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:

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:

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.


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

English-Language Maduro on Twitter

I had not realized until yesterday that Nicolás Maduro has an English-language Twitter account until it was mentioned at Nicaragua Dispatch yesterday. The translation is so odd that I wondered whether it was real, but his Spanish-language account follows it, so I figure that's proof.

Like this one

He is aware of everything? That's cool.

And of course there is stuff on happiness because we all want to be happy. But with a firm hand, I guess

And how many presidents do you know who have used a hashtag referring to a Twitter coup? None, I bet.

He's definitely worth following, though the funny thing is that when I try to click on his web page my university computer blocks it as dangerous. Another conspiracy!


Monday, November 11, 2013

Price Controls in Venezuela

Nicolás Maduro says he wants to decree price controls on a wide variety of goods. He claims this will counteract the parasitic class, and presumably is also aimed at lowering inflation. This comes after the government's seizure of an electronics chain to provide more early Christmas presents to the Venezuelan people.

The underlying purpose of this would seem very familiar to corporatist parties across Latin American history--Mexico's PRI comes to mind. When you get close to an election, shower people with gifts (the PRI liked appliances too) and deal with the consequences later. The stakes of the election are high enough that whatever the consequences might be, they are worth it. Use the treasury for your political benefit.

One (of quite a few) differences between the PRI era and Venezuela today is that Maduro's technique of expanded seizure and/or nationalization would exacerbate shortages. If (and this "if" is essential) you show true commitment to it, then fewer and fewer companies will produce anything. If they have already produced something and would be required to sell it at a loss, then they will either hoard it or sell it on the black market.

The bottom line is that autarky is not pretty. As always, caveats apply. Companies ignored Hugo Chávez for years, knowing his nationalization bark was worse than his bite. The government facilitated incredibly profit in Venezuela even as it railed against it. Maybe this will be the same with Maduro. The question is where to find the tipping point.


Saturday, November 09, 2013

UNCC Football Faculty Coach For A Week

I had the pleasure this past week to be a "faculty coach" for the UNC Charlotte football team, which is in its first year of existence. I had a great time, as did my family, and so I can't thank Head Coach Brad Lambert and Coach Napoleon Sykes enough.

On Tuesday afternoon I got a tour of the football facilities, then sat in for a bit of Coach Sykes' linebacker meeting. I know football pretty well, but it felt very much like sitting in on an advanced foreign language--he talked rapidly while writing and erasing constantly on a whiteboard. And the players obviously understood him. From there he walked me over to practice, where I actually addressed the team very briefly.

I told them we had opposite jobs. My job involved stressing students out with work, and their job involved having a good game to make students foret me. I am no Vince Lombardi, but hey.

The next event was Friday, where my son and I met the team to watch a movie at the Student Union. From there we walked to dinner, where the rest of my family met us. We had a really nice time, and my 5 year old daughter seemed to take to Coach Lambert, intent on goofing around with him. We were also joined by the other faculty coach, Professor Valentina Cecchi, who is in Electrical Engineering, and her husband. They sat with us with at the game too.

It was capped off today, where my son and I went to the game and had a pass to walk around on the sidelines before it started.

Both teams played really well, but we lost to Wesley College, 35-28.

The purpose of the faculty coach program is to foster more connection between the academic and sports parts of the campus, because there is often antagonism (and often for very good reason). I even chatted with Coach Lambert about the challenges of starting a team right when the Penn State and UNC Chapel Hill controversies are fresh. Expectations of transparency are high, which is all to the good. From my own limited angle, though, time after time this week I found myself talking to very personable and enthusiastic people who gave off no air of machismo, arrogance, or anything else.

My colleague Anita Blanchard in Psychology had a similar positive experience.


Jim Wyss in Venezuelan Jail

According to reports, the Venezuelan government has arrested Miami Herald reporter Jim Wyss and put him in prison.

Some initial thoughts:

1. It is hard to imagine Venezuelan law enforcement arresting a prominent reporter, especially from the U.S., without clear prior authorization. Not impossible, but hard to imagine. The fact that he was transferred to military intelligence is a good indication.

2. If #1 is true, then Nicolás Maduro is trying to pick a fight. I can see logic behind that, as he talks constantly about an economic war from the U.S. without any evidence, but if he incurs sanctions (a la Cuba) then he has something tangible to point to for blame.

3. If #1 is true, then Maduro is even more desperate than I thought, though making Christmas come early is a pretty good indicator.

4. If #1 is NOT true, then Maduro has a problem. His heated rhetoric probably backs into a corner so that he needs to show strength, maybe by expelling Wyss from the country? Though I suppose he could show his magnanimity by letting him stay.

5. You can't spin putting reporters in prison.

Update: he was just released. I realize I did not add another option, which is pretend it never happened. But let's wait and see the Venezuelan government response. #1 may well be totally wrong.

Update 2: Here is his story. It makes his arrest and interrogation sound like local thuggery, and as far as I can see neither the government nor pro-government media has mentioned it at all.


Thursday, November 07, 2013

Latinos and Democratic Mayors in Charlotte

Above the fold on the front page of today's Charlotte Observer (yes, I actually get a paper paper) was the headline "Can Charlotte Republicans Regain Mayor's Office" (accompanied by a quote by my political science colleague Eric Heberlig). I used it in my Politics of Latino Immigration class today because it fit so well with our ongoing discussions of political demography. The article's point was that demographics are favoring the Democratic Party in Charlotte. It has this very nice map comparison between the 2007 and 2013 mayoral elections.

You can see how the red is concentrated heavily in south Charlotte, and is shrinking. What the article unfortunately doesn't do, however, is integrate that analysis with the growth of the Latino population, which is a pretty glaring omission.

In work I've done with my dad, we got data on births in Mecklenburg County, then mapped them. Here is what you get:

What you can see is that the Latino population is dispersed across Charlotte, though less so in south Charlotte (which is more wealthy and white). If you combine it with the mayoral map, you end up with a city and county that will become bluer and bluer because of course Latinos support the Democratic Party by a very large margin. The children being born will not be voters for at least 18 years, but our map can also be viewed as a proxy for Latino families. Some are already citizens and non-citizens will slowly naturalize, faster if immigration reform with some sort of amnesty with path of citizenship is passed (which, naturally, is one reason many Republicans oppose it).

Thus, in Charlotte it will be really, really hard for Republicans to win mayoral elections. And by the way, in the future it may well get more difficult to win County Commissioner seats as well, if you look at the data for Hispanic births by county commission district.

As I keep repeating to my class, it doesn't matter if you like or dislike this. It's just the way things are, and demographic shifts are going to have major political impacts.


Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Christmas Comes Early in Venezuela

How had I missed this? A student pointed out to me that Nicolás Maduro has declared that Christmas will come early in Venezuela. I was immediately skeptical but there it is in the official state news agency. No doubt this will mean that Santa Claus will visit many Venezuelans prior to the December 8 elections and shower them with happiness in the name of Comandante Eterno himself.

It is going to celebrated all over the country, with so much felicidad.

Más temprano, el ministro para la Cultura, Fidel Barbarito, informó al país acerca de las actividades organizadas para dar inicio de la Navidad en el país con el máximo exponente cultural y el disfrute en los espacios públicos recuperados. 
Durante entrevista en el programa Toda Venezuela, transmitido por Venezolana de Televisión, Barbarito informó que desde este viernes se realizarán en Caracas y en todo el país actividades para celebrar la llegada de la temporada navideña.

Man, this is seriously weird.


Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Michelle Bachelet Op-Ed

My co-author Silvia Borzutzky and I have an op-ed in the Miami Herald about the return of Michelle Bachelet, really building on the co-edited volume we published in 2010. The upshot is that she is making a lot of promises without much chance of fulfilling them, following a pattern from her first term. I think disillusionment is much more likely than a populist shift that some alarmists are bringing up.


Monday, November 04, 2013

How Political Science Professors Shouldn't Act

From Inside Higher Ed, a political science professor in Canada makes fun of a student:

Shaun Narine, associate professor of political science, was at a campus lecture by a journalist who asked the students in attendance (from political science and journalism programs) why young people don't vote. One student said that it was because students don't understand the political system, and find it complicated.

Narine quickly interjected: "Read a book, for God's sake."

Somehow "being a jerk" gets translated to the more neutral "speaking your mind." You have a student who is trying to articulate something that involves publicly admitting their own ignorance, and your response is to humiliate and shame them? Of all people, political scientists should know that the political system is complicated, and what we try to do in our classes is explain it.

To be fair, he was contrite. But:

But as to the point that she should read a book, and become more informed? He said he stands behind that idea. "Very much so. What I did was wrong for a variety of reasons. On the other hand though, I think the reason for my frustration was valid. I don’t want to justify myself. I genuinely felt like an ass. But I’m not going to pretend that I don’t feel strongly that our students, and Canadians in general, need to know enough about their political system that they can participate in it in a meaningful way," he said.

I don't disagree, but what's missing is that in fact helping people do this is our job as political scientists and the takeaway should be that we should find better ways of doing it rather than just bemoaning ignorance.


Sunday, November 03, 2013

Economic Growth & Suicide in Chile

The Chilean economy has received an enormous amount of attention, maybe more so than any other Latin American country. We know a lot about the economic growth and social precarity that has accompanied it. The latter helps us get a grip on why there is so much protest.

What I've never considered, however, is the effect on suicide. From CIPER Chile, here is a really troubling graph from a really troubling article. It shows the change of suicide rate from 1995-2009 in OECD countries.

Chilean economic growth has involved "flexible" labor and a sense of vulnerability along with persistent (and for so many people, seemingly intractable, inequality). The rate of adolescent suicide has skyrocketed.

What the author concludes is that social supports have lagged far behind economic growth. As more young people hear about how great things ought to be, yet fall behind, they need ever stronger safety nets and social support, which at the moment are not there.


Friday, November 01, 2013

Guatemala-Chiapas Circular Migration

Here is a really interesting article (in Spanish) by Jéssica Nájera Aguirre from the Colegio de México on circular migration between Guatemala and Chiapas, sometimes on a daily basis, always with the intention of maintaining residence in Guatemala. We're talking 300,000-400,000 people a year.

What I don't get, however, is how there is so much demand for labor when--at least on the surface--we might expect plenty of Mexican supply already to exist.

Given the high levels of poverty in Chiapas, is there not resentment on the part of Mexicans toward Guatemalans who cross the border and sell goods (which is the second largest source of employment)? Further, why is it that agricultural demand is not being met with local supply?

I don't know the answer to those questions, but what we see is a border region that is now transnational to a much greater degree than in the past. I imagine the reasons for this can be in found to a significant degree in Guatemala. The article does not address the issue directly, but clearly Guatemalans cross the border because opportunities at home are too scarce, and in recent years--more or less the last decade--the sense of insecurity has increased. And as we know from the U.S. side, once this type of migratory pattern starts, it does not stop.


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