBP figures.

In other words, our real problems--drugs and guns--are getting short shrift in order to be seen as "doing something" about undocumented immigration.  We'll see how Republican address the problem, since they are simultaneously committed to security and fiscal restraint.  In this case, you either shift resources or spend more.


Sunday, April 03, 2011

Immigration bills

Seth Hoy at Immigration Impact has a very interesting post on how state-level immigration bills are not passing.  In ten states, Arizona-type legislation is getting axed by legislative leaders.  For example:

Mississippi’s legislature killed more than 30 immigration-related bills this week that would have, among other things, required people to speak English before receiving a state license, denied public benefits to the undocumented and attached an additional fee to all wire transfers going out of the country. The most controversial of the package, however, was SB 2179—Mississippi’s Arizona-style bill which would require police to investigate the immigration status of those they suspect are in the country illegally.

This is another example of why I criticized the New York Times article about how such bills are becoming more common in the South.  Yes, we will see immigration bills pass at the state and local level, as potentially in Georgia, but I think there are signs of greater pragmatism that don't tend to get media attention because they aren't exciting.


Saturday, April 02, 2011

Academic writing

Mike Munger has some very good advice on academic writing in the Chronicle of Higher Education. I really agree with everything he says, but particularly with #2:

Set goals based on output, not input. "I will work for three hours" is a delusion; "I will type three double-spaced pages" is a goal. After you write three pages, do something else. Prepare for class, teach, go to meetings, whatever. If later in the day you feel like writing some more, great. But if you don't, then at least you wrote something.

That was something a friend in graduate school said he did--writing two double-spaced pages of dissertation a day--and I successfully copied it and continue to do so in some fashion (though not necessarily always two pages).  Those two pages aren't necessarily good, and will be changed through editing, but they represent a concrete goal and then accomplishment.


Friday, April 01, 2011

More on Brazil

I am going to stop flogging this horse soon, but Greg Grandin sent me an email response to yesterday's post about his Brazil argument and kindly agreed to let me post it here.

As to Lula's statement, I think the difference between voting no (if Brazil was a perm member) and abstaining (as a non-perm member) has to do with cost benefit.   As a non-perm member, a vote no would have been ineffectual -- ie, done nothing to stop the bombing -- while possibly giving ammo to those who claim Brazil is too "irresponsible" to have a permanent seat.   Once it had that seat, it could vote/veto as it saw fit, to effect.     It might have been morally cowardly to abstain, as you suggest, but I'd think it has less to do with not wanting to appear to be "doing nothing" than with not taking a righteous yet structurally useless stand and risk giving more excuses to those who would deny it a seat.   And if it was a simple case of being a moral coward, why the strong statement now?   If there is anything those Wikileaks Brazil memos reveal, is that its diplomats and politicians are very good at not getting into pointless rhetorical arguments with US representatives, even as they went about and substantively did the opposite of what the US wanted.    
I get the logic, but the statements and actions of the Brazilian government don't suggest its current strategy is more likely to generate U.S. support for a seat on the Security Council.  I would argue that abstaining and then saying you wouldn't abstain in the future is equally ineffectual, and undermines confidence in your decision-making even further (though indeed perhaps less so than an actual "no" vote).  Obama already refused to support Brazil's bid in any case, showing that Brazil's current actions are less relevant than its past foreign policy deviations from what the U.S. government wants.

FWIW, for an argument about Russia's abstention that was very similar to my argument on Brazil's abstention, see The Monkey Cage.


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