Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Reorienting the drug war

This post really follows up on yesterday's. There is an article by Ralph Espach in The Atlantic about the potential effects of drug legalization in Central America, which makes some good points.

Drugs are a major problem in Central America, but they are worsened by a much bigger problem, one that can't be solved by legalizing marijuana, cocaine, or opium: the lack of public security. From the out-gunned police on the streets to the weak judges in the courts to the corrupt politicians, communities and countries struggle to maintain basic control over their own security. Ultimately, drug legalization -- like the drug war it's meant to solve -- would succeed only if public security is fixed and would fail if it isn't. That means better-trained and -equipped police, new campaign finance rules, faster and more independent courts, and even improved prisons. It means addressing not just the problems in the police and courts but the widespread poverty, malnourished children, and poor education systems. It means creating transparency in the public sector, curbing corruption, and breaking the long-standing links between organized crime and politics. Without these enormously difficult steps, neither drug legalization nor any drug war are likely to solve Central America's problems.

I agree that drug legalization will not "solve Central America's" problems, but I've never actually heard anyone argue that it would.

Instead, I see the current discussion in Latin America as a "critical juncture."  This refers to a moment when the trajectory of something can be changed.  As Collier and Collier put it in Shaping the Political Arena, they may involve a "relatively brief period in which one direction or another is taken or an extended period of reorientation" (p. 27).  In the context of the "drug war," it means the opportunity for a regional rethinking of policy. This doesn't necessarily mean legalization--which should not be viewed as a monolithic policy in any case--but rather willingness to look at all options based on what has succeeded and failed up to this point.

A very good idea would be for the Obama administration to get out in front of this, and convene a forum/meeting with representatives from every country. It wouldn't have to result in anything binding but rather would be an opportunity for each country to air its views. We need an opportunity to take stock and see what kind of consensus exists, and what divisions remain. Hopefully this would lead to some sort of policy reorientation that would be broadly acceptable, or at the very least would take the Latin American side more into consideration.

Of course, it won't happen, especially not in an election year. But the U.S. can keep ignoring Latin American views at its own peril.


Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Local violence in Mexico

Via Aguachile: local level violence in Mexico is increasingly a deadly problem, affecting 52% of municipalities (1,269 of them). In nine states, 90% or more of municipalities had deaths related to "la narcoguerra."

Even more depressing is that in 2011, 122 municipalities went from zero executions in 2010 total to a combined 241. Those were concentrated in Veracruz, Oaxaca, Puebla, Jalisco, and San Luis Potosí, meaning the center of the country is now getting hit harder.


Future of the Latin American drug war

One potential sign that a policy is a failure is when the government has to keep insisting that it's not a failure. Janet Napolitano is in Mexico and Central America:

Ms Napolitano denied the drug war of the US and Mexico was a failure but rather "a continuing effort to keep our peoples from becoming addicted to dangerous drugs".

This isn't really an answer. Any policy by definition is an "effort." The question is whether that effort is achieving its stated goals, and in the "drug war" it is really hard to find evidence to that effect. It is rather sad that Napolitano, whose job centers on monitoring such things, can't come up with a better answer.

No one knows where the decriminalization debate in Latin America is going, but once again the United States is  isolating itself by refusing even to engage it. At the very least, it is incumbent upon the U.S. to provide evidence about which components of its policy are clearly working and which are not.

Given the statements by Otto Pérez Molina, the Latin American drug war is gradually transcending ideology. As a result, in the future I can envision some type of regional initiative, based not on decriminalization per se but a broad rethinking of Latin America's priorities and policy options. Presidents in the region are very far from consensus on the issue, but I can still see them coming together with discussions that the United States government still considers taboo. Self imposed isolation would be the likely result.


Monday, February 27, 2012

El Rey Rafael

Rafael Correa announced he would pardon the owners of El Universo and the authors of the book El Gran Hermano. He did not do it for himself, but for the people. He was not abusing power, but just protecting human rights. A grand victory, etc., etc., etc. If you read Spanish, then you can get the gist through the presidency's Twitter account @Presidencia_EC.

It is common for presidents to have some type of pardon power. Of course, in the United States it is often controversial (the pardon of Richard Nixon being the most infamous, but there are countless other examples).  So that alone doesn't set Ecuador apart.

What makes this particular case unique is that the president launched a legal campaign against private media, then announced that he would decide whether or not to pardon them. In other words, he consciously and aggressively took on the role of both prosecutor and judge simultaneously. He did so with as much spectacle as possible (see the photo, for example) and the government even took note of admirers calling out about his "noble heart." Taking on this sort of monarchical stance is not good for democracy.


Improving the race

Imagine a president saying to the parents of a blonde baby that they are "improving the race" (mejorando la raza). That's what Sebastián Piñera did (video from The Clinic at about 1:34). You're just supposed to pinch cheeks, not say how glad you are that the cheeks are white.

For a president with the worst approval ratings in the entire western hemisphere, and unable to connect to many outside his social class, this is not helpful. It is also a reminder that race matters even in places where race supposedly doesn't matter.


Sunday, February 26, 2012


The FARC says it will no longer kidnap people, and claims it will release those people it has already kidnapped. A few thoughts come to mind:

First, the FARC has no credibility. I hope this is true, but their leaders are not trustworthy. Just read the official statement yourself (in Spanish)* as it is a tribute to bizarre thinking about how hard the FARC has tried to foster reconciliation (you know, by killing and kidnapping people).

Second, even if true this is essentially just saying we've decided only to keep killing people rather than abducting them for our own financial or political gain. In other words, it just means they return to the normal business of guerrilla war in a country where they have no support.

Third, the Colombian government's crusade to kill FARC leaders is paying off, as the guerrillas are reeling in leadership terms. Even if they renege, just making such a rhetorical concession is important. As always, though, we need to recognize that the government's effort has also led to the second largest displaced population in the world, second only to Sudan.

Fourth, and more troubling, is that cocaine income has made kidnapping revenue less necessary, so the FARC can take the cut without getting hit the way it would've 10 years ago. As long as Americans take drugs, the FARC will have a strong financial base to work with, which of course is an obstacle to ending the conflict.

*it is actually dated February 26, 2002. Apparently they FARC can also turn back time.


Saturday, February 25, 2012

Defining relations with Mexico

In an interview with ExcelsiorRick Santorum says relations with Mexico are not strong right now, and he defines relations with Mexico as more border security.

Las relaciones entre Estados Unidos y México “no parecen particularmente fuertes en este momento”, dice Rick Santorum, el por ahora principal competidor de Mitt Romney por la nominación presidencial del Partido Republicano. 
“Necesitamos fronteras seguras y no las tenemos, obviamente”, dijo Santorum, que como otros aspirantes republicanos firmó un “compromiso” para erigir una barda de seguridad a lo largo de los límites con México. 
“Hay obviamente muchos problemas en la frontera y eso no es bueno”, agregó el candidato, un católico conservador, durante una conversación con Excélsior poco después de haber tomado ceniza y en su primer pronunciamiento en torno a las relaciones con México. 
“La seguridad de la frontera es una prioridad”, dijo Santorum, que fue diputado y senador por Pennsylvania.

The irony is palpable. To the extent that relations with Mexico have soured, in large part it is due to insistence on building fences rather than addressing the broader problems of a broken immigration system, drug demand, weapons sales, and other U.S.-centered issues. Any president who defines relations with Mexico as border security is guaranteed to make relations worse.

h/t Patrick Corcoran


Friday, February 24, 2012

Immigration Groundhog Day

A member of Congress argues that places like California are becoming too "Latinized" and that Mexican immigrants are driving down wages. He therefore introduces legislation to reduce the number of Mexicans coming to the United States. The president disagrees, arguing that the U.S. is trying to maintain good relations with Mexico and that the proposed legislation is not fair. The Senate passes it anyway, but business interests manage to make it die before it reaches the president's desk. Some of the furor dies down a bit because economic downturn is reducing the flow of immigrants.

Sound familiar? It was in 1930 and was President Hoover.

Google News Archive is a fun diversion.


Thursday, February 23, 2012

Anne Frank and the DR

Anne Frank was given a Mormon posthumous proxy baptism (a phrase I had never seen before) in the Dominican Republic this past Saturday.

Though the church regularly conducts proxy baptisms for dead, in what it calls an attempt to give everyone a chance to accept salvation through Jesus, it has a 1990s-era policy against conducting such baptisms for Holocaust victims.

This just confuses me. Aside from the fact that dead people are not in a good position to accept anything, why was this odd spectacle conducted in the Dominican Republic?


Immigration and big government

Big, BIG government. From last night's Republican debate:

Newt Gingrich says he would devote as many resources as necessary to securing the U.S.’s southern border and that he would build two separate fences at the border to make it more difficult to cross illegally. He also says he’d send thousands more employees of the Homeland Security Department to border areas....

Mitt Romney says he would put more resources into securing the border and support programs that make it more difficult for illegal immigrants to work in the U.S. 

And there's more big government:

Rick Santorum also said he would beef up efforts to combat illegal immigration.

Ron Paul is the only one who said that the enforcement measures were largely a waste of money.

Although I disagree with the enforcement-only policy, I understand its logic. The problem comes when the argument arrives wrapped in the rhetoric of small government. With the exception of Ron Paul, all of the candidates' proposed solutions will require drastic increase of government spending, enlargement of the federal government's workforce, and expansion of the federal government's power over individuals.

All I ask, therefore, is that those facts be recognized by anyone espousing enforcement-only policies.


Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Cartoon on Honduran prison fire

h/t Adrienne Pine at Quotha


Bobby Abreu

I found this tweet amusing. Bobby Abreu is from Venezuela, but it's pretty unusual for an embassy to raise the issue of a player-manager baseball dispute!


More lies and rumors in Venezuela

The Hugo Chávez saga keeps chugging along. He says there is a good chance the lesion is malignant and is going to Havana because "allá [en Cuba] hay más seguridad para este tipo de operación," by which he means no information can get out.

What this also means is that Venezuelans will likely increasingly consider rumors as more reliable than government sources. The current rumor is that the "lesion" is really a rapidly growing tumor the size of a golf ball. Given experiences from past months, this might not be true but it is more likely to be true than whatever the government says.

One of Chávez's problems is that, despite efforts to stifle it, the opposition press is alive and well in Venezuela. In Cuba, this isn't a problem for the government. Unlike with Chávez, the vast majority of rumors about Fidel Castro's health have been wrong. In Venezuela there are too many leaks to plug, so Chávez tries to follow a Cuban model of secrecy that does not fit his country.

The end result is confusion and distrust, which is exactly what the country does not need at the moment.

Read more here:


Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Lies vs. rumors in Venezuela

After the government rejected rumors that Hugo Chávez had gone to Cuba over the weekend, he announced he went to Cuba over the weekend. He still refuses to say what exactly is wrong with him, but only that there is a small lesion in the same place that will need to removed. And, of course, he will have it done in Cuba where control over information is complete and no one will know what is going on.

This would be laughable if it weren't referring to the president of a polarized country in an election year. The government has consistently lied about Chávez's condition and still will not tell the people of Venezuela what is wrong with their elected leader. Yet that same government (through the Minister of Communication) says the opposition is conducting a "dirty war" by spreading rumors that in fact we find out are true. In other words, the rumors are far more credible than the government itself.

It is hard to see how this strategy of constantly lying and then having the world discover your lies is working to Chávez's benefit. That leads logically to the following question: if you really believe your health condition is not dire, then why lie so much about it?

Update: even the Venezuelan Embassy keeps up the idea that the rumors are somehow false, when in fact they were true.


Baseball Prospectus on the Padres

Baseball Prospectus 2012 arrived in the mail, always a key sign that baseball is coming. I am pleasantly surprised by their take on the Padres (I am guessing written by, or at least mostly written by, Geoff Young). Yes, it does mention that "Fans are sick of 'rebuilding,' but this is going to be another year of it," but it also says:

Bottom line: The Padres are poised for a return to respectability. They had it from 2004 to 2007, slipped, caught a glimpse in 2010, and now are looking to make their next move.
Shoot for .500 in 2012, integrate more young talent into the everyday lineup, and keep your fingers crossed.

If you have bothered reading this far, you may be shaking your head at viewing those conclusions in a positive light. One benefit of being a longtime Padres fan is that your expectations remain low, and so just the idea that we might climb up toward respectability--perhaps not losing more games then we win--has a pleasant ring to it.


Monday, February 20, 2012

Undocumented immigrants and taxes

From the Immigration Policy Center, here's a table regarding state and local taxes paid by households headed by undocumented immigrants in 2010, which totaled an estimated $11.2 billion. It's from last year, but I hadn't seen it before. There is a very, very common belief--often rooted simply in misunderstanding rather than any antipathy--that undocumented immigrants pay almost nothing in taxes.

For a snapshot, here is another figure from the report. North Carolina is tenth in revenues.


Maybe they leave, maybe they come back

This is the sort of news article that should make every social scientist wince. The argument is that undocumented immigrants are coming back to Alabama because the state's most restrictive immigration laws are being blocked.

Now, on to the evidence:

No one knows how many people initially left the state, so it's impossible to say how many have returned. But some illegal immigrants are trickling back, unable to find work elsewhere and missing the place that had been home for years. 
Of 18 Hispanic immigrants interviewed by The Associated Press in the Birmingham area, six said they had friends or relatives who had returned to Alabama after fleeing because of the law.

Let me translate that:

We decided to interview some people we found on the street for a tiny and unscientific sample. Then we generalized their experiences to talk about an entire state, while admitting we have no idea whether what we argue is true.

So maybe people left, and some people came back. But from this article we can't really say anything with more precision than that.


Sunday, February 19, 2012

The end of 287(g)?

The budget proposal for the Department of Homeland Security shows that the Obama administration plans to reduce the 287(g) program in favor of Secure Communities, and it is reasonable to believe they will eventually phase it out. From page 101 of the budget proposal:

FY 2013 Major Decreases:
• Realignment and Reduction of 287(g)…………………………………..-$17.0M (-24 FTE)
This request reduces the 287(g) program as Secure Communities reaches nationwide
deployment in FY 2013. The Secure Communities screening process is more cost effective
in identifying and removing criminal aliens and other priority aliens than the officer-focused
287(g) model. Proposed funding reductions in FY 2013 will impact the 287(g) jurisdictions
with the lowest criminal identifications.

And from page 16:

287(g) Program: In light of the nationwide activation of the Secure Communities program,
the Budget reduces the 287(g) program by $17 million. The Secure Communities screening
process is more consistent, efficient and cost effective in identifying and removing criminal
and other priority aliens. To implement this reduction in 2013, ICE will begin by
discontinuing the least productive 287(g) task force agreements in those jurisdictions where
Secure Communities is already in place and will also suspend consideration of any requests
for new 287(g) task forces.

This seems mostly a question of labeling. From page 15:

Secure Communities: The FY 2013 Budget includes funding to complete nationwide deployment in FY 2013 of the Secure Communities program which uses biometric information and services to identify and remove criminal and other priority aliens found in state prisons and local jails. Secure Communities is an important tool in ICE’s efforts to focus its immigration enforcement resources on the highest priority individuals who pose a threat to public safety or national security. While we continue to focus our resources on our key priorities, DHS is committed to ensuring the Secure Communities program respects civil rights and civil liberties. To that end, ICE is working closely with law enforcement agencies and stakeholders across the country to ensure the program operates in the most effective manner possible. We have issued guidance regarding the exercise of prosecutorial discretion in appropriate cases, including in cases involving witnesses and victims of crime, and implemented enhanced training for state and local law enforcement regarding civil rights issues related to the program, among other recent improvements.

This has the same goal, namely to connect federal and local law enforcement for the purposes of deporting criminal undocumented immigrants who end up in local jails.

Some local law enforcement, including near me in Gaston County, aren't happy about the reduction. Since the federal-local connection will remain, the concern may stem from the explicit mention of cutting funding to 287(g) jurisdictions that didn't find many criminals. The purpose of these programs is to find criminals, not simply to deport lots of people, and so if you didn't as many criminals as other jurisdictions then you won't get any more money.

Given the administration's proven commitment to deporting more people than ever before in history, I would be very surprised if the phasing out of 287(g) reduced that commitment.


Michael Chabon's Summerland

Michael Chabon's Summerland is a really quirky book. I don't force myself to keep reading books that don't interest me, and several times I contemplated setting it aside. Yet its quirkiness brought me back. The plot centers on Ethan Feld, a boy who is drawn into a parallel magical world and has to play baseball (barnstorming with a motley group of kids and creatures, including a kindly female Sasquatch) in order to save everyone from destruction.

It is loaded with symbolism and mythology, with references ranging from Alice in Wonderland to Paul Bunyan to Norse cosmology (the world is held together by a massive tree). My complaint is that Chabon gets bogged down too often in the mythological references, so the plot periodically comes to a dead stop.

Nonetheless, the themes are eternal and endearing. The sounds and smells of baseball, the relationship between fathers and children (mothers for some reason don't appear much), good versus evil, and happy endings. With baseball upon us, it's not a bad choice.


Saturday, February 18, 2012

Tony Gwynn

The news that Tony Gwynn had 15 hours of surgery to remove cancerous tumors from his mouth (and then replace cheek nerves with some from his neck and shoulder) was particularly sobering for me. In San Diego during the 1980s, Tony (and very often people refer to him only by his first name--you just know to whom they refer) became an idol when I was a teenager attending lots of games. He even acquired the nickname "Mr. Padre." Not only did he have an amazingly sweet swing that sent so many balls to the 5.5 hole, but he was also the most affable athlete imaginable. When you think of the Padres, you think of Tony.

As a kid I had the chance to talk to him very briefly at autograph signings, which only reinforced his image of being a really nice guy. I have this print by Christopher Paluso in my office on campus. I hope Tony has a full recovery.

It also reminds me of the "Bring Back the Brown" movement to go back to brown uniforms. Tony played in the heyday of the brown:


Friday, February 17, 2012

Summitry punditry

Eric Farnsworth says the U.S. needs to exclude Cuba from the Summit of the Americas.

Andres Oppenheimer says let Cuba come and then grill its government.

I don't have strong feelings on the matter, though I feel sympathetic to the grilling view. Boz argues that the grilling option could lead to an ALBA walk out, but I think walking away while complaining about democracy won't leave ALBA countries looking too good. Same goes with talk of the boycott.

For now, the official position of the U.S. is no.

"The countries of the Americas, by consensus at the 2001 Quebec Summit, made clear the Summit process is open only to democratic countries," the U.S. Embassy in Bogota said in an emailed statement Thursday. "The U.S. supports that shared commitment and looks forward to the day when a democratic Cuba takes its rightful seat at a Summit of the Americas. Sadly, that day has not yet come."

That's rather hard to back off from, unless perhaps you tweak the definition of "Summit process." One problem is that even Colombia is open to the idea of including Cuba. Increasingly, the U.S. finds itself with no allies when it comes to Cuba.

Allowing Cuba to attend in some capacity while also making it known that grilling will occur is perhaps a way to compromise a bit while not giving up on the idea that democracy matters.  On the other hand, this is a presidential election year and Florida matters, so Obama will feel a lot of pressure not to relent.


Correa and the media

Rafael Correa's aggressive attacks against the media in Ecuador puzzle me a bit. He is a popular president with a considerable amount of power, and really doesn't gain much. Sure, he muzzles some opposition but they're weak to begin with. Plus, it does nothing to quell any discontent there may be in the police and military.

Instead, he shows himself to be terribly thin-skinned and brings a negative international spotlight to the country. In a country with a recent history of military intervention and instability, feeling insecure is understandable. I just don't see how going after the media makes Correa any more secure.


Thursday, February 16, 2012

Latin America or Bayer between the legs?

Please watch, and talk amongst yourselves about the craziest part. Is it the Latin American part, or not?

Such a short segment, yet such a tough choice.


Venezuela needs oil revenue more than it needs Iran

Senator Richard Lugar offers the following logic about Iran and Venezuela:

Venezuela, in sympathy with its friend Iran, could at the same time cut off its oil exports to the United States or take other steps to disrupt oil supplies.

This makes no sense. Hugo Chávez desperately needs oil revenue, and desperately needs the revenue that comes from the United States. Further, he has nothing to gain by wrecking his own economy for Iran.

Let me spell this out further. Hugo Chávez is running for re-election this year.  He needs cash for his spending projects, and cannot afford a serious economic crisis, which oil disruption would foster.  I think it is fair to argue that the vast majority of Venezuelans would resent being punished for the sake of Iran, and the opposition would surge.

Chávez loves to stick his finger in the eye of the United States government, but does not do so at his own expense.


Hispanic registering and voting

Here is a rather troubling graph from the Census Bureau regarding registration and voting by the Hispanic population in the United States. The register and vote less than other groups (though are very similar to Asians in those regards) and have voted more infrequently over time.

Latinos vote overwhelmingly Democratic, so this is major challenge that the party has not been successful at addressing. Despite all the talk of "the Latino vote" it is not a mobilized cohort.


Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Otto Pérez Molina and legalization

The fact that Otto Pérez Molina proposed legalizing drugs is notable for several reasons.

First, it bucks all assumptions, including mine, that he would pursue a mano dura-only policy. Of course there is a military component but it goes far beyond just that.

Second, I can't remember a conservative president so openly talking about how U.S. policy is wrong: "We are not doing what the United States says, we are doing what we have to do." That sounds like Evo Morales.

Third, it is a sign that the United States has gradually been isolating itself. Even Juan Manuel Santos is talking about legalization. Overall there is now consensus across the ideological spectrum that the U.S. strategy in the "drug war" is failing, and that attention needs to shift.

The U.S. view on the drug war has changed little in the past 25-30 years, and the transformation of the conservative mindset in Latin America is catching it flat footed. This could become like Cuba policy, where the U.S. stands alone and claims without evidence that the policy is working.

See also boz, Americas Quarterly, Mike Allison.


Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Island madness

The Falklands/Malvinas saga is a depressing morass. There seems to be precious little sanity on any side.

--The press on the islands is crazy.

--The situation is so ridiculous that Sean Penn, that noted Latin Americanist, even gets press about it.

--Cristina Fernández wants to score some nationalist points.

--Even Argentine soccer wants a piece of the nationalist pie.

--The British governments is acting insufferably arrogant.

--Along similar lines, the Obama administration's moderate view generates vitriol from British conservatives.

--ALBA helps to ratchet up tension.

--Fidel Castro tries feebly to make a joke about it and ends up sounding incoherent.

--Even Argentines can be confused about whether the islands really belong to them.

--I guess the 500,000 sheep on the islands don't care whether they are British or Argentine, but the situation is so ridiculous that the human inhabitants feel the need to proclaim, "We're not all sheep farmers."

There just doesn't seem to be any middle ground. Control over the Malvinas is part of the Argentine constitution and British control over the Falklands is part of the EU treaties. It is framed as a zero sum game and both governments have staked a major political claim from which they cannot retreat. The two probable outcomes seem to be either armed conflict or figuring out a way to punt the still unresolved issue into the future.


How not to make state immigration law

With a sad echo of Georgia, an Alabama lawmaker says he did not even think about the immigration law he voted for, and now has buyer's remorse.

"My bill is to correct those unintended consequences that is putting undue hardship on Alabama citizens." 
Senator Gerald Dial is leading the charge to change parts of the illegal immigration law.  
He says he didn't consider the long-term consequences of the law when he voted in favor of it and has introduced a bill to amend parts of it.

I wrote about this sort of thing last year, when the governor of Georgia said he needed to study the law after he had already signed it.

This is a trend that would be risible if it weren't so galling. These laws affect millions of people in a very direct way and received intense media scrutiny, and these lawmakers could not even bother to read them, much less ask questions about their probable impact?

To say these are "unintended consequences" is misleading. Perhaps they were unintended, but they were foreseen.

The lesson here is that if an immigration law comes up in your state, you should assume that the loudest proponents are likely the most ignorant of it.


Monday, February 13, 2012

Academic writing rules

I happened to come across the Get a Life, Ph.D. blog, which is focused a lot on writing. Writing is the lifeblood of any academic, since publication of written work determines success in our discipline. There are now a number of different blogs that focus on writing, or at least the mechanics of getting something ready to submit for publication. It's a useful thing to discuss.

What tends to turn me off, though, are the rules. The explosion of blogs about academia mean a concurrent proliferation of people prescribing academic rules. Increasingly, I cringe when hearing rules you must follow to succeed. I like suggestions, but rules grate. Take the following:

Don’t stop for anything. It is only 20 to 30 minutes, and nearly all phone calls, emails, visitors, and even bathroom breaks can wait.

That would kill me, and I mean kill me dead, and I just don't see the point. I don't understand why I would willingly become the prisoner of a timer, especially if I really need to go to the bathroom. By all means, try it if you like. If it works for you, then great, but look at it as one rather odd possibility as opposed to a rule.

Look, we all have rhythms. Some like night, some like morning. You like office, you like home. You like checking a particular citation as you go, or you don't. You like longhand, or you like typing. You like saving PDF sources, or you like printing a hardcopy. You like checking email, or you don't (why this obsession with not checking email? Doesn't make sense to me). If you have kids, then you work around their schedules, which defy all easy rules. You do well in 1-2 hour chunks, or 20 minute speed sessions. Some like writing groups, others prefer solitude. You like self-abnegation, or you don't.

So make sure you don't get discouraged if other people's rules don't work for you.

See also my post on ignoring advice for academic bloggers.


Sunday, February 12, 2012

Quote of the day: Honduras

"They took off, and there I was. The democratically elected president of Honduras, standing in my pajamas in the middle of a runway in Costa Rica," Zelaya says. "I said to myself, 'So this is that great new future everyone is talking about for Latin America?' "
--Mel Zelaya


Chile's weak Congress

Joel W. Johnson, "Incumbents Without a Campaign Finance Advantage: Competition and Money in Chile's Congressional Elections." Journal of Politics in Latin America 3, 3 (2011): 3-33.

Abstract (full article is ungated)

Research from various countries has shown that incumbents in legislative elections raise and spend more money when they face a tougher contest. A statistical analysis of Chilean candidates’ campaign finance disclosures shows the opposite: an inverse relationship between incumbent spending and electoral competitiveness. This occurs because Chile’s deputies are relatively limited in their influence over policy and pork and because the congressional electoral system makes most competitive contests relevant only to the intra-coalitional balance of power. This account implies that political finance is as much a function of political systems and the supply of contributions as it is candidates’ demand for funds, and motivates several hypotheses about campaign finance in Chile. Among others, the analysis confirms that incumbents and challengers compete on a level playing field, spending similar amounts of campaign finance. The paper also illustrates that incumbents and challengers fare equally well in Chile’s “secret” donation system.

There is a glass half full/glass half empty vibe here. It's good that incumbents can't vacuum up enormous amounts of money that give them a large advantage against challengers.

The reason for this, though, is that the Chilean legislature is weak. I learned this early on when studying civil-military relations. The military budget is really out of legislative hands, and defense policy comes from the military and the executive branch. Without much power over money, members of Congress can't help special interests, which then have little incentive to give them contributions.

It's notable that although the electoral system is changing in Chile, the essential role of the legislature is not. Coalitional dynamics might change, but members will still lack the power of pork.


Saturday, February 11, 2012

How not to conceive of policy

I love this quote from David Rivera, a Republican Congressman from Florida, because it so perfectly encapsulates how to fail when making Latin America policy and to achieve the opposite of what you want. He is referring to leftist governments.

“Yes, we should isolate them and use sanctions,” he said. “But at the same time: To truly end the spread of socialism, we should do everything we possibly can to get a closer relationship with the people of these countries … There are so many NGOs (non-government organizations) promoting education, cultural communication, human rights and much more. We should promote this, help them grow, to prevent an anti-American message.”

Here's the plan. We hurt the citizens of the country as much as possible economically, which will then give them a more pro-American viewpoint and help foster regime change. It has worked wonders in Cuba.


Friday, February 10, 2012

Bad arguments about the Latino vote

CNN has an opinion piece on the importance of the Latino vote for the 2012 election that perpetuates the bad arguments I've periodically written about. There are three major problems.

First, growth of the Latino population does not mean there are registered voters. This should be common sense when you're dealing with a cohort with lots of foreign born individuals. He cites North Carolina without discussing the extremely low number of Latino voters. There is a tendency to conflate current and future trends.

Second, immigration is not the most important issue to Latinos when deciding who to vote for. It just isn't. How many polls do we need before people start internalizing this fact?

Third, this is just wrong:

Hispanics lean Democratic, but it's not a base Democratic vote. Hispanics cast their ballots on issues and in favor of the candidates rather than for the party, much like 40% of the population, which is now considered independent.

Latinos are overwhelmingly a Democratic base. They definitely do not just "lean." He falls into the very common trap of believing that "independents" are truly independent. In fact, a minority are.

In short, the Latino vote is definitely important, but not in the sweeping, generalized, simplistic manner too often portrayed.


Mexico travel warning

The State Department's travel warnings could be a source of interesting research. Given the importance of tourism, for example, how much do they deter Americans from going to particular countries?

In this context, the State Department just revised its travel warning for Mexico. It goes state by state with an unflinching and detailed look at violence.

Nevertheless, U.S. travelers should be aware that the Mexican government has been engaged in an extensive effort to counter TCOs which engage in narcotics trafficking and other unlawful activities throughout Mexico.  The TCOs themselves are engaged in a violent struggle to control drug trafficking routes and other criminal activity.  As a result, crime and violence are serious problems throughout the country and can occur anywhere.  U.S. citizens have fallen victim to TCO activity, including homicide, gun battles, kidnapping, carjacking and highway robbery.  
According to the most recent homicide figures published by the Mexican government, 47,515 people were killed in narcotics-related violence in Mexico between December 1, 2006 and September 30, 2011, with 12,903 narcotics-related homicides in the first nine months of 2011 alone.  While most of those killed in narcotics-related violence have been members of TCOs, innocent persons have also been killed.  The number of U.S. citizens reported to the Department of State as murdered in Mexico increased from 35 in 2007 to 120 in 2011. 

On its face, this would not appear to be too good for tourism. People already hear all kinds of news stories, often exaggerated, but this is the government talking. So are would-be tourists affected?

It's debatable. The Mexican government reported that it hosted more foreign tourists in December 2011 than ever before. This has included a 10 percent increase in Americans visiting. The government expects a surge this year, since apparently people don't mind potential violence as long as they get a chance to experience the end of the world.


Thursday, February 09, 2012


Check out Iran's vaunted entrance into the Latin America news business, HispanTV. Scrolling around, my first impression is that it simply duplicates Telesur. There are three main themes:

--the importance of Venezuela

--the importance of Cuba (seriously, the lead story for Latin America is currently "Paraguayan Foreign Minister Visits Cuba")

--disgust with the developed world

In other words, the same as Telesur, which actually has more on the Middle East as well.

What this suggests is that such a network will have limited influence. What fresh content does it have to offer that Hugo Chávez is not already providing? In short, is it reasonable to argue that anyone in Latin America will look more favorably on Iran--or Iran's worldview more generally--as a result of this network?


Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Pendergraph in the 9th

I wrote yesterday about my member of Congress retiring*. Former County Sheriff and current County Commissioner Jim Pendergraph tweeted his intent to run mere minutes after Sue Myrick's Facebook announcement. Obviously that was no coincidence. There are more potential names, but I haven't yet heard any other official announcements.

Pendergraph is solidly against anything but enforcement with regard to immigration. In 2009 I wrote an op-ed in the News & Observer about the 287(g) program, which he implemented in Mecklenburg County, and he responded rather testily.

Democrats are saying the seat could possibly be won by a conservative Democrat, especially given redistricting. It is true there are a lot of unaffiliated voters, but my sense is that they lean Republican. I will have to wait and see more evidence. This will be an interesting ride since our governor also announced she would not run again, plus the presidential election.

*this article helpfully reminded me that she first ran back in 1994 on a platform of term limits.


Tuesday, February 07, 2012

50 years of the Cuba embargo

I've repeated myself about the Cuba embargo, probably excessively. But I cannot give up the opportunity to note its 50th--yes, fiftieth, as in big five-oh--anniversary.* I won't belabor any points, but will simply note what it has accomplished. In no particular order:

1. Giving Fidel and Raul Castro an excuse for their own economic failings
2. Isolating the United States in the world
3. Isolating the United States in Latin America
4. Denying economic opportunities to U.S. exporters
5. Denying Cubans the opportunity to have contact with the United States
6. Accentuating the influence of a micro-constituency in Florida

Ironies abound here, but the worst (or best, depending on how you view it) is that the policy was explicitly intended to enact regime change, but instead the Castro regime is the longest lived in the history of Latin American dictatorships.

I want, and I mean really want, to read an argument about how the embargo has advanced U.S. policy goals, human rights, or democracy. I've never been able to find such an animal.

*in fact, some economic restrictions were already in place under the Eisenhower Administration.


Sue Myrick retires

My member of Congress, Sue Myrick, has announced she will not run again in November. Faithful readers may remember that she has said many outlandish things about Latin America. She is also vociferously opposed to immigration reform (especially since she believed Venezuela was smuggling people into the U.S. through Mexico).

I live in North Carolina's 9th district, which is a funky-shaped safe Republican district (it is funky partly to allow for the even funkier 12th district; lawsuits are currently underway regarding redistricting). It seems the last Democrat to win a seat in this district did so when JFK was elected president. Mecklenburg County overall went for Obama in 2008.

Myrick has held the seat for 17 years, so there will be an interesting scramble. I assume the victor will similarly be opposed to immigration reform, but I can only hope that he or she has a more reasoned view of Latin American politics.

Twitter is currently humming.


Failing to stop failure

Nicholas Casey at the Wall Street Journal explains a vicious but avoidable cycle in U.S. policy toward Latin America. Republicans charge that the Obama administration is losing influence in Latin America, but then retaliate by blocking nominations, which in turn reduces U.S. influence even more.

The Republican strategy has left many in the U.S. government perplexed about how to engage the vast territory. Even in countries where relations are frayed, ambassadors usually have links to the local president's office and Washington policy makers, influencing everything from business disputes to elections. Embassies without ambassadors are usually led by diplomats called charges d'affaires, but they only serve on a temporary basis. 
"Obviously, embassies continue to work on important issues without an ambassador," said a senior U.S. government official close to the case. "But not having an ambassador muffles our voice. There are things that need to be spoken about. The bully pulpit just isn't as effective without an ambassador."

It is a disturbing trend. It is hard to see the utility of cutting off channels of communication and influence. Certainly doing so does not give the U.S. more leverage. In classic form, in the article Roger Noriega is quoted in the article as saying it is good to block nominations, though not when he himself was blocked, because that was "obstruction."

The entertainment value of Roger Noriega notwithstanding, this all points to the fact that U.S. policy goals in Latin America (and often elsewhere) are decoupled from effective strategies to achieve them. I challenge anyone to explain how nomination blocking serves to further specific policy goals (as opposed simply to the domestic political goal of thwarting Barack Obama) in the region. Instead, we are left with the argument that we must send the proper "signals" to governments we don't like, even though these feeble messages are ignored or even mocked.

The odd thing here is that if you want to meddle, and many conservatives very much want to meddle in Ecuador, Nicaragua, Venezuela, and elsewhere, then historically ambassadors have made excellent meddlers. It is a very powerful position. Instead, there is a pattern of biting off your diplomatic nose to spite your political face.


Monday, February 06, 2012

Undocumented immigrants in Kansas

Dear Undocumented Immigrants in Kansas,

We realize that we need your labor. It has become quite clear that you are doing necessary jobs that our residents are not applying for. Therefore we are going to talk to the federal government about making it easier for our businesses to hire you. We're glad to have you working for us!

There's just one little glitch. We don't really want you here. Sometimes we just feel like shooting at you from helicopters and we are concerned about your "olive complexion." We definitely don't want to spend any money on you or your children. So we will make sure you cannot get food stamps and that you are ineligible for worker's compensation.

So we appreciate you coming to our great state and boosting our economy, and will endeavor to treat you as poorly as possible. Thanks!

Your truly,

The State of Kansas


Sunday, February 05, 2012

Confused about the Bay of Pigs

Classic. Just...classic. From Unredacted--great blog of the National Security Archive--the CIA argues that release of the last volume of its internal history of the Bay of Pigs would "confuse" people and so it should remain secret.

The idea that scholars would come to "erroneous" conclusions is hardly an argument at all. Historians and political scientists disagree on just about everything, and more primary documents will more likely lead to useful debate rather than some unified view the CIA would consider "distorted." Further, given how much debate there still is about the Bay of Pigs, it is hard to imagine what kind of bombshell remains that would alter that debate very much.

Either way, it's insulting. The public has a right to know (and even a right to be confused!). Even if the CIA historians are discredited for this case, then that is an important part of history as well.


Friday, February 03, 2012

Military DREAM

An article at The Hill asks whether Democrats should support a version of the DREAM Act that only includes military service. Both Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney claim to support that, though of course Romney only did so on his way to Florida.

Striking a compromise would allow Republicans to earn some points with Hispanic voters and lessen pressure on Republican lawmakers to support more comprehensive immigration reform. 
Walking away from possible common ground, however, could leave Democrats open to criticism that they missed a chance to make incremental progress. 

I don't think Democrats have much to fear. Latinos overwhelmingly support the DREAM Act, but my hunch is that support would drop like a stone if it meant only funneling people into the military.

We actually just had this discussion in my Politics of Latin American Immigration to the United States class. There are several points to keep in mind (and some of these ideas, I should note, came from a student discussion).

First, the DREAM Act is not intended to grab desperate military recruits who don't really want to be there. If you make the armed forces the only option, then that's what it becomes. Immigration and militarization is a delicate mix.

Second, the military is downsizing as we try to end two wars. Therefore it makes little sense to have it be the only option.

Third, through no fault of their own many people are ineligible for the military but are primed to go to college. They are out of luck under this plan.

Politically, Democrats likely have more to gain by insisting that the DREAM Act--which has majority support in the country--be passed in its entirety, and let Republicans explain why they refuse. I hope someone is putting out some polls as we speak to see how all this is perceived.


Thursday, February 02, 2012

Proposal to reform binomial system

Yesterday I blogged about the likely reform of Chile's electoral system. Miguel Centellas asked about existing proposals, so I poked around a bit.

Here is a PDF link from La Tercera with the brief proposal submitted by the presidents of the Christian Democratic Party and Renovación Nacional. They envision a semi-presidential system with the following characteristics:

1. The president can dissolve the legislature

2. The president chooses a prime minister who must be approved by a majority in the legislature

3. Proportional representation in the legislature (with specifics to be worked out later)

4. Term limits for all positions

5. System of primaries

6. Public financing of political parties

If you take this basic formula and add it to the recent passage of the voluntary vote and automatic registration, then you end up with a potentially radical change to the status quo. Chile would have a large number of new, mostly young, registered voters, along with a system that allows for small parties to gain representation. Those parties, in turn, will receive some sort of public money to help support them.

Details will matter. Having a prime minister doesn't automatically mean all that much. Can you name the current prime minister of Peru? It does, however, mean that coalitions will still be necessary.

And the details of proportional representation will matter a lot. There are any number of ways to construct it, that put more or less power in the hands of party elites versus voters.

Here is Ignacio Walker, president of the PDC, calling on President Piñera to act on the proposal: Here is Carlos Larraín, president of RN, explaining why he believes there needs to be a change. It is a-comin'.


Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Piñera and the binomial system

In Chile, the electoral system is so tightly bound to a particular historical era--the dictatorship--and a particular political group--the far right--that it generates tremendous conflict. It is, in fact, even dividing the right. Sebastián Piñera, currently the least popular president in Latin America, recently announced that he did not consider the binomial system a priority.

From the Santiago Times:

In a continued show of bipartisan politics, the center-right National Renewal (RN) and center-left Christian Democrats (DC) held a meeting Monday to appoint Andrés Zaldívar and Jorge Burgos to head their initiative on binomial reform. 
Zaldívar, an RN senator, and Burgos, an RN deputy, will attempt to work with President Sebastián Piñera, who is an RN member himself, on the reform and hope to have a formal bill submitted to Congress by March. 
Along with DC Sen. Ignacio Walker, the two parties want to take the proposal their parties had previously submitted and turn it into a concrete political blueprint for changing the binomial system.

It is only a matter of time. The far right is not happy, but consensus has slowly grown over the years. Piñera's passivity will do him no favors. It would seem to cost him very little to endorse a reform that is going to happen anyway, unless he feels he needs that nod to UDI is necessary to get other things passed.

Update: Twitter response noted that Zalvídar and Burgos aren't RN. Excellent point, which I missed. Basic idea, though, remains the same.


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