Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Better But Still Terrible

The Wall Street Journal hits this one on the head for both content and headline. Poverty and inequality in Latin America have gone down but people live on a razor's edge:

Since 1995, extreme poverty, defined as individuals earning less than $2.50 per day, has been cut in half, to 13% from 26%, according to World Bank figures. The drop comes with a major caveat: “The largest segment of the region’s population still remains vulnerable to falling back into poverty, with 40% of the population living with incomes above the poverty line” of $4 per day.

I don't consider myself a glass half empty person, but rather from years of studying Latin America it's obvious that proclaiming success is a dangerous game. Everyone wants to do so badly--Chavistas and free marketeers alike feel a pressing need to prove that their ideas have resolved long-standing challenges and therefore are superior.

Just yesterday Gabe Aguilera tweeted in response to my blog post about Enrique Krauze's op-ed, and it applies here too:

@aguilera1: @GregWeeksUNCC Things are bad. Especially in Central America and the Caribbean Basin. Paradoxically, they have also never been better...

In other words, better but still terrible.


Monday, December 30, 2013

Bill Bryson's One Summer: America, 1927

Bill Bryson's One Summer: America, 1927 is a good read only because it was written by Bill Bryson. By this I mean it really has no stated point but that's OK because it's funny and sarcastic. Strangely missing from the lengthy prologue is any explanation about why he wrote it.

Beyond his writing, what made me connect to the book was its unrelenting insistence that the grand, glorious and glamorous 1920s, the heyday of which was 1927, was in so many ways either no better than now or much, much worse. That appealed to me since one of my pet peeves is hearing the pining for the good old days of fake nostalgia. You will not come away feeling nostalgic after reading this book. I have no idea whether this was his intent.

It is roughly chronological, though there is inevitable jumping, chock full of vignettes. That made it perfect for tweeting, which I did in the several days it took for me to read it.

The upshot is that America in 1927 was a place where people followed sensationalistic murder stories with excited interest while ignoring real news about other countries; where athletes were revered despite the fact that many of them were terrible human beings; where racism, anti-Semitism, and gender discrimination were rampant and often celebrated; where mindless desire for profit soon led to disaster; and where corruption was widespread.

There were good things, of course. Charles Lindbergh showed how much aviation could achieve, though he himself was odd, anti-Semitic, and pro-eugenics. Movie and television technology led to all kinds of innovation. So it wasn't all bad.

So don't read it if you want a recreation of F. Scott Fitzgeraldish Jazz Age images (incidentally, in 1927 he was on the decline and practically begging for jobs) but if you want to think about how far we have or haven't come as a country, then it's well worth it.


Another Weak Latin America Op-Ed

Enrique Krauze has a curious op-ed about Latin American politics in the New York Times.

First, it stems from a friendly disagreement he had with Mario Vargas Llosa a few months ago, which immediately leads me to ask why he didn't publish it a few months ago.

Second, he concludes that things look good from Peru and bad from Mexico, which may explain divergence from Vargas Llosa but tells us little about the region.

Third, he totally ignores Central America. If you want to talk about how great the problems of coups and political violence are, then it's a problematic omission.

On the other hand, I suppose it's good to have an op-ed that does not just consist of "the U.S. needs a grand strategy toward Latin America" or "Venezuela is at the forefront of a Hezbollah/Iran/Al Qaeda offensive against the American Way."


Sunday, December 29, 2013

Brazil's Foreign Policy Challenges

Oliver Stuenkel writes about Brazil's foreign policy challenges. Since it is a list, and end of year lists tend to have 10 items, so does his. I am glad to see, though, that he acknowledges this dose of abitrariness!

One point I agree with is the need to make a commitment to the nitty gritty of foreign policy by making sure the diplomatic corps is not understaffed. Wikileaks cables even show how the U.S. was aware of that problem. You can't be a player without it.

One point I am not sure about is the need to commit to the BRICS concept. He notes there is skepticism, and I tend to share it. These countries are just lumped together without much rhyme or reason. Plus, Russia is in fact a power that has declined rather than one on the rise. What leverage does this give Brazil? High profile meetings don't hurt, but they don't necessarily matter.


Friday, December 27, 2013

Latin America and Commodities

I've written about this so many times, but the news cycles on Latin American economies are predictable. Basically, you read about how awesome Country X is doing because of GDP and exports. Some time later, you will read how Country X faces an economic challenge of some sort. The structural causes are the same: dependence on commodities. That part generally is mentioned but remains unanalyzed.

So, for example, we hear that Latin American currencies are falling because demand for commodities is down:

Brazil’s real has lost 13 percent this year, extending its decline since the end of 2010 to 30 percent. The Chilean peso dropped to a two-year low on Dec. 3 and is down 9.2 percent this year. Mexico’s peso has declined the least, falling 1.2 percent, while the Colombian peso and Peruvian sol dropped more than 8 percent. Argentina’s peso, managed by the central bank through regular foreign-exchange market interventions, tumbled 24 percent, the most since 2002.

OK, but why did this dependence remain and diversification not occur when the money was flowing in? That is the interesting question, though I can understand why it's always omitted--the target audience for these articles consists of people who don't care. Their goal is making money, not promoting reform.


Thursday, December 26, 2013

Outlawing Parties and Blowback in Latin America and Egypt

Outlawing political parties you don't like has a long history in Latin America. So as Egypt declares the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization we can look at, among other things, the Communist Party in Latin America.

I thought immediately of the ironically named Law for the Permanent Defense of Democracy in Chile, which outlawed the Communist Party in 1948 and lasted for a decade. During that time, however, the party became even more popular than before and in a short time joined the coalition that brought Salvador Allende to the presidency. As in Egypt, outlawing the party was done in the name of national security but under it lay concern (or in the Egyptian case, knowledge) that the party could win elections. It needed to be proscribed so it could not have that chance.

Or you could look at the Guatemalan Labor Party, which was the Communist Party and had influence in Jacobo Arbenz's government when--like Mohamed Morsi--he was overthrown and the party was outlawed. The result was radicalization and decades of civil war.

The point here is not that these parties are somehow paragons of democracy, but rather you cannot successfully legislate them into oblivion. Even more importantly, there is a very high probability that in doing so you will make them more popular and powerful, and perhaps even more radical than they already are.

There almost certainly will be blowback, the suffering of unintended--but in this case entirely foreseeable--consequences. Back in July 2013 I made essentially the same point about supporting coups in Egypt vs. Latin America. I also wrote a piece for Foreign Policy on the problem of boycotting elections in Egypt vs. Latin America.


Sunday, December 22, 2013

Old News on Colombian Covert Action

Dana Priest has a lengthy article in the Washington Post about covert action in Colombia. I kept reading and reading, waiting to see something that was not already common knowledge, but then got to the end without finding it.

The U.S. has been helping the Colombian government track the FARC and provide bombs to dismember it, including an attack over the border in Ecuador. That was over five years ago and even at the time everyone knew it was impossible that the Colombian military was spearheading it.

Alvaro Uribe and Juan Manuel Santos are both committed to bombing their own country to defeat the FARC--or force it to the negotiating table--and the U.S. has provided billions since 2000. Legal niceties are unimportant and there is a black budget with tons of secrecy. Sadly, this just confirms what was already conventional wisdom. So what's new here? There are some slick maps, photos of Super Tucanos with teeth painted on them, and a few juicy operational details but little meat.

Perhaps I am just too jaded after reading and writing about this for so long. It is good for people in the U.S. to read this, though unfortunately the tone is so rah-rah that it doesn't encourage a critical response.


Saturday, December 21, 2013


In both op-eds and news stories about the Chilean election, both in the U.S. and in Chile (though admittedly more in the former, I think) you see plenty of mention of both Pinochet and transition. I published a book chapter on the latter a few years ago, looking at how no one could even agree when the transition was supposed to be over, whatever that meant.

Augusto Pinochet has been dead almost exactly seven years, and has been out of office for almost 24. So how long does it continue? There are many countries with personalistic dictatorships and traumatic pasts, but after a certain point their politics are no longer defined by that leader.

Francisco Franco died in 1975, for example, and Spain suffered a coup attempt in 1981, but then moved steadily toward a stable democracy--how long before people stopped saying post-Franco? In the Dominican Republic they even went around renaming all the streets/places Trujillo had named after himself, and eventually was no longer "post-Trujillo."

In Chile, part of it is institutional. The country still has the constitution he commissioned, and the broad contours of an economy that he was finally convinced to champion. There are calls to change them but they're very sticky. Michelle Bachelet wants to change them but votes will not be easy to come by. Let's see if the 2017 presidential election is similarly framed by Pinochet and the dictatorship.


Friday, December 20, 2013

Richard Helms' Six Mile Creek

Richard Helms' Six Mile Creek is a murder mystery with a bit of social commentary attached to it. The setting is a small North Carolina town, not too far away from a larger city like Charlotte. A high school girl, who is Latina, is found murdered. Police Chief Judd Wheeler investigates.

It's not filled with Deep Thoughts, but the overall theme is about preconceptions and deep seated views. Everyone assumes there is a race war brewing, when there is not. Everyone assumes drugs have not reached the town, when they have. Everyone holds high school football players on a pedestal, when they don't deserve it. The stereotype that turns out to be justified (in the novel, anyway) is that rich white men who control small towns are largely jerks.

Chief Wheeler solves the crime, of course, as well as a few others that pop up along with the way. What he finds is high school replicating adulthood. The same obsession with money and status. Even ethnicity is subsumed under that, Anglo-Latino tensions are less about "difference" per se and more about encroachment on women or turf.

What is oddly missing is a single African American character. The town is Anglo or Latino.

As a solid mystery, I recommend it.


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Confused About the Bay of Pigs?

From the National Security Archive: The CIA does not want to release the secret final volume of its internal history of the Bay of Pigs because people would get "confused." The problem is that the CIA disagrees with its own historian:

A 400-plus page report by the CIA’s inspector general critiqued the invasion. Pfeiffer, the CIA historian, in turn critiqued the inspector general’s report in the still-secret fifth volume of his history. Pfeiffer’s supervisor, though, called the volume a “polemic” troubled by “serious deficiencies,” and said that it would not be published. 
“Dr. Pfeiffer’s account (was) an uncritical defense of the CIA officers who planned and executed the Bay of Pigs operation,” the supervisor, J. Kenneth McDonald, later stated.

Read more here: http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2013/12/12/211491/lawsuit-seeks-to-unlock-cias-secret.html#storylink=cpy
This is the Bay of Pigs we're talking about. It's already a well known foreign policy disaster and has been for, you know, over a half century. It can't get worse!

I see the CIA's point, though. It's confusing to hear a government agency deviate from a single programmed line. We're used to lockstep and our brains might explode if we're suddenly faced with something else that requires thought.

I like the point that the Constitutional Convention records were only sealed for 30 years and we know how contentious they were and how much higher the stakes. Rip the band-aid off, release the book, and move on.


Maduro's Economic Hangover

Back in November, Nicolás Maduro declared the early beginning of Christmas in anticipation of the December elections. Sometimes after a party, though, you suffer a hangover. Moody's has provided that:

New York, December 16, 2013 -- Moody's Investors Service has downgraded the Government of Venezuela's local and foreign currency ratings to Caa1 from B1 and B2 respectively. The outlook on both ratings remains negative. The key drivers for the action are: 
1. Increasingly unsustainable macroeconomic imbalances; and
2. Materially higher risk of an economic and financial collapse. 
The downgrade reflects Moody's view that Venezuela is facing increasingly unsustainable macroeconomic imbalances, including a skyrocketing inflation and a sharp depreciation of the parallel exchange rate. As government policies have exacerbated these problems, the risk of an economic and financial collapse has greatly increased.

That came a few days after Standard & Poor's did the same:

S&P cut the rating to "B-", already well into junk-bond territory, and added a "negative outlook" to the rating.
[I]t expects further deterioration of the situation, which "could increase the risks of a government debt default over the next two years".

A response I've often seen is that the inflation rate is not so different than from the past and so is being exaggerated. Then the logic gets tortured in a way that's unintentionally ironic.

The Toronto Star is worried about inflation in Venezuela – but did it worry in the decade of the 1970’s when inflation jumped from 7.6% to 20.4%? Or that in the decade of the 80’s the average inflation rate was 19.4% until it reached 47.4% in the decade of the 90’s?[1] And what world newspaper or politician at that time forecasted with undisguised glee the ruin of the Venezuelan economy? None.  Which newspaper denounced the immoral excesses – mistresses, drinking, fraud and corruption- of presidents Betancourt, Leoni, Caldera y Carlos Andrés Pérez? None.

Yikes! What this Chávez supporter argues is that inflation (and the numbers she cites are lower than now) was part of a past economic collapse but the media shamefully ignored the collapse. Remember that the past collapse heralded regime change and the triumph of chavismo. By extension, then, she's acknowledging that history can repeat itself, but she's just mad that it is getting media attention.

I have no idea what will happen to the Venezuelan economy, but the government and its supporters are finding it increasingly difficult to explain things in a credible way. The latest blackout, for example? It was a imperial-loving fascist saboteur with a gun. There is proof of this, though I guess we're not allowed to see it.

Hangovers are no fun.


Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Snowden and Brazil

Edward Snowden apparently is still looking to Latin America and there is plenty of parsing his open letter to Brazil. He's careful not to make a formal request, which would box Brazil in and possibly make it even less willing. But he says:

Many Brazilian senators agree, and have asked for my assistance with their investigations of suspected crimes against Brazilian citizens.

I have expressed my willingness to assist wherever appropriate and lawful, but unfortunately the United States government has worked very hard to limit my ability to do so -- going so far as to force down the Presidential Plane of Evo Morales to prevent me from traveling to Latin America!

Until a country grants permanent political asylum, the US government will continue to interfere with my ability to speak.

I read that as a quid pro quo.

Dilma Rousseff would have to decide that a long-term break with the United States is desirable. Whoever takes Snowden cannot have good diplomatic relations, period. Therefore we would expect a government to do so only if it saw long-term gain in antagonizing the U.S. It's hard to see that in Brazil.

Of course, the U.S. will be sending private signals not to accept, but let's see if it does anything public. Screwing around with planes helped lead to Nicolás Maduro's asylum offer, which originally was not forthcoming.

Isn't it interesting, too, that Snowden wants Brazil, which has not said yes, instead of Venezuela, which already has? Venezuela is just not a stable enough place these days.


Monday, December 16, 2013

Discontent and Support for the Left

Nina Wiesehomeier and David Doyle, "Discontent and the Left Turn in Latin America." Political Science Research and Methods 1, 2 (December 2013): 201-221. Link here (ungated).


The electoral success of the left across Latin America has largely been interpreted as a backlash against globalization and a manifestation of anti-market voting of citizens increasingly frustrated with their experience of representative democracy. However, studies trying to test these propositions show rather inconclusive results and face the problem of translating objective economic conditions into observable individual perceptions. This article contends that theories of subjective well-being in psychology and economics can shed light on this left turn. In particular, life satisfaction, as a manifestation of experienced utility, can help explain the electoral outcomes observed throughout the region. The findings show that support for the left is higher the more unsatisfied voters are under a right incumbent.

I am mulling this one over. It employs sophisticated methods to argue that when people are dissatisfied while an incumbent from the right is in the presidency, support for the left will be higher.


If current left incumbents are unable to deliver policies that improve the electorate’s well-being, they run the very real risk of losing office at the next election, as the results from our individual-level models suggest. Future research should concentrate on the dynamics behind life satisfaction and policy delivery to fully untangle the implications for the survival of the incumbent president.

I feel like there must be something I am missing. It seems a truism to say that as people feel unsatisfied under an incumbent, they will think of voting for someone else. The net gain here, I think, is measurement of dissatisfaction. But would we expect any other result? Am I being uncharitable?


Turnout in Chile

Lots of news stories about yesterday's Chilean presidential runoff election mention turnout. The worst offender is Fox News Latino: "Michelle Bachelet Wins Chilean Presidential Election in a Landslide, Despite Small Turnout," as if turnout and margin were somehow related. You can win or lose big no matter how many people vote.

The turnout focus, though, doesn't get adequate explanation. Voter registration is now automatic in Chile, but voting became voluntary, whereas before it was compulsory. There was every reason to believe that turnout would plummet. In particular, the combination of a lopsided contest and a stable economy left many people figuring there was no reason to vote. It happens in the United States all the time.

Plus, young people vote in smaller numbers than older people. Telling young Chileans they could choose whether or not to vote didn't change that.

So 41% of registered voters decided they would participate in an elected whose outcome was clearly predetermined. If you think about it that way, it doesn't sound quite as bad, or surprising.


Friday, December 13, 2013

Stripping Away The Oil Reforms In Mexico

We talked a lot in the U.S. about how polarized we are, but in comparative perspective our congressional debate is stuffy and tame. If they really cared then they'd strip. From Mexico:

This is about the oil reforms, which get to the heart of nationalism for many Mexicans ("stripping" the nation, he said). If Democrats were really so mad at George W. Bush, or if Republicans are really so mad at Barack Obama, why do they stay clothed?


Eric Pettis' Just A Minor Perspective

Eric Pettis' Just A Minor Perspective was the perfect light, short book I needed around finals. It is his account for low-A short season baseball in Williamsport. In many ways it's about becoming a small cog in a very big machine, and becoming a set of numbers rather than a person. Even the numbers are hard to parse--he made the All Star team and his stats are good (the book ends on a high note) but he has not played since 2011. Baseball is just not a very forgiving profession.

He takes it all in, the college player suddenly thrust into professional sports, and is quite perceptive and funny. He was humbled by the draft (where he was first ignored and then picked very late) and remained level-headed, despite the grind and constant PBJs:

Even though we were assured by our trainer that "it's actually good pregame meal," my intestines didn't always agree. But humans are made to adapt, even it if is to peanut butter and jelly.

Why is it that pitchers, especially relievers, seem to have the most writing talent and eye for the funny and unusual? These are fun books but it would be great to see some more variety--don't tell me there isn't some smart catcher or power hitter.


Thursday, December 12, 2013

FRUS: Declassifying the Guatemala Invasion

As I've mentioned multiple times over the years, I am a very big fan of the Foreign Relations of the United States series, which I find endlessly fascinating. Via the State Department Historian's Twitter feed, here is a 1981 document trying to figure out how to compile the American Republics, 1952-1954 volume. The problem is that this covers the invasion of Guatemala and the CIA wasn't willing to declassify a lot of it and the NSC didn't want some of it released. The Office of the Historian wasn't too happy.

In any declassification controversy, there is a point at which HO must opt to cut its losses, but I regard the decision to go forward with publication in this case as premature for the following reasons:
  • it puts the onus for failure to publish the record of, or to account for, a well-known covert episode squarely on the Department of State and the Office of the Historian, thereby seriously eroding the credibility of the series;
  • it radically changes the nature of HO's mission, in spite of its current mandate, without the sanction of higher levels in the Department of State or the Advisory Committee on Historical Diplomatic Documentation;
  • it imposes a form of self-censorship on the series, and suggests that there is compelling logic to move the threshold of self-censorship from the declassification to the collection phase of the production process;
  • it eliminates the possibility of testing the CIA's claim that there is a distinction between policy and operations, and that the former may be releasable;
  • it forecloses an appeal to the NSC on deletions of materials appearing almost verbatim in previously published volumes, thereby encouraging the NSC to widen this practice;
  • it establishes a strong negative precedent for other Foreign Relations volumes in progress, thereby jeopardizing a substantial aggregate of documentation; and,
  • it weakens the position of the Department of State in dealing with the anticipated negative reaction of the consuming public.

Good for them! In the short term, though, the State Department lost. As the Cold War ended that began to change. In 2003, an entire volume was dedicated to Guatemala, with the following press release:

The operation to overthrow Guatemalan President Jacobo Arbenz Guzmán in 1954, a decisive event in U.S. relations with Latin America early in the cold war, is the topic of a retrospective volume of the Department of State's official documentary history, Foreign Relations of the United States, released on May 15, 2003. As part of a sub-series of the Foreign Relations series that documents the foreign policy of Dwight D. Eisenhower's administration, this retrospective volume supplements the 1983 publication of Foreign Relations of the United States, 1952-1954, Volume IV, American Republics. The 1983 volume—which covered multilateral and bilateral relations with 20 American republics—provided an incomplete history of U.S. relations with Guatemala by not documenting the U.S. Government-approved role of the Central Intelligence Agency in the ouster of Arbenz. 
Partly in response to this omission, Congress passed legislation in 1991, which the President signed, mandating that the Foreign Relations series “shall be a thorough, accurate, and reliable documentary record of major United States foreign policy decisions and significant United States diplomatic activity” and requiring U.S. Government departments and agencies to provide Department of State historians with “full and complete access to the records pertinent to United States foreign policy decisions and actions.” 
In the early 1990s, Directors of Central Intelligence officially acknowledged 11 covert actions during the early cold war years, including the one in Guatemala. At the same time, Department of State historians gained fuller access to the CIA's files on Guatemala. The new volume is a product of this improved access. The Central Intelligence Agency has reviewed the volume for declassification, in coordination with its review of a larger collection of documents on the Guatemalan operation that it is releasing to the public at the National Archives.

One of the really ridiculous parts of this is that the CIA's role was very well known anyway. Already by the early 1980s there was a lot of solid scholarly work on the topic. Keeping information out of the public eye had nothing to do with national interest and everything to do with keeping extremely unsavory CIA activities out of the official record as much as possible.


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Americans Slowly Liking Cuba More

Dave Weigel has a short piece in Slate about how Americans don't hate Cuba the way they used to. He shows this from Gallup:

Here is more context, going back to 1996, and indeed it is gradually becoming more favorable over time. Aside from the xenophobia this graph reveals (Canada, people? Japan?) it does not measure intensity, which I think is much more important in the Cuban case. A very, very small proportion of Americans feel strongly about Cuba; the rest have a generalized sense of disapproval but don't care. Get rid of the embargo? Big deal. The embargo is held in place by a tiny but powerful minority. More from Gallup:

(Asked of a half sample) Apart from their diplomatic relations, do you favor or oppose the United States government ending its restrictions on Americans traveling to Cuba?

No opinion
2009 Apr 20-21^

People do not support the embargo, but they also do not feel strongly at all about actively supporting change. They just don't care much, which makes it easier for a minority to keep it in place.

My hunch too is that very few Americans care much one way or the other whether Barack Obama shook Raúl Castro's hand, unless it is to provide more ammunition to already existing strong opinions about whether they like Obama or not. In other words, it's only peripherally about Cuba.


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Cuba Downplays the Handshake

This morning the news of Barack Obama shaking Raúl Castro's hand at Nelson Mandela's funeral was all aflutter on Twitter and then picked up very quickly by other media. It's a travesty! It's a symbolic step forward! Etc.

But you know who ignored it entirely? Granma, the Cuban state newspaper. It ran a story about Castro speaking at the funeral, and made no mention of Obama at all. It also had a photo, but emphasized how Raúl Castro was sitting next to Dilma Rousseff.

I checked out Juventud Rebelde, another major Cuban media outlet, which did mention it. Its story made a point, though, of noting how Bill Clinton had shaken Fidel Castro's hand in 2000. And that didn't portend anything.

The divergence is interesting. In the U.S. we see any minor gesture toward Cuba as a sign of great potential policy change, whereas in Cuba there is far less evident. The embargo is still in place after 50 years of far more dramatic events than that, so from the Cuban side I would suspect it is difficult to imagine something like this mattering too much.


Monday, December 09, 2013

Seats and Votes in Venezuela

As I write, the website of Venezuela's Consejo Nacional Electoral won't open, but the results seem pretty clear at the moment. Chavistas won roughly 44% of the national vote while the opposition won 41%. With malapportionment, that 44% translated into 58.5% of municipalities (196 of 335).

However, the Agencia Venezolana de Noticias says that Chavistas won 210 (62.7%), and got 49% of the total vote versus 42.7% for the opposition, which I guess just assumes anyone who didn't vote for the opposition must support the government. I wrote a blog post three years ago on Venezuelan malapportionment that I think holds up well.

Whatever the exact numbers, the gross mismatch between seats and votes is what gives Nicolás Maduro the ability to talk about how popular his Love and Loyalty to the Eternal Comandate has been, and how he will deepen the revolution.

I argued after the presidential election that the opposition would move to think about recall, though of course it would have to wait. I think that is still one of the more useful prisms through which to understand these election results. The electoral system essentially locks up seats for Chavistas, especially given how it favors rural areas. Real change requires a national presidential vote, which the opposition has never been successful at winning. No matter how you parse the votes, Chavismo is still more popular than any other alternative.

The main thrust of news reports is that the country is divided and there is a stalemate. Yes, the country is certainly divided but "stalemate" is not entirely accurate because Chavismo has the massive advantage of incumbency. In a stalemate both sides are stuck, and in Venezuela only one side is stuck.


Saturday, December 07, 2013

Laskas' Hidden America

I read Jeanne Marie Laskas' Hidden America, which is a series of vignettes about people who make our lives go but are "hidden." A general theme is how much pride they take in their work, even though they recognize they're hidden. It's an interesting book--very quick read--but a mixed bag.

Coal miners: from this chapter you would think they are all relatively wealthy and happy. She mentions that coal is central to electricity but does not explain the process or how the workers view themselves in that process.

Undocumented blueberry pickers: good chapter but these days they are much less "hidden" than they used to be.

Cheerleaders: weird chapter. She veers between admiring and making fun of them, and could there be any profession less "hidden"?

Air traffic controllers: interesting chapter that basically becomes a critique of unions. I kept thinking of Pushing Tin.

Gun dealer: this is just about the opposite of "hidden." As with cheerleaders, she seems to alternate between mocking gun culture and enjoying it.

Beef ranchers: definitely more hidden, but a superficial chapter where you learn little, though I must admit I didn't know anything about bull semen.

Arctic oil rig: this was a great chapter--how we get oil for virtually everything we use from a desolate place and who the people are working there was fascinating.

Trucker driver: very sad chapter, in large part because it comes back to the death of the author's elderly parents. The "hidden" America of truck drivers gets a bit obscured.

Landfill: fascinating chapter. Where our trash goes and who deals with it is definitely hidden.

If you like books in this genre, I would suggest Gabriel Thompson's Working in the Shadows, which is much more nuanced and he actually does the work to better understand it.


Thursday, December 05, 2013

U.S.-Latin American Relations Should Be Boring

Boz notes how positive U.S.-Colombian relations are:

After the meeting, Santos told reporters, "The relations of our two countries find themselves at their best moment ever." 

That's an important message that analysts in both countries and across the political spectrum need to hear. It would be a shame if anyone thought the "best moment" in US-Colombia relations was when we had good police cooperation during the Pablo Escobar era or great military training during the implementation of Plan Colombia. The "best moment" should never be defined as the moment at which the most military aid was provided.

This jibes with something that has become like a mantra for me. In U.S.-Latin American relations, boring is good! That deserves some bold. Here is the last time I got cranky about it.

There is a strange yet persistent view that U.S. policy toward Latin America is only positive and successful when accompanied by massive plans and grand strategy. U.S. relations with Colombia right now are "boring" in that regard, and that's good. The same goes with most other countries in the hemisphere. There is a lot going on under the media radar that involves progress, especially in trade, but without the hype.


Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Blogging Plagiarism

Thanks to Otto for pointing this out to me on Twitter. A History Ph.D. student at the University of Liverpool recounts how her blog was plagiarized.

In June this year I was sent a link to an article on a tabloid newspaper website titled Edwardian Rogues Gallery, by a friend and former lecturer, suggesting I might find it of interest. When I opened the article, I was surprised and horrified, to find a post I had published on my blog just weeks earlier staring back at me, with somebody else's name placed at the top. Worse still, I found the same post reproduced on other sites, under the name of more authors. 
At first, my overriding emotion was that of disbelief. Although I knew that some news organisations were far from scrupulous in their reporting, I had always assumed this would stop short of reproducing others work without permission or acknowledgement. But after taking to Twitter to get some more opinions, I was saddened to hear that, yes, this can happen, and yes, it happens all the time.

Plagiarism sucks. Period. I am glad, though, that ultimately she says she is not giving up blogging, because I definitely think the benefits outweigh the risks (though a quick Google finds her blog here and it has not been updated since July 1, 2013). This seems rare to me, but maybe it is more rampant in some fields than others. And I wonder whether it happens more to graduate students than to professors. And to women more than men.

For some reason, she does not link either to her blog or to the offending piece, which I found here, so you can see for yourself.

I am trying to think about what I would do if I were in her shoes, which is also tough because I am not a graduate student, which is obviously a much more tenuous position. But if you've developed an audience, and it certainly sounds like she has, then you make this situation as viral as possible, with as many links and named names as possible. Shame can work, and with any luck the Guardian piece contributes. I understand that is cold comfort to this graduate student, who is trying to develop an original line of work and get it disseminated without harassment. I wish there was some other way to address such problems without having to hire lawyers.


Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Politicizing the Chilean Military in Haiti

This is a really scary and bizarre thing to ask of the Chilean military:

Chile's National Assembly will meet in a special session on Tuesday to discuss the warning of the President of the Haitian National Assembly, Simon Dieuseul Desras, of an impending institutional conflict in Haiti and requesting that Chilean soldiers defend the 'people' and defy President Michel Martelly. 
Senate President Simon Desras wrote the letter to his Chilean counterpart, Jorge Pizarro. Chilean newspaper El Mercurio reported that, dated November 4, Desras requested from the Chilean Congress to take "all actions and dissuasive prohibitive measures on their part" so that Chilean troops in Haiti will assume the role of "defending the Haitian people thirsty for democracy against excesses of a totalitarian and arbitrary power", referring to the administration led by President Michel Martelly.

Holy cow. This sounds eerily similar to the Chilean legislature's message (aimed in large part at the Chilean military) just prior to the 1973 coup.

That it is a fact that the current government of the Republic, from the beginning, has sought to conquer absolute power with the obvious purpose of subjecting all citizens to the strictest political and economic control by the state and, in this manner, fulfilling the goal of establishing a totalitarian system: the absolute opposite of the representative democracy established by the Constitution;

It's bad enough for militaries to become politicized in their own countries, much less in others. This can't end well.


Monday, December 02, 2013

Scaling Back Venezuelan Subsidies

Nicolás Maduro has to cut back on oil foreign aid, and so U.S. exports to the Caribbean and Central America are surpassing Petrocaribe. I had made a similar argument (though focused primarily on ALBA) in an article for Americas Quarterly earlier this year. The Bolivian Ambassador to the UN had disagree.

The core issue here--and not exactly earth shattering--is that Maduro has to focus his attentions on domestic problems, especially as he faces a foreign currency crunch. He cannot afford to throw money around the region as much as before. Hugo Chávez spearheaded all sorts of regional agreements and organizations, but without funding they will wither to a husk, existing without really existing.

If the upcoming Venezuelan elections do not provide a resounding victory for Maduro, and it's hard to imagine such a victory, then the combination of economic problems and domestic discontent will accelerate this snipping of foreign aid.


Saturday, November 30, 2013

Drew Magary's The Postmortal

Drew Magary's The Postmortal: what a cool, thought provoking, creepy novel. It sounds so great on the surface, yet is a dystopia--imagine that in the near future, someone finds a cure for aging. The novel follows the diary/blog of John Farrell, who got the cure at age 29. You cannot get younger or avoid disease, but you will never get older. Once that happens, the effects are entirely negative. A sampling:

--water scarcity
--organ harvesting mafia
--young girls given the cure to become eternal underaged prostitutes
--violent "pro-death" insurgents
--decrease in marriage (because 'til death do us part is too long)

One thing scarier than death is the notion of living forever. I may be in the minority, as ironically while reading the novel I opened my newspaper to read a story (which annoyingly I cannot find now) about how people really want science to keep fighting death, no matter the consequences, then had someone point out this op-ed about our obsession with aging. That's what makes the book feel so real. Be careful what you wish for, because you might get it.

What Magary makes you ponder is how much satisfaction in your life is due to aging, to everything having an end. You are always building toward an end, and having no end unmoors you. There is a real problem of moral hazard as well, especially as doctors worked to improve the quality of your unaging life. There is much less holding you back. People began losing their humanity, something out of The Road Warrior.

I strongly recommend the book--it's not what you would call pleasant but you won't soon forget it.


Joffe's The Myth of America's Decline

I read Josef Joffe's The Myth of America's Decline, in large part because it intersected with my view of U.S. policy toward Latin America. What Joffe argues, pretty convincingly in my opinion, is that there are waves of declinism--the USSR was going to overtake us, then Japan, then Europe, and now China--but they all concentrate on very short-term, unsustainable signs. People gleefully argued the USSR and Japan would overtake the U.S. precisely as they were falling apart. Overall, it is true that the U.S. does not simply dominate the world, but it is still overwhelmingly the strongest power.

What I find fascinating, and Joffe does not get into it much, is that declinism transcends ideology. Those on the left (such as it is in the United States) applaud it as a sign of international equality while the right deplore it as a sign of weakness. But they agree it is happening--exactly why is never clear, though politicians routinely pick up on it and exploit fear.

With regard to U.S. policy, it relates to my post about the Monroe Doctrine not being dead. Not being dominant is not the same as being in decline. The election of leftists and the creation of a few Venezuelan-funded international organizations is not the same as a new international order. At the very least it is premature to declare it. Which is more likely in ten years: a strong and effective UNASUR or an economically and militarily influential United States?

The book reads very smoothly, chock full of literary and cultural references (even a footnote dedicated to "Parker Lewis Can't Lose"!) though it could've been a lot shorter as there is plenty of repetition. It is also very boosterish about international capitalism (and wary of Barack Obama) without asking any questions about the long-term effects of growing inequality. But he does a nice job of poking at conventional wisdom.


Celebrations and Voting in Mexico

I think this is a fancy way of saying that if people have a day off to party, they are a bit less likely to vote.

Cambridge Journals Online - British Journal of Political Science 44, 1 (January 2014)

Social Capital and Voter Turnout: Evidence from Saint's Day Fiestas in Mexico

Matthew D. Atkinson and Anthony Fowler


Social capital and community activity are thought to increase voter turnout, but reverse causation and omitted variables may bias the results of previous studies. This article exploits saint's day fiestas in Mexico as a natural experiment to test this causal relationship. Saint's day fiestas provide temporary but large shocks to the connectedness and trust within a community, and the timing of these fiestas is quasi-random. For both cross-municipality and within-municipality estimates, saint's day fiestas occurring near an election decrease turnout by 2.5 to 3.5 percentage points. So community activities that generate social capital can inhibit political participation. These findings may give pause to scholars and policy makers who assume that such community activity and social capital will improve the performance of democracy.

If I am sitting around drinking with my friends, I may find it harder to get up and stand in line to vote. Unless, as happens, a political party is providing the drinks and the transportation. It may not be more complicated than that.


Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thankful Latin America links

--Nicolas Maduro is thankful for the evil empire funding his program.

--Bolivian drug dealers are thankful for win bottles.

--A dumb American woman is thankful for a helpful Mexican cop.

--Daniel Ortega is thankful for a rubber stamp legislature.

--Peruvian presidents are uncomfortably thankful for their spymasters.

--Brazilian politicians are thankful for embezzlement.


Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Maduro Hearts International Capitalism

Leave it to Venezuela to give you multiple layers of irony. The government has blamed dollar shortages on evil capitalists and the empire. Naturally, then, to alleviate that problem you should rely on...evil capitalists and the empire.

Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS) and Bank of America Corp. (BAC) are among Wall Street firms that offered deals to help Venezuela obtain U.S. dollars amid a plunge in the nation’s foreign reserves.

A swap proposed by Goldman Sachs would provide $1.68 billion in cash and be backed by $1.85 billion of the central bank’s gold, documents obtained by Bloomberg News show. Bank of America said it could be an intermediary for $3 billion in payments to firms seeking U.S. dollars, documents show. Neither deal has been completed, a government official with direct knowledge of the matter said, requesting anonymity because the talks are private.


Goldman Sachs’s total-return swap would bear interest of 7.5 percent plus the three-month London interbank offered rate, for $818 million in estimated financing costs over seven years, the documents show.

International capitalism has been keeping Venezuela afloat--recently Samsung was similarly licking its chops. There is a tremendous amount of money to be made from the government's poor economic decisions, backed by the high price of oil. Every day, oil money flows in massive amounts from the Venezuelan government to the largest corporations in the world. Maduro never tweets about that part of his plan.


Monday, November 25, 2013

Tweeting the Honduran Election

Tweeting a photo of yourself praying thanks to God for winning an election that you have not yet won is perhaps the best visual of how messed up the Honduran election is. Juan Orlando Hernández's Partido Nacional also tweeted how thankful his wife was to God (who must truly work in mysterious ways) for early vote counts. So there was Hernández tweeting he won while Xiomara Castro tweeted that she is the new president of the country. Her Partido Libre tweeted that (at least for now, I guess) it wasn't recognizing any official results. It was doing that in part because the TSE had tweeted that Hernández was leading. I'm actually a bit surprised that Nicolás Maduro has had nothing to tweet about it at all.

Funny how Twitter became the medium of choice and as far as I can tell also became the primary source for the mainstream media. When more results are released a few hours from now, you can bet Twitter will be aflame.


Saturday, November 23, 2013

The FARC On Gay Marriage

I bet you didn't know the FARC has taken on a stance on gay marriage. Their take is that it is an understandable demand, but not revolutionary. The true revolutionary destroys marriage entirely.

As I read I wondered how it was relevant to the peace talks (the website is focused on those talks) and here is the answer.

Promoting an egalitarian transformation of the social structures and changing educational structures, designed to meet emerging community needs, is to rethink the concept family", without linking it to marriage. The marriage contract would then become unnecessary.

For a group supposedly seeking to integrate itself into Colombian society, this doesn't seem a very fruitful argument. "Support the peace talks and together we can make marriage unnecessary because we're all family" doesn't have a good ring to it.


Friday, November 22, 2013

Let's End the JFK Hagiography

Fifty years ago today, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. It would be a good time for sober historical reflection, but unfortunately we don't see too much of that. Instead, for several weeks I've been subjected to non-stop hagiography and distortion based, it seems to me, on decades of fascination with a president who gave people hope and then died too quickly. That sense of loss--along with how it imprinted in so many people's memory--makes perfect sense to me, but it has tended to lead to an overly rosy vision of the past.

The bottom line is that JFK was not a president who accomplished much and was--let's face it--not a particularly nice guy to boot. He meant well on civil rights, but had no idea how to get a bill through Congress and he marginalized LBJ, who was the only one in the administration who actually knew how to do so. He was not gifted at foreign policy, and is more responsible than any other president for solidifying Fidel Castro's hold on power in Cuba because of how badly he screwed up the Bay of Pigs, which then led to the missile crisis (I give him the Alliance for Progress, which was a good idea that did not outlive him by much, and was accompanied by a lot of covert action, and the Peace Corps, also a good legacy). His support for coups helped launch a disaster in Vietnam, and he red-baited with the best of them. All of his "missile gap" claims were lies, and I can sympathize with Richard Nixon's frustration that he couldn't refute them publicly (and it's hard to sympathize with Nixon on much of anything).

When you boil it down, as president JFK's main accomplishments were soaring rhetoric and youth, which when combined inspired people. However, he even used those qualities selfishly, as he was famously cheated on his wife on a regular basis. For his inner circle he chose people like himself, elites whose advice on major issues was often an unfortunate combination of arrogant certainty and low quality.

Yet even now, with a half century of knowledge about JFK's life and record, there are countless stories of the wonders of Camelot and "what ifs" that conjure up a utopia had he lived. You can't point to very many achievements so instead you assert how much better life would've been under more years of JFK. He is revered for superficial nostalgic reasons. Interestingly, by November 1963 his approval rating was still pretty high but had been on the decline.

Political assassinations are tragic and traumatic, but we should not allow them to confuse image with substance. Let's remember the president as he was, and not how we thought he would end up being.


Thursday, November 21, 2013

JKF and Innocence

Part of the JFK mythology is that the country lost his innocence with his assassination. That caught my attention on the front page of yesterday's Charlotte Observer, which said that Kennedy's 1960 visit to Charlotte was a "more innocent time." I disagreed and got cranky:

We were innocent babes and he was going to lead us to the promised land. The mythology is really, really strong.


Wednesday, November 20, 2013

JFK and Latinos

There have been some interesting stories about JFK and Latinos. Jacqueline Kennedy had famously spoken in Spanish, and he ultimately won 85% of the Mexican-American vote. There were "Viva Kennedy" clubs to get out the vote.  Mostly, it is a story of tremendous hope and little accomplishment:

For many Latinos President Kennedy’s first term was disappointing. A number of promises that Latinos felt Kennedy owed them had not materialized. The President had also fallen short on appointing Hispanics to high-level government positions.


The night before his assassination, JFK addressed the League of United Latin American Citizens in Houston. 
But as many scholars have written since, Kennedy did not deliver on the hope he inspired among Latinos. African American civil rights heroes also had been frustrated with Kennedy, despite being enamored of him personally.

Read more here: http://www.sacbee.com/2013/11/20/5928161/marcos-breton-for-some-of-us-the.html#storylink=cpy

But his speech is now part of historical lore, taken as a sign that he was committed to helping the Latino population, even though there were no real accomplishments behind the words.

But during Kennedy's first months in office, Latino leaders expressed dismay that the president had failed to appoint Hispanics in his administration. Chavez even openly criticized Kennedy for his lack of appointments; other leaders embarked on a letter-writing campaign over the slow movement on civil rights.

The symbolic gesture, though, was enough to spark hope. Even the Cesar Chávez Foundation credits him:

Many credit the current growing influence of the Latino vote as the result of President Kennedy’s pioneering efforts. 

Others, though, see that influence stemming more from failure to get attention from the White House, both with Kennedy and afterward:

The failure of the American political system to adequately deliver on those concerns opened up the barrios to a larger civil rights effort in the 1960s. This new generation fought for many of the same rights. Their goal was not Camelot, but Aztlán, the legendary home of the Aztecs and Chicano activists' rallying cry - a place where "Viva Clubs" were not a prerequisite for change.

Mythology is an amazing thing.


Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Monroe Doctrine Is Not Dead

Secretary of State Kerry gave a speech saying the Monroe Doctrine was over, by which he meant it is currently fashionable to speak in non-interventionist terms while retaining the prerogative to intervene. As long as security remains a critical part of U.S. foreign policy, then some version of the Monroe Doctrine will persist.

We can, however, publicly pretend it is not there. From the speech:

Each year, hundreds of thousands of Americans visit Havana, and hundreds of millions of dollars in trade and remittances flow from the United States to Cuba. We are committed to this human interchange, and in the United States we believe that our people are actually our best ambassadors. They are ambassadors of our ideals, of our values, of our beliefs.

I wonder what the response was in the room as he said this? The United States is committed to the precise opposite of what he claims. If the U.S. did not consider itself a hemispheric police officer, to paraphrase Teddy Roosevelt's interpretation of the Monroe Doctrine, then why would it actively block travel to Cuba, as it does now?

There's lots of nice stuff about cooperation in the speech, which is good, but it is not the same as truly rejecting unilateral action on behalf of U.S. interests, often phrased in terms of what the offending party is doing wrong. The U.S. does so a lot, though admittedly not as much as in TR's time, when imperialism was seen as a good thing.

We're in a funny time where both the left in Latin America and the U.S. government keep saying the hegemonic period of the United States is done. And they're both wrong. True, the U.S. does not invade the same way it used to, but the unilateral use of power--either overtly or behind the scenes--is far from gone. The U.S. is doing so on a constant basis, and not just in Cuba. The U.S. has far more power than any Latin American country, in virtually any sense of the term, and it consistently uses that power. If anything, we should be very surprised if it didn't. It is important to note as well that choosing not to use that power all the time is not a sign of the doctrine's demise. Even in the its heydays of intervention the U.S. selectively decided when to invoke it, sometimes to the frustration of Latin American leaders who wanted it.

In a way, this has become an intellectual game. The Monroe Doctrine was proclaimed dead not too long after it was pronounced. In 1863, someone even felt obliged to write a book refuting the idea that the Monroe Doctrine had died.  In the 1930s it was common for even prominent U.S. politicians to say the doctrine was dead. Khrushchev declared the doctrine to be dead in 1960. Historian Gaddis Smith said it died at the end of the Cold War. As he was dying in 2011, Hugo Chávez said it was dead. And now John Kerry.


North Carolina, Immigration & Redistricting

Rob Christensen at the Raleigh News & Observer has an interesting article on the GOP, immigration reform and North Carolina. It shows the shifts in support for reform by different groups.

Just one quibble. I've now seen this sort of thing argued more than once:

Because of redistricting, most Republican House members represent districts that have few Hispanic voters. But they do have to worry about their right flank in GOP primaries.

Read more here: http://www.newsobserver.com/2013/11/16/3374636/christensen-the-gop-and-immigration.html#storylink=cpy

I think this is misleading and perhaps inaccurate. The South has traditionally seen a binary racial divide, with African Americans voting overwhelmingly in favor of the Democratic Party. Redistricting, then, has often involved drawing lines around population concentrations of African Americans. For example, check out Rep. Mel Watt's district:

But as I've argued elsewhere, Latinos in North Carolina have not necessarily concentrated in those same areas. In fact, they're dispersed geographically. In many cases they are living in the same districts as whites but are not eligible to vote. In my opinion, redistricting right now is irrelevant when you're talking about less than 2% of the total electorate (which is the case with Latinos in North Carolina right now).

However, redistricting is extremely important in the long term because areas considered safely Republican now won't be as a result of Latinos gaining the right to vote, either by becoming 18 or naturalizing. In that regard, check out my own district:

I live in a tiny tip of this district and it sprawls all over, but avoiding the city center, where there are African Americans, and seeking out whiter suburbs. Therefore it is solidly conservative. Now, let's compare my district to Latino births in 2009 from the research I've done with my dad (and see this recent blog post):

Births mean citizens, which mean future voters. District 9 goes outside Mecklenburg County so the fit is not perfect, but there are more and more Latinos being born in the district because they live in the suburbs. Here is a key point--district 9 avoids the city center, but there are few Latinos there anyway. Redistricting has never been aimed at them.

So we come to my own hypothesis, which is that redistricting works in the short term and backfires in the long term for Republicans.


Monday, November 18, 2013

2013 Chile Election Aftermath

To no one's great surprise, Michelle Bachelet came in well ahead of all the other presidential candidates, but short of the majority required to avoid a December runoff. From Chile's electoral site SERVEL 2013:

The right cannot be too happy now. El Mostrador shows the problems that UDI in particular has. Oddly, that problem is that the winners of UDI seats seem to be more willing to compromise, whereas for years that was a position claimed by Renovación Nacional. The right was already in a mess because Evelyn Matthei was only the third choice for a presidential candidate. There is quite a bit of wound licking to be done.

Nonetheless, the Concertación/Nueva Mayoría is still hamstrung by the supermajority requirement of many reforms. In the Senate, the coalition now has 21 seats, which gives it a simple majority, but short of the 22 needed for education reform and far short of the 26 needed to reform the constitution. This means Bachelet cannot fulfill many of her campaign promises.

Another point that merits closer attention is the effect of allowing people not to vote. A total of 6,691,840 Chileans voted, which is by far the lowest number in the postauthoritarian era for a presidential election. We'll have to see the data, but there is a good bet that young Chileans stayed home. Sure, some student activists won seats, including Camila Vallejo, but the establishment won this election.

The bottom line is that, assuming she wins the runoff, Bachelet is going to face a difficult situation. Expectations are high while her ability to get key legislation passed is not. She is currently popular but her coalition as a whole is not. She'll have a honeymoon, but it might not last too long once electoral reality sets in. If the past is a prelude, then she'll name some commissions and muddle through.


Friday, November 15, 2013

Anatomy of a Rejected Academic Article

I just had an article rejected. This happens all the time in academia--I even published an article about it back in 2006. But this particular rejection really highlighted the importance of journal choice when you submit. My work tends to cross any number of disciplinary/thematic boundaries and so I have to think about what journal I want to focus on.

In this case, I thought I had identified an appropriate journal yet that turned out to be completely wrong. The article is about the metamorphosis of the School of the Americas, which became the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC) and in particular how it has evolved institutionally within the U.S. Army in unanticipated ways. The journal I chose was not focused on Latin America and the editor is not a Latin Americanist, but I thought the theme fit well.*

Accompanying the reviews (which were of mixed quality, though certainly no worse than anywhere else) was this assessment from the editor.

I am sorry it took so long to get back to you.  We had some very tardy reviewers. The reviewers thought that the topic had merit. But they also found serious flaws. In view of the criticisms of the reviewer(s) found at the bottom of this letter, your manuscript has been denied publication in *********.  Some of my thoughts follow. AFter a lot of reflection on my part, it seemed that given the problems, the paper was just not a particularly good fit for the journal. Just for example, the title of the article included an acronym that I was unaware of.  Now I knew of the school but did not immediately know what WHINSEC was.  If the manuscript is a good fit, the editor of the journal (one with a 13 year tenure) would recognize the acronym. The manuscript actually was written like a chapter in a book that illustrated constructivist IR theory or that examined the school. 

I had not anticipated this. I had put WHINSEC in the title, which called negative attention. My immediate thought was that if the editor deemed this to be a bad fit, then it should have been desk rejected (meaning rejected by the editor without even sending it to reviewers, which is a way for editors to save everyone's time, including their own). Instead, I waited just about five months (I submitted the article in late July).

It's also a lesson about topic. This issue fascinates me and my impression was that people I talked to about it found it interesting at least, but it's niche. I try to show in the article how it has broader implications, but maybe I am not making this clear enough.

So now I sort through the reviews and try to figure out what is useful and what is not, then determine what journal comes next. The delay that accompanies the review process means you don't want to screw up, yet even now after I've been through lots of submissions it's not always easy. But I'll take WHINSEC out of the title!

* I am not going to identify the journal or the editor--my point is not to make a stink but rather to think aloud about the journal submission process.


Thursday, November 14, 2013


In one visual, here is a major problem in academia.

There are quite a few reasons this is happening, and they also vary according to institution type. The one that is most immediate to me right now is lack of legislature support. We are told, point blank, to do more with less. The number of students who want to attend our university has been going up every year basically ever since I arrived here in 2000 (in that time enrollment has gone up from about 15,000 to 26,000) and we have far more that apply who we cannot admit. If the legislature does not provide adequate funds to hire new full-time faculty, and it has not, then the number of part-time faculty goes up to cover the classes. That is especially true of classes required as General Education for all students because they fill to the brim.

Everyone at all levels of faculty and administration--at least here, and that is my vantage point--wants more tenure-track positions. That graph depresses me and everyone else.

h/t Laura McKenna, who has lived it.


Honduras: Who Do Coup Supporters Support?

Via Just the Facts (which always has a good collection of news stories and sends a selection by email) maybe a Central Americanist can help me out with this story from Honduras:

Líderes empresariales hondureños que estuvieron en las primeras filas del golpe de Estado que derrocó en 2009 al presidente Manuel Zelaya consideran ahora a Xiomara Castro, candidata de la organización Libre y esposa del exmandatario derrocado, como una opción de cambio para Honduras en las elecciones del 24 de noviembre. 
El presidente de la influyente Asociación Nacional de Industriales (ANDI), Adolfo Facussé, quien se manifestó a favor del golpe del 28 de junio de 2009, ha dado la sorpresa: declara simpatías hacia la aspirante del partido Libertad y Refundación (Libre), fundado por Zelaya. 
"Tenemos empresarios de todos los partidos. Libre tiene algo que me atrae mucho a mí que es la promesa del cambio. El país definitivamente tiene que cambiar", afirmó a la AFP el influyente empresario, quien calificó al actual gobierno de Porfirio Lobo como "un desastre".

To sum up: business leaders who supported a coup to make sure that nothing really changed now support the wife of the man they overthrew in 2009 because she represents change.

And it gets weirder:

Zelaya fue derrocado por una alianza de militares, políticos y empresarios bajo el argumento de que estaba proponiendo hacer una consulta para cambiar la Constitución para reelegirse en el cargo, algo prohibido por la misma Constitución hondureña. Los golpistas alegaron que esa parte de la normativa primaria de Honduras era intocable, pero ahora ya hablan abiertamente de la posibilidad de modificarla para abrir esa puerta.

To sum up: in 2009 we screwed the country by overthrowing a president because he proposed reforming the constitution. Now we think we might want to reform the constitution.

There must be something I am missing here.


Wednesday, November 13, 2013

No Immigration Reform in 2013

John Boehner says immigration reform is officially dead for 2013. It will be tough to get done in 2014 because of primary season (where Republicans will throw red meat to their core constituencies, which oppose immigration reform) then midterm elections. Add the fact that Republicans already caved once to President Obama on the shutdown and now trust him even less than before--if such a thing is possible--because of the disaster of the Affordable Care Act rollout. The argument in favor boils down to a long-term vision for the party that by necessity must ignore short-term constituency realities in many districts.

What I expect now are a bunch of piecemeal bills that will try to deal with narrow aspects of immigration, thus not angering the base while trying to show Latinos that the party is not as anti-immigrant as it often seems. I also expect that they will not solve much for the vast majority of non-citizens in the country. I expect that this will provide fuel for state arguments that they must legislate more because of Congress' failure.

"This is about trying to do this in a way that the American people and our members can absorb," Boehner said, adding immigration reform is too complicated to rush.

Put more simply, reality is what has to be absorbed, and for many people it is not easy.


Snowplow Parents

A Boston Globe article details "snowplow parents," who interfere constantly with their children in college, including phone calls to professors and administrators. I hadn't heard that term before (a quick Google search shows it has been around a little while) but from experience I am familiar with the concept.

Fortunately, over the years I haven't dealt with parents much. The time I do most is when participating in Explore UNC Charlotte, an event held several times a year at Halton Arena where prospective students and their parents come and learn about different programs. Each major and program has a table with information with a representative. Parents routinely talk for their children. One even said, literally, "We're thinking about law school." The kid stood behind his mother, mute.

But occasionally I also field phone calls and even get personal visits from parents with their children (always, of course, accompanied by the FERPA discussion/signature). Much of the time, at least in my experience, it is a situation where the student has misinformed the parent about a given circumstance, greatly downplaying or omitting their own fault. The parent is annoyed, talks to me, and then I do not hear from them again. Other times they are not angry but just hovering, and the student lets them do all the talking.

Parents should be active in their children's lives, but should not make such contacts except in really serious cases. As the article points out, they are undermining the independence and self-confidence of their children, who need to learn how to navigate problems on their own.


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