Saturday, December 31, 2011

Dealing with Iran in Latin America

Media and politician attention on the Latin America-Iran connection is not new, but seems to be getting more frantic. There are lots of vague pronouncements about how the U.S. needs to do more. More! Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is up in arms, and wants the U.S. to do more. Even Barack Obama seems to be telling himself to do more. We can resolve everything if we just do...MORE.

The end of this Reuters piece leaves us hanging, but points to the essential question that I have yet to see addressed, namely what policy change toward Latin America would "more" entail?

Obama and Clinton have yet to spell out the consequences of flirting with Iran against Washington’s wishes.

In all of these analyses, there is the unquestioned assumption that the U.S. can and should punish Latin American governments for doing things it doesn't like. Even setting aside the clear sovereignty implications, there is also the assumption that the U.S. can obtain by force or pressure the political outcome it wants. In this case, it is a decrease of Iranian influence and punishment of Hugo Chávez for acting in ways the U.S. government does not like.

But what policy will achieve these outcomes? In short, what is the "more"? Sanctions will undoubtedly a) push the affected countries more firmly into the arms of U.S. adversaries; and b) generate considerable sympathy in Latin America for them. Given the history of U.S.-Latin American relations, U.S. intervention is viewed with suspicion, even by allies, and especially when aimed at democratically elected governments. That will mean a marked decrease in U.S. image and influence precisely at a time that everyone claims we need to be increasing them. What about use of force, either overt or covert? A and B still apply, only in much greater measure. CELAC is now a shell organization, to take one example, but could in fact be given new life by bad policy decisions on the part of the United States.

If you want to take punitive action, then be open about it, and at least discuss the fairly easy to discern negative outcomes that will go along with it. At least up to this point, I have not seen anything resembling that. Instead, the all-inclusive "more" is aimed at the Obama administration without any specific pros and cons, or specific anything. No matter what you think of Iran's presence in Latin America, however, it is critical to remember that doing "more" blindly can produce the opposite outcome of that desired.*

This reminds me so much of the Cuba embargo, where supporters never articulate a connection between policy and political outcome, in no small part because it is not possible. Action for the sake of saying you're doing something is bad policy making, and will lead to something you don't want.

* It is also worth noting that U.S. policy toward Iran from the 1940s to the 1970s helped to produce the exact opposite outcome of what we wanted.


Friday, December 30, 2011

Chad Harbach's The Art of Fielding

I can understand why Chad Harbach's The Art of Fielding has received so much acclaim. I couldn't stop thinking of Richard Russo as I read it because there are a lot of similarities. A small liberal arts college town (though in Wiconsin rather than the northeast), painstaking character development, out-sized characters doing sometimes out-sized things, and injection of humor all come together as people's lives crisscross and are transformed by different kinds of traumas.

Baseball is a major theme of the book, though you wouldn't even need to care about baseball to enjoy it. Two of the main characters are teammates on the college baseball team, and one of them--who sees baseball in Zen-like manner--develops Steve Blass Disease, meaning that you suddenly cannot throw accurately (given my generation and the fact that he was an infielder, I immediately conjured up Steve Sax). That sets in motion a whole series of consequences on the field and in the characters' private lives that ripple out. But another major theme is Moby Dick (for reasons the novel goes into, the college's sports teams have the name Harpooners) and literature more generally. This is a group of people who are unusually well read.

It is a coming-of-age story, since the majority of the main characters are college-aged, but I found it went beyond that. Death, marriage, homosexuality, drug addiction (albeit mild), academic success and failure, and even baseball rituals are all examined in interesting ways.

For another take, I think the NYT does a good job reviewing it.


Parties and voters in Chile

The November-December 2011 CEP poll has nothing but bad news for Sebastián Piñera, who at 23 percent approval is one of the least liked presidents in Latin America. Chileans don't like much of anything he's doing. One consequence is that more Chileans than ever do not identify with any existing party coalition. That has been one of Piñera's "accomplishments."

This is important in the context of the recent reform that makes registration automatic and voting voluntary. These "ni nis" (ni gobierno ni oposición) will be now be voting. However, there is a major disjuncture because the country still has the binomial electoral system at the legislative level. This means a load of new voters in an antiquated system that precludes new parties from becoming involved.

As it happens, the CEP poll also shows that support for the binomial system has been dropping hard since Piñera took office. Sixty percent think it should be changed, while only 17 percent think it should be maintained. Depending on how it is done, that reform could really shake up Chilean politics.


Thursday, December 29, 2011

Don't iPhone For Me, Argentina

Here's one way to make economic policy: block sales of a popular consumer product:

Argentina has blocked the sale of iPhone and BlackBerry devices in a move that is intended to boost its ailing economy. The ban is part of a selective consumer electronics ban aimed at slowing inflation and balancing its own pesos currency against the U.S. dollar.

It is similar to traditional import substitution industrialization. If you want to sell, you need to build a plant in Argentina or partner with an Argentine company. And with other companies it actually may have worked:

Other manufacturers like Motorola, Nokia and Samsung have already moved part of their manufacturing to Argentina after the government passed Internal Revenue Law which nearly doubled tax levies for certain imported devices.

It seems like a game of chicken, particularly for a very popular product. The government doesn't want to anger its middle class, who want iPhones and BlackBerries, yet companies don't want to lose the large Argentine market. Thus far, apparently many companies are swerving.

The Wall Street Journal discussed this issue recently, and basically came to the reluctant conclusion that the Fernández government is very protectionist but that it was not suffering as a result. Somewhere there is a tipping point where companies stop swerving and just leave the market, but it hasn't happened yet.

Update: Punk'd. Apparently this was a joke and it is not really true. This deeply disappoints me, because I thought it was a cool story and I got to use the chicken game metaphor. It is also deeply disappointing to learn that not everything on the internet is true. Bummer!


Foreseen consequences

The Chicago Tribune published an editorial about immigration reform that I almost entirely agree with. The conclusion:

The lesson here is that the one-dimensional, enforcement-only approach doesn't address the root of illegal immigration: Businesses need workers. When the system fails to provide enough visas to fill the available jobs, employers and workers find ways around it. Those needs should drive our immigration policy.

Absolutely true. But here's the one problem I have:

Crops don't get picked. Chickens don't get plucked. Kids don't go to school. And the line at the Department of Motor Vehicles is really, really slow. Those are among the unintended consequences of Alabama's overreaching immigration law.

I have come to dislike the phrase "unintended consequences" with regard to immigration because it suggests that these outcomes were never foreseen. But they were. In Alabama and elsewhere, state legislators heard from farmers and a wide variety of other groups about what would happen, but they chose not to listen. There were editorials in newspapers large and small about what would happen, and there were countless news stories about what was already happening in Arizona. And all were ignored.

Ultimately, any elected official who finds him or herself surprised by these outcomes is unfit to be making binding decisions on others. They chose to live in a bubble that repelled all contrary arguments, then found themselves with a new law that does terrible damage to their constituents. It wasn't that they wanted these consequences so much as they consciously steered the state in a direction that guaranteed them. That might be splitting hairs, and in any case the results are the same (such as punishing the elderly).


Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Pirates of the Levant

I have an odd attachment to Arturo Pérez-Reverte's Captain Alatriste series of novels. Some of them, including Pirates of the Levant, lack much of a plot. What they do, though, is to take pains to explain the exaggerated pride and twisted sense of honor that characterized Imperial Spain (the story takes place in 1627). The books focus on the common soldier, murderous types who feel a strong allegiance to a monarchy that they openly admit does nothing for them. The king does so little for them that soldiers feel the need to resort to piracy to augment their meager incomes (and the king gets a cut of that booty as well). All they do is fight--any other work, even rowing a galley to save themselves, is dishonorable. It is an image of empire built almost entirely on violence, without even a pretense of doing good for those being colonized and exploited. Captain Alatriste and the others are cogs in this machine, trying to create a sense of meaning for themselves.


Monday, December 26, 2011

Economic reform in Cuba

I know that media and political attention on Cuba is focused almost exclusively on Alan Gross and other prisoners--free or not--but we should not forget the ongoing reforms that are going to transform the country. From The Havana Times:

At 500 bank branches throughout Cuba, on-going credit commissions are being set up to begin making loans for business start-ups and expansion. These commissions will be charged with conducting a risk analysis of each application received, which will be crucial since the law does not allow banks to confiscate collateral from debtors.
This provides a source of capital previously available only to those who obtained it illegally or with relatives who sent remittances, though it assumes people can successfully navigate the risk analysis (and do not need to pay anyone off to do so). Ownership will foster important changes in Cuba.


Saturday, December 24, 2011

Electoral reform in Chile

So what happens when you suddenly enfranchise millions of people, many of whom have not felt connected to the political system? With passage of automatic registration and voluntary voting, Chile will find out. I wrote about some of the background here.

So what does this mean for the next presidential election? My immediate thought is that this puts Michelle Bachelet in a good position. She has said nothing, but rumors are rampant about her running again (in Chile, you can serve two terms but not consecutively). The two coalitions are unpopular but she left office with a high approval rating and can attract many of those new voters. The sticky part is her establishment status, which as I've argued elsewhere can be problematic.

Regardless, this is good for Chilean democracy. Make it as easy as possible for people to participate but don't punish them if they decide not to.


Friday, December 23, 2011

Fighting Hugo

If you call the government of Hugo Chávez a "radical Islamist regime" then you are loopy. There is no reason to do so unless you want severe policy changes. I think Stephen Walt sums up the logic nicely.

There is a simple and time-honored formula for making the case for war, especially preventive war. First, you portray the supposed threat as dire and growing, and then try to convince people that if we don't act now, horrible things will happen down the road. (Remember Condi Rice's infamous warnings about Saddam's "mushroom cloud"?) All this step requires is a bit of imagination and a willingness to assume the worst. Second, you have to persuade readers that the costs and risks of going to war aren't that great. If you want to sound sophisticated and balanced, you acknowledge that there are counterarguments and risks involved. But then you do your best to shoot down the objections and emphasize all the ways that those risks can be minimized. In short: In Step 1 you adopt a relentlessly gloomy view of the consequences of inaction; in Step 2 you switch to bulletproof optimism about how the war will play out.
To be fair, I don't think most of those who hate Chávez want war, but they do want him out and the author of this piece was a player in supporting the Honduran coup. As with Honduras, we have a stew of real problems, total fabrications, hatred, half-baked arguments, and politicians repeating the word "threat."


Thursday, December 22, 2011


Mockingjay is the last book of Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games trilogy, which I thoroughly enjoyed. The novel is noteworthy for its refusal to paint anyone in simple or pure terms. War is dark and brutal, and no one can say with certainty how they will act when in its grip. More to the point of the trilogy, not only can no one protect children during wartime, but neither can they control how children act, for good or ill.

In this case, the context is civil war as the Capitol struggles to maintain control over the country. Both sides use TV as much as possible, staged representations of what they want people to believe. In fact, both sides are dictatorial, albeit in different ways. Even the "good" side is distasteful. The protagonist, Katniss, constantly worries that she is getting people killed and ponders how she is being manipulated by the leaders who are ostensibly on her side.

The plot twists constantly and violently, leaving you (or at least me) in doubt about how it would end. I'm not giving anything away by saying that, like war itself, the result is not rosy.


Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Asia and Latin America

Mercosur's decision to impose high tariffs to protect itself from Asia should remind us that there is no simple "China is winning, the U.S. is losing" scenario.

In recent months, Argentina and Brazil have voiced fears that Asian exporters might seek to offset soft demand in the U.S. and Europe by flooding Latin America with cheap manufactured goods. Mercosur needs to step up efforts "to defend the Latin American markets from this invasion of goods," Brazilian Finance Minister Guido Mantega said Monday.
Latin American governments are pursuing self-interest, and that does not mean throwing their economic doors wide open to any particular country. Their views of China are not unlike the way we tend to view China in the U.S., namely that we want your financing but are nervous about your cheap stuff.


Monday, December 19, 2011

Note to Hugo Chávez

Note to Hugo Chávez: expressing condolences about the death of Kim Jong Il while also saying you support the right of the North Korean people to govern themselves is a pretty serious contradiction, and a direct insult to all the people suffering there because of totalitarianism. Saying that you have "plena confianza" in North Koreans to determine their own future is willful ignorance, which is really the most charitable way to put it. Finally, calling him "Comrade" is a pathetic joke.


Quote of the day: Cuba

Kim Jong Il compartia el mismo "pecado original" con Raul Castro: no habia sido electo, heredo el poder por via sanguinea 
Kim Jong Il shared the same "original sin" with Raul Castro: not having been elected, inherited power by bloody means

--From Yoani Sánchez's Twitter feed


Sunday, December 18, 2011

Oil in Brazil

We hear a lot about the need to engage Brazil more, which is perfectly reasonable. Beyond the diplomacy of the United States government, however, U.S. companies also need to be on board. With the case of Brazil's fine of Chevron, this Forbes piece illustrates quite nicely what messages are being sent. In short, we are going to spill oil, and not only will you accept it, but you should be grateful we're even investing in the first place.

No doubt the headline amount of this suit is just for show and Brazilian regulators are pragmatic enough to appreciate the risks inherent in forging a new generation of ultradeep oil exploration. If Brazil scares off the best operators in the business it will be a very long time before Petrobras is able to build out these offshore oil fields on its own.

In addition:

And vitally, no one died in Chevron’s spill, versus the 11 killed when the Deepwater Horizon blew up.

So if nobody dies, then really there's no problem, is there? Further, if a spill isn't as bad as BP's, then it's not really bad at all. The hubris is disheartening, though of course is nothing new.


Saturday, December 17, 2011

Civil-military relations in Peru

Maiah Jaskoski, "Civilian Control of the Armed Forces in Democratic Latin America: Military Prerogatives, Contestation, and Mission Performance in Peru." Armed Forces & Society 38, 1 (January 2012): 70-91.


This article presents a new framework for measuring civilian control of the armed forces in post-transition Latin America. Specifically, it builds on approaches that focus on military privileges and military protest, particularly in the face of government challenges to those privileges. Adding mission performance as a third dimension both helps us measure civilian control more accurately and provides causal leverage, as the three dimensions can interact. The paper demonstrates the utility of the framework through a close-up analysis of a critical case: civil–military relations in Peru since the 1990s.

I am glad to see more work done on civil-military relations in Latin America, since it is unfortunately--and inexplicably--common to believe that armies suddenly became non-political after the end of Cold War and dictatorships.

She argues the following:

In contrast to prior approaches, this article proposes adding another dimension to the privileges/pushback framework: mission performance. In response to a civilian command, the military may refuse to do the work (less control), conduct the mission as ordered (more control), or proactively conduct missions more intensively than instructed (less control). The paper demonstrates the utility of the framework through a close-up analysis of a critical case, civil–military relations in Peru since the 1990s. It shows the interaction of the dimensions of military mission performance and military privileges. Specifically, it shows how military inaction in the face of government orders to perform counterinsurgency triggered the government to reinstate military autonomy vis-a`-vis civilian courts.

It is remarkably hard to come to any consensus about how best to measure democratic civil-military relations, in Latin America or anywhere else. Heavyweights like Samuel Huntington and Alfred Stepan have left important marks, but there is always a stubborn sense that analytic holes still needed filling. That dissatisfaction fueled my own dissertation and first book (which, I hasten to add, may be bought used on Amazon for a mere $4, the perfect stocking stuffer). It is always nice to see a larger circle of people grappling with it.

Jaskoski's argument is buttressed by her 75 interviews with military officers, along with close examination of primary documents and of course the scholarly literature. Her main contribution is to argue that different features of civilian control interact, so that success in one may lead to less success in another. I like that interactive element, and more case studies could yield a more closely specified model.


Friday, December 16, 2011

Hegemonic fail

I love Pato Navia's take on the U.S. and CELAC. The last lines:

Actual progress on the integration roadmap is certainly limited and presidential summits are becoming much-ado-about-nothing affairs. However, the fact that the US is no longer a part of the constant going in circles and not moving forward does signify a dramatic departure from the times when the US championed and promoted equally discreet and disappointing regional integration initiatives.

Latin American integration has always failed, but in the past the U.S. was usually part of the failure. Now we're not even part of the ongoing inability to get things done. Come on, Latin America, we still want to join you in non-accomplishments!


Thursday, December 15, 2011

Punishing the elderly

From Business Week, a look at the effects of the Alabama immigration law. It is really ugly.

Mobile County spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to comply with a law designed to drive illegal immigrants from Alabama. Kim Hastie, the first-term Republican license commissioner, had an up-close look at the crackdown’s political cost....“I’m going to do what the law tells me to do,” Hastie, 52, said in Mobile last week. “But, as an elected official representing the taxpayer, I feel it’s my duty to say what I feel is unjust to the taxpayer. My concern is for the way the citizens of this state are being treated. This process has not been good.”

And the coup de grâce:

One World War II veteran had no birth certificate, an expired driver’s license and a military identification that the county couldn’t accept, she said. 
“He was so mad he was yelling,” Hastie said. “He said, ‘I served my country and I can’t register my car?’”

This is broken record time, but these effects were all foreseen. It was abundantly clear that the law would be expensive and intrusive. And now it's even about punishing elderly veterans and widows.

It is also another indication that the deportation-oriented policy of the Obama administration is having no effect at all on state legislators, who still perceive the federal government as doing nothing. The number of state immigration laws are ballooning. No matter what the Supreme Court rules about Arizona, we will see a large number of inane laws until Congress restructures immigration policy.


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Chile and Peru

Yet another reminder that the War of the Pacific is still not over. Chilean Defense Minister Andrés Allamand made comments about needing to retain a deterrent force in anticipation of a 2012 decision from the International Court of Justice regarding Peru's maritime claims.

Su apoyo cerrado entregó este martes el senador y presidente de Renovación Nacional (RN), Carlos Larraín, a las declaraciones del ministro de Defensa, Andrés Allamand, luego de que el fin de semana destacara la importancia de “mantener una capacidad disuasiva muy preparada”.

Of course, the Peruvian government immediately criticized the statement.  It seems that Chileans gratuitously bring it up every so often, spark a debate, then it settles down for a while. Allamand's comments reflect concern that Peru will try some sort of land grab if it loses at the ICJ. I find that pretty implausible, especially since Presidents Humala and Piñera have made concerted efforts to warm relations. Plus, the risk of losing--both militarily and diplomatically--would be extremely high.

Regardless, it's hard to see the issue going away no matter what happens at the ICJ. The War of the Pacific has been going on for well over a hundred years, and probably won't end now. It reminds me of a controversial book by a colleague in the history department, Still Fighting the Civil War.

Click here for a previous post with a variety of links on the topic, including a map.


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

To jail or not to jail

You could argue for compassion for Manuel Noriega from a, well, compassionate point of view. He's old (77) and has been in jail a long time. However, I have to disagree with COHA about going easy on him because the United States is entirely to blame for everything he did:

COHA calls for compassion. House arrest is the proper sentence to mete out to a man who was but one of countless U.S. officials and Central American operators who worked outside the law and would never qualify for a red badge of courage.

This type of argument bothers me not because the U.S. is blameless, since I agree with many of the accusations in the article, but because it robs Latin America of agency. Individuals are simply puppets, pulled by the all-powerful strings in Washington. In this view, domestic Panamanian politics fades into the background or disappears entirely and Noriega is simply a product of circumstances. Given the canal, of course the United States always played a large role, but it was not the only player. The article doesn't even mention Omar Torrijos.

Anyway, why go easy on a dictator just because he received support from the U.S.?

As an aside, Randal Archibold at the New York Times writes that there's far more fuss about Noriega outside Panama than inside.


Monday, December 12, 2011

Heating oil

It seems to me that anyone who bashes Hugo Chávez's PR efforts to provide heating oil to the northeast should counter by making sure poor people in the northeast don't freeze. Instead, heating aid is being cut.

The Citgo program was suspended, at least briefly, but seems to be on again. It's just baffling. We're outsourcing poverty aid while constantly complaining about doing so.


Sunday, December 11, 2011

Suzanne Collins' Catching Fire

If you're not familiar with The Hunger Games, it is a trilogy by Suzanne Collins about a totalitarian dictatorship in the former USA that every year forces a group of children to fight to the death in a large arena, with the entire population watching on TV. There are twelve districts in the country, controlled by the Capitol. I just read the second book. The protagonist is a girl--16 years old when the trilogy begins--named Katniss.

The second book, Catching Fire, is great (the first was good, but a lot slower). I won't spoil anything, but suffice it to say Katniss and others have to do more fighting, though this time there is an added element of political rebellion. As such, I could see having fun using this novel in a political fiction class (which I will create someday, after doing a Latin American Politics in Fiction class).

First, there are the dynamics of dictatorship. How do they maintain control? The novel emphasize how the government uses extreme violence, intimidation and control in a totalitarian system to make people afraid to rebel. The Hunger Games themselves are a central part of that control.

Second, there is the question of how political rebellion begins. Travel is forbidden, organization is illegal, and media is state-controlled, so it is very difficult to bring people together. Repression per se does not necessarily spark rebellion (note how many rebellions there have been in North Korea, for example) but opposition leaders can emerge. In the case of the novel, that emergence is largely unintentional.

Third, there is even an IR angle because the games involve 24 people in an anarchic situation where they have to form alliances but ultimately only one of them can survive. So they have to work together to some extent but cannot trust each other. All alliances are therefore tenuous.

In short, a good read.


Saturday, December 10, 2011

Another Iran conspiracy theory

From the Miami Herald, here's a new alarmist conspiracy theory about Iran:

If we answer these questions in terms of the growing economic ties among these countries, and there are many, licit as well as illicit and covert, we would be basing our analysis on strict Western economic rationality. We mistakenly would be extrapolating our logical model to Castro, Chávez and Ahmadinejad. 
A second analytical mistake is to scrutinize Iran’s influence in discrete country-by-country terms rather than in terms of the synergies and symbiosis of the Tehran-Havana-Caracas alliance. 
We would further compound our error if we formulate U.S. foreign policy in similarly disconnected terms. As world events have repeatedly demonstrated, we eventually gain the Socratic insight that we know very little of the logical reasoning models of autocratic leaders like Ahmadinejad, Castro and Chávez.

Huh? Venezuela and Cuba aren't economically rational?  And apparently they aren't "Western" either.  And Socrates to boot?  This is a big jumble of words.  Come on, "synergies and symbiosis"?

The clear implication of the piece is that this triumvirate is going to attack us with nuclear weapons. There will, I suppose, be people who actually believe that. Hopefully none of them become policy makers with any influence.

For the most part, the Iran connection throws a lifeline to those who want to act more aggressively toward Cuba and Venezuela, but who have been thwarted by the fact that those governments don't pose any security threat to the United States. Put Iran in the mix and you can revive the Cold War, where grizzly ghouls from every tomb are closing in to seal your doom. There is no doubt that Iran bears close watching, but the rhetoric is reaching pretty absurd levels.


Friday, December 09, 2011

Google Currents

Seeing the post at Outside the Beltway about the brand-new Google Currents prompted me to add Two Weeks Notice.  So if you download the Google Currents app you should add this blog to your library.


More on the US and Latin America

Coincidentally, CNN ran an op-ed on the same day as mine in the Miami Herald that argues more or less the opposite. It echoes the conventional wisdom that the U.S. needs to do more because it is missing out in Latin America to China and other countries.

The main problem I have is that it provides exactly zero specific suggestions:

A respectful partnership, not one where one country dictates to others, could help the United States build a stronger diplomatic presence on the global arena, help it shake the blues and get ready for the tough challenges the young century has already thrown in its path.

I can't think of any policy change that will suddenly elbow out other countries.  Most other countries are in Latin America because they have cash and are gobbling up commodities, which is the main source of all the vaunted GDP growth in the region. It just isn't clear to me how the U.S. can change that reality.

The fact is, the rest of the world is coming to Latin America no matter what the U.S. does.


op-ed on the U.S. and Latin America

I published an op-ed in the Miami Herald. Regular readers of this blog will recognize the argument, which counters those who say U.S. policy could somehow have prevented Latin America from looking more to the rest of the world for trading partners. My argument is that it would have happened anyway.


Thursday, December 08, 2011

Latin America links

Here are some Latin America-related links:

--a nativity scene in Honduras

--the mysteries of money in Venezuela

--more on how immigration is not the third rail of Republican politics

--the scoop on CELAC

--another example of the staggering lack of understanding about Mexican immigration

--depressing numbers on Colombian kidnappings


Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Politics of immigration reform

In the L.A. Times, Doyle McManus nails two important points about the politics of immigration reform that too often are ignored.


Reagan would have been pilloried if he were running for his party's presidential nomination today.

I am glad to see this get into the MSM. I want to hear a question about that in one of the seemingly endless Republican debates.


To begin with, it's not what American voters are asking for, not even the bulk of Republican voters. 
A Fox News poll last year found that almost two-thirds of Republicans believe that "illegal immigrants who pay taxes and obey the law" should be given a chance to remain in the United States under some kind of legalization program. A majority also favored tougher enforcement of the law, but only one-third said they believed that deportation was the solution to the problem.

That is also a critical point that the MSM should pick up on more. Especially in the general election, people are thinking about other issues, most prominently the economy. Republicans did not punish McCain in 2008 for his more liberal view on immigration, and they won't reward the 2012 nominee either for a restrictionist view.

On the other hand, we could argue that immigration is important to the Republican base, if not the majority of Republicans. Indeed, that is what Mitt Romney is banking on. I am not convinced of this--it's the economy, stupid--but haven't seen numbers.

The bottom line:

Latino support for Obama has remained solid, even though many Latino activists have been vocally dissatisfied with the president's failure to advance immigration reform legislation.

This is something I've argued in much more detail. Obama's main concern is not whether Latinos vote Republican, but whether they stay home.


Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Reagan is a foreign policy RINO

It's odd how Ronald Reagan fits for the conservative story of U.S. Cuba policy.  From recent remarks by Ileana Ros-Lehtenin (via Cuba Money Project) regarding how somehow Reagan would be better for Cuba:

President Reagan knew what it took to fight Communism without having to concede on our values or pander to demands from these tyrants.

First of all, it is important to note that Obama's policy toward Cuba is more or less identical to Reagan's (though, to be fair, Obama has not invaded any country as part of his Cuba policy like Reagan did in Grenada). Changes have occurred only at the margins.

More to the point, it is unfortunate that so many people believe that Reagan never negotiated with or conceded to U.S. enemies, including the Soviet Union. He did so all the time*. The Reagan-era Cold War is marked by meetings with both sides looking for avenues of negotiation and concession (i.e. "pandering to demands") though obviously with self-interest in mind. It is dangerous to pretend otherwise.

This is like immigration policy, where conservatives claim to channel Reagan without realizing that he and George H.W. Bush publicly advocated humane policies. Reagan triumphantly signed IRCA in 1986, and actually was much more moderate on immigration policy than Obama is now.

Imagine the intense beating Ronald Reagan would take in the Republican primaries now. His true foreign policy record, unlike his mythical record, was often extreme (just peruse his policies in Central America) yet still only RINO in today's context.

* And, of course, pandering to Iran was a major part of Reagan's foreign policy toward Nicaragua.


Monday, December 05, 2011

Why not pardon undocumented immigrants?

Gregory Koger asks at The Monkey Cage why President Obama doesn't just pardon undocumented immigrants.

As a scholar, I am interested in the political actions that don’t happen, and this strikes me as an interesting case of non-action. One explanation is that I misunderstand the scope of the pardon power and immigration is outside that scope. Or, perhaps the President is reluctant to intrude on Congress’s authority to (not) act on immigration, although that seems unlikely since the White House’s “We Can’t Wait” strategy is predicated on direct presidential action to combat legislative paralysis. So, I welcome comments to correct my interpretation of the law or the politics of immigration.

It's a really interesting question, and one I hadn't thought of. As I wrote as a comment there, I think the answer is that pardons only apply to federal criminal cases, and immigration violations are civil offenses. From DOJ's website:

Under the Constitution, the President’s clemency power extends only to federal criminal offenses. Executive clemency may take several forms, including pardon, commutation of sentence, remission of fine or restitution, or reprieve.

Otherwise this could've fostered an even more inflamed political debate than the one we have now.


Local solutions to natural disasters

Oliver Rubin and Tine Rossing, "National and Local Vulnerability to Climate-Related Disasters in Latin America: The Role of Social Asset-Based Adaptation." Bulletin of Latin American Research 31, 3 (January 2012): 19-35.


The Latin American region is particularly prone to climate-related natural hazards. However, this article argues that natural hazards are only partly to blame for the region's vulnerability to natural disasters with quantitative evidence suggesting instead that income per capita and inequality are main determinants of natural disaster mortality in Latin America. Locally, the region's poor are particularly susceptible to climate-related natural hazards. As a result of their limited access to capital, adaptation based on social assets constitutes an effective coping strategy. Evidence from Bolivia and Belize illustrates the importance of social assets in protecting the most vulnerable against natural disasters.

Of course, the poor get hit the hardest by natural disasters, but the focus on explicitly local solutions seems really useful.  In my Latin American politics course, I always try to show the interaction between the local, national, and international levels. This article reminds us that national solutions aren't necessarily the most effective. There is a lot of capacity (and not just in economic terms) at the local level as long as attention is paid to the idiosyncrasies of local actors. Local solutions in one place may not work elsewhere, which just makes it all the more challenging.

However, since most disasters have local impacts, and since adaptive capacity depends heavily on local dynamics, it seems appropriate to also focus attention to the livelihood strategies of poor communities. On a local level, vulnerability is closely related with community assets, most notably social memory and the capacity for self-organisation, which are not easily captured by national indicators.


Sunday, December 04, 2011

Piñera and CELAC

Sebastián Piñera's trademark megawatt smile is all over the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC). But why?

The purpose of CELAC is to have an organization that consciously excludes the United States and Canada, and eventually to replace the Organization of American States (OAS) entirely. Chile will hold the 2012 summit, which means Piñera will hold the rotating presidency.

Domestically, this cannot help Piñera, who is already very unpopular. The right may well get disgusted with the glad-handling of the Latin American boogeyman Hugo Chávez, while the left will not be impressed and will not think better of him as a result.

Internationally, I also don't see the benefit.  Chávez is not particularly popular around Latin America, so Piñera gets no kudos for standing with him. Even Dilma Rousseff, considerably to the left of Piñera, departed early. Plus, Chile has no beef with the United States or Canada--to the contrary.

Finally, Piñera's own foreign minister publicly undermined any notion that CELAC will have any clout:

In a telephone interview from the summit in Caracas, Chilean Foreign Minister Alfredo Moreno told me that CELAC will be “a forum, not an organization.” He added that it will not have a bureaucracy, “not even a Secretariat, like UNASUR (the Union of South American Nations).”

So he is embracing an entity that he does not expect to have any power, and which does not help him politically. Perhaps this is a clue:

Momentos después de haber llegado a Caracas para participar de la Cumbre de la Comunidad de Estados Latinoamericanos y el Caribe (CELAC), el Presidente Sebastián Piñera, declaró que uno de los objetivos de la reunión es “integrarnos en términos de inversiones, integrarnos físicamente, en el campo de la energía. Espero que este Celac recupere el tiempo perdido en materia de integración y podamos transformar a nuestros pueblos de América en pueblos unidos, que enfrentamos juntos el futuro”.

Chile suffers tremendously from energy dependence, so maybe Piñera figures this is a way to get more access to other countries' resources?


Saturday, December 03, 2011

The Other Wes Moore

I highly recommend Wes Moore's The Other Wes Moore. The author happened to discover that someone with the same name and roughly the same age, who had lived not too far away from a neighborhood he used to live in, was sentenced to life in prison. He ended up meeting him, and the book is a reflection on how one Wes Moore escaped his environment and became very successful while the other did not.

He pulls no punches, either about himself or the other Wes Moore. They were both fatherless, both got into trouble as youths, and they both made terrible and sometimes violent mistakes. In the critical early teen years, however, one was pushed into a better direction.

The ultimate question, of course, is why? Why did one become a Rhodes Scholar and the other a lifetime resident of a maximum security prison? He probes that, but is not really sure himself so lets the reader ponder that. Some of it clearly boils down to contacts--do you know someone who can offer you good advice and suggest someone else to call? One Wes Moore did (in his case, suggestions for a military school to attend as a way to get out of his low-performing high school) and the other did not.

He's a good writer, and I really got sucked into the book.  A lot of it is sad, not the least of which was the fact that the imprisoned Wes Moore had four children in rapid succession just before being convicted--the cycle of poverty and violence is depressing. It would be so easy to give platitudes, or easy sounding answers, but he refuses to do so.


Friday, December 02, 2011

Chiquita in Charlotte

From Kevin Siers:

And here are all the details of how Chiquita got the city to cough up an enormous amount of money.

Here's my previous post on the Chiquita-paramilitary links in Colombia.


What Republicans and Fidel Castro Have in Common

It's no secret that the humanities and social sciences are under assault, leaving supporters in the unhappy position of trying to explain why cutting them is bad for business (it is even a serious problem in Britain). Those who support the cuts argue that the so-called STEM disciplines are what we need instead. The overall argument is summed up very neatly by Florida Governor Rick Scott:

"You know, we don't need a lot more anthropologists in the state. It's a great degree if people want to get it, but we don't need them here," he said. 
Scott said students need to focus on studying subjects that can get them jobs—specifically in high-growth areas such as STEM. 
"I want to spend our dollars giving people science, technology, engineering, math degrees. That's what our kids need to focus all their time and attention on," he said. "So when they get out of school, they can get a job."

What's interesting is that these predominantly Republican calls to push everyone toward STEM are exactly the same as Fidel Castro's years ago, and for exactly the same reasons. We want people working, not thinking subversive abstract thoughts that don't lead to a trade.

University enrollments expanded greatly beyond the pre-1959 levels, and the focus of education changed, social sciences, and law, which prepared one for government positions, to the sciences, engineering, architecture, and agriculture to serve the larger needs of a socialist society (p. 93).
Thomas M. Leonard, Fidel Castro:  A Biography

There was a strong technical bias to higher education that encouraged enrolment in engineering and discouraged it in the humanities (p. 483).
Leslie Bethell, The Cambridge History of Latin America

The essential problem both with anti-humanities Republicans and Fidel Castro is that they view education as a zero-sum game: if we want to support STEM then we have to cut non-STEM. The far better solution is to support both, and to acknowledge the importance of both technical and non-technical degrees.


Thursday, December 01, 2011

Alabama law

This is just truly embarrassing. Alabama authorities keep arresting people for being foreign.

"We understand he is working with authorities to resolve this matter," said Ted Pratt, spokesman for Honda Manufacturing of Alabama. He described the worker as "a Japanese associate on assignment."

Nice. Perhaps all foreigners should wear a convenient arm band to make it easier for police to see.

Amazingly, the co-sponsor of the law said it would create jobs, yet its main result seems to be arresting foreigners who brought jobs to your state, thereby likely deterring other foreign companies from doing the same. As I repeat endlessly, the only jobs being created are for lawyers.

As with other state-level immigration laws, these consequences were widely foreseen. It's like backfire, where people hold on to inaccurate beliefs even more firmly when presented with evidence against them.


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