Monday, December 31, 2012

Chavez in 2013

The biggest story at the end of 2012, which may well be the biggest Latin America story of 2013, is the Hugo Chavez saga. What a mess. From the AP:

"The president gave us precise instructions so that, after finishing the visit, we would tell the (Venezuelan) people about his current health condition," Maduro said. "President Chávez's state of health continues to be delicate, with complications that are being attended to, in a process not without risks."

So Chavez gave precise instructions not to tell the Venezuelan people anything of substance about the state of their president's health. Instead, they are told by the government that the constitution--which Chavez wrote--will not be followed.

It's no wonder, then, that Chavez specifically addressed the military from his hiding place. It is entirely possible that in a few short days, the military will be asked to accede to the government's demand that the constitution not be followed because Chavez didn't want it to be (for the relevant constitutional issues, see this previous post) because ultimately it didn't say what he really wanted it to.

If Chavez cannot be sworn in, then this boils down to the army, sadly still the last arbiter in so many Latin American countries. Cabello, not Maduro, has the military ties, but how much does that matter? Where does the institution's allegiance lie once Chavez is gone? We'll find out in 2013.


Sunday, December 30, 2012

Iran's Laughable Response

Many, many times I've criticized those who exaggerate the Iranian threat to the United States in Latin America. The Iranian response, however, is no better. From Iranian state press:

Ahmad Reza Dastgheyb, a member of the Majlis Committee on National Security and Foreign Policy, said on Saturday that the United States “used to adopt every measure to achieve its own interests” in Latin America.

The Iranian lawmaker censured Washington’s stance on Latin America and said today, people in that region will no longer let the United States continue with its ambitious policies there.

Iran is a source of inspiration to Latin American people in view of the “freedom-seeking, revolutionary and anti-imperialistic thoughts” it provides Latin America with, Dastgheyb stated. “This is unbearable to the United States.”

This is beyond laughable, and ironically plays into the U.S. rhetorical framework. By all objective measures, Iran has virtually no influence in Latin America, and it needs Latin America much more than the reverse. Yet the U.S. insists it is a major threat, and Iran insists that it is a major influence. Neither is true.

Let's be clear. Iran is not a source of inspiration for anyone beyond the fringe in Latin America and no one beyond the fringe sees it as freedom-loving. Hugo Chavez moved closer to Iran, Syria, etc. for leverage against the United States, not because of brotherhood.

On one point he's right. The U.S. is indeed trying to achieve its own interests. But so is every other government, and pursuing those interests does not necessarily mean supporting Iran. In other words, that support is skin deep.

Unfortunately, though, we'll have to keep hearing all kinds of counter-productive bluster.


Friday, December 28, 2012

Why Not to Get a Ph.D.

I get emails from the American Political Science Association's discussion page on Linkedin, and would like to offer a small piece of advice: be very careful about taking any advice people post on there. This one is particularly bad.

Do NOT pursue a Ph.D. just because no one can take the degree away from you or to "feel well educated." Holy cow. What that really means is that you get a Ph.D. just to put it after your name in every piece of correspondence you send in order to impress people. When you just end up unfulfilled and unhappy, don't blame me.

Also, NEVER take advice about a Ph.D. from someone who does not already have a Ph.D. because they have no idea what they're talking about and should not be dispensing advice. One important exception to this is getting advice from someone who got a job they love without a Ph.D.

I think APSA should have a free PDF right on the front of their homepage with short essays on the pros and cons of a Ph.D. in Political Science. Undergraduates and MA students want to know more but don't know who to ask and can't find reliable advice online.


Paranoia about Venezuela

The Strategic Studies Institute published this report by Max Manwaring on Venezuela. It can best be characterized as a meandering and conjecture-laden rant. Its main point seems to be that if you repeat the phrase "Marxist-Leninist," and sometimes also "Leninist-Maoist," then your reader will understand what you mean even if your narrative makes no sense.

Like many other paranoid accounts of Venezuela, the report is based on the premise that even after over a dozen years in power and countless threat assessments, we are still having the wool pulled over our eyes by Hugo Chavez, who is an evil genius of almost supernatural ability. He will destroy all we hold dear and maybe even steal our precious bodily fluids.

I admit, I had to start skimming. What rational person would dive deep into rhetoric like the following?

The dominating characteristic of a war of this kind is political-military, economic-commercial, or cultural- moral. Within the context of these combinations, there is a difference between the dominant sphere and the whole, although a dynamic relationship exists between a dominant type of general war and the supporting elements that make up the whole. As an example, Qiao and Wang state that conventional military war must be strongly supported by media (propaganda/information/moral) warfare and a combination of other types of war that might include but are not limited to psychological war, financial war, trade war, cyber war, diplomatic war, proxy war, narco-criminal war, and guerrilla war.

Anyway, so what do we do about a genius as evil and conniving as Hugo Chavez? Given the scope of the argument, the recommendations surprisingly don't address Venezuela at all. Instead, they argue that the US Army should be remodeled to combat new types of threats. They suggest that once Chavez destroys states--apparently his goal--then we should be prepared to step in and "coordinate" their rebuilding. Okey doke.

The sad thing is that members of Congress will undoubtedly take this and wave it about as "proof" supporting their outlandish claims about Hugo Chavez.

h/t Steven Bodzin, who I guess I should blame.


Thursday, December 27, 2012

Kerry and Latin America

I haven't bothered to comment on Mary Anastasia O'Grady opinion pieces for quite a long time because she is so insistent on avoiding common sense. But a former student emailed this one to me, so I can't resist.

The essence, and I promise I am not making this up, is that John Kerry is not fit to be Secretary of State because he opposed the Contras. Yes, correct, we're talking the illegal Nicaraguan war of the 1980s that resulted in the Reagan administration selling arms to Iran. O'Grady is locked in that era, apparently lamenting the fact that Oliver North ever got caught, and quoting a random 1996 article in The New Yorker to make her case.

That's pretty much it, with a little Honduras sprinkled in, and that is why I've tired of commenting much on O'Grady.


Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Dealing with Latin American Corruption

Here is the chart of the day from LAPOP. It's especially notable because there are plenty of corruption measures, but it's much less common to ask people how much they think their government is doing to combat it.

What you immediately see is that ideology is not relevant. In fact, having Nicaragua at the top of the list is surprising, given how famous and brazen Daniel Ortega's corruption is. But clearly Nicaraguans view it in a different context, comparing the situation to other governments, for example. That context--the one much less visible from the outside--matters a lot.

And take a look at the United States. That's just embarrassing, but it's a post-crash reality.


Media and blogging

I'm quoted in this Brazilian paper's article on Paraguayan President Federico Franco's popularity. I never spoke to the reporter, who must have read a blog post. This happens periodically, and I think it's great because it reflects a goal of this blog, which is to connect academia and the broader world. It actually works better than an interview in some ways because I am writing precisely what I mean rather than answering questions off the top of my head. Quote away!


Sunday, December 23, 2012

Character and Baseball

I read about efforts by Dale Murphy fans to get him into the Hall of Fame. The rationale? Not performance, which even they admit is only Very Good. Instead, they argue that if Barry Bonds and all the other players with steroidal clouds over their heads are being punished for bad behavior, Murphy should be boosted for good behavior. There was hardly a nicer guy in baseball.

This is a terrible idea. I think MLB's best solution is to rewrite the HOF rules and get rid of the character part entirely.

5. Voting: Voting shall be based upon the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.

It's really a sham. I know Murphy is a legitimately nice guy, but just read Jim Bouton or Dirk Hayhurst for a glimpse of what baseball players actually do (e.g. Greg Maddux is really creepy). Right now we're even punishing players who we're convinced took banned substances even though we have no proof.

As many people have noted, what Bonds et al are accused of doing is nothing compared to the real actions of many HOFers. Ty Cobb is famous for being a racist pig, universally disliked. But we forgive him because it was another era. We need either to forgive it all, or be strict with it all. I lean toward the former. It should not be the Hall of Nice People.

Pete Rose is an arrogant jerk. So is Barry Bonds. Rafael Palmeiro is a self-righteous dope. They belong in the Hall of Fame. Dale Murphy is a really cool guy, and he doesn't.


Saturday, December 22, 2012

"Countering" Iran in Latin America

Back in March I mentioned the Countering Iran in the Western Hemisphere Act of 2012, which has passed the House and now has passed the Senate. Here is the text.

It is a piece of red meat for a vocal minority, and generally seems harmless unless I am missing something. Within 180 days of enactment, the State Department must write a threat assessment, which will be interesting to read. For the most part, neither the Defense nor State Departments see Iran has much more than a potential threat (a category that could fit a lot of countries) so it may not generate the kind of outrage the bill's authors desire.

As I wrote back then, one important point to keep in mind is that the bill stipulates the creation of a "multiagency action plan" in Latin America, a place where Iran is not considered a threat. Forcing this on Latin America could backfire.


Friday, December 21, 2012

Football and Academic Fraud

The report on academic fraud at UNC Chapel Hill is sad to read about for several reasons, aside from the fact that I am an alumnus.

First, the idea of a "student-athlete" is terribly abused. Rich, and often white, people want young men, often black, to make them a ton of money playing football. Very few people care what happens to those young men. Give them fake grades and keep them on the football or basketball team. They won't make a dime out of this multi-billion dollar industry. In fact, if they receive any tiny gift they'll suddenly be investigated.

Second, we see the development of a culture of corruption surrounding athletics at the departmental level. An administrative assistant gets a $100,000 inheritance. A department chair makes fake classes to keep justifying his budget and gain new faculty lines after there is an investigation at Auburn about football players. (As an aside, the author of this much anticipated report did not bother interviewing either one of those individuals, saying he just left messages!).

Third, there was an amazing lack of oversight at the college or university level. Loads and loads of grade changes, plus a high number of independent studies (about 300 per year in one 5 year span, which is mind blowing), in a department known for attracting athletes, clearly should have brought attention from higher up. But see the first point about that.

Fourth, and perhaps the worst, no one is talking about overhauling the system. Slap Carolina on the wrist and keep things the same, pretending that this is all about education and not money. There will be another scandal like this somewhere. Given the system and the money involved, it's just a matter of time.


Thursday, December 20, 2012

Memory and Tourism in Chile

A colleague called this to my attention. Clío and Mnemósine is an organization dedicated to "heritage tours."

The purpose of our project is to become one of Chile’s main promoters of heritage tours centered on Memory, Recent History, Cultural Heritage and Human Rights.  Moreover, it aims at becoming the primary provider of training in the matter, and a point of reference for research projects on Memory, Recent History, Cultural Heritage and Human Rights.
They are Chileans who want to make some of the most controversial and sensitive issues more accessible to foreigners. Without knowing anything about the organization itself, I like the general idea. There is a growing number of human rights-related museums in Santiago (e.g. see previous posts on my visits to the Memory Museum and Villa Grimaldi) but they are not really tied together. Getting some background, then visiting each in turn would provide valuable insights in Chile's political history.


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Erik Loomis

Erik Loomis is Assistant Professor of History at the University of Rhode Island and blogs at Lawyers, Guns, and Money. Now he is in hot water for tweeting, as his metaphor of "head on a stick" is being taken literally as a call for murder, prompting a visit from the police. This is not reasonable.

Crooked Timber has a good rundown. Here is Erik's own take. Especially if you've read Erik's posts over the years, consider joining me in writing an email to the administrators of his university in his support.


Tuesday, December 18, 2012

CV Don'ts

Eszter Hargittai has a discussion of CVs at Inside Higher Ed. For those of you outside academia, a CV is different from a typical resume because it centers only on scholarly pursuits (e.g. no mention of any jobs not related to academia in some way). There is no statement of purpose or the like. Just the academic facts. Reading that post prompted me to add some don'ts. Especially for a job search, you need to remember that the CV is the single most important document because it is your career in an easily digested nutshell.

--Don't bury the key facts of where you received your degree and where you are now. They should be close to the top.

--Don't give a lengthy list of works "in preparation." "Under review" is fine because it signals activity and the ability to complete something, but "in preparation" gives the impression--to me at least--that you are compensating for a lack of accomplishments in hand. I have about 20 things in preparation in my head, but most will stay there.

--For a job search, don't forget to emphasize your accomplishments that fit the job description. If the job involves more teaching, then move up the teaching section. If the job requires someone to teach the politics of restaurants, then be sure to note that class you taught on The International Politics of the International House of Pancakes.

--If you are ABD, then don't forget to provide the expected date of completion. And remember that it looks really bad if a search committee calls your adviser and finds out it's wrong.

I'm sure there are more, but these came to mind immediately.


Holiday in Honduras?

This story seems to be based on the statement of only one person. It argues that the very serious Honduras political crisis will take a backseat as all sides agree to stop doing anything over the holidays.

True or just the mocking of a U.S. media intent on perpetuating an image of sloth and siesta? A scan of the Honduran press says nothing about any such arrangement.


Sunday, December 16, 2012

Populism and the Future

The Guardian makes a brief comparison between Chavismo and Peronism, arguing that even if Chavez dies now he will leave a long shadow.

True, but it is useful to remember that a movement's direction can be unpredictable. If you had told an Argentine in the 1950s that in 30-40 years Peronism would be the party of austerity and international capitalism, and that a Peronist would tie his country's economy very tightly to the U.S. dollar, they would not have believed you. It's also worth remembering that Juan Peron personally groomed Carlos Menem as an up and coming political leader. The Kirchners then brought the movement back more in line with its origins. Who knows what the next batch of Peronists will do?

Once the charismatic, outsized leader is gone, all bets are off. There will always be Chavismo, and its leader--or even competing leaders--will invoke Hugo Chavez and his revolutionary triumphs. But its precise nature will evolve and at times may not resemble today's Chavismo at all.


Thursday, December 13, 2012

Finishing Your Dissertation

Megan MacKenzie at Duck of Minerva has a good post about finishing your dissertation, with a 10 step process. You can really boil down all such advice posts down to write, write, write. I set myself a daily word goal and became fairly reclusive. You can work out whatever incentive structure you want, but keep writing even if you think the writing is not so good. I had also read a long time before about Ernest Hemingway's advice--perhaps apocryphal -to leave an idea for the next day when writing. Whether or not he really gave that advice, I liked that because I found it much easier to quickly get going.

Did I mention keep writing?


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Talking About Immigration Reform

Despite all the talk that the Republican Party "must" embrace immigration reform, even supporters seem concerned about being too supportive. John McCain, for example, has long been an advocate for reform, though of course he had to pretend otherwise to win the presidential nomination in 2008. And now he is afraid even to admit he's talking about reform.

Politico is reporting that a group of eight United States senators, including Arizona's John McCain and Jeff Flake, is discussing immigration reform. 
Flake's office would not confirm the report and McCain's office did not return calls.

I think it's great they're talking. It is sad, though, that nativist pressure is strong enough to make the whole thing furtive.


Tuesday, December 11, 2012

CMS and Autism: Does Anyone Care?

Picture this scene. The Dean of Students at a top CMS school, Irwin Elementary, openly mocks a 10 year old autistic child by calling him a two year old in the hallway. The Dean of Students then gets angry, indeed very vocally angry with the parents, at the child's response to the insult, and conveniently omits what he said to provoke it. Later the principal admits in writing it happened, but dismisses it as unimportant.

Just happened last week to my son. And no one in CMS cares.


Parsing the Venezuelan Constitution

David Smilde and Hugo Pérez Hernaíz comment on the Hugo Chávez transition issue. Here's one thing that struck me:

It seems likely that Chávez’s fourth surgery is risky enough that he is not sure he will be able to assume his fourth term on January 10. And Article 233 also says that if a president-elect were to die, resign or be declared physically or mentally incapacitated before being sworn in, it is not the Vice President but the President of the National Assembly that becomes acting president. Currently that is Diosdado Cabello. 
What is more, the Constitution does not specify what would happen if the president-elect is alive, has not resigned nor been officially declared incapacitated, but is not able to be sworn in. Presumably in such a case it would also be the President of the National Assembly who would assume the presidency, since cabinet positions such as the Vice Presidency do not automatically carry-over from one term to the next but must be reconfirmed.

This, of course, is why Chávez felt the need to name Nicolás Maduro as successor with a dedazo. Chávez is afraid he may die before January 10, which would make Cabello the interim president. However, it seems to me that if Chávez is in terrible shape but has not been ruled incapacitated, then he can be sworn in if the Supreme Court is amenable. From Article 231 of the constitution:

Artículo 231. El candidato elegido o candidata elegida tomará posesión del cargo de Presidente o Presidenta de la República el diez de enero del primer año de su período constitucional, mediante juramento ante la Asamblea Nacional. Si por cualquier motivo sobrevenido el Presidente o Presidenta de la República no pudiese tomar posesión ante la Asamblea Nacional, lo hará ante el Tribunal Supremo de Justicia.

Morbid, to be sure. But if the judges come to a hospital room--perhaps even in a foreign country?--the constitution is being followed. Get sworn in, then step down, and Maduro is interim president.


Sunday, December 09, 2012

Chavez and cancer

Hugo Chavez says his cancer--still undefined--has returned and so once again he will go to Cuba.

He was absolutely masterful in making himself appear sufficiently healthy during the campaign that the cancer ceased to be a factor for the presidential election. He made a major effort to make just enough public appearances, deny rumors and, above all, avoid secret trips to Cuba. Henrique Capriles framed himself as youthful but ultimately that didn't matter. Chavez was vigorous enough to take the issue off the table.

But he held on and won the election, and so the question is no longer whether the opposition can take electoral advantage of the situation, but rather just how a potential chavista transition would look for the next six years. That's a lot of political breathing room.

When the government refuses to tell the truth, then rumors will fly even more than usual. At this point, there is no reason at all to believe any public declaration denying Chavez's health problems.


Friday, December 07, 2012

People Who Should Not Have Signs

From Rob Neyer's Twitter feed. I had no idea Nashville had erected a sign to William Walker, who ranks very high on the list of the most arrogant and stupid Americans trying to screw up Latin America.

And the state of Tennessee calls him an "idealist." Oy.


North Carolina Immigration Policy

Very nice to read this report from the North Carolina House Select Committee on the State's Role in Immigration Policy. What it indicates is that the state legislature is not going to pursue punitive policies a la Arizona and other states. It emphasizes over and over that a wide range of stakeholders will need to provide input, and urges the federal government to enact reform.

Finally, the Committee recommends a renewed focus on economic development potential and opportunities to increase North Carolina's regional competitiveness through pragmatic approaches to immigration in this State.

Good. This doesn't preclude an individual member from introducing a wacky piece of legislation, but the leadership wants pragmatism aimed at promoting economic development. That means avoiding legislation that either deprives businesses from getting workers or burdening them unduly with regulations.

Also nice to read this from House Speaker Thom Tillis:

“It’s a very emotional issue on both sides, and we’ve got to try and hold that rhetoric off and look at things that benefit the economy, treat people respectfully, and in some cases, address some symptoms now whose problem is really rooted in federal policy. I just think we need to be very careful with it,” Tillis said.

Let's hope the leadership retains that attitude.


Thursday, December 06, 2012

Michael Lewis' The Blind Side

I am late to it, but just read Michael Lewis' The Blind Side, the story about how Michael Oher went from homeless to NFL left tackle through the intervention of rich people in Memphis. It's an unusual and intriguing story--Lewis makes the evolution of the left tackle really interesting--but ultimately the book didn't uplift me much, and Lewis didn't intend it to. It's a reminder that sports plays an absurd role in our lives. Oher is essentially a large piece of meat, viewed primarily in financial terms, as is the case with all his teammates at Ole Miss. Almost no one cares about them at all. They get sucked from the ghetto to entertain rich white people, and then go back to the ghetto once their playing eligibility ends. Absent his amazing size, strength, and speed, Oher would've gone nowhere. Lewis talks to men in the housing projects who once were phenoms, and now are drug dealers.

Therefore it's also a story about the strong racial divide that still exists in Tennessee, Mississippi, and elsewhere. Football brings the two together in ways that reinforce de facto segregation. So the "feel good" story is depressing. It's a reminder of how many lives are still being wasted.


Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Ranking and Placement in Political Science

So how does ranking of your Political Science program affect job placement? Today this topic seems to be the definition of viral. My dean emailed me the Chronicle of Higher Education article first thing this morning. A similar article appeared in Inside Higher Ed (without a paywall), and suddenly I see responses in Twitter, Facebook, and blogs. Responding hours later makes me very late to the party.

The money quote:

The median institutional ranking of institutions in the study is 11, which Mr. Oprisko said implies that 11 institutions contributed half of the political scientists who filled tenured or tenure-track positions at research-intensive universities in the United States. That means that graduates of the more than 100 other political-science programs competed for the remaining 50 percent of job openings.

I'm still chewing on this a bit. It implies that "job openings" only appear in those particular institutions being studied, which obviously isn't true--there are lots of good jobs outside the purview of the study. But still, this is a pretty serious concentration.

The bottom line is that it is hard to argue with the idea that candidates in lower ranked schools find it more difficult to get a job, especially a job without a really heavy teaching load. All things being equal, someone with a more prestigious Ph.D. is viewed--rightly or wrongly--as being less risky in terms of getting tenure. This isn't fair, but it's true. If you advising people who want a Ph.D., or are thinking of one yourself, you need to acknowledge this reality.

See also:

--The Monkey Cage

--Mike Munger

--James Joyner


Going paperless

The Chronicle's ProfHacker blog has a lot on going paperless in some form or another. I started trying to do that more this semester. As I mentioned before the semester began, I used iAnnotate to grade papers in my U.S.-Latin American Relations course. I really liked how it worked--easy to use a stylus or type to write on the term paper, plus voice comments--but it does not mesh well with Moodle, which is the online course platform that UNC Charlotte uses. I generally like Moodle, but if the students turn their paper in through Turnitin, there seems to be no way for me to upload their graded paper back as a PDF. Ultimately I had to email the papers to each student individually, which is doable but a pain. I am hoping to figure out something better.

My next step is to take attendance without paper. I do so most days not only to keep track of attendance but also to keep connecting names to faces in the class.


Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Chile and the Pact of Bogotá

Following up on yesterday's post about Chile and Peru, recent controversies surrounding the International Court of Justice stem from the Pact of Bogotá, which requires signatories to resolve their differences peacefully, with the ICJ as a potential ultimate arbiter.

A key question is what types of disputes one state can require another to mediate. It can become a reductio ad absurdum, where states could demand changes to all boundaries, going back centuries, so that virtually anything can be contested. In the case of Bolivia and Chile, the boundaries have been well set with a series of treaties.

Here is the text of the pact. For the Bolivia-Chile dispute, Article 6 is important:

ARTICLE VI. The aforesaid procedures, furthermore, may not be applied to matters already settled by arrangement between the parties, or by arbitral award or by decision of an international court, or which are governed by agreements or treaties in force on the date of the conclusion of the present Treaty.

In 2011, Chile noted its concern about Bolivia's reservations with the treaty, which are as follows.

The Delegation of Bolivia makes a reservation with regard to Article VI, in as much as it considers that pacific procedures may also be applied to controversies arising from matters settled by arrangement between the Parties, when the said arrangement affects the vital interests of a state.
And further:

To file an objection to the reservation made by the Plurinational State of Bolivia with regard
to Article VI of said American Treaty on Pacific Settlement, “Pact of Bogotá,” and declares that, in accordance with the principles of international law, this objection precludes the entry into force of that Treaty between the Republic of Chile and the Plurinational State of Bolivia.

Unless I am missing something, what this means it that Chile will not enter into negotiation or mediation unless it is voluntary.


Monday, December 03, 2012

The Chile-Peru Show

The Chile-Peru show at The Hague begins today. An interesting tidbit.

Bolivia has also said it will send a delegation to the court and plans a lawsuit to try to reclaim its ocean access from Chile.

So if Chile loses, Bolivia will file a lawsuit quickly, and the delegation may well already have a copy on hand. The problem is that the ICJ requires the participation of both governments, and I cannot imagine a scenario whereby the Chileans would agree. They are participating now primarily because they are convinced they will win.


Sunday, December 02, 2012

Autism at CMS Part 2

Very big news on the autism front is that the term "Asperger's" will no longer be used. A new term for autistic kids like mine who have behaviorial problems will be Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder, a mouthful boiled down to the acronym DMDD.

Hopefully this will help officials at Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools understand autism better. At this point all we hear from the school system is that meltdowns are the child's choice, and we are told repeatedly just to talk to our son so he will understand he's making bad choices. Despite the fact that meltdowns are extraordinarily common in kids with high functioning autism--so common they now are part of a special label--CMS officials insist that they are not characteristic of how they understand autism. Update: reading more closely, the article doesn't explicitly link autism and meltdowns but rather just mentions them together. So we'll have to wait and see.

The problem is that CMS makes virtually no effort as an institution to understand autism. Teachers and EC teachers alike tell us how little training they have, and we know there are no programs--absolutely none in a huge school system--for kids with high functioning autism. I will not hold my breath, but with luck the DSM-5 shift will force CMS to acknowledge certain facts. Aside from a few committed individuals in some schools, there is incredible resistance to acceptance.


Friday, November 30, 2012

U.S. Fuel Exports to Venezuela

Steven Bodzin has a great post (following up on a previous one) about how much fuel Venezuela is importing from the United States. I am nabbing one of his charts, so please give him credit if you use it:

Really fascinating. The MSM gets it sometimes, but not often enough. Instead, we get the drum beat of "threat" based on the fact that the U.S. also imports from Venezuela (a few years ago Dick Lugar even had a big investigation). Hugo Chávez himself eggs this on, with periodic empty threats of shutting off the flow of oil.

The point is that there is way, way more going on than virtually anyone in the United States gives credit for. After almost 14 years of "revolution," Venezuela is more economically dependent on the United States than ever.


Thursday, November 29, 2012

Latin America links

--The Pew Hispanic Center on the future growth of the Latino electorate.

--David Smilde on Venezuela getting on the UN Human Rights Council.

--Tim's El Salvador Blog on Salvadoran Ni-Nis.

--COHA on Kerry, Rice, and Latin America.

--Yoani Sánchez on what she worries about.

--Colin Snider on human rights trials in Argentina.

--And as a bonus, Mike Munger on publishing and him perishing.


Wednesday, November 28, 2012


Here'ssss our water, my preciousssssss...

The four living Chilean presidents had a photo op to show their support for Chile's case at the International Court of Justice. It all starts on December 3 and ends on December 14. They made statements, and Peruvians got mad. This sort of back and forth happens periodically.

Now, though, there's a bit more of an edge because a decision will finally be made, and it will come on the heels of a controversial decision in the Colombia-Nicaragua territorial dispute. Both sides have claimed they will abide by the ruling, though it's entirely possible "abide" will be defined as "try to continue dragging out because this decision sucks."

For documents related to the case, click here.


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Sugar and Pork

Via Mike Munger: the conservative (and anti-Latin American) case for sugar subsidies. Brazil and Mexico will destroy us if we don't slap a tariff on their sugar, and it'll be like World War II all over again. This is the same member of Congress who makes a big deal about keeping Washington out of the economy. But his pork is the good pork.


Peña Nieto and the U.S.

Enrique Peña Nieto is meeting with President Obama and others today, but there's really not much "new" in that news. He'll mention immigration, security, blah, blah, and blah.

A more interesting question is what type of Mexico he's leading, and what his election means. For that I recommend the Foreign Affairs article by Héctor Aguilar Camín and Jorge Castañeda. Their basic view is that Peña will continue reforms--health care, tax reform, oil, among others--and the PRI will work with the PAN. It's a rather more optimistic view than you typically see.

The vast majority of Mexicans now agree that the only way politicians should get and keep power is through the ballot box and that the clamor for greater accountability and less corruption is legitimate. They believe that protecting human rights, adhering to the rule of law, and ending the culture of impunity are nonnegotiable goals. They demand due process rights and greater security, and they think poverty and social inequality must be reduced, along with the influence of Mexico's powerful monopolies and oligopolies. Yet they also reject any macroeconomic policy associated with large public deficits and consider the advantages of globalization, free trade, and economic integration with the rest of North America greater than the drawbacks. 

What goes within Mexico is more important than state visits. On immigration, for example, reform in the United States is critical but so is reform that provides employment. One point that Castañeda does not make is that NAFTA has been responsible for quite a lot of illegal immigration. Reforms within Mexico cannot just liberalize the economy without anticipating the effect on labor and, by extension, on U.S.-Mexican relations.


Monday, November 26, 2012

U.S. Influence in Latin America

I agree with much of William McIlhenny's piece at Americas Quarterly. The upshot: can we please stop with the "the United States is paying no attention to Latin America" meme? I like this bit:

Some will always prefer to wax nostalgic for an era of nominal influence on elites and dysfunctional relationships with undeveloped societies.  But that time is gone for good, to our resounding advantage.

True. What was so great about that? Even when we thought our influence was working to our advantage, it often wasn't.  Batista and Somoza were our men, and look how great that turned out over the long run. We pushed for drastic market reforms in places like Bolivia to our own detriment. Not exerting such influence may be the best thing not only for Latin America, but for U.S. interests as well.


Sunday, November 25, 2012

Latinos and conservatives

My post about the Charles Murray op-ed made me think more about the Republican party's difficulties in embracing the Latino population. There are a number of dichotomies that the party is now publicly trying to sort out.

1. Latino immigrant as hard worker vs. Latino immigrant as welfare state moocher

2. Latino immigrant as Spanish-speaking enclave creator vs. Latino immigrant as bilingual asset

3. Latino immigrant as potential conservative vs. Latino immigrant as Democratic party lackey

4. Latino as "foreign other" vs. Latino as embodiment of "American dream"

5. Amnesty as rewarding illegal behavior vs. amnesty as rational response to broken system

Within the Republican party, of course, these dichotomies are filtered through different lenses--libertarianism, social conservatism, nativism, etc.--in sometimes contradictory ways. It's fascinating to watch a party sort itself out in such a public manner. Once we have a concrete proposal being debated in Congress, it will intensify even more.


Friday, November 23, 2012

Free Stuff in Venezuela

Via Caracas Chronicles: Venezuela's Planning Minister says Venezuelans need to stop thinking they'll just get lots of things for free just because of oil revenue: "la gente tiene que pagar."

I immediately thought of my recent post about how, after years of making expropriation a core part of his government, Hugo Chavez mocked those who said he might expropriate. Now an official in his government is saying that the bedrock of Chavez's rule--subsidied goods paid for by oil revenue--is a negative thing.

There's something happening here. What it is ain't exactly clear.


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Latinos and Conservatism

Charles Murray at the American Enterprise Institute says don't hold your breath that Latinos are conservative. He looks at survey data to make the case that as a whole Latinos are not really more opposed to abortion or gay marriage, more religious, or more likely to be married. So far, so good. Then we get this.

I can understand why people think Latinos are natural conservatives. Just about every Latino with whom I come in contact is hard-working and competent. I don’t get into discussions with them about their families and religion, but they sure look like go-getting, family-values Americans to me. But note the caveat: “with whom I come in contact.” There’s a huge selection artifact embedded in that caveat—I always come in contact with Latinos because they are on a work crew that’s doing something at my house or office, or at my neighbors’ houses. That’s the way that almost all Anglos in the political chattering class come in contact with Latinos. Of course they look like model Americans.

Oh boy. The people he sees blowing his leaves are "model Americans" but all the rest are...not. Those who work in white suburbia are good, those that don't are the 47%.


Cuba: No Catheters For You!

Damien Cave at the New York Times has a great look at the Cuba embargo, and unlike most accounts makes sure to mention the ways in which the executive branch has been tied up by the Cuban Democracy Act and Helms-Burton. It also focuses on how ridiculous the embargo laws are.

“The Treasury Department is asking me, in a children’s hospital, if I use, for example, catheters for military uses — chemical, nuclear or biological,” said Dr. Eugenio Selman, director of the William Soler Pediatric Cardiology Center.

I feel much safer knowing that we expend resources to protect us from terrorist catheters.


Immigration and the Majority

At the Washington Post, Georgetown's Dan Hopkins uses survey data to show that Americans are actually not all that split on immigration. It's useful to disseminate that message as widely as possible, but it's not new at all. I've blogged about this numerous times, and way back in 2006 I referred to a Foreign Affairs article by Tamar Jacoby, quoting that very fact. She was wrong to predict quick action, but right to assert that there's no reason to be surprised by support for immigration reform.

A much better question to ask is why the belief persists in the face of so much contrary evidence. Part of the problem is that people get causation wrong. Since there is no reform, that must be caused by majority opinion against it. Instead, absence of reform has a lot to do with excessive political focus on a minority base opposed to reform. The media picks up on the extremes, and the public is left with the impression that the country is hopelessly divided when in fact it's not.

What we've seen, in effect, is tyranny of the minority, but a minority consistently--and successfully--peddling the notion that it's views are held by the majority (perhaps even a silent majority, to quote Richard Nixon). What Mitt Romney found--as everyone, including him, knew he would--is that he needed that minority to win the candidacy, but it became a liability in the general election.

Most Republican leaders seem to recognize this, which is why so many are talking openly about supporting reform. It required the trauma of losing the presidency to make it happen, but it happened. This may also mean that the message about a long-standing majority supporting reform will finally start to gain traction. We will have waited a long time.


Monday, November 19, 2012

Signs of Political Change

The Republican Party is still trying to sort itself out with regard to immigration, but you know something is moving when big money gets behind it.

Gutierrez , along with the co-founder of the massive pro-Romney “super PAC” Restore Our Future, Charlie Spies, is looking to put his focus, and donor contributions, where his mouth is on immigration reform. The two are leading the formation of a new PAC, Republicans for Immigration Reform, with a clear focus on resolving an issue that played a role in Romney’s poor showing among Latinos on election day.

I immediately thought of Cuba. Students often ask me when political opposition to the embargo will reach a topping point. My stock response is that most people don't care, but that business leaders along with their governors will be a critical factor. Now maybe the real sign is when those businesses put together a Super PAC.


Saturday, November 17, 2012

Latin America trade

Shannon O'Neil echoes a point I made several times during the presidential debates--despite the chorus of voices proclaiming the decline of U.S. trade with Latin America, it is actually quite massive and growing.

I think, though, that much of the problem is not volume of trade, but rather the fact that other trading partners exist at all. This phenomenon is new and threatening. It is not enough for us to be involved in the lion's share of trade with Latin America; we have to be all of it or we're weak.

It is therefore zero sum. If China buys more commodities, that means we're somehow losing out, even if we don't want to buy those same commodities. What the chorus wants, really, is to get extra-hemispheric governments out. The Monroe Doctrine is, after all, something of a talisman for U.S. policy and we've never lost the knee-jerk reaction to fear involvement by outside powers.

What this also means it that no matter how many agreements the U.S. signs with Latin American governments, the chorus will keep singing because no agreement guarantees exclusion.


Friday, November 16, 2012

Op-ed Fail

This op-ed from Otto Reich is really something. We learn three main points:

First, Latin America does not get much attention from the United States because "Latin America does not present its best face to the world."

Second, Latin Americans vote for leaders Reich does not like because they don't have any information and don't know better.

Third, current corruption in Honduras is entirely the fault of Mel Zelaya.

A bonus point is that Rafael Correa is "rabid."


Thursday, November 15, 2012

Latin American Middle Class

Outstanding article in Financial Times on the middle class in Latin America. The problem is that things are not changing as much as often claimed.

Rising incomes are, of course, to be cheered. But the World Bank also points to “abysmally low” levels of intergenerational mobility in the region: while people’s fortunes have improved within the current generation, there are still enormous barriers to social mobility between generations. In other words, the class you are born into is a bigger factor than any other in determining your future prospects. The children of poor parents still face daunting challenges making their way in the world. 
“We are measuring the extent of correlation between parents’ backgrounds and their kids’ achievements,” says Augusto de la Torre, the World Bank’s chief economist for Latin America and the Caribbean (though not one of the report’s authors). “The correlation is very high in Latin America compared with other regions. Family background is much more important.” 
De la Torre describes this as a probable result of “self-sorting” behaviour. 
“Better off families send their children to schools that less well-off families can’t afford,” he says. “That’s different from Asia, for example, where public education is relied on by everybody.” 
It’s not just education. Better-off Latin American opt out of public health systems by buying private health insurance. They opt out of public security services by paying private guards – typically sitting in a makeshift hut on the street, collecting monthly payments from residents. They even opt out of public electricity services by buying their own generators.

Yes to all that. Rising incomes are good for everyone, but they can often obscure long-standing barriers to advancement. There's a tremendous amount of de facto segregation.


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Selling to Cuba

Interesting story about how the once vaunted cash trade--including multiple currency swaps--with Cuba has declined in recent years as the country finds other trading partners with less onerous terms.

U.S. sales of food and agricultural commodities to the communist-run island began more than a decade ago with the Trade Sanctions Reform Act enacted in 2000 under President Clinton. Modest sales of $138 million the following year rose steadily to a peak of $710 million in 2008, according to statistics calculated by Kavulich's group. 
The value of U.S. exports to Cuba has since plummeted to just over half that last year at $358 million. It was $250 million through the first six months of 2012, with no sign of improvement.

Cuba is turning instead to Vietnam, Venezuela, and China.

As with virtually every other aspect of U.S. policy toward Cuba, our trade policy makes no sense and hurts us much more than it hurts the Cuban government. We want to punish you by not trading, so we will just trade in a peculiar way and say we're punishing you. And we will only allow exports of a very particular type, defining "agricultural commodities" in new and fun ways. So, for example, you can export semen but not cardboard boxes. For the full list of goods in all of its glory, just click here.


Tuesday, November 13, 2012

American exceptionalism and the Cuba embargo

In what has become an annual spectacle, the entire world minus the U.S., Israel and a tiny handful of tiny Pacific countries condemn the U.S. embargo against Cuba. This year the vote got the highest number of countries--188--joining in the condemnation.

This perhaps is the essence of American exceptionalism. Unlike so many countries, we are deeply committed to continuing uselessly punitive foreign policy even in the face of clear evidence that it is failing.

It is indeed the ironic curtain.


Monday, November 12, 2012

Senator Uribe

Rumor has it that Alvaro Uribe will soon announce his senatorial candidacy in Colombia. He hates Juan Manuel Santos--and many other people as well (take a look at this Twitter feed!)--and his goal seems to be derailing all of his security policies. It's fascinating to see how many former Latin American presidents seek to remain in elected office. More so than other recent examples, this one is fueled by rage.

And an interesting tidbit at the end:

There is just one complication that threatens to bog Uribismo down. 
Should Uribe become a senator he will lose his presidential immunity, and with that perhaps an inevitable slew of lawsuits awaits…

Just Google Alvaro Uribe lawsuits to get a sense of that.


Saturday, November 10, 2012

Chavez's Fairy Tale

Hugo Chavez wants foreign investors to come with their money because there will be no expropriation:

Speaking at a Cabinet meeting, Chavez made light of nationalization concerns, urging businesses not to fear him.

"Come and invest! Don't believe the fairy tale that we're going to expropriate you," he said in comments on state TV.

Once upon a time, there was a president who nationalized quite a few industries, doing so publicly and proudly. That is the fairy tale, which also happens to be true. In fact, it has been a core part of the "revolution." Companies deemed to be working against the state for whatever reason--not producing housing quickly enough, for example, are taken over. Here is a lenthy list of companies he took over. The government itself noted that in 2009 it had nationalized 131 companies. When he nationalized some supermarkets, he made the point that he had a plan.

“This isn’t Chavez going around expropriating any old way, as the bourgeoisie says. There’s a plan here, a strategy, a policy,” he said."

Chavez has given countless speeches on the topic, so it's unclear who he thinks he's going to convince.


Tim Wendel's Castro's Curveball

Tim Wendel's Castro's Curveball is a light, pleasant novel that brings together pre-revolutionary--late 1940s--Havana, Fidel Castro, and baseball. You need to suspend disbelief, but it plays on Castro's love of baseball and the rumor that he'd been signed by the Washington Senators. In this book, Havana Lions catcher Billy Bryan is the one who is trying to sign him. After many years, Billy returns to Cuba during the Special Period with his daughter to come to peace with his past.

Castro and his early political activism is woven into the book, along with a fictional female photographer he falls in love with, and who is part of Castro's political circle. Wendel does a nice job of bringing that era to life.

Also noteworthy, for me at least, is that this book was an impulse buy at my local used bookstore, The Last Word. Leisurely browsing still a really fun way of finding books.


Friday, November 09, 2012

Voter Turnout in Latin America

Roque Planas has a good discussion of voter turnout in the United States and Latin America.

We obsess a lot about turnout in the United States, including the incessant but well-meaning exhortations to vote from our fellow citizens, with talk of "civic duty." Often it mirrors the age old demand to clean your plate since kids are dying in Africa. You need to vote because people elsewhere in the world cannot. It doesn't matter if you don't want the food on your plate. Eat it.

In the spirit of contrarianism, then, it's worth thinking about the negative side of voter turnout.

First, it can mean your country is so polarized that the election is viewed as life or death. In Venezuela, turnout was high because the two sides detest each other. This is not a desirable state of affairs, and so lower turnout would signal more contentment and less hatred.

Second, it can mean your government is forcing you to vote, giving you no choice but to make a choice. After many years of obligatory voting, Chile changed the law, which led to lower turnout but sighs of relief.

Third, your government is authoritarian. Turnout in Cuba is high, and many votes are fabricated. The same was true in the heyday of the PRI in Mexico.

This is not to knock voting, as in fact I vote regularly. But sometimes it is useful to step back from the knee-jerk "vote or else" attitude that is often prevalent.


Thursday, November 08, 2012

Ideas are scary

Mike Munger posts about the Venezuelan government refusing to give approval for conference travel to an academic whose views were not sufficiently revolutionary. This immediately made me think of the US government's refusal to give permission for Cuban academics to come present papers at the Latin American Studies Association (though, unlike Venezuela, the Cuban government was fine with those professors coming here, which may have been sufficient proof to the Obama administration that they were all potential terrorists).

Ideas can be scary, and many governments want to suppress them, or at least discourage them. The odd part of all this is that we're talking about suppression of academics whose views are likely not terribly controversial to begin with. It's suppression for the sake of suppression.

UPDATE: Now el profesor Munger says the letter is a hoax, leaving only the U.S. government that's afraid of ideas.


The Election and U.S. Policy Toward Latin America

There are a number of news stories about the reaction in Latin America to Barack Obama's re-election and how it will affect U.S. policy toward the region. The realistic answer is that policy will not be affected greatly, and the change that occurs will be related more to domestic constituencies than foreign ones.

I expect quick action on immigration, but note that Obama never mentions Enrique Peña Nieto when he mentions the topic. Not that Peña was trying very hard either, as he congratulated Obama via Twitter. Immigration is about forcing Republicans to take a stand, not about Mexico or Central America.

Also with regard to Mexico, it's hard to see much shift in counternarcotics policy. There is some discussion about the potential effects of state-level laws on marijuana legalization, but of course that is not federal policy. The basic contours of the Mérida Initiative will remain.

We may see more liberalization of relations with Cuba, especially since Cuban Americas in Florida are moving toward the Democratic Party. A hardline stance toward Cuba is no longer a requirement to get votes from that constituency. In fact, liberalized travel is popular. However, it is difficult to see the embargo laws going anywhere, especially since they cannot be lifted without congressional approval.

We won't see much movement on trade because there's hardly any movement to be made no matter who is president.

We won't see much on Iran, because fortunately the Obama administration is not crazy and has no electoral reason to appease the numerically small but vocal voices calling for "action." Ditto with Venezuela.

In short, at this point we don't have any reason to believe there will be any significant policy shifts.


Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Election Postmortem: Immigration

CNN has an exit poll showing 71% of Latinos voted for Obama (though I wince when I see Latino listed as "race").

There's not a lot new to say here, at least until we get some exit polls from specific battleground states to see how much the Latino mattered in each one. The bottom line is that this constituency--as diverse as it is--is slipping out of the Republicans' grasp. Many party leaders know this.

What we would reasonably expect, then, is for President Obama to push quickly for immigration reform, before he hits lame duck status. He mentioned it briefly in his victory speech last night. Obama has been claiming for a long time that it is Republicans in Congress who are blocking reform, and this would be evidence one way or another. Republicans, meanwhile, will have to decide whether they want to continue the alienation of Latino voters or get over the "gateway" issue of immigration. If they can get over that hump, then they can focus on other issues they feel makes the party attractive to Latinos. If they can't get over that hump, then increasingly they will find it harder and harder to win a number of states in presidential elections.

We would also reasonable expect very quick attention to the DREAM Act, even before tackling broader reform. Democrats will want Republicans on the record if they oppose the bill, which is very popular nationally.

At any rate, we haven't any real congressional action on reform since 2006, and this is the first time since then that I actually feel something will happen.


Monday, November 05, 2012

Civilian Expertise and Civilian-Military Relations in Latin America

An article of mine just appeared in Latin American Policy entitled "Civilian Expertise and Civilian-Military Relations in Latin America."

Even as the era of military rule in Latin America fades well into the past, empirical and theoretical questions about civilian–military relations remain highly relevant. For the first time in the region’s history, most governments have been working to manage civilian– military relations within a setting of democratic rule. This article is intended to contribute to the debate over the importance of civilian expertise in the relationship between Latin American civilians and the armed forces. Its main argument is that broader permanent defense-related civilian positions in government contribute the most to democratic civilian–military relations, whereas nonpermanent positions are also important but transitory and do not necessarily foster long-term democratic stability. The policy implication is that governments should focus on expanding the number of permanent civilian positions related to defense in both the executive and legislative branches.

The article came out of a talk I gave two years ago at the Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies. The ideas had been percolating for a while, and then there was some really good discussion at that talk, the audience for which was largely military.


Gerson Dissing Political Science

Michael Gerson has an opinion piece that begins by attacking Nate Silver and ends by attacking political science. The thrust of his argument is that trying to be exact is a bad thing, and his way of arguing makes virtually no sense.

Politics can be studied by methods informed by science. But it remains a division of the humanities. It is mainly the realm of ethics — the study of justice, human nature, moral philosophy and the common good. Those who emphasize “objective” political facts at the expense of “subjective” values have strained out the soul and significance of politics. It is an approach, in the words of G.K. Chesterton, “that stores the sand and lets the gold go free.” 
Over the past decade, there has been a revolt among political scientists against a mathematical methodology that excludes substantive political debates about justice and equality. A similar revolution is increasingly needed in political commentary. The problem with the current fashion for polls and statistics is that it changes what it purports to study. Instead of making political analysis more “objective,” it has driven the entire political class — pundits, reporters, campaigns, the public — toward an obsessive emphasis on data and technique. Quantification has also resulted in miniaturization. In politics, unlike physics, you can only measure what matters least. 
And so, at the election’s close, we talk of Silver’s statistical model and the likely turnout in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, and relatively little about poverty, social mobility or unsustainable debt. The nearer this campaign has come to its end, the more devoid of substance it has become. This is not the advance of scientific rigor. It is a sad and sterile emptiness at the heart of a noble enterprise.

Lots of things wrong here. Departments of politics, or political science, or government, of whatever they are called, are not humanities. I consider myself a social scientist, not because I fetishize the natural sciences, but because I am interested in understanding causal relationships that explain political behavior (for example, why Latin American militaries react to civilians in particular ways) and formulating hypotheses about that behavior as clearly as I can with empirical foundations. For that I need to root out lots of the objective facts that Gerson finds distasteful. Those facts may be datasets on voting behavior, for example, but they may also be found in close scrutiny of case studies or derived from examining the content of laws or speeches. As a speechwriter, Gerson is especially dismissive of the latter, in a way that I think mirrors the annoyance baseball players have with sabermetrics.

Another problem is that while there is definitely a debate within political science about the relative merits of different methodologies, it is not fair to claim that those who use quantitative methodologies have no interest in justice or equality. I have colleagues publishing really interesting quantitative work that seeks to find more precise ways of understanding why justice or equality are evident or not.

And yes, it's true that Nate Silver doesn't say much about poverty or other issues. But why should he? One critical methodological challenge is making sure you're accurately measuring what you want to measure. Silver wants to know who people will vote for, not whether they are poor, or why they're poor. It's not up to us to determine what he studies. He is definitely not, as Gerson asserts, responsible for politicians' proclivity to gloss over difficult issues like poverty. Incidentally, many political scientists do research on poverty so it's not accurate to say that quantification is decreasing interest in the topic.

If Silver's analysis changes people's opinions--"The problem with the current fashion for polls and statistics is that it changes what it purports to study"--I am not sure I should blame him for that. If anything, the attacks on him are making him more visible and therefore more influential. Nonetheless, I have yet to see any evidence that someone who reads his New York Times articles are more or less likely to vote as a result. What he does is give probabilities. If you are too weak-minded to vote simply because you take probability as certainty, then I am not going to blame Nate Silver for that.


Latino Vote "Delivery"

Matt Barreto argues that if Latino turnout is high, it could "deliver" Nevada, Colorado, Virginia and Florida to Barack Obama. The Latino vote is really important, but "delivery" may be too strong, for two reasons.

First, Obama needs more than just Latinos to win these states. Since he needs votes from other constituencies, then can we not argue that they "delivered" the state? Instead, we need to look at the combination of factors that led to victory. I've written about this lots of times for North Carolina--if the vote is close, can we say Latinos were the key factor, or should we say that turnout among African Americans was the key?

Second, high Latino turnout in Florida can actually work against Obama. That's why the Romney campaign is running ads in Miami trying to tie Obama to Hugo Chávez and Raúl Castro. It's a silly argument, but points to the lingering pro-Republican sentiment among Cuban Americans and now also Venezuelan Americans. So in Florida, it depends on which Latinos you're talking about.

I get it. In many ways Latino Decisions is a cheerleader of sorts as well as a polling organization, and they want to emphasize the importance of the Latino vote. And it is important, but not automatically more important than other constituencies. Nonetheless, I will be very interested to see if their prediction of 73% support for Obama (which would the highest of any election) holds up. If turnout is high, and Obama gets that level of support, then I may well be at least a bit more willing to talk about delivery.


Saturday, November 03, 2012

More Cuban migrants

There is an upsurge of Cuban migrants making their way to the United States. The reasons given in the article--that economic conditions are not improving, that there is police crackdown--seem insufficient on their own. After all, these are constants in Cuba so don't explain change.

When you add expectations, however, it may make more sense. For years and years economic conditions didn't improve much. But then Raul Castro started telling Cubans that the state was rethinking the economic model, that markets would gradually be introduced into the economy. Those reforms, however, have been slow and the results not nearly what people believed. When you're told things will change, and shown examples of reform that would actually faciliate change (rather than just talk) then you get fed up more quickly. Add economic recovery in the United States to the mix, and you get migrants.


Friday, November 02, 2012

Immigration cases

Immigration judges can't keep up. This is just crazy.

From 2006 to 2010, the number of new immigration cases rose from 308,652 to 325,326. At the same time, the number of proceedings the immigration courts completed declined about 11 percent, from 324,040 in 2006 to 287,207 in 2010.

I've written about this before, and there seems to be no solution in sight. How are you supposed to have more enforcement without any courts to deal with the effects?



Thursday, November 01, 2012

Joel Hirst's The Lieutenant of San Porfirio

I read Joel Hirst's The Lieutenant of San Porfirio. It depicts a dystopic Venezuela in the near future, and reflects all the fears of the right. It is interesting primarily for that reason.

This is a Venezuela where "all contact with America is forbidden," (how that works is left unexplained) classical music is mocked, Chavistas see Augusto Pinochet as their model, there are buses full of bearded Iranians, Chavez says he is God and should replace Catholicism, tollbooth attendants are in their underwear, Chavez is copying Nazi Germany, the Chinese are trying to take over the west through drug trafficking, the Venezuelan government sponsors African coups with drug money (while smoking Cuban cigars, natch!), there is a minute of hard core porno on state TV every night, state employees mess with women's bras and thongs, poor people sleeping packed together are portrayed a good model for the US, Chavistas say the opposition eats human beings, a box of breakfast cereal costs $25, Russians fly military helicopters around, bearded people are flying around in helicopters, old ladies in wheelchairs are toppled over, and everyone who supports Chávez is drunk all the time.

The novel is pitched as magical realism, and so I guess these politicized exaggerations are supposed to qualify. But the novel is too angrily realist to be considered anything close to magical, and I don't tend to think the exaggerations are supposed to be viewed as anything but very concrete visions of a potential Venezuela. There's not really a plot per se, but rather just people's reactions to the revolution, and for a vision of the indignant right, it's a good example.


Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Venezuelan democracy?

I'm a few days late to this, but Juan Nagel has an interesting post at the Foreign Policy blog (certainly no leftist publication) about whether Venezuela is a democracy.

The short answer is yes. Venezuela is a severely dysfunctional, unbelievably corrupt, impossibly dangerous, highly manipulated democracy... but a democracy nonetheless. 
One thing we can conclude from the opposition's rapid acknowledgement of the official results is that the votes tallied reflect what the majority wanted. There is no evidence that a significant number of people were somehow pressured into voting for Chávez when, in reality, they wanted to vote for Capriles. The results as tallied reflected the will of the majority.

He goes on:

The Venezuelan way is one where the majority imposes its will on the minority, where minority rights are trampled upon daily, and where the members of the minority are barely even recognized as citizens of their own country. 
We may find all this distasteful, but it's what the majority wants. At the end of the day, isn't that what the core of democracy is? Chávez's Venezuela maintains the bare minimum, the very basic trappings of democracy, but that is enough to qualify it as such.

This brings the Federalist Papers 10 to mind with its discussion of factions, which are a "disease." James Madison argued that a republic was the cure.

The effect of the first difference is, on the one hand, to refine and enlarge the public views, by passing them through the medium of a chosen body of citizens, whose wisdom may best discern the true interest of their country, and whose patriotism and love of justice will be least likely to sacrifice it to temporary or partial considerations. Under such a regulation, it may well happen that the public voice, pronounced by the representatives of the people, will be more consonant to the public good than if pronounced by the people themselves, convened for the purpose. On the other hand, the effect may be inverted. Men of factious tempers, of local prejudices, or of sinister designs, may, by intrigue, by corruption, or by other means, first obtain the suffrages, and then betray the interests, of the people. The question resulting is, whether small or extensive republics are more favorable to the election of proper guardians of the public weal; and it is clearly decided in favor of the latter by two obvious considerations: 
In the first place, it is to be remarked that, however small the republic may be, the representatives must be raised to a certain number, in order to guard against the cabals of a few; and that, however large it may be, they must be limited to a certain number, in order to guard against the confusion of a multitude. Hence, the number of representatives in the two cases not being in proportion to that of the two constituents, and being proportionally greater in the small republic, it follows that, if the proportion of fit characters be not less in the large than in the small republic, the former will present a greater option, and consequently a greater probability of a fit choice.

If we apply this to the Venezuelan case, then the opposition needs to do better in legislative and gubernatorial elections (though the former can be harder when lines are drawn to favor the PSUV). Boycotting the 2005 legislative elections, of course, opened the doors wide for the majority to do whatever it wanted, and so the minority is still struggling to gain a foothold.


Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Doc Hendley's Wine to Water

I read Doc Hendley's Wine to Water. What a really cool book. It is the first person narrative of a guy from North Carolina who felt pretty aimless until he decided to try and do something simple yet critical for people in the most poverty and conflict-stricken parts of the world: get them clean water.

The bulk of the book focuses on his work in Sudan, where he helped fill large water bladders, restore wells, distribute chlorine tablets, and otherwise help get clean water to people suffering from all kinds of water-borne ailments (not to mention go to parts of the country no westerner--and not even most Sudanese--ever sees). Then he built an organization to support it. What he did (and continues to do) is pretty remarkable, but this is not a braggart's account. He's frank about his shortcomings and failings along with his successes. The writing is engaging and conversational.

For Hendley, one key to his work was helping other people become self-sufficient. You help install wells, but you teach the local population how to do it in the future and then maintain them. As he noted, it is both cost-effective and empowering. His work continues, as you can see here.


Political Science Job Market

Here are some discussions about the political science job market. The bottom line is that it's extremely competitive. In the past, let's say a decade or so ago (I went on the market in the fall of 1999) having a peer-reviewed article as a graduate student made you stand out. Now there are far more candidates with publications. This does not mean you can't get a job offer without a publication, but the other parts of your application--and, of course, your performance in the interview process, which is so critical--must stand out more.

As virtually every post (and every year there are multiple) points out, going on the market is very stressful and uncertain. It is extremely hard, indeed nearly impossible, to know what will make a department click with a particular individual. We can't even use the word "department" in a unified sense, as even the most collegial departments like mine have people with different interests.

If there is any lesson these days, though, it is start publishing as a graduate student. It is not sufficient, but at least pushes you further down the road of necessary.


Sunday, October 28, 2012

Opening emigrant doors

This quote from Nikita Khrushchev made me think immediately of the long-awaited but timid reform to Cuba's travel policies:

Paradise is a place where people want to end up, not a place they run from! Yet in this country the doors are closed and locked. What kind of socialism is that? What kind of shit is that when you have to keep people in chains? What kind of social order? What kind of paradise? Some curse me for the times I opened the doors. If God had given me the chance to continue, I would have thrown the doors and windows wide open.

Lenin opened the doors during the civil war and many did leave. Shalyapin, the singer, left; so did Averchenko, Andreyev, and other great writers. More would have left, but do you really think the whole country would have left? Impossible. Why should we be afraid of that? Many people leave their countries and never come back. It's nothing to be afraid of.*

This was when Khrushchev was in internal exile and dictating his memoirs, and of course trying to make himself look good both in comparison to Stalin and to Brezhnev. But despite the source, the point is a good one. Why fear opening up the doors?

*From Khrushchev Remembers: The Glasnost Tapes (Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1990): 203.


Finding academic articles

As perhaps some others of you did, in July I completed an online survey about how I accessed academic journal articles. Here is the final report.

The main conclusion is that readers are going in greater numbers directly to the publisher websites when they want to find new articles. This is true of me. It also indicates that people use academic databases when they want to find citations, which is also true for me.

There are a number of journals I check out periodically, and I tend to go straight to their websites to find out if there are new articles appearing. Years ago I would accomplish the same by physically going to the library, which I now do far less frequently. When I need to dig deeper into a topic, then I go through the UNC Charlotte library and use Academic Search Complete or other databases. I don't use use Google Scholar for my own research very often.


Saturday, October 27, 2012

Immigration and the Economy

Remember all the talk about zero migration, the worth of hardcore enforcement efforts, how Mexico was getting so wealthy that would-be migrants chose to stay?

Now meet the growing U.S. economy, which is making all those conclusions even more obviously problematic.

Want a sign that the economy is on the rebound? Illegal immigration from Mexico is starting to rise again, according to a new report.

Immigration from Mexico fell to historic lows during the worst years of the recession. After four decades that brought 12 million people from Mexico to the U.S., people started heading back home and continued doing so from 2007 to 2011.

It's impossible to pinpoint the exact number of people crossing the southwest border with Mexico, but the study by U.S. and Mexican researchers estimates that immigrants headed north in the first half of 2012 outnumbered those heading back for the first time since 2007.

The numbers are much lower than before, which is what we would expect. The U.S. economy needed young workers, and they came in droves. Now there is more of an equilibrium, both economically and demographically.

This is bad news in the sense that it reminds us how immigration reform remains a broken promise by both parties. But it is indisputably good news because it means the economy is growing, which is good for all of us.


Friday, October 26, 2012

Brazil-U.S. Dialogue

Everyone is talking about whether or not Latin America was included in the debates. At least even though Barack Obama never mentions it, Hillary Clinton has been deepening ties with Brazil. For all the complaints about disengagement, lack of leadership, etc. the Obama administration got kudos from the Brazilian Foreign Minister two days ago:

FOREIGN MINISTER PATRIOTA: Thank you so much. Let me say how pleased I am to be in Washington for this fourth edition of our Global Partnership Dialogue. We’ve had frequent high-level contacts between Brazil and the United States over the past two years. We were very happy to welcome President Obama last year to Brasilia, and President Dilma was delighted to come to the White House this year. We had two visits by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Brazil: one in the context of the Global Partnership Dialogue and also the Open Government Partnership that we have been working on together; then for Rio+20. And of course, we appreciated greatly the U.S. participation and Secretary Clinton’s statement at the Conference on Sustainable Development. 
This is my second time in Washington. We are not only having frequent high-level contacts, but I think the quality of the dialogue has also been improving and more in-depth discussions on issues such as possibilities for cooperation in Africa. This time around, we concentrated on the Middle East and the Far East, and I know that the two Under Secretaries who came with me, they found this extremely useful. So we would like to pursue and institutionalize, as you said, Hillary, this mechanism so that we continue deriving the greatest possible benefit from these discussions.

Public acknowledgment of engagement with Brazil is important. Not earth-shattering, but important. It is unfortunate, however, that this stuff does not get reported. There is almost nothing on these meetings, and even the reporting focuses on what Clinton said about the Middle East, not about Brazil.


Thursday, October 25, 2012


--CIPER Chile on drugs in Santiago

--COHA on LGBT rights in Cuba

--Latino Decisions on targeting Hispanic voters

--Colin Snider on a new type of "disappeared"

--Duck of Minerva on academic rejection

--Unredacted on what lesson not to take from the Cuban Missile Crisis

--Yoani Sánchez on the travel reform in Cuba


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