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


Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Financing the Colombian War

Adam Isacson points to this bizarre statement from Roberta Jacobson:

ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBSON: Thank you, Maria. I really appreciate the question. Obviously, I disagree with the notion that we financed the war, or the problem. We certainly supported the Colombian Government over the last number of years, a decade or more.

This is strange mostly because it is so easy to refute. The United States was publicly proud of its financing of the guerrilla war. We were "doing something"! And of course we financed the problem, with all the cocaine injected, snorted, or otherwise ingested by U.S. citizens.


Gender and Politics job

This is brand new. If you know anyone who might be interested, please forward it, and feel free to contact me or the chair of the search committee if you have questions.

The Department of Political Science and Public Administration invites applications for a tenure-track Assistant Professor position in American Politics with an emphasis on gender and politics. The nine-month tenure track position begins in August 2013.  Successful candidates should possess the Ph.D. degree upon appointment. Preference will be given to candidates with strong quantitative skills, prior teaching experience, as well as a commitment to promoting diversity as a value of the department and the college. 
The candidate will teach introductory American Politics (a part of UNC Charlotte’s general education program), Women and Politics, and other undergraduate- and graduate-level courses in the candidate's area of interest.  The candidate will also contribute to UNC Charlotte's interdisciplinary Women's and Gender Studies program ( In addition to the baccalaureate program, the Department of Political Science and Public Administration houses a NASPAA-accredited MPA Program, and is a core constituent in the Ph.D. Program in Public Policy. UNC Charlotte is a doctoral, research intensive university, located in one of the nation's fastest growing metropolitan areas on an expanding modern campus. One of sixteen campuses in one of the oldest public university systems in the United States, UNC Charlotte offers over 26,000 culturally diverse students a wide range of undergraduate and graduate degree programs. The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences houses 20 departments in the humanities, social and behavioral sciences, physical sciences, and military sciences, as well as eight research centers and institutes and 13 interdisciplinary programs. We boast a diverse student body and value faculty members who can relate to our students.
Review of applications will begin November 14, 2012, and will continue until the position is filled. Candidates should submit application materials electronically to https://jobs.uncc.eduPlease attach the following documents with your electronic application: (1) letter of application outlining your research agenda, (2) curriculum vitae, (3) a writing sample, (4) evidence of teaching effectiveness (if available), (5) three letters of recommendation, and (6) copy of graduate transcripts. Alternatively, letters of recommendation may be sent directly by mail or email to Dr. Martha Kropf, Chair, Gender and Politics Search Committee, Department of Political Science and Public Administration, UNC Charlotte, 9201 University City Blvd., Charlotte, NC, 28223; 
UNC Charlotte is an AA/EOE and an ADVANCE Institution that strives to create an academic climate in which the dignity of all individuals is respected and maintained.  We celebrate diversity that includes, but is not limited to ability/disability, age, culture, ethnicity, gender, language, race, religion, sexual orientation, and socio-economic status.  Applicants are subject to criminal background checks.


Latin America in the Third Debate

In my opinion, the third presidential debate was the worst, and I continued watching largely because it was fun to tweet about. But what we saw and heard were two conservatives who believed there is nothing much in the world outside the Middle East. They disagreed so little that Mitt Romney kept nodding his head with the president. Toward the end, I wondered whether he would just go ahead and endorse Obama.

For the third consecutive time, Romney mentioned Latin America and trade:

Number two, we’re going to increase our trade. Trade grows about 12 percent per year. It doubles about every — every five or — or so years. We can do better than that, particularly in Latin America. The opportunities for us in Latin America we have just not taken advantage of fully.

As a matter of fact, Latin America’s economy is almost as big as the economy of China. We’re all focused on China. Latin America is a huge opportunity for us: time zone, language opportunities.

Time zones and language. I guess because more Americans speak Spanish than Chinese? It doesn't matter.

In the two-dimensional foreign policy world presented last night, countries like Mexico and Brazil are cardboard cutouts, just open receptacles for trade if mentioned at all (Obama didn't bother mentioning Latin America in any debate). But maybe that's preferable--when candidates and presidents get worked up about Latin America, we tend to make incredibly bad policy.


Monday, October 22, 2012

Francis Spufford's Red Plenty

Francis Spufford's Red Plenty is a curious novel. Essentially it is a series of roughly inter-connecting vignettes, sometimes with recurring figures--many real, or at least based on real people--and sometimes not. Put together, they form a chronological look at the belief in creating a world of plenty in the Soviet Union, and then the destruction of that belief by the end of the 1960s.

It's about thinking big, and then fearing thinking bigger. We see intellectuals who are excited about the possibilities of planned economies to create wealth for everyone, and then how they are beaten down as their ideas become too big, and too distanced from the demands of the Communist Party. The extravagant dreams of a semi-crazed Nikita Khrushchev were extinguished and he was put to pasture along with a lot of other characters in the novel (note: Khrushchev is not portrayed as some positive figure, but rather as a dreamer and later a "retired monster").

But even the big plans for plenty were so materialistic and impersonal that they ignored human beings. Researchers hoped to create computer programs that would obviate humans and even money entirely. Schemers and thieves took advantage of lopsided realities of supply and demand. Ultimately, planners just decided to make bad copies of American and European products.

It's not the grim "this life sucks" portrayal of the Soviet Union, but rather a clear-eyed view of how the economy really worked and how people navigated it (and, at least for a while, believed in it).

If you want some serious analysis of the book, check out the ebook that contributors at Crooked Timber put togethers.


Sunday, October 21, 2012

Personal Side of Research

Yesterday I wrote a post on the personal side of research, which mysteriously disappeared. Many thanks to Adam Cohon, a reader who had the post on Google Reader and pasted it for me. Thanks!

I am leaving Chile this evening after a few excellent days, and this made me think of methodology.

In political science there are a variety of methodological approaches, which become debates as people invest themselves and their careers strongly in them. What's missing from this debate is the personal benefit derived from particular approaches apart from the professional.

If you do large-N studies, then you gather data from quite a few countries and generate hypotheses from sometimes very large databases. It's time consuming and requires good quantitative methodological training but the payoff is very generalizable arguments and theory development. On the other hand, you don't get to know any particular country very well (or at all).

If you study cases, either by comparing events within them over time or by placing them in a regional context (e.g. Latin America), then you have to dig deep into a country. This is often associated with qualitative methods, but depending on the topic it's also possible to quantify (with, for example, electoral data).

The great thing about studying a country in depth is that research becomes intertwined with personal relationships. On the research side, I've developed contacts with military officers, legislators, and Chilean academics over many years. They generously offer other names, and it snowballs. In addition, I have both academic and non-academic friends to meet up with for coffee, dinner, etc. Some people might think I am crazy, but I've also developed a real fondness for Santiago itself. Research therefore becomes quite fun.

The downside is that you can lose sight of the comparative angle when you are so more immersed in the minute details of a case. I am fascinated by the dynamics of Copper Law reforms, for example, but it is unique so I have to think a lot about what comparative insights it might bring.

This is also where the benefits of blogging come into play. Last night I met up with Peter Krupa, Steven Bodzin, and Juan Andres Abarca, none of whom I had ever met in person but who I had "met" through my blog and Twitter feed. Research led to blogging, which then led to meeting new people.

If any graduate students are reading this, it is something to keep in mind.


Saturday, October 20, 2012

MIssing post

I wrote a post this morning about the personal side of research, which suddenly disappeared. I hope Blogger finds it.


Friday, October 19, 2012

Incentives and the Copper Law

I've been thinking about the incentives in the Chilean Congress to end the Copper Law and replace it with something that gives more control to Congress. The literature suggests that individual members of Congress would be more interested in defense if there was a) more control over funds, which makes defense positions more prestigious; and b) pork for their consituents. Right now those don't exist. Writing a new law that made defense spending the same as other state functions could serve both purposes.

In other words, there should be an incentive to change the Copper Law, which in turn would create incentives to be more actively engaged in defense issues.

Yet we don't see that. Even the law now being debated in the senate currently still includes a (high) floor below which the budget cannot fall and, as I understand it (though I need to read the 2010 Organic Law of the Defense Ministry) keeps control of decisions largely in the executive branch. So, for example, if a member of Congress wished to spend money on, say, a hospital in her district, she can't move funds around. Similar to now, they will be told that there is a certain big chunk of money they can't mess with, and how it will be spent.

There should be an incentive, then, for Congress to vote in favor of giving itself more control. But it doesn't.

There are a number of potential reasons for this. The right doesn't trust the left to spend well. There is latent nationalism--make sure the military always is well equipped because of conflicts with neighboring countries. The military influences the right in Congress. Presidents don't push it hard because they are trying to get votes on other issues and/or their proposals are largely symbolic to give the impression they are doing something.

What we're left with, though, is the fact that the incentives analyzed in the literature just don't hold. Congress remains very passive.


Bachelet's silence

Kenneth Bunker has an article in El Mostrador about Michelle Bachelet's silence about her future plans. Who would've thought saying nothing could cause such political consternation?

The basic point is that her popularity means that silence blocks potential Concertacion candidates from coming forward, and brings criticism from the right that her silence means avoiding discussing her failures.

I've written before that I'd like to see an analysis of presidents who come back after a term or more away. Given her sky high approval rating when she left office, she would be hardpressed to keep it up. But the presidency is always mighty tempting.


Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Military and the Right in Chile

I've had a number of really interesting conversations about the military, which has led me to a new question. I've published on the fact that there relatively little--though gradually growing--interest in defense on the part of civilians. Why, though, is there is a persistent belief that the military's best ally for defense in Chile is the right?

This relates to reform of the Copper Law, which is currently being debated in the senate. I and many others have written about the fact that the military has resisted such reform because it places more control over its defense budget in the hands of the left and center-left. For this reason, there is continued discussion about whether a new law should include a floor below which spending could not be cut.

Yet there is ample evidence, both contemporary and historical, that the left treats the military better. One of the worst budget eras for the military was with the last president from the right, Jorge Alessandri (it was suggested to me that this could be some sort of punishment for how the military treated his father, former President Arturo Alessandri). From a purely defense perspective, meaning professional issues rather than political ones like human rights, the Concertacion has treated the military well. Resentment from the left regarding defense is related directly to the fact that there is no democratic control over a big chunk of the defense budget.

Despite being from the right, Sebastian Pinera cares less about defense than any president in the postauthoritarian era. In that regard there is no comparison with Michelle Bachelet, a socialist who had done extensive coursework in military academies. Her knowledge helped spark reforms in the Ministry of Defense that the military agreed with.

The Copper Law is on its last legs. The military's best option, both politically and professionally, is to support reform without a floor and root for Concertacion presidential candidates.


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Technology and foreign travel

I was thinking today about how drastically technology has changed my foreign travel, virtually all to the better. On this trip, for example, I have made arrangements--both professional and personal--through email, Facebook, and Twitter. I can use Google Maps to figure out exactly where I have to go, and I feel more connected to my family at home.

When I was doing my dissertation fieldwork here in Chile in the 1990s, I spent hours playing phone tag with people, and a single interview could take many days to sort out. Long distance calls were still really expensive.

I am a technophile, but I do wonder about the downsides. When I did my junior year abroad in Madrid in 1990-1991, I was almost totally disconnected. I lived in a dorm, and no room even had a phone. I would set a day and time with my parents, who would call the dorm reception. Then she would ring a bell in my room, which meant I had to run down the hall to what was basically a phone closet. To get any baseball scores, I had to take the metro into the city to buy a slightly aged Sporting News, which I would take to a cafe to read.

What it meant, though, is that I became more immersed. I spoke Spanish more than I would've otherwise, and I explored Madrid more. I wonder whether I would've had the discipline to do that even if I had instant access to everything in the world in my dorm room.


Romney and Latin American Trade

Mitt Romney mentioned Latin America again in the debate. It obviously is uppermost in his mind.

I'm also going to dramatically expand trade in Latin America. It's been growing about 12 percent per year over a long period of time. I want to add more free trade agreements so we'll have more trade.

There is one problem per sentence.

First, I am not sure it is possible to dramatically expand trade, as we already trade quite a lot. The only real way to increase trade is by opening up to Cuba.

Second, and perhaps this answers the first, is that Latin America is definitely not growing at 12%. He might be figuring Latin American countries are growing so fast they can import a lot more U.S. products.

Third, there are not many countries left that are interested in free trade agreements--I doubt he has any particular country in mind. We actually already have a lot.

This is nitpicking to a certain extent. His point is that we need to focus more on Latin American trade, which is fine. But if elected, I wonder whether he will actually be able to do much more than President Obama.


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos

Today I visited the Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos. Here is the outside of it. Unfortunately they do not allow photographs on the inside.

It is a very powerful museum. As you walk up the stairs, you see images of the coup and speakers pour out the sound of soldiers yelling. There are then a number of screens with headphones, so you can see and hear the declarations of the junta, Salvador Allende's last broadcast, and a variety of videos of the air force bombing La Moneda. All of those are unedited and so are just simply presented for you to contemplate.

As a father of young children, the most emotional part for me was seeing the letters that children wrote to their imprisoned parents, which sometimes included drawings of the family.

Obviously human rights is a political issue, but the museum is not politicized. Instead, it focuses on the idea that human beings deserve certain rights, and so focuses on who denied those rights and who fought to protect them.

The placed was filled with school children, and the long-term hope is that this sticks with them when future political crises hit. It creates a living memory rather than something you just read about. Chile has had many conflicts, and often they were resolved with amnesties that served to sweep things under the rug (on this point see Brian Loveman and Elizabeth's Lira series of books on amnesties in Chilean history).

If you get to Santiago then you should not miss it.


Monday, October 15, 2012

MEO and populism

A story in the Santiago Times takes a CERC poll showing Chileans' dissatisfaction with the economy, and then makes the argument that this opens the door to Marco Enriquez-Ominami as a populist candidate.

The "will Chile see populism?" question has been floating around for quite some time, and MEO gets attention because he's the only politician who remotely qualifies as populist. But this article does not ask the question of whether people support him, or even the basic ideas of populism more generally. The obvious parallel is the United States, where dissatisfaction is not generating a populist candidate from outside the main parties.

A different but related question is whether MEO is even populist at all. He is closely tied to the establishment, and simply attaching himself to education is not automatically "populist" in the way the term is most commonly used to describe Latin American politics.

In sum, we have two things going on here, but the causal relationship isn't necessarily clear. Are Chileans really looking to change the "institutional order"? Vamos a ver.


Sunday, October 14, 2012

Personal Side of Case Studies

I am leaving Chile this evening after a few excellent days, and this made me think of methodology.

In political science there are a variety of methodological approaches, which become debates as people invest themselves and their careers strongly in them. What's missing from this debate is the personal benefit derived from particular approaches apart from the professional.

If you do large-N studies, then you gather data from quite a few countries and generate hypotheses from sometimes very large databases. It's time consuming and requires good quantitative methodological training but the payoff is very generalizable arguments and theory development. On the other hand, you don't get to know any particular country very well (or at all).

If you study cases, either by comparing events within them over time or by placing them in a regional context (e.g. Latin America), then you have to dig deep into a country. This is often associated with qualitative methods, but depending on the topic it's also possible to quantify (with, for example, electoral data).

The great thing about studying a country in depth is that research becomes intertwined with personal relationships. On the research side, I've developed contacts with military officers, legislators, and Chilean academics over many years. They generously offer other names, and it snowballs. In addition, I have both academic and non-academic friends to meet up with for coffee, dinner, etc. Some people might think I am crazy, but I've also developed a real fondness for Santiago itself. Research therefore becomes quite fun.

The downside is that you can lose sight of the comparative angle when you are so more immersed in the minute details of a case. I am fascinated by the dynamics of Copper Law reforms, for example, but it is unique so I have to think a lot about what comparative insights it might bring.

This is also where the benefits of blogging come into play. Last night I met up with Peter Krupa, Steven Bodzin, and Juan Andres Abarca, none of whom I had ever met in person but who I had "met" through my blog and Twitter feed. Research led to blogging, which then led to meeting new people.

If any graduate students are reading this, it is something to keep in mind.


Thursday, October 11, 2012

Do Your Manuscript Review

Serving as a journal editor has meant I've learned a lot about the process. I know what makes authors, reviewers, and editors happy, and I know what annoys them. I have a sense of what is reasonable, and what is unreasonable.

Today I just want to mention one bad practice, namely agreeing to do a review of a journal article and then later refusing to complete it. I had a reviewer say simply that he "declined," as if that negated the original acceptance to do so, when I sent him a reminder email.

Don't do this. If you have any doubt about your ability to get a review done, then say no right off the bat. Why did you say yes in the first place?

What happens now is that very late in the game I have to find another reviewer, which delays the process for the author. That author will soon be emailing me to ask about the status of their review, and unfortunately good manners prevent me from telling them the name of the individual who screwed things up for them.

It's unprofessional, so don't do it.


Chávez and Maduro

I'm quoted in this Businessweek story on Hugo Chávez picking Nicolás Maduro. He called at a hectic time in the early evening so I tried to stay coherent.

Obviously Chávez overcame all the concerns about his health for the purposes of the election, but with the next six years set he seems to recognize that the VP needs to be someone he would actually want to step in (and who is loyal enough not to try and overshadow Chávez). Maduro fits that bill, and reassures chavistas about the potential direction of the country if Chávez becomes incapacitated or dies.

By the time of this term, Chávez will have been president for twenty years. That made me wonder about who has served as executive for the longest period in the context of democratic elections. Wikipedia has a list of national leaders who were in office 30 years or more, and there is not much democracy in the list. Same with the list of current leaders. Twenty years through elections is quite a feat.


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Romney and Paternalism in Latin America

Here is an articulation of Mitt Romney's positions on Latin America. It is clearly written by someone who knows nothing about the region, and is cloyingly paternalistic. This paragraph is a perfect illustration:

Latin American nations like Colombia and Brazil, which have achieved a fragile political stability, look to the United States for essential leadership and public support in the face of these internal and external threats.

The author seems not to understand that the Colombian president has thawed relations with Venezuela and is not looking to the United States for anything. And what's up with the assertion that Brazil is fragile and needs the U.S.? Good grief.

It occurred to me, though, that paternalism underlies virtually all criticisms of Barack Obama's Latin America policy. Latin American leaders "look to" the United States and are rudderless if the U.S. government does not give them guidance. There is a "threat" emanating from Venezuela and only the United States can provide the civilizing power necessary for goodness and light to once again shine.

This is all a crock, of course, but it plays well in the U.S. media. The myth of American exceptionalism requires that other nations be framed as weaker and less able than we are. I can imagine Brazilian and Colombian leaders simply shaking their heads in disbelief about how they are portrayed.


Monday, October 08, 2012

Happy Columbus Day!

So there's this guy. He really defines "hero," if by that we mean he got lost and didn't know what he was doing, then did what he could to pursue state-sponsored terrorism. What does it mean to be a state sponsor of terrorism? Here's what the State Department says:

In order to designate a country as a State Sponsor of Terrorism, the Secretary of State must determine that the government of such country has repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism

That hits the nail on the head for our guy and his state. Ironically, at one point he was around Guantánamo, though there weren't any suspected terrorists there yet.

But back to our story. He was directly and indirectly responsible for many deaths, which didn't bother him much because he was intent on making a lot of money and preventing freedom of religion. He wasn't very good at the former, but excellent at the latter. He was so good at abusing people that the government put him on trial.

He's dead now, but if he were alive he'd probably be bitterly disappointed that slavery is gone and indigenous people are allowed to walk around freely. Perhaps his main positive legacy is providing you with discounts at various stores for an annual sale.

Happy Columbus Day!


Sunday, October 07, 2012

Venezuelan voting abroad

Voting abroad can be a highly ideological issue. In Chile, for example, the right has tended to resist granting the right on the assumption that people who left the country were predominantly from the left.

For Venezuela's president election, we see the opposite. Voting abroad already is on the books, but Venezuelans abroad--or at least those in the United States--tend to be on the right. And many of them are in Miami.

The result? In January the government claimed it was too dangerous to have any consular personnel in Miami. So now Venezuelans in Miami must go to New Orleans to vote. One estimate has 7,000 of them taking buses.

The right to vote from abroad comes from the constitution and the Organic Law on Electoral Processes. Since the Chavez government could have changed these, it made me wonder whether voting abroad rights had ever been revoked in a country. From a PR perspective it would be difficult. Easier, then, just to make it more of a hassle.


Friday, October 05, 2012

Latinos and the presidential race in Charlotte

In the past few months, I've been asked a number of times about the small number of Latinos who were registered to vote in North Carolina. My basic answer is that the parties have not done as much outreach as they could, and here is some more evidence:

And in battleground states like North Carolina, $11 million has been spent on ads targeting Hispanics.  
That’s eight times what was spent on Spanish-language ads in 2008.  Still, little if any of that money is being spent on Charlotte’s Spanish-language media, says  Hilda Gurdian. She’s the publisher of La Noticia, the region's largest Spanish-language newspaper, based in Charlotte. Her paper also has offices in Asheville and Raleigh. But when she contacted both presidential campaigns, they keep telling her the same thing: they’re not ready to advertise in Charlotte.  
And she finds that surprising because Latinos make up more than 13 percent of the population in Charlotte. 

So there is an increase, but not so much in Charlotte. This is a mistake for the parties, though understandable from a strategic perspective. My hunch is that the campaigns figure that the relatively few Latino voters in Charlotte can be reached in English, and with a finite amount of money that is the best bang for your buck. 

The mistake is that cultivating Spanish-speakers--many of whom are young and unregistered, either because they're not 18 yet or because they simply haven't done so--will pay lots of dividends later. Mecklenburg County is critical for winning the state, and has a large number of young Latino citizens. It would be wise for both parties to consider that after the election.


Thursday, October 04, 2012

Latin America in the Debate

I watched the debate last night, and had far more fun tweeting and reading tweets than watching. But I was surprised when Mitt Romney inserted Latin America into his opening statement.

My plan has five basic parts. One, get us energy independent, North American energy independent. That creates about four million jobs. Number two, open up more trade, particularly in Latin America; crack down on China if and when they cheat. Number three, make sure our people have the skills they need to succeed and the best schools in the world. We’re far away from that now. Number four, get us to a balanced budget. Number five, champion small business.

When I recovered from the shock of hearing Latin America in a debate, I wondered what the heck he was talking about. We have FTAs all over the place in Latin America and have tons of trade even with our so-called adversaries. Interestingly, Romney does not even mention Latin America in the trade portion of his campaign website.

Just as an example, from a 2011 CRS Report for Congress:

So our exports have been growing. It's fine to aim for more, but he made it sound as if this was some pressing problem. I know, I know, it was a debate, and those are not meant for facts.


Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Autism at CMS

I've been blogging for over six years about Latin America, and it is only now that I need to write about something else, very personal yet also tightly bound to public policy.

If you care about autism, read on. If your child is in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS), read on. If neither applies, please read on anyway.

My 10 year son has high functioning autism, which makes his life challenging in ways my wife and I work daily to grasp, even after years of reading, talking to (and paying) every expert we can find, and listening to him. He does not intuitively understand how to make friends, how to deal with conflict, or know what others are thinking.

His brain does not work that way. But he is brilliant. And I mean brilliant in a way I wish I was, with amazing understanding of planes, electronics, and mechanics. I have a Ph.D. and am a full professor, but his intensity of knowledge at that age amazes me. With a rigorous academic environment, he could thrive.

But CMS fights us. They tell us they've never seen anything like him, that he's emotionally disturbed, incapable of achieving what we think, and it must be our fault as soft parents. His academic level is high, so he's in a Talent Development (TD) school, Irwin Academic Center. Last year he was at Croft Community Elementary, which treated him so poorly that we filed a successful state complaint that ruled he was denied a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE), a serious finding.

After years of fighting, we managed to get him an IEP (Individual Educational Plan) based on his disability, part of which details how discipline needs to be administered because it is so delicate with an autistic child. However, his IEP is inconsistently honored, and he was just suspended even though the school clearly did not follow the IEP stipulations.

What does this mean in practice?


Imagine a teacher leaving a room of 10 year olds all alone. Then imagine putting a 10 year old in charge of disciplining a peer with autism, encouraging the peer to publicly humiliate those who in her eyes misbehave. This means actively encouraging a child with autism to fight back. That is what led to the suspension.

I don't get it. I just don't. CMS has no classroom for children with high functioning autism, and our requests even to talk to the new superintendent, Heath Morrison, have resulted only in condescending emails.

We know many parents who have fled CMS because of the conscious failure to accept the fact that some children have high functioning autism and need more help in the classroom with recognition of their high academic potential. For someone like me who is the product of all public schools, from kindergarten through Ph.D., this is truly depressing.


Tweeting and conferences

Inside Higher Ed has an article about tweeting at conferences, which apparently has a lot of people up in arms. The thrust of the argument is in fact rather sad, since it revolves around fear of having one's ideas disseminated. My feeling is that if you are very concerned about having your ideas stolen or somehow misrepresented, then don't present at a conference in the first place. In general, everyone should be really happy that their ideas are being discussed publicly at all. That should be a good thing!

There was also this argument:

Where some of her peers consider Twitter a constructive tool for batting around ideas, Nopper says she believes that the main reason scholars tweet sessions has more to do with personal branding at a time when many academics are scrambling to be noticed. "Along with it simply being distracting to some presenters, we need to consider how live-tweeting at conferences is a form of neoliberalism, with scholars employing social media to increase name recognition in and outside of the academy in hopes of getting more paid opportunities," she wrote.

I don't know anyone who makes money by live-tweeting at a conference, and I can't imagine how one would go about doing so. Corporations do not have their employees covering the hashtags of academic conferences to send out cash.

In any event, having your ideas and your name disseminated is good for you. Being noticed--whether you are the presenter or the tweeter--should not be viewed in a negative light.


Monday, October 01, 2012

Lessons of the Cuban Missile Crisis

Here is my entry for the Lessons of the Cuban Missile Crisis contest.

Lesson: putting a line in the sand (or in this case the sea) is dangerous because it reduces the scope of potential negotiation and makes war much more likely.
 In particular, President Kennedy sought to block Soviet ships going to Cuba, but was careful to phrase the action as “quarantine” rather than “blockade.” Further, he indicated that only ships carrying offensive weapons would be turned back.
 Achieving policy goals without going to war is not simply a matter of firmness, which if wielded too bluntly will back an adversary into a corner. As JFK dictated to himself on October 18, “I was most anxious that we not have to announce the state of war existing, because it would obviously be bad to have the word go out that we were having a war rather than a limited blockade for a limited purpose.” At the last minute, he even switched the interception radius from 800 to 500 miles after a Soviet ship crossed it.
 The military was pushing him very hard to attack, either with missiles or an invasion. Curtis LeMay told Kennedy he was convinced that the non-military strategy would “lead right into war.”  He believed that taking a “strong stand” was the only way to be sure the Soviet would back off.  Providing diplomatic wiggle room, however, allowed for alternate strategies to be followed before the use of force. Refusing to draw a line in the sand meant that LeMay’s argument was proven to be exactly wrong, and Kennedy achieved his policy goal without escalation.

It does not take a genius to see how this applies to the current policy debate about the Middle East between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama. Romney talked incessantly and aggressively about a "red line" beyond which Iran would not be allowed to go, in a way that was Curtis LeMayish. He has since backed down a bit:

"I do not believe that in the final analysis we will have to use military action. I certainly hope we don't have to," he said. "I can't take that option off the table – it must be something which is known by the Iranians as a possible tool to be employed to prevent them from becoming nuclear. But I certainly hope that we can prevent any military action from having to be taken."

The difference is whether war is viewed as a first option, or as a last option. Making your adversary believe that war is inevitable is a poor way to address a crisis.


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